A history of the moravian church

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Finally, a word must be said about the use of the Lot. As long as the Lot was used at all, it interfered to some extent with the democratic principle; but during the last twenty or thirty years it had gradually fallen into disuse, and in 1889 all reference to the Lot was struck out of the Church regulations; and while the Brethren still acknowledge the living Christ as the only Lord and Elder of the Church, they seek His guidance, not in any mechanical way, but through prayer, and reliance on the illumination of the Holy Spirit.


The Modern Moravians.


WHEN the Brethren made their maiden speech in the Valley of Kunwald four hundred and fifty years ago, they little thought that they were founding a Church that would spread into every quarter of the civilized globe. If this narrative, however, has been written to any purpose, it has surely taught a lesson of great moral value; and that lesson is that the smallest bodies sometimes accomplish the greatest results. At no period have the Brethren been very strong in numbers; and yet, at every stage of their story, we find them in the forefront of the battle. Of all the Protestant Churches in England, the Moravian Church is the oldest; and wherever the Brethren have raised their standard, they have acted as pioneers. They were Reformers sixty years before Martin Luther. They were the first to adopt the principle that the Bible is the only standard of faith and practice. They were among the first to issue a translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into the language of the people. They led the way, in the Protestant movement, in the catechetical instruction of children. They published the first Hymn Book known to history. They produced in Comenius the great pioneer of modern education. They saved the Pietist movement in Germany from an early grave; they prepared the way for the English Evangelical Revival; and, above all, by example rather than by precept, they aroused in the Protestant Churches of Christendom that zeal for the cause of foreign missions which some writers have described as the crowning glory of the nineteenth century. And now we have only one further land to explore. As the Moravians are still among the least of the tribes of Israel, it is natural to ask why, despite their smallness, they maintain their separate existence, what part they are playing in the world, what share they are taking in the fight against the Canaanite, for what principles they stand, what methods they employ, what attitude they adopt towards other Churches, and what solution they offer of the social and religious problems that confront us at the opening of the twentieth century.
Section I.--MORAVIAN PRINCIPLES--If the Moravians have any distinguishing principle at all, that principle is one which goes back to the beginnings of their history. For some years they have been accustomed to use as a motto the famous words of Rupertus Meldenius: “In necessariis unitas; in non-necessariis libertas; in utrisque caritas”--in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in both, charity. But the distinction between essentials and non-essentials goes far behind Rupertus Meldenius. If he was the first to pen the saying, he was certainly not the first to lay down the principle. For four hundred and fifty years this distinction between essentials and non-essentials has been a fundamental principle of the Brethren. From whom, if from any one, they learned it we do not know. It is found in no mediæval writer, and was taught neither by Wycliffe nor by Hus. But the Brethren held it at the outset, and hold it still. It is found in the works of Peter of Chelcic;158 it was fully expounded by Gregory the Patriarch; it was taught by the Bohemian Brethren in their catechisms; it is implied in all Moravian teaching to-day. To Moravians this word “essentials” has a definite meaning. At every stage in their history we find that in their judgment the essentials on which all Christians should agree to unite are certain spiritual truths. It was so with the Bohemian Brethren; it is so with the modern Moravians. In the early writings of Gregory the Patriarch, and in the catechisms of the Bohemian Brethren, the “essentials” are such things, and such things only, as faith, hope, love and the doctrines taught in the Apostles’ Creed; and the “non-essentials,” on the other hand, are such visible and concrete things as the church on earth, the ministry, the sacraments, and the other means of grace. In essentials they could allow no compromise; in non-essentials they gladly agreed to differ. For essentials they often shed their blood; but non-essentials they described as merely “useful” or “accidental.”
The modern Moravians hold very similar views. For them the only “essentials” in religion are the fundamental truths of the Gospel as revealed in Holy Scripture. In these days the question is sometimes asked, What is the Moravian creed? The answer is, that they have no creed, apart from Holy Scripture. For the creeds of other churches they have the deepest respect. Thy have declared their adherence to the Apostles’ Creed. They confess that in the Augsburg Confession the chief doctrines of Scripture are plainly and simply set forth; they have never attacked the Westminster Confession or the Articles of the Church of England; and yet they have never had a creed of their own, and have always declined to bind the consciences of their ministers and members by any creed whatever. Instead of binding men by a creed, they are content with the broader language of Holy Scripture. At the General Synod of 1857 they laid down the principle that the “Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are, and shall remain, the only rule of our faith and practice”; and that principle has been repeatedly reaffirmed. They revere the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God; they acknowledge no other canon or rule of doctrine; they regard every human system of doctrine as imperfect; and, therefore, they stand to-day for the position that Christians should agree to unite on a broad Scriptural basis. Thus the Moravians claim to be an Union Church. At the Synod of 1744 they declared that they had room within their borders for three leading tropuses, the Moravian, the Lutheran and the Reformed; and now, within their own ranks, they allow great difference of opinion on doctrinal questions.
Meanwhile, of course, they agree on certain points. If the reader consults their own official statements--e.g., those laid down in the “Moravian Church Book”--he will notice two features of importance. First, he will observe that (speaking broadly) the Moravians are Evangelicals; second, he will notice that they state their doctrines in very general terms. In that volume it is stated that the Brethren hold the doctrines of the Fall and the total depravity of human nature, of the love of God the Father, of the real Godhead and the real Humanity of Jesus Christ, of justification by faith, of the Holy Ghost and the operations of His grace, of good works as the fruit of faith, of the fellowship of all believers with Christ and with each other, and, finally, of the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead to condemnation or to life. But none of these doctrines are defined in dogmatic language, and none of them are imposed as creeds. As long as a man holds true to the broad principles of the Christian faith, he may, whether he is a minister or a layman, think much as he pleases on many other vexed questions. He may be either a Calvinist or an Arminian, either a Higher Critic or a defender of plenary inspiration, and either High Church or Methodistic in his tastes. He may have his own theory of the Atonement, his own conception of the meaning of the Sacraments, his own views on Apostolical Succession, and his own belief about the infallibility of the Gospel records. In their judgment, the main essential in a minister is not his orthodox adherence to a creed, but his personal relationship to Jesus Christ. For this reason they are not afraid to allow their candidates for the ministry to sit at the feet of professors belonging to other denominations. At their German Theological College in Gnadenfeld, the professors systematically instruct the students in the most advanced results of critical research; sometimes the students are sent to German Universities; and the German quarterly magazine--Religion und Geisteskultur--a periodical similar to our English “Hibbert Journal,” is edited by a Moravian theological professor. At one time an alarming rumour arose that the Gnadenfeld professors were leading the students astray; the case was tried at a German Provincial Synod, and the professors proved their innocence by showing that, although they held advanced views on critical questions, they still taught the Moravian central doctrine of redemption through Jesus Christ. In England a similar spirit of liberty prevails. For some years the British Moravians have had their own Theological College; it is situated at Fairfield, near Manchester; and although the students attend lectures delivered by a Moravian teacher, they receive the greater part of their education, first at Manchester University, and then either at the Manchester University Divinity School, or at the Free Church College in Glasgow or Edinburgh, or at any other suitable home of learning. Thus do the Moravians of the twentieth century tread in the footsteps of the later Bohemian Brethren; and thus do they uphold the principle that when the heart is right with Christ, the reasoning powers may be allowed free play.
In all other “non-essentials” they are equally broad. As they have never quarrelled with the Church of England, they rather resent being called Dissenters; as they happen to possess Episcopal Orders, they regard themselves as a true Episcopal Church; and yet, at the same time, they live on good terms with all Evangelical Dissenters, exchange pulpits with Nonconformist ministers, and admit to their Communion service members of all Evangelical denominations. They celebrate the Holy Communion once a month; they sing hymns describing the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ; and yet they have no definite doctrine of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They practise Infant Baptism; but they do not hold any rigid view about Baptismal Regeneration. They practise Confirmation;159 and yet they do not insist on confirmation as an absolute condition, in all cases, of church membership. If the candidate, for example, is advanced in years, and shrinks from the ordeal of confirmation, he may be admitted to the Moravian Church by reception; and members coming from other churches are admitted in the same way. They practise episcopal ordination, but do not condemn all other ordinations as invalid; and a minister of another Protestant Church may be accepted as a Moravian minister without being episcopally ordained. At the Sacraments, at weddings and at ordinations, the Moravian minister generally wears a surplice; and yet there is no reference to vestments in the regulations of the Church. In some congregations they use the wafer at the Sacrament, in others ordinary bread; and this fact alone is enough to show that they have no ruling on the subject. Again, the Moravians observe what is called the Church year. They observe, that is, the seasons of Advent, Lent, Easter, Whitsuntide, and Trinity; and yet they do not condemn as heretics those who differ from them on this point. If there is any season specially sacred to Moravians, it is Holy Week. To them it is generally known as Passion Week. On Palm Sunday they sing a “Hosannah” composed by Christian Gregor; at other services during the week they read the Passion History together, from a Harmony of the Four Gospels; on the Wednesday evening there is generally a “Confirmation”; on Maundy Thursday they celebrate the Holy Communion; on Good Friday, where possible, they have a series of special services; and on Easter Sunday they celebrate the Resurrection by an early morning service, held in England about six o’clock, but on the Continent at sunrise. Thus the Brethren are like High Churchmen in some of their observances, and very unlike them in their ecclesiastical principles. As the customs they practise are hallowed by tradition, and have often been found helpful to the spiritual life, they do not lightly toss them overboard; but, on the other hand, they do not regard those customs as “essential.” In spiritual “essentials” they are one united body; in “non-essentials,” such as ceremony and orders, they gladly agree to differ; and, small though they are in numbers, they believe that here they stand for a noble principle, and that some day that principle will be adopted by every branch of the militant Church of Christ. According to Romanists the true bond of union among Christians is obedience to the Pope as Head of the Church; according to some Anglicans, the “Historic Episcopate”; according to Moravians, a common loyalty to Scripture and a common faith in Christ; and only the future can show which, if any, of these bases of union will be accepted by the whole visible Church of Christ. Meanwhile, the Brethren are spreading their principles in a variety of ways.
Section II.--THE MORAVIANS IN GERMANY.--In Germany, and on the Continent generally, they still adhere in the main to the ideal set up by Zinzendorf. We may divide their work into five departments.
First, there is the ordinary pastoral work in the settlements and congregations. In Germany the settlement system still flourishes. Of the twenty-six Moravian congregations on the Continent, no fewer than twelve are settlements. In most cases these settlements are quiet little Moravian towns, inhabited almost exclusively by Moravians; the Brethren’s Houses and Sisters’ Houses are still in full working order; the very hotel is under direct church control; and the settlements, therefore, are models of order, sobriety, industry and piety. There the visitor will still find neither poverty nor wealth; there, far from the madding crowd, the angel of peace reigns supreme. We all know how Carlyle once visited Herrnhut, and how deeply impressed he was. At all the settlements and congregations the chief object of the Brethren is the cultivation of personal piety and Christian fellowship. We can see this from the number of services held. At the settlements there are more services in a week than many a pious Briton would attend in a month. In addition to the public worship on Sunday, there is a meeting of some kind every week-night. One evening there will be a Bible exposition; the next, reports of church work; the next, a prayer meeting; the next a liturgy meeting; the next, another Bible exposition; the next, an extract from the autobiography of some famous Moravian; the next, a singing meeting. At these meetings the chief thing that strikes an English visitor is the fact that no one but the minister takes any prominent part. The minister gives the Bible exposition; the minister reads the report or the autobiography; the minister offers the prayer; and the only way in which the people take part is by singing the liturgies and hymns. Thus the German Moravians have nothing corresponding to the “prayer meetings” held in England in Nonconformist churches. In some congregations there are “prayer unions,” in which laymen take part; but these are of a private and unofficial character.
Meanwhile, a good many of the old stern rules are still strictly enforced, and the Brethren are still cautious in welcoming new recruits. If a person not born in a Moravian family desires to join the Moravian Church, he has generally to exercise a considerable amount of patience. He must first have lived some time in the congregation; he must have a good knowledge of Moravian doctrines and customs; he must then submit to an examination on the part of the congregation-committee; he must then, if he passes, wait about six months; his name is announced to the congregation, and all the members know that he is on probation; and, therefore, when he is finally admitted, he is a Moravian in the fullest sense of the term. He becomes not only a member of the congregation, but a member of his particular “choir.” The choir system is still in force; for each choir there are special services and special labourers; and though the Single Brethren and Single Sisters are now allowed to live in their own homes, the choir houses are still occupied, and still serve a useful purpose.
Second, there is the “Inner Mission.” In this way each congregation cares for the poor and neglected living near at hand. There are Bible and tract distributors, free day schools, Sunday schools, work schools, technical schools, rescue homes, reformatories, orphanages and young men’s and young women’s Christian associations. In spite of the exclusiveness of settlement life, it is utterly untrue to say that the members of the settlements live for themselves alone. They form evangelistic societies; they take a special interest in navvies, road menders, pedlars, railwaymen and others cut off from regular church connection; they open lodging-houses and temperance restaurants; and thus they endeavour to rescue the fallen, to fight the drink evil, and to care for the bodies and souls of beggars and tramps, of unemployed workmen, and of starving and ragged children.
Third, there is the work of Christian education. In every Moravian congregation there are two kinds of day schools. For those children who are not yet old enough to attend the elementary schools, the Brethren provide an “Infant School”; and here, having a free hand, they are able to instil the first principles of Christianity; and, secondly, for the older children, they have what we should call Voluntary Schools, manned by Moravian teachers, but under Government inspection and control. At these schools the Brethren give Bible teaching three hours a week; special services for the scholars are held; and as the schools are open to the public, the scholars are instructed to be loyal to whatever Church they happen to belong. In England such broadness would be regarded as a miracle; to the German Moravians it is second nature. In their boarding-schools they pursue the same broad principle. At present they have nine girls’ schools and five boys’ boarding-schools; the headmaster is always a Moravian minister; the teachers in the boys’ schools are generally candidates for the ministry; and, although in consequence of Government requirements the Brethren have now to devote most of their energy to purely secular subjects, they are still permitted and still endeavour to keep the religious influence to the fore. For more advanced students they have a Pædagogium at Niesky; and the classical education there corresponds to that imparted at our Universities. At Gnadenfeld they have a Theological Seminary, open to students from other churches.
Fourth, there is the Brethren’s medical work, conducted by a Diakonissen-Verband, or Nurses’ Union. It was begun in 1866 by Dr. Hermann Plitt. At Gnadenfeld the Brethren have a small hospital, known as the Heinrichstift; at Emmaus, near Niesky, are the headquarters of the Union; the work is managed by a special committee, and is supported by Church funds; and on the average about fifty nurses are employed in ministering to the poor in twenty-five different places. Some act as managers of small sick-houses; others are engaged in teaching poor children; and others have gone to tend the lepers in Jerusalem and Surinam.
Fifth, there is the Brethren’s Diaspora work, which now extends all over Germany. There is nothing to be compared to this work in England. It is not only peculiar to the Moravians, but peculiar to the Moravians on the Continent; and the whole principle on which it is based is one which the average clear-headed Briton finds it hard to understand. If the Moravians in England held services in parish churches--supposing such an arrangement possible--formed their hearers into little societies, visited them in their homes, and then urged them to become good members of the Anglican Church, their conduct would probably arouse considerable amazement. And yet that is exactly the kind of work done by the Moravians in Germany to-day. In this work the Brethren in Germany make no attempt to extend their own borders. The Moravians supply the men; the Moravians supply the money; and the National Lutheran Church reaps the benefit. Sometimes the Brethren preach in Lutheran Churches; sometimes, by permission of the Lutheran authorities, they even administer the Communion; and wherever they go they urge their hearers to be true to the National Church. In England Zinzendorf’s “Church within the Church” idea has never found much favour; in Germany it is valued both by Moravians and by Lutherans. At present the Brethren have Diaspora centres in Austrian Silesia, in Wartebruch, in Neumark, in Moravia, in Pomerania, in the Bavarian Palatinate, in Würtemburg, along the Rhine from Karlsruhe to Düsseldorf, in Switzerland, in Norway and Sweden, in Russian Poland, and in the Baltic Provinces. We are not, of course, to imagine for a moment that all ecclesiastical authorities on the Continent regard this Diaspora work with favour. In spite of its unselfish purpose, the Brethren have occasionally been suspected of sectarian motives. At one time the Russian General Consistory forbade the Brethren’s Diaspora work in Livonia {1859.}; at another time the Russian Government forbade the Brethren’s work in Volhynia; and the result of this intolerance was that some of the Brethren fled to South America, and founded the colony of Brüderthal in Brazil (1885), while others made their way to Canada, appealed for aid to the American P.E.C., and thus founded in Alberta the congregations of Brüderfeld and Brüderheim. Thus, even in recent years, persecution has favoured the extension of the Moravian Church; but, generally speaking, the Brethren pursue their Diaspora work in peace and quietness. They have now about sixty or seventy stations; they employ about 120 Diaspora workers, and minister thus to about 70,000 souls; and yet, during the last fifty years, they have founded only six new congregations--Goldberg (1858), Hansdorf (1873), Breslau (1892), and Locle and Montmirail in Switzerland (1873). Thus do the German Moravians uphold the Pietist ideals of Zinzendorf.
Section III.--THE MORAVIANS IN GREAT BRITAIN.--For the last fifty years the most striking feature about the British Moravians is the fact that they have steadily become more British in all their ways, and more practical and enthusiastic in their work in this country. We can see it in every department of their work.
They began with the training of their ministers. As soon as the British Moravians became independent, they opened their own Theological Training Institution; and then step by step they allowed their students to come more and more under English influences. At first the home of the Training College was Fulneck; and, as long as the students lived in that placid abode, they saw but little of the outside world. But in 1874 the College was removed to Fairfield; then the junior students began to attend lectures at the Owens College; then (1886) they began to study for a degree in the Victoria University; then (1890) the theological students were allowed to study at Edinburgh or Glasgow; and the final result of this broadening process is that the average modern Moravian minister is as typical an Englishman as any one would care to meet. He has English blood in his veins; he bears an English name; he has been trained at an English University; he has learned his theology from English or Scotch Professors; he has English practical ideas of Christianity; and even when he has spent a few years in Germany--as still happens in exceptional cases--he has no more foreign flavour about him than the Lord Mayor of London.
Again, the influence of English ideas has affected their public worship. At the Provincial Synods of 1878 and 1883, the Brethren appointed Committees to revise their Hymn-book; and the result was that when the next edition of the Hymn-book appeared (1886), it was found to contain a large number of hymns by popular English writers. And this, of course, involved another change. As these popular English hymns were wedded to popular English tunes, those tunes had perforce to be admitted into the next edition of the Tune-book (1887); and thus the Moravians, like other Englishmen, began now to sing hymns by Toplady, Charles Wesley, George Rawson and Henry Francis Lyte to such well-known melodies as Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “Coena Domini,” Sebastian Wesley’s “Aurelia,” and Hopkins’s “Ellers.” But the change in this respect was only partial. In music the Moravians have always maintained a high standard. With them the popular type of tune was the chorale; and here they refused to give way to popular clamour. At this period the objection was raised by some that the old chorales were too difficult for Englishmen to sing; but to this objection Peter La Trobe had given a crushing answer.160 At St. Thomas, he said, Zinzendorf had heard the negroes sing Luther’s fine “Gelobet seiest”; at Gnadenthal, in South Africa, Ignatius La Trobe had heard the Hottentots sing Grummer’s “Jesu, der du meine Seele”; in Antigua the negroes could sing Hassler’s “O Head so full of bruises”; and therefore, he said, he naturally concluded that chorales which were not above the level of Negroes and Hottentots could easily be sung, if they only tried, by Englishmen, Scotchmen and Irishmen of the nineteenth century. And yet, despite this official attitude, certain standard chorales fell into disuse, and were replaced by flimsier English airs.
Another proof of the influence of English ideas is found in the decline of peculiar Moravian customs. At present the British congregations may be roughly divided into two classes. In some, such as Fulneck, Fairfield, Ockbrook, Bristol, and other older congregations, the old customs are retained; in others they are quite unknown. In some we still find such things as Love-feasts, the division into choirs, the regular choir festivals, the observance of Moravian Memorial Days; in others, especially in those only recently established, these things are absent; and the consequence is that in the new congregations the visitor of to-day will find but little of a specific Moravian stamp. At the morning service he will hear the Moravian Litany; in the Hymn-book he will find some hymns not found in other collections; but in other respects he would see nothing specially distinctive.
Meanwhile, the Brethren have adopted new institutions. As the old methods of church-work fell into disuse, new methods gradually took their place; and here the Brethren followed the example of their Anglican and Nonconformist friends. Instead of the special meetings for Single Brethren and Single Sisters, we now find the Christian Endeavour, and Men’s and Women’s Guilds; instead of the Boys’ Economy, the Boys’ Brigade; instead of the Brethren’s House, the Men’s Institute; instead of the Diacony, the weekly offering, the sale of work, and the bazaar; and instead of the old Memorial Days, the Harvest Festival and the Church and Sunday-school Anniversary.
But the most important change of all is the altered conception of the Church’s mission. At the Provincial Synod held in Bedford the Brethren devoted much of their time to the Home Mission problem {1863.

; and John England, who had been commissioned to write a paper on “Our Aim and Calling,” defined the Church’s mission in the words: “

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