My husband, our Pastor, wrote this article for our most recent newsletter. I think it is helpful in explaining this movement within the Lutheran Church which is often misunderstood. Of course, he is writing from the perspective of our particular Lutheran denomination, the Association of Free Lutheran Churches (AFLC). Some of our authors are from other Lutheran bodies and I am hoping will give us some historical perspectives on how they evolved.
The AFLC traces its beginnings in this country to a revival movement among Lutherans in the 1890’s. But the beginnings of our theological basis are found in a Lutheran movement know as Pietism that began in the 17th century in Germany and spread through Scandinavia.
Pietism is first of all Lutheran, with a special emphasis on the work of Martin Luther. It seeks to encourage all believers to be able to say with St. Paul that they have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer they who live, but Christ who lives in them (Gal. 2:20).
Pietism advanced among people who sought for their lives more than simple church attendance and agreement with a set of doctrines. It is at its heart a desire to live in a way which reflects a deep felt desire to grow daily in sanctification.
One of the disciplines many pietists embraced in their desire for a more Christian life was participation in what were then called conventicles. A conventicle was a meeting of Christians outside of the regular church services where they would study and pray together. We no longer refer to these meetings as conventicles but, in American parlance, as small group ministries.
Those who opposed Pietism tried to charge these conventicles with luring people away from the church and leading them into the possibility of theological error. Some oppose such groups today for similar reasons.
However, it has been shown over and over again that a congregation with an active conventicle/small group ministry will have a deeper spiritual life than one which focuses all its work on Sunday morning.