“I have but one passion: It is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ.” ― Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf
It was a stormy night on the ship. All the English on board were panicking. The mainsail of the ship was broken in half. Meanwhile, the Moravians were singing hymns to God. John Wesley was impressed by their trust in God. Who were these Moravians? How could they have such absolute confidence in God?
John Huss was a reformer who started his ministry in 1400. His main goal was to address Biblical issues he saw in the Roman Catholic Church. The things done in the church were unbiblical. For example, he disagreed with the idea of indulgences and people paying for their salvation- because it is against what the Bible teaches. He understood that it is by grace alone a person is saved. For his “heretical” teachings against the Roman Catholic Church, Huss was burned at the stake in 1415. It was not until 1457, that the Moravians split up from the Roman Catholic Church. They were officially, the first Protestant church though not as well-known as the Lutherans. The Moravians called themselves Unitas Fratrum “Unity of the Brethren.” The church emphasized Christian unity regardless of denomination.
Before the Moravians formed into an organized church, they were known as the Hussites, those who followed the teaching of John Huss. There were two schools of thoughts, or sects. One school of thought was radical. They gave up the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and sought to make everyone, including slaves and peasants, equal. The other school of thought was more in line with the Roman Catholic Church. They kept the hierarchy and continued to do communion with both the bread and wine and believed the congregation should receive both elements.
The minor differences between the two sects created tension between them. The more radical sect of the Hussites rebelled against the Catholic Church in a series of battles starting in 1419. On the other hand, the more moderate sect fought for the Catholic Church in the war. After years of fighting, the more radical sect was totally defeated in 1434. All those in the radical sect of the Hussites were forced to convert to the more moderate sects.
In the mid-16th century, a majority of Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) was Protestant. The Moravians built schools in order to give a Protestant education to the children in Czechoslovakia. The Catholics couldn’t compete with the Moravians. Some of the Catholic universities were taken over by the Moravians.
In 1618, the King of Bohemia announced his successor, Ferdinand of Styria. Ferdinand Styria was a radical Catholic. The Protestant nobles were afraid of losing their religious freedom, so that same year, they revolted against the king. The Protestants were defeated in 1620, and the nobles were beheaded. The population of Czechoslovakia declined after the revolt was ended with the Moravians dispersing to Northern Europe and Poland. The Moravians were not heard for over 200 years. When the Lutherans broke off from the Catholic Church in the 1580’s, the popular belief by church theologians was that the Great Commission was made only for the apostles and who had already fulfilled the Great Commission. In less than 200 years, this whole attitude toward reaching the Gospel would change in the Moravian church with Count Zinzendorf.
In the 18th century, Count Zinzendorf was an Austrian noble. From his early years, Zinzendorf was expected to be in government, which he did. The Zinzendorf family was part of a pietistic sect of the Lutherans One day, while in an art museum; he saw a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. Below the picture were these words, “All this I did for you, what are you doing for me?” Those words really struck him. He wanted to quit government but knew his grandmother would not allow him to do so. At age 27, Count Zinzendorf stepped down from his role in government. , He purchased property from his mother and invited Moravian refugees to live on the property with him.
Relocation to Germany
A small group of Moravians stayed underground after losing the Bohemian revolt in 1620. In the 18th century, a persecution broke out against the Moravians, which forced them to seek refuge in Germany. A man named Christian David came to Count Zinzendorf for refuge during this time. Three years after Zizendorf opened his property; there were over 300 residents on his property, some of these whom were not Moravians.
With a variety of people living on Zizendorf’s property, differences in religious denominations sprang up and created disunity on doctrinal and liturgical issues. But Zinzendorf would have no fighting on his land; he wanted to keep them unified in Christ. But Zinzendorf counseled the fighting sects to keep the peace and drew up a covenant. In the covenant, he made them agree to be united in Jesus even though they disagreed in minor doctrinal issues. Those who didn’t agree to sign it were to be kicked off of Zinzendorf’s property.
100 Years of Prayer
In August 1727, Zizendorf along with 12 to 14 others met to pray until midnight. They were so entrenched in prayer that they ended up praying throughout the entire night. A couple of days later, the Moravians had a communion service, where the Holy Spirit came down upon them and set a spark for missions.
From this time on, 24 men and 24 women covenanted to pray at certain times around the clock. Soon after, the number of people praying at certain times of the day increased to 77.
In 1728, groups of people started meeting together to pray. Even the very first time they met, there was talk of being missionaries in different countries. The Moravians guarded their hours of prayer with their life. This movement of prayer lasted for 100 years.
Not only did the adults pray for the missionaries, but the children did also. They formed prayer meetings to pray in groups. Hearing the children pray inspired the whole community to get more involved in reaching the lost and being in earnest prayer.
Sent to the Nations
The Moravian community became a launching pad for missions around the world. Missionary service was envied by the Moravians. Zinzendorf encouraged single men to go to the mission field. The qualifications for missionary service were not so much educational as much as strict spiritual qualifications and their character.
The missionaries went through strict questioning. If they failed, then they were not allowed to go on to the next stage. Those who had been accepted as potential missionaries cast lots in order to see who would go to the mission field. Those who were not chosen were often times disappointed.
The Moravian missionaries went to extremes in order to reach others with the Gospel. Once, 29 missionaries sold themselves into slavery. Though St. Thomas, part of the US Virgin Islands, was a Christian nation, none of the slaves knew who Jesus was. In 1739, a slave put his ear on the church door. His master got angry and cut his ear.
Twenty two out of the 29 missionaries died during their time at St. Thomas. In 1739, Zinzendorf went to St. Thomas to see the work. Convinced he was going to meet the same fate of the twenty two missionaries, Zinzendorf preached his last message to the Moravian community. When he got to St. Thomas, Zinzendorf freed the missionaries who had been put in jail for preaching the Good News to slaves. Through their incarceration, many slaves had the chance to hear the Good News for the first time.
If there was a church already set up in the area the missionaries were working in, then they would become part that denomination. For example, if Lutherans were the predominant denomination in the area, the Moravians would become part of the Lutheran church. In this way, the Moravians remained in unity with other denominations on the mission field.
The Moravian community sent out 226 missionaries in 10 countries before Zinzendorf’s death in 1760.
The Moravians were self-sufficient. The only funds they received were enough for them to get to the port of departure and get on the ship. When they got to the mission field, they took up jobs, such as being an artisan, in order to fund the work they were doing. There were two reasons. The first reason being that the Herrnhut (on Count Zinzendorf’s land in Germany) Community did not have enough funds in order to support all 200 missionaries with those around them. Secondly, having livelihoods opened up opportunities to share the Gospel with those around them. They also lived with each other in order to live frugally while on the mission field. They were able to talk to customers and co-workers about Jesus. In addition, it would help the economy of the natives by creating more surpluses for the community and provide for the practical needs of the people they were serving. They also lived with each other in order to live frugally while on the mission field.
The Moravians created a seal. The seal has a picture of a sheep holding a cross with the Christian flag attached. It says, “Our lamb has conquered. Let us Follow Him.” This symbolizes Jesus conquering sin, and the Moravian’s commitment to follow Him.
As the Moravians went around the world, they started to multiply the number of converts. The model of the original community at Herrnhut was copied throughout the world. The communities lived frugally. Their sole focus was to proclaim Christ throughout the world. There were Christians from different denominations. The children were provided with a Christian education. Those who worked in the community did so to provide support for the Moravian missionaries serving in different areas throughout the globe. People did have personal property, but social classes were erased. Like the early church, they shared their wealth equally with each other.
All Things for All Man
The Moravians believed in adapting to the context of the people. For example, taking on the clothes of the people they are reaching. This opened opportunities for missionaries to share the Gospel. Zinzendorf encouraged the missionaries to not judge the people they were reaching based on Herrnhut, the original Moravian community. There were not to be any denominations that the natives didn’t understand.
One of the most effective ways the Moravians reached the people was through Bible translation. The Moravians were excellent in learning new languages. When they learned the language, they translated the Bible and hymns into the native language.
John and Charles Wesley were missionaries in Georgia. On their way to the United States, they met a group of Moravians. During a storm, the mainsail of the ship was split into pieces. The English panicked at this. Meanwhile, the Moravians were singing unafraid of the death that may be impending. The confidence of the Moravians in Christ impressed John Wesley, who saw a vast difference between the way the English and Moravians acted. This led to Wesley doing some soul searching and finding a heart of unbelief inside of him. While in England, Wesley met another Moravian by the name of Peter Boehler. Under his influence, Wesley came to Christ in 1738. After his conversion to Christ, Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns.
In August 1738, Wesley visited Herrnhut. What he saw impressed him. One day a child was buried. The father did not seem too sad. He praised the Lord with the firm confidence that one day he will see his child again. The father knew the Bible verse from 1 Thessalonians 4:13 in which Paul write, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind.” Wesley was impressed by the firmness this man had in the resurrection of Jesus.
If Wesley could have, he would have stayed. Yet, he knew he had another place in God’s work. Visiting Hernhutt encouraged Wesley to preach the Gospel and work to see it spread throughout the world.
This left Wesley to wonder why more Christians did not live like the Moravians to spread the Gospel throughout the world.
Looking for Seekers
When the missionaries went to the mission field- they were not to evangelize whole nations, but instead seekers. Zizendorf believed the Holy Spirit prepared people from every nation to come to Him. The main indicator of a person prepared for the Gospel was a religious seeker such as Cornelius and the Ethiopian in the book of Acts. These people were dissatisfied with their native religion and were seeking for the truth. If the people were hostile, the missionaries would move on to a different country where they would be welcomed.
Reaching Poor and Rich
The Moravians reached people from all sectors of society. They did not see the difference between rich and poor. One time, three missionaries went to the same Indian chief. One missionary told them there is a God. The chief sent the missionary home- because that was obvious to the tribe. The second missionary came and told them lying, drinking and stealing are wrong. This too was obvious, so the second missionary was sent home to preach to those who did the same vices. The third missionary was different. The missionary preached Jesus and how He came and died for the chief’s sins. The Holy Spirit convicted the chief and he had a difficult time sleeping. The next morning, the chief told the tribe about Jesus and convicted by the Holy Spirit, the whole tribe came to Jesus.
On another occasion, there was a countess. She was dissatisfied by all the riches and trinkets she had. One day, she met a Moravian missionary. She was wondering why the missionary was so cheerful. He explained to the countess what Jesus had done for him by dying on the cross for his sins. The countess was so convicted she fell down and prayed. In turn, she became a witness to many in the royal court, including Alexander I.
In 1736, Zizendorf was banished from Saxony because his opponents were trying to undermine his ministry. There he founded Hernhaag, which became another Moravian community. There were 200 missionaries sent out from Hernhaag in 1747 alone. Zizendorf continued to travel to different mission field. After the ban was lifted in Saxony, there were times when he visited Herrnhut.
The last days of Zizendorf’s life was spent in Herrnhut. On May 8, 1760, Zizendorf breathed his last breath. His last words were:
“I am going to my Saviour. I am ready. There is nothing to hinder me now. I cannot say how much I love you all. Who would have believed that the prayer of Christ, ‘that they all may be one,’ could have been so strikingly fulfilled among us! I only asked for first fruits among the heathen, and thousands have been given me. Are we not as in Heaven! Do we not live together like the angels! The Lord and His servants understand each other. I am ready.”
Zinzendorf’s last words were a testimony to his faith and the strength of the Moravian movement that had gone through so much strife in the early years. The Moravians went from fighting among themselves to an ecumenical movement which worked to reach thousands with the Gospel.
Over 4,000 people attended Zinzendorf’s funeral. Everyone he met was amazed at his faith and how what he did surpassed all expectations, because of the God who was with Him.
After the death of Count Zinzendorf, the missionary efforts of the Moravians collapsed due to financial difficulties. The mission was revived in the 19th century though.
Legacy and Impact
Though the Moravian church does not have their own communities, they continue to be a strong missionary presence in countries such as Jamaica, Uganda and Zaire. There are over 825,000 people in the Moravian church today. Their biggest presence is in Tanzania.
The headquarters for the Moravian Church in Germany is still in Herrnhut.
The Moravian movement had an impact on missionaries throughout the ages. William Carrey, missionary to India, held the Moravians as the model missionaries. The English church was not active in spreading the Gospel, because they believed the Great Commission was only for the disciples. Carrey refused to listen to the dissenters, knowing the Moravians were right in their outreach to the world.
One lesson learned from the Moravians, is that every Christian is a missionary regardless of their job. Whereas a Christian may not be in a foreign field, they have the privilege to share the Gospel with the people God has placed around them. Working in a job provides for the physical needs of the people they are serving. In addition, they are able to provide funding to see the Gospel spread throughout the world.
Another lesson learned from the Moravians is that with unity in Christ, Christians are able to make a huge impact on the world. It is not going to be one denomination or missionary organization that will reach the world. Instead, it will be the whole body of Christ working together that will reach those who have never heard of Jesus. Despite our differences in doctrine, we need to be united in Jesus if we are ever going to reach this world with His love.
Another thing continually stressed by the Moravians is prayer. Prayer is what empowered them to do the work they were called to. It is out of the prayer meeting, that the Moravian missionaries spread throughout the world in order to share the Good News with others. If Christians prayed for the world, more of them would go out to the world as they catch God’s passion and love for the lost world.
A message that can be taken from the Moravians is simplicity. The Moravians lived simple lives in order to share the Gospel with the world. If Christians lived simply, then the Gospel would go out as they would be able to support more missionaries and their work among those who have never heard of Jesus.