The Destructive Influence of Pietism in American Society


Matt TrewhellaMany in American Christianity like to use great swelling words about revival – “a national revival” – as being the only means whereby the ills of our nation will be reversed or cured. But I submit to you that even if there were a great revival in this nation, we would not see any of the change in the hearts of men translated into a change in America’s laws.

The reason there would be no change is because American Christianity is rooted in and wed to pietism. Pietism, as a movement, originated in the late 17th century, and was what some saw as a reaction to the cold orthodoxy that had settled in 150 years after the Reformation started. Pietists viewed Christianity as being prevalent within Western culture, but believed they saw little of it evident in people’s personal lives.

Pietism therefore went to the other extreme and taught that Christianity should only affect the personal. Pietists believe Christianity or God’s Law has no place for the governance of society. They view involvement in pubic policy matters to be “unspiritual.” Hence, the pietist is constantly preoccupied with checking their motives, and listening to countless sermons on inter-personal relationships and self-improvement techniques.

Pietism was developed amongst the Lutherans, impacted the Calvinists, and became prevalent amongst the Baptists. Pietism went on to infect every area of Christianity. Present day American Christianity is pietism.

We are now seeing, in our day, the results of a pietistic Christianity. Because the pietists retreated from the culture, the institutions of the culture have been annexed and overtaken by pagan men. Even if there was a great revival, there is no theological means within present day American Christianity whereby Biblical morality could become public policy. There has to be a fundamental change in the form of Christianity in America in order to see it happen. American Christianity not only has no desire to see the Law of God fleshed out in American jurisprudence – it is literally incapable of doing so.

We have been skating on the coattails of Christian men who established what is known as Western Civilization for over 200 years now. The ‘rule of law’ for nearly 1500 years has been God’s Law in Western Civilization, not by chance, but because Christian men made it so. We are now witnessing the collapse of the ‘rule of law’ in our day. We can thank the pietists, in all their spiritual pride and Gnostism, for it.

The pietist hates God’s Law as much as the pagan. The pietist and the pagan have something they agree upon – their mutual hatred of God’s Law in society. The pagan hates it because of his rebellion. The pietist hates it because of his religion. The result is a mutually assured destruction of the culture.

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Scholar and historian, Steven Ozment, in his book Protestants: Birth of a Revolution, said that the Protestant Reformers understood that “Reform that existed only in pamphlets and sermons, and not also in law and institutions, would remain a private affair, confined to all intents and purposes within the minds of preachers and pamphleteers.”

But present day American Christianity is perfectly content for it to “remain a private affair,” hence the malaise in our culture. True Christianity understands that it’s not an either/or – rather – it understands true Christianity benefits individual men and is a benefit to nations.

Pietism is why The Barna Group recently found that 80% of Christians do not know how to apply their Christianity to their everyday life. This is because Pietism fragments everything between the so-called “spiritual” and the “unspiritual,” and thinks God’s Word doesn’t have anything to say about law, government, economics or education, which results in the individual pietist conforming to every area of American life because he views Christianity as not being applicable to his everyday life and every area of life.

I recently received a flyer in my mailbox from a “Bible-believing” church which invited me to hear a “sermon series” about “tension.” This is all pietistic Christianity has to offer the nation – and this is what one’s Christianity is reduced to by pietism – a therapy for tension.

Christian men of old saw things far differently. They believed the civil authorities should “kiss the Son, lest He be angry” (Psalm 2:10-12). They sought to win the magistrates of their day to Christ or to at least respect His rule. They understood that the Law of God in society was needed, and that civil government was suppose to be a picture of God’s justice and glory in the earth, causing men to consider matters of eternal salvation.

Matt TrewhellaWe are not talking about a socio-political utopia here, as the nature of man forbids it. I can assure you however that when Christian men of old found themselves in a dire situation, they didn’t open up their prophesy charts and begin to examine them. Rather, they picked up their Bibles and looked to construct a Christian society. May the Lord grant us the grace to do likewise.

Matt Trewhella is the pastor of Mercy Seat Christian Church (MercySeat.net) and the founder of Missionaries to the Preborn (MissionariesToThePreborn.com). He and his wife, Clara, have eleven children and reside in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. 

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  • http://chrisritchie.blogspot.com/ Chris Ritchie

    The guy with the funny name from Asbury Seminary notwithstanding, I think the author is correct.

    I’ve tried in vain to get my pastors to address the political issues of our day. I’ve emailed and spoken with them personally. I sent them a link to Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon voicing his opposition to the Viet Nam war. I don’t ask that they condemn the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya and Syria, etc. I just ask that they take a stand. I don’t know where the church stands on these issues.

    And what about the economy? How should Christians respond to our government’s bailout of certain industries and failure to prosecute anyone responsible? Does my church side with Jim Wallis and the Social Gospel? Are they adherents of Libertarian Theology? Or do they side with more conservative branches of protestantism?

    What about gun control? Does the church have anything to say on this issue? How should Christians respond? Is now the time to fight and die for the inalienable right to bear arms? Why did Christians fight in the American Revolution? How was it justified? Or did they not fight? I don’t know. I and other Christians are wrestling with this issue and the church isn’t addressing it.

    It is infuriating. I’m considering changing churches because these men refuse to take a stand. Wasn’t it the church that was responsible for providing the spiritual justification and foundation for the American Revolution through the Great Awakening?

    Isn’t the church about more than just social issues? We read the Bible like a self-help manual. I think God intended much more. I’m not arguing for a theocracy. Calvin’s Geneva and the Catholic Church’s Spanish Inquisition should disabuse us from trying that again. But to retreat into navel gazing denies the power of God to transform cultures.

    I didn’t get to go to Seminary. I go to church to learn from my pastor how I as a Christian layman should engage my culture. Every time the church shirks that responsibility, the rest of us are poorer for it.

    I think the 501(c)3 status has compromised the church today. We need to take back our voice and stop accepting handouts from the government which have amounted to nothing more than bribes to purchase our silence.

  • RJR Fan

    adhocmail2004 may not realize it, but he has adopted a unitarian position. In his universe, corporate entities, such as nations, simply do not matter, and the pious Christian can cheerfully tell them to go to hell. Nothing “really” exists but God and mansoul — and as long as I can keep my own private personal gnosis stoked up to red-hot fervor, all is well.

    adhocmail2004 is apparently ignorant of the fact that the God of the Bible, the God of Christianity, is the Blessed Trinity, One and Three, Singular and Plural, One God in Three Persons, a Holy Community Who validates by His very nature all other legitimate communities. (God is the “Father of all fatherhood.”)

    In practice, our pious, personal walk with God is worked out in the context of our covenantal relationships — to Him, to our families, to our churches, and yes, to our civil orders. The most important magistracy in the common-law order is the neighborhood theocracy, twelve good men and true, who swear on the Bible, to the God of the Bible, to enforce justice in their community.

    But, if the fight is already fixed, the game is already rigged, if God has already decided to take a dive and hand the created order over to Satan, we can breathe a big sigh of relief. God has ordained our ultimate failure in public life, so there’s no need to try very hard. Let’s just pop some popcorn and watch the fireworks!