The Pietists’ love
A Holy-Cross Sister
We Christians have come to a fine pass as we journey into the third millennium. We should be striding forwards together in confidence, proclaiming unity, peace and concord to our troubled times, secure in the victory of our one risen Lord over all that evil might thrust in our way. Whatever happened to our twentieth century ecumenical optimism? Was it simply a damp squib, gone, and now well on the way to oblivion?
No actually, emphatically no, since our Lord’s own prayer for unity cannot come to nothing. He continues to call us to remain steadfast, to regain our first love, to lay our face in the dust of humility and repentance that so there may be hope. We are not standing alone. Our Lord is at hand in mercy to raise up faithful believers from the very stones, not least of all from the sternness of our own stubborn, resisting hearts.
Achievements and failures
The times are deeply challenging and each one of us must be obediently ready to work with our Lord where and as he wills – in utterly unexpected ways, times and places. He will give the grace if we will yield our will. All else is but secondary.
Despite all the setbacks, our denominational growth towards oneness in Christ has been phenomenal. It cannot be dismissed with a mere shrug of despondency from our own benighted point of view. No specific church has a monopoly of martyrdom, whether of blood or life-long faithful witness.
Church leaders get bogged down in the minutiae of theological disputes and heresy hunting. Human reasoning takes over, passions are roused and genuine faith, love and devotion fall foul. Ways are laid open for the evil one to worm his way in with all the divisive tactics he delights to employ. It is no different now and to be forewarned, as always, necessitates preparing to resist with the moral weapons the Spirit gives (Eph. 6).
Looking to heroes of the past can be a strong incentive to trust, for the present and into the future. The Reformation era was at least as fragmentary and as full of foreboding as our own, and it was difficult to know where to stand. Sometimes it was necessary to oppose the general church trend if essentials were being betrayed. Afterwards even the ‘good things’ which stemmed from the Reformation degenerated into dry legalism and narrow sectarianisms.
Movements of spiritual renewal began to spread among the people through the writings and example of a handful of ministers who drew inspiration from the original spirit of Luther himself, and, like him, from the Church Fathers, the monastic writings of Bernard of Clairvaux and the works of the medieval German mystics, notably Henry Suso and Thomas à Kempis.
These Lutheran writers, known as Pietists, returned to gospel basics and to a ‘prayer of the heart’, with love as paramount and a genuine seeking of unity in face of the multitude of protestant church groupings of the time. They influenced Northern Europe and America, and via John Wesley into world-wide Methodism.