June 20, 2015 Dresden, Germany
Today we visited a small town in a part of Germany that is probably eastern-most called Herrnhut. Even though its population is listed as being around 6,000 according to Dr. Wiki most Germans wouldn’t have even heard of it let alone visited there. Strangely it may well have had as much or more influence on the course of Chrsitian history as any of the better known German Christians – Luther etc.
But as I said, most people wouldn’t have a clue what could be significant about Herrnhut. It is a small town tucked away near the Czech border east of Dresden, Germany. You wouldn’t go there unless you wanted to. It isn’t on the way to anywhere, and maybe that is more than slightly symbolic.
The fact is, at the turn of the eighteenth century (1700 and still a lifespan away from James Cook plonking his plodders on a large mostly undiscovered island in the Pacific), Herrnhut was nothing more than a few acres of land on an estate belonging to a local Saxon Count, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. Enter a couple of Moravians looking for a safe place for their persecuted brothers and sisters and a union was formed that would change the face of the wider church forever. That was what happened in Herrnhut on June 17th 1722.
It actually started with refugees. Once people began to hear that Zinzendorf was willing to provide a safe place to live, they just kept on arriving – from quite different expressions of Christian faith. This is two hundred years after Martin banged his Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. It started with people whose past trauma and strong convictions made it almost impossible to get along. Zinzendorf then gave up his day job in the courts at Dresden, shifted out of his big house in Berthelsdorf to live in the village with the refugees. He and his wife just visited people in their homes, shared Bible study and prayed together. A fresh dose of the Word works its wonders and the motley residents committed to serve Jesus through the word rather than arguing about pet theories. Add to that a Holy Spirit visitation one Wednesday in August and twenty five years later over a hundred missionaries are loving people into the kingdom of God all over the world. Some even sold themselves as slaves in order to stand alongside them with love from heaven. Add to that a prayer meeting that started with twenty-four people agreeing to pray for one different hour each day so that the work would never stop. That prayer meeting continued without stopping for more than a hundred years.
Nola and I walked up through God’s Acre where these early pioneers were buried to the wooden tower on top of the hill. The wooden tower was not actually a prayer tower but it gives a three-sixty of the region.
We went back into the village and one of the few places with a door open was the church – originally built in 1730 as a prayer hall. There were a few people wandering around and a few panels that had English translations for those of us who haven’t embraced Deutsch. After a while I found myself sitting in the middle of this large square room on my own. I didn’t see an angel but as I recounted to the Lord my deep thanks for what happened in this town and then from the people of this town to the world, I began to weep for a thousand ‘Herrnhuts’ to receive the vision and faith that was birthed in this unlikely place. Many of us are refugees of a different sort. We are people who have made costly decisions about the past and the present in order to see a different future. We are certainly as divided. Like the were and our world needs more of what they carried.
I was sitting in a spot where a great man was prepared to become nothing – and in the process became an inspiration to most and an annoyance to everyone who was standing still.
Zinzendorf and the Moravians were midwives to the modern missionary movement, to the Wesleyan revival and through that to the Pentecostal and Charismatic renewals of later years. And who are they today – a group that hardly anyone knows about. Sadly their descendants no longer represent the Moravian pioneers of 1727. The Moravian Church has gone the way of the rest of Christianity – from pioneering by passion and Holy Spirit power to preserving the externals without too much of the heart.
I don’t believe in getting what they had. I believe in being inspired by them to get what is needed to pioneer a track out of the ecclesiastical malaise and to see where passion for Jesus, a love of revelation from heaven and a communal dependence on the Holy Spirit will produce. I want to walk that journey. That’s what I prayed for alone in the middle of the prayer hall in Herrnhut.
I came away not wanting to simply recount a whole host of Zinzendorf stories, but to discover my own – and to help other people discover theirs. If that happens I will be the more grateful for our excursion to Herrnhut. Loved being there. Don’t want to go there again. Just want to be where Jesus is making his love and mercy known to someone who needs it.
June 21, 2014