A Moravian Manifesto - Part Three - Zinzendorf Upholds the Unity

These four posts are based on the sermon I presented on the first Sunday of 2018. I took a New Year focus because of the timing but I hope the material and personal reflection is of interest at other times of the year. I acknowledge that some turns of phrase may have their origins in the book Firstfruit that I had read last year after visiting Saxony and historic Moravian sites.

I recommend reading the posts in chronological order: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

Posts 1 and 2 introduced Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a Christian leader in Germany in the eighteenth century. The story continues: 

By 1724, more and more Moravian refugees had arrived and the little town of Herrnhut grew to 100 men, women and children. But not all was well. At first the refugees all worked to help one another and share what they had, but it soon became everyone for himself. Many languages were spoken; different religious traditions were practised and that it was hard to agree on anything. Newcomers were now told they weren’t welcome, as there weren’t enough jobs. Ludwig’s dream of a loving Christian community seemed to be evolving into a nightmare. Even when the leaders came up with a plan for assigning ministry tasks to each member regardless of age, some objected to being told what to do by those they considered beneath them. But Ludwig held firm. While the world recognised people by their wealth, social position age and gender, these distinctions had no place in a community of Christians. In response to criticism, he answered: “I could use my power as landlord to make them leave, but I believe God has gathered these people for a reason. I will wait patiently to see what he brings about.”

However things got worse, and by 1726, hatred and gossip abounded; even leaders were calling each other names, like the Beast or Antichrist. Ludwig gave up his duties at court and moved home permanently. He spent time praying with people, listening to their grievances and sharing the Bible. The tide slowly began to turn. At a service in May 1727, Ludwig introduced to the church a document he and other elders had compiled. It listed 42 principles of community life. Amazingly each person present agreed to follow the principles, and many wept and asked for forgiveness. Things changed, cooperation improved, and people became more accepting of others’ opinions. 

In July, Ludwig visited a theological library on the way to see a relative. On the dusty shelves he found an old Latin book called The Account of Discipline. He was surprised to find it came from the Unitas Fratrum, and even more surprised to see that the way of life it described was remarkably like the community principles he had discerned for Herrnhut. The forward to the book explained the history of the Moravian group. Zinzendorf had incorporated these refugee Christians into his own Lutheran church, but now he realised they had been a fully-functioning Protestant denomination with hundreds of churches, sixty years before Luther! He took a copy of part of the book, and that Sunday shared it at the Herrnhut church. At the midweek communion in the Berthelsdorf church, there was what we would call a Pentecostal revival. Hours of singing, prayer and weeping brought a new closeness with God and each other, and the beginning of the shared meal now known as the Love Feast, still practised in Moravian and Methodist churches. A 24-hour prayer vigil was started that continued without a break for a hundred years! The Herrnhut principles of living with godliness, gentleness, patience, and love for enemies have impacted church and society in amazing ways.

How are things in your own faith community? Are different viewpoints tolerated? Or is there bitterness, gossip and name-calling? Ps 133:1 says how pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity. And Ephesians 4 spells that out in practice.   “Be humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives ….live like people who belong to the light”.

To Think About: So the third question is, What can I do to strengthen unity in my congregation this year?

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will this day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.