The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops is meeting. On the agenda is the subject of full communion with the Moravian Church. They are an interesting Church. According to their history, they began 60 years before Martin Luther and 100 years before the establishment of the Anglican Church (CofE). I first remember seeing the Moravians when I helped a graduate school colleague move to Allentown/Bethlehem, PA. The Moravians have a school and seminary, as well as their U.S. headquarters, there.
Like religious Quakers and Anabaptists, there is something that I am drawn to in Moravian “systems” or disciplines or ways of thinking and doing.
From the Wikipedia entry for them:
Spirit of the Moravian Church
An account of the ethos of the Moravian Church is given by one of its British Bishops, C H Shawe. In a lecture series delivered at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Shawe described the Spirit of the Moravian Church as having five characteristics. These are simplicity, happiness, unintrusiveness, fellowship and the ideal of service.
Simplicity is a focus on the essentials of faith and a lack of interest in the niceties of doctrinal definition. Shawe quotes Zinzendorf’s remark that ‘The Apostles say: “We believe we have salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ ….” If I can only teach a person that catechism I have made him a divinity scholar for all time’ (Shawe, 1977, p 9). From this simplicity flow secondary qualities of genuineness and practicality.
Happiness is the natural and spontaneous response to God’s free and gracious gift of salvation. Again Shawe quotes Zinzendorf: ‘There is a difference between a genuine Pietist and a genuine Moravian. The Pietist has his sin in the foreground and looks at the wounds of Jesus; the Moravian has the wounds in the forefront and looks from them upon his sin. The Pietist in his timidity is comforted by the wounds; the Moravian in his happiness is shamed by his sin’ (p 13).
Unintrusiveness is based on the Moravian belief that God positively wills the existence of a variety of churches to cater for different spiritual needs. There is no need to win converts from other churches. The source of Christian unity is not legal form but everyone’s heart-relationship with the Saviour.
Fellowship is based on this heart-relationship. Shawe says: ‘The Moravian ideal has been to gather together kindred hearts … Where there are “Christian hearts in love united”, there fellowship is possible in spite of differences of intellect and intelligence, of thought, opinion, taste and outlook. … Fellowship [in Zinzendorf’s time] meant not only a bridging of theological differences but also of social differences; the artisan and aristocrat were brought together as brothers and sat as equal members on the same committee’ (pp 21,22).
The ideal of service entails happily having the attitude of a servant. This shows itself partly in faithful service in various roles within congregations but more importantly in service of the world ‘by the extension of the Kingdom of God’. Historically, this has been evident in educational and especially missionary work. Shawe remarks that none ‘could give themselves more freely to the spread of the gospel than those Moravian emigrants who, by settling in Herrnhut [ie, on Zinzendorf’s estate], had gained release from suppression and persecution’ (p 26).
In all of our Episcopalian and Anglican fighting over the last 6 years, what battles within me comes from two angles. The first comes from my American-Evangelical-Holiness and Arminian upbringing that says that belief in what we know as traditional Christian teaching and concepts are vital to real faith and relationship with God. There can be corruption of belief and a self-caused falling away from grace and salvation. We must guard against such corruption and be holy as much as it is possible with us.
The second comes from my knowledge of the effects of cultural inculcation upon our ability to understand Scripture and God’s instruction to us, and of the co-opting of the Way of Christ by the Systems-of-this-World. We so easily mistake cultural conviction for the Gospel. The Culture assimilates the profoundly contrary message and call of Jesus Christ and warps it so to justify its own existence. We fall prey to its allure. So, most of the Christian experience in most of our churches tends to be profoundly deficient. (And one wonders why fewer and fewer people find the Church to be compelling or a something worth much attention.) Given all that, our human fallibility, and our tendency to need to justify our own desires and proclivities, we tend to want to impose our myopic concepts upon all, demanding that all others capitulate to our sectarian theological precepts (or our national interests). We tend to loose trust that God will be God, God will be judge, God will be saviour, God will be sustainer, God is perfectly capable of managing His Church, and that the immediacy of NOW does not impinge upon God’s ability to do as He pleases, when He pleases, how He pleases. We are so short-sighted. We are so insecure in our faith. We lack trust in the very God we proclaim.
I fight between wanting to demand people believe â€œthis wayâ€ (force acceptance of a check-off list of doctrines or tenants that makes things nice and neat) and the freedom realized from a willingness to allow people their own way and for God to make His own judgments about who is in and who is out. (Surely, God does make decisions based on His criteria alone about who is in and out – the choice is given to us and by our decisions we opt out ourselves.)
What do I want to say? I find it hard to let go! To let go of the fear I have of being wrong, the fear I have of the corruption of the Gospel, the fear I have that other souls will be lost because false teachings concerning the necessities of the Gospel overwhelm us. There are reasons for such fear, truly. But the question is the response to the reasons! The battle for the right response rages within me. Sign this covenant, this declaration, use these exact words, accept this precept, or else… or realizing that God works beyond my ability to rightly categorize, philosophize, theologize, and all that.
Beyond my Evangelical background and the experience of God I discovered through it, I have learned of the vital importance of the Tradition. That which survives over time, over millennia, among a vast array of cultures, can be trusted. I am becoming a Traditionalist, not because I demand conservation of prior institutional systems and doctrines of the Church catholic, but because that which lasts and changes lives is worthy to be proclaimed and intensely listened to.
We are too American. We are too haughty. We are too insecure. So, of the details of the Moravians above, I draw into myself ideas of a quite simplicity, happiness, un-intrusiveness, fellowship, and add to it Anglican comprehensiveness and a willingness to trust God that He will sort out our differences – differences that are probably based on internal stuff that doesn’t really come close to Jesus’ simple and profoundly difficult command to love God with all of my being and to love my neighbor as God enables me to love myself.
It isn’t that I have a problem with the traditional beliefs of the conservatives or the latitude and rebelliousness of the liberals, but I have a problem with either side demanding that they “really know,” that they are “absolutely right,” and their propensity to condemn outright the other side. The joy of the Lord is my strength, not my ascendancy to the 39-Articles or the Jesus Seminar. Anglicans used to strongly believe that “fellowship is possible in spite of differences of intellect and intelligence, of thought, opinion, taste and outlook.” We are loosing our ability to be in the via media. I fear that in full-communion with the Episcopal Church, we may infect the Moravians with our disease of vainglory, division, and hatred.