Who Was Count Zinzendorf?

Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf was a landowner and nobleman in Moravia (modern day Germany) in the early 1700’s. The Church of the day had gone 200 years since the reformation and many ‘traditions’ had grown “tired” and the Church was lacking in life. Some believers such as the Lutheran minister P.J Spener hoped to bring fresh life back to the Church by promoting “the practice of piety.” Through prayer and Bible reading he hoped that life would come back to God’s people. And it did begin to work with groups of “Pietists” springing up in various places.

Nikolaus von Zinzendorf was one of these people influenced by the Pietists. As a wealthy landowner and politician, he welcomed religious refugees onto his land at Moravia (in modern day Germany) and formed a settlement there for them to live, called Herrnhut which means “The Lord’s Watch.”

By May 1725, 90 Moravians had gathered there and Zinzendorf would preach weekly at the church he established in their midst. By the next year there were over 300 believers in the “town” and all involved in the church. It was a community in the sense that they all were together, but they did not yet have “community in their hearts.”

Zinzendorf had trouble with these people because there was discord. They didn’t agree with each other and they eventually also took issue with Zinzendorf himself, even though he was their benefactor and providing a place for them to live. They wanted to get rid of him as their pastor. Eventually Zinzendorf was so troubled that he went to prayer and prayed all night long. Then next morning was the Lord’s Day (Sunday) and he went to church to meet with his people. During the communion there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which changed their hearts.

When the Holy Spirit fell it swept away all of their differences and they became a people of one heart and one mind. It is said that they greatly admired each other from this time onwards. This was not a human work, but something miraculous, something supernatural. It was the answer to Zinzendorf’s prayer, and the desire of his heart.

After this they started a prayer meeting which ran continuously 24 hours a day for over 100 years. It was also called “The Lord’s Watch.” Also from this time one, they united behind the work of Christ and began to send missionaries into all the world. (60 years before William Carey) For every two families that went out, one would stay behind to support and pray.

2 young Moravian missionaries sold themselves into slavery to reach men on an island who were slaves themselves. The only way onto that island was to be a slave, so they became slaves for Christ so that the other slaves could be free for Christ. This was the kind of revolutionary Christianity that the Moravians became known for.

When John Wesley was on his way across the Atlantic Ocean between America and England, he met Moravian missionaries on the ship. The result of this encounter was the genuine conversion of Wesley and his life turning around completely. This encounter changed the whole world. After this, Wesley’s people who also changed the world, would influence William Booth (the founder of The Salvation Army) who would change the world again. The influence of the Moravians continues today.

It has been said that this one group of people did more to evangelise the world in 20 years than the entire church did in the 200 years before it.

However to look at Zinzendorf and the Moravians and marvel at “their feats” would be to distract ourselves from the main point. Zinzendorf himself said, “There can be no Christianity without community.” He was not referring to some ideal of people living together or working together, but rather to the “religion of the heart.” He was referring to the idea that God’s people would “like each other deeply.”

The point is that Zinzendorf and the Moravians admired each other and as a result they achieved much. Without their devotion to Christ and each other, they could not have done what they did. And they could not have loved each other without a great miracle… the giving of the spirit of community.

Have faith, and pray. Let God do it again, and do it better.