a visit to Denmark for the coronation of King Christian
IV in 1731, Zinzendorf met an indigenous person from Danish
West India and was deeply moved by the plight of slaves
in the land. This resulted in a group of Moravian missionaries
being sent there from Herrnhut. This missionary endeavour
became the catalyst for the establishment of other missions
in places like America, Greenland, South Africa and Algeria
and the Moravians as a result became the first large scale
Protestant missionary force in history.
Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, German religious reformer and founder
of the Moravian church, was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1700. Born
into nobility, his father was a high court official in Saxon and
Zinzendorf was raised by his grandmother in an environment of strong
displayed deep religious convictions as a child. It was at the age
of only nine, on reading a missionary paper, that he later recalled:
"Then and there the first missionary impulse arose in my soul”.
At 10-years-old, he attended Franke’s school in Halle exercising
gifts of leadership by mobilizing a boys club under the name of
“The Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed". The group stressed
piety and the spread of the gospel worldwide.
When he was just 15, Zinzendorf and school friends made a solemn
promise that they would seize every opportunity to confess Christ
and seek the conversion of all people no matter what their background
in life was. But his family did not want him to become a missionary,
instead desiring that he enter the service of the government. In
obedience to their wishes, Zinzendorf studied law for three years
(1716-1719) at the University of Wittenberg and entered the service
of the Government of Saxony.
A defining moment for Zinzendorf came in 1719 while he was on a
trip through Europe. He was moved by a painting showing Christ wearing
a crown of thorns in an art gallery at Dusseldorf. Written on the
inscription was: “This is what I did for you. What do you
do for me?”. The painting and its inscription made a lasting
and profound impact on Zinzendorf and it was following that experience
that he offered himself for Christ’s service instead of service
to the state.
A further turning point came when the Bohemian Brethren pleaded
with Zinzendorf to give them refuge on his large estate. The Brethren
had flourished in Bohemia and Moravia (present-day Czech Republic)
at the time of the Reformation but had been nearly wiped out during
the 30 Years War when they were subjected to severe persecution.
Zinzendorf, sympathetic to their plight, granted their request and
in 1722 the Brethren established a community called Herrnhut ("The
Lord’s Watch"). He then resigned his government post
and joined them.
On reading about the principles and practices of the Brethren, Zinzendorf
was moved to devote his life to their reorganization. During
a communion service in 1727, the presence of God was so strongly
felt that it signified the rebirth of the Brethren under the name
of the Moravian Church.
On a visit to Denmark for the coronation of King Christian IV in
1731, Zinzendorf met an indigenous person from Danish West India
and was deeply moved by the plight of slaves in the land. This resulted
in a group of Moravian missionaries being sent there from Herrnhut.
This missionary endeavour became the catalyst for the establishment
of other missions in places like America, Greenland, South Africa
and Algeria and the Moravians as a result became the first large
scale Protestant missionary force in history.
In 1737 Zinzindorf received his formal ordination in the Moravian
Church, emerging as their recognised leader. His life was characterised
by the love of Jesus and a spiritual fervour to see people won to
Christ. He believed that the mark of true Christianity was a simple,
childlike faith in the power of the blood of Jesus.
While holding to the essentials of Lutheran theology, Zinzendorf
stressed the importance of a true heart and experiential religion.
This led to great sentimentality and emotion, as is seen in the
hymns he wrote. However, it also lent itself to some peculiar ideas
being expressed by Zinzendorf, particularly in reference to Christ’s
wounded side. He would later abandon some of these more strange
Zinzendorf displayed multiple talents in a wide a variety of areas
including, pastoring, teaching, theology, missions, song writing
and administration. He desired that all Christians be united in
evangelistic efforts and was the first to employ the term 'ecumenical'
in its modern usage.
His life can be characterised in one of his own quotes: “I
have only one passion. It is He, none but He”.
Pierard, R. V., Nickolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in Evangelical
Dictionary of Theology
Edited by Walter A Elwell (Michigan: Baker Book House, 1996) p.1199-1200
Wood, A.S., Count Von Zinzendorf in The History of Christianity
Edited by Dr. Tim Dowley (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1977) p 483
Church History in Plain Language: Bruce L. Shelley (Dallas: Word
The Church in History: B.K. Kuiper (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Co. Reprinted 2002)