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Johann Arndt Pointed the Way to Pietism

With his calls for holiness and lively Christianity, Arndt was a precursor of the Pietists.

THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION was more that thirty years along when Johann Arndt was born on this day, 27 December 1555, at Ballenstedt, Germany. His parents schooled him at home as a boy, emphasizing the importance of Christ’s life in a believer. To put him through college, they deprived themselves of necessities. In time, he would call for a reformation of the Reformation, insisting on the need of a mystical experience of Christ in addition to the Reformation’s legal theory of justification. 

While studying medicine, Arndt developed a painful illness. Doctors held out no hope for recovery. Arndt turned to the Lord, vowing that if God healed him, he would devote his life to Christian service. He recovered and studied theology in Lutheran and Reformed universities of Germany and Switzerland. In 1583, he accepted a pastorate at Badeborn. However, Duke John George, a Calvinist, forced him to leave after seven years because Arndt allowed images in his church and practiced exorcism. 

Arndt moved to Quedlinburg where he pastored for nine years. A dedicated pastor, he visited the sick, helped the needy, made peace between enemies, and did much good. However, he preached boldly against sin. A clique who hated his forthright preaching forced him to leave. 

While at his next post in Brunswick, Arndt issued the first volume of his book True Christianity, calling for genuine discipleship. Noting that jealousy, self-seeking, greed, and covetousness were rampant among professed Christians, he observed, “The modern life of persons outwardly professing Christianity is not with [Christ] and therefore it is against him, that is, not Christian but unchristian. For now most men are at discord with Christ, and hardly are there any of one soul, one will, one mind, and one spirit with Christ; and none but such as these ever can be Christ’s or be called rightly by his name, and accounted for Christians.” This brought down the wrath of colleagues who wanted a faith to ease their guilt without the inconvenience of giving up sin. 

Because of Arndt’s emphasis on practical Christianity and the inner, emotional component necessary to belief, he is considered the first Pietist. John Wesley especially appreciated his writings.

Dan Graves

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For more on Arndt in context, read "Reborn in Order to Renew" in Christian History #10, Pietism 

Also watch the documentary God's Glory, Neighbor's Good: The Story of Pietism

God's Glory, Neighbor's Good: The Story of Pietism can also be streamed at RedeemTV

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