Count von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)
“There can be no Christianity without community.”
Schooled at the table of August Hermann Franke, the young Nicholas Ludwig Zinzendorf learned the teaching of the early Pietists. When approached by a group of displaced Moravians, descendants of the one of the earliest Protestant movements the Hussites, he invited them to set up camp on his spacious estate in eastern Germany near the border of the now Czech Republic. Renamed the village of Herrnhut (the Lord’s Watch), the people gathered and struggled to find unity among the various factions living in such close proximity. With tensions erupting, a spiritual awakening occurred. In the fertile seedbed of living as community, the Count began to pastor them and lead them into a deep experiential and relational understanding of life in Christ. With a simple approach to the scriptural text and joyful familial lifestyle created among them, their way of following Christ made possible a world-wide sending of missionaries to other parts of the world, influencing other Kingdom endeavors including the conversion of John Wesley, the father of the Methodists in England.
Like his mentor Francke, Zinzendorf had great skill in ordering the life of the community. His words in Brotherly Love and Agreement at Herrnhut (1727) describe his deep convictions of the attitude that must be held for others in community:
8. Everyone should be careful to comprehend the true foundation of the saving doctrine on which we all agreed, so that we may be able to give an answer to all our adversaries in meekness, yet with wisdom and power, and all may mutually defend and support one another.
9. When any traces of a good work begin to show themselves in one soul or another, no premature judgment concerning them should be formed; but it is expedient to wait with patience till the fruits begin to appear, while we must be thankful to God for the good beginning which is to be traced, and promote their welfare as much as lies in our power.
(Pietists: Selected Readings, Peter C. Erb, editor, 327).
Although Zinzendorf may not have referred to his writing as a “Rule,” it did give structure to an unique expression of common Christian life. With emphasis on new birth and conversion, he helped give life to a small movement that still influences evangelical understandings of work and mission. The ministry of Zinzendorf and the community he pastored forged a structure of intentional relationships and life together that we hold as a community at Abbey Way.