Part three of our examination of Pentecostal foundations will bring us back to the 17th century where we take a look at the founder of a movement called “Lutheran Pietism”, Philipp Spener and his successor Nikolaus Von Zinzendorf.
Spener would spark this new movement with a written work in 1670 known as “Pious Desires”. In this book he promoted, or in some instances introduced, a division of “heart and head” giving the “heart” (feeling, emotion, personal experience) greater emphasis and importance than the “head” (intellect, reasoning, exegesis). Up to this point, the reformers taught the Scriptural principles of dying to selfish desires and sins of the flesh by way of the Holy Spirit and by that same Spirit live to Christ by way of being transformed by the renewing of one’s mind with Scripture and by taking thoughts captive bringing them to the obedience of Christ. This led to a life that experienced true righteousness, joy, peace, patience etc as one’s mind was brought under rightful submission to God’s word in the way God intended it to be. Feelings and emotion were present in those days but they took a back seat to a rightly renewed mind/intellect by way of reading and applying the Bible. Spener’s teaching that the heart was somehow separate from the head (which is false – it is all part of the essence of who we are) would result in a doctrine whereby those who lived by “on fire” feelings (rollercoaster of up-and-down Christianity) would cast shame on those who used their whole hearts i.e. mind first, emotions second to worship, follow, and obey God’s word.
According to Spener – doctrine is “useless if not on fire” which sounds deep, spiritual, and authentic, but in reality, Spener’s definition of “fire” is merely ecstatic emotionalism regardless of what Scripture has to say on the issue. This elevation in authority of how we are “feeling” while reducing sound truthful doctrine to mere “head knowledge” was truly cutting edge for his day. Today, this is a staple doctrine of nearly every apostate church in America including the vast majority of “Pentecostal” churches and all charismatic churches. As a result of this “feeling” worship, many are now being led astray and further afield from the God of truth who calls us to worship Him in spirit (not feeling) and truth (as a thing actually exists).
Spener also placed greater importance on preaching “practical application” topical studies and allegorical application for daily life as opposed to that of correct doctrine: sin, repentance, salvation, Christology, theology proper. This erroneous approach to reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture did not begin with Spener, but rather 1300 years earlier with a man named Origen c.290-325 B.C. Oddly enough, although the Roman Catholic church refused to canonize Origen (i.e. there is not “Saint” before Origen’s name as with the other Church fathers) because of his theological meltdown late in life which included, among other things, universalism and the idea that demons can and will one day be saved, they still fully embraced his allegorizing Scripture passages. Allegorizing passages that weren’t intended for this approach, enabled the Roman Catholic leaders to make the Scriptures say whaterve they wanted them to say and thereby exalt the Roman See into a position of dominance and control. They would use allegory to justify a “priesthood” separate and higher than a lower “laity”, compulsory abstinence of those priests in direct contradiction to Scripture, infant baptism, Papal authority/infallibility, deification of Mary & dead believers they began to confer the title of “saint” to, and many more.
It would take reformers like Peter Waldo of the Waldnesians, John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, and John Calvin to call attention to these allegorical nightmares and pull people back to the plain reading literal interpretation of the Bible. The reformation principle was simple, where the Bible was clearly literal it was to be received accordingly and where the intention of the writer was clearly allegorical or metaphorical (He hides me in the shadow of His wings…) it was to be received and interpreted in light of the context of the given passage or book and in harmony with the rest of God’s Word (the difficult passage interpreted in light of the plain passage). The reformation movement cleaned out much of Origen’s and the Roman Catholic allegorical garbage in nearly all areas except the Book of Revelation which has a large number of Bible-believing protestants who dismiss this book (almost entirely) due to the assumption from Origen that it is nothing more than allegory or was given post-predictive in that everything in Revelation supposedly happened already by 70 A.D. except the actual final day of judgement where Jesus returns (amillenialism).
Spener reintroduced this allegorical approach to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible which has resulted in additional theological problems for the Methodists, Holiness, and Pentecostal movements who would follow in the wake of his teachings as they made their way down through history .
The major tenets of Spener’s Pietism would be:
- Preaching is devotional not doctrinal – any doctrine unrelated to life is irrelevant
- But of course he puts himself and pietist preacher in the position of determining what doctrine is related and unrelated to life
- Abstinence of certain habits – smoking, drinking, dancing, theatre, cinema – this is personal holiness to them.
- This found its way into Pentecostalism today where smoking and drinking are more damnedable sins than pride, greed, and deception in the name of “faith” – many Pentecostal churches and “seminaries” which are widely known to practice the above are Assemblies of God, Foursquare International, and Oral Roberts University – but all are famous for drinking and smoking abolition but don’t really put an emphasis on avoiding greed, love of money, and deceptive false healings for a show.
- Stress on personal devotional life and evangelism – I can agree with this one, however the personal devotion of a pietist involves long wordy prayers to God as if teaching him or twisting him to do a thing He might not have been inclined to do otherwise all as a result of “travailing” in prayer. Again, a mainstay expectation of Pentecostals today.
- Laity is more important than minister.
- Pentecostalism, especially charismatic Pentecostalism, has taken the opposite position. The minister is a celebrity to be ushered safely out of the congregation less his or her anointing and impartation leak out on to the wrong person! In truth both Pietists and Pentecostals get this wrong as there is no such thing as “laity”. We are all ministers and some have giftings to teach, to pastor, to lead, etc and those who have chosen to be a part of that congregation support that leader in an effort to keep him (not her) on track and teaching God’s Word in truth.
- Emotions are more important than intellect – orthodoxy is of no use unless it is “on fire”.
- They are suspicious of academia and anything requiring the intellect.
- Prays for revival than to work for reformation.
- This is all about them trying to make things happen instead of trusting the Lord at his word and placing our faith in His sustaining work and grace in perfecting the church. Also, it is quite evident from Scripture that there will be a gradual trend toward apostasy and not revival which is what we’re seeing today with groups like mainline denominaitonalism, pentecostalism, seeker sensitivism, and Roman Catholicism. Also Christianity has a purported 2.1 billion adherents – it is really closer to about 70 million Bible-believing, Bible-based Christians that truly adhere to the 5 solas of the Reformation.
- Highly introspective – always asking how good they are doing that day.
- We are to judge ourselves and thereby make appropriate corrections to behaviour via repentence, however, the pietist way is to try to perform their own sanctification which is the job of the Holy Spirit. This tenet can be good but if practised out of balance it can result in a sense of futility in our Christian walk.
- Gave rise to foreign missions.
- At the outset this sounds perfectly nice and pure, but the sad truth is, like the converts of Pentecostals, we then started to see entire nations that have only ever known a “feelings and emotions” form of pseudo-Christianity and have never been given the actual truth of God’s word through doctrinal preaching of sin, hell, atonement, Jesus’ resurrection, life in Christ, The Bible as sufficient, true sanctification, etc. They are being left vulnerable to cult groups like the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Charismatics.
Among Spener’s Pietist groups were completely upside down and inside out views of Christian living whereby Christians were instructed to have internal focus on how they are doing in their Christian walk and how they should be “helping” the sanctification practice. This was in direct opposition to the teaching of the Reformers which states that we are to recognize that we are lost miserable wretches in and of ourselves and we are desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work in our life: first to put to death the deeds of the flesh and second to bring about sanctification where we are made more like Christ with each passing day or year.
This new internal focus and emphasis would predictably degenerate into mysticism and many of them were soon to be led astray by various fringe groups like Zinzendorf’s Hernhutt. This internal emphasis would greatly impact John Wesley and his writings which then resulted in aberrant teachers like Charles Finney and Phoebe Palmer who would then go down in history as founders of the Holiness and Higher Life movements, out of which both doctrines and preachers would emerge to form the earliest appearances of the Pentecostal movement in the late 19th century.
Spener’s successor to Pietist leadership was a man named Nikolaus Von Zinzendorf, a Lutheran Pastor who took in a group of refugees from the Moravian church who were under intense slaughter and persecution from the Roman Catholics who had an intense hatred for their founder(s) John Hus and earlier John Wycliffe. Zinzendorf opened his Hernhutt abode/estate and allowed them to lived there as a type of commune with Zinzendorf as Pastor. During this time, Zinzendorf read Spener’s “Pious Desires” and was profoundly impacted by what he read. He began to take Spener’s aberrant doctrine to bizarre extremes and insisted that his followers did the same: Moravian Pietism was officially born.
It is important to note that Moravian Pietists are not the same as the Moravian Church who was a small pre-reformation band who largely followed the teachings of John Hus’ Unity of the Brethren and John Wycliffe and who predate the both Zinzendorf and Spener. Fragments of this group still exist today as the “Moravian Church” and are distinctly different from the Moravian Pietists started by Zinzendorf’s embrace of Philip Spener’s writings.
Zinzendorf developed his Moravian followers in a form of spirituality that some claim brought about a “renewal” in 1727 whereby some referred to spiritual “experiences” and a “baptism in the Holy Spirit”. His teachings are on record as being heretical and bizarre in that he denies the deity of Jesus in some places and speaks of a sexual union with Christ’s wounds. His blasphemy was denounced by John Wesley who was sympathetic to Spener’s beliefs. Like all cult leaders, Zinzendorf placed a great emphasis on “divine revalation” and de-emphasised proper exegesis of God’s word. This “man of god” dominance over a commune is seen across charismatic churches today with teachers like Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes etc. Zinzendorf was called the “prophet of the heart” because of his continuing in Spener’s emphasis on heart over head. By now, this “feeling and emotion” based belief system had abandoned taking God at His word the Bible by faith and then began to embrace the experiential as supreme. Its clear that in only a few years, Spener’s “heart over head” had degraded into outright esoteric mysticism with Zinzendorf.
Out of this divine revelation emerged an even heavier emphasis on prayer. This sounds great at first mention but not upon further inspection. As the old mysticism of Roman Catholic monks (who adopted it from Eastern religions) perverted the idea of straightforward communication with God as taught by Jesus, into a works-based 100 year prayer session . You read that correctly, that was 100 years of prayer. This is in direct opposition to the Scripture which says, “God is in heaven and you are on earth, let your words be few” . It is obvious works-based prayer (to which god is hard to know!) in an effort to change God’s mind and coerce his cooperation on things like world missions etc. This works-based prayer approach is often the fodder of boasting by many Pentecostal Pastors and Charismatic false teachers like Phil Johnson, Kris Vallotton, and Rick Joyner of the NAR cult and Mike Bickle of the Kansas City Prophets who formed International House of Prayer (IHOP) as a “24 Hour Prayer” center (which god they pray to is hard to know but he tells them to practice forms of yoga so I can only assume an Eastern mystical god is responding) Zinzendorf’s over-emphasis on time and energy in prayer to change God’s mind/heart etc. has clearly passed down through the last 300 years and has spawned numerous bizarre cults and can be seen today in the teachings of cultists like the NAR and IHOP.