MEMBERS: The Slow Death of Pietism (Transcript)

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Jon Moffitt: Welcome to the members’ podcast.

Jimmy Buehler: As I said previously, we’ve been talking about how pietism can be very destructive on an individual level in one’s life. It dies a very slow and painful death. That led us to a conversation about corporate realities and how we encourage people to live life within the corporate reality of the church. As Justin mentioned, just show up.

Here’s the problem though. Pietism doesn’t just affect individuals. I wholeheartedly believe, and I think you guys would agree, that pietism affects the corporate church. How can pietism destroy or be harmful to the local church?

Justin Perdue: I’m going to talk as though we’re in a safe space because I trust we are with our members.

How does pietism harm a church? It emphasizes and elevates all the wrong things and it detracts from and de-emphasizes all the things that we really need. In part, I am thinking about the corporate gathering – that is the primary thing that we do as a church. We could talk about ordinary means another time. I find it very interesting that a telltale sign of pietism is when somebody is just absolutely geeked up about discipleship but is very quick to not show up to church. I mean this humbly, but the people who are constantly talking about discipleship and accountability and are constantly wanting this study, group, or ministry initiative to be started but then never show up or are just happy to miss on Sunday. It’s confusing. It is very difficult for pastors and leaders of the church. Those kinds of people are the exact opposite of a Hebrews 13 reality where one is being a joy to pastor, because they’re saying we need to be doing all these but are never there.

Jimmy Buehler: I don’t have time to go to church because I have other spiritual activities.

Justin Perdue: What really matters to them is what they’re doing by themselves, like a men’s Bible study or women’s group. That’s what they think they really need. “The ordinary means and all that are fine, but I don’t really need that. What we need is this other stuff and why isn’t it happening? We need discipleship and accountability in this church.” That’s how it comes across. You realize that your discipleship begins on Sunday morning. Where have you been?

Jon Moffitt: God has given His people the means by which He grows them.

The modern-day view of discipleship is very foreign to Christianity throughout history – and we’re not going to get in there. One thing I want to add to what Justin just said is that how pietism destroys the church is that it is a merit-based righteousness. Your merits gain you a better standing before God.

Let me just change that: instead of a merit-based, it becomes comparative. This is why it’s comparative: “I have to just be a little bit better than you to feel okay. As long as I’m a little bit better than the guy next to me.” Or it’s the single mom who is grinding it out day in and day out, and she sits in that pew half shuffled in, barely made it there, and she’s sitting there looking around and thinking, “I am nothing like these people.” She’s comparing herself and feeling deflated and defeated. What happens is that you can’t receive grace because you failed too much, and those who are doing well will receive grace.

Jimmy Buehler: They’ve readied themselves.

Justin Perdue: They have somehow prepared themselves to receive grace.

Jon Moffitt: Grace is unmerited favor. So people who are the worst of the worst, who are struggling, who are find themselves beat down, church becomes something that is not for them because it’s too comparative.

Jimmy Buehler: To answer my own question on how pietism can destroy the local church or seriously hurt the local body, often what we see in a pietistic mindset is you have the parable of the wheat and the tares, or the wheat and the weeds. The farmer in his field sees that he has wheat and weeds. The farmhands come to them and they say, “Let’s go through and root them out. We got to get rid of these tears. We’ve got to get rid of the weeds and destroy the crop.” And the farmer says, “No, let it go.” Often what happens is that the pietist in the local body becomes a weed whacker.

Justin Perdue: Jesus says not to do that.

Jimmy Buehler: An indiscriminate weed whacker who find that it is their job in the local church to weed out the fakers and separate the sheep.

Justin Perdue: What ends up happening is you kill the wheat.

Jimmy Buehler: You take the bruised reed and you completely snap it.

I’ve personally experienced where somebody wants to get lunch with me in those conversations, what I found out is this church person is trying to figure out whether I’m genuine or not in a first coffee meeting. It’s almost infuriating. I had the theological wherewithal to know what they’re trying to do, but can you imagine a person who is weak in faith like that young mom that you just imagined, Jon, who would feel like they’re being sniffed out? Who feel like they are being turned in on themselves?

What happens is this pietistic mindset runs rampant and spreads like gangrene. You have a bunch of insecure people looking at one another in suspicion. It makes it sound like this person is super conniving, and often they’re sincere and mean well, but they don’t understand how destructive it is. It’s like when your toddler is drawing you a picture on your wall. They mean well but we don’t draw all our artwork on the wall. Often what happens or how it comes to fruit is you’ll have a conversation with them and they say, “Have you met Shirley? She gets it. She just gets it. She’s genuine. She really understands the gospel.” What does that mean?

Jon Moffitt: My dad used to say they got a good dose of the Holy Ghost.

We at Theocast are very sympathetic towards these people. We don’t get angry with them because of this. Most of those people have no idea what they’re doing is wrong. They really don’t know. It’s not like they are in sin and that they have chosen to be this way.

Justin Perdue: Their motivation is that the church would be pure and sincere.

Jon Moffitt: There’s compassion for them until they’re destructive. There is some instruction that comes with that.

Justin Perdue: You talked about the bruised reeds and the smoldering wicks among us – I would argue that’s the majority of us. I’m mindful of the words from the hymn: “Will you help the trembling mourners who are struggling hard with sin?” That’s the posture that we want to have in the church.

To piggyback on what you’re saying, Jimmy, I think one of the worst things that pietism does in a local body is that it produces a lack of charity and a lack of compassion.

This is the members’ area so I feel safe to tell this anecdote in a general sense about a former member of our church. This brother meant well – I have no doubt about that. He came to the elders at one point and said, “This church is dead. There’s not enough joy of the Lord here.” In his mind, it was completely pietistic. “I need to be able to look at people during a corporate gathering, or I need to be able to get coffee with people and just perceive subjectively somehow that there is sufficient and adequate joy of the Lord here.” First of all, what does that even look like? Second of all, you are depressed most of the time so I don’t even know what that means for you personally.

As pastors, we become protective of the other sheep. “Brother, I know you mean well, but how dare you come here and accuse your brothers and sisters? You have no idea what’s been going on in their lives this week or what kind of grief they may be experiencing or what kind of battle or suffering is on their hands. You don’t know and you’re going to pronounce that person or persons to lack joy in the Lord, and therefore the Holy Spirit is just not present? Are you kidding?

It’s comparative righteousness, and it’s so damaging. You are destroying the weak. You have basically made it sound like Christianity is a religion for the strong, which contradicts the Bible.

Jimmy Buehler: Often how pietism can really damage a church is that it leaves no room for sin and struggle. When a brother or sister confides in another and say they are struggling with a sin that is hurting them and they cannot shake off, the pietistic approach to that is: “You need to wake up and change.” Certainly, we do call people to repentance, but in a true biblical sense of Christianity. Ultimately, what do we point people to? We point people to Christ.

Jon Moffitt: The kindness of God leads to repentance. Speaking the truth in love. Go to them with a spirit of compassion. How many times are we told that this is how we deal with people who are entrapped?

Justin Perdue: Pietism kills any real possibility of honest struggling, and it makes it really impossible to be a sinner lest you be afraid that people are going to immediately assume you’re a faker. What does that do? It hinders legitimate and real sanctification. It hinders real growth because we can’t even live honest lives in front of one another.

Jimmy Buehler: What I find is that those who have this mindset love when Jesus is harsh. I’m always thinking, “Jesus is talking to you.”

Justin Perdue: Who is Jesus harsh with? He is harsh with people who trust in themselves that they’re righteous. He is harsh with people who think that they can achieve righteousness. He is harsh with people who prey on the weak. You might want to read that in context and realize that Jesus is gentle, lowly, compassionate, and condescends to people and offers them rest. They are trembling mortars that are battling sin.

Jon Moffitt: It’s almost like you have to make yourself a slave because otherwise, he’s going to reject you. That’s not the way it’s described. You have been purchased with a price, therefore you’re a slave. What I love about that language is that means nothing or no one else can ever own me again. I am in the precious dear Savior’s arms who says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” What a great promise. But we take slave language and we say, “You better make Jesus Lord of your life.” Make? No one makes Jesus anything. He is Lord. Therefore I can rest.

I guarantee you that Paul would say, “I need to make Jesus Lord? I don’t do that. I make me Lord. Who will save me from this body?” This is Romans 7.

We hope this was encouraging to you. We may have only poured gasoline on the fire, but these are helpful conversations. A book I want to recommend for you is Faith vs. Faithfulness: A Primer on Rest. If you haven’t downloaded that, you need to go do that. Our book on assurance is helpful. I would also say our series on covenant theology.

Justin Perdue: That’s coming out soon.

Jon Moffitt: It may be out by now. What that is designed for is to help that slow death of pietism. It’s going to help you find that motivation where it should be, which is resting in the covenant of grace.

We hope you’re encouraged by that. Thank you for your support. Lord willing, we’ll see you next week.

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