Missional Yet Traditional? The Moravians Did Both Successfully

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The Moravians, or Herrnhuters (see below) believed in God-given movement. They knew renewal in the Holy Spirit and showed astonishing missionary zeal, planting churches and residential community villages from Lapland to South Africa, years before William Carey, the so-called ‘Father of Modern Missions’, set off for India.

Their origins are well known. A motley crew were offered sanctuary and religious toleration on Count Nicholas Zinzendorf‘s estate at Herrnhut in Germany. They couldn’t agree; there was tension and rivalry – as there would be today if you threw together a random bunch of evangelical-charismatic Christians and told them to work it out!

It nearly blew apart. Zinzendorf was sorely tempted to shut the thing down. But in his heart he knew that church, the ek-klesia, the ‘called-out’ assembly of Jesus, had to be the starting point. It was what Jesus had died for [Ephesians 5:25]. For Zinzendorf, church came before mission.

So he took some bold and very practical steps. They are a world apart from today’s notion that you have to start with anointed worship, seeker services, mums’n’tots groups and a youth program. But they were certainly radical – in their biblical conservatism.

He made a covenant with several brothers who shared his mind (1723).
They laid the foundation stone of a church building (1724).
They built a visible and distinctive residential community (1724).
He drew up a Church Constitution which set out the requirements of membership (1727).

Was this just Germanic efficiency? I fancy it was rather the actions of a covenant-committed core group standing by the road and looking, and asking for the ancient paths, where the good way is (Jeremiah 6:16).

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A Moravian communal settlement

The annals of the Moravian Church are quite clear that it was these concrete steps which brought an amazing change to the atmosphere and prepared the way for the much-publicised move of the Holy Spirit in a Communion service in 1728 which empowered the community for all that was to follow, and launched them into mission.

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About Trevor Saxby

I'm a mentor, friend to many, with a PhD in church history. I love learning from the 'movers and shakers' of the past, as I want to be one today!

3 responses to “Missional Yet Traditional? The Moravians Did Both Successfully”

  1. John MacArthur says :

    I’m unimpressed by ‘groups’ or ‘procedures’, you might describe me as de-churched in that sense. But, I am impressed with the individual, the one who states his case, without undue emotion or appeal. Sounds a bit too Calvinist, perhaps.

    • sch0larly says :

      You might need to unpack that a bit, John…? Certainly the original ‘fire-bearers’ are worthy of the most particular study, but I think we’re on unsafe ground if we suggest that everything afterwards, once their movement was established, was somehow downhill. The issue of “wineskins” is complex, but Jesus clearly believed there had to be one, lest the wine be lost on the ground.

      • John MacArthur says :

        We all are subject to cultural overlay, I think. It’s part of being in the ‘world’. No sense of downhill was either intended nor implied, but a metamorphosis often results in a creature which doesn’t look much like the chrysalis from whence it came. An old wineskin is no longer fit for purpose which is why we have new ones, or even containers that don’t look much like a wineskin at all.

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