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Religion Library: Lutheran

Early Developments

Written by: Ted Vial

These doctrinal debates seemed to fall back into a kind of logical hairsplitting that Protestants associate with medieval Catholic theology, and they contributed to warfare between various sects.This was followed bya movement called rationalism arose.Rationalism was part of the 18th-century European period called the Enlightenment.The Enlightenment had a higher opinion of human reason and goodness than Luther and the other Reformers.It was the period when new methods of determining truth (the scientific method, for example, as well as a modern historical approach to ancient documents such as the Bible) began to challenge traditional methods.It was the period when people began experimenting with self-government of the people (for example, on the North American continent, and in the French Revolution).Luther and his colleagues were not against the use of reason itself, only against the use of reason apart from faith in God.

Rationalists focused on what all humans, apart from specific revelation or confession, could know was true.They argued that all religions shared the same core ideas, one of which is that the key part of religion is moral behavior.The special revelations claimed by some groups (Luther's claim to the Gospel promises, for example) were seen as true insofar as they agreed with these core ideas, but less important than the core idea, and dangerous insofar as they separated people into confessional camps.Note that, while rationalists disagreed with the Philippists and Gnesio-Lutherans on almost everything, they all agreed that religion was primarily a matter of determining and following correct beliefs.

In response to both Protestant Scholasticism and rationalism, a very influential movement in Germany developed in the 18th and 19th centuries called pietism.Its originators are Philip Spener (1635-1705) and August Franke (1663-1727).These men developed small cells called "collegia pietatis," or "associations of piety."These were not separate from the Lutheran church, and both men required their followers to remain within the Lutheran church.They were small groups that met for Bible study and prayer.The point was not merely increased understanding, but the practical effects of Bible study on believers' lives.Their intention was to act as a leaven for the church, to infuse it with spiritual life.One pietist, Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760), offered his estate in Moravia as a place of refuge to a persecuted sect from Bohemia that had been founded by Jan Hus (1372-1415).(A century before Luther, Hus had embraced some of what were to become key doctrines of the Protestant movement.These disciples of Hus had immigrated to Germany, where they were given safe haven by Zinzendorf.)This is the origin of the Moravian church.The pietists soon took control of the faculty of the University of Halle, which became a major training ground for pietist ministers and theologians.


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