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The HINGE International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

The 2012 Moses Lectures How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity Notes from the Editors..........................................1

Peter Vogt...............................................................3 Responses Ian Edwards ..............................................................21 John D. Rights ..........................................................22 Riddick Weber .........................................................24 Bob Bates ..................................................................26 Ruth Burcaw .............................................................27 Art Taylor .................................................................29

The Author Responds..........................................32

Vol. 19, No. 3: Winter 2013-14

The HINGE Volume 19, Number 3: Winter 2013-14 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 www. 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 hinge illustration was provided by Todd Tyson of Kernersville, NC. Cover design was provided by Colleen Marsh of Bethlehem, PA.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Notes from the Editors Holy Week and Easter are approaching. We are busy preparing for reading services, lovefeasts, and sunrise services. Not only is the coming season a time of deep spiritual satisfaction in our congregations; it is also a chance to share our Moravian traditions with hundreds of non-Moravian worshippers. Lovefeasts in particular present a unique opportunity to tell at least a tiny part of our Moravian story. In a way appropriate to the Passover season, we could see the lovefeast as a sort of Moravian seder: a ritual in which we, like the Jews, retell our story while sharing a meal. The comparison is perhaps not too farfetched. Probably much more often than other mainstream Protestants, Moravians are asked to identify or explain their denomination. “What’s a Moravian?” is certainly a more common question than “What’s a Presbyterian?” And, perhaps uniquely among Protestant denominations, Moravians answer by telling a story. The narrating of a religious identity is built into Judiasm and preserved through rituals like the Passover seder (Exodus 13:8: “You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt’”). As readily as a Jew narrates the story of rescue from Egypt, a Moravian relates a history that begins with Jan Hus and runs through Herrnhut to the modern church. In a pastor’s remarks before taking lovefeast, or maybe just in a small paragraph on the back of the ode, a Moravian congregation has an opportunity to retell one small part of its story (Herrnhut volume) in explaining the origin of lovefeast. It is the perfect chapter for introducing our story to others, because it stresses that our roots are not in denominationalism, but in intentional Christian community. Perhaps the role of story in the Moravian identity has been more implicit than explicit. Certainly it has never been so clearly expressed as it is in Peter Vogt’s 2012 Moses Lecture, the lead article for this issue. BrotherVogt writes: The name “Moravian” does not stand for a location. It stands for a story—a story that lives by remembering and retelling. I believe that we, as Moravians, are bound together by a common story, that our fellowship with one another displays a narrative character. The telling and retelling of this story reminds us that we stand not alone, that we have a place to which we belong, that we are a part of a larger community of brothers and sisters in the Lord. The telling of our story thus takes the place that in other denominations is held by particular creeds or some form of ecclesiastical hierarchy. Brother Vogt explains how the narrative character of our Moravian life helps us live with a paradox: the fact that our name, depending on how you read it, “involves both truth and contradiction.” A lot depends on the particular meaning of “Moravian”;


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

but then, the act of telling one’s story is the act of making meaning. Perhaps the most important thing is what meaning we make of being “Moravian” today. How are we taking our boldness, our creativity, our relational theology into the world? As for contradictions, all stories are complicated. The Jews live with contradictions in their narrative as well. A signal passage in the Passover haggadah is the narrative of Deuteronomy 26, beginning with, “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous” (NIV). Most commentators read the “wandering Aramean” as Jacob, but change the vowels and the Hebrew might read, “An Aramean sought to destroy my father.” Classic rabbinical thought identifies this destructive Aramean as Laban, the father of Rachel and Leah, and explains how Laban could be seen as worse than Pharaoh, seeking to entirely destroy Jacob’s line. As a Jewish commentator writes, “These two readings illuminate a critical question that informs our collective Jewish self-understanding to this very day. Centuries later, the question remains: with which narrative will we identify?”1 In our truthful and contradictory, paradoxical story, with which narrative shall we Moravians identify? The choice is ours, and we have a rich selection before us. Shall we be Hussites, prophetic and challenging (and potentially dangerous) to the established church? Shall we be the heirs of Gregor and the Ancient Unity, stressing ethical living by putting the Sermon on the Mount into practice? Shall we be the Hidden Seed, quietly sustaining our traditions in an age where they are threatened— this time not by armies, but by the changing position of church in American society? Shall we be the Philadelphians, the radical Pietists whose spirit of ecumenism so influenced Zinzendorf? Shall we be the people of Herrnhut, with a lived theology that rejoices in relationship and community? Perhaps the best answer is simply “Yes.” To drop any one of these narrative threads would weaken the fabric of our identity and reduce the store of gifts we share with the world in Christ’s name. Wherever we look in the Moravian story, we find an identity to celebrate and live into. Because it is a story of bold experiments, we have an identity of boldness. Because it is a story marked by creative ideas, we have an identity of creativity. Because it is a story of community, we have an identity of relationship. The challenge is not to settle on one part of the story and declare it true. The challenge is to live the whole story, and make it true.

1 Rabbi Brent Rosen, “My Father, the Wandering Aramean,” Yedid Nefish: Another Blog by Rabbi Brent Rosen,” Sept. 16, 2011.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity Peter Vogt The topic for this year’s Moses Lecture is the question of Moravian identity. We call ourselves Moravians. But what does that mean? What story do we tell, when we try to explain who we are? How is our identity as a modern international church rooted in the history of the ancient Moravian tradition? And do we really have the right—on the basis of the available historical evidence—to claim this history as our own? These are questions of great importance both in the academic world of Moravian studies and in the life of our church. Accordingly, this lecture is addressed to scholars and members of the Moravian church alike. It is hoped that those taking a scholarly interest in the character of the Moravian Church will gain a better grasp of the complex historical developments, and that those who are Moravians will take away some guidance and encouragement in the telling and re-telling of our story, which is so important for the life and future of our church. The argument that I wish to set forth is that Moravian identity is something of a paradox. The name “Moravian,” which we as Moravians claim for ourselves, involves both truth and contradiction. It does and does not say who we are. It illuminates and at the same time conceals the history that stands behind our identity. One way to press the issue concerning the paradox of Moravian identity is to ask the question in the title of this lecture: How Moravian are the Moravians? Some might say that since we are the Moravian Church we are by definition 100 percent Moravian; it’s simply who we are. Others might argue that if one looks carefully at the historical facts it turns out that the modern Moravian Church, in America and elsewhere, is not very Moravian after all. The paradox of Moravian identity, as I see it, is that both opinions are in some way correct. Part of the problem is that the word “Moravian” has several meanings. It is an adjective—like “byzantine” or “republican”—that, depending on context, can mean very different things. We will turn to the question of multiple meanings below. But I believe that the paradox of Moravian identity is more than a semantic issue. It is—in Peter Vogt is the Director of my opinion—an issue that reflects the particular Theological Education for historical development of our church and that the Moravian Church, European Continental Province, also has significant theological and pastoral and, together with his wife Jill, implications. co-pastor of the Moravian Congregation of Herrnhut in the Eastern part of Germany.


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

Accordingly, this lecture has four parts. I want to consider the concept of Moravian identity in terms of semantics, in terms of history, and in terms of theology; and I will close with a pastoral conclusion.


Semantics is the study of meaning. In this first part, I would like to offer some general observations about the multiple meanings of the term “Moravian” and the problems that arise from using it as a name for our denomination. As an adjective, the word “Moravian” has at least four distinct connotations. In the basic sense it refers to the territory of Moravia, located in the eastern part of the modern Czech Republic, and its history as a principality in close connection with the Kingdom of Bohemia. Second, the word “Moravian” refers to the population of the Moravia region together with their language, culture, and ethnicity. This population was largely of slavic origins, speaking a Czech dialect; yet it also included (until the end of WW II) a sizeable portion of German-speaking people. Third, the term “Moravians” is sometimes used to refer to members of the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren, a church of the Hussite Reformation, also known as Jednota Bratrská or Unitas Fratrum. Here, it should be noted that not all ethnic Moravians were members of this church; in fact, the Unity comprised only a very small percentage of the population, as most people belonged either to the Catholic Church or to other Protestant denominations. In turn, the “Moravians” in Moravia represented just one branch of the Unitas Fratrum, with two other branches existing in Bohemia and in Poland. Nonetheless, in modern usage the term “Moravian” often refers to all three branches, that is: the tradition of the Bohemian Brethren in a more general sense. The fourth sense of the term “Moravian” derives from the involvement of religious exiles from Moravia in the founding of Herrnhut and their role in the “renewal” of the Moravian tradition under the leadership of Count Zinzendorf. Accordingly, the term “Moravian” refers to the movement and people associated with Herrnhut and Zinzendorf, and to the life, organization, history and tradition of the “renewed” Moravian Church from the 18th century to the present. Although these different layers of meaning are obviously related, they refer to distinct realities. We must be aware of these differences if we want to avoid misunderstandings and confusion. For example, I was some time ago visited by a young lady from the Caribbean, a candidate for ordination in the Moravian Church in Jamaica. We did some sight seeing, including a trip to Prague where we visited the historic places of John Hus and the Moravians. As we walked the streets, she was amazed to see in the window of a wine shop bottles that were marked as “Moravian wine.” As it turned out, these bottles did not come from a winery operated by the Moravian Church (wouldn’t that be nice?), but from the vineyards of the Moravian region. This was an interesting insight for her. Now, imagine the amazement of the storekeeper if my black Jamaican friend had gone inside and told him that she was Moravian, too.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


It is interesting to note that the reference to “Moravia” for naming the Moravian Church is used not only in English-speaking regions, but also in the Spanish-speaking provinces of Honduras and Nicaragua (“Iglesia Morava”) and among the Frenchspeaking Moravians in Switzerland (“Église Morave”). In other parts of the world, however, an entirely different name is used. In Germany the Moravian Church is called “Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine” or “Brüder-Unität”; in Dutch the Moravians are known as “Broedergemeente” or “Herrnhutters”; likewise in Switzerland the name “Herrnhuter” is sometimes used. In Denmark the Moravian Church is known as “Brødremenigheden,” in Afrikaans as “Broederkerk,” in Czech as “Jednota Bratrská.” These names reflect a different line of tradition, according to which the Moravian Church was known even in English as the “Brethren’s Church.” They also recall a different place of origin: Herrnhut. To complicate matters further, we find that some of these languages possess more than one option for translating the term “Moravian.” One usually depends on the historical context to know which translation is correct. For example: how should we translate the term “Moravian” into German? There are at least five different possibilities: (1) “Böhmische Brüder” if reference is made to the Ancient Unity; (2) “mährisch” if reference is made to the group of Moravian exiles; (3) “Herrnhuter” if reference is made to the Herrnhut congregation; (4) “Brüdergemeine” if reference is made to the present-day Moravian Church in Germany; and (5) “Unitas Fratrum” if reference is made to the international Moravian Unity. As we compare these ways of naming our church, it is not difficult to see that the English usage of the term “Moravian” suggests a much greater measure of continuity and coherence within the Moravian tradition than the German terminology. If, for example, we speak about Moravian Music, English speakers would naturally assume that this includes both the music of the Ancient Unity and the Renewed Moravian Church. In German, however, one would have to specify either the “Musik der Böhmischen Brüder” or the “Herrnhuter Musiktradition.” We see clearly that the different ways of naming make a difference in how we perceive the history and identity of our church, which raises the question of continuity and discontinuity between the Ancient Unity and the Renewed Moravian Church. We will come back to that in the second part below. One last detail is that the name “Moravian Church” was not the name originally used in the English-speaking world. Instead, it was the name introduced during the 19th century. Looking at 18th and early 19th century Moravian documents, one will find that the Moravians called themselves United Brethren, Brethren’s Church, or Unity of Brethren. The American hymnal of 1851, for instance, bears the title Liturgy and Hymns for the Use of the Protestant Church of the United Brethren. Sometimes, especially in publications directed at the wider public, a little phrase is added: “commonly called the Moravians.” It appears that in the English-speaking realm the name “Moravian” was applied to our church mostly by outsiders, whereas church members tried to place a different emphasis by calling themselves “Brethren.”


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

In sum, some difficulties with “Moravian” identity become clear just by looking at semantics. We are faced with a terminology that involves multiple layers of meanings and a host of references. While the word “Moravian” is now generally used for naming our church (at least in the English-speaking world), this use is not without problems. Specifically, I would like to note the following five problems, which I believe to be most significant: First, the name “Moravian” requires a fair amount of explanation, as many people are not familiar with that part of the geography of Eastern Europe. For many Americans, the name “Moravian” sounds foreign and esoteric and may easily be confused with “Mormon.” It is not necessarily well-suited to inviting newcomers into our congregations. For this reason, as I understand, some Moravian congregations in the U.S. have dropped the word “Moravian” from their public signs. Second, the name “Moravian” refers to a place of origin that is—strictly speaking—not our church’s place of origin. After all, the Ancient Unity was founded in Bohemia. Third, the name “Moravian” erroneously suggests that we are predominantly an ethnic church, and thus contradicts the multi-ethnic and international character of our Unity. Fourth, the name “Moravian Church” is not what the Moravians originally called themselves, or how they would have wished to be known. Finally, the name “Moravian” suggests a degree of continuity between the Ancient Unity of Bohemian Brethren and the modern Moravian Church that may or may not correspond to the facts of history. With this last point, we move from the discussion of semantics to the discussion of historical issues.


As we consider the concept of Moravian identity from a historical point of view, we must deal with one critical question: How is the modern Moravian Church linked to the history of the Ancient Unity? This question has been asked and answered by a number of historians, with very different results. David Schattschneider, former Dean of Moravian Theological Seminary, once proposed to think of the relationship between the Ancient Unity and the “renewed” Moravian Church in terms of “continuity and change.” Elements of continuity are found in the personal witness of Moravian exiles and the transmission of clerical orders; change is apparent in the approach to theology, the understanding of the bishop’s office, and the intentional ethnic diversity.1 In contrast to Schattschneider, the British historian W. R. Ward has described the character of the 18th century Moravian community as a mixture of competing and contradictory claims of identity, which existed side by side. Zinzendorf and the Moravian Brethren were presenting themselves variably as an ancient church and as an 1 David A. Schattschneider, “The Unitas Fratrum and the ‘Renewed’ Church: Continuity and Change,” Czechoslovak and Central European Journal 9 (1990): 27-34.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


interconfessional movement, while outsiders often saw their community as an entirely new denomination.2 Even more pointed is the view that Enrico Molnár, an American historian of Czech background, presented in his article “The Pious Fraud of Count Zinzendorf.” Molnár maintains that “constitutionally, the Renewed Moravian Church of Count Zinzendorf has nothing in common with the old Unitas Fratrum of Bohemia.”3 Any impression of continuity is the result of the fraudulent schemes of Zinzendorf, who tricked both the Moravian refugees and the larger public into believing that the Herrnhut community stood in continuity with the tradition of the Bohemian Brethren, when in fact it didn’t. Molnár concludes, “Insofar as the contemporary ‘renewed’ Moravian Church bases its origin on the assertions of Count Zinzendorf, its authority is founded on a deception and a falsehood.”4 While Molnar’s view has not found much support among other historians, his fierce allegation indicates what is at stake in the historical debate, namely the legitimacy and truthfulness of our Moravian identity. How “Moravian” are the Moravians really? Is our Moravian identity based on historical facts, or is the notion of continuity with the ancient Moravian tradition an illusion, caused by mistake or even willful deception? I believe the question of truthfulness is extremely important. If we want to call ourselves Moravians in good conscience and with pride, we must be able to trust our tradition; we must know that the Moravian story is a truthful story, that our Moravian identity is a truthful identity. And this means that we need to take a hard look at our ideas of how the modern Moravian Church is connected to the Ancient Unity. The common understanding is that the Moravian refugees who founded Herrnhut in the 1720s brought with them the tradition of the Bohemian Brethren, so that this tradition was somehow “renewed” and “resurrected” in the Herrnhut community and subsequently in the modern Moravian Church.5 This view presents us with what I would like to call the “Two-Stage Paradigm” of Moravian historiography. According to this paradigm, the first stage of Moravian history, stretching from the 15th to the 17th century, covers the era of the Hussite Reformation and the Bohemian Brethren; the second stage covers the history of the modern Moravian Church from the 18th century to the present; and both stages are linked by some elements of historical connection. The strength of this paradigm is the recognition that we are dealing with two time periods that are distinct yet somehow related. Its weakness is that it does not take into account the role of other factors in the shaping of the modern Moravian Church. Nonetheless, I believe the two-stage paradigm is essentially correct. In case you were afraid I was going to propose a paradigm shift of Moravian historiography, rest 2 W. R. Ward, “The Renewed Unity of the Brethren: Ancient Church, New Sect, or Transconfessional Movement,” in Faith and Faction (London: Epworth Press, 1993), 112-129. 3 Enrico Molnár, “The Pious Fraud of Count Zinzendorf,” Iliff Review 11 (1954): 29-38, here 36. 4 Ibid., 37. 5 For a thorough discussion of this question in German scholarship see Joseph Theodor Müller, Zinzendorf als Erneuerer der alten Brüderkirche (Leipzig: Jansa, 1900), and Erika Sterik, Mährische Exulanten in der erneuerten Brüderunität im 18. Jahrhundert (Herrnhut: Herrnhuter Verlag, 2012).


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

assured: I will keep within the established pattern. But I also believe that this pattern, when taken seriously, clearly reveals the paradox of Moravian identity, an identity marked simultaneously by continuity and discontinuity. Let me, then, present my view of how the tradition of the Ancient Unity played a role in the development of the denominational identity of the modern Moravian Church. My argument includes three points. The first point is that the church we know today as the Moravian Church is the product of many influences, of which the ancient Moravian tradition is just one among others and arguably not even the most important one. The critical years for this process are the years from the founding of Herrnhut in 1722 to the 1750s, when the Moravian community was recognized as a distinct ecclesiastical body in Great Britain, Prussia, and Saxony. It is important to note in this connection that the conditions of 18th century church life in Europe differed considerably from the modern American context marked by voluntary church membership, denominational pluralism, and the separation of church and state. When the first Moravian exiles came to the estate of Count Zinzendorf in 1722, it was quite clear that they would have to work out their future within the system of a territorial state church. Adherence to the Lutheran confession was binding for all, participation in the life of the Lutheran parish church of Berthelsdorf mandatory. Zinzendorf as Lord of the Manor held significant rights of oversight over the ecclesiastical affairs of his estate, and it was mainly due to his vision that the Herrnhut settlement could be transformed into something of a religious commune. As we look at how the Herrnhut congregation was shaped during the early years, we must note that the community was by no means homogeneous. Only a portion of the exiles from Moravia came with a strong awareness of the old Moravian tradition. Others had a Lutheran, a Reformed, or even a Catholic background. Some had been spiritually awakened by the Pietist movement. In addition, as time went on, the Herrnhut community was joined by an increasing number of spiritual seekers from various parts of Germany who brought their own ideas and traditions. Zinzendorf welcomed them all on his estate, hoping to win them for his plans to advance the Kingdom of Christ. The pastor of Berthelsdorf, in turn, supported the migrant community for the sake of Christian charity, yet expected the settlers to submit themselves to the discipline of the local Lutheran parish. We can easily imagine that these different interests and beliefs posed a considerable potential for conflict, yet they also carried the seed for the birth of something new. There were also a number of religious ideals that played a part in the shaping of the community. Prevalent was the Pietist emphasis on personal spiritual regeneration, understood in terms of conversion to Christ and strict observance of the biblical commandments. There was an agreement that only true believers, or people who were at least sincerely striving to find Christ, should be admitted to the community. The routine of daily devotional meetings, the practice of rigorous discipline, and the implementation of lay offices harmonized well with residual memories of church life

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


in the Ancient Unity. Decisive for the organization of the Herrnhut congregation, however, was the ideal of the apostolic church, as described in glowing colors by the Radical Pietist author Gottfried Arnold in his volume on the “First Love” of the early Christians. Historians Hanns-Joachim Wollstadt and Paul Peucker have shown that Arnold’s book served in many ways as the blueprint for the organization of the Herrnhut community.6 Another important influence for the shaping of Herrnhut was the model of August Herrmann Francke, who at Halle had built an ensemble of schools, orphanages, printing-shops, and pharmaceutical production, all dedicated to the religious renewal of church and society. Francke’s Institutes provided the example for efficient organization, global networking, and missionary outreach overseas. Both Halle and Herrnhut downplayed their affinities when their relations turned sour in the 1730s, but it should not be overlooked that Zinzendorf spent six formative years as a student at Halle and originally envisioned the Herrnhut community to be a part of the Halle network.7 One final influence has to be noted: the ideal of interconfessional fellowship, known as Philadelphianism.8 The philadelphian ideology first became prominent in Radical Pietist circles at the end of the 17th century and included the expectation that the invisible Body of Christ would reveal itself at the end of times as a gathering of true believers united by love. For Zinzendorf, the term “philadelphia” expressed the belief that devout Christians of diverse denominational backgrounds were called to accept each other as brothers and sisters in Christ despite their confessional differences. Zinzendorf was eager to create such a network of awakened souls for the purpose of mutual fellowship, edification, and witness to the world. The arrival of refugees and spiritual seekers with ties to diverse confessional traditions offered him the unique opportunity to put his philadelphian ideal into practice. I now come to the second point. We have just seen that the Moravian tradition was just one influence among many at work in the shaping of the early Herrnhut community. Now I would like to argue that over the course of a 30-year historical process this tradition was transformed into a marker of denominational identity. One factor for this development was the experience of rapid growth, which transformed the Herrnhut community into a religious renewal and missionary organization that was operating on an international scale. More important, however, was the necessity to work out a sound and sustainable ecclesiological self-understanding in the midst 6 See Hanns-Joachim Wollstadt, Geordnetes Dienen in der christlichen Gemeinde, dargestellt an den Lebensformen der Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1966), 42-47, and Paul M. Peucker, “The Ideal of Primitive Christianity as a Source of Moravian Liturgical Practice,” Journal of Moravian History, no. 6 (2009): 7-29. 7 Hans Schneider: “Die ‘zürnenden Mutterkinder’: Der Konflikt zwischen Halle und Herrnhut,” Pietismus und Neuzeit 29 (2004), 37-66. 8 See Peter Vogt, “Zinzendorf ’s ‘Philadelphian’ Ecumenism in Pennsylvania, 1742: An Example of CrossCultural Dynamics in Eighteenth Century Pietism,” The Covenant Quarterly 62:4 (2004): 13-27, and Hans Schneider, “’Philadelphische Brüder mit einem lutherischen Maul und mährischen Rock’: Zu Zinzendorfs Kirchenverständnis,” in Martin Brecht and Paul Peucker, eds., Neue Aspekte der Zinzendorf-Forschung (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 2006), 11–36.


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

of conflicting religious ideals and political constraints. Let us look at some important stages in this process. The first refugees from Moravia, who founded Herrnhut in 1722, had very little knowledge of the Moravian tradition. The situation changed in 1724, when a group of exiles arrived from Zauchtental, bringing with them a living memory of the ways of the Ancient Unity. Their desire to hold on to their Moravian identity soon caused serious conflicts with the local Lutheran pastor. Faced with the challenge to reconcile these tensions, Zinzendorf set out to find a way for the Herrnhut community to exist as a distinct entity within the Lutheran parish. He drew up two sets of regulations, known as “Manorial Injunctions” and “Brotherly Agreement,” which were designed to regulate both the temporal affairs and the spiritual life of the Herrnhut community.9 These were presented to the inhabitants of Herrnhut in May and July 1727, respectively. Two important events followed. First, at the end of July, while taking a trip through Silesia, Zinzendorf became acquainted with a copy of the History of the Unitas Fratrum, written by Comenius in 1664, and was struck by how the regulations of the Herrnhut congregation resembled the church order of the Bohemian Brethren. He prepared a German translation, which upon his return he presented to the settlers at Herrnhut, who joyfully received this discovery as a sign of God’s providence. It should be noted that Zinzendorf took considerable liberties in his translation to increase the similarities between Herrnhut and the Ancient Unity. This is the substance of the “pious fraud” of which Enrico Molnár has accused him. The text, however, had no legal relevance; it simply reinforced the sense of Moravian identity that was already present among many settlers and provided the Herrnhut congregation with a feeling of assurance that they, as a spiritual community, were on the right path. This set the stage for the second memorable event, the Holy Communion service on August 13th at the Lutheran parish church in Berthelsdorf, which spiritually united the community. As one participant observed: “We learned to love one another.”10 The day was a feast of reconciliation, both within the Herrnhut community and also among those who had been opponents in the struggle between Moravian and Lutheran loyalties. In the following years, Zinzendorf was concerned to find legal safeguards for the Moravian community whose toleration in Saxony on the part of the political and ecclesiastical authorities continued to be precarious. Zinzendorf pursued two strategies. First, he claimed that the Herrnhut congregation was nothing more than an auxiliary association for the purpose of mutual edification within the local Lutheran parish. As sanction for this arrangement he pointed to Luther’s famous “Preface to the German Mass”—which states that private forms of worship are possible among 9 These documents have been edited in Hans-Christoph Hahn and Hellmut Reichel, eds, Zinzendorf und die Herrnhuter Brüder: Quellen zur Geschichte der Brüder Unität von 1722-1760 (Hamburg: Wittig, 1977), 70-80; for an English translation see “Brotherly Union and Agreement at Herrnhut, 1727,” in Peter C. Erb, ed., Pietists: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 325-330. 10 Gerhard Reichel, The Story of the Thirteenth of August 1727, the Spiritual Birthday of the Renewed Moravian Church (Winston Salem, N.C.: The Moravian Archives, 1994), 34.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


those who desire to be earnest Christians11—as well as to Philipp Jacob Spener’s advocacy of conventicles within the larger church (“ecclesiola in ecclesiae”12). Second, Zinzendorf argued that the Moravians, although they had their own forms of church discipline, found themselves in full agreement with the Augsburg Confession and should therefore be seen as being related to the Lutheran tradition. Thus in 1733 Zinzendorf obtained an official statement from the theological faculty of the University of Tübingen, which affirmed that the beliefs of the Moravian Brethren at Herrnhut conformed to the Augsburg Confession.13 This effort to position the Moravian tradition within the context of the Lutheran tradition marks the early stage in the development of Moravian identity. With the beginning of Moravian missions and the expansion of the Moravian network beyond Herrnhut, a new situation arose in the early 1730s. The Herrnhut congregation now grew into an evangelical renewal movement, known as Brüdergemeine, with friends and supporters throughout Germany. First steps were taken to establish subsidiary societies in other areas. In this situation, Zinzendorf displayed a growing appreciation of the Moravian tradition, recognizing that its illustrious history might be able to provide the Brüdergemeine with status and legitimacy. A decisive step was, in 1735, the consecration of the Moravian carpenter David Nitschmann as a bishop of the Unitas Fratrum. The consecration was carried out by Daniel Ernst Jablonsky, Prussian court preacher at Berlin, who was a grandson of John Amos Comenius and also one of the two bishops of the surviving Polish branch of the Brethren.14 One reason for this step, by which the episcopal succession of the Ancient Unity was effectively passed on to the Brüdergemeine, was the need to provide valid ordination for Moravian missionaries overseas. The implications, however, reached far beyond that, setting the stage for the Brüdergemeine to become an independent church. During the 1740s the Brüdergemeine is best described as an international interdenominational renewal movement, active throughout Protestant Europe and its colonies. It now numbered several thousand members, among which the group of individuals with Moravian roots formed just a small minority. In order to preserve the distinct tradition of the Moravians and to uphold the interconfessional (or philadelphian) character of the Brüdergemeine, Zinzendorf devised a structure of membership known as “System of Tropes.” It was based on the belief that each confessional tradition represented a distinctive “path of training” (tropos paideia) with unique spiritual gifts and insights that could not be preserved anywhere else.15 Zinzendorf desired that all who belonged to the Brüdergemeine should continue 11 Martin Luther, “The German Mass and Order of Service,” in Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, Hymns and Liturgy (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965), 63-64. 12 See excerpts from Spener’s treatise Pia Desideria in Erb, Pietists, 32-34. 13 See Müller, “Zinzendorf als Erneuerer,” 45-49. 14 See Alexander Schunka, “A Missing Link: Daniel Ernst Jablonski as the Connection Between Comenius and Zinzendorf,” in Heikki Lempa and Paul Peucker, Self, Community, World: Moravian Education in a Transatlantic World (Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press, 2010), 55-77. 15 See Arthur J. Lewis, Zinzendorf, the Ecumenical Pioneer: A Study in the Moravian Contribution to Christian Mission and Unity (London: Westminster Press, 1962), 139-41.


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

to hold fast to their particular denominational identity. For this purpose, specific membership groups, called “Tropes,” were created within the Brüdergemeine, including a Lutheran Trope, a Reformed Trope, and a Moravian Trope. The Moravian tradition was thus recognized as an ecclesiastical entity in its own right, yet remained subordinate to the overarching identity of the Brüdergemeine as an interdenominational movement. This paradoxical simultaneity of different levels of ecclesiastical identity is well captured by Zinzendorf ’s quip at a Moravian synod in 1743: “We are philadelphian brethren with a Lutheran mouth and a Moravian coat.”16 A major step toward the transformation of the Brüdergemeine into an independent church was its recognition in 1749 by the British parliament as an “ancient episcopal church.” Here, Zinzendorf ’s objective was to provide a safe legal status for the Brüdergemeine members and missionaries in England and the British colonies. As Colin Podmore has pointed out, Zinzendorf first tried to establish the activities of the Brüdergemeine as a network within the Anglican Church, and turned, only after the failure of this approach, to the second-best option of seeking parliamentary recognition.17 The fact that the Brüdergemeine was able to claim continuity with the Moravian tradition contributed greatly to its public acceptance. It is important to note, however, that Zinzendorf deliberately requested the recognition of the Brüdergemeine under the name of “Unitas Fratrum” rather than “Moravian Church,” which meant that the identity of the emerging church was not tied specifically to the Moravian background but to the more general idea of the Brethren’s Church.18 Around the same time, the Brüdergemeine was also granted legal recognition as an independent ecclesiastical body in Saxony and Prussia on the basis of its affirmation of the Augsburg Confession. The trend toward ecclesiastical independence continued over the following years, leading to the establishment of the renewed Moravian Church as the “Protestant Bohemian-Moravian Church of the Brethren adhering to the Confession of Augsburg.”19 Now imagine putting that name on your church sign! This detailed historical discussion has, I hope, made it evident how the selfunderstanding of the Renewed Moravian Church evolved in stages and how the Moravian tradition contributed to that development. The name Brethren’s Church, by which the Renewed Moravian Church became known, represented a simultaneous reference to the ancient Unitas Fratrum and to Zinzendorf ’s Brüdergemeine. Because the Moravian tradition was recognized as the living link between both, the idea and awareness of historical continuity formed an indispensable element for the identity of the Renewed Moravian Church. The third point I would like to make is short: The continuation and “renewal” of the ancient Moravian tradition in the framework of the 18th century Brüdergemeine involved a far-reaching transformation of its traditions and character. In terms of 16 Quoted in Schneider, “Philadelphische Brüder,“ 12. 17 See Colin Podmore, The Moravian Church in England (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998), 204. 18 See Müller, “Zinzendorf als Erneuerer,” 92. 19 David Cranz, The Ancient and Modern History of the Brethren, or, A Succinct Narrative of the Protestant Church of the United Brethren or Unitas Fratrum in the Remoter Ages and Particularly in the Present Century (London: Strahan, 1780), i.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


organization, theology, and worship, the Renewed Moravian Church came to differ considerably from the Ancient Unity. Many of the essential features of our church, such as mission, our international and multi-ethnic orientation, the Daily Texts, Christ as Chief Elder, the celebration of the lovefeast, and our forms for celebrating Christmas Eve and Easter morning are without precedent in the old Moravian tradition. Other features significantly changed in meaning. This is especially the case with the strongest element of connection between the Ancient Unity and our renewed church, namely the bishop’s office, which was transformed from an office of administrative leadership to an office of ordination and pastoral care.20 In sum, historically speaking we see both connection and difference in the relation between the Ancient Unity and the Renewed Moravian Church. Here I see the validity of the two-stage paradigm of Moravian history mentioned above: Yes, our Renewed Moravian Church stands in some continuity with the tradition of the Ancient Unity, but it also represents in some ways a completely new denomination. The paradox of Moravian identity presents itself in the fact—I would argue—that both aspects are simultaneously true.


Having looked at semantics and history, I now invite you to consider the theological dimension of Moravian identity. It seems to me that the identity of the various denominations that we know is shaped greatly by what people believe and how they organize and carry out their church life. Often, these traditions are based on specific theological ideas or insights that set them apart from other traditions. For Baptists this may be the concept of believer’s baptism; for Presbyterians, the emphasis on a collegial form of church government; for Lutherans, the doctrine of justification by faith through grace. Obviously the identity of a denomination includes more than that, but there seem to be some core principles to which denominations are tied in their identity and to which they can go back when they think about who they are, especially when they are challenged to examine and clarify their sense of identity in times of change. How Lutheran are the Lutherans? How presbyterian are the Presbyterians? How catholic are the Catholics? These are helpful questions when we seek to discern the identity of these traditions. In the case of the Moravian Church, however, things are a little different. How Moravian are the Moravians? This question does not give us the key for unlocking the riddle of what we Moravians hold as theological foundations for our church. It does not point to a specific theological idea or a core principle that forms the basis of who we are and sets us apart from others. Does that mean there is no such core principle underneath our Moravian identity? Or is it perhaps expressed in different ways? Faced with these questions, I want to share with you three observations about the theological dimension of Moravian identity. 20 See J. Taylor Hamilton, “The Office of the Bishop in the Renewed Moravian Church,” Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society 16 (1957): 30-58.


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

The first observation is that the reference to the Czech region of Moravia is, indeed, of no significance to the theological understanding of Moravian identity. The name “Moravian” does not carry the meaning of a specific theological concept. It denotes historical memory and connection, but nothing that could be considered a foundational principle for the beliefs and practices of our church. Now, some might argue that the maxim that is known by some as the “Moravian Motto” represents such a principle. I am sure you are familiar with it: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love.” I like this saying a lot. It is a wonderful expression of wisdom, and it definitely possesses a Moravian ring. Yet, for two reasons I would not regard it as the core principle of our identity. First, as some of you know, the “Moravian Motto” is not exclusively Moravian. In fact, it was probably first articulated by the Catholic bishop Marc Antonio de Dominis at the beginning of the 17th century, then publicized by the Lutheran theologian Rupertus Meldenius, and widely adopted by various religious and secular groups, including the Moravian Church.21 Comenius used it once in his treatise Unum Necessarium (1668), but it really became current in the Moravian Church only in the second half of the 19th century, probably through a sermon by Edmund Alexander de Schweinitz preached at the celebration of the Fourth Centennial of the Moravian Church in 1857.22 We should be happy to have this saying as our motto, and we are well advised to follow its wisdom, but we can hardly claim it as the basis of our theology and as the ground for our distinctiveness.The other reason that speaks against regarding the “Moravian Motto” as the core principle of our identity is the fact that it provides an excellent rule for dealing with “essentials” and “non-essentials” yet fails to state what these “essentials” are. In fact, controversy about defining our “essentials” has been a recurrent feature in the debate of who we are as a denomination. To find these core principles of our identity we have to look elsewhere. Second observation. Probably all of us who are members of the Moravian Church have some intuitive sense of our denominational identity. There are specific features in the life of our church that feel distinctively “Moravian.” My wife and I have a name for these experiences when somehow what is typical and beautiful in our tradition shines forth: We call them “Moravian moments.” One of these moments occurred to me at the funeral of Brother Albert Frank, whom many of you will remember. About four years ago, he was buried at the Herrnhut cemetery, which is known as God’s Acre, in a ceremony according to the tradition of the Herrnhut congregation. His coffin was brought in a procession from the church hall to the grave on God’s Acre nearby, led by the Moravian brass band playing the customary chorales. As we entered the gate, inscribed with the words “Christ is risen from the dead,” I felt a deep sense of consolation in the midst of grief, a deep sense of connection between past and present, a deep sense of community 21 See Paul Peucker, “And in all things…,” This Month in Moravian History 73 (May 2012), Bethlehem, Moravian Archives, available online (accessed Nov. 11, 2012). 22 Edmund Alexander de Schweinitz, The Fourth Centennial Anniversary of the Moravian Church: Three Sermons Preached on the Anniversary, March 1, 1857 (Philadelphia: Moravian Book Store, 1857), 23.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


among those who had come together for this occasion from many different places. And I remember thinking in the midst of the hymns and the gathered congregation, the peaceful rows of graves and the view of the Herrnhut church in the background: This is why I am Moravian! Perhaps you have experienced similar moments, moments when the meaning and beauty of our Moravian tradition suddenly stood out. Perhaps it is the celebration of Christmas Eve, when candles are distributed to show the arrival of Jesus Christ as a light in the darkness of our world. Or it is the gathering in Moravian cemeteries for the Easter sunrise service, when we affirm that Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead. Or it is the recognition, when members of the Moravian Unity meet at an international gathering, that we belong to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord, despite our different cultures and countries of origin. Or it is the singing of beloved hymns that connect us to generations that have gone before us and give us sense of rootedness in our tradition. These “Moravian moments” are precious and play an important part in how we experience the identity of our church. They express what it means to be Moravian. I believe they reflect important aspects of our spiritual heritage and convey what is central to our faith, yet I do not consider them to qualify as theological foundations for our identity. They are often very personal impressions, which may differ considerably among different church members and also among people from various Moravian provinces. Perhaps they should be considered “markers” of Moravian identity, which may not always be fully objective but which by and large point to the general character of our tradition. We come to the third observation. Now that we have come to realize that the name “Moravian” will not help us to discern the theological core of our identity, I want to call attention to the other name by which the Moravian Church is known, namely Unitas Fratrum, which may be translated as Unity of Brethren. This is the name that reflects both the self-understanding of the ancient Bohemian Brethren, who called themselves Jednota Bratrská (“Brethren’s Unity”), and the self-understanding of the 18th century Moravians, who wished to be known as Brüdergemeine (“Brethren’s congregation”). Let us consider the implications of this name for our understanding of Moravian identity. I want to suggest to you that the name “Unitas Fratrum” or “Unity of Brethren” expresses a sophisticated theological program, which is decisive for the theological foundations of Moravian identity.23 The name “Unity of Brethren” denotes a particular kind of connectedness among the members of our church, a particular way of how our shared spiritual life should be organized and how we, as a denomination, stand in relation to other churches and denominations. Let me point out to you the salient features of this theological program in five points. First, the name “Brethren’s Unity” reflects biblical language and biblical concepts. The word “unity” goes back to the Greek term ekklesia, which denotes the 23 See Peter Vogt, “Brüdergemeine—das theologische Programm eines Namens,” Unitas Fratrum: Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Gegenwartsfragen der Brüdergemeine 48 (2001): 81-105.


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

association of Christian believers in ecclesiastical fellowship, both in terms of their belonging to a local congregation and in terms of their shared participation in the larger invisible Body of Christ. To be a Christian means to stand in communion with other Christians. It necessarily involves some form of institutional organization. Accordingly, in Moravian usage, the word “unity” means the association of believers in the form of an independent ecclesiastical body, whose members are bound together by mutual agreement on the basis of their shared faith. The use of the word “brothers” or “brethren,” likewise, goes back to biblical terminology. In the Old Testament, we often find the word “brother” used not only for biological relatives but for anyone who belonged to the people of Israel. In the New Testament, the words “brother” and “sister” are generally used to refer to fellow believers. In both cases, we see that the concept of an inseparable bond between siblings is transferred from the sphere of the biological family to the sphere of a religious community. Fellow believers are not just individuals who happen to be members of the same organization; they really belong to one another like brothers and sisters in a family. This is the vision that both the founders of Kunvald in 1457 and settlers of Herrnhut in 1722 strove to implement. Second, the name “Unity of Brethren” is understood to express the scriptural view of Christian fellowship. It is based on how Jesus called his disciples to live together. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus once, when asked about his family, pointed to his followers and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:34-35). And at another occasion Jesus told his disciples: “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren” (Math. 23:8). The model of how this fellowship of brothers and sisters is lived out is found in the life of the apostolic church, whose members frequently came together for prayer and praise, shared their meals, offered their possessions, and helped each other according to every one’s needs (cf. Act. 2:4445). Third, the name “Unity of Brethren” aims at a particular practice of living together in committed fellowship. The symbol for this fellowship is that its members address each other as “brother” or “sister.” They stand in a relation of mutual solidarity and contribute their individual gifts to the life of the whole community. Although some individuals may hold positions of leadership, the character of their fellowship is essentially anti-hierarchical. The terminology of brother- and sisterhood has a clear egalitarian ring. Fourth, the name “Unity of Brethren” suggests a community of believers that is radically inclusive. Because membership is based on the shared faith in Jesus Christ, the community is in principle open to all people, regardless of nationality, race, skin color, or language. The bond of spiritual kinship, by which church members come to accept one another as brothers and sisters, transcends all biological, ethnic, and cultural boundaries. Finally, the name “Unity of Brethren” is ecumenical in orientation. The word “unity” denotes a specific body of believers, but it does not claim that this body is the only one that exists. The Czech brethren made a clear distinction between the

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


one (invisible) church of Christ and the visible ecclesiastical body of the Unity. In fact, they believed that every denomination could be considered to represent such a “unity,” existing side by side with all others. Zinzendorf affirmed that the various denominational groups each had their distinct character and identity while possessing a share in the overarching fellowship of the Body of Christ. This understanding has been central to the fundamental ecumenical stance of the Moravian Church, enabling us to affirm our own distinct identity while celebrating the gifts and diversity of other churches. In some ways, the name “Unity of Brethren” expresses the same sense of fellowship that is intended when we talk about our congregations as “church family.” I see in the name “Unity of Brethren” an ecclesiological vision of considerable depth, yet I also realize that it sounds old-fashioned and does not live up our current standards of inclusive language. Important for our discussion is the fact that the theological program behind this name has expressed and shaped our denominational identity for several hundred years. While the name “Unity of Brethren” has been replaced by the word “Moravian,” the concept of living together as brothers and sisters in the Lord continues to form the foundational theological principles for our understanding of who we are as Moravians. A lot more could be said about the theological dimension of Moravian identity, and in some way we will continue to follow this thread as we come to the close of this lecture, which I would like to present as a pastoral conclusion.

A Pastoral Conclusion

How Moravian are the Moravians? This question has directed us to explore complex developments in our history, but it also leads us to consider our calling, as we in our local congregations, on the provincial level, and the worldwide Moravian Unity face the future. How Moravian do we want to be? How do we maintain our identity in a world of rapid change? How do we tell the Moravian story truthfully and make it meaningful to coming generations? These are important questions for us to consider. I do not pretend to have definitive answers but would like to offer, in conclusion, some ideas and insights that I find particularly important and helpful. First, I believe it is critical to acknowledge the paradoxical nature of Moravian identity. At least those of us who hold leadership positions in our church should be aware of the fact that Moravian history involves two distinct stages, and that the Renewed Moravian Church is not simply a continuation of the Ancient Unity but represents in some ways a new denomination. We must know that when we call ourselves “Moravian” we take a name that is not fully ours, and a name that does not capture fully who we are as a church today. Still, it is the name to which our identity is tied. It is helpful to be aware of this paradox, especially when we consider the international character of the worldwide Unity. Just imagine: individuals from Alaska and Nicaragua, the United States and South Africa, from Tanzania, Suriname and the Caribbean are all Moravian. It may sound perfectly normal to our ears, but


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

think about it for a moment. Isn’t it rather odd that the religious identity of people from many different countries and cultures should be tied to some ethnic affiliation in Eastern Europe? Here we see that the identity we claim as Moravians is deeply paradoxical. How truthful is such an identity? How truthful are we when we call ourselves “Moravians” although we know quite well that in many ways we’re not? My second point is to suggest that the truthfulness of our tradition does not rest exclusively on the concept of historical continuity, but rather involves a deeper sense of connection, namely the acknowledgment of the spiritual value of the Moravian experience. The deeper truth of Moravian identity lies in our being rooted in the tradition of a community of faith whose experience continues to be meaningful for us. The concept of Moravian identity expresses itself in a sense of connectedness that stretches out in both time and space. This brings me to the third insight: The name “Moravian” does not stand for a location. It stands for a story—a story that lives by remembering and retelling. I believe that we, as Moravians, are bound together by a common story, that our fellowship with one another displays a narrative character. The telling and retelling of this story reminds us that we stand not alone, that we have a place to which we belong, that we are a part of a larger community of brothers and sisters in the Lord. The telling of our story thus takes the place that in other denominations is held by particular creeds or some form of ecclesiastical hierarchy. I think it is important to note that this focus on the Moravian story reflects a biblical understanding of identity. The Hebrew Bible, as the founding document of Jewish and Christian identity, tells the story of how God called Abraham to leave his native country to go into the land that God would show him. It tells the story of how God led the twelve tribes of Israel out of Egypt and made a covenant with them that they should be God’s people. We find a similar approach in how Jesus is portrayed to us in the Gospels: his birth, his life and ministry, his death and resurrection. The Holy Scriptures are steeped in narrative theology; most of what we know about who God is and who we are as God’s people comes to us in the form of a story. So it seems to me that it is perhaps good biblical wisdom to understand Moravian identity in terms of a story as well. And here we find another paradox: The Moravian story is the story of a group of believers who valued their faith more than their national and ethnic identity. They became pilgrims and exiles for the sake of their belief. In other words, the Moravians are those who left Moravia behind. The Moravian story is the story of believers who, above all, tried to be faithful to the Gospel and follow the calling of their Lord, even if that required them to leave their native land. It is a story of Christian witness in the midst of adversity and of their willingness to go wherever God would lead them. It is the story of loss and renewal, of letting go and being given a new beginning. Most of all, it is the story of how God used the experience of exile and pilgrimage to create a new and unique community of faith, formed and transformed by the power of the

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Holy Spirit as a fellowship of brothers and sisters, ready to go forth and become a witness of the Gospel throughout the world. As we consider the mission of the Moravian community, it is important to recognize that the Moravian story is also an open and generous story, wide enough to go beyond any ethnic and geographic concepts to include all those who have responded to the Moravian outreach throughout the world. The experience of Moravians in Labrador or Guyana is no less a part of this story than the experience of North American, British or German Moravians. Moreover, the Moravian story is not simply the story of a few heroic white men. It also includes the story of the sisters in Bethlehem, whose lives are related to us in their memoirs.24 It includes the stories of Rebecca Protten and Maria Prince, former Caribbean slaves whose lives were transformed through the ministry of Moravian missions.25 And it includes the story of Lena, an indigenous South African woman, who after the departure of the first missionary preserved the spark of the Gospel for more than fifty years.26 And these are just examples. Much work still needs to be done to explore and discover and tell the Moravian story in all its variety and richness. But I believe it is a worthwhile and important task. The last point I want to make concerns the relationship between our story and God’s story. It is easy to idealize the Moravian story with all its heroism and religious zeal. However, as a historian I can tell you that the participants in this story were just as much fallible human beings as we are. The point of the Moravian story is not holiness and perfection (that would be the Methodist story) but God’s being at work in and through the realities of our human lives. When we tell the Moravian story we affirm the Christian belief that God’s great story of salvation is played out in the manifold stories of human history, and that—within the context of this incarnational understanding—the stories of individual communities of faith matter. The Moravian story is the story of previous generations trying to follow Christ in their particular context. It is worth telling and retelling as we seek to follow Christ in our own context today. How Moravian are the Moravians? Some people are worried about the potential loss of Moravian identity. Many are afraid that beloved Moravian customs and traditions are jeopardized by change in the life of our congregations. Others worry that the increasing cultural and theological diversity in the worldwide Unity undermines our shared sense of identity. Accordingly, there is a growing recognition that clarifying and strengthening our understanding of what it means to be Moravian is an important task in the life or our church. 24 See Katherine M. Faull, ed. and trans., Moravian Women’s Memoirs: Their Related Lives, 1750-1820 (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1997). 25 See Jon Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005), and Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself (London: Westley and Davis, 1831), 16-17 and 20; available online: (accessed Nov.11, 2012). 26 See Bernhard Krüger, The Pear Tree Blossoms: The History of the Moravian Church in South Africa (Genadendal: Moravian Book Depot, 1967), 47, 52-53.


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

And I fully agree. I would like to note, however, that our concern about the identity of our church should not be guided by the fear of loss. It should not be guided by the focus on preserving our historical heritage, but rather by the desire to become what God is calling us to be. Central to the concept of Moravian identity is the belief that we, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, are called to live as a community that is faithful to the message of God’s love, as given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Being Moravian means that we try to follow this call, using the resources of our tradition, but also paying attention to the needs and circumstances of our own situation today. Now, as we strive to be good Moravians in our time, the Moravian story continues. It is not yet finished. We are participants in the shaping of our tradition. Let us remember that our story is an open and inclusive story, wide enough to include people from many different cultures and backgrounds, and strong enough to build bridges to other traditions and communities of faith. We can celebrate the diversity that we find both within our church and around us. I believe we can trust our tradition—that it will not lead us astray, but will lead us on the right path of faith in the good company of our brothers and sisters; that it will enable us to be good and faithful disciples; that it will help us to develop our personal spiritual life and open us up to the presence of God in the world. Two years ago, at a Moravian conference in Suriname, I met a young Surinamese woman, a first generation convert of Muslim background, who was preparing for pastoral ministry in the Moravian Church. Over the course of the conference, she was eager to lean all about the Moravian tradition: our history, our customs, our international diversity. It was an eye-opening experience for her, the discovery of a deeper sense of identity and belonging that she summed up by saying, “Being Moravian is a beautiful thing!” It is indeed. Let us serve Christ by being good Moravians, let us tell our story with pride, and let us be grateful that we stand in such a wonderful fellowship with brothers and sisters throughout the world!

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Responses Ian Edwards My response comes from the perspective of a pastor in Moravian parish settings, first as a seminary student in the Bethlehem area; then as a pastor in Staten Island, New York; now in Sherwood Park, Alberta. Allow me to give some of my stock answers to common questions about the Moravians, and we can see how they fit with Brother Vogt’s lecture. What’s a Moravian? “Moravia is a place, part of the Czech Republic. Don’t get too fired up about that; we’re not actually from there. We started with a guy in Prague, which is in Bohemia. In fact, I think we’d be way cooler if we called ourselves Bohemian, maybe Bohemian Orthodox.” At this point most people get that’s a joke, but everybody thinks it’s not all that funny. So why are you called the Moravians if you’re not from Moravia? “An over-simplified way to think of it is, our founders were persecuted and ended up on the land of a German nobleman named Zinzendorf. He asks them where they were from, and they say we recently came from Moravia, so he says, fine, you’re the Moravians.” Sounds like there is a lot of history there. “I kind of think of us like the Forest Gump church: always there in the background if you look for us.” Other catch-phrases and sentences I drop in, usually at ecumenical gatherings, are... • • •

“Actually, Martin Luther learned a lot from John Hus and our scholars... especially to not accept invitations to come and explain himself.” “To the Anglicans in the room, sorry about the Wesleys … or you’re welcome, depending on your perspective.” “And we all know where that idea came from, let’s all say: Moravians!”

As I said, this is an over-simplified way of looking at things, but sometimes you have to boil things down to what you can deliver in 30 seconds, what the business world calls an elevator pitch. When you’re milling about before or after church and a newcomer engages you, or when you’re at a professional gathering and have to make small talk, sometimes all you’ve got is a moment to catch the attention of someone and justify your existence in the world. It’s good then to have an identity to embrace. And so to Brother Vogt’s question of how Moravian the Moravians are, and whether or not we have the privilege to claim that identity. I appreciate the history of


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

the use of the name, especially as it seems my elevator-pitch expressions are actually not far off, and relatively harmless. Our congregation recently went through a transition away from using the name Moravian, and then back to using it. Based on Brother Vogt’s presentation, I’m confident we can use the name, as we are well over the threshold of connection with the geographic and historic presence we call Moravian, and we share a spirit and philosophy of contextual mission that is in harmony with the current reality of the Moravian Church. So the question that hangs in the air is, should we use the Moravian name and identity? Will it be a hindrance or an asset in sharing the gospel of Christ, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit in our suburban Alberta context? My answer seems to fit with Brother Vogt’s presentation quite nicely: It depends. If we use the name and identity simply to grab onto an inspiring story or to make some clever points, then why bother? But if identifying ourselves as Moravian helps us gain strength and form for living out the promised presence of God in our lives, then we definitely should do so. Then we must look beyond the outward expressions of our brand—the candles, the stars, the great way we do whatever—to the driving force behind what we do, remembering that for everything we celebrate, there must be a faith-filled, spirit-guided reason. Then we can wrap it up and call it Moravian. It is our privilege, and our responsibility, to make the Moravian identity matter more than as a historical footnote or a beautiful way to celebrate Christmas. As I pondered this, I realized that many of my quick responses and riffs about the Moravian church are as if I’m saying, “Go on. I dare you to say the Moravian Church doesn’t matter.” But I think that I, and everyone connected to the Moravian Church, can flip it around. “Go on. I dare you to make the Moravian identity matter.” Ian Edwards is is co-pastor of Good News Moravian Church and one of the founders of Common Ground Community Cafe, both in Sherwood Park, a suburb of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

John D. Rights Several years ago in a study of sacred mountains, I took to heart a bit of wisdom shared by a college chaplain. Though I cannot remember his name, I remember well the advice he gave to a group of students: There are many paths to the summit of Mt. Fuji. Choose one, and go deep. In an era when spiritual pilgrims are likely to bushwhack their way to the mountain top, drawing from a spectrum of traditions and spiritualities as they ascend into the realm of God, the chaplain makes a profound point. Walking deeply on a well-worn spiritual path offers a time-tested, multi-layered depth of ancient wisdom, truth, and practice.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


In an ecumenical Christian context, we might likewise point to many paths up Mt. Calvary while simultaneously affirming the solid benefits of walking deeply on the Moravian path we have chosen. I am very grateful to Brother Vogt for serving as a guide on this path for quite some time. His writings travel well, and this lecture to the seminary community will continue to serve as a rich resource for our church. In coming to terms with our identity, I find especially helpful Peter’s emphasis on the Moravian story—a story that “takes the place that in other denominations is held by particular creeds or some form of ecclesiastical hierarchy.” To my vocation as a preacher/storyteller, his words extend an invitation to lift up the stories of our faith, especially when they point to the central position of Christ in this church. Christ is indeed at the heart of our stories as we remember the Ancient Unity and the Renewed Moravian Church. As the story goes, we were born 550 years ago at Kunvald, when a small group of men and women returned to the fundamental teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. Two hundred and seventy years later, a new chapter, if not a new story, was written in Herrnhut, when we became more intentional about nurturing our relationship with the risen Christ. The greatest pages of our story are those when we are deliberately focused on Christ, his ethical teachings and his living presence, amplifying the work of the cross. As cultural and theological diversities in the worldwide Moravian Church raise the question of whether we are truly a Unity or rather a collection of 23 provinces, our hope to be a Unity is built on our common relationship with the Christ to whom we bear witness in the telling of our story. I also very much appreciate Peter’s discussion of the paradoxical nature of our Moravian identity. The divergent opinions that describe our contemporary church as very Moravian, yet also not very Moravian at all, lead me to address a paradox on a personal level. After 54 years as a baptized member of the Moravian Church, I frequently am challenged and inspired when new chapters and paragraphs in our story are discovered. At such moments I live a paradox of simultaneously being a Moravian while still becoming a Moravian. The depth of understanding Brother Vogt shares regarding the earliest name of our church, the Unity of Brethren, is quite helpful to this process of becoming. One of my “Moravian moments” came in the form of a hunch. While preparing a sermon, it dawned on me that our forebears quite possibly selected this name for more than its expression of familial love. I’m wondering if in his studies Peter has found any evidence that the reformers in Kunvald also intended the name as a critique of the Roman Church hierarchy that elevated priests to a status above that of a brother, to that of “Father.” If so, whenever the name Unity of Brethren was spoken, the egalitarian ring of the Unity that Peter mentions would have sounded clearly. They were all sisters and brothers, no fathers among them. Even today the name can remind us of the Ancient Unity’s radical expression of Christian community, where nobility and peasant men and women shared the common cup of the Lord’s Supper as spiritual equals. This enlarged understanding of the name draws us back into the Gospels and around the many tables Jesus shared with tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, Pharisees,


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

rich folk, poor folk, and even Simon “the leper,” each experience at the table a “kingdom moment.” The great leveling of status that happened at Jesus’ tables in Galilee happened again in Bohemia and later in the Renewed Church. It restored human dignity for those sitting up at the table. It offered dignified humility to those sitting down at the table. In a keynote address to the 1986 Synod of the Southern Province, Arie Brouwer, then Secretary General of the National Council of Churches, spoke of how earlier in the week, he had taken a stroll through God’s Acre, our Moravian graveyard in Salem. During his walk, he was moved by the rows and rows of uniform white stones, our cherished symbol representing the democracy of death. Brouwer said to the delegates, “Your challenge as Moravians is to live into your graveyard.” By this he meant that we have an important witness to make to the greater Church by reflecting the equality we represent in God’s Acre on this side of the grave. Embracing this egalitarian element of our story is truly Moravian. We tell the story of African, Cherokee, and German Moravians washing the feet of one another in Springplace, Georgia. We illustrate the story with 18th century portraits of Moravian noblewomen humbly covering their hair with the peasant’s haube. And in our day, we are the story on Christmas Eve, when we share the Lovefeast with whoever shows up in our pews, magi or shepherd. The common lovefeast meal expresses equality just as much as it expresses oneness. Walking deeply on a well-worn spiritual path offers a time-tested, multilayered depth of ancient wisdom, truth, and practice. Brother Vogt has indeed granted a great service to our church by drawing our attention once again to the Christ-centered, biblically informed, outwardly focused, open-minded, and radically egalitarian Moravian story. It is a story to further shape our identity and transform our communities, as we live into the next great spiritual awakening to be shared with the larger society.

John D. Rights is a pastor serving with the Konnoak Hills Moravian congregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Riddick Weber Brother Vogt invites us to consider semantic, historical, theological and pastoral issues as we ponder how Moravian we are. He argues that the foundation of Moravian identity is a narrative theology that tells of an ongoing, unfolding relationship with God and guides us as we follow Christ in our own contemporary contexts. Since the pastoral issues are preeminent, my response will look at how the pastoral issues offer ways to address the others.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


In addressing the multiple meaning and ambiguities in the semantics of “Moravian,” we might do well to tell our stories and listen to the stories of others with whom we share this name. As we tell our story to ethnic or geographic Moravians, they may want to become a part of our story of relationship with God. Maybe we will decide the name fits them better, and we want to find another. Maybe we will achieve a broader understanding of the name and want to claim it more deeply or in a new way. We should not be afraid to do this; we have certainly demonstrated our willingness to change our name in the past if need be. Should we choose to change our name, it will not be easy. Many of us have experienced so many of Brother Vogt’s “Moravian moments” that we will probably never fundamentally not identify ourselves as Moravians. However, if together we discerned a new name that did not quickly lead to “You’re a what?” or “The cookie people, right?” or “How many wives can you have at once?” I would embrace that as an entry point to sharing about these Moravian moments and inviting others to experience them. Brother Vogt’s historical concerns are more problematic. As he points out, Zinzendorf interpreted the history of the refugees with whom he worked as part of a larger religio-socio-economic undertaking, and subsequent historians did the same. Today’s historians continue to engage in discerning whose stories to tell and what parts of them to tell (full disclosure: in both my pastoral and professorial work, I also engage in this process). Our decisions therefore become part of the discussions about the theological, hermeneutical, ethical and social issues we face or choose to face. Brother Vogt raises several challenging theological concerns, including the assertion that “Moravian” offers little that is theologically distinctive. Here I would challenge my brother. Moravians, like the majority of the world’s Christians, identify themselves by place. Unlike our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters or many other denominations that identify themselves with place, we do not derive our name from power or past glory. Our name comes from a place that was first a refuge, then a place from which we were exiled, and then a place from which we escaped. What if the children of Abraham had been known as the Urites, or the children of Israel as the Egyptians? What does it say about us theologically that we have chosen this particular place name? Having raised that question, it is important to note that Moravians in North America did choose this name for historical and theological reasons. Are there other names from within our narrative tradition that we might choose now for different theological or historical reasons? Or is there perhaps a new name waiting to be born out of our tradition? Ultimately Brother Vogt points out that we are part of an ongoing tradition. Our Surinamese sister said it was a beautiful thing. Brother Vogt makes us aware that it is a human thing, filled with all the ups and downs, triumphs and failures, great journeys and daily ploddings common to the humanity that God created. Beautiful thing, human thing—regardless of other adjectives we might use, this narrative tradition is now our thing, and ours to steward. We have this discussion now because in the past people chose specific names out of the traditions available to them. They chose the words that seemed the best for


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

them to introduce the stories they had to tell. In exercising those choices, they became a part of the ongoing story. We have their stories, their tradition, to interpret and share as we seek to follow Christ today. If we discern the leading of the Holy Spirit in ways that empower us to place ourselves into “the Moravian story … of previous generations trying to follow Christ in their particular context,” and if we believe “it is worth telling and retelling as we seek to follow Christ in our own context today,” then I have no doubt that we will be as Moravian as God wants us to be. Riddick Weber is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa.

Bob Bates Brother Vogt devotes more than a third of his address to the 1722-50s period of Moravian history and the traditions that grew out of these times. Many of those traditions endure through the present. If we characterize these four decades as a branching out and blossoming of the Moravian story, we must also acknowledge its roots, trunk, and initial tenacious limbs as being nearly 300 years older. That’s a lot of seasons of growth rings! Brother Vogt calls this original emergence and development of the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren) stage one of Moravian history, with the Zinzendorf/Herrnhut period comprising stage two. In assessing our heritage today, we must recognize the distinctive consequence of both stages, for without their complementary vitality, it is not at all certain that we would have inherited a Moravian story to tell. A resource of great value not only to our complete Moravian story, but to the history of Western Civilization as well, is Brother Craig Atwood’s 2009 The Theology of the Czech Brethren from Hus to Comenius. Brother Atwood emphasizes history integral to stage one: 1) The Czech Revolution—starting piecemeal in the late 1300s, growing during Jan Hus’ influence in the first decade of the 1400s, and erupting following Hus’ martyrdom in 1415—was a primary impetus for the eventual numerous divergences from the dominant Roman Catholic Church. 2) Through Brother Gregory’s leadership, in 1457 the Unity of Brethren formed the Kunwald community and in 1467 established the first European church to set up its own structure as separate from state control and influence. 3) All this process and progress preceded Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation by a full century! (Notably, in 1520 Luther expressed surprise that his calls for reform had been alive and evolving in Czech regions for a hundred years.) 4) John Amos Comenius, from about 1620 to his death in 1670, through his powerful and persuasive speaking, writing, teaching, and organizing, had advanced religion, education, the ecumenical movement, and society in general well in advance of the times.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


All this stage one development occurred over a span of about 9–10 successive generations prior to the Zinzendorf era. In addressing Moravian identity, the impact of stage one cannot be overstated. Indeed, without cognizance of our earliest history, the grit and grandeur of the 600-year Moravian story cannot be told in its impressive entirety. But perhaps the real “take home message” Brother Vogt offers goes beyond Moravian history. The moral of the story surpasses names, dates, and events. Brother Vogt’s pastoral conclusion cuts to the heart: “The truthfulness [enduring living identity] of our tradition does not rest exclusively on the concept of historical continuity, but rather involves a deeper sense of connection, namely the acknowledgment of the spiritual value of the Moravian experience.” Furthermore, this tradition roots us in an experience that “continues to be meaningful to us … in a sense of connectedness that stretches out in both time and space.” To a large extent our lives consist of an ongoing pilgrimage. If the opportunities with which we are presented on that pilgrimage are not embraced, they may be wasted. Should not every person be constantly alert and “in the moment” with awareness and creative capacity, in proper position to make the most of daily opportunities to contribute, assist, serve, and model? Does not such a “readiness state” require us to religiously (in every sense of the word) discipline ourselves into a “good habit” frame of mind and heart, from which we can routinely take stock of our being, asking: What is my attitude? What am I thinking? What words should I voice? What choices should I make? What action(s) should I take? For the Brethren across the ages, the ideal of religion has always been about transforming oneself and, cumulatively, humanity and the world. How can we humbly, yet meaningfully and most effectively, weave our personal thread into the fabric of life to transform existence into sustained loving, dynamic living? Whether individually or collectively, when we work in openness, inclusivity, and ever wider cooperation (“faith completed in love”), our spiritual input contributes toward building what Jesus called the very real Kingdom of God, right here on our shared planet Earth, 21st century. The Moravian story continues! Bob Bates is a two-year member of Lakeview Moravian Community Church, Madison WI, where he has found a spiritual home and special inspiration and motivation from Pastor Staci Marrese-Wheeler.

Ruth Burcaw Peter Vogt’s thorough examination of the “Moravian-ness” of Moravians is enlightening and thought-provoking. His conclusion that “our concern about the identity of what it means to be Moravian should not be guided by the fear of loss … or by the focus on preserving our historical heritage, but rather by the desire to become


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

what God is calling us to be” is a spot-on prescription for being the church in the midst of today’s uncertainty and rapid change. The future of religion in America seems dire. A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details statistics and explores the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape. • •

Over 16% of Americans now claim no religious affiliation. Among Americans ages 18-29, one in four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion. More than six in ten Americans age 70 and older (62%) are Protestant. In fact, roughly half of members of mainline Protestant churches are age 50 and older.

News like this tempts us to close our eyes and hang on even more tightly to our “Moravian-ness,” but it may in fact be time to zoom out and view the situation through a wide-angle lens. Such a view might help us to see what opportunities we might be missing and respond with intention and focus to the future as it unfolds. In her latest book, Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass reminds us that what we perceive as a decline in traditional religion is part of something much larger—a great awakening—and a beginning rather than an ending. While church as we now experience it may change, this new spiritual awakening can bring us together in a fresh, vital way of faith still true to the message of Jesus. In her “zooming out,” Bass finds hope for the future of faith. So can we. After we examine the big picture, it’s time to focus on our own reality. We’ve all been asked the question, “What one thing would you take with you if your house caught on fire?” Most go straight to living treasures—spouses, children, and family pets. Others describe priceless heirlooms such as the family Bible, old photographs, or Grandpa’s banjo. Either way, the answer is easy. When confronted with overwhelming loss or change, we know exactly what it is that matters most to us. Now, imagine for a moment a future where… • • • •

our beautiful church buildings become burdens we can no longer fill or afford; a shortage of beeswax eliminates the lovefeast candle; brass instruments are unable to withstand the harsh environment of the future; or the rapid increase in gluten allergies means no more lovefeast buns or sugarcake.

Fan yourself, then breathe deeply and think, with the church “on fire” much like our hypothetical house fire, what do we take with us?

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


The answer is easy. When confronted with overwhelming loss or change, we know exactly what it is that matters most to us. Christ and Him crucified remain our confession of faith. We respond to this gift of grace with our faith in God, our love for God and our neighbor, and our hope in this life and the next. Brother Vogt ends by reminding us that “we . . . are called to live as a community that is faithful to the message of God’s love, as given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Being Moravian means that we try to follow this call, using the resource of our tradition, but also paying attention to the needs and circumstances of our own situation today.” The good news is we don’t have to leave all of our beloved traditions behind. Some remind us of our deep connection to one another and to our God. Others sustain us as we pray for the courage and persistence to zoom out, to ponder the big picture and the challenges that the future will continue to bring. We then are able to zoom in on the essentials as we find new ways to do and be church in a changing world. The great ideas from our ancestors still call us. And out of the best that is our past comes great possibility for a future built on faith, love, and hope.


Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. Collins, Jim, and Hansen, Morten. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Rep. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2007. Web. <http:religions.>.

Ruth Cole Burcaw is a member of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. She is also the Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries for the Moravian Church, Southern Province.

Art Taylor A comprehensive study of Brother Vogt’s “How Moravian Are the Moravians?” should be worth at least a two-credit course in Moravian History. It provides a clear background for those of us who didn’t attend Divinity School. We are presented with Dr. Vogt’s “two-stage paradoxical model” of the development of the modern Moravian Church. We are also left with a much deeper view of Count Zinzendorf as a major force in cultural and religious development and reform throughout Europe. The more we learn about the changes he made in the original Unitas Fratrum, the more it seems that we could just as easily be called Zinzendorfians as Moravians! After some profound historical and spiritual analysis, Dr. Vogt reaches the conclusion that Moravians are unique because of their history of leaving their


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

homeland in search of religious freedom. Do you think this means much to a visiting family in search of a church, or native people living in Central America, Alaska or Africa? Maybe, after you have been a member of a Moravian Church for years, a small number of people reach this conclusion. Further, it would also seem that other religious groups immigrated for religious freedom, such as the Pilgrims, Friends, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even Irish Catholics. Unfortunately, the question “How Moravian are the Moravians?“ and Brother Vogt’s conclusion seem to have little impact on the broader spectrum of religion in the 21st century. The Moravian Church, like most other faiths, is in a state of declining membership and thereby declining financing. It is clear that the Moravian Church, like other denominations, needs to adjust to the times! In this regard, the focus of this Moses Lecture is on differentiating and separating Christian groups, in particular the Moravians, and not looking to a future anchored by commonalities and shared beliefs. The real question might rather be, “What steps can we take toward unifying all Christians?” In this regard, it would seem that the possible starting place must be in the Golden Rule. Could this be developed into essential goals and objectives by looking through the lens of the Moravian motto? Is it possible that our motto could be viewed in its broadest sense as the Christian motto? To simplify this argument let’s make the unlikely assumption that all Christians can agree on essentials such as: • • • • • •

There is only one God and Creator! We believe in Jesus Christ, who was God’s son on earth! The Holy Spirit, as given by God and Christ, is active and strong in each Christian. The Holy Bible must be the basis for spiritual discussions. Each Christian group agrees to function within a commonality of ‘Christian Unity” (or an equally binding phrase) Christian groups will be known as • Christian Unity: the Moravian Way • Christian Unity: the Lutheran Way • Christian Unity: the Apostolic Way • Christian Unity: the Episcopal Way • Christian Unity: the Methodist Way

…And so on. As for nonessentials, all Christian groups, and each individual Christian, would be able to implement these freely, in their own way. For example, Moravians could continue with “nonessential” traditions in the Moravian Way: putzes, Moravian stars, candle lighting, and lovefeasts. This also allows for joint programs, such as the first Lovefeast for Christian Unity held in Bethlehem, for members of Lutheran, Episcopal and Moravian faiths.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Visualize this approach as a “Stone Soup,” where each group adds the nonessentials they have. But this approach never allows nonessentials to become so divisive that they damage the faith. Each denomination and each individual church would have to maintain missions, finance and other business functions of the Church. However, instead of the usual church politics, spiritual discussions would play a more important role. Members would be strongly encouraged to meet in groups small and large to enhance spiritual growth. In a way, this seems like the Unitas Fratrum and Zinzendorf ’s “Philadelphian” approach hopefully brought about through the modern Moravian Church. With the presence of the Holy Spirit, “Love thy Neighbor” must be conceptualized in the broadest sense. Community movements, such as “Swords into Plowshares,” were initiated in the 1960s and 1970s; but where have all the social issues gone? The Holy Spirit can bring about incredible change in individuals, churches, communities and even the world!


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

The Author Responds In reading the responses to my lecture on the meaning of Moravian identity, I feel very grateful about the many different thoughts and insights that are being offered here and that seem to pick up and carry on the central ideas that I tried to articulate. The very first reply to all my respondents is simply to say “thank you!” for your effort of reading and reflecting upon my lecture and for sharing your reactions. I was pleased to note widespread agreement with my overall argument, so there is no need to engage in quarrelsome disputes. Rather, I would like to respond to several points where I see shared concerns and where I also find the promise of a shared hope. Brother Ian Edwards underlines the importance of considering the name “Moravian” in terms of its practical usage. I am curious about the decision-making process in his congregation which involved “a transition away from using the name Moravian and then back to using it.” It sounds like a learning process for everyone involved. I hope it was one that was not divisive or hurtful, but helpful in leading to a better and deeper understanding of all sides of the issue. The truth—as Br. Edwards rightly states—is that the name “Moravian” is not user-friendly, especially not for outsiders. As Moravians, we always have to explain who we are and what we are about. In today’s society of short-lived sound-bites, that’s difficult to do, and there’s a real risk that people will turn away before we had a chance to make our case. Yet the need to explain who we are is also an enormous opportunity. Chances are that we get asked to tell the story of our denomination a lot more often than Lutherans, Catholics, or Methodists. Explaining our unusual name offers us each time a wonderful opportunity to witness to our faith and to extend an invitation. Perhaps we Moravian pastors have to equip our congregants with the necessary skills for this task, providing basic knowledge about the story of our church and encouraging them to use this framework for telling their own story. To a large degree, Moravian identity is about telling these stories. Members of our churches should be empowered to carry out this activity with joy and pride. Brother John D. Rights compares faithfulness to the Moravian tradition to “walking deeply on a well-worn spiritual path that offers a time-tested, multilayered depth of ancient wisdom, truth, and practice.” These are big words for our humble Moravian heritage, but I admit that I very much like Br. Rights’ description. He rightfully points to one aspect that is easily forgotten when we talk about the usefulness of the name “Moravian,” namely, that our Moravian identity embodies a particular spiritual discipline. Being—or better, becoming—Moravian is more than taking on a peculiar name. It is about expressing and practicing a faith commitment that derives its character and strength from the experience of those who have gone before us. We Moravians have never asserted the claim that our way is the only way, but we may say with confidence that it is a way worth exploring and walking in faithfulness and trust. Here again, I see the importance of storytelling, which involves both the larger denominational narrative and our own personal story in relation to it.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


I agree with Br. Rights that this task not only helps us to express who we are but may help us to become who we are called to be. Moravian identity is not static, but openended; our tradition is an ongoing process. And as we walk this “well-worn spiritual path,” we are, in fact, carrying this tradition into the future. Brother Riddick Weber expresses a similar idea when he says that “this [Moravian] narrative tradition is now our thing—to steward.” As contemporary Moravians we take pride in our long history, but as Br. Weber points out, using the name “Moravian” should always remind us that Moravian identity does not spring from the idea of being tied to a glorious past but rather expresses the story of moving on. The Moravians, like the Israelites, were an exilic group, a group of people oriented toward the future, a community guided by the promises of God. Here, I see an important theological insight for the Moravian Church today: the challenge to recapture a deep sense of Christian hope. I think as Moravians we are very good with placing emphasis on both faith and love in our congregations, but how strong is our hope? Just imagine thinking of the Moravians as a people of hope. I believe there is great potential in this area for the work of the Holy Spirit and for our witness to the world. The most tangible expression of this hope may just be the “Moravian moment” of the Easter sunrise service. Brother Bob Bates raises two points of importance. He emphasizes the significance of the Ancient Unity, and he highlights the spiritual task of living a meaningful life in the present. As regards the connection between these two aspects, he asks how we can “weave our personal thread into the fabric of life to transform existence into sustained loving, dynamic living.” The Moravian answer would be that this task cannot be accomplished alone; it requires fellowship with like-minded believers. Moravian identity is about life in community. It is about relationships and outreach. It is about being good stewards of the web of social relations that binds individuals together into the Body of Christ. I see some affinities here in this question of Br. Bates with the image of the spiritual path offered by Br. Rights, with the small addition that Moravians like to travel in groups. I am happy to learn that Br. Bates has joined our Moravian journey only a few years ago. Brother: I hope this path continues to be a meaningful one for you, and thanks for being our companion! Sister Ruth Burcaw places the discussion of Moravian identity in the larger context of a changing religious landscape in North America. It is evident that the traditional model of Protestant denominationalism is facing serious challenges, in part due to alternative forms of religious organization and in part due to growing individualism and reluctance to commit to one particular tradition. How well equipped is the Moravian Church to respond to these demographic and cultural changes? Given the part that storytelling plays in Moravian identity, as we have seen above, this question may also be stated as follows: does the Moravian approach of a narrative collective identity speak to the sensibilities of our (post) modern culture with its new ways of digital communication and the concomitant overflow of information? This is probably a crucial issue for church leaders to consider. I am not ready to offer specific answers, yet I am convinced that the power of storytelling, the search for


How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

meaningful belonging, and the importance of human community will stay with us even in the digital age, perhaps in new forms and with innovative structures, but able to connect with the roots of our tradition nonetheless. Thus I share Sr. Burcaw’s hope that perhaps “what we perceive as a decline in traditional religion is part of something much larger—a great awakening—and a beginning rather than an ending.” Br. Art Taylor, finally, observes that, given the importance of Count Zinzendorf in the shaping of the Moravian story, “we could just as easily be called Zinzendorfians as Moravians!” This is an important point. In the 18th century, many opponents attacked the Moravians precisely by calling them “Zinzendorfians.” Fortunately, this name didn’t stick. While I believe that the original name, “Brethren’s Church,” carries more theological content than the name “Moravian,” still I think it is better to have a reference to a geographical area than to a historical person (with due apologies to all Lutherans, Calvinists, Mennonites, and Wesleyans). But in this connection, Br. Taylor raises an important question: Does our history of leaving a homeland in search of religious freedom mean much “to a visiting family in search of a church, or native people living in Central America, Alaska or Africa?” My reply would be that what we all have in common is the human experience of leaving home and following God’s call to an unknown land. The concept of spiritual pilgrimage lies at the heart of the Christian tradition. A visiting family in search of a new church home might very well find it meaningful to talk to people who are sensitive to issues of leaving home and traveling in search of a new place of belonging. Moreover, the connection to Central America, Alaska and Africa is made by the fact that the pilgrimage of Moravians often included missionary service in these areas. Their search was not only for religious freedom, but also for the chance to share the Gospel with others. I recall the advice that Count Zinzendorf gave to Moravian missionaries sent out to American Indians in Pennsylvania: “Live among them peacefully and quietly witness to the truth of the Gospel until they start asking, ‘Who are these people?’ And then you can tell your story.” Of course, Zinzendorf ’s first concern was that the missionaries would tell the story of Jesus Christ. And he is right about that. We should not focus on the Moravian story at the expense of the story of our Lord and Savior. Yet I believe that the story of Christ is so wide and inclusive that our own personal stories and the story of our Moravian tradition will easily find a place within it and that telling the story of our church may be a way to invite others to hear the story of Christ.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church



How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity

June 30-July 9, 2015 Led by MTS professors: Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber

Visit Prague & Herrnhut to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the martyrdom of John Hus Itinerary Includes: Bethlehem Chapel Prague Castle Tyn Church Chalice Rocks Husâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Birthplace Herrnhut Zinzendorf Castle Berthelsdorf Herrnhut Star Factory

MORAVIAN Theological Seminary

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Hinge 19.3: 2012 Moses Lectures: How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity  

International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

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