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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 3 — The Rule of the Germans. 1760-1857

Chapter 1 — The Church and Her Mission, or The Three Constitutional Synods, 1760-1775

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AS we enter on the closing stages of our journey, the character of the landscape changes; and, leaving behind the wild land of romance and adventure, we come out on the broad, high road of slow but steady progress. The death of Zinzendorf was no crushing blow. At first some enemies of the Brethren rejoiced, and one prophet triumphantly remarked: "We shall now see an end of these Moravians." But that time the prophet spoke without his mantle. Already the Brethren were sufficiently strong to realize their calling in the world. In Saxony they had established powerful congregations at Herrnhut and Kleinwelke; in Silesia, at Niesky, Gnadenberg, Gnadenfrei and Neusalz; in Central Germany, at Ebersdorf, Neudietendorf and Barby; in North Germany, at Rixdorf and Berlin; in West Germany, at Neuwied-on-the-Rhine; in Holland, at Zeist, near Utrecht. At first sight this list does not look very impressive; but we must, of course, bear in mind that most of these congregations were powerful settlements, that each settlement was engaged in Diaspora work, and that the branches of that work had extended to Denmark, Switzerland and Norway. In Great Britain a similar principle held good. In England the Brethren had flourishing causes at Fulneck, Gomersal, Mirfield, Wyke, Ockbrook, Bedford, Fetter Lane, Tytherton, Dukinfield, Leominster; in Ireland, at Dublin, Gracehill, Gracefield, Ballinderry and Kilwarlin; and around each of these congregations were numerous societies and preaching places. In North America they had congregations at Bethlehem, Emmaus, Graceham, Lancaster, Lititz, Nazareth, New Dorp, New York, Philadelphia, Schoeneck and York (York Co.); and in addition, a number of preaching places. In Greenland they had built the settlements of New Herrnhut and Lichtenau. In the West Indies they had established congregations in St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Jan, Jamaica and Antigua. In Berbice and Surinam they had three main centres of work. Among the Red Indians Zeisberger was busily engaged. As accurate statistics are not available, I am not able to state exactly how many Moravians there were then in the world; but we know that in the mission-field alone they had over a thousand communicant members and seven thousand adherents under their special care.

As soon, then, as the leading Brethren in Herrnhut — such as John de Watteville, Leonard Dober, David Nitschmann, the Syndic, Frederick Köber, and others — had recovered from the shock occasioned by Zinzendorf's death, they set about the difficult task of organizing the work of the whole Moravian Church. First, they formed a provisional Board of Directors, known as the Inner Council; next, they despatched two messengers to America, to summon the practical Spangenberg home to take his place on the board; and then, at the earliest convenient opportunity, they summoned their colleagues to Marienborn for the first General Representative Synod of the Renewed Church of the Brethren. As the Count had left the affairs of the Church in confusion, the task before the Brethren was enormous {1764.}. They had their Church constitution to frame; they had their finances to straighten out; they had their mission in the world to define; they had, in a word, to bring order out of chaos; and so difficult did they find the task that eleven years passed away before it was accomplished to any satisfaction. For thirty years they had been half blinded by the dazzling brilliance of Zinzendorf; but now they began to see a little more clearly. As long as Zinzendorf was in their midst, an orderly system of government was impossible. It was now an absolute necessity. The reign of one man was over; the period of constitutional government began. At all costs, said the sensible Frederick Köber, the Count must have no successor. For the first time the Synod was attended by duly elected congregation deputies: those deputies came not only from Germany, but from Great Britain, America and the mission-field; and thus the voice of the Synod was the voice, not of one commanding genius, but of the whole Moravian Church.

The first question to settle was the Church's Mission. For what purpose did the Moravian Church exist? To that question the Brethren gave a threefold answer. First, they said, they must labour in the whole world; second, their fundamental doctrine must be the doctrine of reconciliation through the merits of the life and sufferings of Christ as set forth in the Holy Scriptures and in the Augsburg Confession; and, third, in their settlements they would continue to enforce that strict discipline — including the separation of the sexes — without which the Gospel message would be a mockery. Thus the world was their parish, the cross their message, the system of discipline their method.

Secondly, the Brethren framed their constitution. Of all the laws ever passed by the Brethren, those passed at the first General Synod had, for nearly a hundred years (1764—1857), the greatest influence on the progress of the Moravian Church. The keyword is "centralization." If the Church was to be a united body, that Church, held the Brethren, must have a central court of appeal, a central administrative board, and a central legislative authority. At this first Constitutional Synod, therefore, the Brethren laid down the following principles of government: That all power to make rules and regulations touching the faith and practice of the Church should be vested in the General Synod; that this General Synod should consist of all bishops and ministers of the Church and of duly elected congregation deputies; that no deputy should be considered duly elected unless his election had been confirmed by the Lot; and that during an inter-synodal period the supreme management of Church affairs should be in the hands of three directing boards, which should all be elected by the Synod, and be responsible to the next Synod. The first board was the Supreme Board of Management. It was called the Directory, and consisted of nine Brethren. The second was the Brethren's ministry of foreign affairs. It was called the Board of Syndics, and managed the

Church's relations with governments. The third was the Brethren's treasury. It was called the Unity's Warden's Board, and managed the Church finances. For us English readers, however, the chief point to notice is that, although these boards were elected by the General Synod, and although, in theory, they were international in character, in actual fact they consisted entirely of Germans; and, therefore, we have the astounding situation that during the next ninety-three years the whole work of the Moravian Church — in Germany, in Holland, in Denmark, in Great Britain, in North America, and in the rapidly extending mission-field — was managed by a board or boards consisting of Germans and resident in Germany. There all General Synods were held; there lay all supreme administrative and legislative power.

Of local self-government there was practically none. It is true that so-called "Provincial Synods" were held; but these Synods had no power to make laws. At this period the Moravian Church was divided, roughly, into the six Provinces of Upper Lusatia, Silesia, Holland, England, Ireland, and America; and in each of these Provinces Synods might be held. But a Provincial Synod was a Synod only in name. "A Provincial Synod," ran the law, "is an assembly of the ministers and deputies of the congregations of a whole province or land who lay to heart the weal or woe of their congregations, and lay the results of their conferences before the General Synod or the Directory, which is constituted from one General Synod to another. In other places and districts, indeed, that name does not suit; but yet in every congregation and district a solemn conference of that sort may every year be holden, and report be made out of it to the Directory and General Synod."

In individual congregations the same principle applied. There, too, self-government was almost unknown. At the head of each congregation was a board known as the Elders' Conference; and that Elders' Conference consisted, not of Brethren elected by the Church members, but of the minister, the minister's wife, and the choir-labourers, all appointed by the supreme Directing Board. It is true that the members of the congregation had power to elect a committee, but the powers of that committee were strictly limited. It dealt with business matters only, and all members of the Elders' Conference were ex officio members of the Committee. We can see, then, what this curious system meant. It meant that a body of Moravian members in London, Dublin or Philadelphia were under the authority of a Conference appointed by a Directing Board of Germans resident in Germany.

The next question to settle was finance; and here again the word "centralization" must be our guide through the jungle. At that time the finances had sunk so low that at this first General Synod most of the ministers and deputies had to sleep on straw, and now the great problem to settle was, how to deal with Zinzendorf's property. As long as Zinzendorf was in the flesh he had generously used the income from his estates for all sorts of Church purposes. But now the situation was rather delicate. On the one hand, Zinzendorf's landed property belonged by law to his heirs, i.e., his three daughters, and his wife's nephew, Count Reuss; on the other hand, he had verbally pledged it to the Brethren to help them out of their financial troubles. The problem was solved by purchase. In exchange for Zinzendorf's estates at Berthelsdorf and Gross-Hennersdorf, the Brethren offered the heirs the sum of £25,000. The heirs accepted the offer; the deeds of sale were prepared; and thus Zinzendorf's landed property became the property of the Moravian Church. We must not call this a smart business transaction. When the Brethren purchased Zinzendorf's estates, they purchased his debts as well; and those debts amounted now to over £150,000. The one thing the Brethren gained was independence. They were no longer under an obligation to the Zinzendorf family.

At the next General Synod, held again at Marienborn {1769.}, the centralizing principle was still more emphatically enforced. As the three separate boards of management had not worked very smoothly together, the Brethren now abolished them, and resolved that henceforth all supreme administrative authority should be vested in one grand comprehensive board, to be known as the Unity's Elders' Conference.138 The Conference was divided into three departments — the College of Overseers, the College of Helpers, and the College of Servants. It is hard for English readers to realize what absolute powers this board possessed. The secret lies in the Brethren's use of the Lot. Hitherto the use of the Lot had been haphazard; henceforth it was a recognized principle of Church government. At this Synod the Brethren laid down the law that all elections,139 appointments and important decisions should be ratified by the Lot. It was used, not only to confirm elections, but often, though not always, to settle questions of Church policy. It was often appealed to at Synods. If a difficult question came up for discussion, the Brethren frequently consulted the Lot. The method was to place three papers in a box, and then appoint someone to draw one out. If the paper was positive, the resolution was carried; if the paper was negative, the resolution was lost; if the paper was blank, the resolution was laid on the table. The weightiest matters were settled in this way. At one Synod the Lot decided that George Waiblinger should be entrusted with the task of preparing an "Exposition of Christian Doctrine"; and yet when Waiblinger fulfilled his duty, the Brethren were not satisfied with his work. At another Synod the Lot decided that Spangenberg should not be entrusted with that task, and yet the Brethren were quite convinced that Spangenberg was the best man for the purpose. But perhaps the greatest effect of the Lot was the power and dignity which it conferred on officials. No man could be a member of

the U.E.C. unless his election had been confirmed by the Lot; and when that confirmation had been obtained, he felt that he had been appointed, not only by his Brethren, but also by God. Thus the U.E.C., appointed by the Lot, employed the Lot to settle the most delicate questions. For example, no Moravian minister might marry without the consent of the U.E.C. The U.E.C. submitted his choice to the Lot; and if the Lot decided in the negative, he accepted the decision as the voice of God. In the congregations the same practice prevailed. All applications for church membership and all proposals of marriage were submitted to the Local Elders' Conference; and in each case the Conference arrived at its decision by consulting the Lot. To some critics this practice appeared a symptom of lunacy. It was not so regarded by the Brethren. It was their way of seeking the guidance of God; and when they were challenged to justify their conduct, they appealed to the example of the eleven Apostles as recorded in Acts i. 26, and also to the promise of Christ, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, I will do it."

At this Synod the financial problem came up afresh. The Brethren tried a bold experiment. As the Church's debts could not be extinguished in any other way, they determined to appeal to the generosity of the members; and to this end they now resolved that the property of the Church should be divided into as many sections as there were congregations, that each congregation should have its own property and bear its own burden, and that each congregation-committee should supply the needs of its own minister. Of course, money for general Church purposes would still be required: but the Brethren trusted that this would come readily from the pockets of loving members.

But love, though a beautiful silken bond, is sometimes apt to snap. The new arrangement was violently opposed. What right, asked grumblers, had the Synod to saddle individual congregations with the debts of the whole Church? The local managers of diaconies proved incompetent. At Neuwied one Brother lost £6,000 of Church money in a lottery. The financial pressure became harder than ever. James Skinner, a member of the London congregation, suggested that the needful money should be raised by weekly subscriptions. In England this proposal might have found favour; in Germany it was rejected with contempt. The relief came from an unexpected quarter. At Herrnhut the members were celebrating the congregation Jubilee {1772.}; and twenty poor Single Sisters there, inspired with patriotic zeal, concocted the following letter to the U.E.C.: "After maturely weighing how we might be able, in proportion to our slender means, to contribute something to lessen the debt on the Unity — i.e., our own debt — we have cheerfully agreed to sacrifice and dispose of all unnecessary articles, such as gold and silver plate, watches, snuff-boxes, rings, trinkets and jewellery of every kind for the purpose of establishing a Sinking Fund, on condition that not only the congregation at Herrnhut, but all the members of the Church everywhere, rich and poor, old and young, agree to this proposal. But this agreement is not to be binding on those who can contribute in other ways." The brave letter caused an immense sensation. The spirit of generosity swept over the Church like a freshening breeze. For very shame the other members felt compelled to dive into their pockets; and the young men, not being possessed of trinkets, offered free labour in their leisure hours. The good folk at Herrnhut vied with each other in giving; and the Brethren at Philadelphia vied with the Brethren at Herrnhut. The Sinking Fund was established. In less than twelve months the Single Sisters at Herrnhut raised £1,300; the total contributions at Herrnhut amounted to £3,500; and in three years the Sinking Fund had a capital of £25,000. Thus did twenty Single Sisters earn a high place on the Moravian roll of honour. At the same time, the U.E.C. were able to sell the three estates of Marienborn, Herrnhaag and Lindsey House; and in these ways the debt on the Church was gradually wiped off.

The third constitutional Synod was held at Barby, on the Elbe, near Magdeburg {1775.}. At this Synod the power of the U.E.C. was strengthened. In order to prevent financial crises in future, the Brethren now laid down the law that each congregation, though having its own property, should contribute a fixed annual quota to the general fund; that all managers of local diaconies should be directly responsible to the U.E.C.; and that each congregation should send in to the U.E.C. an annual financial statement. In this way, therefore, all Church property was, directly or indirectly, under the control of the U.E.C. The weakness of this arrangement is manifest. As long as the U.E.C. was resident in Germany, and as long as it consisted almost exclusively of Germans, it could not be expected to understand financial questions arising in England and America, or to fathom the mysteries of English and American law; and yet this was the system in force for the next eighty-two years. It is true that the Brethren devised a method to overcome this difficulty. The method was the method of official visitations. At certain periods a member of the U.E.C. would pay official visitations to the chief congregations in Germany, England, America and the Mission Field. For example, Bishop John Frederick Reichel visited North America (1778—1781) and the East Indies; Bishop John de Watteville (1778—1779) visited in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales; and John Henry Quandt (1798) visited Neuwied-on-the-Rhine. In some ways the method was good, in others bad. it was good because it fostered the unity of the Church, and emphasized its broad international character. It was bad because it was cumbrous and expensive, because it exalted too highly the official element, and because it checked local independent growth.

Finally, at this

third constitutional Synod, the Brethren struck a clear note on doctrinal questions. The main doctrines of the Church were defined as follows: (1) The doctrine of the universal depravity of man; that there is no health in man, and that since the fall he has no power whatever left to help himself. (2) The doctrine of the Divinity of Christ; that God, the Creator of all things, was manifest in the flesh, and reconciled us unto Himself; that He is before all things, and that by Him all things consist. (3) The doctrine of the atonement and the satisfaction made for us by Jesus Christ; that He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification; and that by His merits alone we receive freely the forgiveness of sin and sanctification in soul and body. (4) The doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the operations of His grace; that it is He who worketh in us conviction of sin, faith in Jesus, and pureness of heart. (5) The doctrine of the fruits of faith; that faith must evidence itself by willing obedience to the commandments of God, from love and gratitude to Him. In those doctrines there was nothing striking or peculiar. They were the orthodox Protestant doctrines of the day; they were the doctrines of the Lutheran Church, of the Church of England, and the Church of Scotland; and they were, and are, all to be found in the Augsburg Confession, in the Thirty-nine Articles, and in the Westminster Confession.

Such, then, were the methods and doctrines laid down by the three constitutional Synods. In methods the Brethren were distinctive; in doctrine they were "orthodox evangelical." We may now sum up the results of this chapter. We have a semi-democratic Church constitution. We have a governing board, consisting mostly of Germans, and resident in Germany. We have the systematic use of the Lot. We have a broad evangelical doctrinal standpoint. We are now to see how these principles and methods worked out in Germany, Great Britain and America.


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