When we lived in northeast Ohio many years ago, we had several occasions to visit the area around New Philadelphia, Uhrichsville, Dover, Schoenbrunn, Tuscarawas, and Gnadenhutten where there was a lot of Moravian Church history and the Moravian Church is still fairly strong. As a minister, I have always been interested in religious history. Though descended from the followers of early reformer Jan Hus and based upon the principles which he taught, the modern Moravian Church is primarily the result of the work of Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), both of whose parents were from noble German families. His grandfather, Maximillian von Zinzendorf, chose to sell his Austrian possessions and emigrate to Franconia rather than accept forced conversion to Catholicism. Nicolaus's father was in the service of the Saxon Elector at Dresden at the time of his youngest son's birth. He died six weeks later and the child was sent to live with his maternal grandmother and an aunt. His mother married again when he was four years old, and he was educated under the charge of his pietistic Lutheran grandmother, Henriette Catharina von Gersdorff, who did much to shape his character.
Educated at the Paedagogium in Halle, where Pietism was strong, and at the University of Wittenberg, the seat of Lutheran traditionalism, Zinzendorf studied law. After graduation, he traveled in the Netherlands, France, and various parts of Germany, then married Erdmuthe Dorothea Reuss, sister of his childhood friend Count Henry Reuss, bought Berthelsdorf from his maternal grandmother, Baroness von Gersdorf, and began his career in the service of the Electors of Saxony at Dresden. In 1722, Zinzendorf offered asylum to a number of persecuted wanderers from Moravia and Bohemia and permitted them to build the village of Herrnhut on a corner of his estate of Berthelsdorf. Many of them were part of the Unitas Fratrum remnant founded by Jan Hus. As Zinzendorf began to study the history of the Moravians, he was astonished to find powerful similarities between the early Unitas Fratrum and the newly established order of Herrnhut. In 1732, the community began sending out missionaries. In 1736, Zinzendorf was exiled from his home in Saxony. He and a number of his followers moved to Ronneburg Castle near Marienborn in Wetteravia, owned by Count Casimir of Budingen, and founded another community known as Herrnhaag. Zinzendorf was consecrated a bishop of the Moravian Church on May 20, 1737. He himself began making missionary trips, in 1739 to St. Thomas in the West Indies, in 1741, to the colony of Pennsylvania, and in 1749 to England, where he lived until 1755. Eventually, Zinzendorf was allowed to return to Saxony, where he died rather suddenly.
This is one of the wonderful "Christian Heroes: Then and Now" series by Janet and Geoff Benge. There were a number of Zinzendorf's beliefs and practices mentioned in the book with which many would not agree-communion on days other than the first day of the week, some degree of emotionalism, church "love feasts," having women as elders, the belief that God speaks to people directly, and the church's involvement in secular business-but we don't always have to agree with every aspect of a people's theology to accept whatever truth they do teach, to appreciate their courage, and to admire their zeal. Zinzendorf also wrote several hymns, of which the best-known are "Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness" and "Jesus, still lead on." Unfortunately, very few if any of them have ever appeared in songbooks used by churches of Christ. Other books in the "Christian Heroes: Then and Now" series which we have are about Gladys Aylward, Eric Liddell, George Muller, Nate Saint, Rachel Saint, Ida Scudder, Mary Slessor, Corrie ten Boom, and Florence Young. The Benges are also writing another series "Heroes of History," of which we have ones about Thomas Edison, Meriwether Lewis, William Penn, Theodore Roosevelt, Alan Shepard, and Orville Wright. For both series, YWAM publishes study guides which can be used in homeschools or classrooms. They are among the best series of biographies that I have read.show more
by Wayne S. Walker