PIA DESIDERIA – Philipp Spener (Condensed summary from Introduction by Theodore Tappert)
Still practical for fallen church renewal today are the sensible proposals Philipp Spener presented in his Pia Desideria. Spener dedicated his life to the fallen church’s renewal. He first published Pia Desideria, in 1675. The structure of the work is uncomplicated. It falls naturally into three parts, The first part reviews the shortcomings of the church in Spener’s day.
Spener’s day was at the close of the Thirty Year’s War in 1648. Germany was divided into more than three hundred territories or states, each of which was governed by a prince or other ruler. As was the case at the time in other European countries, these rulers claimed that their power was absolute because it was received directly from God and owed nothing to the consent of the people.
The absolutist pretensions of the rulers inevitably affected the church. In the sixteenth century the church leaders had turned to the German princes, as the chief members of the church to take a hand in the reform of the church in their lands. This appeal for provisional assistance had led in time to a condition of permanent control. By the second half of the seventeenth century many of the rulers were members of the church in name only, yet they held ecclesiastical legislation and appointments firmly in their grasp. Other rulers, who continued to be sincere in their Christian profession and had good intentions, meddled in the inner life of the church to its serious detriment. Church and state were united in such a way that the state controlled the church, and the ministers became officials of the state.
Spener calls attention to the moral laxity in all classes of society. Sins are not taken seriously, and religious duties are performed for the most part in a merely external and superficial way. Clergy and church members are equally at fault.
The second part of Pia Desideria asserts the possibility of reform. There is no justification for despair. The promises of God in the Bible and the example of the early church offer ample encouragement for the expectations of better conditions in the church.
The third part presents six concrete proposals for achieving the desired reform. Spener’s six key proposals of how to enact church reform are paraphrased below:
(1) to more thoroughly acquaint believers with scripture by means of private readings and study groups in addition to preaching;
(2) to increase the involvement of church members in all functions of the church;
(3) to emphasize the importance of believers “doing” as well as “believing”, putting into practice their faith and knowledge of God;
(4) to approach religious discussions with humility and love, avoiding controversy whenever possible;
(5) to ensure that pastors are both well-educated and moral; and
(6) to focus preaching to grow our confidence and faith in the truth of Christ and the truth of the Bible in ordinary believers.
Spener’s movement was labeled the Piety movement. Piety in the context used by Spener means honest, moral, and sincere. To the extent such principles guide a Church it seems reasonable to expect the members to experience Spiritual growth in their own lives and to expect their Church to make a positive difference in the world.