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Friday, 1 July 2016

Moravian Church

Sometime in the middle of the fifteenth century in central Europe a man named Gregory, who followed the teachings of Jan Hus, was put in a torture rack along with several others for his allegedly heretical beliefs. Refusing to recant he passed out and saw in a dream Jesus standing by a flowering tree with three men. The interpretation of the dream was that Christ would form them into a church.

Jan Hus
A few years later some of the Bible-believing successors of Jan Hus including Gregory met together in Moravia, a crown land of Bohemia within the Holy Roman Empire (today the Czech Republic).They determined to seek God as to whether they should form their own church as their radical beliefs excluded them from the Catholic church. They drew lots to enquire of God is it yes or is it no and their answer was a definite yes.

At the introductory meeting of this pioneering church three elders were appointed and Gregory recognized their faces-they were the same persons he saw in his dream. This pre-Protestant gathering,was the first truly reformed church, 50 years before Martin Luther. The Moravian Church's heritage dates back to this Bohemian Reformation.

The Bohemian Reformation had a strong influence to the education of the population. Even in the middle of the 16th century there was not a single town without a Protestant school in the Bohemian crown lands.

In 1617, Emperor Matthias had his fiercely Catholic brother Ferdinand of Styria elected King of Bohemia, but in 1618 Protestant Bohemian noblemen, who feared losing their religious freedom started the Bohemian Revolt. The Revolt was defeated in 1620 in the Battle of White Mountain near Prague. The local Protestant noblemen were either executed or expelled from the country while the Habsburgs placed Catholic nobility in their place. The war, plague, and subsequent disruption led to a decline in the population from over three million to some 800,000 people. By 1622 the entire education system was in the hands of Jesuits and all Protestant schools were closed.

The Moravian Protestant Brethren were forced to operate underground and eventually dispersed across Northern Europe as far as the Low Countries,

In 1722 Nikolaus Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), a nobleman who had been brought up in the traditions of Pietism, granted refuge on his estate in Herrnhut, Saxony to a group of persecuted members of the Bohemian Brethren. They had been living in northern Moravia as an illegal underground remnant surviving in Catholic setting of the Habsburg Empire for nearly 100 years. The community became a refuge for other persecuted Protestant believers.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit in 1727 the Moravian refugees living on Count von Zinzendorf's land commenced a round the clock prayer watch. On August 27, 1727, 24 men and 24 women covenanted to spend one hour each day in scheduled prayer. They continued this non-stop for more than a century with at least one person in the community praying every minute of the day.

In 1731 Count Zinzendorf met converts of the Danish-Halle mission including a native West Indian called Anthony whilst attending the coronation of King Christian VI of Denmark. As a result, the following year 600 of these Moravian Protestant refugees organized the Moravian Missionary Church, which was to become one of the pioneers of the modern missionary movement, sending out and in the succeeding 150 years over 2,100 missionaries.

Zinzendorf preaching to people from many nations

A potter Leonard Dober and a carpenter David Nitschmann were the first two Moravian missionaries. At the Moravian church's farewell service for them close to 100 hymns were sung so intense was the feeling. In Copenhagen trying to find a ship to take them to the West Indies, people warned them that they have no hope in succeeding in preaching the Gospel to the slaves. Dober answered that they themselves would be willing to become slaves in order to reach them.

It was a sacrificial commitment to become a missionary in the mid eighteenth century. For instance of the first 27 missionaries sent by the Moravians to the West Indies, 22 died within a year.

Within the Moravian community were bands of between eight to twelve people who regularly met to exhort, reprove and pray for one another, share matters concerning the state of their hearts and encourage evangelism. These were the first cell/prayer groups.

Portrait of a group of Moravian Church members with King George II of Great Britain, attributed to Johann Valentin Haidt, 

In 1737 Count Zinzendorf was consecrated a bishop by the Moravian church, who sought to determine God's will by the lot. They chose elders, affirmed the appointment of missionaries and even decided marriage partners by this means. The lot was only used after long discussion, consideration and prayer and when no consensus could be reached, the community agreed to be bound by the lot. At times rolled pieces of paper were used with either a "ja" or "nein" printed on them, at other times directive scripture verses were written on scraps of paper.

The slogan of Zinzendorf's Moravian church was:  "In essentials unity. Non essentials diversity. And in all things charity."

Friedensthal Moravian Church Christiansted, St Croix, USVI founded in 1755

The modern Moravian Church has about 750,000 members worldwide, It continues to draw on traditions established during the 18th-century renewal.

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