The Generosity and Forgiveness That Led to the Revival of the Moravian Church

Joseph Hutton’s History of the Moravian Church, Part 6

In 1727, a revival came to the town of Hernnhut, Germany. It led to a missionary movement that affected the world. It also brought new life to the Church of the Brethren, a 270-year-old church that had almost been persecuted out of existence.

This happened because of the generosity of Nicholas Lewis, Count of Zinzendorf. In 1722, Nicholas, also called Count Zinzendorf, received a request that some religious refugees be allowed to settle on his land.

The man who made the request was Christian David. The refugees were persecuted Protestants from Moravia. Count Zinzendorf said yes, and they built a town called Herrnhut.

For the next five years, Christian David stayed busy. He traveled back to Moravia ten times, calling for persecuted believers to find refuge in the new settlement. (It’s for this reason that the Church of the Brethren became known as the Moravian Church.)

During those five years that Herrnhut was growing, Zinzendorf was not paying much attention. He was occupied at the main town on his property, Berthelsdorf, located about a mile away from Herrnhut. In Berthelsdorf, the Count labored for the renewal of the local Lutheran congregation. This was his passion, which he shared with their pastor, his friend John Rothe.

Meanwhile, things in Herrnhut were not headed not toward revival but toward collapse. Joseph Hutton tells the story in his History of the Moravian Church:

As the rumour spread in the surrounding country that the Count had offered his estate as an asylum for persecuted Protestants all sorts of religious malcontents came to make Herrnhut their home.

Some had a touch of Calvinism, and were fond of discussing free will and predestination; some were disciples of the sixteenth century Anabaptist mystic, Casper Schwenkfeld; some were vague evangelicals from Swabia; some were Lutheran Pietists from near at hand; and some, such as the “Five Churchmen,” were descendants of the Brethren’s Church, and wished to see her revived on German soil.

The result was dissension in the camp. As the settlement grew larger things grew worse. As the settlers learned to know each other better they learned to love each other less.

Into this situation came a disgruntled Lutheran who had been kicked out of his previous church. Soon after his arrival he began to spread his latest revelation. The Lutheran Church, he proclaimed, was Babylon. Count Zinzendorf was the Beast from the book of Revelation. Pastor John Rothe was the False Prophet.

He found a receptive audience in Herrnhut. Even Christian David got caught up in his message.

Zinzendorf did not respond to the people of Herrnhut the way I imagine most people would respond. That, of course, would be to say, “OK then, get out of my back yard!”

Instead, Zinzendorf responded the way I imagine Abraham Lincoln might have responded.

“Although our dear Christian David,” he said, “was calling me the Beast and Mr. Rothe the False Prophet, we could see his honest heart nevertheless, and knew we could lead him right. It is not a bad maxim,” he added, “when honest men are going wrong to put them into office, and they will learn from experience what they will never learn from speculation.”

Zinzendorf acted on that maxim. He organized the Hernnhut community and appointed leaders. One of them was Christian David himself. Zinzendorf made these men responsible for maintaining peace and unity.

Yes, Zinzendorf promoted the man who had just called him the antichrist.

It worked. Not long after that, revival came to Berthelsdorf and Herrnhut.

Zinzendorf took a big risk and it paid off. He showed remarkable wisdom and generosity of spirit. What makes it even more impressive is that he was only 27 years old.