This week’s Did You Know is excerpted from the book, “Changed by Grace,” written by a South Bend History professor:
There were hundreds of orthodox Lutheran doctrines and dogmas defined in great detail by the Protestant scholastic theologians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, using (ironically) all of the traditional technical vocabulary of the medieval Catholic Church which the Lutheran’s had revolted from in disgust in the sixteenth century. Conservative Lutheran Pastors in America took these matters very seriously indeed, and would never have cooperated, for example, with Calvinists like the Presbyterians, the Baptists, and the New England Congregationalists, let alone people like John Wesley’s Methodists, whom they particularly disliked, or the Quakers, Mennonites, or any other non-Lutheran Protestant group.
A conservative Lutheran pastor, furthermore, was a stern authority figure who ruled his congregation with an iron hand, and simply issued blunt orders which were expected to be followed. Our souls were saved by God’s grace, but the church was ruled by Law, and the pastor was the interpreter and enforcer of this law. Pietism had been a rebellion in Germany against this kind of authoritarian rigidity and it was started in the seventeenth century by a Lutheran pastor named Philipp Jakob Spener, who began holding little devotional meetings twice a week in his home, for people who wanted a kind of spirituality which laid its emphasis upon feeling and intuition, rather than upon following doctrines and dogmas.
Spener’s movement began spreading and has continued to play a minority role in German Lutheranism all the way to the present. The Lutheran Pietist custom of holding small devotional meetings for the deeply pious, separate from the formal church services, was especially important. The Pietists would go to the regular Lutheran service on Sunday morning, but then meet separately during the week to develop a more intense kind of spirituality based, not on doctrines and dogmas, but on the religion of the heart. The “house parties” of the Oxford Group were descended in part from these little Lutheran Pietist gatherings which were held in people’s homes and other places of that sort.
The emphasis which Frank Buchman placed upon Gefuhl (feeling and emotion), and the religion of the heart also came from the Lutheran Pietist background. So Buchman’s Pietism enabled him to break with the kind of rigid orthodoxy which was typical of so many ultra–conservative Lutheran pastors, and made it possible for him to learn how to work with Christians who held a wide variety of other beliefs. Although he had come from outside of the English–speaking evangelical tradition in terms of his own ancestry and educational background, he managed to grasp the heart and core of the Anglo-American evangelical tradition. He developed ways to restate some of the most important of the early eighteenth-century evangelical ideas in modern language and manner that was enormously effective.
The teachings of the early evangelical movement and its child, the American frontier revivalist tradition, were revitalized in his hands, and given their old power and force once again.
This was important, because contact with the Oxford Group, and Buchman’s way of talking about the issues, forced both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith to rethink the New England evangelical tradition in which they had been brought up, and made them go back and look again at its original formative ideas in even more modern language, and began proclaiming the evangelical message in a way which pushed it in an even newer and more radical direction.
Important as his work was, Frank Buchman did not write much himself, however, which is why we must look at people like V.C. Kitchen to see what Buchman had discovered and why it worked so well.
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