Philip Jakob Spener (1635-1705 ) was a German Lutheran who ministered during a time of great spiritual decline. Among the numerous problems of the day was the common identification of Christianity with bare agreement to a set of intellectual propositions: if you knew the right answers about God from the Bible and creeds, you were considered a Christian, regardless of any heart transformation or living relationship with God. Into this environment, Spener called for a renewal of head-and-heart devotion to the Lord, outlined in his famous work Pie Desideria (pious desires). But what were the practical suggestions Spener made to see this work of spiritual renewal come about in the churches? This sermon excerpt indicates the heavy emphasis he placed on ordinary Christians meeting to encourage one another in the Scriptures (what we today might classify as ‘small groups’ or ‘discipleship groups’):
How much good it would do if good friends would come together ona Sunday and instead of getting out glasses, cards, or dice would take up a book and read from it for the edification of all or would review something from sermons taht were heard! If they would speak with one another about the divine mysteries, and the one who received most from God would try to instruct his weaker brethren! If, should they be not quite able to find their way through, they would ask a preacher to clarify the matter! If this should happen, how much evil would be held in abeyance, and how the blessed the Sunday would be sanctified for the greater edification and marked benefit of all! It is certain, in any case, taht we preachers cannot instruct the people from our pulpits as much as is needful unless other persons in the congregation, who by God’s grace have a superior knowledge of Christianity, take the pains, by virtue of their universal Christian priesthood, to work with and under us to correct and reform as much in their neighbors as they are able according to the measure of their gifts and their simplicity.
Cited in Philip Jacob Spener, Pie Desideria, Trans., ed. by Theodore G. Tappert (Fortress, 1964), 13.