Sunday 12 July 2009

The Moravians - a history

Red Moon Rising available here
The Moravian Church, or Unitas Fratrum, of which Zinzendorf was a bishop, had been founded hundreds of years before his great Herrnhut experiment. Prior to Zinzendorf, the Moravian Church had never, as far as we know, dreamed of praying round the clock; this was an idea flowing within monasticism. But the Moravian Church had a long and very remarkable history that inspired and shaped Zinzendorf and the renewal movement he catalysed.
The Moravian roots
The Moravian Church served the cause of Christ in two distinct eras: the Ancient Unity and the Renewed Moravian Church.' The roots of Christianity in Bohemia and Moravia (modern-day Czech Republic) could be found in the mission work of two Greek Ortho­dox bishops, Cyril and Methodius. They, like the Celtic believers, had much in common with other branches of Christendom, but didn't always feel comfortable with the policies of the current rulers in Rome. The inadvertent founder of the Unitas Fratrum was Jan Huss, the President of the University of Prague, who, years before Luther, railed against the sale of indulgences and the belief that you could buy forgiveness of sin. What's more, Huss insisted on preaching in the language of the people and not in Latin. As aresult he soon had the ear of the masses and the heart of the people. He was eventually tricked into attending a church court, imprisoned and killed.- Material about the Ancient Unity is based on an article found at
His death was a catalyst for revolt and helped spawn three different sets of supporters. One of these, the Moderates, believed in the 'heart religion' that had been practised by the primitive Christians of the New Testament. In March 1457 they formed the Brethren of the Law of Christ, a group that sought to influence the church of the day rather than split from it.
They were often persecuted, emphasizing that faith must find expression as a 'faith that works'. Like Huss, they passionately believed that the gospel should be made accessible to ordinary people and so they had the extraordinary distinction of being the first to translate the Bible into a native tongue, the Kralitz Bible. They went on to publish a further 50 books despite the attempts of the authorities to find and burn copies of their Bible.
The seventeenth century saw their number decimated by persecution and many fled Bohemia to Moravia, Silesia and modern-day Poland.
John Amos Comenius
This ancient Moravian bishop later became known as the Father of Modern Education and was hailed by Life magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the last millennium. He created a new educational philosophy called Pansophism, or universal knowledge, designed to bring about worldwide understanding and peace. Comenius advised teachers to use children's senses rather than memorization in instruction. To make learning inter­esting for children, he wrote The Gate of Tongues Unlocked (1631), a book for teaching Latin in the student's own language. He also wrote Orbis Sensualium Pictus (1658; The Visible World in Pictures, 1659) consisting of illustrations that labelled objects in both their Latin and vernacular names. It was one of the first illustrated books written especially for children.
Comenius was asked to assist in Swedish educational reforms, but his first passion was the church and this is where he devoted much of his time and genius. Faced with bitter persecution, heresolved to plant a 'hidden seed', and on his death bed, convinced that he was a failure, urged the Brethren to 'take care ... that the foundations of our unity may not be so entirely ruined as to make it impossible for our posterity to find them'.
The 'hidden seed' was to spring back into life in 1722 when a Moravian carpenter called Christian David encountered Nicholas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, and asked if he could find them a place where they could practise the heart religion of the early church without persecution. Zinzendorf promised to give it some thought, and returned to his estate in June to find that Christian David had presumed he would say yes and had arrived already. They began building a new community on Zinzendorf's Berthels­dorf estate, which would become known as Herrnhut, a phrase that meant 'the watch of the Lord'.- Material in this section draws from John R. Weinlick, CountZinzendorf (The Moravian Church in America, 1984).
Count Zinzendorf
Zinzendorf was to prove an able leader for the religious refugees who began to arrive on his land. Raised in a devout family, Count Zinzendorf seemed set aside for spiritual leadership from an early age. Church reformer and education pioneer Spener prayed with him at the age of four with respect to his spiritual destiny! At the age of 16 he graduated from Halle University, but not before informing the principal that in his time at the college he had started no fewer than seven different prayer groups and asking him to keep an eye on them.'
One of these prayer groups was named the Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed and contained a number of future leaders, including John Potter, who was to become an Archbishop of Canterbury. Together with his friends in the Mustard Seed prayer group Zinzendorf made a solemn pledge that would shape the destiny of the rest of his life. He vowed:

· to be kind to all men;
· to be true to Christ;
· to send the gospel to the world.
Each member of the order wore a ring inscribed with the words 'No man liveth unto himself'.
The count's youthful vows were to be a constant theme in the life of the Renewed Moravian Church. But first he had to try and bring some structure to the diverse group that was sprouting up on his land. The count was a voracious reader and was delighted to discover one of the foundational documents of the Moravians, a 'Covenant' document penned by the great Comenius himself. To this he added some local law and some of his own thought, and in May 1727 presented it to the warring factions on his estate.
The earliest historian of the eighteenth-century Moravians, Spangenberg, suggested that there were seven aspects of the 'Brotherly Agreement' that reflected the influence of Zinzendorf.
· The need for personal conversion.
· A commitment to simplicity and integrity as marks of a true church.
· A refusal to be hostile to other believers – even when you believed they were not understanding the Scripture as you might.
· The belief that the sin of some believers was their fault, not that of the church. Zinzendorf believed in discipline but not in coer­cion.
· A wariness of labels and names that might divide rather than unite.
· An active quest for spiritual growth. There was to be no reliance on the blessings of the past. The people of God were to be intentional.
· A readiness to lay aside one's personal desires and be ready to make sacrifices for the sake of others.

These seven aspects captured the heartbeat of a movement that sought to be active, simple, good, peace-making and sacrificial. Turn to 'Vision and Values' (p. 305) to see how we have sought to reflect the thinking of the Moravians and our own distinctive culture in the early twenty-first century.
Zinzendorf arranged for his new community to gather in small groups or 'bands'. In time, this developed into a more formal 'choir system' based on age, sex and marital status. These groups met daily for prayer or worship. Often they would gather simply to sing. Zinzendorf was a prolific hymn-writer so they never lacked new material!
Following a Holy Spirit visitation at an August 1727 commu­nion service, the warring factions in the group finally made public peace. A 24-hour prayer meeting was initiated two weeks later, which would last for 100 years. Twenty-four of the single men and 24 of the single women began an hourly intercession. Their prayers were informed by a weekly meeting where letters and messages from other Moravian Christians were read. This gave the praying believers specific people and places to pray for. In 1732, five years after their pentecostal experience, the group began to go out around Europe and the world to take Christ to the ends of the earth.
An emerging generation
Many of the people in this emerging generation of Moravians would later travel the world as missionaries. The Moravian community at Herrnhut spurred a movement that sponsored 3,000 missionaries in its first 200 years of existence. Many believe that it was one of the wellsprings of the modern mission movement.
The commitment to mission took them to the far corners of the earth. Two missionaries, it is said, sold themselves into slavery to reach the Caribbean community of St Thomas, and others trav­elled to Greenland. Greenland was to prove a watershed. Mora­vian historian James Hutton described what happened:

In the past they had discoursed [with non-Christians] about the Fall of Man and the Plan of Salvation; hence forward they gave the people the Passion Story in detail; and the Eskimos themselves soon noticed the difference. At the story of Adam and Eve they had merely wondered; at the story of the Crown of Thorns they wept; and, some­times, at the baptismal service, their tears dripped into the font.
When informed of the success of the Greenland Mission, Count Zinzendorf said, 'Henceforth, we shall preach nothing but the love of the slaughtered Lamb.' From that time forward Moravian evangelists were schooled in telling the Passion Story — the story of Christ's death on the cross for humankind — as succinctly and as simply as possible."
The Moravians would eventually go to Surinam, Ceylon, South Africa, Cairo, Jerusalem and Baghdad. But they also touched the life of another man whose ministry would take their values and ideas to the far-flung corners of the world.

John Wesley
The impact on Wesley arose partly from their conduct in a terrify­ing storm. Wesley noted them as he returned from a dishearten­ing trip.
At seven I went to the Germans. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility they had given a continual proof, by performing those servile offices for the other passengers which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired, and would receive no pay, saying it was good for their proud hearts, and their loving Saviour had done more for them. And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness, which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck, or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. There was now an opportunity of trying whether they were delivered from the spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger, and revenge. In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke

James Hutton, The History of Moravian Mission (out of print).Try

over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterwards, 'Were you not afraid?' He answered, 'I thank God, no.' I asked, 'But were not your women and children afraid?' He replied, mildly, 'No; our women and children are not afraid to die. '5
He subsequently visited their Fetter Lane church in London. It was here at an extended prayer meeting that he first felt the 'strange warming' of real relationship with Christ. One of Wesley's first acts was then to sail for Holland, where he was met by Zinzendorf and escorted back to the Berthelsdorf estate. Methodism, founded of course by Wesley, has helped shape the Christian witness on every continent, not least through its subsequent influence on Holiness, Pentecostal and Salvation Army groups.
The Moravian Church never grew particularly large, even though it was widespread, because of its commitment to Christian unity. Many, perhaps the majority, of its converts were given away to other denominations. However, the influence of the Moravian tradition has been massive, as the brief history above makes clear. The Moravian Texts are today the world's best-selling daily devotional, used by 1.5 million people each day in 50 languages and dialects.
Chris continues:

At some point we have to make a decision. Are we prepared to be a small work that contains Divine seed. Are we prepared, like Mary the mother of Jesus, or like Jacob the father of a brood of just twelve, or back even further to Abraham, whose calling was just to father one child of promise; are we prepared to be a background person, yet whose Divine seed will far, far outstrip us in achievements and influence? Or must we remain in the limelight for all to see.

Jorge Pradas, the father behind Los Rios de Vida in every province of Argentina, often laughed about this. You can hear him talk about this in a message on Unity in the Body. How nobody, but nobody ever seememd to remember his name. One of the English guys here had such bad Spanish pronunciation that he called him "Hawkeye" which freaked my mum out, when I joined them at 20 years of age.

Or Ed Miller. Ed who? Yet he is behind virtually all the early USA praise albums. Behind many of the early ministries sharing about the power of praise, like Judson Cornwall, like the Bible Temple in Oregon. Having a great deal to do with people such as Ruth Heflin in Israel. And so the list goes on. Do you want to be somebody whose life secretly affects nations. Or do you want to be Brother Zap of "Power for the Hour ministries", who has great anointing but precious little else? History speaks to us of some very influential servants of God with absolutely no worldly recognition. Your Sharma's and David Starkey's, wellknown TV historians have absolutely no idea of the linkages both spiritual and natural which came into being precisely because of these people. Even strange repercussions that are better known about like the birth of the chocolate industry in Britain. The Quakers Fry and Cadbury's etc.


Anonymous said...

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Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

Thankyou anonymous. This is what blogs should be like.