Friday, September 12, 2008

Definition of Pietism

Somebody asked about pietism in Bible class the other day. Pastor explained it in many and various ways -- all of them very good. But I am a bear of very little brain; I think in soundbites. I need something less lofty to think on, something tight and succinct to puzzle over (even though I myself am never succinct!). And here's what I figured out once-upon-a-time.

Communism is a belief that we all should share everything in common.

Environmentalism is a belief in the importance of the environment. And not just that it is important (as I believe it is) but that the environment is the most important thing we must guard and protect and promote.

Consumerism is a lifestyle that puts consuming consumer-goods near the top of one's priorities. We gotta keep buying buying buying or else ... uhhh... or else the economy will fall apart, or else we will "lose" because we have fewer toys than the next guy, or whatever.

Ism is a belief in something, a trust in something.

Piety is a good thing. It is good to pray and to attend church and to meditate on the psalms and to do good works for the neighbor. Those are habits that flow out of the heart and life of a pious and devout person.

Pietism is a belief or trust in piety.

Piety is good. But when the person begins to promote piety even more than he promotes the forgiveness of sins bought by Jesus' atonement, then the piety has morphed into pietism. When the Christian's eyes are focused on his own piety (or worse yet, his neighbor's piety) rather than focusing on Christ's blood-bought redemption of sinners, pietism has trumped the Gospel.

And that is not a safe place to be.

(Problem is, when someone speaks against pietism, many Christians "hear" him speaking against piety. That's not only sad, but also sometimes hits us where we don't want to even begin to see subtle pietism in our own hearts. Here too, the call to repentance is necessary, and God's gift of the Holy Absolution is the only way to make faith right and to increase true piety.)


  1. Thanks for this. I found myself struggling with explaining the word to a friend the other day, and this makes it much more clear.