Pietism’s Grave Danger to Christianity

By Graham Glover

I am generally immune to the antics of Christian pietists. Their self-righteousness is more silly than offensive and their claim to represent some kind of authentic Christianity is as ridiculous as the theology the espouse. They are found throughout Christendom, from Roman Catholicism to your garden variety non-denominational community church, and yes, they even make their presence known in my own Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The best way to deal with their heresy – and yes, they are heretics, in a most vile and horrendous way – is to pretend they don’t exist. If they want to look to what they perceive to be their good works – some asinine way of “righteous” living – as that which earns them favor and subsequently salvation with our Lord, then so be it. I’d rather deal with a non-Christian, who essentially believes the same thing, and in so doing, share the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, than try to reason with a pietist who is convinced that grace is not enough, that Christ’s blood is not the only thing that warrants forgiveness, and that our works are the true measure of our faith and our standing before God. At least with the non-believer, there is the possibility of them embracing the free gift of salvation given to us by our Savior.

The pietist however wants nothing to do with Jesus. They may tell you otherwise. They talk a lot about Jesus. They think what they preach is what Jesus taught and preached. For them, Jesus is the ultimate role-model, the perfect leader they think can transform their lives. On the later point they are correct. Jesus radically changes lives. But what Jesus did – what Jesus continues to do – is seldom, if ever found in their words or deeds.


Pietists know little about an incarnate Lord that makes Himself present in the gifts of His Church. The Holy Scriptures are rule books of what we should do for God, instead of God’s revelation about what He does for us. Worship is a way for us to show God that we love Him, instead of a means for God to literally give Himself to us. Prayer consists of a lot of praise for the Lord’s glory and majesty, instead of petitions that proclaim how this same God became flesh to forgive us for our many trespasses. For the pietist, Christian living takes it shape in meeting a standard set by their local congregation or an ever-evolving para-church organization, instead of reveling in the various vocations to which each of us have been called. On so many levels, pietism is steeped in the “I”, instead of the “I am”.

So why not do what I note above and simply ignore them? Why not treat them as the insignificant afterthoughts they should be to those who hold the catholic faith?

I wish we could. Few things would please me more than to see our churches ignore the treachery that pietism teaches. Don’t kid yourself, pietism is dangerous. It’s more dangerous than most heresies, because is disguises itself as Christian. It uses words that Christians are familiar with and ideas that are found in our doctrines and teachings. But pietism is not Christian – at all. It’s all about the self. It’s only and exclusively about what we do. Christ’s crucifixion – His resurrection – His constant intercession on our behalf to the Father is alien to the pietist. This should make any Christian cringe. To think that our faith could turn into something that focuses on us rather than on Christ is frightening. This concept is antithetical to everything authentically Christian.


Sadly, however, I’m pretty sure pietism is here to stay. It remains because Satan wants nothing more than for us to look inward to ourselves. Looking to the cross. Looking to the empty tomb is exactly what Satan does not want us to do. The evil one wants us to trust in ourselves. He wants us to find satisfaction in our works. For when we do this, Christ becomes an afterthought. His grace – His forgiveness becomes insignificant. Consequently, we don’t need the Church. We only need ourselves. And when we do this, Satan has won.

Thankfully we know that our faith is not about us. It’s about Jesus. Our works are meaningless and insignificant. Don’t fool yourself otherwise. It’s only about Jesus’ works. It’s not about our righteousness. It’s only – today and forever – about Christ’s righteousness.

Yes, pietism is dangerous, but so too is Satan, and Christ defeated Him as He will one day this most ancient of heresies.