What is piety, really? One dictionary defines it as the quality of being religious or reverent. My Bible dictionary calls it “holy living.” Various Bible translations identify it with “the fear of the Lord” or “righteousness.” It’s not a word we use much anymore. In fact, it’s gotten a rather bad name because it’s so much easier to recognize false piety (in other words, hypocrisy) than true piety. Often we think of truly pious people as “goody-goodies,” prudes, or those who are “so heavenly minded, they’re of no earthly use.” Or maybe we regard piety as an unrealistic goal for most of us — something a few great saints might possess, but not attainable for most of us. Maybe we don’t even want to try to be pious because in our culture, it would set us apart as strange or different.
Here’s what Philip Spener, a German Lutheran theologian who has been dubbed ‘the Father of Pietism’ has to say:
“Students should unceasingly have it impressed upon them that holy life is not of less consequence than diligence and study, indeed that study without piety is worthless….whoever grows in learning and declines in morals is on the decrease rather than the increase … everything must be directed to the practice of faith and life.”
or as James, the brother of Christ puts it:
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” James 2:26
Christian study, worship and fellowship should lead to a life that is increasingly pious, or holy. Lutherans (and I’m sure lots of others) call this process sanctification, and although we’re never finished, it’s not a pie-in-the-sky goal either. Piety is what the Christian life is all about. I look forward to exploring it further with our authors and readers this month.