Posted in Book Review, Church History

Pia Desideria

85748f32991f7c5734f5b20f2aac6eb4Pietism began with Philip Jacob-Spener and Pia Desideria is an encapsulation of his yearning for renewal and better conditions for the church.  Such desires can be easily understood when juxtaposed with the prevailing situation at the time.  Spener witnessed the final decade of the Thirty Year’s War (1618-1648) — a product of religious intolerance between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics, and grew up knowing the atrocities and destruction it caused to Germany and the church in general.  Towards war’s end, Germany was divided into three hundred territories which were governed by princes or rulers (3).  These political rulers also had ecclesiastical control which somehow limited the church’s movement or any plans of reforms.

Spener got acquainted also with Arndtian and Puritan piety and theology aside from Lutheranism, which served as a lens that magnified the defects of the church and society.  The deeper he allowed himself to be influenced by them, his desire for renewal further intensified.  He was then educated at the University of Strassburg in 1651 and was ordained in 1663.  In 1666, he became the pastor and senior ministerii at Frankfurt am Main for twenty-years (Snyder, 76-77).  As a pastor, he organized collegia pietatis where members studied the Bible and had devotion because he believes that the laity should be equipped and empowered.  Five years after establishing these groups, in 1675, he published Pia Desideria as a preface to Arndt’s Postil but eventually became the “fundamental charter of Pietism.” (Gonzales, 259-260).  Pia Desideria served as a manual for the development of a pious life.

The Pia Desideria was reprinted as a separate book upon request of quite a number of people.  The book has three parts.  The first part talks about how Spener laments the church’s spiritual misery or corruption — which is far worse that the atrocities brought about by the war, famine, and pestilence.  This misery is expressed in the persecution and expulsion of faithful ministers proclaiming the true doctrine of the church, the abuse of papal powers, and by the fact that “everywhere there is something wanting in the church” (40-42).  He then mentions specifically about political and ecclesiastical defects of the civil authorities, clergy, and the common people which taints their Christian witness — therefore nullifying their call.  Such defects include nominalism, abuse of powers, and drunkenness.  These corruptions insult the Jews who were living amongst them, the heretics (the papists), and the godly people whose watchful eyes were all around (39-75).

Part two of the book talks about Spener’s aspiration for better conditions of the church.  For him, it is possible to achieve the better state, though cannot be fully perfected but there are things that can be done in order to move towards it (76-86).  Part three reveals his proposals on how this can be achieved.  Spener has six proposals on how the church’s situation can be alleviated.  First, Spener believes that the Word of God must be extensively in the homes to produce more faith.  Second, lay spiritual priesthood must be established and exercised.  Third, Christians must live righteously as a witness to their salvation.  Fourth, Christians should know how to conduct themselves properly on religious controversies.  Fifth, those who are called to the ministry must be equipped and educated at reformed schools and universities.  Lastly, preaching and sermons must be practical and clear enough to be understood so as to produce faith and bear much fruits (87-122).

Pia Desideria was written at a time when the church needs it the most.  The church suffered a great blow during the Thirty Year’s War and moral degeneration was seen everywhere — even within the church, corruption was evident.  Spener’s cry for renewal as reflected in his book was his attempt to bring the needed change.  He, perhaps, realized that with the existing corruptions, the church leadership or hierarchy cannot do it alone — that it takes a whole church to birth out change.  This change is possible when the Word of God is brought to the homes and people are exposed to it so that they can live sanctified lives.

This, of course, was met with criticisms particularly with the orthodox leadership because Spener’s views and ways (small groups) were considered “radical and threatening” (81).  Among the things that were considered radical during his time are: 1) the priesthood of all believers which is upgrading the role of the laity.  It can be viewed as an attack to civil authorities and the clergy; 2) the collegium presbyterium (council of elders), which he felt was needed by the church as pastoral support but seen as introducing some Calvinistic element to Lutheranism; 3) the use of collegia pietatis or small groups, were seen as threats to divide the church (81).

Though met with a lot of criticisms, Spener brought the tides of change in Protestantism — a change that was necessary to wake up the church in its slumber.  Any change is not comfortable and someone has to suffer and receive the blows from critical people.  Spener started a movement that if one will see through the 21st century lens would realize that he advocated for discipleship, lay leadership, sanctification, and church renewal.  These things are actually the language of our times and like Spener, we are faced with the same defects and desires for a better church.  Perhaps we can use the same programs he endorsed — only adjusting them to our own context.

 

Book on Review:  Pia Desideria by Philip Jacob Spener.  Translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert. Fortress Press, 1964.

References:

  1. Gonzales, Justo L. The Story of Christianity:  The Reformation to the Present Day, Vol. II. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.
  2. Snyder, Howard A. Signs of the Spirit: How God Reshapes the Church. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1997.

 

 

Posted in Church History

The Dutch Second Reformation: A Reflection

Although semantics limit scholars in properly describing the Dutch Second Reformation, it is altogether a movement against the degeneration in the moral and spiritual life of the Reformed churches. More than justification, this movement cries out for sanctification.  But sanctification is impossible to achieve without the grace of God.  Human beings are perceived to be incapable of anything good unless God takes action and an adversary, the devil, is always present to persuade people to sin against God.  Therefore, Christ was sent to bring about salvation because there is no way they can save themselves.  The Holy Spirit was sent to gain faith and knowledge of Christ and strengthen them to live godly lives and God provides means of grace so they could resist the devil, flee from sin, and turn their lives around.  With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, using these means of grace, people can experience both internal and external sanctification.

Quite noticeable is the encouragement given by the proponents of this movement to be involved in small groups as one of the means to achieve spiritual growth and godliness.  This way, believers can grown both individually and communally.  There is reciprocal responsibility towards a sanctified life — personal and communal (societal even).  The focus on sanctification does not mean that the reformers did not concern themselves about sound doctrines and Church practices, they are part of God’s means of grace too, but the pressing issue during those times lies in the manner on how the Christians behaved themselves privately and publicly in regards to these means.  Transporting back to the centuries covering the Dutch Reformation makes one reflect about the similarities that this present generation of Christians are facing.  The Church and the society are collapsing at a faster pace both morally and spiritually.  But whether another spiritual movement is on the rise or not, the battle cry is still the same — sanctification of heart and life that can turn this world upside down.

Posted in Church History

Martin Luther’s Freedom of A Christian, 1520

The sixteen century was a time of fear and anxiety. People literally fear death because of Europe’s previous encounter with the bubonic plague that killed a third of the population (3).  War, famine, and other diseases made average life span pegged at forty and the anticipation of death, and fear thereof, was further aggravated by a vengeful and wrathful God being projected by the Church through its teachings and sermons (4).  People in this century also believed in a real, diabolic entity, the Devil, which was responsible for all their miseries (6).  The Basilica of Peter was being built around this time, thus selling of indulgences were authorized by Pope Leo X to support this project (19).  This was the world were Martin Luther grew up with.

In 1483, Martin Luther was born in a small mining community of Eisleben, Germany.  His father was a miner but was able to send the young Luther to the University of Erfurt to study Law in 1501.  His direction shifted to theology after almost being struck by lightning during a thunderstorm just outside his university in 1505.  Luther entered Augustinian order, lived like a monk, and by 1507 was ordained priest (10).  But his rigorous training as a monk and his ministry as a priest could not shake the fear of death and judgment off him.  This contributed much to his spiritual turmoil which led him to dig deeper into the truths of the Scriptures.  The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans gave Luther the answer to his long search for righteousness — for in it is written the justifying work of faith (13).

Luther now understood that penance or good works cannot free him or anyone from sin, death, and hell — faith alone in Christ has the power to do that!  This revelation revolutionized his theology and empowered him to face the world without fear but with freedom that faith alone gives through the word and Word of God.

In Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther discusses that faith alone, not good works, is what makes a Christian justified and righteous.  This faith sets a Christian free from sin, death, and the devil.  Luther argues that because of faith, a Christian is both “lord of all” and “servant of all” (50).  He presents his argument by mentioning the two natures of a human being.  First, the inner person, which redeemed through faith alone in the word of God, which he describes as “the gospel of God concerning His Son, who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit who makes us holy” (53).  Having faith in the word of God gives a person the power to be free from the law, to honor God, and be united with Christ — thus, the double honor of being both a king and a priest.  By faith, a Christian is now a “king” over sin, death, and the devil and is now a “priest who is free to give God honor through prayer, fasting, worship, and do other forms of piety.

Second, the outer person.  Luther makes clear that good works cannot justify a person but are necessary to discipline the body to keep it from doing evil and to serve other people with freedom and love (74).  Good works are the fruits of faith and are not done to liberate a person from the impending wrath or judgement of God.  Therefore, works of penance are not what sets people free and indulgences are not the bridges to forgiveness of sins but faith alone.  Faith liberates while good works celebrate that freedom.  Although sanctification is not in Luther’s vocabulary, as far as Freedom of a Christian is concerned, traces of it are hinted in his argumentation about good works.

The dichotomous explication of Luther about Christian freedom leads him to strike a balance in his understanding of justification and judgement, commands and promises, and law and grace.  For Luther, freedom means achieving that awareness that Christ already paid for everything so that a Christian can live freely ruling and freely serving through faith.

Freedom of a Christian is both a product of Luther’s quest for personal and communal justification.  Living in sixteenth century atmosphere of dread and judgement, Luther sought to gain divine approval by doing all forms of piety that was required of him as a monk but nothing seemed to help and he further plunged into that deep well of Anfechtung (21).  No amount of good works delivered him from that confusing and doubtful state.  He desired forgiveness yet the greater the penance, the greater the distance from God he seemed to feel.  This contrition led him to the unearthing of Scriptural treasures which finally brought the needed liberation from sin, death, and hell — faith justifies!  It was a defining moment for Luther, though no one exactly knows when, because he finally discovered that faith alone was enough for him to be made righteous before God (16-17).

As much as Luther was aware of his personal need of justification, he was well aware of the penance that people do in order to be absolved of their sins and the indulgences that people buy to attain pardon.  He was totally against these indulgences for they tainted the image of the clergy and the Church, abused the people, and denied them of the truth of the gospel.  His personal enlightenment led him to defend the truth of faith and sought to liberate Christianity, particularly the poor, from this deception.  Though his posting of the Ninety-Five Theses at the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg in 1517 was not intended to solicit public opinion, it was readily picked and spread (20).  Perhaps the theses spoke about the real sentiments of the silent majority — do penance and indulgences really deliver people from judgment and death?  Luther’s liberating discovery that faith alone and good works can justify gave the Christians of his time hope, knowing that they were living in a world of fear and uncertainty.  Luther not only ignited debates because of his writings and theology but also paved the way for the Reformation that changed the course of Christian history forever.

Source: Luther, Martin (1520).  Mark D. Tranvick, trans. The Freedom of a Christian:  Luther Study Edition.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2008.