Pietists never stepped away from the orthodox beliefs of Christianity, but they were convinced that right beliefs were not enough. Life in Jesus Christ actually changes one’s life, family, faith community and world.
In a April 4, 2010 sermon Tom Wright describes a conversation with a cab driver:
The taxi driver looked back at me in his mirror. His face was a mixture of amusement and sympathy. We were stuck in traffic and he’d asked me, as they do, what I did for a living. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘you Church of England people’ (having told me he was a Roman Catholic himself). ‘You’re still having all that trouble about women bishops, aren’t you?’ I had to admit that that was indeed the case. ‘The way I look at it,’ he said, ‘is this: if God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, all the rest is basically rock’n’roll.’
Jesus rose from the dead! That event means that nothing in the world remains the same. That event, the resurrection, makes the church, and following Jesus completely different from a sports team, a Rotary Club. Jesus conquered sin and death, so there is the possibility and should be the reality of a changed existence. Knowing all the right doctrines isn’t enough. Knowing about Jesus Christ isn’t enough. Pietists come to know Jesus and their lives cannot remain the same. The Holy Spirit brings about a divine transformation in the life of the follower of Jesus.
Eugene Peterson describes the church gathered this way: “Church is the appointed gathering of named people in particular places who practice a life of resurrection in a world in which death gets the biggest headlines.”
Philip Spener in Pia Desideria says: “You hear the Word of God. This is good. But it is not enough that your ear hears it. Do you let it penetrate inwardly into your heart and allow the heavenly food to be digested there, so that you get the benefit of its vitality and power, or does it go in one ear and out the other?” We are to practice, live out our faith—It is the life of the resurrected Christ in us and through us.
There is the danger with some Pietists that religious experience became a type of works righteousness. At core, Pietists clung to the good news of salvation through the simple and amazing unearned grace of Jesus. I suppose we still struggle here too.
There is also the danger with some Pietists that they get too caught up in feelings. Feelings, emotions, outbursts are not to be discouraged. That is all a part of life, and a very good part of life. Religious experiences should be a part of our lives. (My Swedish forefathers would sometimes comment that raising their eyebrows was the full extent of their own religious experience!) Head and heart and feet (and hands and mouths) move together in a person’s life and in a faith community. Each is necessary. Each brings balance and perspective.
We must never accept any Christianity that does not impact and change our lives. The Pietists wouldn’t. Jesus Christ changes things. We do not manufacture the change. Lives change because of the power of God that raised Jesus Christ to a resurrection life. Paul put it this way in Ephesians 3: 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Jesus changes things!