A Journal of Christian Thought for the Moravian Church
Toward a Missional Ecclesiology of the Moravian Church Northern Province Elizabeth D. Miller Respondents: David Schrader, Joe Nicholas, Jon Hardin, Robert Sawyer, Will Sibert, Maggie Wellert
Autumn 2007 Volume 14, Number 3
Volume 14, Number 3: Autumn 2007 The Hinge is a forum for theological discussion in the Moravian Church. Views and opinions expressed in articles published in The Hinge are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or the official positions of the Moravian Church and its agencies. You are welcome to submit letters and articles for consideration for publication.
One of the early offices of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pa. was that of the Hinge: “The office of the Hinge requires that the brother who holds it look after everything and bring troublesome factors within the congregation into mutual accord without their first having to be taken up publicly in the congregation council.” — September 1742, The Bethlehem Diary, vol. 1, tr. by Kenneth Hamilton, p. 80.
The Hinge journal is intended also to be a mainspring in the life of the contemporary Moravian Church, causing us to move, think, and grow. Above all, it is to open doors in our church.
The Hinge is published with the assistance of the Center for Moravian Studies, 1200 Main St. Bethlehem, PA 18018, and all rights are reserved. Articles in The Hinge may not be republished or reposted on the Internet without the express permission of the author and the editor of The Hinge. Articles may be duplicated according to “Fair Use” rules, which allow for discussion in church classes and similar forums. The Hinge is available online at www.moravianseminary.edu/center/hinge.
The cover design was provided by Todd Tyson of Kernersville, N.C.
Notes from the Editor I spent a week this summer reading the records of the Moravians in London in the 1740s and was amazed at the weekly activity of the small “Pilgrim Congregation.” It was like a beehive with church workers constantly traveling on missions in the British Isles or to America. There were frequent worship services, sometimes three lovefeasts in a week. The male and female leaders met regularly to discuss ways to follow the Lamb. There were also records of arguments and conflicts among the workers, as well as tears of reconciliation and repentence. Most of all there was serious and intimate conversation. They longed to do the will of God, and they appear to have been happy in their labors. Mission and relationship were united. Betsy Miller challenges us to discover such a “missional ecclesiology” for the 21st century. For over two decades the Northern and Southern Provinces have engaged in “visioning processes,” planning retreats, and mission programs. But the sparks generated have not caught fire. Despite programs and inspirational sermons, most congregations continue to decline numerically while the average age of members continues to rise. The exceptions are congregations that attract Moravians who have immigrated from other provinces. What is the problem? Could it be that we lost track of our own theological perspective, especially the idea that we know God through God’s activity in the world? Moravians have always said that we believe in the Trinity because we experience God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Each of the “persons” of the Trinity is engaged actively with the world, and we should respond to God’s work by sharing in the divine mission of creating, redeeming, and blessing. Or is the problem that for decades we have defined the church as a hospital, rest home, or even a hospice rather than as a dynamic organism dedicated to the mission of God? Perhaps the problem is that our pastors (or shepherds) are so concerned about keeping the sheep content that they no longer have time to lead them and form them into a household of faith? Maybe the problem is that our lovefeasts have lost both the elements of love and feasting. We have responses from lay persons, pastors, and scholars who engage and extend Rev. Miller’s argument. This type of serious conversation is authentically Moravian and should be encouraged in all congregations, but there is no point in engaging in this type of inquiry if all we want is to increase our membership and financial income. We need to explore and experiment with ecclesiology and mission because we, like our ancestors, are passionate about being the church that the Lord wants us to be. We, like them, will make mistakes and will have conflicts, but isn’t it better to be forgiven for our mistakes than condemned for sitting idle? Speaking of forgiveness, you may have noticed a serious error in the previous issue of The Hinge. Two articles were accidentally omitted in typesetting. They appear in this issue. I apologize for the error.
Toward a Missional Ecclesiology of the Moravian Church Northern Province Elizabeth D. Miller Note: This paper comes out of what I have been learning in pursuit of a D.Min. in Congregational Mission and Leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. It remains a work in progress, as I raise more questions than I answer. I offer these words with the hope that they will spark a conversation among readers so that we Moravians might celebrate who God has made us to be and the gift God has given us to share with the world. I am grateful to five colleagues who served as a conversation team for the original paper: Craig Atwood, Amy GohdesLuhman, David Schattschneider, Will Sibert and Maggie Wellert.
searching for its place in the North American religious landscape? Have we lost the missionary zeal and passion of our ancestors? As the Moravian Church Northern Province seeks to move from a declining mainline Protestant denomination toward a growing, faithful witness, it is important to ask how our ecclesiology contributes either to the decline of the denomination or toward its renewal as a sent church, fully participating in God’s mission to the world. In what ways might a discussion about our identity as a church contribute toward a rediscovered or new missional ecclesiology? And, having discovered our missional ecclesiology, how might we go about moving people and congregations toward claiming a full participation in God’s mission to the world?
In today’s North American landscape, the Moravian Church is struggling to survive as the denomination we currently consider ourselves. This crisis has created a sense of urgency and prompted leaders to begin the conversation about mission and identity. How can a church that sent out the first Protestant missionaries into all the world be in search of its missional identity? How can a church that is honored and welcomed as a witness for ecumenical hope be
In this paper, I will discuss Moravian identity in light of our understanding of the nature of the church and the Trinity. In addition, I will propose some key biblical metaphors that inform our identity and could move us toward rediscovering our active and faithful participation in God’s mission to the world.
The Rev. Elizabeth D. Miller is the Director of Congregational Leadership and Resources for the Western District of the Moravian Church.
Lovefeast becomes a powerful expression of God’s love for all creation and Christ’s call for mutual love for one another, all within the context of a specific musical theological celebration of a particular occasion. If we have become more comfortable celebrating our traditions instead of celebrating what they mean, then we must find creative ways to deconstruct the practices of our 18th century forebears so they become living expressions of our missional identity. When visitors truly understand our traditions they find deep theological meaning in them for their lives today.
While Moravians are a worldwide participant in the ecumenical Christian church, in the United States we are a small ethnic family with isolating traditions. Many Moravians literally share the same DNA; others have become part of the denomination through marriage and family ties. While we no longer all share the same ethnic heritage we still tend to think of ourselves that way. The use of the image of family to describe the church can be both positive and negative. Newcomers may feel welcomed into the family because of its close ties, or they may feel excluded because of those same close ties. The traditions that originated in Zinzendorf ’s time can either form a bond of identity for members of the church or be quaint and off-putting to potential new members. Can the model of missional ecclesiology of the 18th century be transferred in some new form into the 21st century? In what ways might God be calling us to a new expression of faithful witness?
The example of the Lovefeast lifts up one of the biggest barriers to naming our ecclesial identity. While we have formal documents explaining our theology, we express our identity through our practices and relationships. The average Moravian finds it difficult to explain to someone who we are; it is easier to say who we are not. Surprisingly, this inability to claim our identity can become a key educational opportunity to move us toward a missional identity. We are what we do. This awareness positions us to use missional church language to name and claim what we have been doing for centuries. Rather than apologizing for not having a complicated theological treatise, we can celebrate that our theology is lived out through our relationships and Christian practices.
Our traditions do carry our history, identity and theology; therefore, it is important to explain the traditions, not just in their historical context but also for their relevant and current theological expression. Unexplained, Moravian traditions exclude newcomers. Creatively explained, they become invitations to Christian fellowship and a deeper understanding of God’s call to live and bear witness to our faith in Christ. It is important for contemporary Moravians to deconstruct the traditions to discover and celebrate the theology and purpose behind the traditions.
We Moravians today continue to identify ourselves through our history. We tell interested persons what we used to do when Zinzendorf was alive, but we fail to tell people all the wonderful ways we continue to be faithful today. We have the opportunity to tell people, not just what we did, but what God is calling us to do today and
Unexplained, the Lovefeast is a strange and somewhat suspect mixture of Holy Communion and Coffee Hour, served during worship in the midst of a lot of singing. With proper explanation, 3
both the Eastern and Western branches of the Christian Church, theologians have explicated two different, yet complementary expressions of the Triune God. The Eastern tradition understands the Trinity as an expression of relationship: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in communion with one another, in a divine dance known as perichoresis.2 The very nature of God is relational, and God’s mission is to bring humanity into relationship with Godself through the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.
tomorrow. We don’t need to live out any other denomination’s identity or story, but neither do we need to continue to be defined solely by our history. We can define our own legacy and identity for today and tomorrow. We need to ask who God is calling us to be today and how God is calling us to be faithful to that call. Then we can examine how our history informs who we are and how it holds us back from following God’s call to us today. I believe that in some ways we are already doing this, but we have not yet found the language or the courage to claim this new legacy.
The Western branch of Christianity focuses on the nature of the Trinity as the missio Dei. “The classical doctrine on the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit includes yet another ‘movement’: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world.”3 Both understandings of the Trinity are expressed within the missional ecclesiology of the historical Moravian Church. The Ancient Unity, being a pre-Reformation expression of the Church, developed an ecclesiology that was influenced by the Eastern Church. Perhaps, without even being aware of it, Moravians developed their keenly relational ecclesiology.
The Trinity and the Church Moravians suffer from an identity crisis. We struggle to name who we are, and because our history both pre-dates and draws heavily from the influences of the Reformation, we have a split personality. Are we influenced more by the Eastern Church or the Western Church? Dr. Michael Kinnamon, former Executive Secretary of the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission, in an address to the 2002 Synod of the Moravian Church Northern Province, said that the Moravian Church is a “both/and church in an either/or world.”1 While he was referring to our centrist theology and celebration of diversity, I believe his words speak to Moravian identity on many levels, including theology.
I believe, however, that Moravians are unaware of the concept of perichoresis. As a result, we often apologize for our weak theology and ecclesiology. We have been relational, with God and with one another, but have lacked both the theological language to express it and an understanding of why we are or how powerful that witness is to the world. One possible move toward helping us discover our missional ecclesiology would be to help people learn about the doctrine of the Trinity through a perichoretic
We need to engage in theological reflection as well as historical studies. We can begin with one of the core doctrines of the ecumenical Christian church: the Trinity. Recent studies about the nature of the Trinity impact our understanding of the church. Taking their antecedents from 4
lens, so we could celebrate what we already do and who we already are.
Re-Imagining a Biblical Metaphor There is a biblical image from our history that captures both the perichoretic and missio Dei understanding of the Trinity. According to Craig Atwood, John 17 was among the foundational texts for 18th century Moravian missiology and ecclesiology. In this chapter, Jesus identifies his oneness with the Father, and the sending of the church to bring into that oneness all the people of the world. Atwood says, “The Oneness of the Church is connected with the sending into the world. Part of the mission is the mutuality of the redeemed in Christ. The motive for the sending becomes one of overflowing love for God and for the world God has created, and the goal of the sending is the erosion of the barriers that separate people from one another and which divide creation from the creator.”5
The Renewed Moravian Church, steeped in reformation theology and the Pietistic Movement, found its ecclesiology expressed through the Western thought of the missio Dei. The community of Herrnhut, under Zinzendorf ’s leadership, lived out the understanding of the church as being sent by a missional God. Our ancestors did not see missions as just one activity of the church, but as the very essence of the church. Every decision within the community was evaluated by its contribution toward the greater mission of the community. Everything those early communities did was to live as a sent church, participating in God’s mission to the world both near and far. If we gained a better understanding of missio Dei, perhaps we could find a language that helps us name what we already do. Even though our missionary activity around the world would lead us to assume that Zinzendorf lived out of a missio Dei understanding of the Trinity, he held a very relational understanding of the Triune God, calling the Holy Spirit “Our Dear Mother.”4
In John 17, we experience perichoresis through the relationship of the Father with Christ, and with all the people to whom the Father sends the Son. John 17 does not stop with perichoresis; Christ sends the church to participate in the mission of bringing the world into relationship with God (John 17:18). How might we help Moravians claim and celebrate their identity and call to participate in God’s mission to the world?
Perhaps we find our theological identity in understanding the Trinity as both perichoresis and missio Dei. Perhaps we are both relational and sent, not either/or. How might reclaiming this dual nature help Moravians clarify our identity and celebrate our gift to the world? How might learning about the nature of the Trinity motivate our congregations to reclaim the divine participant in their relationships, while at the same time understanding their very nature as a church sent by God into the world?
Moravians have always identified with the imagery of sheep and being a member of the Good Shepherd’s flock. We sing about sheep in one of our favorite hymns: Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice. We like to think of Jesus taking care of us like a shepherd cares for the sheep. But we forget the purpose of sheep. Shepherds don’t take care of sheep for the sheep’s benefit. They lead sheep 5
Moravians have a keen sense of belonging, expressed through our fellowship, which some have called the third “sacrament” of our church. We must move beyond our current understanding of belonging to a flock. We must lift up the deeper meaning of fellowship beyond coffee hour sharing. Moravians offer tremendous gifts to the world through our deeply relational fellowship with God and one another.
to green pastures to produce fine wool for the master’s benefit.6 We belong to the Good Shepherd’s flock and serve the Master by producing the fruits of the Spirit. It is not the church’s task to take care of one another, but to provide a community of faith in which to equip people to be sent out into the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. Our identification with sheep does not stop with this metaphor, however. Consider the symbol of our church: Our Lamb Has Conquered: Let Us Follow Him. We find our identity in this image of Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God, who conquered sin through his death and resurrection. We are called to follow the lamb into the world. Following that lamb will take us on a journey of faithful service, a journey fully participating in God’s mission to the world.
We also offer a tremendous witness to the world through our passion for missions and our participation in God’s mission to the world. When we move out of our sanctuaries and share God’s love in a missional and relational way we are doing what we do best and inviting others to join us as we follow the lamb. As we celebrate our identity as a relational, sent church, we truly live into our own symbol: Our Lamb Has Conquered: Let Us Follow Him.
How do we move toward reclaiming our identity and living out our faith as a missional community of faith? If Moravians can sing, by heart, about being the sheep of Jesus, then we must discover new ways to use that powerful imagery. If we can discover a way to “redeem” the sheep image so that existing Moravians understand its power, we must also work on finding images that would be familiar to those who live in our communities. Sheep are not common in our culture today, and they are not a positive image for most people. However, people crave a sense of belonging and a meaningful purpose in life. What metaphors and images will speak to people living and working in the Information Age?
(Endnotes) 1 Keynote Address by Dr. Michael Kinnamon to the 2002 Synod of the Moravian Church Northern Province in Bethlehem PA. 2 Richard H. Bliese and Craig Van Gelder, The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005), 125. 3 David Jacobus Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series ; No. 16 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 390. 4 Gary Steven Kinkel, Our Dear Mother the Spirit: An Investigation of Count Zinzendorf ’s Theology and Praxis (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990).
5 Craig D. Atwood, private email to Elizabeth Miller on 9/26/06.
6 Paul D. Borden, Hit the Bullseye: How Denominations Can Aim Congregations at the Mission Field (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003), 21.
Responses David M. Schrader
It is good, therefore, that the philosophers of our church are engaging the problem even though it is inaccessible to many of us, for their debate gives framework and foundation to those of us who know the simple joy of the presence of the Holy Spirit while struggling to practice our faith in our daily, secular lives.
Sister Elizabeth artfully describes our peculiar tensions: a family of worshippers vs. a collection of friends, traditions vs. pop cultural concepts, nurture and comfort vs. discipline and being sent, etc. These mirror the basic tensions of our faith: servitude that gives mastery and power, bondage that sets us free, riches that make us poor, pleasures that make us sad, and, above all, a lamb that conquers. To these lists we could add: the use of good business practices in the church vs. trust in the Holy Spirit, tranquility at the time of death vs. fear and regret, and so forth. All these engage the minds and hearts of the ordinary persons in the pews (PIPs), for from these tensions we each weave the fabric of a working faith.
While applauding their work, I would at the same time urge caution. I gather that the practical problem that energizes our philosophers is dwindling numbers in both people and resources. They ask: “Are numbers dwindling because the PIPs are put off by our strange traditions? Or is it because we have drifted away from practicing them with conviction and passion?”
A Denominational Crisis? My wife and I came to the Moravian Church a few years ago from another Protestant denomination, and we were surprised and pleased by the Moravian’s family-style hospitality, and by the table fellowship following worship. We were surprised and pleased by the love feast, this strange but appealing practice that seemed quaint and a bit intrusive at first, but which we soon grew to appreciate for its lack of artifice and its unabashed purity of purpose. It is a way to obey and to remind us of the Lord’s second commandment, and there are only two.
The tension between perichoresis and missio Dei is quite different. It does not engage most PIPs — indeed would be found incomprehensible by many, who would consider it an abstract concept irrelevant to their lives. It is nevertheless extraordinarily important, for it defines our view of God and hence the fundamental nature of our faith. Even though it appears to be above (or below) everyday concerns, it informs and defines everything we do and believe. 7
Let us not be tempted by the worldly siren of numerical success as a substitute for growth. Let us grow in other ways — let us seek to grow deeper in understanding or taller in our calling so that we can see a larger landscape for mission. Perhaps our energies and devotion should be strictly directed to faithfulness in fulfilling God’s mission for us. Numbers will take care of themselves. Self-preservation is an animal instinct, not a God-given command. If we are faithful and effective Christians, God will see to it that we will prosper. In any case, it is God’s will that needs be done, not ours.
Our previous denomination is noted for its devotion to good organizational practices, expressed by those PIPs as a willingness to form a committee to solve any problem. As new Moravians, we were surprised by the dearth of committees, and wondered how things ever got done. But we learned that Moravians don’t need committees, clipboards, and motivational publicity as much as quiet announcements and simple information. This is because of the family culture that we relish and offer to strangers. Our inexperience as Moravians may be misleading my wife and me. We have belonged to only one Moravian congregation, and that one is free of divisions and infighting, and all members are accepted into the family regardless of variations in “nonessentials.” We assumed that all Moravian congregations are happy within and focused on our charge, like ours, but have been told by many that that is not the case.
Our history and traditions are a strength, not a problem. We need not get stuck in them and become preoccupied with the past. Indeed, the opposite is true: Properly understood, our traditions and history establish direction and send us forward. We are tradition-enabled, not tradition-bound. Perhaps the crucial tension is: history and tradition vs. present action and future-looking.
I am instructed by a friend, a PIP from another Moravian congregation that is dwindling precisely because it has drifted away from our traditions. My friend tells me that in former days, her little church grew steadily, albeit slowly, by adding members through marriage and attracting them from other churches and from the unchurched of her community. These new members were attracted by love feasts, by liturgy that is punctuated by greetings all around, by our immediate and unconditional acceptance into full family status of newcomers, and by our magnificent and unique history. If something needs to be fixed, perhaps it is that we do not sufficiently emphasize our distinctions with other churches.
The Holy Spirit I think many Christians have an inadequate grasp of the nature of the Holy Spirit. Firstly, they are distracted by the name, which conjures up visions of Halloween or, worse, strong drink. Secondly, the notion strikes many as primitive and naive, an embarrassment in this modern world that views the virgin birth, parting of the seas, and a universe that is 6000 years old as laughable fairy tales. The tendency for us to assign genders to members of the Trinity is in this category, and it is suspect even within our ranks. We resort to this exercise in anthropomorphism in order to give 8
substance to the ineffable. Literalists will complain that the Holy Spirit must be male because of the way in which Mary became pregnant with Jesus. But letâ€™s not elevate our mental crutch to the status of a clue to the nature of God. Almighty God, in all Godâ€™s parts, is not limited by gender, any more than by our other animal characteristics.
I am so pleased that Sister Betsy has undertaken this very important topic for our Church. Indeed, her approach reflects something of the brave spirit that she has displayed in other areas of ministry. My thanks also to Brother Craig Atwood for asking me to respond to this paper and for adding mercy to the grace that he gave me in the original request.
Nevertheless, Moravians, perhaps more than any other group of Christians, recognize the Holy Spirit as the third member of the Trinity, the one that makes the Trinity a family and provides us with a template for our own families, one of which is our Church. God the Father adopted humankind, and Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters. The Holy Spirit completes the metaphor.
Since Sister Betsy has chosen to place this discussion in the context of the crisis of identity in the Church then we should not despair for the path outlined here is surely one meaningful option that gives hope. She identifies the lovefeast as one aspect of our tradition that loses its special value because it is unexplained, and it is probably worth going a step further. It might be that it is unexplained because we are unwilling to deal with the context of its special value for us. The strife and general upheaval in the summer of 1727 at Herrnhut is not a context that we embrace easily. The struggle is not there now so the coming together around a simple meal is divorced from its bonding effect. The truth is that we run the risk of placing so much emphasis on the form of the lovefeast that it has less and less to do with how we relate as a family around a common meal.
We pray to Jesus and to God the Father, but it is the Holy Spirit that hears and translates our prayers into perfect messages for Godâ€™s ear. It is the Holy Spirit that directly and personally comforts us and gives us directions and warnings, each at its proper time. It is the Holy Spirit that is accessible, always there. She whispers to us in quiet darkness, guiding us gently from within around the reefs and shallows of life to which we are often drawn by our human weaknesses. She never leaves us. She sends us out into the world, and then she comes along with us. We are a family. Is this the key to Moravian-ness? Is this the essence of our faith? Is there a message here that we should develop and spread abroad?
There are still places in the Moravian world where there is an intentional effort made to focus on relationships in the lovefeast. It is done by the simple fact that members physically move around and offer the in their hand to the other. Thus, whatever bun the members eat comes from the hand of the other.
Dr. David Schrader is part of the Chemistry Department of Marquette Univerisity and is a member of the Sister Bay congregation in Wisconsin.
they knew that they could be placed in slave-like conditions if they were going to make an impact for the Gospel. In the famous story of Count Zinzendorf going to the Virgin Islands with the possibility that the mission had collapsed, he confidently affirmed to his travelling companions that they were there. St. Paul affirmed that he was willing to become all things to all people so that he could win some.
I commend Sister Betsy for refocusing our attention on our identity in the context of the purpose for which God called us into being. It is still true that the mission of the Church is mission. As a church, we need to reclaim that piece so that “mission” does not become some specified outreach effort that we undertake in addition to all the other things we do. She is surely right that our ancestors did not approach their work that way. When she speaks here of the “missionary zeal” and then we think of “mission” today, we see something more of how far away we have moved from that essential identity. The preference to tell of what we used to do in missions against what we do today might be a reflection a desperate attempt to cover up our identity crisis precisely in this area.
The intent of the sending must be for mutual blessing. When we are motivated to be sent because we feel incomplete without the others then we are giving new value to ones to whom we are sent. There is no separation here. When we transform our tent into a residence, then the sending becomes a “mission” and can survive without the “missionary zeal”. You see, our gifts can sustain the “mission” but only our bodies, souls and spirits can share the “missionary zeal”.
In referring to the brave spirit of Sister Betsy displayed in this paper, I was also referring to her willingness to invite us to use some new theological constructs in order to rediscover our identity. This is useful. However, I am not sure that the language is what will energize most of our people whether clergy or laity. Our training in relational theology has been too strong for most. We just need to reflect on some of the issues in which we have invested much of our time and even lost some people in the process. Many of these have had to do with how we relate to one another in the context of our relationship to God in Jesus Christ.
The discussion of the shepherd and the sheep was not clear. It probably pushed too far into the market concept in suggesting that “shepherds don’t take care of sheep for the sheep’s benefit”. While she made this point with a reference, and I have not read the context of the reference, this concept can be risky. There is no question in my reading of the Bible that the sheep has eternal value. When Matthew 25:31ff speaks of the Judgement of the Nations, they are still sheep for eternity and not the utility value of the sheep. The Church takes care of members by using the means of grace to build up, encourage, restore etc. This also creates a little tension in the relational side of our theology raised earlier in the paper as it could suggest those being sent have no need; that they are fine. The fact that
If we are able to recover the balance between the sending church and the relational church, then we are really on to something huge for our time. It is here, though, that we need to search ourselves. When our early missionaries went out,
they are equipped to go makes them instruments of grace and not partners in grace. I suggest that this does not seem consistent with Sister Betsy’s thesis.
The Protestant church in North America faces a great challenge as it considers the question of how to engage its context, locally and globally, with the gospel. For some years the number of cross-cultural missionaries sent from North American churches has not kept pace with attrition,1 and on the home front, active participation in many denominations continues to decline. So when Elizabeth Miller asks her readers, “Have we lost the missionary zeal and passion of our ancestors?” the question rings with relevance to both non-Moravian and Moravian congregations.
The power in our use of “Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him”, is probably minimized by the fact that we are not able to identity what it is that we have “conquered” in our time. The concept of conquering suggests battle, struggle, loyalty and overcoming. It seems that too many find it easier to walk away than to stay at the table and fight so that we can really celebrate together around another lovefeast, knowing that had it not been for the grace of God that saved us in the first place, we could have destroyed one another and ourselves in the process.
The fact that Moravians do not face this challenge alone is evidenced by a lively discussion emanating from The Gospel and Our Culture Network (http://www.gocn.org). The GOCN is a movement led by church leaders and scholars from a variety of Christian traditions that is seeking to facilitate a fresh missionary encounter of the gospel with North American culture. Toward this end, the GOCN has published a series of monographs which focus on what is being described as a missional ecclesiology. Missional ecclesiology is described in this way: “A proper, biblical ecclesiology looks at everything the church is and does in relation to the mission of God in the world. The church does not exist for itself, but for participation in God’s mission of reconciliation…. Mission is the character of the church in whatever context it exists.”2
The Rev. Dr. Joseph Nicholas is pastor of the Prince of Peace congregation in Miami, Florida.
If we take seriously Elizabeth Miller’s argument that our particular understanding of ecclesiology ultimately shapes the character of our engagement in God’s mission, then 11
ecclesiology of the 18th century be transferred in some new form into the 21st century? In what ways might God be calling us to a new expression of faithful witness?” May the Savior grant his church fresh insight into the questions of missional living in 21st century North America!
Moravian congregations may want to become part of the important conversations on this topic taking place within the GOCN. As the discussion of these ideas widens and moves from publications to pews there will be an increased need for tangible examples of churches that are expressing a missional ecclesiology. Might the Moravian church be uniquely positioned to contribute to the search for such representatives?
(Endnotes) 1 Mission Handbook 2001-2003: U.S. And Canadian Christian Ministries Overseas, ed. John A. Siewert and Dotsey Welliver, 18th ed. (Wheaton, Ill.: Evangelism and Missions Information Service, 2000), 34.
I can envision two possibilities. One important contribution would be offering the wider Christian community a fresh reminder of the model found in the legacy the Moravian church. Though Moravians may find their own history to have a stale familiarity, as a nonMoravian who holds a deep admiration of your tradition let me assure you that the missional legacy of the Moravian church is (sadly) one of the best-kept secrets within the Anglophone church. Hope and fresh creativity are often engendered from the admirable example of forerunners in the faith.
2 Lois Barrett, Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness, Gospel and Our Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004), ix-x.
The Rev. Jon Hardin is engaged in part-time doctoral research examining the missional spirituality of the early Moravian church. He welcomes your feedback (JonHardin1@ gmail.com).
A second way the Moravian church might contribute to this dialogue would be to identify its congregations that are growing toward a missional ecclesiology and then share their experience with others. Of course this second means would be more challenging than the first — re-telling the old Moravian story is vastly different than re-joining the new Moravian story of missional faithfulness as it continues today. What might the new story look like? Here I believe that Elizabeth Miller has offered two insightful questions that might prompt our imagination: “Can the model of missional 12
be able to carry out ambitious missional goals in harsh environments.
Some years ago in the course of a Southern Province visioning process we had a lively discussion about whether or not “mission” was one of our core values. It was mentioned frequently when we invited persons to list values. But on reflection, some questioned whether in many of our congregations mission was indeed a present-day reality.
Betsy’s paper is very helpful with a focus on the Trinity that draws on both the Eastern and Western Christian traditions and on the “oneness” metaphor in John 17. Moravians less engaged in formal biblical and theological disciplines know “Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice” and “Our Lamb Has Conquered: Let Us Follow Him.” Betsy shows how these really do propel us into mission when we pay attention. So I affirm this work on these aspects of our ecclesiology.
I think Betsy raises the same question. She notes how pervasive is the image of “family” in our congregations, to the point where some have called fellowship a third “sacrament.” Wonderful and traditional as our close ties of fellowship are, they can indeed have the effect of putting off potential new members and they can easily misdirect energy and resources, to the great detriment of mission outreach.
However, there is another dimension of our ecclesiology that, in my opinion, is front and center and needs consideration as we clarify our missional role and identity. The first sentence of the constitution of the worldwide Unity (Church Order of the Unitas Fratrum, par. 200) is quite profound but appears deceptively simple: “The Unitas Fratrum consists of Provinces.”
To use some of Betsy’s language, “claiming a full participation in God’s mission to the world” with the “missionary zeal and passion of our ancestors” is probably the highest priority of the American Moravian Church today. But it need not come at the expense of the fellowship we treasure. I don’t think there is any question that our theological identity in understanding the Trinity is both perichoresis and missio Dei. Our tradition is that we are both relational and sent. That was certainly true during the remarkable missional decades that began in 1732. For example, during the early years the Bethlehem and Wachovia Moravian communities were highly relational from the choir system to the Economy. And they were organized in such a highly interdependent way precisely in order to
Paragraph 204 states one of the implications: “The individual congregations or members of the Unitas Fratrum are such by virtue of their membership in one of the Provinces.” I like to say it this way, “You can be a Christian without being a Moravian, but you can’t be a Moravian without being part of a province.” Consistent with this ecclesiology, the Moravian Church in America devotes very significant resources to mission outreach through provincial and interprovincial agencies. I strongly affirm the ministry of these agencies. Moravians simply could not carry on most of these ministries any other way. Yet for most Moravians their primary and most immediate experience of church life is in 13
outreach opportunities may not match up in a given congregation, but the alignment will be far better when we see ourselves as a province.
congregations. Some of these congregations, and some individual Moravians, are engaged personally in mission through our agencies. But many do not participate significantly. Some have very little knowledge about their work and others see the funding required from congregations as limiting congregational mission efforts.
Fellowship as a “third sacrament” and our keen sense of being family may keep our vision from going much beyond the walls of our sanctuaries. Add to that the perception or reality that resources are scarce (with “too much going to the PEC”), and congregations may be reluctant to (or never even think about!) identifying mission outreach needs and new opportunities.
Here is another paragraph from Unity church order: “All Provinces are linked together in a constitutional form of government which, while encouraging the liberty of Provincial development, may provide mutual help and cooperation and provide the corporate responsibility of the Unity towards its Provinces. The Savior, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has given each province gifts which can be of help and blessing to the other provinces of the Unity. Each province is in need of the strength and ministry which can be offered by the other provinces of the Unity. Thus mutual guidance can be given by provinces to each other under the guidance of Unity Board and Unity Synod. By such guidance, the provinces will value the concerns expressed by one another… This ministry of mutual guidance and accountability shall be administered by the Unity Board in cooperation with the leaders of the provinces.” (Par. 203)
In this we have another “both/and” possibility. As we engage in theological reflection that underpins and motivates, we can simultaneously experiment with new strategies for partnerships and exchanges among congregations and agencies. Just as our relational identity can support or inhibit mission, so can the self-understanding that we are a province encourage or discourage outreach. I think that “mission” is still deeply part of our identity. A pastor colleague of mine used to say that our task as church members is simply to live into our baptism, to be the people we’ve already said we are. I think the same is true of the American Moravian Church. We’ve said all along that mission is central to our identity. It’s in our hymns, our liturgies, and our Church Order. So let’s get on with being who we already say we are.
This paragraph has to do with the role of the Unity Board facilitating mission among the provinces. But what does it say to us if we substitute “congregation” for “province,” “province” for “Unity,” and “PEC” for “Unity Board?” Congregations need each other. Congregations offer one another guidance. Congregations are even accountable to each other for mission outreach. Resources and mission
The Rev. Robert Sawyer recently retired after 40 years of ordained ministry in the Moravian church, which included leadership of the Southern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference and the Unity Board.
on the same page in the discussion. Even simple words such as “mission” and “missional” have a wider variety of understandings, connotations, within a denomination that is immersed in the language of Mission Board, Mission Trips, Mission Committees, and Mission Statements.
I was fortunate to have been invited to serve as part of Betsy Miller’s conversation team for the original paper, and am grateful to be able to continue the conversation within the pages of The Hinge. Betsy is also working closely with congregation of the Moravian Church of Sister Bay to test what all this theory looks like in real, live, breathing, growing parish.
I would also invite a deeper exegesis of even the word, “ecclesiology.” At its simplest it is “words about the church.” However, in its origins the “ekklesia” was the gathered, the assembled community. If some are the gathered, then who are the scattered, and what is their inter-connection, if any? What does it mean to be a gathered and assembled community, which is possibly a very different question from, what does it mean to be the church?
I am grateful that Pastor Miller is so passionate about this exploration. Our denomination is not alone in discerning how we live as the church into the new millennium. For a wide variety of sociological, political, technological reasons, “church” just isn’t what it used to be. It seems that we can’t keep throwing programs, money, and ideas at trying to recreate the Christian community of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I am deeply grateful that the Synod of the Western District has been willing to put funds into staff position that helps us explore new possibilities for the future, invites us to dream new dreams. We need an exploration such as this, precisely because we can’t “afford” it!
Every now and again a community has to consider whether, instead of attempting to reinterpret “traditions,” is it time to discard a beloved “tradition.” Here, in Sister Bay, we periodically offer a formal “Lovefeast,” a worship within the context of music, sitting in the nave, offering coffee and a bun. However, we offer informal “Lovefeast” every Sunday — we call it Coffee Hour, or sometimes Fellowship Hour. We share food, sit together at round tables, strengthen our relationships to one another, and welcome visitors and strangers. It seems to us a perfect way to lift up the power of the movement of the Holy Spirit among and within us, to celebrate the community we proclaim in worship.
There is that wonderful definition of insanity that floats around in the cyber world that goes something like this: Insanity is doing the same old thing over and over, and expecting a different result. If that definition carries any validity, there is no doubt that we, the church, have gone insane! Pastor Miller’s questions and explorations offer a path toward healing.
My strongest critique, however, is the juxtaposition of mission dei and perichoresis. I am indebted to the work of Gail O’Day in her commentaries on the Gospel of John. Professor
I would have appreciated a clarification of some of the “insider” terms that are part of the conversation, primarily so that we could all be 15
theology nor weak ecclesiology…we have simply not learned well how to articulate precisely who and what we are.
O’Day understands the Fourth Gospel to be about relationship. The relationship between Jesus and Abba is the paradigm for all followers of Jesus. The sending of the Son by the Father is about opening the possibility of that relationship to all those followers. Jesus then sends his followers into the world, so that those in the world (the scattered?) may also experience such transforming relationship.
And that is exactly the point of Betsy’s article. We need to re-claim a mission dei understanding of the Trinity as a relational model, a great circle dance of sending…God sends Jesus, who sends us; we send others; they send still others. We need to add to our understanding, the gift we have from the Eastern Church, that the perichoesis is an affirmation that even God is a dynamic, moving, relational being — Father, Son, and Spirit — a dance of connection and relationship. God is love…a loving relationship.
Jesus makes a profound Christological assertion in the Fourth Gospel. “The Father and I are One.” He also says, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 22-23).
We live the truth that we are made in the image of God. Thus, as is God, so are we, a community in relationship. Zinzendorf was so in tune with this concept when he sent out missionaries to be in relationship; model what it is to be in love with Jesus, your Savior, the Lamb who has Conquered. That’s the model of 18th century missional ecclesiology that can be transferred to the 21st century. People hunger for connection; they just aren’t going to come to our church buildings to fill that hunger. We are called to send one another out, sending the gathered to the scattered. What we model is a witness to who we are, to who God is…community in loving relationship. Thanks be to God.
This is the gospel in which Jesus instructs us to love one another (those of us within the community) so that our communal life will be a witness to the world of the power of a relationship with God. This is the gospel in which Jesus, at his last meal with the disciples, does not offer bread and wine in a new ritual, but rather, gets on his knees and washes their feet. This new ritual lifts up servant leadership. This is the gospel that tells us, if we know Jesus, we know God, and that if we trust in Jesus, we are in eternal life. This gospel is about a community in abiding relationship with God and thus with one another. Is there anything more “Moravian”? I would argue that such an understanding of the Gospel of John means that mission dei is perichoresis. To be sent is to be in the relational dance! I would argue that we have neither weak
The Rev. Maggie Wellert is pastor of the Sister Bay Moravian Church in Wisconsin.
expressing one dimension of our denomination historically, and thereby melded the members into a strong community because the traditions expressed a deeper ecclesiological/theological understanding which all members grasped and upheld in practice.
First, and perhaps the most important thing to note is that the North American Moravian Church should thank Betsy for bringing this conversation about the Missional Church to the table for our reflection and discussion. The broader church in North America is beginning to engage the kind of questions Betsy raises that examine the very core of what it means to “be” church.
Today, the shorthand that comes into play around these traditions as “insiders” language no longer translates so easily or profoundly what it is these practices originally intended to express about us. Sadly, I typically get more questions and comments about Moravian cookies and stars out in the larger church than anything else.
Today, in what is an increasingly “post Christian” secular culture, it is urgent to shape our denominational mindset and the attendant structures to reflect the intrinsic rather than ancillary relationship between mission and church. Asking these challenging questions, and more intentionally attuning ourselves to God’s call to join God’s mission in the world is critically important if the North American Moravian Church hopes to be a powerful witness moving into and throughout the 21st century. Betsy’s leadership in placing these important questions before our Moravian constituency for consideration in venues like The Hinge should be understood for the blessing it is.
On the one hand, institutionally we still may be skilled in linking tradition and meaning, yet on the other hand, this linkage increasingly appears not to shape or inform our collective culture with the same power it originally did. One must decide whether such unfortunate erosion is inevitable thus acceptable, or not, but I agree with Betsy that this sense of disconnection lies at the core of our crisis. Betsy goes on to point out that this disconnection between traditions and identity now opens up a “key educational opportunity to move us toward a missional identity.”
Betsy’s article focuses on the relationship between “Moravian identity” and ecclesiology — or what I might state as a question — Is the Moravian Church actually living out in practice all the fullness of what it means to be “Church” as she describes herself to herself and others? Betsy answers this question rather directly — “Moravians suffer from an identity crisis.” Traditions, as Betsy does an excellent job in pointing out, may have had their origins in
Betsy does an excellent job in capturing Herrnhut’s intuitive weaving of the Western Church’s idea of missio Dei (God’s mission) and the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Trinitarian concept of perichoresis (the Trinity’s communal essence) into the fabric of its ecclesiological life. The biblical imagery the Moravian Church has used for centuries to describe herself as well as the unifying themes of missional witness found in John 17 really have been wonderful expressions 17
tradition, and imagery with the same degree of seriousness because today the denomination may talk a good talk, but it doesn’t seem to walk it as well? As they look around, what real concrete evidence do they see of a growing, vital Christian community? Other of our youth, broadly speaking, who’ve more recently come into our denomination simply don’t appear to be compelled by our historical identity and think of it as nice but not particularly germane to being Church today because again it doesn’t seem to compel us beyond simply celebrating it over and over again.
of our identity. I have always appreciated and used them personally. The question for today is whether the continuing use of such language and imagery translates in compelling ways which speak to both all of our own constituency or those with whom we seek to share the Gospel? Or is the Moravian Church like many of its contemporaries, who, given the dawn of a new “post Christian” era and the missional questions Betsy invites us to ponder, are now challenged to forge a new legacy, new traditions born out of a desire to find meaningful ways of being “church” in the 21st Century yet unknown in order to accompany more effectively God’s mission?
Some may argue that is where institutionally we need to become stronger — educating our youth in both the meaning of our traditions as Betsy suggests, and allowing the language to work itself out in contemporary forms over time. There is some merit in this direction. Others, perhaps more radical, are inclined to simply give our youth an opportunity to engage in some significant process for exploring Betsy’s questions that will impel the Moravian Church in the 21st century forward towards an ecclesiological witness none of us can even imagine right now. No doubt there are those who would argue that some middle path can be found.
In the Board of World Mission’s attempt to harness the enormous energy and desire for mission engagement of young people, I have found that they most often seem to tolerate my use of historical imagery and the language we use to describe ourselves currently. I rarely hear them using it as a means for expressing their own call to mission. They seem to hope that despite herself, the Moravian Church will wake up to the missional mindset they hunger to live out — not just mission activity, but even more importantly, being a compelling witness for the Gospel out in the world at every level.
But who controls the process — current leadership who possess the capacity to shape decisions according to their perceived need and elected mandate to “guide and protect the institution”, or current leadership of a different age who quietly wonder if they even have or could have a compelling voice to shape decisions regarding “being church”, and thus, go looking for other Christian communities where they feel they have a significant voice in shaping the answers to
Youth coming from long familial ties to our denomination certainly are able to demonstrate some facility for referencing this imagery and traditions as well as our historical mission emphasis in conversation, but their number is diminishing. Are these young people also losing confidence that the institutional Moravian Church actually takes any of her language, 18
modeled before the community a radical new level of humble discernment in “being church.” The Holy Spirit, in effect, through these young people was inviting the community to create for itself its own legacy as a community, not someone else’s, and what a powerful legacy the Holy Spirit led them to give to the Church in their day.
these missional questions? Rhetorically, we know the answer, but is our leadership willing to take seriously the gravity of this reality, being afraid of the real pushback that always comes when there is a conscious de-stabilization introduced into an institution’s corporate culture? Betsy begins by stating, “In today’s North American landscape, the Moravian Church is struggling to survive as the denomination we currently consider ourselves.” The Church in the West and its attendant reflective ecclesiological process for well over a thousand years has lived with broad assumptions about its central place in the society/culture in which it has evolved. Ironically, and I have no doubt providentially, Herrnhut was founded largely by a group of people possessing an unique mindset in the course of that long period of history — not one that typified the Czech Unitas Fratrum before them nor came to typify the Unity we find today — they had intentionally chosen to become a pilgrim people ready to move out of their homelands in Moravia to a different place in order to be a freely practicing faith community. That transition was not going particularly smoothly.
“When God gave the Moravian Church mission, He gave her life!” Bishop Henry LaTrobe’s beautiful words in 1914 capture the essence of a missional people who had willingly given all their material goods, their every waking hour, and their very lives to witness to the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ around the world. Willing to die unto themselves for the sake of the Gospel, that community in Herrnhut received the gift of abundant life! As Betsy notes, the unknown horizon of the 21st century now beckons, and we find ourselves wrestling deep within our souls as to who is the Moravian Church today? Yet is has always been there before us. Our identity is in Jesus Christ — being a Church ready to die unto herself that His Kingdom might be proclaimed throughout the world! If we would simply start with the self sacrificial humility of Christ we once lived out and open ourselves up to hearing the tough missional questions the Holy Spirit longs to ask through our young people, what might be the incredible legacy the 21st century Moravian Church begins building as she participates in God ‘s mission in the world?
Then the Holy Spirit through the prayers and confession of several young people gave spiritual impetus for changing the tenor of the conversation. Rather quickly, the community stopped arguing over theological niceties and started wrestling with the tough “missional” questions about how they were going to live out being a community in Christ. These young people did not make some compelling argument based “traditions” or perceive “correct” doctrine or some previous “identity.” They simply
The Rev. Will Sibert is Director of the Board of World Mission of the Moravian Church.
The Author Replies away, whether that is in Mississippi or India. It is absolutely essential that we continue to reach out to people far away; it is equally essential that we participate in what God is doing around the corner from our churches, in the schools, the shelters, the crack houses and the insidious emptiness of so many lives. God is already at work in those places and invites us to join in the work. We don’t always have to do this alone. I appreciate your suggestion of working collectively where that would help our participation.
The genius of The Hinge is the conversation that occurs through the thoughtful responses to the lead article. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from the wisdom of those who took the time to reflect with me about a missional ecclesiology. All of you received the article as intended — a work in progress, and an opportunity to engage more people in the conversation. The diversity of the responses enriches our understanding about who we are and who God is calling us to be as a denomination. The conversation needs to continue, and spill out from the pages of this publication to the pews, the pulpits and the table fellowships of our church, so that as a relational and sent church, we can discern how God’s Spirit is leading us to become a new/old missional denomination.
To Jon Hardin: Thank you, Jon, for your insights about how the Moravian Church might serve as a paradigm for the larger Christian Church. My first introduction to the whole missional church conversation was through many of the texts of the Gospel and Our Culture Network Series. As Maggie Wellert indicates in her response, the work I am pursuing in the Western District is precisely what you suggest. I invite congregations on a mutual journey of discovery about the concepts and theology of the missional church movement. While this work is in its early stages, we hope to provide examples of how congregations behave as they grow into missional communities of faith. The simultaneous challenge and joy is that we don’t know yet what that looks like. We trust, however, that God’s Spirit will continue to reveal that vision to us as we listen carefully for God’s leading.
To Bob Sawyer: I should have known, Bob, that you would remind us how we fit into the worldwide unity! Your perspective broadens my understanding of how we are a relational church at all levels, and that the relationship is not a nice option, but part of the very essence of who we are as church. Our connectedness with the larger church, however, does not absolve us of the responsibility to be a sent church both locally and globally. While we are able to do far more mission outreach collectively than individually, I believe each congregation is called to be sent out to its specific context. If I have a criticism of our current mission emphasis, it is what I call the “leap frog” effect. Often we leap over the needs in our own neighborhoods to be in mission far
To Dave Schrader: Thank you, Dave, for the reality check you offer as a very intelligent PIP 20
scattered. That is precisely the mission of the church — to come together to be equipped as saints to build up the Body of Christ near and far. We do not exist to build up the church, but to build up Christ’s Body.
(person in the pew). Of course, any conversation we have about missional ecclesiology needs to be not only intelligible to the average PIP, but claimed and translated into the language of the PIPs. The challenge will be for participants on the journey (not just the consultants) to provide that language and the examples of what a missional ecclesiology looks like “on the ground”. Without that grounding, there is no need for the conversation.
To Joe Nicholas: Thank you, Joe, for the reminder of the historical context of the Lovefeast. Too often we forget that the celebration was the byproduct of the hard work of honest conflict and Spirit-led reconciliation, not a cooking contest to develop the best recipe for buns! How the Lovefeast helps us form and claim our identity would make an interesting follow-up discussion. I also appreciated your reminder that the “intent of sending must be for mutual blessing.” One of the key components of the missional church is reciprocity. Unless we expect God to bless us through our outreach among others, we objectify the other instead of looking for Christ already active within their lives.
As for our traditions, I think you raise an important question. Are we losing members because of the strange traditions, or because we fail to practice them “with conviction and passion?” I would suggest that it is not the traditions we need to practice with conviction and passion, but the faith which gave rise to those traditions. We also need to discover and create new traditions that speak to our identity and church today.
To Will Sibert: Thank you, Will, for the many insights you offer in this conversation about the missional church movement. You have been leading our denomination in putting legs on this concept as you re-imagine the shape of the Board of World Mission to reflect a missional identity. You also have experienced some the very “pushback” you reference, so I know your response rings true, not just intellectually, but quite personally. You have lived it with the young people who are honest enough to tell us how uninspired they are about the structure of the church and how passionate they are about living as disciples of the living Lord.
To Maggie Wellert: I am so glad the editors asked you to respond since you are a participant in my work in the journey toward a missional church. Your insights will help those of us in this experiment learn how to move along on this journey. It doesn’t matter how exciting this conversation sounds on paper; it has to generate hope and excitement in real congregations. The church depends on your honest reflection on the effectiveness and faithfulness of the process and efforts. I also appreciate your reminder of the meaning of ecclesiology as the gathered and assembled community. Combined with your insights about John 17, you lift up a beautiful image of the gathered community — sent to the
I appreciate your call to shape our denomination’s structure around our very identity 21
as a pilgrim people, ready to move beyond our comfort zones to be a “freely practicing faith community.” That is a lot harder said than done, and takes a tremendous amount of courage, risk and time. It is work worth giving our lives for, not because it will reshape a denomination, but because it will unloose the bonds (think Lazarus coming out of the tomb) that keep us from being disciples of Jesus who fully participate in God’s mission to the world. The gospel is not something we distribute; it is something we live. Mission is not something we do, it is our very identity and being. The church is called to participate in God’s mission in and to the world. As my professor has said, “It’s not that God’s church has a mission; it’s that God’s mission has a church.” May the Moravian Church joyfully join God’s mission and thus live faithfully into our identity and our calling.
Book Review Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (New York: Norton, 2006). Reviewed by Craig Atwood. of Christian Reconstruction and right-wing ideology “Christian Nationalism.” It is an apt label that many adherents might be willing to adopt. It captures the curious blend of conservative evangelical theology and nationalist ideology that is uniquely America.
For decades there has been a strong and dedicated enclave of conservative Protestants who have promoted the idea that the Bible calls for the imposition of a theocratic national government in America. The major theorist of Christian Reconstructionism was R. J. Rushdooney, who drew primarily on the Hebrew Scriptures to argue that God expects his faithful children to build a kingdom based on divine law. The New Testament did not obviate the theocracy of the Mosaic Law, according to Rushdooney. Christians are called to exercise dominion over the secular culture of the world, beginning with America. Christian Reconstruction has been around for decades and was no more than a curiosity (like the theology of the Jehovah Witnesses or the Amish) until the 1990s when Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition emerged as a potent force within the social-conservative wing of the Republican Party. The election of George W. Bush as President heralded the success of conservative evangelicals in national politics. Suddenly, journalists like Michelle Goldberg became aware of the importance of theology in politics.
Goldberg’s book is based largely on her journey through America’s megachurch network, which alone makes interesting reading. As a self-styled “secular Jew,” Goldberg was doubly an outsider in these churches and schools, and she discovered the paradox that most of her encounters with individuals were very pleasant, but their theological materials made it clear that Goldberg would be destroyed in the end. In effect, her book is a description of fascism with a smiley face, but her frequent allusions to National Socialism are over-drawn and alarmist rather than illuminating. Goldberg does a generally good job of charting the complex relationships between suburban megachurches, televangelists, websites, home-school curriculum, theological education, Republican Party politics, and faith-based initiatives. Particularly helpful is her account of federal funding to “faith-based initiatives.” She also demonstrates convincingly that sex has become the major political issue of our time. The new “heretics” and scapegoats are not theological
Goldberg makes a convincing argument that many prominent leaders of the Religious Right, especially James Dobson, James Kennedy, and Tim LaHaye, embrace the main tenets of Reconstruction. She labels the political alliance 23
opposition to abortion with atheism. Catholic scholars and jurists today are the backbone of serious conservatism in American politics. The four conservative Catholic justices on the Supreme Court (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Kennedy) have far more power and influence than R. J. Rushdooney or James Kennedy or James Dobson.
deviants or Jews. They are married women who have had abortions. There are several fundamental flaws in Goldberg’s analysis of the religious right. Her focus on evangelicals distorts the picture of Christian Nationalism. It would have been helpful, for instance, to point to the roots of Christian Reconstruction in Reconstruction Judaism in the 1930s. She also largely ignores the role that Jewish fundamentalism and Zionism play in conservative American evangelicalism. Considering the impact that Israel has on American foreign policy and domestic politics, this is surprising.
Despite its genuine limitations and distortions, this remains an enjoyable and helpful book that helps make sense of the strange world of contemporary politics and religion. In many ways it is refreshing to have someone with no prior knowledge investigating the Religious Right, but Goldberg’s lack of expertise is painfully evident when she dismisses William Jennings Bryant as a “fundamentalist” rather than recognizing him as a defender of many of the human values that she promotes in the book. It would be helpful if self-styled secular liberals, like Goldberg, recognized that for much of the 19th and 20th century, Christian activists were at the forefront of the progressive movement in America.
More surprising is the fact that Goldberg ignores completely the role of the Catholic Church in the “culture wars” of the late 20th century. One of the most extraordinary transformations in American culture has been the rapprochement between conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics. It was the Catholic Church that defined the abortion debate in terms of “right to life” and equated
In the Next Issue: Issues of Life and Death by Elizabeth McOwat Reflections on the death penalty by a member of the British Province.
Special Features Witness of the Waldensians Dr. Daniele Garrone
Editor’s Note: This is the transcript of a lecture given by the dean of the Waldensian Seminary in Rome in February 17, 2007 at Valdese, NC. Hinge readers are probably familiar with the close ties between the Moravians and Waldensians historically. This lecture gives a portrait of the Waldensian witness today. February 17 is a day of special commemoration for the Waldensians because it was on that date that the Italian government granted them freedom of worship.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Torino I have had the opportunity — in the late fifties and the early sixties — to attend the Jewish Schools. We spent many years there, from the age of 5 to the age of 14. Why? As you perhaps know Waldensians and Jews in Piedmont have something in common.
I am particularly pleased to celebrate February 17th with you, in Valdese. I bring you warmest greetings from the Italian Waldensian Church and particularly on behalf of Madam Moderator, Rev. Maria Bonafede. This celebration is unique for me, not only because it is my first February 17th in Valdese, but the first one without drinking wine, not even a drop!
First: both minorities were heavily persecuted and discriminated through the centuries. Second: both minorities were finally granted the civil rights in 1848.
During the nice dinner we have just enjoyed, one of you told me — and will not betray him by saying his name — that once a participant in a February 17th dinner had drunk to much, he was drunk, and said to the minister while he was giving his address: “Shut your mouth!”. You are not drunk, but I authorize you to say to me: “Shut your mouth” when you want to get rid of my speech.
Third: both minorities have been sharing the liberal values and have been standing for a modern, unite and democratic Italian State. Fourth: During World War II some Jewish families from Turin could escape racial persecution being hidden by Waldensians in the Valleys, above all in Rorà. Fifth: Due to their liberal orientation, most of Waldensians and Jews involved in fighting against Nazism and Fascism were enrolled in a
1. I want first tell you a story of my childhood and youth, a story of great passion for liberty and democarcy. As many other Waldensians in 25
military formation named “Giustizia e libertà”, “Justice and Liberty” (a nice name, isn’t it. A program worth fighting and dying for!).
“Bella Ciao” one of the folk song sung by the partisans. Liberty out of courage, individual responsible choice, commitment, even sacrifice
The fighting area of this formation was located in the Waldensian Valleys. As a symbol of this common engagement I mention two names: Jacopo Lombardini, a high school teacher (he taught at the Collegio in Torre Pellice), a Methodist lay preacher and Emanuele Artom, a young jewish intellectual. Both were caught by the Nazis in Praly, March 1944, both were tortured but didn’t betray their comrades, both died: Lombardini in a concentration camp (Mauthausen), Artom in Torino’jeal. The school I attended had been named after Emanuele Artom, a couple of social and cultural Centres of the Waldensian Church have been named after Jacopo Lombardini.
The Italian national hymn constitutional patriotism, democracy as a covenant, a pact among free and responsible citizens. The national hymn of Israel, “Ha-tiqwah — Our hope,” there is a future of liberty after annihilation and despair. The sermon was held by Mrs. Artom, the mother of the partisan to whom the school was entitled. She taught us to love liberty and mutual responsibility. She was a petite dame, at the same time severe and meek and sweet, as our Waldensian grand mothers were. I have goose pimples when I remember how she spoke to us. So we grow up sharing this kind of “civil religion”. A wonderful opportunity in a country which has no civil religion! A country where today there is an attempt to present roman Catholicism as the national identity of our state!
We were taught many things in the Jewish school. We received an education matching all the best Italian standards. But beside that, we were educated to love freedom and democracy. Every year we celebrated the liberation from fascism and the victory of the allied troupes over the Germans. And this yearly celebration looked like worship; it had its liturgy and sermon. The liturgy consisted in singing very particular songs.
2. In 1998 Waldensians and Jews decided to celebrate in common the 150th anniversary of 1848. The celebration was held in the House of the Parliament. i.e. in the “sanctuary” of secular democratic life! We purposely did choose to have the celebration there because we want to address the Italian public opinion and the Italian government. Instead of retelling the sad history of our past persecutions and discrimination, we decided to stress the urgent need to grant equal liberties to other minorities as the Muslims, for instance, and to build a new Europe based on pluralism, an “open” Europe and not a fenced one.
“Va pensiero sull’ali dorate”, from Verdi’s Nabucco. Israel in exile, but also the Italian “Risorgimento” (literally = “revival” or “resurrection”), the name given to the liberal movement aiming to free Italy from the dominion of foreign nations, to unite the country and to build up a modern liberal state in the XIX century. 26
Therefore I dare to share with you a nice quotation on “American-ness” I have found preparing my lectures for Wake Forest. You know that in Europe and in Italy there is a widespread prejudice against America. People say that they confront only the American politics, not the identity of a nation, but I must say that all the three cultures that played an important role in shaping the conscience of the Italians in the 20th Century (traditional Catholicism, fascism and communism) are very suspicious when not hostile towards American-ness. Not me and many other Protestants, because we feel ourselves bound in solidarity to the Protestant heritage in the USA, both in its faithfulness to the Gospel and in its failures and sins.
We are convinced that the freedom we have (obtained) implies a calling to engage for the freedom of others. Freedom is a gift to be thankful for and to enjoy, but also a commitment for others. My liberty begins where yours is affirmed as well. Without your liberty, my liberty is only a privilege. Under Fascism Italians were educated with this slogan: “I don’t give a damn!”. This slogan wanted to oppose subjection (to the dictatorship) to responsible citizenship, cynicism to mutuality. A Roman Catholic priest, don Milani, started in the Sixties a school for poor children in a village on the mountains in Tuscany, very resembling to our school in the Walleys in the 19th century in this: he was convinced that the emancipations of the poor begins with instruction and culture: culture empowers and frees. On a wall of his small class-room he wrote “I care”, the slogan of the American students in the Sixties. The calling implied in the freedom we have obtained says “You have to care”.
“America is a construction of mind, not of race or inherited class or ancestral territory. It is a creed born of immigration, of the jostling of scores of tribes that become American to the extent which they can negotiate accommodations with one another. These negotiations succeed unevenly and often fail: you need only to glance at the history of racial relations to know that. The melting pot never melted. But American mutuality lives in recognition of difference. The fact remains that America is a collective act of imagination whose making never ends, and once the sense of collectivity and mutual respect is broken, the possibilities of Americanness begin to unravel.” (Robert Hughes, “The Fraying of America,” Time Magazine (3 February 1992), 44-45, quoted by D. Ottati, Reforming Protestantism, p. 49).
You have to have a critical stance, you have to be informed, you have to check whether all around you are really free, you have to notice even the smallest discrimination. You must accept to be challenged by the needs of the oppressed, you have to stand for their emancipation. And in any case, you have to be responsible, you cannot turn your eyes away and resign. 3. I know you have so to say two souls or two hearts: a Waldensian and an American one. I know you are proud of your double identity. On both sides liberty is the most important value. On both sides, liberty has a twin-sister, i.e. responsibility, faithfulness to a covenant.
I wish we could speak of Europe in a similar way. I wish we could speak of the global village in a similar way. In any case I think that we all, 27
good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6,8) Or if you prefer the King James version, “To do justly and to love mercy”. This is the calling addressed to us, free Americans and Italians Waldensians (and Presbyterians, and Methodists, and Moravians …). God bless your church and its ministry. God bless you and your families.
in the global world, urgently need the same kind of imagination, we need politics based on negotiations, we need recognition of difference, we need mutuality. We need “a construction” not born “of race or inherited class or ancestral territory” or — I would add — of ideology or theocracy or economics, but of accommodation of recognised and covenanted differencies. I want to close this address by quoting the Bible. “You have been told, O man, what is
Bethlehem 1957: The Breakthrough to our Global Unity Hans B. Motel
From August 11 to September 10, 1957 the General Synod of the Unitas Fratrum convened at Bethlehem, Pa. It was the 19th synod of our church since 1764, and with a total of four weeks of meetings, the second shortest of all those synods, as a delegate had calculated accurately. Most of the participants coming from Europe or other continents stayed in North America for more than two months: the journeys to the States had to be undertaken by boat, of course, and after the synod meetings the oversea delegates had been invited to visit Moravian congregations in both North American provinces — an experience whose value cannot be estimated highly enough, since it helped to understand each others’
background and the situation of the Moravian Church in the United States and Canada. Within the Moravian Church, never had visits of such a large group been undertaken before. Thirty-eight voting and twelve non-voting delegates, including secretaries and interpreters assembled in the Christian education building of the Central Moravian Church. Among those voting was only one representative of another culture (from Jamaica) and just one female member (from the Northern U.S. Province). All of the “mission fields” were represented by their European or North American leaders; Surinam, the Eastern West Indies and Jamaica each were
strengthen the worldwide community and to further it, not self-evident after the disaster of the two wars which had forced Moravians to fight on both sides. Especially the German delegates were deeply moved by the love they had been accepted and integrated into the Moravian fellowship. On behalf of the other German delegates, Bishop J. Vogt from Herrnhut expressed the feelings of gratefulness at one of the synod meetings.
allowed to send one indigenous non voting member. For the first time since nearly 200 years the General Synod did not convene in Herrnhut, and for the first time in the history of our church it took place outside of Europe. Also for the first time, English replaced German as conference language. The last two General Synods had taken place in Herrnhut in 1914 and 1931. In the meantime, two devastating wars had changed the world, and the worldwide community of the Unitas Fratrum had undergone the real danger of being torn apart — a threat our church had never experienced before to such an extent. The actual theme of the synod in 1957, the unity of our church and the search for common witness and action did literally not appear on the agenda of the meeting, but determined in fact all discussions during the four weeks of convening.
In this atmosphere the EuropeanContinental delegates presented a motion aiming at a theological “preamble” to be added to the Church Order of the Unitas Fratrum. The delegation brought a draft along, which for almost two years had been thoroughly discussed in Germany, and which had been accepted by the Provincial Synod of both the Western and the Eastern district of the European Continental Province at Berlin in 1956. At Bethlehem, the synodal committee of doctrine, chaired by H. Renkewitz from Bad Boll, accepted the paper practically without any changes and presented it to the plenary, which received it and agreed to it “with great joy.” “This declaration on our self-understanding has been accepted by the synod with an inner consent and real gratefulness. Two brothers from other (than the European-Continental) provinces declared that they never had come across a piece of such quality in the Moravian literature of our time.” The text, which without doubt helped to build bridges between the various parts of the Unity assembled at Bethlehem was given the name “Ground of the Unity,” including both meanings of the word “ground:” the fundament of the Unity, and the reasoning for it. Since then, it has become an essential, introductory part of the
After World War II, first official approaches between the North American, the British and the European-Continental provinces had taken place by meetings of the so called Unity Conferences — consisting of just one member of each the four Unity Provinces (European-Continental, British, U.S. North and U.S. South) — as early as 1946 (at Montmirail, Switzerland), in 1948 (at Bad Boll, Germany) and in 1953 (at Zeist, the Netherlands). These meetings had paved the way for the significant Bethlehem synod. According to the reports and diaries of some of the European delegates, the most impressive experience” of all the synod members at Bethlehem was the fact, that “the breaking apart of our church never stood at stake” — on the contrary, all delegates felt the strong wish to 29
synodal provinces (South Africa West and East, Eastern West Indies, Jamaica, Suriname, Nicaragua) and “associated” provinces (Alaska, Labrador, Tanganijka Southern Highlands and Unyamwezi, Honduras, Tibet)
Church Order. Only at a few places the 1957 text has been amended by following synods: in 1981, e.g., a passage on “personal belief ” was added; in 1995 the first sentence of § 4 was replaced as follows: “The Triune God as revealed in the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments is the only source of our life and salvation;” and in 1995 some expressions which in our days sounded somewhat outdated and even racist (e.g. the original wording dividing mankind into “white and nonwhite”) were changed.
As of 1962, Suriname, the Eastern West Indies and South Africa West were granted the status of a Unity Province — without any conditions, as e.g. financial self-support, as some delegates from the North had requested vehemently. With these decisions the breakthrough to a worldwide church fellowship had been accomplished.
The other major subject of the Bethlehem Synod was the future position of the “mission fields.” Up to 1957, there were four provinces, as above mentioned. At Bethlehem, the Czech Province was granted the status of a fifth unity province. Quite soon it became clear, that the synod faced a key decision: the future of the mission fields would determine the future of the Moravian Church as a whole. The discussions referring to the independence of the mission were led by a spirit of high responsibility and reached a historic dimension; they must be considered as one of the highlights of the recent history of our church.
Other difficult and even delicate issues had to be dealt with. Right after the opening of the assembly procedural matters had to be debated and resolved: should the delegates only meet in committees, as the North American synod members proposed, or should every item exclusively be discussed in plenary sessions, as the British delegation suggested? The last General Synod had met 26 years before, and there was, of course, a lack of experience in such matters — only two delegates, the brothers K. G. Hamilton (U.S. Northern Province) and H. G. Steinberg (from Zeist, the Netherlands) had participated in the Herrnhut synod of 1931. Finally, the European continental delegation succeeded in proposing a compromise, namely to allow both committee and plenary meetings, the committees being responsible to the plenary.
What does independence mean within a church body? Who has the right to declare it, and to whom? What are the standards to become independent, and who judges them? Does independence automatically mean financial selfsupport? Or a complete self-government? How could it be avoided that the “old” provinces would dominate the “young” ones? Such questions were discussed extensively and with great concern. Finally, the synod decided to make a distinction between the five Unity Provinces,
A long debate was caused by the demand of the British delegation to introduce and recognize the ordination of women. Especially the North American members of synod, including the only female delegate, opposed this motion strongly, and one of them declared, that the Moravian 30
miles north of Ramallah the “Star Mountain” plot could be acquired). Also, much time was spent to revise the first part of the 1909 Church Order, the “Essential Features of the Unity.” Structural measures led to the establishing of an Unity Fund and the erection of the Unity Committee (consisting of one representative of the Unity Provinces), which must be considered as the predecessor of the Unity Board.
church as a whole would “never accept” such a step. Finally, the synod decided to allow the ordination of women “in principle,” but to leave the implementation of this decision at the discretion of the individual provinces. Also from Great Britain came the request to allow the remarriage of divorced members of the Moravian Church — again, the North Americans resisted firmly to this proposal, claiming the “pureness” and “indissoluble union” of the Christian marriage. Without denying this, the synod, however, estimated the responsibility of pastoral care for divorced members and referred this matter to the provinces as well.
The spiritual fellowship of the Unity was strengthened by the introduction of the Unity Prayer Watch and the Unity offering, but also by the establishing of a Unity Seminar, a joint theological training course for all provinces and the participation in the World Communion Day. Also, elections had to take place, for the Unity Committee, and for the board of the Zeist Mission Foundation, later called the Moravian Church Foundation, responsible for the assets of the Unity.
The delegates dealt also with social and ethical issues. The synod demanded to stop any kind of nuclear tests “at least for a trial period,” and welcomed and supported “every honest effort ...to limit and control armaments.” Some other issues had to be clarified and resolved. The support of the mission work in Labrador proved to be a too heavy a burden for the British province; synod decided that the Unity as a whole should contribute financially towards the work in Labrador. The Synod recognized the status of the work in the Morongo Reservation in California as a “home mission congregation” of the US Northern Province. The supervision of the work in the Eastern West Indies changed from the British to the North American provinces.
Synod decided to change the name “General Synod” into “Unity Synod,” emphasizing by this step the high value of the worldwide unity, including the rights and the duties of all provinces. The term “province” should be maintained, the reasoning for this being quite interesting: the various parts of the Roman Empire had used the same term, because they had been determined by a higher power, but yet they had contributed to the further development of the whole.
Much consideration was given to the future of the leper work in the Near East: after the foundation of the State of Israel, the Leper Home located in West Jerusalem had to sold to Israeli Government. The Synod decided to continue this work in Jordan (where some years later four
The synod at Bethlehem was very efficient and industrious — small wonder that the delegates began to complain about the work in the evenings and at night, increasingly during the second half of the conference. Numerous decisions had to be taken, and more than 50 letters were written and 31
It meant a turning point to a global church community with promising perspectives. The 1957 General Synod gave birth to the worldwide Unitas Fratrum, and is therefore without doubt the most significant event in the recent history of the Moravian Church.
sent to different addressees. But the tremendous fruits of this synod justified the huge efforts made: After decades of turmoil and devastation in world politics Bethlehem was a milestone in the history of the Moravian Church and marked a new start, enabled by the royal hospitality and friendship of the North American Moravians.
Announcement: Sitting Together at Godâ€™s Table: Living Our Faith in a Global Economy Oct. 19-20, 2007 Wingate Hall, Wake Forest University School of Divinity Co-sponsored by the Church and Society Commission of the Southern Province, the Board of World Mission, and the Public Theology Program of Wake Forest.
Editorial Board: Jane Burcaw, Christy Clore, Otto Dreydoppel, Sarah Groves, Margaret Leinbach, Jeff Mortimore, Joe Nicholas, Graham Rights, Neil Thomlinson, Matt Knapp, Hans Beat Motel Editor: Craig D. Atwood, Comenius Scholar Wake Forest University and Home Moravian Church Send letters to the editor, articles, book reviews, and other contributions to the editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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