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Pietists as Pentecostal Forerunners

This unusual awakening of the Kinderbeten began in the mountains in 1707, creating a sensation as it spread, giving birth to numerous eyewitness accounts bearing remarkable similarity.  A dozen of these appear in a report made in the spring of 1708, Gründliche Nachrichten, which are translated here with the material common to each conflated for the following:

It had begun in the Silesian mountains and thereafter gone forth from one place to another. By it the children show such an uncommon reverence and zeal that neither their parents nor anyone else are able to hold them away. Sometime after Christmas, around December 28, Holy Innocents Day, it began spreading through Silesia reaching five provinces in five days. The children, male and female, 4 to14 years in age, with an unusual devotion for their age, assemble themselves in a certain place to pray together with childlike devotion daily. They come together in the morning about 7, around Noon and around 4 [it was winter]. These poor, hard-pressed children, out of their own desire and without their being given some prescribed method, began to assemble to pray. Indeed, without any direction from any adult, not only were they not given help, but were even having to act against the commands of the religious and civil authorities, and against their parents, who made threats and laid hindrances in their way. The children initiated this within their villages, towns, and cities; however, when their gatherings were not tolerated, they chose to keep to themselves [outside the city] in open fields and under the open sky. They hold orderly prayer meetings, singing, reading the Bible; they fall on their knees, and at some places it is reported they fall on their faces praying and repenting. It had begun sparse but in many places it grew to 3,000-4000 people. The places have crowds of people coming to regard the unusual devotion of the tender children.  The children kneel on the ground almost the whole time of the prayer meeting. They have chosen from their midst a reader for this purpose who a stands in the middle, reads aloud and leads not only the songs but also the prayers which are clearly audible from a distance.” [One fairly typical but more detailed description stated] “Ordinarily they sing seven songs, and a prayer comes between each one; they have a psalm of repentance, and they read a chapter from the Bible; in the end the children lift hands together upwards and sing [two more hymns]. The bystanders cannot regard it without being moved to tears hearing the prayers. Truly, one can hear the singing nearly a quarter mile away. They have among their prayers also one which is to ask that the dear God give their churches back to them. No one knows how the children would have gotten such a longing without the parents’ knowledge.18

The awakening exacerbated the controversy between Pietism and Lutheran Orthodoxy. Both churchly Lutheran Pietists and Radical Pietists saw the revival as a work of God and placed it within the broader framework of salvation history over what they perceived was a lukewarm reception by Lutheran Orthodoxy. Pietist’ millennialism saw the history of salvation in terms of continuous divine intervention, which led them to see the prayer revival as a sign of God’s activity in anticipation of the end of all things. Lutheran Orthodoxy simply declared Pietist conventicles a heresy, something the Lutheran Confessions does not do, ignoring what Luther himself wrote on the subject in his German Mass and Order Of Service, 1526, “But those who want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel with hand and mouth should sign their names and meet alone in a house somewhere to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament, and to do other Christian works.”19

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Summer 2012

About the Author: Eric Jonas Swensson is an author, blogger, historian, and social media director. He was a pastor for 17 years before resigning to go overseas on the trip that became the basis for his book, A Year in Tyr (2011). His dissertation has been published as Kinderbeten: The Origin, Unfolding, and Interpretations of the Silesian Children's Prayer Revival (Wipf & Stock, 2010). Google+

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