The Historical Moravian Reformation
THE LITTLE KNOWN MORAVIAN POPULATION BRINGS FIRST REFORMATION The Moravian ChurchIt is simply fact that the Moravian Church cannot be ignored when looking into revival histories spanning the course of some five hundred years. Originally called
THE LITTLE KNOWN MORAVIAN POPULATION BRINGS FIRST REFORMATION
The Moravian Church
It is simply fact that the Moravian Church cannot be ignored when looking into revival histories spanning the course of some five hundred years. Originally called the Unity of Brethren, this Church claims its origins in Bohemia, followers of John Huss.
Huss split from Rome in 1467 and in the latter part of the 15th century, followers of his from both Bohemia and Moravia numbered roughly 250,000 people. However, they were under a great deal of persecution.
Nearing the dawn of 1649, there were only a precious few Moravians left, but it was during the early 1700’s that yet another Moravian group came into being. They traveled to the estate of Lutheran Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, where they hoped to find freedom of religion as well as physical refuge. A village was started, which was known as Herrnhut, otherwise translated, “The Lord’s Watch”, and it was led by Zinzendorf himself.
The work of the people from this village was dedicated to prayer and missions, both of which managed to touch most of the whole world.
The Original Reformation
To most, the Protestant Reformation, and the leaders associated with it, are household names. Men like Luther, who burned the Pope’s bull, and Cranmer, who was eventually burned at the stake, are well known for their work.
However, before their work, there was yet an earlier Reformation and a Reforming Church that was flourishing. It was the Church of the Brethren.
This spirit of reformation certainly did not die out when Huss passed away. In fact, his followers fathered together in Eastern Bohemia and formally organized the Moravian Church. All of this happened about sixty years prior to Martin Luther beginning his reformation.
What Makes A Christian?
Gregory the Patriarch, considered by most as the founder of the Moravian Church, had a specific belief as to what a Christian actually was. He stated that it had nothing to do with doctrine, or what a person believed.
To him, these Moravians whom he considered Christians, were simply living their lives according to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. It was the heart cry of the church to get to a lifestyle of living this way and teaching others to do so as well.
So what does the Moravian Church believe, exactly? Let’s take a look at some of their core values.
The Importance of Unity
Unity is a central theme to the Moravian Church. Their Ground of the Unity doctrinal statement was cemented into their belief system in 1995, after it was adopted by the Unity Synod of the Unitas Fratrum. This document was much like the statement approved in 1957, as they celebrated the five hundred year anniversary of the foundation of the Unitas Fratrum.
The Trinitarian faith states that God unites His people through the Holy Spirit and brings them all together as a church. Because of this unity, they are willing to serve one another. However, because of divine grace, believers are considered a Church of sinners, requiring forgiveness every day, living only through God’s mercy.
The personal belief finds that each individual is called on a personal level, realizes their sin, and accepts Christ’s redemption from that sin. Furthermore, it is fellowship with Christ that builds to more and more power in the life of the new believer and shapes the individual.
The belief in God and His Word says that the Triune God is the one true source of both life and salvation. The Unitas Fratrum, however, continually searches for doctrine that is sound. Looking at more than two thousand years of Church tradition and the leading of Moravian forefathers, the Unitas Fratrum acknowledges the fact that there is no doctrinal system within the Scriptures. Because of this, they do not lay a doctrinal system for themselves, realizing that the the human mind cannot fully comprehend the mystery of Jesus Christ, nor can any human statement ever completely express it.
Because Jesus Christ came to serve instead of being served, so the Moravian members believe they should do the same in the spirit of unity as a body. Withdrawing from the world, due to pride, fear or indifference is frowned upon, and members should be concerned for the entire worldwide body of believers.
Covenant for Christian Living
Wishing to provide a clear statement about a person’s Christian commitment, this document has served the Moravian Church well. It helps to instruct members, both new and old, as well as being a statement of faith for the group. This document includes statements on the witness that members can be, as Christians, in all aspects of day to day life. It is not written so as to be “enforced” on the congregation, but more closely related to a covenant to be entered into willingly and voluntarily.
Here are a few of the statements contained in the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living.
- That we are called to Christian fellowship by Jesus, according to the purpose of the Father and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- That the Triune God is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments.
- That there is no need to consider something binding if it has not been specifically determined in the Word of God.
- The belief that baptism is the uniting with Jesus in his death and resurrection, rising to walk in a new life.
- That Christian life depends on our effort as well as God who strengthens us and gives us sustenance.
- That Christian faith must constantly be nourished through Bible study, prayer, family devotions and serving through the Church.
- That members must be faithful stewards of all that God has blessed them with, including money, talents and time, as well as seeking to provide for the local congregation and other important causes outside the Church.
- That all disagreements with others will be settled in a friendly manner, seeking to avoid a court of law if at all possible.
- That all services of the Church will be attended faithfully.
- The Holy Communion will be taken to remember the assurance of forgiveness as well as fellowshipping with Jesus Christ.
- The the sanctity of marriage should be taught, by the home and the Church, starting in early adolescence, and that premarital counseling be undergone by those wishing to marry.
- That any marriage instability, after attempting to reconcile differences with one another, be met with a Pastor’s counsel, or counsel by another spiritual leader. However, the church recognizes that human frailty should not be dealt with harshly, and that there are times when a marriage is sometimes necessarily dissolved. The congregation vows to pray for and encourage any who are wounded by divorce.
- That children belong to the Lord and should be reared in the admonition of God, keeping them away from all evil influences as is possible. This will be strengthened by daily family devotions and by setting a good example for them.
- That as a Christian citizen, all those in authority will be recognized as being ordained by God and that no legal obligation will be ignored.
- That in order to fulfill responsible citizenship, members will become informed voters, be willing to accept a role in public office and be guided by the decisions of the government.
- That even though members are loyal to their state of residency, God and conscious are recognized as the highest loyalty.
While these are not a concise list of everything laid out in this document, it does give the overall ideology of the requirements expected of church members.
Essential Features of the Unity
The Moravian Church believes that God has called the church with a stress on fellowship. They believe that a living Church is the greatest witness to the world for the Lord. A church is considered to be living if it:
- Focuses on the Word of God
- Confesses, and accepts forgiveness for, sins
- Carries out fellowship with the Lord Jesus through sacraments
- Ministers to neighbors and fellowships with others who have Confessed Christ
- Tells the Good News of the Savior
- Anxiously awaits the return of Jesus
The gifts that the Lord has provided to his earthly church are the very things by which the Unitas Fratrum lives. These include the Word, the Holy Communion and Baptism, all of which must be communicated to the world in the right way.
The mission of the Unitas Fratrum is to emphasize specific truths from the Word, including:
- The story of the Cross, the Crucifixion and Resurrection
- Reconciliation, with God and His Creation living together in peace
- Personal relationship with Jesus, and his power in the life of a believer
- Showing the love of Christ to one another in fellowship under the model of Jesus Himself, Head of the Church
Members are baptized into the death of Jesus, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism usually takes place when members are children and later, they are confirmed by the Unitas Fratrum.
The Lord’s Supper is celebrated in assurance of reunion with the Lord, his death for the forgiveness of sins, and with the assurance of His return.
With regard to church discipline, the sins of one become a burden for the entire congregation, who stands alongside the one who sinned. The error is brought before the cross with the acknowledgement that God is the only one who can forgive and redeem.
The Word of God
The Moravians believe that the only real way to know of God’s love and favor are through His Word. In it, God addresses us, preaching, teaching, liturgy, singing, sacraments, nature, reasoning and our encounters with others.
They believe that God addressed the Church both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, with both Word and Deed becoming one in the person of Christ. In Jesus’ ministry, love towards one neighbor is taught, as is the fulfillment of the law. In His death, God shows his love for humanity, even in the midst of struggling. In His resurrection, God shows the final defeat of evil by good.
They teach that the Word of God addresses the Church in different ways.
- He addresses us through His Word which was written by man, while being inspired by God. Less like a textbook, and more like a testimony passed down through generations, the Moravians believe the Word calls believers to faithful action.
- He addresses us through teaching and preaching, through which God makes Himself heard. The teachers job, and the preachers job, is to relate the Word of God to situations believers are going through in their own lives.
- He addresses us through liturgy and singing. Zinzendorf called a hymnal the human response to the Word of God. Many of the songs and liturgies include both a recitation of and response to the Word, with special pieces dedicated to special holidays such as Christmas and Easter.
- He addresses us through His sacraments. It is believed that the liturgies that go along with the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion benefit all involved. They will mean more if a bit of the history and meaning of the ceremony is first explained.
The Moravian Church In America
The colonial period saw the first Moravians enter the Americas. In fact, in 1735, they accompanied General Oglethorpe on a philanthropic adventure to Georgia. They first attempted to settle in the city of Savannah, which did not work out overall. However, they did have an impact on the life of John Wesley.
Wesley had traveled to Georgia during a deep spiritual crisis and was thoroughly impressed with the calmness of the Moravians on board the ship. There was a horrible storm of epic proportions that had every sailor on board panicked, however the Moravians did not respond this way. Instead, with no fear of death at all, they prayed and sang hymns until the storm had passed.
Moravians Established In Pennsylvania
After the mission in Georgia failed, the Moravians went on to Pennsylvania in 1741, where they established a more permanent presence on the estate of George Whitefield. That year, they bought five hundred acres and established a community known as Bethlehem. Not long after, they purchased another five thousand acres from Whitefield’s manager, from the Barony of Nazareth. After this, Nazareth and Bethlehem became linked in their economies involving industry and agriculture.
As time went on, other congregant settlements were built in New Jersey and Maryland, adding the communities of Lititz and Hope. They also had communities on Staten Island as well as New York and all of these congregations were considered to be centers for spreading the gospel. While their direct mission was to the Native American population, the center of the group’s activity was Bethlehem.
A Christian Church with a Worldwide Reach
One of the first members of the National and World Council of Churches, the Moravian Church went on to spread throughout North America and the world. They founded several schools in America as well, including Moravian College and Theological Seminary, Salem Academy and College and other preparatory schools in both Bethlehem and Lititz.
1957 saw the Moravian Church recognized as one global church with a Unity Synod being held once every 7 years at which matters are decided that affect the church as a whole. Today, the Moravian Church has more than one million members around the world, with most of them in East Africa.
Some other busy Moravian centers can be found in the Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Tobago, Antigua, Surinam, and Guyana. While the Moravian Church made a significant impact on colonial America, at present the North American numbers are only at about 60,000 members. This includes Canada and Labrador.
Mission Minded Moravians
One of the biggest reasons for Moravian membership being larger in other parts of the world than in America is the very calling of the Church, which is missions. They distinctly see themselves as needed to bring the good news to the most despised and poorest people in the world.
While they still have a large presence in Pennsylvania, their focus remains on spreading the good news of the gospel where they feel it is most needed.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name be the glory
Because of Your love and your faithfulness!