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Moravian Church

Moravianism, or Unitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren), had its roots in the 15th-century Hussite reformation and eighteenth-century German Pietism. Fleeing from persecution in Bohemia, a number of the Brethren were given refuge at Herrnhut by Count Zinzendorf. The new society there was marked by a belief in salvation by faith, personal conversion and a personal devotion to Jesus. Their emphasis was on spiritual nurture rather than evangelism and settlements for communal living were planted in England, the Netherlands and America. John Wesley first encountered them on the voyage to Georgia and was deeply impressed by their simple faith and their serenity when threatened by shipwreck. Their central teachings and 'heart theology' deeply influenced his spiritual development during this period of searching. On his return to England he met Peter Böhler, who advised him to 'preach faith until you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.' He also became convinced that instantaneous conversion was both biblical and also presently possible. After his visit to their main settlement at Herrnhut, Wesley became more critical of the Moravians, and especially of Zinzendorf's style of leadership, and challenged their 'stillness' and what he saw as their antinomianism. They in turn described him as still 'homo perturbatus' and excluded him from the Sacrament. Although from then on he distanced himself from them, theLove-feast and the Watchnight service were Moravian features incorporated into Methodism. The Moravian Church in England was established in the 1740s, retaining a threefold order of ministry. Attempts later in the century to unite the two movements came to nothing.

Sources

  • 'James Hutton's Account of "the Beginning of the Lord's Work in England to 1741"', in WHS Proceedings, 15 pp.178-89, 206-14; 16 pp.10-14; 18 pp.185-88
  • W.M. Trousdale, 'The Moravian Society, Fetter Lane, London', in WHS Proceedings, 17 pp.29-35
  • C.W. Towlson, Moravian and Methodist (1957)
  • Warren Thomas Smith, 'Attempts at Methodist and Moravian Union', in Methodist History, 8:2 (January 1970) pp.36-48
  • E.G. Rupp, Religion in England 1688-1791 (1986) pp.330-8
  • W. Peter Stephens, 'Wesley and the Moravians', in John Stacey (ed.), John Wesley: Contemporary Perspectives (1988) pp.23-36
  • H. McGonigle, John Wesley and the Moravians (Ilkeston, 1993)
  • Colin Podmore, The Moravian Church in England, 1728-1760 (Oxford, 1998)
  • Geoffrey and Margaret Stead, The Exotic Plant: a history of the Moravian Church in Great Britain 1742-2000 (Peterborough, 2003)
  • Kai Dose, 'A note on John Wesley's visit to Herrnhut in 1738' in Wesley and Methodist Studies, vol.7, 2015, pp.117-20

Entry written by: EWD
Category: Denomination

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