pi·e·tism /ˈpīəˌtizəm/: pious sentiment, especially of an exaggerated or affected nature. (Thanks, Google!)
The Evangelical Covenant Church voted in 1885 to band together as Mission Friends committed to the Word of God and committed to each other, through good and bad.
It would be inaccurate, and perhaps a bit inerrant, to fail to highlight two themes that happened simultaneously in Sweden that played an important role in laying the foundation for the Organizational Meeting of 1885: the rise of pietism and the revival movement. This post and the next will be dedicated to these movements, with this one being dedicated to the rise of Pietism.
As a timeline
The 16th century is marked by the reformation. The late 17th/18th century is marked by a rise in evangelicalism, pietism, and Enlightenment.
So to recap, Pietism comes from being pious which in a nutshell means being devoutly religious. The pietism movement, therefore, is defined as “a devoutly religious sentiment, especially of an exaggerated or affected nature”.
The rise of pietism in Germany under Philipp Jakob Spener in the 1670’s are summed up by his 1675 writing Pia Desideria.
You may be asking yourself, “But I thought you said all this happened in Sweden?” and you’d be right (see above), however this article by Spener plays a HUGE role in how pietism is viewed in Sweden and the reactions that come from it as well.
Spener has has “six pious wishes” laid out in his writing. They are:
  1. More extensive use of the Word of God
  2. More involvement from laity.
  3. Love practiced in every day life
  4. Love practiced in Controversy 
  5. Theological education that molds preachers and not just gives them knowledge.
  6. Sermons should focus on producing faith and fruit in the hearers rather than a preacher’s intellect. 

These though have three central focuses of Spener as well:

  1. Conversion
  2. Centrality of Scripture (spoiler alert: a Covenant Affirmation  hundreds of years later)
  3. Priesthood of all believers which requires active participation from the church laity.

So Spener writes this article, and of course wants to put actions to words. So practically, Spener creates Conventicles–what we would call today ‘small groups’.  In these small groups, Spener creates quite a ruckus among clergy who felt that Spener was a church-splitter. Also, the clergy felt threatened that Spener was trying to take jobs and give them to laity. But even though the clergy felt threatened, Spener was convicted that this was right and it was an immediate success because of the genuine care for the spiritual health of the people in the conventicles. In essence, Spener says “experience will take the place of content”.

Flash forward to the modern day Evangelical Covenant Church. How are we continuing to live into our pietist roots? For the past year (give or take) Covenant Congregations have met in their own Conventicles (perhaps they should be called “Covenant-icles”?) for what is called the Covenant Community Bible Experience .  These small groups met to study the Word of God, as a priesthood of all believers.

In closing, I leave you with this quote from Pia Desideria and pray this for you and your Congregation/Conventicle/Family/Life:

“If we succeed in getting the people to seek eagerly and diligently in the book of life for their joy, their spiritual life will be wonderfully strengthened and they will become different people”

-Philipp Jakob Spener, Pia Desideria p.91

May we continue to live into this calling of Piety today, tomorrow, and the days to come, and may we continue to eagerly seek together as we are strengthened and changed into different people by the Holy Spirit.

If you’re interested in reading Spener’s Pia Desideria: Spener.Pia Desideria

Photo Credit: https://alchetron.com/Philipp-Spener-1074165-W

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