I was honored to hear a few Moravians address a small learning community on Friday. They shared with us some amazing history, which I had never heard. Count von Zinzendorf, living in the 1700s in Europe, founded a city named Herrnhut, a place of refuge for radical Christians who had lived in the eastern European mountains for generations.
After the refugees ironed out some conflicts, they became a great missionary village. Hundreds of Christ-followers left their homes to travel to foreign lands, earning a living with a simple trade. There they would live among society’s outcasts, serving them and loving them. They shared with them the call of Jesus to repentance and faith.
They were not seeking to begin Moravian churches, but to lead people to Jesus. They knew that they were likely never to return home, so they said their goodbyes, often at the western coast of Europe, and went to share Jesus with the world. One man even took his tombstone with him, ready to invest the rest of his life to share life with others.
Some of this may sound familiar to those of us in the Triad. Old Salem, which later became part of Winston-Salem, began as a Moravian outpost for evangelism. The various trades done in Salem raised money to support missionary efforts. They reached out to those without Christ in the new world.
There was no distinction between laity and clergy. They were all alike working to share the Savior’s love. The Count urged believers to “Win for the Lamb the reward of his suffering.” It’s all about Jesus.
Two things surprise me here. First, I’m surprised that I had never heard of this missionary enterprise. Of course I had heard of the Moravians, but they seemed like peripheral figures in church history. At the Baptist seminary I attended, I learned plenty about church history, and I even took a course on the Anabaptists. But I don’t recall ever hearing anything about the Moravians. And I know that I never heard about their radical missionary culture.
Second, I’m surprised that the effort did not endure. The missionary effort came to an end after Zinzendorf died. Although was of noble birth, he gave all he had materially to the cause. He also went deep into debt. After his death, the Moravians chose to stop the missions effort until they could repay the Count’s debt. They also chose to become a denomination. After the debt was paid, they never resumed the level of commitment to the great commission. And they were left with a denomination, an institution, a bureaucracy. And lots of church historians forgot them.
Maybe we could see a revival of this kind of radical obedience and sacrifice for the Lord. It will change the world.