1902 Encyclopedia > Christianity > The Influence of Pietism on Christianity

(Part 13)

The Influence of Pietism on Christianity

One other phase of early Christianity ought to be referred to, as it illustrates another side of the same great problem which was presented for solution. Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament conceptions of the kingdom of heaven the idea of a new life, or atleast of a separate consecrated life, is a conspicuous element. The kingdom of God implies that those who are within the kingdom live a life different from those without. In all ages of Christianity this new and separate life has been an object of speculation, and many various ideas of its true nature have been promulgated. The very conception of a life which is new is sufficient of itself to produce strange conjectures respecting its nature, and in the epistles of St Paul we find evidence that many of the Gentile Christians were disposed to think of the new life of Christianity as one entirely outside of the realm of ordinary moral law. This lawless or immoral tendency was sternly checked in the Christian church, and only gained head in sects outside of it; but traces of the tendency were not infrequent. The function of the Holy Spirit in the church was always made a ground of conjecture concerning the real nature of the new Christian life, and it was from mistake views of the character of the Spirit's influence and work that disturbing pietist theories perplexed early Christianity. These pietist theories gained distinctive form and acquired great power in what has been called Montanism, and the church's efforts to rid herself of this incubus, while well intentioned, led to permanent results by no means satisfactory. One of the chief characteristics of this early pietism was the idea that the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit rendered possible a continuous revelation, and it was believed that the prophetic gift was permanent in the Church. The Montanist prophets presumed to add to revelation and to overturn ecclesiastical laws and jurisdiction by means of infallible utterances disclosed to them. The practical effect would have been to reduce the organization of Christianity and the intercourse between Christians to a precarious dependence upon the dictates of self-constituted prophets, whose ideas of revelation resembled the heathen soothsaying much more closely than the Old Testament prophecy or the New Testament inspiration, and this led the church to adopt a severer discipline and more monarchical constitution. But this must be afterwards referred to.

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