What is a Moravian????
Several times a month someone asks me the question, "What is a Moravian?" I understand the reason for the question since the Moravian Church is not well known in the greater Washington area. Some people have told me that when they first heard the name, they suspected we were a cult, or an ethnic religious group. At times we have even been confused with the Mormons.
First, and most important, Moravians are Christians. We are Christians first, not Moravians first. Moravians believe that the heart of our faith is found in a close and personal relationship with Jesus. Most of our hymns and liturgies speak of Christ. It is Christ who is the center of our message. Faith in Him makes us Christians. This is what we share in common with the members of every Christian Church. "Jesus makes my heart rejoice," is the favorite hymn of Moravians throughout the world.
Second, Moravians look to the Bible to shape our teaching. The Bible is God's timeless communication to humankind. Most of the preaching at St. Paul's is based upon passages of the Bible. We believe the Bible is a trustworthy guide for the lives of people today. It points us to God and teaches us the basic principles of how God wants us to live.
Third, Moravians believe in the Church. We believe that the church was intended by Christ to be a fellowship of those who believe in Him and gather together for worship and service. We believe that when Christ calls us to follow Him he also calls us into fellowship with other believers. The idea of single, solitary Christians is an invention of our modern, fragmented society and is not what Jesus wanted for his followers. We believe that all who follow Christ are brothers and sisters in the Lord, and that there is no place for barriers of class or race in the Church.
Fourth, Moravians try to live by our ancient motto, "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. And in all things, love." Moravians do not like to argue about many of the things that have divided Christians from one another, such as the methods of baptism, the time of Christ's return, the way we receive Holy Communion, whether our ministers wear robes, etc. We don't think the way in which Christians practice these non-essential things makes us any more or any less a Christian. It is faith in Christ that makes us Christian. That is the essential of essentials. The Moravian approach to the faith is really very simple. We try to major on the majors: Christ, His life, suffering, death and resurrection. Putting our faith in Him as Savior and following Him as Lord. Studying the Bible to find how He wants us to live today and participating in the worship and service of the Church. Serving the needs of people in Christ's name. That's the heart of things, all else is secondary.
Moravians are reluctant to impose our ways and teachings on others. This comes from our history of being persecuted for many years. The Moravian Church traces our history to the Christian reformer, John Hus, who preached in Prague, capitol city of the present day Czech Republic. His fearless preaching disturbed the Church of his day because he insisted upon translating the Bible into everyday language, taught his congregation to sing hymns, gave them communion with wine and bread, and pointed them to Christ and not Church ritual, for their salvation. Hus was executed by the Church in 1415, but his teaching lived on and in "Unity of Brothers." Persecution drove many of them from their homeland to the countries of Germany and Poland. It was in Germany in the 1720's that the Church was renewed through the kindness of a Christian nobleman, Count Zinzendorf. Here the Church received the name "Moravian" from the country of its origin.
With the support of Zinzendorf, the Moravians began to travel all over the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. In 1735 they began churches in the West Indies, then they came to this country where they founded the towns of Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. These towns were started as centers of mission activity among Native Americans. In 1737 they went to preach to the natives in South Africa and later to Tanzania, Nicaragua and Honduras. Today Moravian Churches may be found on every continent except Australia. In North America there are Moravian Churches in 21 states and Canada.
St. Paul's Moravian church is one of three Moravian congregations in the Greater Washington area. St. Paul's was established in Marlton in 1971 to help meet the spiritual needs of families living in the community. For many years we have served as a community church. Most of our members and our pastor live in Marlton. Most of our members did not grow up in the Moravian Church and they come from a variety of religious backgrounds. It is our common focus on the essentials of Christian faith which unites us as a worshipping and serving community.
In one hundred words or less, the short answer to "What is a Moravian?" is Moravians are Christians. We try to love and follow Jesus. We use the Bible as a guide for life. We get together with other Christians to worship and serve. We are part of a worldwide Church. We try to keep things simple. At St. Paul's we welcome anyone who is looking for a closer relationship with God.
Written for the Marlton Advocate, August 1998, by Pastor Steve Nicholas (retired)