Piety is a bad word these days. It sounds officious and religious. It implies higher moral ground and prudish sexual standards. It seems oppressive and disingenuous.
The word has not always received such negative reactions. Its word origin shares roots with "faithful, believing, devout." In the former days of John, Paul and James, belief and action were not divorced. "Faith without works is dead," James wrote (2:14-26). "Love in deed and truth, not simply tongue and intention," John exhorted (1 John 3:18).
In more recent history, preachers of the Great Awakening sought to practice holiness in daily life. Rather than accept the divide between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, men like John Wesley and Alexander Mack gave themselves to daily confession, Bible study, worship, witness, and humble service. It was Wesley who considered many of his countrymen "Almost Christians," because he noted their profession of faith did not align with their practice.
In a world trending toward godlessness -- not always in deed (for environmentalists and educational reforms have done some good), but certainly in outlook and egoism -- a return to piety is crucial. Revival will not grow from more evangelical politicking or mere "relevant" posturing, but from a return to piety.
In its purest form, piety holds the truth of the gospel (Christ buried, raised, ascended, and alive in His church - 1 Cor. 15) in one hand, and the other hand invests itself in work and worship. The apostle Peter, who understood his audience as a paradoxical blend of exiles and priests, summarized the call to piety well:
I pray the church return to piety. I pray she humble herself, pray, seek the face of God, and turn from her wicked ways, positioning herself not only to receive the blessings of God's forgiveness (2 Chron. 7:14), but also to direct the world back to God in the process.
It's not too late for a global revival. A return to piety may be its spark.