A history of the moravian church

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At this point, when national excitement was at its height, Bishop Reichel arrived upon the scene from Germany, and soon instructed the American Brethren how to manage their affairs {1779.}. He acted in opposition to American ideals. Instead of summoning a Conference of ministers and deputies, he summoned a Conference consisting of ministers only; the American laymen had no chance of expressing their opinions; and, therefore, acting under Reichel’s influence, the Conference passed the astounding resolution that “in no sense shall the societies of awakened, affiliated as the fruit of the former extensive itinerations, be regarded as preparatory to the organisation of congregations, and that membership in these societies does not at all carry with it communicant membership or preparation for it.” There lay the cause of the Brethren’s failure in America. In spite of its rather stilted language, we can easily see in that sentence the form of an old familiar friend. It is really our German friend the Diaspora, and our English friend the system of United Flocks. For the next sixty-four years that one sentence in italics was as great a barrier to progress in America as the system of United Flocks in England. As long as that resolution remained in force, the American Moravians had no fair chance of extending; and all the congregations except the four settlements were treated, not as hopeful centres of work, but as mere societies and preaching-places. Thus again, precisely as in Great Britain, did the Brethren clip their own wings; thus again did they sternly refuse admission to hundreds of applicants for Church membership. A few figures will make this clear. At Graceham the Brethren had 90 adherents, but only 60 members {1790.}; at Lancaster 258 adherents, but only 72 members; at Philadelphia 138 adherents, but only 38 members; at Oldmanscreek 131 adherents, but only 37 members; at Staten Island 100 adherents, but only 20 members; at Gnadenhütten 41 adherents, but only 31 members; at Emmaus 93 adherents, but only 51 members; at Schoeneck 78 adherents, but only 66 members; at Hebron 72 adherents, but only 24 members; at York 117 adherents, but only 38 members; and at Bethel 87 adherents, but only 23 members. If these figures are dry, they are at least instructive; and the grand point they prove is that the American Moravians, still dazzled by Zinzendorf’s “Church within the Church” idea, compelled hundreds who longed to join their ranks as members to remain outside the Church. In Germany this policy succeeded; in England, where a State Church existed, it may have been excusable; but in America, where a State Church was unknown, it was senseless and suicidal.
And yet the American Moravians did not live entirely in vain. Amid the fury of American politics, they cultivated the three Moravian fruits of piety, education and missionary zeal. At Bethlehem they opened a Girls’ School; and so popular did that school become that one of the directors, Jacob Van Vleck, had to issue a circular, stating that during the next eighteen months no more applications from parents could be received. It was one of the finest institutions in North America; and among the thousands of scholars we find relatives of such famous American leaders as Washington, Addison, Sumpter, Bayard, Livingstone and Roosevelt. At Nazareth the Brethren had a school for boys, known as “Nazareth Hall.” If this school never served any other purpose, it certainly taught some rising Americans the value of order and discipline. At meals the boys had to sit in perfect silence; and when they wished to indicate their wants, they did so, not by using their tongues, but by holding up the hand or so many fingers. The school was divided into “rooms”; each “room” contained only fifteen or eighteen pupils; these pupils were under the constant supervision of a master; and this master, who was generally a theological scholar, was the companion and spiritual adviser of his charges. He joined in all their games, heard them sing their hymns, and was with them when they swam in the “Deep Hole” in the Bushkill River on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, when they gathered nuts in the forests, and when they sledged in winter in the surrounding country.
For foreign missions these American Brethren were equally enthusiastic. They established a missionary society known as the “Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Brethren” (1787); they had that society enrolled as a corporate body; they were granted by Congress a tract of 4,000 acres in the Tuscawaras Valley; and they conducted a splendid mission to the Indians in Georgia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Canada, Kansas and Arkansas.
But work of this kind was not enough to satisfy the American Brethren. As the population increased around them they could not help feeling that they ought to do more in their native land; and the yoke of German authority galled them more and more. In their case there was some excuse for rebellious feelings. If there is anything a genuine American detests, it is being compelled to obey laws which he himself has not helped to make; and that was the very position of the American Brethren. In theory they were able to attend the General Synods; in fact, very few could undertake so long a journey. At one Synod (1782) not a single American Brother was present; and yet the decisions of the Synod were of full force in America.
At length the Americans took the first step in the direction of Home Rule. For forty-eight years their Provincial Synods had been attended by ministers only; but now by special permission of the U.E.C., they summoned a Provincial Synod at Lititz consisting of ministers and deputies {1817.}. At this Synod they framed a number of petitions to be laid before the next General Synod in Germany. They requested that the monthly “speaking” should be abolished; that Brethren should be allowed to serve in the army; that the American Provincial Helpers’ Conference should be allowed to make appointments without consulting the German U.E.C.; that the congregations should be allowed to elect their own committees without using the Lot; that all adult communicant members should be entitled to a vote; that the use of the Lot should be abolished in marriages, in applications for membership, and in the election of deputies to the General Synod; and, finally, that at least one member of the U.E.C. should know something about American affairs. Thus did the Americans clear the way for Church reform. In Germany they were regarded as dangerous radicals. They were accused of an unwholesome desire for change. They designed, it was said, to pull down everything old and set up something new. At the General Synod (1818) most of their requests were refused; and the only point they gained was that the Lot need not be used in marriages in town and country congregations. At the very time when the Americans were growing more radical, the Germans, as we have seen already, were growing more conservative.154
But the American Brethren were not disheartened. In addition to being leaders in the cause of reform, they now became the leaders in the Home Mission movement; and here they were twenty years before their British Brethren. In 1835, in North Carolina, they founded a “Home Missionary Society”; in 1844 they abolished the settlement system; in 1849 they founded a general “Home Missionary Society”; in 1850 they founded a monthly magazine, the Moravian Church Miscellany; in 1855 they founded their weekly paper the Moravian, and placed all their Home Mission work under a general Home Mission Board. Meanwhile, they had established new congregations at Colored Church, in North Carolina (1822; Hope, in Indiana (1830); Hopedale, in Pennsylvania (1837); Canal Dover, in Ohio (1840); West Salem, in Illinois 1844; Enon, in Indiana (1846); West Salem for Germans, in Edwards County (1848); Green Bay, in Wisconsin (1850); Mount Bethell, in Caroll County (1851); New York (1851); Ebenezer, in Wisconsin (1853); Brooklyn (1854); Utica, in Oneida County (1854); Watertown, in Wisconsin (1854); and Lake Mills, in Wisconsin (1856). At the very time when the British Moravians were forming their first Home Mission Society, the Americans had founded fourteen new congregations; and thus they had become the pioneers in every Moravian onward movement.
But their greatest contribution to progress is still to be mentioned. Of all the Provincial Synods held in America, the most important was that which met at Bethlehem on May 2nd, 1855. As their Home Mission work had extended so rapidly they now felt more keenly than ever how absurd it was the American work should still be managed by a Directing Board in Germany; and, therefore, they now laid down the proposal that American affairs should be managed by an American Board, elected by an American Provincial Synod {1855.}. In other words, the Americans demanded independence in all American affairs. They wished, in future, to manage their own concerns; they wished to make their own regulations at their own Provincial Synods; they established an independent “Sustentation Fund,” and desired to have their own property; and therefore they requested the U.E.C. to summon a General Synod at the first convenient opportunity to consider their resolutions. Thus, step by step, the American Moravians prepared the way for great changes. If these changes are to be regarded as reforms, the American Moravians must have the chief praise and glory. They were the pioneers in the Home Mission movement; they were the staunchest advocates of democratic government; they had long been the stoutest opponents of the Lot; and now they led the way in the movement which ended in the separation of the Provinces. In England their demand for Home Rule awakened a partial response; in Germany it excited anger and alarm; and now Moravians all over the world were waiting with some anxiety to see what verdict would be passed by the next General Synod.155


AS soon as the American demands became known in Germany, the German Brethren were much disturbed in their minds; they feared that if these demands were granted the unity of the Moravian Church would be destroyed; and next year they met in a German Provincial Synod, condemned the American proposals as unsound, and pathetically requested the American Brethren to reconsider their position {1856.}. And now, to make the excitement still keener, an anonymous writer, who called himself “Forscher” (Inquirer), issued a pamphlet hotly attacking some of the time-honoured institutions of the Church. He called his pamphlet, “Die Brüderkirche: Was ist Wahrheit?” i.e., The Truth about the Brethren’s Church, and in his endeavour to tell the truth he penned some stinging words. He asserted that far too much stress had been laid on the “Chief Eldership of Christ”; he denounced the abuse of the Lot; he declared that the Brethren’s settlements were too exclusive; he criticized Zinzendorf’s “Church within the Church” idea; he condemned the old “Diacony” system as an unholy alliance of the secular and the sacred; and thus he described as sources of evil the very customs which many Germans regarded as precious treasures. As this man was really John Henry Buchner, he was, of course, a German in blood; but Buchner was then a missionary in Jamaica, and thus his attack, like the American demands, came from across the Atlantic. No wonder the German Brethren were excited. No wonder they felt that a crisis in the Church had arrived. For all loyal Moravians the question now was whether the Moravian Church could stand the strain; and, in order to preserve the true spirit of unity, some Brethren at Gnadenfeld prepared and issued an “Appeal for United Prayer.” “At this very time,” they declared, “when the Church is favoured with an unusual degree of outward prosperity, the enemy of souls is striving to deal a blow at our spiritual union by sowing among us the seeds of discord and confusion”; and therefore they besought their Brethren--German, English and American alike--to banish all feelings of irritation, and to join in prayer every Wednesday evening for the unity and prosperity of the Brethren’s Church.
At length, June 8th, 1857, the General Synod met at Herrnhut {1857.}. In his opening sermon Bishop John Nitschmann struck the right note. He reminded his Brethren of the rock from which they were hewn; he appealed to the testimony of history; and he asserted that the testimony of history was that the Moravian Church had been created, not by man, but by God. “A word,” he said, “never uttered before at a Brethren’s Synod has lately been heard among us--the word ‘separation.’ Separation among Brethren! The very sound sends a pang to the heart of every true Brother!” With that appeal ringing in their ears, the Brethren addressed themselves to their difficult task; a committee was formed to examine the American proposals; the spirit of love triumphed over the spirit of discord; and finally, after much discussion, the new constitution was framed.
If the unity of the Church was to be maintained, there must, of course, still be one supreme authority; and, therefore the Brethren now decided that henceforward the General Synod should be the supreme legislative, and the U.E.C. the supreme administrative, body. But the constitution of the General Synod was changed. It was partly an official and partly an elected body. On the one hand, there were still a number of ex-officio members; on the other a large majority of elected deputies. Thus the General Synod was now composed of: (1) Ex-officio members: i.e., the twelve members of the U.E.C.; all Bishops of the Church; one member of the English and one of the American P.E.C.; the Secretarius Unitatis Fratrum in Anglia; the administrators of the Church’s estates in Pennsylvania and North Carolina; the Director of the Warden’s Department; the Director of the Missions Department; the Unity’s Librarian. (2) Elected members: i.e., nine deputies from each of the three Provinces, elected by the Synods of these Provinces. As these twenty-seven deputies could be either ministers or laymen, it is clear that the democratic principle was now given some encouragement; but, on the other hand, the number of officials was still nearly as great as the number of deputies. The functions of the General Synod were defined as follows: (a) To determine the doctrines of the Church, i.e., to decide all questions which may arise upon this subject. (b) To decide as to all essential points of Liturgy. (c) To prescribe the fundamental rules of order and discipline. (d) To determine what is required for membership in the Church. (e) To nominate and appoint Bishops. (f) To manage the Church’s Foreign Missions and Educational Work. (g) To inspect the Church’s general finances. (h) To elect the U.E.C. (i) To form and constitute General Synods, to fix the time and place of their meetings, and establish the basis of their representation. (j) To settle everything concerning the interests of the Moravian Church as a whole.
As the U.E.C. were elected by the General Synod, it was natural that they should still possess a large share of administrative power; and therefore they were now authorized to manage all concerns of a general nature, to represent the Church in her dealings with the State, and with other religious bodies, and to see that the principles and regulations established by the General Synod were carried out in every department of Church work. For the sake of efficiency the U.E.C. were divided into three boards, the Educational, Financial, and Missionary; they managed, in this way, the schools in Germany, the general finances, and the whole of the foreign missions; and meanwhile, for legal reasons, they also acted as P.E.C. for the German Province of the Church. Thus the first part of the problem was solved, and the unity of the Moravian Church was maintained.
The next task was to satisfy the American demand for Home Rule. For this purpose the Brethren now resolved that each Province of the Church should have its own property; that each Province should hold its own Provincial Synod; and that each of the three Provincial Synods should have power to make laws, provided these laws did not conflict with the laws laid down by a General Synod. As the U.E.C. superintended the work in Germany, there was no further need for a new arrangement there; but in Great Britain and North America the Provincial Synod in each case was empowered to elect its own P.E.C., and the P.E.C., when duly elected, managed the affairs of the Province. They had the control of all provincial property. They appointed ministers to their several posts; they summoned Provincial Synods when they thought needful; and thus each Province possessed Home Rule in all local affairs.
For the next twenty-two years this constitution--so skilfully drawn--remained unimpaired. At best, however, it was only a compromise; and in 1879 an alteration was made {1879.}. As Mission work was the only work in which the whole Church took part as such, it was decided that only the Mission Department of the U.E.C. should be elected by the General Synod; the two other departments, the Educational and Financial, were to be nominated by the German Provincial Synod; and in order that the British and American Provinces should have a court of appeal, a new board, called the Unity Department, was created. It consisted of six members, i.e., the four members of the Missions Department, one from the Educational Department, and one from the Finance Department. At the same time the U.E.C., divided still into its three departments, remained the supreme Board of Management.
But this arrangement was obviously doomed to failure {1890.}. In the first place it was so complex that few could understand it, and only a person of subtle intellect could define the difference between the functions of the U.E.C. and the functions of the Unity Department; and, in the second place, it was quite unfair to the German Brethren. In Germany the U.E.C. still acted as German P.E.C.; of its twelve members four were elected, not by a German Provincial Synod, but by the General Synod; and, therefore, the Germans were ruled by a board of whom only eight members were elected by the Germans themselves. At the next General Synod, therefore (1889), the U.E.C. was divided into two departments: first, the Foreign Mission Department, consisting of four members, elected by the General Synod; second, the German P.E.C., consisting of eight members, elected by the German Provincial Synod. Thus, at last, thirty-two years after the British and American Provinces, did the German Province attain Provincial independence.
But even this arrangement proved unsatisfactory. As we thread our way through these constitutional changes, we can easily see where the trouble lay. At each General Synod the problem was, how to reconcile the unity of the Church with the rights of its respective Provinces; and so far the problem had not been solved. The flaw in the last arrangement is fairly obvious. If the U.E.C. was still the supreme managing board, it was unfair to the Americans and Britons that eight of its twelve members should be really the German P.E.C., elected by the German Provincial Synod.
The last change in the constitution was of British origin {1898.}. At a Provincial Synod held in Mirfield, the British Moravians sketched a plan whereby the U.E.C. and the Unity Department would both cease to exist; and when the next General Synod met at Herrnhut, this plan was practically carried into effect. At present, therefore, the Moravian Church is constituted as follows {1899.}: First, the supreme legislative body is still the General Synod; second, the Church is divided into four Provinces, the German, the British, the American North, and the American South; third, each of these four Provinces holds its own Provincial Synods, makes its own laws, and elects its own P.E.C.; fourth, the foreign mission work is managed by a Mission Board, elected by the General Synod; and last, the supreme U.E.C., no longer a body seated in Germany and capable of holding frequent meetings, is now composed of the Mission Board and the four governing boards of the four independent Provinces. In one sense, the old U.E.C. is abolished; in another, it still exists. It is abolished as a constantly active Directing Board; it exists as the manager of certain Church property,156 as the Church’s representative in the eyes of the law, and as the supreme court of appeal during the period between General Synods. As some of the members of this composite board live thousands of miles from each other, they are never able to meet all together. And yet the Board is no mere fiction. In theory, its seat is still at Berthelsdorf; and, in fact, it is still the supreme administrative authority, and as such is empowered to see that the principles laid down at a General Synod are carried out in every branch of the Moravian Church.157
And yet, though the Moravian Church is still one united ecclesiastical body, each Province is independent in the management of its own affairs. For example, let us take the case of the British Province. The legislative body is the Provincial Synod. It is composed of, first, all ordained ministers of the Church in active congregation service; second, the Advocatus Fratrum in Angliâ and the Secretarius Fratrum in Angliâ; third, lay deputies elected by the congregations. At a recent British Provincial Synod (1907) the rule was laid down that every congregation possessing more than one hundred and fifty members shall be entitled to send two deputies to the Synod; and thus there is a tendency in the British Province for the lay element to increase in power. In all local British matters the power of the Provincial Synod is supreme. It has power to settle the time and place of its own meetings, to supervise the administration of finances, to establish new congregations, to superintend all official Church publications, to nominate Bishops, and to elect the Provincial Elders’ Conference. As the U.E.C. act in the name and by the authority of a General Synod, so the P.E.C. act in the name and by the authority of a Provincial Synod. They see to the execution of the laws of the Church, appoint and superintend all ministers, pay official visits once in three years to inspect the state of the congregations, examine candidates for the ministry, administer the finances of the Province, and act as a Court of Appeal in cases of dispute.
The same principles apply in individual congregations.
As each Province manages its own affairs subject to the general laws of the Church, so each congregation manages its own affairs subject to the general laws of the Province. As far as its own affairs are concerned, each congregation is self-ruling. All members over eighteen years who have paid their dues are entitled to a vote. They are empowered to elect a deputy for the Provincial Synod; they elect also, once in three years, the congregation committee; and the committee, in co-operation with the minister, is expected to maintain good conduct, honesty and propriety among the members of the congregation, to administer due discipline and reproof, to consider applications for membership, to keep in order the church, Sunday-school, minister’s house, and other congregation property, and to be responsible for all temporal and financial concerns.
Thus the constitution of the Moravian Church may be described as democratic. It is ruled by committees, conferences and synods; and these committees, conferences and synods all consist, to a large extent, of elected deputies. As the Moravians have Bishops, the question may be asked, what special part the Bishops play in the government of the Church? The reply may be given in the words of the Moravians themselves. At the last General Synod the old principle was reasserted, that “the office of a Bishop imparts in and by itself no manner of claim to the control of the whole Church or of any part of it; the administration of particular dioceses does therefore not belong to the Bishops.” Thus Moravian Bishops are far from being prelates. They are authorized to ordain the presbyters and deacons; they examine the spiritual condition of the ordinands; and, above all, they are called to act as “intercessors in the Church of God.” But they have no more ruling power as such than any other minister of the Church.

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