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The Hinge International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

The 2010 Moses Lectures

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church Craig D. Atwood........................................................ 2 Responses

Karen Bunning............................................................... 18 Donald E. Frey............................................................... 19 Lanie Graf...................................................................... 21 Gary L. Harke................................................................ 22 Michael Johnson............................................................ 24 Barry Miller.................................................................... 25 Suzanne P. Miller............................................................ 27 Neil Routh..................................................................... 28

Spring 2011

Volume 17, Number 3

The Hinge Volume 17, Number 3: Spring 2011 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 of Moravian Theological Seminary, 1200 Main St. Bethlehem, PA 18018, and all rights are reserved. Recent issues of The Hinge may be found at Articles in The Hinge may not be republished or posted 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 cover design was provided by Todd Tyson of Kernersville, N.C.

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

Notes from the Editors The modern Moravian Church claims to be the direct descendant of the 15th- and 16th-century Unity of the Brethren. For all that we celebrate this supposed line of descent, how much do we really know about the theology of our assumed spiritual ancestors? At least one student at Moravian Theological Seminary in the 1980s felt that lessons on Moravian theology were based more on received assumptions than on actual knowledge of the Unity and its teachings. Fortunately for all of today’s Moravians, that student grew up to be the Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood, a celebrated historian of the Moravian Church and now associate professor of Moravian theology and ministry at his theological alma mater. With his latest book, The Theology of the Czech Brethren from Hus to Comenius (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009), Brother Atwood examines the Unity of the Brethren not as a simple backdrop to the later Moravian story but “as an independent church in its own right,” with theological lessons still powerful today. Some of those lessons form the core of Brother Atwood’s 2010 Moses Lectures, reprinted in this issue as a single article for the consideration of the Hinge readership. Lay and clergy from across the United States offered responses to this article. As editors, we were pleased with not only the variety but the passion of the responses. Whether or not a hidden seed gave birth to our church, it appears that not a few hidden sparks of the Unity’s spiritual fire still readily give rise to flame. Seeing how Moravians respond to the theology of the ancient Brethren—particularly how they contemplate ways to weave that theology into the spirituality of the present era— suggests that the accuracy of our “hidden seed” narrative is less important than how we live into that narrative in our spiritual lives. If we proclaim ourselves heirs to the Brethren’s theology—even if through an adoption that we, rather than our adopted ancestors, initiated—then what matters is what we have done, and are doing, with the inheritance. What matters is not whether we are sprung from a hidden seed, but how we are nurturing that seed to produce good fruit—thirty, sixty, a hundred fold. ­— Ginny Hege Tobiassen, Christian Rice, and Janel Rice


The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church Vol. 17:3 2011

The 2010 Moses Lectures

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church Craig D. Atwood It is a great honor to be asked to give the Moses Lectures in Moravian theology for a second time. This marks the first time, though, that these lectures have been streamed on the Internet. I want to welcome those of you who are staring into your computers. Personally I think Hus and Comenius would have been delighted by this new technology, which can be so useful in theological work.

Moravian studies have experienced a resurgence of research and publication in the past two decades, especially in the area of Zinzendorf and the Moravians of the 18th century, but the earliest period of Moravian church history remains hidden for most people, including scholars. Even though the Moravian Church observes July 6 as a festival day for the martyr John Hus, few Moravians today know anything about the old Moravian Church or its theology. How many can give the name of the man who established the Unitas Fratrum back in 1457?

When I gave the Moses Lectures last time, I was teaching at Salem College, but now I have the honor of speaking as a faculty member of Moravian Theological Seminary. I graduated from this institution back in 1987, and when I went off to graduate school in 1990 it was with the hope and intention of returning one day as a professor. I am grateful to my colleagues for helping to make this dream a reality, and I am glad that Moravian Seminary now has a position dedicated to Moravian theology.

Despite its importance for the history of Christianity, the entire Czech Reformation is generally overlooked in most American history books. John Hus sometimes makes a dramatic appearance as a “forerunner� of Martin Luther who was burned at the stake, but early modern historians tend to ignore the fact that there were already two Czech Protestant churches existing independently of Rome when Luther

Craig D. Atwood is Charles D. Couch Associate Professor of Moravian Theology and Ministry and Director of the Center for Moravian Studies at Moravian Theological Seminary.


Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

was still a Catholic monk. In this lecture I want to introduce you to some of the history and theology of the Czech Reformation, especially the frequently overlooked Unitas Fratrum.

Bohemian Brethren were pioneers in Protestant moral thought. Their theology was profoundly simple: The essence of Christianity is faith, love, and hope. They sought to return to the message of primitive Christianity, especially as given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.

One of the things that confuse people when they start to study the history of the Moravian Church is that the church has gone by several different names. Until the 19th century there was no organization officially called the Moravian Church.

Although they persistently opposed the unholy alliance of church and state, the Brethren remained active participants in social and political reform. In fact, much of their doctrine focused on issues of justice. John Amos Comenius’s plans for comprehensive social reform were grounded in the traditional teaching of the Unity of the Brethren.

You might assume that the Moravian Church began in the margrave of Moravia, but the Unitas Fratrum actually started in Bohemia. During the period that is the focus of this lecture, its members were usually called simply the Bohemian Brethren. I have often wondered how different the modern Moravian Church would be if we changed our name to “the Bohemian Brothers and Sisters.” I suspect the church would attract a different kind of worshiper. Today, the word “Bohemian” refers to a radical non-conformist who rejects the social norms of the day and makes a statement with his or her lifestyle. That is actually not a bad description of the original Bohemian Brethren.

Their story shows us that it is possible to live with faith, love, and hope despite the efforts of fanatics and demagogues to foment fear and violence. They offer the church of today a model of courageous devotion to the way of Christ in the midst of opposition. Heretics The words heresy and heretic are heard quite often in theological seminaries and church synods. However, we should remember that all of the Protestant reformers were excommunicated by the Catholic Church and condemned officially as heretics. Czech Protestants consider John Hus a saint, but the Council of Constance declared him an archheretic (heresiarch) before handing him over to the secular authorities to be burned alive. According to church authorities in Bohemia and throughout Europe, the Brethren were guilty of many heresies. In fact, they were

The Unity of the Brethren was a small community of faith that rejected the religious and social norms of the late Middle Ages. Born in the crucible of religious oppression and virtually destroyed by religious prejudice, the Brethren repeatedly offered a voice of reason, toleration, and reconciliation in the face of war, persecution, and torture. Highly disciplined and yet remarkably humanistic, the 5

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among the worst offenders of canon law before Luther took the bold step of burning canon law. Potential members of the Unity were sternly warned that if they joined the group, they would be considered outlaws and heretics by the world.

that the denial of the lay chalice was the root of all corruption in the church because it perpetuated the idea that clergy are superior to the laity. This was not merely an abstract theological debate; it was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

One lesson we can learn from the Unity, then, is to be careful about using the word heretic. Many reformers are dismissed as heretics by those whose power is threatened by new ideas.

It did not sit well with people in Bohemia that the Council of Constance, the same council that condemned Hus as a heretic, also condemned the lay chalice as heresy. The Council claimed it was trying to reunify the church, but the Hussites argued that unbiblical laws cannot unify the church. The true church is known by its fruits, not by its doctrine, Jakoubek argued. Heresy is demonstrated in actions, not merely in theological opinions. He asked which was the true church of Christ: the body of the faithful that followed the clear teachings of Scripture, or the institution that had executed John Hus? Wasn’t the true church the one that alleviated the suffering of the poor and redeemed prostitutes, rather than the one that exacted tithes and rents and otherwise pillaged from the poor because of the greed of the clergy?

The Unity of the Brethren was the last of three Hussite churches established after the burning of Hus. About the only thing on which the different Hussite churches agreed was the necessity of giving the cup of Christ to the laity during Holy Communion. Since the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, only priests could drink the sacred wine which was the blood of Christ. This meant that for over two centuries no woman in Western Europe had shared fully in communion, since only men could be ordained. It was a Hussite professor at the University of Prague, named Jakoubek of Stribro, who first administered the lay chalice on October 28, 1414. Personally, I think that event should be considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It was certainly a visible and unmistakable form of heresy. The Hussites pointed out that Jesus himself had commanded all of his followers to drink from the cup, and thus the Catholic Church’s prohibition of the lay chalice was sufficient evidence that it had corrupted Jesus’ teaching. Jakoubek believed

When King Vaclav of Bohemia tried to enforce the Council’s prohibition of the lay chalice, the nation rose in rebellion. Thousands of people were killed by Catholic authorities for having the courage to drink from the chalice or to allow others to drink. Thousands more died during the twenty years of religious warfare that resulted from the church’s attempt to stamp out the Hussite heresy. Think of the blood of those early Protestant martyrs next time you 6

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

share Holy Communion. The lay chalice was not only the most visible symbol of the Hussite movement; all subsequent Protestant churches followed the Hussites in this particular heresy. Not until the 1960s did the Catholic Church change its rules to allow lay persons full communion.

vision of the Kingdom of God in which there was wine and milk for those without money. Everyone was fed and many tears were wiped away from the eyes of those who mourned. Modern Moravians should remember this communal gathering on the hillside when they have lovefeasts today.


Expectations of the return of Christ ran high, but Jesus’ return was delayed. Soon after the happening on Tabor, the pope and emperor sent armies of crusaders to kill the Bohemian heretics. Some of the Bohemians saw this as part of the apocalyptic scenario in which the armies of God fight the armies of the antichrist.

Jakoubek and the professors at the University of Prague were moderates who tried to reconcile with the Catholic Church. The story of the national church of Bohemia is interesting and important, but here we will focus on radical Hussites who formed voluntary societies called brotherhoods in various communities in Bohemia. These brotherhoods were dedicated to the complete religious and social reform of the kingdom.

On Ash Wednesday in 1420 a group of radical Hussites seized an abandoned fortress in southern Bohemia and renamed it Tabor. There they created a Christian commune modeled on the early church, and they elected a priest named Nicholas as bishop. The Church of Tabor rejected many of the doctrines of the Catholic Church that had been developed during the Middle Ages, most notably the idea of purgatory. Drawing on Waldensian ideas, the Taborites claimed that the Roman Church fell into apostasy when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century. The only way to restore true Christianity was to return to the teachings and practice of the apostles and purify the church of its imperial corruption. The Taborites were not pacifists. In fact, they built one of the most feared armies in European history.

In the summer of 1419 there was a strong expectation among the Bohemians that Jesus was about to appear and establish his millennial kingdom on earth. Word went out for people to flee the cities and gather on a hill named Tabor in southern Bohemia on July 22. All morning, radical priests heard confessions and served the sacred bread and wine of communion on plain tables in the open air rather than at altars. Thousands of people from every region of the kingdom were gathered on the mountain, and they shared their food with one another in a great lovefeast that was reminiscent of Jesus feeding the 5000. For the participants, this was a foretaste of the millennial kingdom in which there would no longer be rich or poor, priest or laity, noble or peasant. It was like Isaiah’s

Moravian historians do not like to admit that the Unitas Fratrum had connections to 7

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For communion, the officiating priest at Tabor stood behind a simple table and consecrated everyday bread and wine using Jesus’ words from the New Testament. The clergy communed first and then went out to the people, who received first the bread and then the wine while standing. This may sound familiar to some of you. The unusual practice of having clergy go out to serve the people remains the practice in most Moravian churches to this day. This was another visible way to break down the barrier between clergy and the people, but it was also a theological statement.

the fearsome Taborites, but the origins of the doctrine and worship of the Unitas Fratrum can be found at Tabor. The Taborites were the first people since the days of Cyril and Methodius to put the liturgy entirely in the language of the people. Taborite worship also included a great deal of congregational singing, which was innovative at the time. The laity were expected to participate fully in worship. Another thing we can learn from the old Moravians is that reform and revitalization of the church depends on the full participation of the people in worship, which means being innovative in our liturgies and hymns.

The Taborite bishop, Nicholas, published works that asserted that the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was misguided and erroneous. The resurrected body of Jesus is in heaven, and cannot be conjured up by a priest on the altar, he argued. For Nicholas, it was both irrational and idolatrous to adore the wine and bread of communion as if it were the physical body and blood of Christ. However, the spirit of Christ is not bound to heaven but can be present on every altar.

Another important feature of Tabor was that women were educated in Scripture and doctrine, and they took part in a limited way in worship services. Women in Tabor were so knowledgeable of Scripture and theology that Catholic officials asserted that this knowledge alone was evidence of Satanic influence at Tabor. This aspect of women’s education and leadership in the congregation became a prominent feature of the Unitas Fratrum. Throughout its history, the Unity set apart gifted women to serve as elders, deaconesses, and “Sister Judges” in congregations. These women were primarily responsible for the spiritual life of the women, something normally restricted to convents. Although they were not ordained as priests, they had a pastoral role that included counseling, instruction, and discipline. I do not think it accidental that the residents of Herrnhut were the only Pietist church that instituted similar offices for women in the 1720s.

The Taborites, like the Unitas Fratrum, rejected the idea that Christ is physically present in bread and wine, but they also thought it wrong to treat the Eucharist as no more than an act of remembrance. The proper teaching on communion is that Christ is really, truly, virtually, spiritually and sacramentally present in the Eucharist in his divine rather than his human form.1 The Eucharist is a spiritual reality that should be approached with reverence and love, just as Jesus and Paul commanded. The Unity introduced this concept to John Calvin 8

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

when he was formulating his own theology, by the way.

Peter Chelčický (c. 1380–c. 1458), whom some consider the most innovative and radical writer of the Middle Ages.

Needless to say, Catholic authorities asserted that this understanding of communion was heresy on a grand scale, and it was made a crime in Bohemia to refuse to kneel before the bread during communion. Thus when the original Moravians stood during communion, it was a bold act of defiance against Catholic officials who insisted that everyone must reverence the host as if it were God. Every time the Brethren celebrated the Lord’s Supper, they reaffirmed their status as heretics and rejected the authority of the state in matters of faith.

Peter was a yeoman farmer with some education who was caught up in the fervor of the early days of the Hussite Reformation. Peter told Jakoubek and the professors in Prague that they had not gone far enough in following the Law of Christ. It was not enough to give the laity access to the chalice in the Eucharist; Christ demands a radical commitment to follow his whole law, which is summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. Like some of the Waldensians before him, Peter believed that Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, gave “six smaller commandments” to complete the ten given by Moses. These six are: do not respond to violence with violence, do not divorce your spouse, do not swear oaths, do not be angry without cause, do not look lustfully at someone, and love your enemies. According to Peter, the six smaller commandments clearly identified who was living as a Christian and who was merely professing to do so. He rejected all arguments that justified the use of violence, pointing out that it is impossible to love someone while killing or maiming him in battle. For Peter, the biblical prohibition against taking human life in the Decalogue and Jesus’ teaching that his followers should not resist an evildoer were absolute. Years later Peter reminded Jan Rokycana that “master Jakoubek would be angry at someone who broke the rules of the Friday fast by eating meat, but would not make the shedding of human blood a matter

The Taborites were betrayed by the moderate Hussites and defeated in battle in 1437. The Church of Tabor was finally destroyed in 1452, but many of its ideas lived on through the Unitas Fratrum. Pacifists You wouldn’t know it from most websites in the Moravian Church, but the founder of the Unitas Fratrum was not John Hus. The founder was a young man named Gregory who was the business manager of a Hussite monastery in Prague. Gregory’s uncle was Jan Rokycana, the head of the Bohemian Church. Rokycana preached in the Týn Church in the Old Town of Prague, and each week he called on his listeners to revitalize the reform of Hus. Gregory took his uncle very seriously, and studied the writings of the Czech reformers that Rokycana gave to him. He was particularly impressed by the writings of a lay person named 9

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makes it possible for cruelty to rule, threaten, abuse, do violence, imprison, beat, and kill.”4

of conscience.” For Chelčický, pacifism, not fasting or drinking from the chalice, was the true visible sign that one is a disciple of Christ rather than a servant of the antichrist.

God had indeed established secular authority to restrain evildoers, but Peter denied that this applied to the church since Christ had established a new covenant. “We are liberated from the Law of death through the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and subjected to the Law of love, then let us see on what foundation power can be placed in Christ’s faith…. If he had wanted people to cut each other up, to hang, drown, and burn each other, and otherwise pour out human blood for his Law, then that Old Law could also have stood unchanged, with the same bloody deeds as before.”5 The true apostolic church was not the church of the bishops and emperor; it was the church that followed the path of loving sacrifice and rejected worldly power.6 In short, Chelčický tried to remove the mask of piety worn by the state to show its basic paganism.

Consistent with his understanding of the theology of the cross, Chelčický argued that one of the marks of the true church is persecution.2 Jesus was the victim of imperial injustice and the mocking of the crowds, never the victimizer who ignored the suffering of others. He asserted that if Christians are not facing opposition from those in power, then they have obviously become too much at home in the world and too complacent in the face of injustice. Like the Waldensians before him, Chelčický argued that the Catholic Church became corrupted when Constantine became a Christian. The Roman Catholic Church was simply the Roman Empire in clerical robes. Peter rejected the whole idea of a Christian kingdom or Christendom. He argued that Romans 13, so dear to medieval political theorists, really provides no justification for the existence of a Christian state or even for Christians to assume political authority in the state. Paul in Romans was not writing to the emperor, Peter pointed out; he was writing to Christians who were a persecuted minority within the pagan Roman Empire.3 Paul’s call for Christians to obey the governing authorities was actually a call to renounce personal political power. Chelčický contrasted strongly Christ’s law of love and secular power, writing, “The attributes of power must be understood, and we must understand that it breeds fear, for power

During the 16th century Reformation, the Unity of the Brethren consistently criticized reformers like Luther and Calvin for their reliance on the coercive power of the government. The Brethren agreed that religious faith must be a matter of personal conscience because truth cannot be defended by the sword and stake. As Comenius pointed out in the 17th century, persecution creates hypocrites, not Christians. Although the Unity, like most sects, stressed the voluntary principle in church membership, they did not follow the pattern of Anabaptist churches by separating from all other Christian bodies. They never defined their 10

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

Unity as the one true church even though they insisted that their discipline and church order were the most consistent with the teachings of the New Testament.

under the Law of Christ. Gregory traveled all over the kingdom gathering the scattered remnants of the old Hussite brotherhoods into his new brotherhood. They adopted the name Jednota Bratrska, which means Union of the Brothers—but we must remember it always included Sisters.

The Brethren were pioneers in ecumenical work and helped bring Lutherans and Reformed churches together in Poland and Bohemia. This might be the greatest and most helpful paradox in the history of the Brethren’s theology: The Brethren refused to give up their distinctive organization and voice in the world, yet they worked for cooperation among churches with different confessions of faith. In the modern world, it is increasingly evident that people need to form intentional communities that give identity and integrity to life without separating from the demands of the world. Here is a lesson for the modern Moravian Church: It is possible to work cooperatively with other churches without losing one’s own distinctive understanding of faith.

In 1467, they broke formally and completely with the Catholic Church and the majority of Hussites by consecrating their own bishop and ordaining their own priests. This was an illegal act that remains a source of controversy in Moravian-Episcopalian dialogue. Clearly the original Brethren were rejecting medieval notions of apostolic succession by consecrating their own bishop. For the Brethren, true apostolicity was represented by bishops who lived according to the model of the original apostles. The name of their new body was carefully chosen. They were not a “church” in the traditional sense. They were to be brothers and sisters, just like the Christians in the New Testament. No one was the Father or Pope, Mother or Abbess. There was one Lord: Christ himself. They were to be brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of family heritage or status in life. Just like the original apostles, many of the first Brethren left their families and homes to join the new community of faith. They were not a parish church but a voluntary society that people joined of their free will and could leave whenever they chose. The Unity of the Brethren appears to have been the first church that can be called a Free Church.

The Brethren In the 1450s, Gregory and his companions worshiping at the Týn Church became convinced that Peter Chelčický had a clearer understanding of the New Testament and the Law of Christ than other Hussites. They wanted to put his ideas into practice. At the time, with the destruction of the Church of Tabor, it looked like the radical edge of the Hussite Reformation was in danger of being lost forever; but with the help of Rokycana, Gregory and his companions moved to the village of Kunwald in central Bohemia in 1457. There they formed a covenant community that would try to live 11

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The early Brethren followed the social teachings of Peter Chelčický fairly strictly, especially the idea of the six smaller commandments. They refused to participate in the violence of the world, and they refused to swear oaths. They would not hold public office, serve on juries, or even be witnesses in trials. In this way, they would not participate in the torture, maiming, and execution of criminals. Many Brethren suffered persecution because of their convictions, and over time they moderated the rigor of the first generation somewhat, but they never completely lost their dedication to peace and reconciliation.

repeatedly not to treat wives as slaves or servants, but to care for them.8 Husbands were expected to keep the covenant of matrimony faithfully, just as wives should. If it were ever necessary to reproach a wife, the husband should do so by sensitive correction. In response wives “were to be bound by love, faithfulness, submission and respect, diligence and economy in management of the household, without contention and gossiping, without pride and pleasure seeking.”9 “Parents were to remember the covenant made in infant baptism and lead their children in the awe and discipline of God, correct them sensibly, and ‘have and guard’ love ‘in the heart.’ They were to be attentive to educating children for good habits in regard to obedience and modesty.”10 In other words, children were to be treated as the property of God who made them in his image and who shed his blood for their redemption. Discipline was an essential element of the Brethren’s pacifism because violent and sinful tendencies had to be controlled, but discipline was to be pedagogical rather than abusive. Discipline was a way of living that rendered punishment unnecessary.

The Brethren’s view of nonviolence went beyond a simple refusal to enlist in the military. It meant that the Brethren tried to live peacefully at all times, even in the face of persecution. They did not seek revenge for the violence done to them. Members of the Unity agreed to let “judges” supervise how they disciplined and educated their children. Abuse of children or spouses was not tolerated, but neither was a lack of discipline in the home. Marriage counselors were provided by the Unity to help couples recognize that all aspects of their personal life were part of their service to God.7

In short, the Brethren tried to temper the patriarchal family structure of medieval Western society with an ethic based on humility, compassion, and Christ-like devotion in the midst of opposition—even in the home. The radical, heretical lifestyle of the original Bohemian Brethren meant that in the home, in the church, and in the world they were to reject violence and live in peace.

Fathers were expected to serve as priests in the family, keeping order, educating the children, and providing discipline without losing priestly care and compassion. The husband was expected to honor and love his wife as himself, for she was “of the near, the most near” to him. Husbands were warned 12

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For over two hundred years, the Unity of the Brethren was a living witness to a form of Christianity that rejected the institutionalized violence of the state. The Brethren endured persecution and war without losing their committed belief that the eschatological peaceable kingdom can be realized on earth only if Christians live into that millennial vision.

justification by faith alone. They felt that such a doctrine could too easily become a license for undisciplined living and a rejection of responsibility for the well-being of others. Ethics was an integral part of the Brethren’s theology. The similarities between the theology of the Unity and the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 20th century are noteworthy, and would make a good theme for another lecture.

This sounds utopian, but we should recall that the theology of the Unity was forged in the midst of horrifying conflict and religious persecution. The Brethren were not naïve about human violence or the difficulties of establishing justice on the earth. They were committed to the principle that some things are worth dying for, but few things are worth killing for. They can teach us that peace begins with toleration and ends with reconciliation through the love of Christ that surpasses human understanding.

The true church, for the Brethren, was a voluntary association of believers who submit to mutual edification and correction. Ethics requires rational discourse and reflection, and the Brethren believed that human beings are indeed rational creatures endowed by God with minds that can be employed in the service of God. Unlike the Anabaptists, the Brethren baptized the children of their members, but they insisted that baptism must be completed through the ritual of confirmation so that each child would knowingly assume the responsibilities of the Christian faith for him or herself. It was important to the Brethren that children be taught Christian doctrine and trained to live according to the discipline of the church. In other words, they reclaimed the role of both education and discipline in discipleship.

Teachers Unlike Martin Luther, Gregory and his followers did not separate from the state church because of a crisis of faith. They established the Unity because the dominant church was not practicing the faith it preached. Although the Unity rejected the medieval Catholic idea that external acts of piety are the path to salvation, they stood in the mainstream of Christian teaching that faith must be completed in love. One of the hallmarks of the Czech Reformation was the principle that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). The Brethren were allies with Luther and Calvin, but they were always uncomfortable with Luther’s idea of

In an age when formal education was restricted to the elite in society, the Unity of the Brethren integrated education into the fabric of the church. One of the main duties of deacons was teaching in the congregation, including basic literacy education. Almost everywhere the Brethren established congregations, they also provided schools founded on pacifist principles. 13

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The Brethren assumed that God made humans in such a way that they will seek and find God in ways appropriate to their development.11 Fear and violence have no role in education or in matters of faith.

their theological opponents that Jesus spoke the language of fishermen and laborers, not that of Aristotle and Aquinas. Moreover, Jesus lifted up children, not theologians, as great in the Kingdom of God. Preachers should be able to communicate the fundamental mysteries of life and faith to children, recognizing that as we grow and learn, our knowledge of God should grow as well. The Brethren recognized that our understanding develops over time, and they were unusually comfortable with the notion that our knowledge of God and God’s will may change through the years.

Let us consider some of the theological assumptions behind the pedagogy of the Brethren. First and foremost was the conviction that faith and reason are not opposed to each other. The Brethren broke with the Catholic Church in part because they thought that the medieval church’s doctrine and practice was irrational and superstitious. They argued that priests had reintroduced pagan magic into Holy Communion, and that most of the accounts of miracles and adoration of relics were designed to keep people ignorant. However, the Brethren agreed with those medieval Catholic theologians, like Anselm and Abelard, who taught that humans are rational creatures and that salvation in Christ includes the renewal of one’s mind as well as forgiveness of sins.

Rather than canonizing the writings of the founders, the Brethren continued to refine their doctrine in light of new insights and changing social conditions. They did not make a single confession of faith the doctrinal standard of all time, but kept publishing new confessions as they gained greater insight. The refusal to confuse the relative truths of human doctrinal statements and biblical interpretation with the eternal truths known only to God is one of the Brethren’s great contributions to Christian thought.

Secondly, being good teachers and educators, the Brethren preferred clarity to confusion, and they believed that God made faith and morals simple and easy to understand. They objected to the tendency of the highly educated to obfuscate and confound through arcane jargon and intricate arguments. This is why for many years they did not allow their members to become lawyers or university professors. They believed that scholars should be teachers who help others come to understanding about God, the world, and human responsibility. They repeatedly reminded

It is perhaps ironic that commitment to continual learning and change is itself one of the most consistent things in the doctrine of the Unity. Inherent in this is the awareness that the church must be self-critical. The purpose of Christian doctrine is to bring life, freedom, and a sense of responsibility for the welfare of the world. If old doctrinal statements impede that purpose, then the church can and should change them. 14

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

Not surprisingly, the Brethren insisted that Scripture is the touchstone for authentic teaching and the primary guide for Christian living; therefore they translated the Bible into the language of the people and used the printing press to make it available to everyone. The Brethren’s Bible published at Kralitz remains one of the lasting achievements of the Unity. It took years to translate and publish the entire Bible, but they began with the gospels.

Moravian and Bohemian branch of the Unity, John Amos Comenius. Comenius is best known today as an educational theorist, but his work went far beyond writing textbooks for school children. He was engaged in efforts at church reconciliation in the 17th century, and his vision of an ecumenical council of interdependent communities of faith grew out of the fundamental commitment of the Unity of the Brethren. Comenius placed on the world stage the perspective of the original Brethren that both the teachings of Jesus and the living presence of Christ are essential in Christianity. By following the teachings and example of their Savior, believers can find their true happiness even in the midst of frustration and suffering. “Whoever learns this from Christ will not easily stray from his goal of blessedness; he will not easily succumb under the labors he meets; he will not easily be frustrated in his desires (which are tranquility of mind and joy of conscience).”12

The Brethren appreciated the fact that the books of the Bible were written by human beings in an historical context, and thus interpreters must use reason when studying Scripture. But reason alone is insufficient; they interpreted Scripture through the eyes of faith. From the beginning, the Brethren adopted what Karl Barth might have called a Christocentric hermeneutic. They began their reading of the Bible with the gospels because the Bible as a whole should be interpreted through the teachings and sacrifice of Jesus. The Brethren were all too familiar with people who could quote Scripture while torturing and maiming their enemies. Christ’s law of love, given especially in the Sermon on the Mount, provides the instructions for believers to follow, and the life of Jesus provides the model for faithful living. Christ was the “one thing necessary” because through Christ humans could know God, be saved from sin and death, and learn the law of love.

Despite his reputation as a rationalist, Comenius was an early advocate of the “theology of the heart” that places the living Christ at the center of the church and its mission in the world. The only cure for the illness of the church is the same cure available for individuals trapped in the quiet despair of daily living: return to Christ as the center of security. According to Comenius, the ultimate goal of reading the Bible and being part of the community of faith was to become a renewed creation: a man or woman “created according

Comenius The most famous member of the Unity of the Brethren was the last bishop of the 15

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to God, in justice and holiness of truth.”13 Drawing on Greek patristic thought, Comenius further asserted that “a Christian is man like Christ, and through that likeness able to be deified.”14 True religion, for Comenius and the Brethren, was about the transformation of the self and the re-creation of true humanity.15 One thing that modern Christians can learn from Comenius is that true Christianity is simple, profound and powerful.16 Comenius blamed theologians, who seemed to think that “to know simply Christ seems too simple a theology” for the disputes and divisions among Christians that have torn the church apart and contributed to the violence of the day.17 He reminded his readers that Satan was “a sophist” who was always offering arguments—just like a theologian.

engineering does. Nor does trust in God mean turning away from human responsibility; quite the opposite. Faith and reason, service and devotion, love and reconciliation, realism and hope were united in Comenius’ thought, just as they were in the teaching of the Brethren from the beginning. Comenius refined the Moravian theological heritage, teaching that Christianity is not a matter of wrangling over the mysteries of salvation; it is a discipleship that allows a clear-minded commitment to social justice, personal integrity, interpersonal forgiveness, and sacrificial love. Essentials One of the things that Comenius wanted the ecumenical church to learn from the original Unity of the Brethren was the importance of distinguishing things that are essential from things that are not essential. Essential things fall into two categories: the work of God and the human response to God’s work. The objective work of God as the creator, the redeemer, and the one who brings blessing (the Holy Spirit) is primary. All else depends on God’s work.19 In other words, it is essential that God creates. The work of God in creation is essential; a particular understanding of creation is not.

Comenius pointed out that the first religion was that of Abraham, which was simply “to believe in one God, to obey one God, to hope for life from God the fount of life.” Comenius also quoted Micah 6:8 frequently (“do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God”) as a summary of true religion. “See,” he wrote, “this was the whole of religion before the law and under the law, to grasp God by faith, to embrace God with love, and to hold God by hope.”18 He contrasted the religion of Abel, which was simple trust and service to God, with the religion of Cain who lashed out in violence and hatred to someone who offered a different type of devotion.

Redemption is also the work of God through Christ. Humans do not redeem themselves. They are rescued from sin, death, and the power of evil by Christ. Most Protestants, whether Lutheran, Calvinist, or Wesleyan, would agree, but the Brethren also insisted that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify those who have been redeemed

Simplicity in doctrine does not mean stupidity any more than simplicity in 16

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by God. We do not make ourselves holy, and we do not bless ourselves. The Brethren were relatively uninterested in all of the theological acrobatics that scholastic theologians went through in making sense of God’s work. It was enough that God does what God does in creation, redemption, and sanctification.

in God without having an active love for real people in the real world. The experience of salvation included a joyful orientation toward others, expressed in sacrificial ethical living. They interpreted the statement “God is love” (I John 4:16) to mean that the essence of God is to produce goodness through creation, redemption, and blessing. Personal morality and social ethics were viewed as aspects of the love of God that are essential for human happiness and salvation. One of the major tasks of the community of faith, therefore, is to teach Christian ethics by word, example, and mutual discipline.23

Comenius and the Brethren were much more interested in the human response to God’s work. The true essentials for them were faith, love, and hope, which are ultimately impossible to separate.20 According to one of the first bishops of the Unity, Luke of Prague, true faith is not an intellectual assent to propositions given by the church. It is an existential faith in which one places one’s life entirely in God. This kind of faith brings peace to the soul and provides a certain hope that one will grow in grace and obedience. Luke taught the children of the Unity that “the power of faith proceeds inwardly and outwardly through visible virtues; such as humility, gentleness, unity, friendliness, doing good, seeking peace, patience, etc. and throughout the appearance of works in following the commands and not doing forbidden things.”21 Faith is more than belief in the Apostles’ Creed; it is a trust in Christ that conquers fear and brings release to the captives.

By identifying what was essential, the Brethren provided a framework for ecumenical cooperation. Churches may disagree in other matters so long as they hold to these essentials. The Unity identified a number of things they called ministerials because they minister to salvation. They are not essentials in the same way that faith, love, and hope are essential, but they are still very important. The ministerials are things that communicate what is sacred. They are the “means of grace” but are not grace itself. The ministerials included church order, the sacraments, the priesthood, and even the Scriptures. These are the means that Christ has chosen to communicate his truth and grace. Tragically, however, these are also things that Christians have fought about through the centuries. The Brethren knew from bitter experience that even the most sacred things of Christianity may become dangerous when they interfere with the knowledge and love of God. As long as the ministerials point beyond

The Unity’s approach to faith, love, and hope was concrete rather than theoretical. “How do you know if someone has love for God?” asks the Catechism. “If he has love for his neighbor” was the answer.22 The Brethren found it inconceivable that a person could profess faith in God, love for God, and hope 17

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themselves to the essential work of God and help people live in faith, love, and hope, then they are sacred. Long before Paul Tillich, the Brethren taught that religious symbols, even Scripture, become problematic when they no longer point toward the divine reality. The beauty of this idea is that it allows the church to reform its confessional statements and rituals without undermining faith in the Lord who was and is and will be ever the same. It is hard to overstate the usefulness of this idea for Christians in a pluralistic society.

We can learn from the Brethren of old that the Christian Church stands under the authority and direction of the Prince of Peace, not Mars or Zeus or any of the other gods of war and thunder worshiped around the globe. The Brethren embraced peacefulness as a primary Christian attribute and taught people to take the values of Christ into the marketplace as well as living them in the home. The Brethren were not only heretics and pacifists; they were also teachers, and we can learn from them the importance of education in the life of faith. Like them, we can affirm the biblical teaching that all people are made in the image of God and are endowed by God with a desire to seek God’s will. Like the Brethren, we can adopt a pedagogical view of faith and teach the ways of Christ, treating all humans as individuals who are made in the image of God and worthy of respect and love. The Brethren insisted that the Christian faith is not reserved for Sunday morning, nor is faith the same as reciting a creed. Faith is a way of life, but faith without works is dead. The Unity left an inspiring legacy, but the most important lesson the Unity teaches us today may be the simplest. The essentials of Christianity are faith, love, and hope.

Conclusion In many ways, the Unity charted the course for modern Christianity even though few Christians today have heard of the Brethren. In the woods of Bohemia, a small band of people formed a voluntary community of believers that tried to live according to the teachings of Christ. They faced great opposition, and after nearly two centuries their community of faith was destroyed, but they left behind a great legacy for the church of today. We can learn from them that it takes courage to try to reform the church and the world, especially if you reject the tools of worldly power. The Brethren teach us that fear and coercion should play no role in matters of faith, but the faithful must boldly confront those who rely on intimidation and abuse. We also learn from the history of the Unity that sometimes people who try to live by the simple teachings of Christ are dismissed as heretics simply because they challenge the power structure. If shaking the foundations of powerful institutions is heresy, then let there be more heretics in the church.

Endnotes 1. Erhard Peschke, Kirche und Welt in der Theologie der böhmischen Brüder vom Mittelalter zur Reformation (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1981), 52. 2. Murray L. Wagner, Petr Chelčický: A Radical Separatist in Hussite Bohemia (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983), 134.


Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church salvation should be understood in the context of a transformation of the self in terms of hospitality, responsibility, and desire. Though he does not use Comenius’s teaching, Ford’s presentation is very consistent with the main line of Comenius’s theology. The encounter with Christ as the other who requires a response from us is transformative when we move out of our isolation and into responsible engagement with other selves. The process of becoming like Christ makes us simultaneously more human and more divine.

3. Peter Chelčický, “On the Triple Division of Society,” in Treatises on Christianity and the Social Order, trans. and ed. Howard Kaminsky, in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, ed. William Bowsky (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964), I: 105–170, here 147–148. 4. Chelčický, “Triple Division,” 138. 5. Chelčický, “Triple Division,” 139–140. 6. Chelčický, “Triple Division,” 151. 7. Rudolf Rícan, The History of the Unity of the Brethren: A Protestant Hussite Church in Bohemia and Moravia, trans. C. Daniel Crews (Bethlehem, PA: Moravian Church in America, 1992), 78.

16. Comenius, Unum Necessarium, 64. 17. Comenius, Unum Necessarium, 97. 18. Comenius, Unum Necessarium, 88–89. 19. Peschke, Kirche und Welt, 148–150.

8. Joseph Müller, Geschichte der böhmischen Brüder, 3 vols. (Herrnhut: Verlag der Missionsbuchhandlung, 1922–1931), I: 287–289.

20. Amedeo Molnár’s discussion of these categories in his cogent chapter, “The Theology of the Unity,” in Říčan’s History of the Unity, 403, is based primarily on the writings of Luke. He writes, “The distinction of things essential to salvation from those things which are ministrative to salvation and those things which are merely appropriate may be called the formal principle of the Brethren’s theology. According to the Brethren’s belief, the failure to distinguish these things had caused a most disastrous confusion in the history of Christian thought, a corruption of proper piety in exchanging the real foundation of sure salvation for a false reliance on human arrangements.”

9. Ríčan, History of the Unity, 79. 10. Ríčan, History of the Unity, 79. 11. See Ellen T. Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), for a modern presentation of the relationship between pedagogy, faith, and discipleship. 12. John Amos Comenius, Unum Necessarium, trans. Vernon Nelson (BD thesis, Moravian Theological Seminary, Bethlehem, PA, 1958), 43.

21. Müller, Geschichte der böhmischen Brüder, I: 514.

13. Comenius, Unum Necessarium, 74. 14. Comenius, Unum Necessarium, 90.

22. Craig D. Atwood, “Catechism of the Bohemian Brethren, Translated and Edited from the 1532 Version,” Journal of Moravian History 2 (Spring 2007), 108.

15. David F. Ford, Self and Salvation: Being Transformed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Ford, drawing upon Levinas, Jüngel, and Ricoeur, argues that Christian

23. Atwood, “Catechism,” 108.


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Responses Karen Bunning some Christians today have elevated Scripture to the status of an end in itself.

Although I was baptized as a Moravian in infancy, I was confirmed as a Presbyterian in my teen years. Thus when I read “Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church” I brought both a Moravian heritage and a Reformed perspective to the topic. While many of the historical facts were not new to me, the theological history and influence of the ancient Unity were.

Some find it an unacceptable step onto a slippery slope if the Scriptures are not held to be inerrant and literally true. Incalculable effort has been expended in trying to explain or reconcile inconsistencies or outright contradictions in the Scriptures. (These include the two stories of creation [Gen. 1 & 2] and the question as to whether any human being has ever seen God [Ex. 3:6, 24:9–11, 33:11, 20–23; Isaiah 6:5; John 1:18, 6:45–46; I Tim. 6:15–16; I John 4:12]). The Bible, an inanimate object, is revered and defended as if it were the Word (Jesus, the Word made flesh), and not simply a means by which the Word is revealed. It is a creation; it has a function.

Some years ago, I taught an adult Sunday school series which I called “Means, Ends and Dead Ends” and another called “Reformed School.” As I read Brother Atwood’s lecture, I was struck by how well the doctrines of the original Moravians meshed with themes from those classes. One point of similarity was how the characterization of ministerials—“They are the ‘means of grace’ but are not grace itself ”— fit into my idea of how positive means could become negative when turned into ends in themselves. An instance of this, which Brother Atwood also addressed, is the function of the Scriptures.

The triune God existed before the world was created, before the first prophet announced “Thus says the Lord,” before God handed Moses the Ten Commandments, before the Word became flesh. The Scriptures are not required for that to be true. The Scriptures are needed to report and bear witness to God’s actions, God’s truth. They are the unique and authoritative witness, and in that sense vital to our Christian belief. But if one allows oneself to deify the Scriptures, they become a closed conduit, no longer a means open to the leading of the Holy Spirit toward becoming a renewed being, growing in grace and obedience. Treating

The Protestant principles expressed by “grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone” illustrate how difficult the status of the Scriptures can be. In the context of the Protestant Reformation, Scripture’s inclusion in that phrase is correct and important. Beyond that context, however, this prominence can be misleading. Scripture is not an end, but only a means. Nevertheless, 20

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the Scriptures this way makes difficult the “always reforming” part of “Reformed, always reforming” and also damages the framework for ecumenical cooperation.

and social norms” of its time. The Brethren’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper, after all, was heresy according to the Roman church. The Unity distilled doctrine to the essentials of God’s threefold work toward humanity, and the human response of faith, love and hope. Faith, love and hope, in turn, led to ways of life unheard of in the Brethren’s time and ours: rejection of worldly power, thorough-going pacifism, a covenant community based on the Sermon on the Mount, and education of all according to humane principles. The Brethren were Christian humanists—and practiced humane ethics—because Christ redeemed and elevated human life. Their schools respected reason and nurtured growth. Thus, Comenius stands as the ultimate expression of the Unity’s legacy—a humane Christianity, which respected persons, and so was bound to be at odds with the culture.

That the Bible can express truth without being factually or literally true is a stumbling block for some. This is where the Moravian concept of essentials is particularly helpful. I agree that “the work of God in creation is essential; a particular understanding of creation is not.” God communicates with us according to our ability to understand. The messengers God sends, the levels of complexity of the message, the timing of the message, all may differ, but the essential message does not change. When ancient humans wondered about the origins of the world, God did not send Albert Einstein to discuss theories of relativity. God spoke about relationships, the harmony of life with a loving God in a perfect creation. And that truth does not change and cannot change no matter how long a “day” was in creation, or how many subatomic particles may be discovered. It is a central part of faith to accept that some things are unknowable, perhaps because God wants faith to be an essential part of Christian religion.

Brother Atwood eloquently argues that this heritage remains important for the Moravian Church today. A church inspired by Hus does not readily use the accusation “heretic” against anyone. Atwood also notes that the refusal of the Brethren to claim exclusive possession of the truth, while valuing their own insight into God’s truth, made them very ecumenical in spirit, a trait that continues in the contemporary Moravian Church (e.g., inauguration of full communion with the Episcopal Church). The Moravian Church, however, has not preserved the pacifism of the early Brethren (or of the 18th-century Salem Moravians, whose July 4 celebration in 1783 rejoiced in the return of peace, not in nationalistic triumphalism).

Karen Bunning, a semi-retired probate and real estate lawyer, is a member of Second Presbyterian Church, Newark, OH.

Donald E. Frey Craig Atwood characterizes the original Unitas Fratrum as a Christian countercultural movement “that rejected the religious 21

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Perhaps we dismiss the early Unity’s pacifism as being only a reaction to their own times. But is it possible that we have missed an inevitable expression of the Brethren’s core theology? (I think so.)

a result of habitually thinking this way, our culture becomes uncaring and harsh toward its most vulnerable members. For example, some in authority argue with unwarranted certainty that unemployment insurance provides the incentive for the unemployed not to look hard enough for jobs; the implied policy is to cut benefits for the jobless. (The inhumane suggestion is that people need to be hurt—or punished—before they will do the right thing.) The doctrine of people being motivated primarily by material incentives has been elevated to the status of a universal truth-claim although it is really a very partial perspective with limited application. It not only promotes inhumane policy, but, worse, demeans humanity—made in the image of God, and redeemed by Christ. Brother Atwood notes that if church doctrines do not serve human welfare, “then the church can and should change them.” Equally important, the church (or Christians shaped by the gospel) should challenge inhumane secular dogmas that threaten to shape our society and infect our own souls.

The Brethren sought also to transform the wider culture. In Atwood’s view, that was a fundamental part of their legacy, too. I am particularly struck by the relevance to secular society of the Brethren’s unwillingness to carve their doctrines into stone, and their determination to keep their essentials simple and few. As Atwood puts it, they did not mistake “relative truths” for “eternal truths known only to God.” From their own experience, they knew that dogmas taken as absolutes served to oppress. And, I will add, this is as true of secular dogmas as of religious ones. If Christianity taught the wider society that God alone knows eternal truth—and all human knowledge is relative—we would go a long way toward nudging society in a more humane direction. After much of a lifetime spent observing economic thought and rhetoric, I find our society attributes far too much weight to economic dogmas (making absolute what is really relative). I find, too, that the results are too often very inhumane. For example, Anglo-American economics historically has interpreted people’s behavior in terms of materialistic motives. One immediate negative result is that materialistic behavior becomes an accepted norm. (We send our children to fine colleges to take economics courses that inculcate this perspective.) Even worse, as

In fundamental ways, modern secular doctrines are as threatening to the Christian life as was the culture of fifteenth-century Bohemia. Shaped by the heritage of a Comenius, Moravians and other Christians might well map the labyrinth of our secular society’s beliefsystem—showing where it may lead—and chart paths that lead out of the maze toward a redeemed humanity. None of this would be without opposition, for many interests gain from the dogmas that both create and protect the status quo. But Peter Chelčický’s insight 22

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was that “one of the marks of the true church is [being subject to] persecution.” In reminding us of that insight, Craig Atwood has performed a great service to the Moravian Church and the wider church.

For example, Brother Atwood states that in the church of Tabor “the laity were expected to participate fully in worship. Another thing we can learn from the old Moravians is that reform and revitalization of the church depends on the full participation of the people in worship” (emphasis mine). Today we say we want all members to read scripture, attend worship, participate in the life of the church (i.e., lead disciplined lives), but what if they don’t? Although we have a Covenant for Christian Living, are we required to abide by it? Who is checking? Brother Atwood tells us of the Brethren’s desire to form voluntary, intentional Christian communities, in which members “submit[ted] to mutual edification and correction.” Is there an active process of “mutual edification and correction” in place now to help keep members on a forward spiritual path?

Donald E. Frey is a member of Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC, and professor of economics at Wake Forest University.

Lanie Graf As assistant archivist of the Moravian Church, Northern Province, I am privileged to have daily opportunities to read primary accounts of Moravians of the past. In doing so I am often struck by the wide differences in the realities, practice and theology of the Moravian Church past and present. Perhaps it is negative of me to focus on these differences while we seem more engaged in finding bridges to the past. However, I think a reason we as Moravians have such a hard time understanding and reconciling with our past is that in some ways, our past is almost unrecognizable compared to our present.

How willing are we to admit transgression, humble ourselves and submit to any authority, much less church authority? Is sinfulness a concept that even enters our heads these days? In documents written by 18th-century church members, the recognition of one’s sinful nature and the need for redemption were popular themes; people spent a lot of time humbly thinking about their unworthiness and praying for the strength to improve their spiritual nature. In a culture where we are constantly engaged in building up everyone’s self-esteem, the idea of sinfulness plays little part. Moravians of the past, however, were constantly engaged in a process of moral improvement through pastoral care and examination before communion. This process kept them on their spiritual “tippy toes,” so to

Reading Craig Atwood’s Moses Lecture reminded me again of these differences, this time with respect to the Ancient Unity. One concept that got me thinking was that of discipline. Brother Atwood described the Bohemian Brethren as “highly disciplined and yet remarkably humanistic.” To be sure, I would characterize today’s Moravian Church as remarkably humanistic, but highly disciplined? Probably not. 23

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Gary L. Harke

speak, and this rigor led to highly motivated and effective Christian witness.

I found Brother Atwood’s “lessons we can learn” approach to early Moravian history and theology an engaging response to the “So?” one might pose after reading either of the recent volumes on the Ancient Unity.1 I find history and historical theology more interesting when I am challenged to find their relevance for my own context. Given my current call as executive director of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, I was interested to read that “the Brethren were pioneers in ecumenical work” and that those efforts “might be the greatest and most helpful paradox in the history of the Brethren’s theology.” I wish Brother Atwood had said more.

The Brethren, according to Brother Atwood, “were always uncomfortable with Luther’s idea of justification by faith alone. They felt such a doctrine could too easily become a license for undisciplined living.” Have we misinterpreted “in non-essentials, liberty” as permissiveness and an “anything goes” atmosphere? Are we living out our Christian witness if we recite the creation liturgy in worship only to fill trash cans full of Styrofoam plates and plastic forks after worship in the fellowship hall? Are we living out our commitment to faithfully attend Sunday worship as we skip church for children’s soccer games? Has the influence of society become too strong for us to resist?

I wish he had been more explicit in defining “ecumenical.” What does Brother Atwood mean when he calls the Brethren ecumenical pioneers? The word he uses most frequently to describe this ecumenical work is cooperation: “Yet they worked for cooperation among churches with different confessions of faith…,” or “It is possible to work cooperatively with other churches…,” or “By identifying what was essential, the Brethren provided a framework for ecumenical cooperation.” What does he mean by cooperation? Absent a definition, it is difficult to assess the claim of “greatest and most helpful.”

Responding in The Hinge (17:1) to Paul Peucker’s Moses Lecture regarding Moravian history and identity, Rev. Christie MelbyGibbons pointed out that “our identity is determined by our activity, not our verbiage.... Our self-proclaimed identity often does not match the identity that others witness when observing how we live.” This was certainly not the case of the Bohemian Brethren, who were killed for living out their beliefs. You can bet the actions and lifestyles of the Bohemian Brethren set them apart from others.

In several instances, I suspect that calling the outcome “cooperation”—at least in the sense of “joint effort to achieve agreedon goals”2—risks short-changing both the Brethren’s accomplishment and the lesson for contemporary Moravians. If Atwood’s account of the “joint pronouncement” by Lutherans, the

Lanie Graf is assistant archivist of the Moravian Archives, Northern Province, in Bethlehem, PA. She is a member of Schoeneck Moravian Church in Nazareth, PA.


Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

Reformed, and the Brethren in Poland in 1555 is accurate,3 what was happening was more than cooperation and indeed something similar to what we now understand as full communion.4 Then there is the Consensus of Sendomir (1570) wherein “each church was allowed to keep its distinctive confession but agreed to recognize the validity of other confessions.”5 Again, it seems to go well beyond cooperation and into something similar to full communion.

the other). Have we the courage, today, to risk being transformed through closer encounters with others? If the answer is not a full-throated “yes,” we risk committing idolatry, making our “distinctive understanding of the faith,” our separate identity, our customs and practices, into our domestic god, worshipped in place of the One who makes all things new. Finally, we must recognize that, if our Brethren forebears were ecumenical pioneers, they were so by the gift and grace of God; if we courageously follow their example, we do so by the gift and grace of God. If we risk idolatry by prizing our identity too highly, we risk it also by believing that we act on our own, that we are the creators of deeper relationship and strengthened fellowship. As Bishop Steven Miller of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee proclaimed in the “Celebration of Full Communion” at Central Moravian Church (February 10, 2011), “What we celebrate tonight is God’s action at work in us.… The impetus to begin the conversation 17 years ago that resulted in first interim Eucharistic sharing and now a full communion agreement is the activity of the unifying spirit of God at work in Christ in his incarnation and his Body the Church today.”

If I understand these accounts correctly, these are truly ecumenical milestones. In an age characterized by hyper-confessionalism, an age in which people were persecuted and executed for not subscribing to the politically favored confession, this mutual recognition of divergent confessional statements sets a high bar for subsequent ecumenical engagement. Perhaps the question for today’s Moravians ought to be, “Are we living up to the ecumenical example set by our courageous forebears?” In current ecumenical strategy, full communion (or reconciled diversity) is understood as a stage on the way to greater visible unity. It affirms that particular churches have particular gifts—what Brother Atwood might mean by “one’s own distinctive understanding of the faith”—and that if sharing is inhibited, other churches are deprived of these gifts. Of course sharing gifts carries risks of change, transformation; receiving the gifts of the other might make one different. Even one’s identity might change: One might come to a different understanding of the faith (or, as I suspect many Moravians fear, one might actually come to appreciate the “customs and practices” of

Endnotes 1. C. Daniel Crews, Faith, Love, Hope: A History of the Unitas Fratrum (Winston-Salem, NC: Moravian Archives, 2008); Craig D. Atwood, The Theology of the Czech Brethren from Hus to Comenius (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009).


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fortunate as Jonah, who was spat up and given a second chance. These concerns provided a wonderful context to engage in a conversation regarding the ecumenical perspective of the Unity of the Brethren as raised in Brother Atwood’s seminal lecture.

2. Patrick G. Henry, “From Breakthrough to Breakthrough,” The Ecumenical Review 42 (January 1991), 23, as cited in Michael Kinnamon, The Vision of the Ecumenical Movement and How It Has Been Impoverished by Its Friends (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 30. 3. Atwood, 317ff. The account correlates with that offered by John Thomas McNeill in A History of the Ecumenical Movement 1517–1948 (World Council of Churches, 1953), 60ff.

The overwhelming essentials of faith, hope and love have always informed how the Moravian Church interacts with other denominations. It is therefore easy to understand why the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living, in the section called “The Ground of Our Witness,” states that “with the universal Christian Church, we share our faith in the Triune God, who revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Savior of all people.”

4. See The Book of Order of the Moravian Church Northern Province (2011), §402. 5. Atwood, 318. See McNeill, 62ff.

Rev. Gary L. Harke is executive director of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches.

The covenant also asserts: “We will have fellowship, in all sincerity, with children of God in other Christian churches, and will carefully avoid all disputes respecting opinions and ceremonies peculiar to one or another church.” It continues: “We realize that it is the Lord's will that the Church of Jesus Christ should give evidence of and seek unity in Him with zeal and love. We see how such unity has been promised us and laid upon us as a charge. We recognize that through the grace of Christ the different denominations have received many gifts and that the Church of Christ may be enriched by these many and varied contributions. It is our desire that we may learn from one another and rejoice together in the riches of the love of Christ and the manifold wisdom of God. We welcome every step that brings us nearer the goal of unity in Him.”

Michael Johnson During the period that the Faith and Order Commission was exploring the documents relating to the Moravian-Episcopal Dialogue, I received a number letters from persons who were not particularly pleased that we were even accommodating the thought of full communion. A recent Episcopal Synod decision and its possible linkage to a then upcoming memorial to the Moravian Provincial Synod seemed to have been a major concern, with an underlying perception of “Where they [the Episcopalians] lead, we will follow.” However, there was also a very legitimate concern that if the Moravians swim in the turbulent and uncertain waters of ecumenism with these substantially larger partners we might be swallowed and lose our unique identity. One person suggested that we might not even be as

In essence, full communion merely provided an opportunity to point us back to where 26

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

we are coming from. No new theological or ecclesiological construct was necessary. Neither was it necessary to assimilate any emerging concept of unity. Engaging in dialogue with another Christian denomination is Moravians being Moravians. That is just what we do.

a high level of interdependence to perform efficiently. While interdependence is vital, it does not detract from the essential character and function of each member. The ear will always be the ear, and the eye will always be the eye, but they are most effective when they work in conjunction with other members. It may well be that in our willingness to enter partnerships, we find our greatest strength.

Brother Atwood points out the paradoxical nature of our church as manifested in the pioneering ecumenical work among the Lutherans and Reformed churches together in Poland and Bohemia. His point provides a great historical foundation for repudiating or discouraging the notion that ecumenical engagement necessarily means the dissolution of our church’s distinct ecclesiological and denominational characteristics. As Brother Atwood reminds us, “the Brethren refused to give up their distinctive organization and voice in the world, yet they worked for cooperation among churches with different confessions of faith.” Equally important is his assertion that the Brethren thus provide “a lesson for the modern Moravian Church: It is possible to work cooperatively with other churches without losing one’s own distinctive understanding of faith.”

Our church has taken very bold partnership steps over the past eight years, demonstrating a practical understanding of faith, love and hope. Neither the successes of the past nor our articulated and documented historical ecumenical positions will guarantee success, but in the spirit of love, our faith provides the basis for moving forward with the hope that in Jesus Christ all will be well. Rev. Michael Johnson is pastor of John Hus Moravian Church, Brooklyn, NY.

Barry Miller Brother Atwood is a gifted lecturer, writer, and teacher. He has a talent for bringing the lessons of history to new life. In his lecture, he notes much in which Moravians could take justifiable pride, if they were so inclined. There is an attractiveness in these early Moravians that appeals to some of us moderns: their focus on the essence rather than the inessentials of their faith, their participation in social and political reform, their insistence on full lay participation in worship, their ecumenism, their support for education and for the rights of women. As I read

By virtue of our theological position, historical precedence and unquestionable continued Moravian distinctiveness, we have solid evidence that we can deeply engage with other denominations without losing our essential and unique heritage. In some ways I am reminded of Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 when he utilized the body as the metaphor for spiritual unity. Each member has its distinct functions and roles but is part of an organic and functional system that requires 27

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church Vol. 17:3 2011

the lecture, I first found myself wondering why, if Moravian heritage has this many admirable characteristics, there are no more Moravians than there are. Going further, why is the tradition of the Brethren not more widely known and appreciated?

the Hussites, Taborites, and Brethren. Indeed, he stops just short of suggesting that heresy might be the source of some renewal in the contemporary church. As he explained the pacifism of the early Brethren, I was taken with the statement that for Peter Chelčický, “pacifism ... was the true visible sign that one is a disciple of Christ.” To be persecuted, Chelčický argues, is a mark of the true church. If Christians are not facing opposition from those in power, then they have obviously become too much at home in the world and too complacent in the face of injustice. As the years went by perhaps it was inevitable that either the Brethren’s radicalism or their movement itself would fade, because such a path is difficult to sustain over the course of time, both for individuals and for a church.

And then I came upon what I think might be an answer. “More Moravians” wasn’t the goal. What I didn’t hear in Brother Atwood’s examination of the lessons that early Moravians could teach us was any mention of the goal of saving souls for Christ. It is not that bringing souls to Christ was unimportant. Rather, the role of mission seems to be something that was assumed. If one were an early Moravian, facing persecution and peril at every turn, one had presumably already reached a state of personal salvation. It was not the conversion, but the living of one’s life as a faithful Christian after the conversion that seems to have drawn the Brethren’s attention most closely. Moravian mission was not coercive, and it was undertaken not to enlarge the church’s base, but to give life to faith.

While the early Moravians never insisted that theirs was the one true church, or perhaps even a church at all, they also had a belief system that was not easy to follow, despite Atwood’s statement that they believed God made faith and morals simple and easy to understand. Their focus on faith, love, and hope is deceptively simple—not so easily lived out from day to day. If you read the Gospels first in order to interpret the Bible as a whole, you are called to take them seriously. If you reduce the Sermon on the Mount to six commandments, you must still begin with nonviolence and end with loving your enemies. If you choose to reject the institutional violence of the state, for example, and refuse to hold public office, serve on juries, or even be a witness in trials because of your faith, you are not likely to be understood in a state that holds these responsibilities as essential.

I am a recent convert from the Methodist to the Moravian Church. When I decided it was time for me to become a Moravian, there was no pressure to do so. As my pastor explained, “We knew that when you were ready, you would join us,” and I did. In the best Moravian tradition, the process was God-driven, not man-made. This is a prescription for a deep and abiding faith, but not a strategy for creating a church with lots of numbers or a high profile. Brother Atwood delights in noting the heretical nature of the thoughts and actions of 28

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

If the path of the Unity was not easy, however, it was successful, even if after two centuries their community of faith was destroyed. They left us a legacy that can inspire us and give meaning and depth to our own spiritual journeys. Good work, Brother Atwood, and thank you for reminding us of that legacy.

underpinnings on which we draw to explain and enact our lovefeasts today? And could that be a way to continue the reform of our Moravian Church that both claims our beginnings and helps us to live into the 21st century? So often I explain our lovefeast as an act of worship that remembers the events of August 13, 1727, in or around Zinzendorf's manor house near Herrnhut, and the connections the Renewed Moravian Brothers and Sisters drew to the gathered community in Acts 2 where they ate and shared together (Acts 2:42–47). Yes, I believe all of this to be true. But what if there is a way to thicken the story—a way to enrich our understanding, explanation, and practice of the lovefeast tradition in our contemporary Moravian Church?

Barry Miller is director of communications and external relations for the university libraries at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is a member of Konnoak Hills Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.

Suzanne P. Miller I appreciate Brother Atwood’s scholarship and his clear presentation on a newer area of exploration in Moravian history and theology. I find it fascinating to learn about and connect with our Ancient Unity's history, traditions and theology as we work together to understand what it means to be Moravian in the 21st Century.

Being outside on a hill with thousands of other believers, sharing food and fellowshipping together, sounds like a lovefeast in the most magnificent sense of the word. The food that is shared is made up of whatever the people had to give, just as the disciples experienced in Matthew 14. There are no worries about which lovefeast bun (or muffin/cookie/doughnut) to serve or what it tastes like, how the coffee (or tea/cider/ lemonade) should be prepared, or if the dieners are dressed appropriately. Worshiping the Triune God is the focus of the event, whether through conversation in community, sharing and listening to beautiful music, or learning about what God is doing in our midst and inviting us to join.

Brother Atwood’s description of the gathering on Tabor Hill on July 22, 1419, in southern Bohemia caught my attention. Particularly I was interested in the description of communion held in the open air, the connection to the feeding of the 5000 as food was shared, and the act of eating together as “a foretaste of the millennial kingdom” from Isaiah 11 and 55. Brother Atwood suggests that we “remember this communal gathering” when we celebrate lovefeast today. This suggestion leads me to wonder: How would our lovefeasts be different if we expanded the historical and theological

Adding Isaiah 55's prophetic view of the heavenly kingdom come to earth to Acts 2's description, we can begin to see the lovefeast as a 29

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church Vol. 17:3 2011

Neil Routh

simple, yet profound, enacting of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven with whoever shows up. To take it a step further, maybe we are being called to take our lovefeasts out into the open air of the streets and neighborhoods around us to invite and include those who are not within the walls of our church buildings. How would our lovefeasts be different if the gathered community included rich and poor, laity and clergy, peasant and noble alike, and we included our neighbors in these gatherings, demonstrating an “active love for real people in the real world”?

Ever since my seminary classes, I have been a fan of writings about the Ancient Unity. But most of the material twenty years ago was very limited. Craig Atwood has given the church a great gift in his publication of The Theology of the Czech Brethren from Hus to Comenius. I consider it one of the most significant Englishlanguage resources on the Czech story to date! The timeliness of this release is remarkable, when so many people in the church and beyond are searching for new tools to address the present age.

One of my greatest hopes for our contemporary Moravian Church is that we will continue to claim our heritage of innovation in our worship of the Triune God. As Brother Atwood says, “Reform and revitalization of the church depends on the full participation of the people in worship, which means being innovative in our liturgies and hymns”—and in our traditions and language as well. We must keep asking ourselves how to present our beliefs in the faith, love and hope of Christ, in ways that our neighbors can hear and understand, just as “Jesus spoke the language of fishermen and laborers.” I also believe we must keep asking ourselves how to present our traditions and customs in ways that claim our theology and honor our history while speaking the language of our neighbors and welcoming them into the conversation. Maybe an informal potluck lovefeast picnic at a park with our neighbors in our church community is a great place to start. We just might get a glimpse of the Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

One promising tool, a concept that Brother Atwood mentions in both the book and this lecture, is the Law of Christ—a concept well known to those who took steps to form the Unity by 1457. The Law of Christ was a shorthand way of referring to the heart of the message in the Sermon on the Mount. The earliest Brethren determined that Matthew 5–7 contained the very heart of the message of Jesus. The Law of Christ, therefore, reflects the heart of the heart of what was important to the earliest Brethren. We should remember that many revolutionaries found great inspiration and direction from the Sermon on the Mount, especially in the 20th century. It was no small part of Gandhi’s campaign to liberate India from British Rule in the 1930s and 1940s. It was the chief focus of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s campaign to lead the Confessing Church of Germany against the perils of the Third Reich in the same period. Bonhoeffer’s commentary The Cost of Discipleship (1939) still remains in print and

Rev. Suzanne P. Miller is associate pastor of Raleigh Moravian Church in Raleigh, NC. 30

Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

has been cited as key for present-day readers to understand how members of the early Unity interpreted the Sermon on the Mount. And finally, the Sermon played a big role in the focus of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his campaign to secure civil rights for all in the 1950s and 1960s.

denominations (e.g., Carol Howard Merritt in Reframing Hope). As Brother Atwood notes, the Law of Christ for the first 200 years of the Unity’s tradition focused on suppressing violence and anger, elevating the sacred status of marriage, bridling the desire to want what others have, and expressing love toward one’s enemies in all circumstances.

An awareness of what the early Brethren meant by the Law of Christ is critical to interpreting the intent of all of the great leaders of the Unity, from Gregory to Luke of Prague to Comenius. Brother Atwood shows us that this term was not distinctive to the Unity and was widely known in the culture of 15th century Bohemia.

The lecture inspires me to ask what a present-day body of Moravians would consider the nucleus or essential content of Jesus’ message in Matthew 5–7. What should a present-day expression of the Law of Christ include? And would anyone be willing to subscribe to it?

Peter Chelčický’s use of this expression, however, seems uniquely important. It may have been one of the most critical sources of inspiration for Gregory and company to begin forming what would be recognized as one of the first Protestant denominations. Chelčický’s usage was also key to the development of the whole Anabaptist movement and can still be seen in current Amish and Mennonite voices.

We might not be very willing to take the words of Matthew so literally, but the essence of meaning in the Sermon on the Mount still holds the same potential for social transformation that it always has. An effort to explore this potential seems like something that could help bring about much needed energy for the church and especially for the young, who like Gregory are anxious to pioneer a new renaissance.

With so much significance riding on this expression, what role might it have today in our understanding of congregational life, missional outreach, and public engagement of the powers that be? This is something that I hope Brother Atwood and others will work on over the coming years. The themes encapsulated in the Law of Christ are among the most prevalent in discussions of how to kindle renewal throughout the North American Christian culture—from the Emergent Church voices to those who are seeking to reclaim life in traditional mainline

Rev. Neil Routh (DMin) has been a Moravian pastor in the Southern Province for 20 years. He presently serves on the Provincial Elders’ Conference, is an adjunct instructor at Salem College in the Department of Religion and Philosophy, and is the pastor of King Moravian Church, King, NC.


The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church Vol. 17:3 2011

Past Publications of the Center for Moravian Studies for Sale

$5.00 per copy (includes shipping) To Order, contact Craig Atwood at 610.861.1596 or TMDK: Transatlantic Moravian Dialogue-Correspondence (journal discontinued in 2002) No. 1 No. 3 No. 5 No. 6 No. 8 No. 9 No. 10 No. 11 No. 12 No. 13 No. 15 No. 16 No. 18 No. 20 No. 22 No. 23 No. 24 No. 25

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The Moravian Church as Church Church, World, Society, Politics Affirming the Essential; Preserving Variety Theology and Context Pastoral Care: Psychology and Theology Ecclesiology: A Vision for the Church Confessing Faith Ecumenical Dialogue The Moravian Church and other Churches in Europe Moravian Theological Education in North America Changing Perspectives on Mission Reflections on Previous Themes Laity and Offices Zinzendorf in the Year 2000 The Church and Its Unity The Gospel and Culture Faith, Church, Charisma Experience and Theology

ITD: International Theological Dialogue (merged with The Hinge in 2006) Chris Wessels. 69 Days: The story of a forgotten comrade of Steve Biko and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. ITD Special Edition, 2004. No. 1 2003 The Essential in Faith and Theology II No. 2 2004 Theology of the Word of God No. 3 2004 Justice and Global Setting No. 4 2005 Focus on the Future No. 5 2005 Evangelism: Sharing God, Christ and Life


Heretics, Pacifists, and Teachers: What We Can Learn from the Original Moravian Church

Sponsored by: The Board of Cooperative Ministries and the Moravian Church, Southern Province

The Josephs and Their Amazing Dreams Friday Dinner on July 8 through Sunday Lunch on July 10, 2011 Higgins Lodge | Salem Wing | Laurel Ridge Moravian Camp, Conference and Retreat Center $135 per person/double occupancy (includes all meals and materials) The scripture passages dealing with the Josephs, both Old Testament son of Rachel and Jacob and the New Testament husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus, contain dreams filled with life and death consequences. Bishop Spangenberg, the most influential leader of the Moravian Church after the death of Count Zinzendorf, was nicknamed Brother Joseph and can be seen as both a dreamer and as a primary interpreter of Zinzendorf ’s dreams. This weekend will offer a unique opportunity to study these Biblical and historical visions for what God may be calling us to be and do.

Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber is the Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Director of Supervised Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His graduate studies include work at Moravian Seminary, Duke Divinity School, the University of Bonn, and a PhD from the University of Virginia. He has served as a chaplain, educator and pastor in the Southern Province, most recently as pastor of the Fairview Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC. To Register: Call Laurel Ridge at 888-831-5922 ( or visit the Board of Cooperative Ministries web site:


The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church Vol. 17:3 2011


Theological Seminary

2011-2012 Lectures

October 25, 2011 Irene Marold Lectures in Biblical Studies with Dr. Howard Schwartz October 13, 2011Â Moses Lectures, Dr. Katherine Pfaull, Bucknell University November 4, 2011 Couillard Memorial Lectures with Dr. Amos Yong February 24, 2012 Psychology & Spirituality Lectures with Dr. Robert Neimeyer March 9, 2012 Weber Memorial Lectures with Rev. Gil Rendle April 19, 2012 Zeisberger Memorial Lectures in Evangelism with Rev. Carol Howard Merritt

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Editorial Board Craig Atwood, Jane Burcaw, Christy Clore, Otto Dreydoppel, Sarah Groves, Margaret Leinbach, Russell May, Jeff Mortimore, Hans-Beat Motel, Joe Nicholas, Graham Rights, Volker Schultz, Neil Thomlinson Co-Editors: Ginny Hege Tobiassen, Janel Rice, Christian Rice

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The Hinge Volume 17, Issue 3: The 2010 Moses Lectures  
The Hinge Volume 17, Issue 3: The 2010 Moses Lectures  

International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church