Heroes of the Faith — Johann Arndt

Johann Arndt (1555–1621) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who wrote “True Christianity,” a significant book on devotional Christianity.

This year is the 400th anniversary of his death.

He was born on Dec. 27, 1555, at Ballenstedt in Anhalt, Germany. His parents, Jakob and Anna Sochtings Arndt, had Johann and his two younger siblings.

Johann’s father was ordained in Wittenberg in 1553 and served as a minister at an Evangelical Lutheran congregation. He died in 1565.

Arndt’s parents educated him at home. In his early years his favorite writers were Martin Luther and Thomas á Kempis.

In 1575 he attended a new Lutheran university at Helmstadt, Germany, which was founded to combat Calvinism. He studied Christian doctrine, Latin and Greek grammar, astronomy, geometry, rhetoric, history and physics his first year.

While in school, he became extremely ill with a painful disease. His doctors gave him no hope for recovery. He vowed to God that if He would heal him, he would devote his life to God’s work. He recovered and kept his word.

In addition to studying at Helmstadt, he attended universities in Strasbourg, France, and Basel, Switzerland.

He returned to Ballenstedt in 1581. Two years later he accepted a pastorate at Badeborn. His Lutheran rituals angered Calvinist authorities. After Arndt refused to end the practice of exorcism, he was forced to leave. He then accepted a pastorate in Quedlinburg in 1590.

He became unpopular with the townspeople and left nine years later to become a pastor in Brunswick. He later was an administrator in Eisleben, the hometown of Luther.

Arndt believed that too many Reformation theologians of his day emphasized the death of Christ on the cross but neglected people’s need of a Savior. In order to become a Christian, he preached, people must have a practical Christianity — a change of the heart — and realize they are sinful and need Christ as their Savior.

“True Christianity,” his influential large devotional book divided into four parts, dwells on the mysterious union between the believer and Christ. The foundation of many books of devotion, both Protestant and Catholic, it has been translated into many languages. Mennonites used the book, and his writings influenced John Wesley.

Forerunner of Pietism

Arndt is seen as a forerunner of Pietism, a movement within Lutheranism, which was founded by Philipp Jakob Spener. Pietism stressed simple Christian living.

From 1611 until his death, Arndt lived in Celle, Germany. He died on May 11, 1621. His last words were “Now I have overcome all.”

EDITOR’S NOTE – Joanne Sloan, a member of First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, has been a published writer of articles and books for 30 years. She has a bachelor’s degree double majoring in history and English from East Texas State University (now Texas A&M–Commerce) and a master’s degree specializing in English from the University of Arkansas (1978).

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