Zinzendorf and Moravian Missionary Principles (1/4)

Zinzendorf and Moravian Missionary Principles (1/4)

Section 1: Life of Zinzendorf

One of the most important missionary movements to develop in the history of Christianity was that of the Moravians led by Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf was a German aristocrat born in 1700.  His life was extremely influenced by Pietist Lutheran leaders and their principles from the onset of his life.  Pietism was an interdenominational movement occurring after the Reformation that sought to revitalize the churches that had grown stagnant, emphasizing a personal conversion, faithful living, prayer and Bible study in community, as well as global outreach.  It is best summarized by August Herman Francke as “a life changed, a church revived, a nation reformed,a world evangelized.”[1] Zinzendorf’s godfather was Phillip Spener, the father of Pietism, and he studied at the University of Halle, the center for Pietist thought, under Francke.  Here at Halle, he met the first Protestant missionaries sent to India, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg and Henry Plütschau.[2]

He then transferred at the request of his parents to study law at the University of Wittenberg, the center of orthodox Lutheran thought and where Martin Luther began the Reformation.  The professors had little patience for the perceived mystical and emotional Pietism but the time spent here helped Zinzendorf to respect the differences of thought within Christianity.  After graduating, he followed the aristocratic culture and went on a tour of all the great European cities.  During this time he saw a painting of Christ crowned in thorns that bore the inscription “I have done this for you; what have you done for me.” This cut Zinzendorf to the heart and reflecting in his diary he wrote “I have loved Him for a long time, but I have actually not done anything for Him.  From now on I will do whatever he leads me to do.”[3]

In 1722, this charge was answered when the Unity of the Brethren (Unitas Fratrum)came seeking asylum on his estate Hernnhut. This group came from the regions of Moravia and Bohemia where they formed in 1457 and followed the teachings of Jan Hus, a pre-Reformation Protestant who was martyred in 1415.  The intense Roman Catholic persecution during the Thirty Years War starting in 1618 caused the Brethren to be exiled from their home and they were left wandering Europe for about one hundred years. Zinzendorf opened up Herrnhut to the Brethren where he became the leader and pastor of the community.  In 1727, a revival broke out where an outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred, leading the people to repent of their quarreling and selfishness, and covenanted as a community to be led by the Spirit and a love for Christ.  Zinzendorf called this the Moravian Pentecost and a non stop, 24/7 intercessory prayer meeting began that lasted for one hundred years at Herrnhut.[4]  In 1731 at the coronation of his relative King Christian VI of Denmark, Zinzendorf met Inuits from Greenland and a former slave from the Caribbean, all who mentioned the desperate need for more Christians in their homelands. Zinzendorf brought them to Herrnhut where the community prayed together and decided to send the first group of missionaries in 1732.  By Zinzendorf’s death in 1760, Herrnhut, a village of 600 people, had sent 226 missionaries across the world, the crowning legacy of Zinzendorf and the Moravian’s devotion to God.[5] 


[1] Kenneth B. Mulholland, “Moravians, Puritans, and the Modern Missionary Movement,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156, (1999): 221.

[2] David A. Schattschneider, “Pioneers in Mission: Zinzendorf and the Moravians,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research,(1984): 63.

[3] Mulholland, “Moravians, Puritans, and the Modern Missionary Movement,” 223.

[4] Ibid., 225.

[5] Schattschneider, “Pioneers in Mission,” 64; Mulholland, “Moravians, Puritans, and the Modern Missionary Movement,” 224.

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