Johann Arndt Pointed the Way to Pietism

Dan Graves, MSL

Johann Arndt Pointed the Way to Pietism

When Johann Arndt was born on this day, December 27, 1555, at Ballenstedt, in Anhalt, Germany, the Reformation was in full swing. His parents, not satisfied with the training he would get in church schools when he was a young boy, taught him themselves, especially emphasizing the life of Christ in the believer. When he was older they deprived themselves even of basic necessities to put him through school.

While Johann was in school, studying medicine and the sciences, he became quite sick with a painful disease. His physicians gave him no hope for recovery. At that juncture he vowed that if God would heal him, he'd devote his life to the Lord's service. He recovered and kept his word.

At that time, not only were reformers at odds with the Roman Church, they were quarreling with one another. Some of the changes in Johann's life were the direct result of these theological differences. A devoted follower of reformer Philip Melanchthon, Johann favored peace and patching up differences.

This was not to be. After Johann completed his education in the Lutheran universities of Germany (including Wittenberg) and the Reform universities of Switzerland, he accepted a pastorate at Badeborn, Anhalt in 1583. Seven years later, he had to get out; his Lutheran rituals irritated Duke John George, who was a Calvinist. When Johann refused to remove certain fixtures or to end the practice of exorcism, Duke George forced him to pack his bags and leave. Johann accepted an open pulpit at Quedlinburg. He lasted there nine years; however, the people of that town disliked him so much that he moved on to Brunswick.

Johann was concerned that theologians taught Christians to put too much emphasis on the legal achievement of Christ on the cross while neglecting the necessary heart change which alone could make a true Christian. Consequently, he encouraged his contemporaries to worship from the heart. They must have a "practical Christianity." There would be an inward emotional component to true Christianity. He preached much about sin so as to awaken men to their need for a savior. But he was also a dedicated pastor, resolving enmities, visiting the sick, and doing good wherever he could.

Because of this emphasis, Johann is sometimes considered the first of the Pietists. His big book of meditations and prayers, Sechs Böcher vom Wahren Christentum, (Four Books Concerning True Christianity) was widely read. Among the Mennonites, Johann's writing was a frequently used devotional book for two centuries or more. His writings influenced John Wesley.

Bibliography:

  1. "Arndt, Johann." Encyclopedia Americana. Chicago: Amricana Corp., 1956.
  2. "Arndt, Johann." Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica, 1911.
  3. "Arndt, Johann." Mennonite Encyclopedia; a comprehensive reference work on the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement. Hillsboro, Kansas: Mennonite Brethren Pub. House, 1955 - 59.
  4. "Arndt. Johann." Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  5. Brown, Harold O. J. Heresies. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984.
  6. Collins, Kenneth J. "John Wesley's Critical Appropriation of Early German Pietism." Wesleyan Theological Journal 27 (Spring-Fall, 1982), 57 - 92.
  7. Grimm, Harold J. The Reformation Era, 1500-1650. Macmillan, 1966.
  8. "Johann Arndt 1555-1621." http://www.mhsc.ca/encyclopedia/contents/ A773ME.html
  9. Morris. John G. John Arndt; author of the work on "True Christianity." Baltimore: T. N. Kurtz, 1853.

Last updated June, 2007

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