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1959 Article

Pietism is a form of piety originating after the Reformation and during the period of Orthodoxy within the Reformed and Lutheran churches of continental Europe, chiefly in Germany, parallels to which are to be found in Methodism, revivalism, and Fundamentalism in England and America. No other single religious movement has had such an impact on the Mennonites in all countries with the exception of the Netherlands as Pietism. This observation has led some to believe that there is a close historical kinship between Anabaptism and Pietism (Max Goebel, Albrecht Ritschl).

Background and Basic Principles

Pietism as a movement came into being at the end of the 17th century in the midst of Reformed and Lutheran Orthodoxy in which adherence to the doctrinal and confessional heritage was strongly emphasized. In opposition or as a supplement Pietism emphasized a "heartfelt" religion accompanied by a self-analysis based on a personal emotionally experienced conversion resulting in the application of this experience in daily life in doing good works and in certain forms of nonconformity, abstaining from such entertainments as the dance, card playing, the theater, worldly literature, and at times alcoholic beverages. Pietism also emphasized the second coming of Christ. Its adherents met frequently for private devotional exercises.

Major representatives of Pietism in the Reformed Church were Gisbert Voetius (Utrecht) and Gerhard Tersteegen (Mühlheim). The father of Pietism within the Lutheran Church was Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), who was active as a minister in Frankfurt, Dresden, and Berlin and started the movement through his Pia desideria (Pious Wishes) in 1675, in which he emphasized more diligent use of the Bible, the spiritual priesthood of laymen, a reform of preaching and the study of theology. Through group Bible studies, prayer meetings, and special meetings for children he introduced institutions which later were accepted by Protestant churches generally. August Hermann Francke (1663-1727) emphasized home mission work and the spread of the Bible. Nicholas Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), gave Pietism a more emotional emphasis. He became the great leader of the Moravian Church and promoted foreign missions by sending missionaries out to the West Indies, Greenland, and America. He had received the remnant of the Moravian Brethren on his estate in Silesia, where they founded the village of Herrnhut. His successor was August Gottlieb Spangenberg (1704-1792). Particular brands of Pietism originated in Württemberg, promoted by men like Johann Albrecht Bengel, who introduced special private Bible studies known as "Stunden" (see Stundism).

Various waves of Pietism have influenced European Christendom. In France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, "Reveil" became another form which influenced the Mennonites, particularly in Holland. Later the Baptist movement spread from England to Germany and other countries influencing the Mennonites of Russia, Prussia, and Poland. The Gemeinschaftsbewegung of the 19th century was another form of much the same movement, which influenced the Mennonites of the Palatinate. Pietism also affected Anglican Christianity through the Moravians. John Wesley was influenced by Moravian missionaries in his work in England. The Moravians established outposts in Holland, England, and Pennsylvania. The various awakenings and revivals of North America were closely related to continental Pietism. The assertion that the Great Awakening during the first half of the 18th century, primarily promoted by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, had its beginnings among the Mennonites has not been clearly established. The revival movements of the 19th and 20th centuries centering around Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody, J. Wilbur Chapman, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham have very much the same emphasis as Pietism, although each has peculiarities and methods of its own, and although the mass type of evangelism was seldom practiced in Europe.

Netherlands and North Germany

Along the Lower Rhine in Northwest Germany, the Mennonites had early contacts with leading pietists. The devotional writings of Pieter Pietersz, Jan Philipsz Schabaelje, and others also reveal pietistic tendencies prior to the actual introduction of Pietism. Johannes Deknatel of Amsterdam was strongly influenced by the Moravians. John Wesley was a guest in his home. Deknatel influenced the South German Mennonites toward Pietism (see Weber, Peter). Before Deknatel the Collegiant movement had definite pietistic traits and influenced the Dutch Mennonites very strongly. Galenus Abrahamsz, the leader of the Lamists, was its main representative. The Reveil movement of the Netherlands, led by Willem Bilderdijk (1756-1831), influenced the Mennonites. Among the Mennonite leaders in it were Willem de Clercq, Jan ter Borg, and Jan de Liefde, who promoted a "return to the Bible." The Gemeentedagbeweging after World War I had also some pietistic leanings.

The Mennonites of Krefeld were under the influence of Pietism. Gerhard Tersteegen had friends among the Mennonites and preached in their church. The Krefeld Mennonites were also influenced by the Quakers and the Dunkards. Ernst Christoph Hochmann von Hohenau associated with them. The Mennonites of Hamburg-Altona were strongly influenced by Pietism. The van der Smissen family, originally very successful in business, directed its interest to a large extent to the cause of Pietism. The strongest representative was Jacob Gysbert van der Smissen, who was in touch with the pietistic leaders of his day and supported their cause. Jacob Denner followed pietistic leanings to the degree that he broke away from the Mennonite church and established a Dompelaar church.


The Mennonites of Prussia were early in contact with representatives of Moravian Pietism. It was particularly the case with the Mennonites along the Vistula River and the congregation of Brenkenhoffswalde near Driesen. Joh. N. Lederer-Lentz and J. H. G. Jahr were ministers of the Moravian Church who visited the Mennonites of Brenkenhoffswalde and the Vistula River between Graudenz and Marienburg in the early 19th century prior to their migration to Russia and helped them when the revival broke out. Mrs. von Krüdener also visited these churches, emphasizing sanctification of life. Moravian literature was read by the Mennonites of West Prussia and Poland. The writings of Johann Arndt, Krummacher, and Hofacker were much used by most of the Mennonites.

Among the Mennonites in South Germany the Pietism of Württemberg was influential. The movement of J. M. Hahn influenced three small groups to break away and form the Hahnische Mennoniten. A similar pietistic influence was found among the Mennonites of Switzerland and Alsace-Lorraine. As soon as the Mennonites of these areas began to attend schools in preparation for the ministry or simply to strengthen their religious convictions they attended pietistic institutions. The Missionary Institute of Basel founded by Christian G. Blumhardt (1840), the Bible school at Beuggen in southern Baden, the Bible school at Muristalden near Bern, the Evangelical Ministerial Training School of Basel founded in 1876, and the St. Chrischona school near Basel founded in 1835 were attended by Mennonites of Germany, Russia, Switzerland, and France. In Switzerland the Mennonites have been closely associated with the Free Evangelical churches, which were of pietistic background.


The Mennonites of Russia, particularly those who had been in touch with the Moravians in Prussia, underwent pietistic influences during the first half of the 19th century. Additional influences came through Württemberg Pietism and its chief promoter Eduard Wüst, who was the minister of a neighboring Evangelical separatist church near the Molotschna settlement. Some of the Mennonite leaders, such as August Lenzmann and Cornelius Jansen, became his close friends and introduced him to the Mennonite churches and settlements. Nicholai Schmidt, who traveled in South Germany, became acquainted with the teachings of Christoph Hoffman, a separatist of Württemberg. The forces at work among the Mennonites of Russia through these influences aimed to raise the educational, cultural, and spiritual levels and to free the Mennonite brotherhood from a "dead orthodoxy" in favor of a pietistic experience of salvation, which led to the founding of a number of new groups within the Mennonite brotherhood and the revitalization of the total brotherhood. In addition to the influence of Pietism of Moravian and Württemberg background, the German Baptist influences must be mentioned. The Mennonite Brethren, with their emphasis on abstinence and the emotional side of Christian experience, were most influenced by Pietism. However, the Mennonites of Russia in general were strongly influenced by this movement. The young men who obtained a training for the ministry and teaching profession attended not only the schools of Switzerland already named, but also the Johanneum of Barmen, established in 1886, the Missionsanstalt of Neukirchen near Mörs, Lower Rhine, established in 1882, and the Bible School of Berlin, established in 1905 and later transferred to Wiedenest. These schools, although differing widely in educational standards, were all originally inspired by Pietism and had also a definite influence on the Mennonites of Russia and consequently on those in America. The mission society Licht im Osten, organized in Wernigerode am Harz in 1918 under the leadership of Jakob Kroeker, was intended to serve evangelical Christendom in Russia. The Blankenburg Alliance Conference of Germany, at which Jakob Kroeker was a frequent speaker, was quite regularly attended by Mennonites from Russia and Germany. The Plymouth Brethren, founded in 1824 in England by J. N. Darby, influenced the Mennonites through traveling evangelists and Bible teachers, such as Baedeker, and in the mid-20th century, Erich Sauer.


From the earliest Mennonite settlements at Germantown to the present time, characteristics and influences of Pietism can easily be traced among the immigrants coming from Europe. Pietism of European background prevailed for a long period, not only in groups like the Mennonite Brethren and Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, but also in the older churches. The American revival movements also influenced the Mennonites. John Oberholtzer, in organizing a conference of like-minded congregations and ministers and introducing Sunday schools, publications, and mission activities, revealed pietistic influence at work among the Mennonites of his day. Carl Justus van der Smissen, called from Germany to teach at Wadsworth Mennonite School, successfully promoted pietistic views in this country. Most of the Mennonites who came from West Prussia, Poland, and Russia and settled in the prairie states and provinces had been touched by European pietistic trends, except those who settled in Manitoba as the Bergthal and Old Colony groups. A freer and more spontaneous informal church service with greater emphasis on a personally experienced salvation, the use of musical instruments, Gospel songs, the introduction of Sunday schools, prayer meetings, Bible studies, the emphasis on conversion and serious holy living are all characteristics of Pietism which leavened the old Mennonite heritage. Some of these influences have revitalized church practices and traditions which at times were fossilized, and given new meaning and significance to Mennonite traditions. Even such a conservative group as the Amish is being somewhat influenced by this form of piety, although usually those coming under this influence break away from the Old Order Amish.

As soon as the Mennonites of America adopted the English language and the American way of life they were also challenged by American revivalism and more recently Fundamentalism. Some of the forms of Christian outreach and the expression of Christian life found in some Mennonite groups in the 1950s were the result of American revivalism and Fundamentalism rather than European Pietism. One of the major differences between the old form of Pietism and contemporary Fundamentalism was that the former was born in opposition or as a supplement to orthodoxy, while the latter is combating Modernism and Liberalism in American theology. In some of their promotional and sensational methods revivalism and Fundamentalism are typical American accents, the extremes of which are not readily accepted by Mennonite churches.


Has Pietism had a positive influence on the Mennonites since it penetrated the congregations? How do the basic beliefs of Anabaptism differ from those of Pietism? What would have happened to the Mennonites if they had completely rejected Pietism? In general, it is apparent that pietistic influences have been beneficial in Mennonite history, in many areas revitalizing the rather dead and traditional Mennonite orthodoxy. The emphasis on a personally experienced salvation, on the Christian outreach at home and abroad, and the use of newer forms of spreading the Gospel is particularly due to the revitalization which came through Pietism. That some of the standards and basic Anabaptist ideals and emphases, which had already been obscured by the dead weight of tradition, were altered is true. The Anabaptist emphasis on the church of believers within which each member is challenged to discipleship differs from what is commonly found in an emotionally experienced conversion of the pietistic fundamentalist practice. Particularly dispensationalism brought into the Mennonite fold by millennialism in the 20th century is foreign to Anabaptism. Also it weakens the witness pertaining to peace and nonresistance. Pietism and Fundamentalism have some decided weaknesses and can serve only as a supplement. The core of any Christian church is found in the Gospel and the confessions of faith. The latter are usually minimized since Pietism considers the personally experienced conversion as the cornerstone of Christendom. The classic Christian tradition considers this aspect an overemphasis of the subjective element of Christianity and a minimizing of the objective act of God in Christ Jesus expressed in the creeds of Christendom. It is likely that a continuous exposure to a theological liberalism could have influenced the Mennonite churches negatively and weakened their witness.

The exact relation of Anabaptism and Pietism has not yet been fully studied, both as to possible influence of Anabaptism on the origins of Pietism, and their theological relationship. Ritschl's theory that Anabaptism was a direct forerunner of Pietism has not found support among careful scholars. Robert Friedmann, who has delivered the only thorough theological comparison of the two movements (Mennonite Piety), concludes that they are substantially different, and that when Pietism came into the Mennonite fold it at the very least blunted the essential thrust of Anabaptism as discipleship in conflict with the world, and at the most, substantially changed and redirected Anabaptist-Mennonite theology and piety from a sturdy movement to conquer the world by bringing men under the lordship of Christ into a subjective emotionalized search for inner peace and godliness which lost its readiness to defy the world for the sake of its understanding of the Gospel and the Christian ethic. Pietistic Mennonitism, he claims, was much more ready to accommodate itself to the prevailing culture and abandon such characteristic Anabaptist teachings as nonresistance and nonconformity. -- Cornelius Krahn

1990 Update

Pietism, as a historical movement began in the 17th century; as an element in Christian life and thought it has always been present. It arose in the 17th century out of (1) the moral, and spiritual chaos attending the Thirty Years' War; (2) the sterility of Lutheran and Reformed orthodoxy with its neo-scholasticism, emphasis on pure doctrine and sacraments at the expense of warm, personal and lay piety; and (3) the continuing mystical-evangelical milieu represented in part in Puritanism, Quakerism, Johann Arndt and his book True Christianity, (Lutheran), as also Lewis Bayly's (d. 1631) The Practice of Pietie (Puritan).

It is difficult to compare Anabaptism and Pietism, particularly since both movements claim the Bible and the early church as a common source and norm. Both movements have many similar core values. Friedmann's thesis that Pietism represented a weakened Anabaptism which survived the era of persecution through quietism and withdrawal from society, cannot really be sustained. A methodology beyond intellectual history is needed. Yet his Mennonite piety through the centuries (Goshen College 1949) was an early and most helpful pioneering effort at describing key similarities and differences in the movements. Pietism and Anabaptism both had a variety of groups (branches) with unique emphases in each.

Late 20th century Mennonites reflect genuine Anabaptist roots at numerous points, as well as influence from a broad spectrum of Pietism and fidelity to the Bible. Thus, for example, to stress the importance of conversion is good Anabaptism and Pietism (especially the Spener-Halle variety), but it is also simply biblical though, in North America, revivalism may have unduly shaped its meaning. So also the desire for a deeper, more genuine spirituality (Vertiefung) reflects a clear Herrnhut (Moravian) concern, but is also biblical and Anabaptist. The "blood and wounds" theology and the "dark night of the soul" (Bußkampf) motifs are clearly from Gerhardt Tersteegen and Rhineland Pietism, but are not unbiblical. There are traces of these in Anabaptism. South German (Württemberg) Pietism, which particularly influenced the Mennonites in Russia, revived the Anabaptist tradition of Bible study and an open, ecumenical spirit toward others. This became a dynamic source for mission activity, which the Mennonites had lost.

When Pietism arose ca. 1675 many Mennonites had lost their first love, though some Dutch Mennonites had a vision for church renewal which preceded that of Philipp Jakob Spener. This vision is seen, for example, in theMartyrs' Mirror (1660), the writings of Jan Philipsz Schabaelje, Jean de Labadie (1610-1677; Labadists) and others, later especially the influential Joannes Deknatel. Part of this impulse for renewal came to the Dutch Mennonites through Quakerism, the left wing of Puritanism.

Tradition and relative tolerance had institutionalized Mennonite church life. Pietism stressed small group meetings and prayer, Mennonites stressed the church. Pietism actively taught sanctification, Mennonites stressed discipleship, especially nonresistance and the non-swearing of oaths. Dutch Mennonites were more permissive about smoking, drinking, dancing, and dress codes than Pietists, but less mission-minded. In the 18th and 19th centuries both Pietism and Mennonitism, the latter especially in Russia, were strongly committed to institution building -- schools, hospitals, orphanages, but Pietism placed greater emphasis on "home missions." In North America some emphases of Fundamentalism and dispensationalism reinforced negative Pietistic tendencies among Mennonites, e.g., a datable conversion experience, a tendency to biblical prooftexting, premillennialism, a negative attitude towards group social action but a tendency to nationalism. Much further study is needed on the interrelationship of Pietism, Anabaptism, and Mennonitism and their respective impact on Mennonite life and thought.

Most research on Pietism has and is being done in Germany. The recognized leader in this field was Martin Schmidt, one of whose major contributions was Wiedergeburt und neuer Mensch (Witten, 1969). Der Pietismus in Gestalten and Wirkungen, by Heinrich Bornkamm and others (Bielefeld, 1975) was dedicated to Schmidt. A commission for the study of Pietism was founded in West Germany in 1965 with a publication series entitled Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Pietismus (Bielefeld, 1967-), and a journal called Pietismus und Neuzeit, with the first volume published in 1974. See, for example, Martin Brecht, Pietismus und Neuzeit (Göttingen, 1979). Note also Martin Greschat, Zur Neueren Pietismus-forschung (Darmstadt, 1977). These are only select samples of many recent titles. The strong interest in Pietism in Germany began after World War II, motivated in part by a search to seek where, how and why the church had failed under Hitler.

An interest in Pietism is also gradually emerging in North America, promoted especially by three persons: F. Ernest Stoeffler, Donald G. Bloesch and Dale W. Brown. In Stoeffler's article "Pietism" in The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 11 (New York, 1987) some credit for Pietist origins is given to Anabaptism. A major positive analysis of the movement is made by Bloesch in The evangelical renaissance (Grand Rapids, 1973). Brown has done most to vindicate the movement against its detractors and correlates some of its history and emphasis with that of Anabaptism in Understanding Pietism (Grand Rapids, 1978). The most extensive comparison of Pietism , Anabaptism, and Mennonitism has been done by Martin H. Schrag in Continental Pietism and Early American Christianity, ed. F. E. Stoeffler (Grand Rapids, 1976). Pietism is no longer the stepchild of church historians, nor of Mennonite scholars, and new major studies may he anticipated. -- Cornelius J. Dyck



Bornkamm, H. Mystik, Spiritualismus, und die Anfänge des Pietismus. Giessen, 1926.

Eisenach, George. Pietism and the Russian Germans in the United States. Berne, 1948.

Fleisch, Paul. Die moderne Gemeinschaftsbewegung. Leipzig, 1912?.

Goebel, Max. Geschichte des christlichen Lebens in der rheinisch-westfälischen evangelischen Kirche, 3 vols. Koblenz, 1849-1860.

Goeters, W. Die Vorbereitung des Pietismus in der Reformierten Kirche der Niederlande. Leipzig, 1909.

Hadom, W. Geschichte des Pietismus in den Schweizerischen Reformierten Kirchen. Constance, 1901.

Mahrholz, Werner. Der deutsche Pietismus. Berlin, 1921.

"Pietismus," Die Religion in Geschichte and Gegenwart, 2.ed., 5 vols. Tübingen: Mohr, 1927-1932: v. 5.

Ritschl, A. Geschichte des Pietismus, 3 vols. Bonn, 1880-1886.

Sweet, W. W. Revivalism in America. Its Origin, Growth and Decline. New York, 1945.


Cattepoel, Dirk. "Das religiöse Leben in der Krefelder Mennonitengemeinde des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts." Beiträge zur Geschichte rheinischer Mennoniten (1939): 5-28.

Crous, Ernst. "Anabaptism, Pietism and Rationalism." Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision. Scottdale, 1957.

Crous, Ernst. "Mennonitentum und Pietismus." Theologische Zeitschrift. Basel, July/August 1952): 279-296.

Crous, Ernst. "Vom Pietismus bei den altpreussischen Mennoniten im Rahmen ihrer Gesamtgeschichte 1772-1945." Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter 11 (1954): 7-29.

Friedmann, Robert. Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries. Goshen, 1949.

Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 83, 118.

Glitsch, Alexander. Geschichte der Brüdergemeinde Sarepta. 1865: 276.

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Leendertz, W. "Johannes Deknatel, een pietist onder de Doopsgezinden." Geloof en Vrijheid (1887).

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Wolleb, J. J. Gespräch zwischen einem Pietisten und einem Wiedertäufer, in welchem einige Vorurteile und Lehrpunkten der Wiedertäufer untersuchet und worinnen wahre Pietisten von ihnen zu unterscheiden sind. Basel, 1722, copies in Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen and Amsterdam Mennonite Library.

1987 Bibliography

Brown, Dale W. "The Bogey of Pietism." The Covenant Quarterly 25 (February 1967): 12-17.

Brown, Dale W. Understanding Pietism. Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1978.

Erb, Peter C., ed. Pietists: Selected Writings. New York, 1983.

Erb, Peter C. "Pietist Spirituality: Some Aspects of Present Research," and "The Medieval Sources of Pietism: a Case Study," in The Roots of the Modern Christian Tradition. The Spirituality of Western Christendom II, ed. E. Rozanne Elder. Kalamazoo: Cisterciao Publications 1985: 249-70, 271-92.

Langen, August. Der Wortschatz des deutschen Pietismus. Tubingen, 1968.

Lindberg, Carter. The Third Reformation?: Charismatic Movements and the Lutheran Tradition. Macon, CA, 1983: 131-79.

Mahrholz, Werner, ed. Der Deutsche Pietismus: eine Auswahl von Zeugnissen, Urkunden und Bekenntnissen aus dem 17., 18. und 19. Jahrdundert. Berlin, 1921.

Pinson, Koppel S. Pietism as a Factor in the Rise of German Nationalism. London, 1934.

Spener, Philipp Jakob. Pia Desideria. Philadelphia, 1974.

Stoeffler, F. Ernest. The Rise of Evangelical Pietism. Leiden, 1965.

Tanis, James. Dutch Calvinistic Pietism in the Middle Colonies. The Hague, 1967.

Wiebe, Orlando H. "The Missionary Emphasis of Pietism." in The Church in Mission, ed. A. J. Klassen. Fresno: MB Board of Christian Literature, 1967: 115-33.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Cornelius J. Dyck
Date Published 1987

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MLA style

Krahn, Cornelius and Cornelius J. Dyck. "Pietism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 27 Sep 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Pietism&oldid=146779.

APA style

Krahn, Cornelius and Cornelius J. Dyck. (1987). Pietism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 September 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Pietism&oldid=146779.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 176-179; v. 5, pp. 703-704. All rights reserved.

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