In 1675 Philipp Spener wrote a preface to a book of sermons by his hero Johann Arndt. This preface became so popular it was soon published as a book in its own right by the name of Pia Desideria, Latin for “Pious Desires.” In it, he outlines what had gone wrong with the Lutheran church in his era and he makes some proposals for how it might be fixed. I have posted two other blogs on some of his detailed suggestions, but here is the overall picture:
What’s wrong with the church
Starting with clergy: while a few are grossly corrupt, the bigger problem is that many don’t understand and practice true Christianity (which is more than just avoiding obvious vices and living an outwardly moral life). Their lives subtly reflect a worldly spirit, marked by carnal pleasure, lust of the eye and arrogance (see 1Jn 2:16), ignoring the first practical principle of Christianity: denial of self. See how they move from congregation to congregation, seeking better positions! Even worse, the people conclude that what they see in their pastors is real Christianity. We would have an entirely different church if most ministers could unblushingly say to our congregations with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
Others stake almost everything on theological disagreements. They think their ministry consists of knowing how to correct the errors of other Christian groups. They ignore the fruits of those beliefs that we still hold in common with them or the rules of mortality which are acknowledged by all. Their quarrelsome nature reduces godliness to condemning all others as godless.
As a result, the pews are filled with nominal Christians. They no longer recognize sins as sins or treat them less seriously, such as drunkenness, lawsuits, dishonest business, and a failure to generously share their goods (Acts 2:44, 1Tim 6:18). Asserting salvation by grace and their participation in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, they are confident in their salvation despite living manifestly unchristian lives with no intention of mending their ways.
How to fix it
“A more extensive use of the Word of God among us” beyond just preaching. He suggests reading Scripture together as a family, private reading (including reading Scripture without commentary in the service to help those who cannot read or do not own a Bible), and small gatherings that we today would call Bible studies.
“The establishment and diligent exercise of the spiritual priesthood” (that is, the priesthood of all believers). Clericalism has resulted in a laypeople neglecting what ought to concern them (leading to ignorance and disorderly living) and spiritual abuse by pastors. Everyone should “study in the Word of the Lord, with the grace that is given him to teach others, especially those under his own roof, to chastise, exhort, convert, and edify them, to observe their life, pray for all, and insofar as possible be concerned about their salvation.”
“It is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice.” Christians need to awaken love for one another and for all people, and then to put this love into practice. He advises the use of what today would be called a spiritual director to “regularly report how they live, what opportunities they have had to practice Christian love, and how they have used or neglected these opportunities. This should be done with the intention of discovering what is amiss and securing the director’s counsel and instruction as to what ought to be done.”
“We must beware how we conduct ourselves in religious controversies with unbelievers and heretics.” More details here.
Pastors should be trained properly – More details here.
“Sermons should be prepared so that their purpose (faith and its fruits) may be achieved in the hearers to the greatest possible degree.” Many sermons are preached to impress the audience with the pastor’s learning or rhetorical skill, with little attention paid to whether “the hearers may profit from the sermon in life and death.”
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