When I hear the word piety I immediately conjure an image of a self-righteous religious pharisee type, praying long-winded prayers, fasting with hunger pangs etched on his face, looking down his nose at the unclean mass of humanity who are not worthy to look up and behold his blinding glory.
A pious person in the world today denotes a religious hypocrite, a sanctimonious spirit, concerned more for dotting his I’s and crossing his T’s rather than walking in love, mercy and compassion toward others. So, if someone ever calls you a pious churchgoer, don’t say ‘thank you’. You’ve just been backhanded!
This caricature has been manufactured by a contemporary evangelicalism that disdains ‘dead orthodoxy’ and ‘dry doctrine’. It is not an accurate depiction of true piety. It actually once had a very positive, biblical definition. Piety meant a deep reverence for God and a sacred obligation to religious duties. Piousness parallels holiness. But there have been some in church history who have taken true piety to unhealthy extremes, creating a man-made system of sanctification outside of God’s ordinary means of grace.
Pastor Bob DeWaay of Twin Cities Fellowship in Minneapolis has written a superb and eye opening article on a heretical movement that has infected the church for centuries. It has taken on various forms and has been called by many different names, but at its core is called ‘pietism’. It is not the same as practicing true piety, but bases its belief off of it.
I’ll let Pastor DeWaay define the term:
The essence of pietism is this: It is a practice designed to lead to an experience that purports to give one an elite or special status compared to ordinary Christians. The Bible addresses this error in the book of Colossians.4 The false teachers in Colossae claimed to have the secret to a superior Christian experience that would cause people to rise above the bad “fate” they feared. Paul went on to explain that they already had everything they needed through Christ and His work on the cross. Another way of stating this is: If after having fully trusted Christ’s finished work on the cross, you are told that you are still lacking something, you are being taught pietism.
I have experienced pietism in my 12 year walk with Christ, I just didn’t realize it. I came out of a movement that believes in a ‘second blessing’ that we should seek after salvation. The measure of the Spirit we receive at the new birth is only a taste of the power we can have if we’ll just desire it hard enough. The fire of the holy spirit will race through our bones if we’ll just spend a few extra minutes at the altar, or if we’ll just pray a little harder or live a little holier. I sought this experience for years but never felt anything. I walked away from the altar time after time in frustration. God never once slew me in the Spirit. While many others around me toppled like dominoes, I just stood like a stone statue (when I wasn’t pushed), wondering what I was doing wrong. I began to consider myself a lower class citizen in God’s kingdom, unworthy to move up the spiritual stepladder. I remember filling out a membership application to join the church, and one of the questions asked if I had ever been baptized in the Holy Spirit. I crumpled up the form and tossed it in the trash. I felt like a ‘no’ answer would force the deacons to reject my application, and I wasn’t willing to to risk that humiliation.
Over the years I came to the realization that some of the godliest people I knew or had read about in church history, had never acknowledged receiving this ‘second blessing’. I wondered how that could be possible. Christians from other, more conservative churches were often just as passionate and on fire for the gospel than those in my church who had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I didn’t get that at all.
My former pastor made a stunning observation from the pulpit one Sunday. He said he had never seen anybody changed by the baptism in the Holy Spirit, or by being slain in the spirit at the altar. While his statement shocked me, I immediately knew he had hit the nail on the head. These subjective experiences, while profoundly moving at the time, accomplished nothing in the way of deeper holiness, greater sanctity or more zealous evangelism. People walked away from church in exactly the same condition as when they walked in – save for a lingering spiritual buzz (As a result of getting ‘drunk in the spirit’) .
Before anyone slaps a ‘cessationist’ label on my forehead, let me just say this. I still have many questions about the so-called spiritual gifts- tongues, prophecy, interpretations, miracles, healings and such. I haven’t utterly rejected these things – but I do reject the baptism in the Holy Spirit doctrine, largely because of the reasons Pastor DeWaay gives. Scripture no where admonishes us to seek some kind of second blessing post salutis. There are no super saints or bionic believers that rise above the masses. True biblical sanctification occurs according to the measure of faith God grants to each of his elect. We progress at a different rate and in a different manner from one another by God’s sovereign hand, not because of some super empowerment based off a superior path to sanctification. The church is not divided into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. There is only one class of Christian – the born-again blood bought kind.
The article has several other interesting facets that I can identify with, such as people blaming ‘dead orthodoxy’ for their unbelief instead of their sin-hardened hearts. It’s rather lengthy, but if you’re used to reading my posts it won’t be a problem! so please take the time and read it through.
Here is the link to the entire article: