A history of the moravian church



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Next year, at a Synod at Marienborn, the Count explained how this wonderful work was to be done {1740.}. What was the bond of union to be? It was certainly not a doctrine. Instead of making the bond of union a doctrine, as so many Churches have done, the Brethren made it personal experience. Where creeds had failed experience would succeed. If men, they said, were to he united in one grand evangelical Church, it would be, not by a common creed, but by a common threefold experience--a common experience of their own misery and sin; a common experience of the redeeming grace of Christ; and a common experience of the religious value of the Bible. To them this personal experience was the one essential. They had no rigid doctrine to impose. They did not regard any of the standard creeds as final. They did not demand subscription to a creed as a test. They had no rigid doctrine of the Atonement or of the Divinity of Christ; they had no special process of conversion; and, most striking of all, they had no rigid doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible. They did not believe either in verbal inspiration or in Biblical infallibility. They declared that the famous words, “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” must be taken in a free and broad way. They held that, though the Bible was inspired, it contained mistakes in detail; that the teaching of St. James was in flat contradiction to the teaching of St. Paul; and that even the Apostles sometimes made a wrong application of the prophecies. To them the value of the Bible consisted, not in its supposed infallibility, but in its appeal to their hearts. “The Bible,” they declared, “is a never-failing spring for the heart; and the one thing that authenticates the truth of its message is the fact that what is said in the book is confirmed by the experience of the heart.” How modern this sounds.
But how was this universal experience to be attained? The Count had his answer ready. He had studied the philosophical works of Spinoza and Bayle. He was familiar with the trend of the rationalistic movement. He was aware that to thousands, both inside and outside the Church, the God whom Jesus called “Our Father” was no more than a cold philosophical abstraction; and that many pastors in the Lutheran Church, instead of trying to make God a reality, were wasting their time in spinning abstruse speculations, and discussing how many legions of angels could stand on the point of a needle. As this sort of philosophy rather disgusted Zinzendorf, he determined to frame a theology of his own; and thereby he arrived at the conclusion that the only way to teach men to love God was “to preach the Creator of the World under no other shape than that of a wounded and dying Lamb.” He held that the Suffering Christ on the Cross was the one perfect expression and revelation of the love of God; he held that the title “Lamb of God” was the favourite name for Christ in the New Testament; he held that the central doctrine of the faith was the “Ransom” paid by Christ in His sufferings and death; and, therefore, he began to preach himself, and taught his Brethren to preach as well, the famous “Blood and Wounds Theology.”
And now, at a Synod held in London, the Brethren cleared the decks for action, and took their stand on the stage of history as a free, independent Church of Christ {1741.}. The situation was alarming. Of all the Protestant Churches in Europe, the Church of the Brethren was the broadest in doctrine and the most independent in action; and yet, during the last few years, the Brethren were actually in danger of bending the knee to a Pope. The Pope in question was Leonard Dober. At the time when Herrnhut was founded, the Brethren had elected a governing board of twelve Elders. Of these twelve Elders, four Over-Elders were set apart for spiritual purposes; and of these four Over-Elders, one was specially chosen as Chief Elder. The first Chief Elder was Augustin Neisser, and the second Martin Linner. As long as the office lay in Linner’s hands, there was no danger of the Chief Elder becoming a Pope. He was poor; he was humble; he was weak in health; and he spent his time in praying for the Church and attending to the spiritual needs of the Single Brethren. But gradually the situation altered. For the last six years the office had been held by Leonard Dober. He had been elected by Lot, and was, therefore, supposed to possess Divine authority. He was General Elder of the whole Brethren’s Church. He had become the supreme authority in spiritual matters. He had authority over Zinzendorf himself, over all the Bishops, over all the members of the Pilgrim Band, over all Moravian Brethren at Herrnhut, over the pioneers in England and North America, over the missionaries in Greenland, the West Indies, South Africa and Surinam. He had become a spiritual referee. As the work extended, his duties and powers increased. He was Elder, not merely of the Brethren’s Church, but of that ideal “Community of Jesus” which ever swam before the vision of the Count. He was becoming a court of appeal in cases of dispute. Already disagreements were rising among the Brethren. At Herrnhut dwelt the old-fashioned, sober, strict Moravians. At Herrnhaag the Brethren, with their freer notions, were already showing dangerous signs of fanaticism. At Pilgerruh, in Holstein, another body were being tempted to break from the Count altogether. And above these disagreeing parties the General Elder sat supreme. His position had become impossible. He was supposed to be above all party disputes; he was the friend of all, the intercessor for all, the broad-minded ideal Brother; and yet, if an actual dispute arose, he would be expected to give a binding decision. For these manifold duties Dober felt unfit; he had no desire to become a Protestant Pope; and, therefore, being a modest man, he wrote to the Conference at Marienborn, and asked for leave to lay down his office. The question was submitted to the Lot. The Lot allowed Dober to resign. The situation was now more dangerous than ever. The Brethren were in a quandary. They could never do without a General Elder. If they did they would cease to be a true “Community of Jesus,” and degenerate into a mere party-sect. At last, at a house in Red Lion Street, London, they met to thrash out the question. For the third time a critical question was submitted to the decision of the Lot {Sept. 16th, 1741.}. “As we began to think about the Eldership,” says Zinzendorf himself, in telling the story, “it occurred to us to accept the Saviour as Elder. At the beginning of our deliberations we opened the Textbook. On the one page stood the words, ‘Let us open the door to Christ’; on the other, ‘Thus saith the Lord, etc.; your Master, etc.; show me to my children and to the work of my hands. Away to Jesus! Away! etc.’ Forthwith and with one consent we resolved to have no other than Him as our General Elder. He sanctioned it.95 It was just Congregation Day. We looked at the Watchword for the day. It ran: ‘The glory of the Lord filled the house. We bow before the Lamb’s face, etc.’ We asked permission.96 We obtained it. We sang with unequalled emotion: ‘Come, then, for we belong to Thee, and bless us inexpressibly.’” As the story just quoted was written by the poetic Count, it has been supposed that in recording this famous event he added a spiritual flavour of his own. But in this case he was telling the literal truth. At that Conference the Brethren deliberately resolved to ask Christ to undertake the office which had hitherto been held by Leonard Dober; and, to put the matter beyond all doubt, they inscribed on their minutes the resolution: “That the office of General Elder be abolished, and be transferred to the Saviour.”97 At first sight that resolution savours both of blasphemy and of pride; and Ritschl, the great theologian, declares that the Brethren put themselves on a pedestal above all other Churches. For that judgment Moravian writers have largely been to blame. It has been asserted again and again that on that famous “Memorial Day” the Brethren made a “special covenant” with Christ. For that legend Bishop Spangenberg was partly responsible. As that godly writer, some thirty years later, was writing the story of these transactions, he allowed his pious imagination to cast a halo over the facts; and, therefore, he penned the misleading sentence that the chief concern of the Brethren was that Christ “would condescend to enter into a special covenant with His poor Brethren’s people, and take us as his peculiar property.” For that statement there is not a shadow of evidence. The whole story of the “special covenant” is a myth. In consulting the Lot the Brethren showed their faith; in passing their resolution they showed their wisdom; and the meaning of the resolution was that henceforth the Brethren rejected all human authority in spiritual matters, recognized Christ alone as the Head of the Church, and thereby became the first free Church in Europe. Instead of bowing to any human authority they proceeded now to manage their own affairs; they elected by Lot a Conference of Twelve, and thus laid the foundations of that democratic system of government which exists at the present day. They were thrilled with the joy of their experience; they felt that now, at length, they were free indeed; they resolved that the joyful news should be published in all the congregations on the same day (November 13th); and henceforward that day was held in honour as the day when the Brethren gained their freedom and bowed to the will and law of Christ alone.
And now there was only one more step to take. As soon as the Synod in London was over, Count Zinzendorf set off for America in pursuit of a scheme to be mentioned in its proper place; and as soon as he was safely out of the way, the Brethren at home set about the task of obtaining recognition by the State. They had an easy task before them. For the last ninety-four years--ever since the Peace of Westphalia (1648)--the ruling principle in German had been that each little king and each little prince should settle what the religion should be in his own particular dominions. If the King was a Lutheran, his people must be Lutheran; if the King was Catholic, his people must be Catholic. But now this principle was suddenly thrown overboard. The new King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, was a scoffer. For religion Frederick the Great cared nothing; for the material welfare of his people he cared a good deal. He had recently conquered Silesia; he desired to see his land well tilled, and his people happy and good; and, therefore, he readily granted the Brethren a “Concession,” allowing them to settle in Prussia and Silesia {Dec. 25th, 1742.}. His attitude was that of the practical business man. As long as the Brethren obeyed the law, and fostered trade, they could worship as they pleased. For all he cared, they might have prayed to Beelzebub. He granted them perfect liberty of conscience; he allowed them to ordain their own ministers; he informed them that they would not be subject to the Lutheran consistory; and thus, though not in so many words, he practically recognized the Brethren as a free and independent Church. For the future history of the Brethren’s Church, this “Concession” was of vast importance. In one sense it aided their progress; in another it was a fatal barrier. As the Brethren came to be known as good workmen, other magnates speedily followed the king’s example; for particular places particular “concessions” were prepared; and thus the Brethren were encouraged to extend their “settlement system.” Instead, therefore, of advancing from town to town, the Brethren concentrated their attention on the cultivation of settlement life; and before many years had passed away they had founded settlements at Niesky, Gnadenberg, Gnadenfrei, and Neusalz-on-the-Oder.
Thus, then, had the Brethren sketched the plan of all their future work. They had regained their episcopal orders. They had defined their mission in the world. They had chosen their Gospel message. They had asserted their freedom of thought. They had won the goodwill of the State. They had adopted the “settlement system.” They had begun their Diaspora work for the scattered, and their mission work for the heathen; and thus they had revived the old Church of the Brethren, and laid down those fundamental principles which have been maintained down to the present day.
Meanwhile their patriotic instincts had been confirmed. As Christian David had brought Brethren from Moravia, so Jan Gilek brought Brethren from Bohemia; and the story of his romantic adventures aroused fresh zeal for the ancient Church. He had fled from Bohemia to Saxony, and had often returned, like Christian David, to fetch bands of Brethren. He had been captured in a hay-loft by Jesuits. He had been imprisoned for two years at Leitomischl. He had been kept in a dungeon swarming with frogs, mice and other vermin. He had been fed with hot bread that he might suffer from colic. He had been employed as street sweeper in Leitomischl, with his left hand chained to his right foot. At length, however, he made his escape (1735), fled to Gerlachseim, in Silesia, and finally, along with other Bohemian exiles, helped to form a new congregation at Rixdorf, near Berlin. As the Brethren listened to Gilek’s story their zeal for the Church of their fathers was greater than ever; and now the critical question was, what would Zinzendorf say to all this when he returned from America?

CHAPTER VIII.


THE SIFTING TIME, 1743-1750.
AS the Count advanced towards middle age, he grew more domineering in tone, more noble in his dreams, and more foolish in much of his conduct. He was soon to shine in each of these three lights. He returned from America in a fury. For two years he had been busy in Pennsylvania in a brave, but not very successful, attempt to establish a grand “Congregation of God in the Spirit”; and now he heard, to his deep disgust, that his Brethren in Europe had lowered the ideal of the Church, and made vulgar business bargains with worldly powers. What right, he asked, had the Brethren to make terms with an Atheist King? What right had they to obtain these degrading “concessions?” The whole business, he argued, smacked of simony. If the Brethren made terms with kings at all, they should take their stand, not, forsooth, as good workmen who would help to fatten the soil, but rather as loyal adherents of the Augsburg Confession. At Herrnhaag they had turned the Church into a business concern! Instead of paying rent to the Counts of Isenburg, they now had the Counts in their power. They had lent them large sums of money; they held their estates as security; and now, in return for these financial favours, the Counts had kindly recognized the Brethren as “the orthodox Episcopal Moravian Church.” The more Zinzendorf heard of these business transactions, the more disgusted he was. He stormed and rated like an absolute monarch, and an absolute monarch he soon became. He forgot that before he went away he had entrusted the management of home affairs to a Board of Twelve. He now promptly dissolved the Board, summoned the Brethren to a Synod at Hirschberg, lectured them angrily for their sins, reduced them to a state of meek submission, and was ere long officially appointed to the office of “Advocate and Steward of all the Brethren’s Churches.” He had now the reins of government in his hands {1743.}. “Without your foreknowledge,” ran this document, “nothing new respecting the foundation shall come up in our congregations, nor any conclusion of importance to the whole shall be valid; and no further story shall be built upon your fundamental plan of the Protestant doctrine of the Augsburg Confession, and that truthing it in love with all Christians, without consulting you.”
He proceeded now to use these kingly powers. He accused the Brethren of two fundamental errors. Instead of trying to gather Christians into one ideal “Community of Jesus,” they had aimed at the recognition of the independent Moravian Church; and instead of following the guidance of God, they had followed the dictates of vulgar worldly wisdom. He would cure them of each of these complaints. He would cure them of their narrow sectarian views, and cure them of their reliance on worldly wisdom.
For the first complaint he offered the remedy known as his “Tropus Idea.” The whole policy of Zinzendorf lies in those two words. He expounded it fully at a Synod in Marienborn. The more he studied Church history in general, the more convinced he became that over and above all the Christian Churches there was one ideal universal Christian Church; that that ideal Church represented the original religion of Christ; and that now the true mission of the Brethren was to make that ideal Church a reality on God’s fair earth. He did not regard any of the Churches of Christ as Churches in this higher sense of the term. He regarded them rather as religious training grounds. He called them, not Churches, but tropuses. He called the Lutheran Church a tropus; he called the Calvinistic Church a tropus; he called the Moravian Church a tropus; he called the Pilgrim Band a tropus; he called the Memnonites a tropus; and by this word “tropus” he meant a religious school in which Christians were trained for membership in the one true Church of Christ. He would not have one of these tropuses destroyed. He regarded them all as essential. He honoured them all as means to a higher end. He would never try to draw a man from his tropus. And now he set a grand task before the Brethren. As the Brethren had no distinctive creed, and taught the original religion of Christ, they must now, he said, regard it as their Divine mission to find room within their broad bosom for men from all the tropuses. They were not merely to restore the Moravian Church; they were to establish a broader, comprehensive Church, to be known as the “Church of the Brethren”; and that Church would be composed of men from every tropus under heaven. Some would be Lutherans, some Reformed, some Anglicans, some Moravians, some Memnonites, some Pilgrims in the foreign field. For this purpose, and for this purpose only, he now revived the old Brethren’s ministerial orders of Presbyter, Deacon and Acoluth; and when these men entered on their duties he informed them that they were the servants, not merely of the Moravian Church, but of the wider “Church of the Brethren.” If the Count could now have carried out his scheme, he would have had men from various Churches at the head of each tropus in the Church of the Brethren. For the present he did the best he could, and divided the Brethren into three leading tropuses. At the head of the Moravian tropus was Bishop Polycarp Müller; at the head of the Lutheran, first he himself, and then, later, Dr. Hermann, Court Preacher at Dresden; and finally, at the head of the Reformed, first his old friend Bishop Friedrich de Watteville, and then, later, Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man.98 His scheme was now fairly clear. “In future,” he said, “we are all to be Brethren, and our Bishops must be Brethren’s Bishops; and, therefore, in this Church of the Brethren there will henceforth be, not only Moravians, but also Lutherans and Calvinists, who cannot find peace in their own Churches on account of brutal theologians.”
His second remedy was worse than the disease. The great fault in Zinzendorf’s character was lack of ballast. For the last few years he had given way to the habit of despising his own common sense; and instead of using his own judgment he now used the Lot. He had probably learned this habit from the Halle Pietists. He carried his Lot apparatus in his pocket;99 he consulted it on all sorts of topics; he regarded it as the infallible voice of God. “To me,” said he, in a letter to Spangenberg, “the Lot and the Will of God are simply one and the same thing. I am not wise enough to seek God’s will by my own mental efforts. I would rather trust an innocent piece of paper than my own feelings.” He now endeavoured to teach this faith to his Brethren. He founded a society called “The Order of the Little Fools,” {June 2nd, 1743.} and before very long they were nearly all “little fools.” His argument here was astounding. He appealed to the well-known words of Christ Himself.100 As God, he contended, had revealed His will, not to wise men, but to babes, it followed that the more like babes the Brethren became, the more clearly they would understand the mysteries of grace. They were not to use their own brains; they were to wish that they had no brains; they were to be like children in arms; and thus they would overcome all their doubts and banish all their cares. The result was disastrous. It led to the period known as the “Sifting Time.” It is the saddest period in the history of the Brethren’s Church. For seven years these Brethren took leave of their senses, and allowed their feelings to lead them on in the paths of insensate folly. They began by taking Zinzendorf at his word. They used diminutives for nearly everything. They addressed the Count as “Papa” and “Little Papa”; they spoke of Christ as “Brother Lambkin”;101 and they described themselves as little wound-parsons, cross-wood little splinters, a blessed troop of cross-air102 birds, cross-air little atoms, cross-air little sponges, and cross-air little pigeons.
The chief sinner was the Count himself. Having thrown his common sense overboard, he gave free rein to his fancy, and came out with an exposition of the Holy Trinity which offended the rules of good taste. He compared the Holy Trinity to a family. The father, said he, was God; the mother was the Holy Ghost; their son was Jesus; and the Church of Christ, the Son’s fair bride, was born in the Saviour’s Side-wound, was betrothed to Christ on the Cross, was married to Christ in the Holy Communion, and was thus the daughter-in-law of the Father and the Holy Ghost. We can all see the dangers of this. As soon as human images of spiritual truths are pressed beyond decent limits, they lead to frivolity and folly; and that was just the effect at Herrnhaag. The more freely the Brethren used these phrases, the more childish they became. They called the Communion the “Embracing of the Man”; and thus they lost their reverence for things Divine.
But the next move of the Count was even worse. For its origin we must go back a few years in his story. As the Count one day was burning a pile of papers he saw one slip flutter down to the ground untouched by the fire {1734.}. He picked it up, looked at it, and found that it contained the words:--
Oh, let us in Thy nail-prints see

Our pardon and election free.”
At first the effect on Zinzendorf was healthy enough. He regarded the words as a direct message from God. He began to think more of the value of the death of Christ. He altered the style of his preaching; he became more definitely evangelical; and henceforth he taught the doctrine that all happiness and all virtue must centre in the atoning death of Christ. “Since the year 1734,” he said, “the atoning sacrifice of Jesus became our only testimony and our one means of salvation.” But now he carried this doctrine to excess. Again the cause was his use of the Lot. As long as Zinzendorf used his own mental powers, he was able to make his “Blood and Wounds Theology” a power for good; but as soon as he bade good-bye to his intellect he made his doctrine a laughing-stock and a scandal. Instead of concentrating his attention on the moral and spiritual value of the cross, he now began to lay all the stress on the mere physical details. He composed a “Litany of the Wounds”; and the Brethren could now talk and sing of nothing else {1743.}. “We stick,” they said, “to the Blood and Wounds Theology. We will preach nothing but Jesus the Crucified. We will look for nothing else in the Bible but the Lamb and His Wounds, and again Wounds, and Blood and Blood.” Above all they began to worship the Side-wound. “We stick,” they declared, “to the Lambkin and His little Side-wound. It is useless to call this folly. We dote upon it. We are in love with it. We shall stay for ever in the little side-hole, where we are so unspeakably blessed.”
Still worse, these men now forgot the main moral principle of the Christian religion. Instead of living for others they lived for themselves. Instead of working hard for their living they were now enjoying themselves at the Count’s expense; instead of plain living and high thinking they had high living and low thinking; and instead of spending their money on the poor they spent it now on grand illuminations, transparent pictures, and gorgeous musical festivals. No longer was their religion a discipline. It was a luxury, an orgy, a pastime. At Herrnhut the ruling principle was law; at Herrnhaag the ruling principle was liberty. At Herrnhut their religion was legal; at Herrnhaag it was supposed to be evangelical. The walls of their meeting-house were daubed with flaming pictures. In the centre of the ceiling was a picture of the Ascension; in one corner, Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus on the Resurrection morning; in another, our Lord making himself known to the two disciples at Emmaus; in a third Thomas thrusting his hand in the Saviour’s side; in a fourth, Peter leaping from a boat to greet the Risen Master on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias. The four walls were equally gorgeous. At one end of the hall was a picture of the Jew’s Passover, some Hebrews sprinkling blood on the door-posts, and the destroying angel passing. At the opposite end was a picture of the Last Supper; on another wall Moses lifting up the brazen serpent; on the fourth the Crucifixion. We can easily see the purpose of these pictures. They were all meant to teach the same great lesson. They were appeals through the eye to the heart. They were sermons in paint. If the Brethren had halted here they had done well. But again they rode their horse to death. For them pictures and hymns were not enough. At Marienborn Castle they now held a series of birthday festivals in honour of Zinzendorf, Anna Nitschmann and other Moravian worthies; and these festivals must have cost thousands of pounds. At such times the old castle gleamed with a thousand lights. At night, says a visitor, the building seemed on fire. The walls were hung with festoons. The hall was ornamented with boughs. The pillars were decked with lights, spirally disposed, and the seats were covered with fine linen, set off with sightly ribbons.


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