Copyright © 2017 Roger Helland
Recently, I had coffee with a long-time friend and colleague. We discussed the condition of our conference, and our pastors—some of whom were angry and combative—and of our own lives. We mused on the dire necessity for today’s church and culture to behold glorious theology that adorns godly pastors.
“Do you see a future for our movement?” he asked.
I replied, “What makes a movement a movement is where things actually move. Think of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., or the Charismatic movement, or the Methodist or Moravian movements, or the Pietist movement. What do they have in common?”
“A unified vision with an unrelenting focus and energy for change,” he replied.
I agreed. We also mused on the character of a seminary professor we knew.
“I don’t know the future of this prof. Though his students seem to like him, among his colleagues he’s prickly and contentious,” my friend said.
“It’s difficult to fuel a movement where pastors and professors lead lives that don’t match their theology, when their conduct or character shackles the cause of Christ,” I reflected. In his book True Christianity, early Pietist forerunner Johann Arndt asked, “How can the truth of pure doctrine be upheld without a holy life?”
Another key feature of Pietism is Devotion to Pure Doctrine and Life.
The early Pietists, as dedicated German Lutherans, maintained the grand doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. But pure doctrine must merge with a holy life—a core theme for Wesley and the Methodists (and the Puritans). In 1 Timothy 4:17, Paul instructed Timothy, the young pastor, to train himself for godliness—literally, gymnasium himself for piety. He also advised him to closely watch his life and doctrine or teaching (1 Tim. 4:16).
All pastoral leaders must cultivate their personal piety or godliness as a fundamental practice, and insure that their life and doctrine match. As the leaders go, so go the people. Pastors must be examples. Do you want people to imitate your faith and life? Spiritual renewal must begin with pastors if it is to affect the people. We all know of too many striking cases where some popular TV evangelists or megachurch media pastors crashed their churches and ministries into ditches of moral, financial, or spiritual failure. We need Scripture-fed and Spirit-led pastors.
How can some pastors, who read their Bibles and pray, when overcome with calamity or consternation, choose to grab the bottle, watch soap operas, surf internet porn sites, drain their bank accounts, cash in their marriages for a one-night fling, or pop pills to end it all? Some cheap lie, some grinding pattern, some coping tool, or some dastardly philosophy, sent their soul to the “dark side of the force,” which betrayed and blackened them.
The drift to the edge is often subtle, like a tire low on air that gradually pulls the car to the right and into the ditch before we realize it. Let us re-calibrate the task of theology to serve as a tool for devotion. Puritan William Ames wrote: “Theology is the doctrine of living to God . . . men live to God when they live in accord with the will of God, to the glory of God, and with God working in them.” Let me offer three practices to nurture devotion to pure doctrine and life.
First, read and pray through Scripture devotionally. Read with an alert mind to understand and with an open heart to respond. In the words of Pietist New Testament scholar, Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752), “Apply yourself wholly to the text; apply the text wholly to yourself.”
Second, read and pray through Scripture theologically and note what it communicates about God. As they surface, apply the great doctrines of the Christian faith to your life. J. I. Packer remarks, “Theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness.”
Third, read good books on theology and on the devotional life and let them enlarge your heart and mind. Let them simmer and then apply them to your life. For example, my book entitled Magnificent Surrender, works through the book of Colossians for theology and devotion.
The Pietists can teach us more about spiritual renewal in today’s church than what I cover here. For more on the Pietists, see my recent book, The Devout Life: Plunging the Depths of Spiritual Renewal. We can also learn from other renewal movements as well. What is one that you would recommend? What are some of the practices that we can learn?
Roger Helland, DMin. serves as district minister of the Baptist General Conference in Alberta, Canada, and teaches as an adjunct instructor at several Bible colleges and seminaries. He is the author of six books including Missional Spirituality, Magnificent Surrender, and The Revived Church: https://www.amazon.com/author/rogerhelland