Jun 16, 2024

Gotfried Arnold


Church leaders branded him a radical, the enemy, and a traitor to his own denomination. Gottfried Arnold (1666-1714) hardly fits the stereotype of a militant firebrand. He was a devout and earnest Lutheran pastor who preached thoughtful sermons and wrote daily devotions. You might call him a Christian mystic whose writings and hymns were popular with peace-loving Mennonites. As a historian, he was partial to the reverence and simplicity of the early church before Constantine.
So, what’s the problem? In 1701, he wrote a blistering attack on Protestant church leaders. He took aim at power-hungry, heresy-hunting church officials who reduced the Christian faith to precisely worded doctrinal confessions. He criticized these tyrannical leaders for denouncing anyone they didn’t understand and espousing a form of Christianity in name only. He lamented their lack of ethical commitment and pleaded with them to recover a vital witness to Christ in wider society.

The backlash was fierce and relentless. He resigned his teaching position, convinced that theological schools were beholden to the religious establishment and lived out his days pastoring a small Lutheran church in rural Germany. He married, raised a family, and continued to write devotional material for the wider church. While he listened to his critics, he never let up on calling the church to a simpler, more loving way of following Jesus.

O most merciful God and Father, we commend ourselves and all that we have to Thy Almighty hands and pray Thee to preserve us by Thy good Spirit from all sin, misfortune, and grief of heart. Give us the Spirit of grace and prayer, that we may have a consoling trust in Thy love, and that our sighs and petitions may be acceptable in Thy sight. Give us the Spirit of faith to kindle a bright flame of true and blessed faith in our hearts, that we may have a living knowledge of salvation, and our whole life may be a thank-offering for the mercies we have received. Give us the Spirit of love, that we may experience the sweetness of Thy love toward us and also love thee in return; and render our obedience not from constraint like slaves, but with the willing and joyful hearts of children.

Peter Erb, “Defining Radical Pietism: The Case of Godfried Arnold.”
Tileston, Prayers, Ancient and Modern.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.