THE EARLY MORAVIAN CHURCH

 

A few weeks back as I was browsing the Internet I came across a fascinating article written by Dr. Craig D. Atwood entitled Motherhood of Holy Spirit in 18th Century.

According to Dr. Atwood’s biography, his current title is the rather lengthy “Charles D. Couch Associate professor of Moravian Theology and Ministry Director of the Center for Moravian Studies”. He is a faculty member of the Moravian College and Theological Seminary located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he teaches Moravian theology and history, Christian history, religion in America, and history of Christian thought.

His current interests include a desire to help the Christian community in general to “rediscover the riches of the Moravian theological heritage”. There is a hint in this aspiration, supported in the article noted above, that he sees that something quite valuable was lost in the transition of the Moravian Church away from its unique early dogma toward a more mainstream perception of our Trinitarian Godhead.

The perception that was abandoned by the Moravian Church is identified in the title: the femininity of the Holy Spirit.

The article itself, which was delivered in a presentation to the faculty of the Moravian College in 2011, traces the history of the Moravian Church in America during its most controversial (and possibly its most fruitful) period, the two decades of the 1740s through the 1750s. From the establishment of the Moravian community of Bethlehem in 1741 on a 500-acre plot purchased from the estate of George Whitefield, the Church initially adhered to the theology of Moravian (now Czechoslovakia) Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.

Zinzendorf’s theology is rooted in the Czech reform movement of the fourteenth century, in which John Hus’ protests against the Catholic Church a full sixty years before Luther landed him astride a stake, where he was burned as a heretic in 1415. Followers of Hus organized the Moravian Church in 1457 in the village of Kunvald, about a hundred miles east of Prague. The Church spread into Poland through heavy persecution in the sixteenth century. Continuing persecution in the seventeenth century contributed to a relative stasis in the Church. It enjoyed a revival in the eighteenth century as the Church planted roots in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania under the leadership of Count Zinzendorf.

According to Dr. Atwood, Bethlehem, which lies on the outskirts of Allentown in southeastern Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia and west of the New Jersey border, enjoyed particular favor from God, as the community was one of the most successful in pre-revolution America. Atwood implies that this favor resulted from the unique theology of the Moravian Church, in which the Holy Spirit was considered the Spouse of the Holy Father and Mother of Jesus and His Church.

This perception of the Holy Trinity continued at least for the twenty years following the establishment of Bethlehem, but following the death of Count Zinzendorf and his wife and son, the far-weaker post-Zinzendorf Church leadership fell away into a desire to conform more closely to the more popular “mainstream” dogmas of the Protestant Churches in the surrounding communities. They completed their abandonment of dogma by burning Zinzendorf’s writings.

Dr. Atwood appears to lament this transition toward “normalcy”, implying that Bethlehem and the Moravian Church did not continue in the favor of God thereafter. He expresses disappointment in the manner in which this transition was handled during the time he was a student of the Moravian seminary, claiming that in continuing embarrassment Church historians label the two initial decades of the Moravian presence in America as “a time of sifting’, wherein the theological “experimentation” of the time eventually led to the more stable dogma of mainstream Christianity. In opposition to this false and rude dismissal, Dr. Atwood claims that a substantial segment of the Moravian Church continues in the initial dogma even to this day.

Dr. Atwood himself seems to be seeking a re-establishment of that early doctrine of the Holy Spirit, not only for its intrinsic truth but for the good of the Church and perhaps even America.

Here’s my take on this account of accommodation to popular thought: as the reader of my blog postings is well-aware, I consider the perception of the femininity of the Holy Spirit not only to represent truth, but to be the only viable way to worship our Judeo-Christian God with the love that He demands of us. Beyond that, the transition of the Moravian Church to “normal” is just another sad tale in a very long litany of similar ungodly, cowardly acts of appeasement to majority thought, begun in the New Testament by Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus and continuing on to this very day, where we see, among other examples of falling-away, the Church’s attempt to accommodate herself to the false and thoroughly secular notion of evolution.

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