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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

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

Chapter 7 — The Separation of the Provinces, 1857-1899

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AS soon as the American demands became known in Germany, the German Brethren were much disturbed in their minds; they feared that if these demands were granted the unity of the Moravian Church would be destroyed; and next year they met in a German Provincial Synod, condemned the American proposals as unsound, and pathetically requested the American Brethren to reconsider their position {1856.}. And now, to make the excitement still keener, an anonymous writer, who called himself "Forscher" (Inquirer), issued a pamphlet hotly attacking some of the time-honoured institutions of the Church. He called his pamphlet, "Die Brüderkirche: Was ist Wahrheit?" i.e., The Truth about the Brethren's Church, and in his endeavour to tell the truth he penned some stinging words. He asserted that far too much stress had been laid on the "Chief Eldership of Christ"; he denounced the abuse of the Lot; he declared that the Brethren's settlements were too exclusive; he criticized Zinzendorf's "Church within the Church" idea; he condemned the old "Diacony" system as an unholy alliance of the secular and the sacred; and thus he described as sources of evil the very customs which many Germans regarded as precious treasures. As this man was really John Henry Buchner, he was, of course, a German in blood; but Buchner was then a missionary in Jamaica, and thus his attack, like the American demands, came from across the Atlantic. No wonder the German Brethren were excited. No wonder they felt that a crisis in the Church had arrived. For all loyal Moravians the question now was whether the Moravian Church could stand the strain; and, in order to preserve the true spirit of unity, some Brethren at Gnadenfeld prepared and issued an "Appeal for United Prayer." "At this very time," they declared, "when the Church is favoured with an unusual degree of outward prosperity, the enemy of souls is striving to deal a blow at our spiritual union by sowing among us the seeds of discord and confusion"; and therefore they besought their Brethren — German, English and American alike — to banish all feelings of irritation, and to join in prayer every Wednesday evening for the unity and prosperity of the Brethren's Church.

At length, June 8th, 1857, the General Synod met at Herrnhut {1857.}. In his opening sermon Bishop John Nitschmann struck the right note. He reminded his Brethren of the rock from which they were hewn; he appealed to the testimony of history; and he asserted that the testimony of history was that the Moravian Church had been created, not by man, but by God. "A word," he said, "never uttered before at a Brethren's Synod has lately been heard among us — the word ‘separation.' Separation among Brethren! The very sound sends a pang to the heart of every true Brother!" With that appeal ringing in their ears, the Brethren addressed themselves to their difficult task; a committee was formed to examine the American proposals; the spirit of love triumphed over the spirit of discord; and finally, after much discussion, the new constitution was framed.

If the unity of the Church was to be maintained, there must, of course, still be one supreme authority; and, therefore the Brethren now decided that henceforward the General Synod should be the supreme legislative, and the U.E.C. the supreme administrative, body. But the constitution of the General Synod was changed. It was partly an official and partly an elected body. On the one hand, there were still a number of ex-officio members; on the other a large majority of elected deputies. Thus the General Synod was now composed of: (1) Ex-officio members: i.e., the twelve members of the U.E.C.; all Bishops of the Church; one member of the English and one of the American P.E.C.; the Secretarius Unitatis Fratrum in Anglia; the administrators of the Church's estates in Pennsylvania and North Carolina; the Director of the Warden's Department; the Director of the Missions Department; the Unity's Librarian. (2) Elected members: i.e., nine deputies from each of the three Provinces, elected by the Synods of these Provinces. As these twenty-seven deputies could be either ministers or laymen, it is clear that the democratic principle was now given some encouragement; but, on the other hand, the number of officials was still nearly as great as the number of deputies. The functions of the General Synod were defined as follows: (a) To determine the doctrines of the Church, i.e., to decide all questions which may arise upon this subject. (b) To decide as to all essential points of Liturgy. (c) To prescribe the fundamental rules of order and discipline. (d) To determine what is required for membership in the Church. (e) To nominate and appoint Bishops. (f) To manage the Church's Foreign Missions and Educational Work. (g) To inspect the Church's general finances. (h) To elect the U.E.C. (i) To form and constitute General Synods, to fix the time and place of their meetings, and establish the basis of their representation. (j) To settle everything concerning the interests of the Moravian Church as a whole.

As the U.E.C. were elected by the General Synod, it was natural that they should still possess a large share of administrative power; and therefore they were now authorized to manage all concerns of a general nature, to represent the Church in her dealings with the State, and with other religious bodies, and to see that the principles and regulations established by the General Synod were carried out in every department of Church work. For the sake of efficiency the U.E.C. were divided into three boards, the Educational, Financial, and Missionary; they managed, in this way, the schools in Germany, the general finances, and the whole of the foreign missions; and meanwhile, for legal reasons, they also acted as P.E.C. for the German Province of the Church. Thus the first part of the problem was solved, and the unity of the Moravian Church was maintained.

The next task was to

satisfy the American demand for Home Rule. For this purpose the Brethren now resolved that each Province of the Church should have its own property; that each Province should hold its own Provincial Synod; and that each of the three Provincial Synods should have power to make laws, provided these laws did not conflict with the laws laid down by a General Synod. As the U.E.C. superintended the work in Germany, there was no further need for a new arrangement there; but in Great Britain and North America the Provincial Synod in each case was empowered to elect its own P.E.C., and the P.E.C., when duly elected, managed the affairs of the Province. They had the control of all provincial property. They appointed ministers to their several posts; they summoned Provincial Synods when they thought needful; and thus each Province possessed Home Rule in all local affairs.

For the next twenty-two years this constitution — so skilfully drawn — remained unimpaired. At best, however, it was only a compromise; and in 1879 an alteration was made {1879.}. As Mission work was the only work in which the whole Church took part as such, it was decided that only the Mission Department of the U.E.C. should be elected by the General Synod; the two other departments, the Educational and Financial, were to be nominated by the German Provincial Synod; and in order that the British and American Provinces should have a court of appeal, a new board, called the Unity Department, was created. It consisted of six members, i.e., the four members of the Missions Department, one from the Educational Department, and one from the Finance Department. At the same time the U.E.C., divided still into its three departments, remained the supreme Board of Management.

But this arrangement was obviously doomed to failure {1890.}. In the first place it was so complex that few could understand it, and only a person of subtle intellect could define the difference between the functions of the U.E.C. and the functions of the Unity Department; and, in the second place, it was quite unfair to the German Brethren. In Germany the U.E.C. still acted as German P.E.C.; of its twelve members four were elected, not by a German Provincial Synod, but by the General Synod; and, therefore, the Germans were ruled by a board of whom only eight members were elected by the Germans themselves. At the next General Synod, therefore (1889), the U.E.C. was divided into two departments: first, the Foreign Mission Department, consisting of four members, elected by the General Synod; second, the German P.E.C., consisting of eight members, elected by the German Provincial Synod. Thus, at last, thirty-two years after the British and American Provinces, did the German Province attain Provincial independence.

But even this arrangement proved unsatisfactory. As we thread our way through these constitutional changes, we can easily see where the trouble lay. At each General Synod the problem was, how to reconcile the unity of the Church with the rights of its respective Provinces; and so far the problem had not been solved. The flaw in the last arrangement is fairly obvious. If the U.E.C. was still the supreme managing board, it was unfair to the Americans and Britons that eight of its twelve members should be really the German P.E.C., elected by the German Provincial Synod.

The last change in the constitution was of British origin {1898.}. At a Provincial Synod held in Mirfield, the British Moravians sketched a plan whereby the U.E.C. and the Unity Department would both cease to exist; and when the next General Synod met at Herrnhut, this plan was practically carried into effect. At present, therefore, the Moravian Church is constituted as follows {1899.}: First, the supreme legislative body is still the General Synod; second, the Church is divided into four Provinces, the German, the British, the American North, and the American South; third, each of these four Provinces holds its own Provincial Synods, makes its own laws, and elects its own P.E.C.; fourth, the foreign mission work is managed by a Mission Board, elected by the General Synod; and last, the supreme U.E.C., no longer a body seated in Germany and capable of holding frequent meetings, is now composed of the Mission Board and the four governing boards of the four independent Provinces. In one sense, the old U.E.C. is abolished; in another, it still exists. It is abolished as a constantly active Directing Board; it exists as the manager of certain Church property,156 as the Church's representative in the eyes of the law, and as the supreme court of appeal during the period between General Synods. As some of the members of this composite board live thousands of miles from each other, they are never able to meet all together. And yet the Board is no mere fiction. In theory, its seat is still at Berthelsdorf; and, in fact, it is still the supreme administrative authority, and as such is empowered to see that the principles laid down at a General Synod are carried out in every branch of the Moravian Church.157

And yet, though the Moravian Church is still one united ecclesiastical body, each Province is independent in the management of its own affairs. For example, let us take the case of the British Province. The legislative body is the Provincial Synod. It is composed of, first, all ordained ministers of the Church in active congregation service; second, the Advocatus Fratrum in Angliâ and the Secretarius Fratrum in Angliâ; third, lay deputies elected by the congregations. At a recent British Provincial Synod (1907) the rule was laid down that every congregation possessing more than one hundred and fifty members shall be entitled to send two deputies to the Synod; and thus there is a tendency in the British Province for the lay element to increase in power. In all local British matters the power of the Provincial Synod is supreme. It has power to

settle the time and place of its own meetings, to supervise the administration of finances, to establish new congregations, to superintend all official Church publications, to nominate Bishops, and to elect the Provincial Elders' Conference. As the U.E.C. act in the name and by the authority of a General Synod, so the P.E.C. act in the name and by the authority of a Provincial Synod. They see to the execution of the laws of the Church, appoint and superintend all ministers, pay official visits once in three years to inspect the state of the congregations, examine candidates for the ministry, administer the finances of the Province, and act as a Court of Appeal in cases of dispute.

The same principles apply in individual congregations.

As each Province manages its own affairs subject to the general laws of the Church, so each congregation manages its own affairs subject to the general laws of the Province. As far as its own affairs are concerned, each congregation is self-ruling. All members over eighteen years who have paid their dues are entitled to a vote. They are empowered to elect a deputy for the Provincial Synod; they elect also, once in three years, the congregation committee; and the committee, in co-operation with the minister, is expected to maintain good conduct, honesty and propriety among the members of the congregation, to administer due discipline and reproof, to consider applications for membership, to keep in order the church, Sunday-school, minister's house, and other congregation property, and to be responsible for all temporal and financial concerns.

Thus the constitution of the Moravian Church may be described as democratic. It is ruled by committees, conferences and synods; and these committees, conferences and synods all consist, to a large extent, of elected deputies. As the Moravians have Bishops, the question may be asked, what special part the Bishops play in the government of the Church? The reply may be given in the words of the Moravians themselves. At the last General Synod the old principle was reasserted, that "the office of a Bishop imparts in and by itself no manner of claim to the control of the whole Church or of any part of it; the administration of particular dioceses does therefore not belong to the Bishops." Thus Moravian Bishops are far from being prelates. They are authorized to ordain the presbyters and deacons; they examine the spiritual condition of the ordinands; and, above all, they are called to act as "intercessors in the Church of God." But they have no more ruling power as such than any other minister of the Church.

Finally, a word must be said about the use of the Lot. As long as the Lot was used at all, it interfered to some extent with the democratic principle; but during the last twenty or thirty years it had gradually fallen into disuse, and in 1889 all reference to the Lot was struck out of the Church regulations; and while the Brethren still acknowledge the living Christ as the only Lord and Elder of the Church, they seek His guidance, not in any mechanical way, but through prayer, and reliance on the illumination of the Holy Spirit.


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Wednesday, December 12th, 2018
the Second Week of Advent
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