|1732 A.D. - Moravians Receive the Spirit and Take To the Field|
|Written by Dan Curry|
|Sunday, 05 August 2007|
1732 A.D. - The Moravians: Empowered Missionaries Take To The Field
For the Christian faith, the moment when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a signal moment, pivotal and enabling. Anyone might listen to someone proclaim a new faith for a moment or two. But hearing the Gospels spoken in your own language, seeing miracles that no man can do, seeing healing unlike any you’ve seen before, feeling your heart melt when you listen to words concerning Jesus – these are the reason for the explosive growth of Christianity. This is some of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Some Christian churches believe that works of (gifts of) the Holy Spirit were largely withdrawn after doing the necessary work of getting the early church off to a good start. But ask missionaries, or read accounts by Christian missionaries, and soon a picture begins to emerge of where and when the Holy Spirit is most likely to show it’s power, and in which ways. To me, it seems there are certainly things the Holy Spirit does in the lives of believers, and within churches, and for those in personal crisis who pray. But there is a still a spiritual war going on, still lands which barely know of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is a front line general in this war.
Moravia is a district in ancient Bohemia – now Czech Republic. Christ was taught in their region by Cyril (of Cyrillic alphabet fame), and Methodius. The region was first Christianized in the Greek Orthodox mould, but soon fell under the jurisdiction of Rome. Most of the members found this uncomfortable, being at odds with various practices of the Catholic Church such as indulgences, the withholding of scripture from the hands of lay people, etc. A John Huss was a university professor at the University of Prague and a preacher at a local chapel called Bethlehem Chapel. He was a leader in upholding his church’s need to avoid such practices, and the Catholic Church had him burnt at the stake as a heretic in 1415, where he famously made the prophetic utterance "Today you cook a Goose, but in a century you will find a Swan which you can neither roast not broil". The name Huss means 'goose'. A century later (102 years later) in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis on the church door, firing off the protestant movement in earnest. Luther was often symbolized as a swan becauseof this. But that day in 1415, when Huss was burned at the stake, it merely stiffened the resolve of his followers in sticking to what they thought was right.
In 1457 these people formed the Unitas Fraternum (Unity of Brotherhood) group/denomination. This was about 60 years before Martin Luther’s reformation (Martin affixed his ‘95 Thesis’ on the door in Wittenburg in 1517). These people must be given due consideration as progenitors of the Protestant movement.
The Unity of Brotherhood believers generally did well, growing and branching out as time passed. By the early 1500’s they had a couple of printing presses and provided local peoples – Moravians and Bohemians - with the Bible in their own language, speeding the growth of knowledge of Jesus. But when they had several hundreds of Parishes and a couple hundred thousand members, a heavy persecution broke out against them in 1457. Many relocated to Poland to enjoy religious safety and freedom at that time.
But then the 30 years war began (1618 – 1648). It was a conflict of Catholicism against Protestantism, but also a forum for France v.s. the Hapsbergs. In 1620 there was a severe Protestant defeat, which hit the Moravian group especially hard. This war reduced the Czech population in general by about one third. The Protestant churches in some areas were given an ultimatum: conform to the Catholic mould, leave, or worship in secret. To many, the best choice was to worship in secret, so for about 100 years part of the Moravian Church went into hiding, gathering secretly to worship in Moravia.
About 100 years later, a devout man named Count Nikola Ludwig von Zinzendorf, who had some fairly extensive land holdings in his estate, was approached by an itinerate carpenter named John, and apprised of the state of this hidden Moravian church. He was asked if, from his holdings, land could be given for a Moravian colony, so that they might have a place to relocate and worship freely. The Count approved of the idea. So a small Moravian colony was established on his land in the early 1720’s.
By 1727 they had established themselves and developed a quasi communal lifestyle – not all things held in common but with great emphasis on sharing and generosity - with no real rich or poor, besides the Count, I suppose. There was much emphasis on prayer and scripture reading, and love for your neighbor.
But as is often the case in churches where the people’s lives are heavily invested, a pretty serious period of arguing and dissention arose over doctrinal matters and egos. It got to the point of a being a pretty acrimonious family feud. The Count had grown very personally invested in this colony, and came himself to address the group to try to quell the friction. His plea to love each other for the sake of Jesus was so impassioned and received so emotionally by the listeners that the group adopted a whole new spirit. But then, about a month later, on August 13th of 1727 the bombshell hit: while together in worship the Holy Spirit fell among them as a group!
It happened at the end of about a week of especially meaningful and emotion fraught prayer and fasting. They went into their place of worship and they apparently felt, all at the exact same time, a very powerful, overwhelming, and intensely deep sense of love, unity, and community. Something beyond what any of them – church goers all, regular prayers all, regular worshippers all – had ever experienced before.
We will never know precisely what they felt, but it was a day and a moment in a small place which literally had impacts which would be felt around the world,. It would effect the people of every inhabited continent and in Christian church denominations besides their own, and in millions of lives in the world as time rolled on. That is BIG!
The effects were several, and here are some of them:
On February 10, 1728 they set up a continuous prayer offering to the Lord, where Moravian Church men and women went in shifts to offer continual prayers to the Lord. This constant prayer was manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It continued…..and continued…...and continued. They did not cease. They did not give up and did not falter. They allowed nothing to interrupt it. It lasted for 100 years. There may never have been a prayer vigil like it in Christian history. Prayers of thanks and joy and appreciation rose to God, and to Jesus our Savior and to the Holy Spirit for 100 continuous years because of these people who had had the Holy Spirit fall upon them.
They have a Christian scriptural handout that was started in 1728 called the Watchwords. Today it is published in over 50 languages, so we can only guess how many people read words from God each day because of these pamphlets.
Some who had felt the Holy Spirit that day felt inspired to go on missions to people who had not heard of Jesus, or where faith was not widely spread. The first two missionaries sent were a carpenter (like Jesus) and a potter (an allegorical occupation applied in the scriptures to God the Father at times). They went in 1732 to the Island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean. Soon they had missions in many places. Before 1770 they became the first Protestant denomination to minister on all six inhabited continents, some sources say.
They worked among the people they ministered to, working beside them in the fields, etc. Some who ministered to slaves decided to become slaves, as the owners would not otherwise allow them contact with their slave crews. Their philosophy was not to preach too much, not to get involved with technical points of scripture much, but mainly to preach the great gift that Jesus had given. And they tried to be like servants to the ones they taught to.
This was about 200 years after the Protestant Movement of Martin Luther, yet by 20 years into their missionary efforts the Moravians had begun more missions than the entire Protestant church had in those previous 200 years. They went about it with a vengeance. And missionary work was something the greater church simply had not been doing too much of. Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ to go out and spread the gospel to all men had been in a sort of a lull. But as other denominations saw what the Moravians were accomplishing they became inspired and urged their own denomination to follow the example. A great movement towards missionary work was ignited among the Christian denominations, and it is burning even today, having never slowed long or much.
The small little Moravian church, going strong still today, has had an impact far out of proportion to it’s size after suffering hardships and persecutions for Christ. It was patient, and it was rewarded. It got to be a faithful and fruitful steward presenting God’s word and the Gospel of Jesus to the far flung ends of the planet. It did upset the Count's neighbors, as zeal for God always will. Count Zinzendorf ended up being forced to sell his lands and was also forced out of Saxony because of religious persecutions by other local denominations of Christians, but in the end he happily forsook even the title of ‘Count’ and worked side by side with others, spreading the word in the fields of the Lord.
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