History of the Moravian Church by J.E. Hutton

The seal of the Moravian Church

My first introduction to the Moravian Church was through a world missions’ class at LeTourneau University many moons ago. During this class, the story was told about this phenomenal group of believers who sent out more missionaries in 60 years then all of Protestantism combined in the pervious 200 years. This missionary fervor was fueled by a hundred year plus 24-7 pray meeting in the small town of Herrnhut, Germany (Herrn Hut means “The Lord’s Watchful care”).

After I graduated and moved to Idaho, I discovered a copy of Edmund Alexander de Schweinitz’sThe History of the Church Known as the Unitas Fratrum; or, The Unity of the Brethren, Founded by the Followers of John Hus.” Published in 1885, this book traces the foundational roots of the Moravian Church from the introduction of Christianity to the people of Moravia and Bohemia in 451 AD through the pre-reformation movement of John Hus to the founding of the Unitas Fratrum church in 1457 and eventually to the development of the Renewed Unitas Fratrum in 1722, which became the Moravian Church that I originally heard about.  It is worth noting that this book (abet the 1901 edition) is sitting on my book shelf as a testimony of the impact this particular church has had on me – both in practical living and theologically.

The sad thing about de Schweinitz’s book was that it did not cover the missionary movement of the Moravians during the mid to late 1700’s, which was my original focus…

Accordingly, I was blown over this Christmas when my wonderful wife gave me an electronic copy of Joseph Hutton’s 1909 four book volume of the “History of the Moravian Church.”

  • Book One: The Bohemian Brethren (1457-1673)
  • Book Two: Revival under Zinzendorf (1700-1760)
  • Book Three: The Rule of the Germans (1760-1857)
  • Book Four: The Modern Moravians (1857-1908)

This was the book that I was originally looking for as it dove into the ins and outs of the Moravian Church during their “hay-days” of the 1700’s. Hutton goes to great lengths to share the stories of the people as well as to outline the development of the Church into what it has become (yes, the Moravians are still around and active today in 2011).

Zinzendorf monument in Herrnhut, Germany

Obviously the book is to long and involved to summary here (besides, half you are already asleep) – so I will limit myself to two items of interest to me:

1) One of the sad things about the history of Moravian Church was their dark days in the last half of the 1700’s.  Seeing how they were spreading the Gospel message so beautifully, the evil one stepped in and tried to take them out. In result was an unhealthy focus and theological system build around the “blood and wounds” of Jesus.

It would take to long to explain this theological system so I won’t try… it is enough to know that focusing on one part of the Bible to the limitation of other parts can have negative consequences. We are called to follow the person of Jesus in His fullness – meaning that we sometimes have to walk in the tension of not knowing everything or having to hold firmly onto two seemly opposite concepts – all part of knowing a person and not a doctrine.

2) From the beginning of the Renewed Unitas Fratrum on Count Zinzendorf’s estates in Germany, the Moravian Church adopted a policy not to start new churches within areas that already had a church. This policy meant that while they ministered to many, many people, they did not grow as a church denomination – leading to a decline in their influence in the 1800’s.

At the same time, it must be stated that this policy, while bad for an organization, did help promote the concept that ministers were first beholden to Jesus Christ and then the Moravian Church – as this 1924 quote from Bishop Edward Rondthaler to Herbert Spaugh reflects:

“Brother Herbert, remember the kingdom of God is far greater than the Moravian Church and you are first a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who need you and then a minister of the Moravian Church.”

As a fairly new pastor within the Vineyard Movement, my heart resonates with this concept. I am first and foremost a follower of Jesus – so much so that I really don’t care what ‘sheep shed’ (ie. church building) a person goes to as long as they connected to a community that is following Jesus. This heart allows me to work with other churches and pastors in our area as we are not a ‘threat.’ Instead we are joint workers for the same Guy.

However, I must say that I don’t take this concept to the extreme like the Moravian’s did during the 1700 and 1800’s – namely, I think that there is incredible value in starting new churches (both for the new leaders and for the communities in which these churches are started) as well as something special about the practice and values of the Vineyard Movement. But, like I mentioned before, these are secondary factors depended upon what Jesus says and does.

All in all, I loved Hutton’s book – even though I’m glad I read de Schweinitz’s book first as the first three hundred years proved to be some of the best years of the church.

Strange isn’t it? The years no one talks about were really are the years that have the most ‘meat’ or depth to them. Kind of like how a plant will spend months growing unnoticed only to have a short harvest time with fruits that could either nourish or rot.

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