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Roots of Evangelical Worship: German Pietism

Many factors coalesced in the wake of the Protestant Reformation to produce what we now might call “Evangelical worship.” The first was German Pietism.

Pietism was a reform movement within orthodox Lutheranism that had significant impact in the late seventeenth century to mid-eighteenth century. The Pietist movement began in Germany in 1675 with Philipp Jakob Spener’s (1635–1705) Pia Desideria, in which he spoke against polemical theology and high liturgy in favor of practical Christianity and simple devotion. The Pietists believed that the Reformation had been only half successful and that Lutheran-ism needed further reforms. They considered orthodox Lutheranism to be “dead” and instead emphasized a personal relationship with Christ. They were particularly against the strictness of the church year and of what they considered “elaborate” church music, “as if God were to be worshiped with noise and not in spirit and in truth.” Pietist Johann Samuel Stryk (1668–1715) described church music in the early eighteenth century as

(1) contrary to the genius of the New Testament church, and not agreeing with the example of the primitive church; (2) superfluous; (3) useless, as not promoting but impending divine worship; (4) superstitious, while men imagine that the glory of God can be promoted in this wise.

He especially dismissed the chanting of prayers and Scripture readings: “The gospels and epistles of the apostles are not hymns; why then are they sung like hymns?” In contrast, Pietists produced more devotional hymns focused on the heart. Key to this development was Nicholas Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf (1700–1760), a wealthy noble who provided asylum for Moravians, descendants of John Hus, fleeing Bohemia. Zinzendorf wrote hymns himself, edited Moravian hymnals, and considered himself to be “Minister and Cantor, known to the congregation.” Orthodox Lutherans such as Erdmann Neumeister (1671–1756) strongly rejected many of the Pietist themes. In fact, Neumeister called Zinzendorf “the apostle of Satan.”

Pietist influence would later help to shape evangelical worship, largely through John and Charles Wesley, a subject to which we will turn in a later post.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.