Book Review: “The Lord of the Ring — In Search of Count Von Zinzendorf”
If you read my previous review of a recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, then you know that what really interested me was the influence the Moravian Brethren had upon Bonhoeffer and his conception of the church and even what we may call the church life. In this post I look at a biography of the seminal figure behind the Moravian Brethren (outside of Christ, naturally): Count Nikolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. This will be the second of what I anticipate to be a trilogy of reviews related to the German/Moravian contribution toward the organic church life — that elusive, harmonious, authentic, and transformative living of believers described in the early scenes of the church in Acts 2 and still sought after today in the closing chapters of church history.
It’s not easy to find a biography of Count Zinzendorf. If there are any budding church historians out there looking for a dissertation topic, consider Count Zinzendorf as a subject. So despite the contrived and forced title, I was happy to come across Phil Anderson’s “The Lord of the Ring — In Search of Count Von Zinzendorf“. (The “ring” here refers to the medallion which Zinzendorf and his school-mate companions used as an emblem for their spiritual society, The Order of the Mustard Seed, formed in 1716 when he was 16 years old.) The book is a quick read at 175 pages and is interspersed with the author’s present-day account of his actual pilgrimage to locate modern-day Herrnhut, ground zero for the recovery of the church life and spread of the missionary movement in the first part of the 18th century.
“Herrnhut” is the German word for “Lord’s watch” and the community would become a model for the church life and a hub for prayer and missionary work, marked by a remarkable, upper room-like outpouring of the Spirit on August 13, 1727.
You can tell from my previous review that I leave the affirmations and critiques to others and focus instead on insights and inspirations as I attempt to learn how the Spirit operates in and through the main characters. In other words, this is not so much a review as a gleaning of helpful vignettes. With that, here are 10 helpful and applicable learnings for our practice of the church life today based on the pattern of Zinzendorf and the Moravian Brethren as described in the book:
Count Zinzendorf’s Influence on Church Life
1. A daily church life full of worship: Every day at Herrnhut began with singing at sunrise in a short service called the “morning blessing”. At 8am and 8pm the community met together in the village hall for more worship, prayer, and reading the Bible.
2. Singing with their hearts to the Lord: The central feature of their meetings was music and their theme was the “adoration of the Lamb”. Readers of this blog may be familiar with one of his most famous hymns, “God’s Christ, who is my righteousness“. The Sunday schedule was given over entirely to various manifestations of worship beginning at 5:00am with singing and concluding at 9:00pm with the young men of the settlement marching around the village singing hymns.
3. He who gathered much had no excess: Herrnhut was not a commune and individuals where able to own property and profit from their own trades. But the universally accepted rule was that every member would keep to the same simple standard of living, and that any surplus produced would be given to the needs of the community or its wider missions and projects.
4. Believers were vitally related: At the most basic level, virtually every community member was part of a same-sex group of about three people known as a “band”, meeting together for prayer, encouragement, fellowship, accountability and confession.
5. A healthy church life culture: In contrast to the traditional countryside diversions of drunkenness, the community developed alternative traditions including the so-called “love feast”. This was a simple meal shared as a celebration of both friendship and spiritual unity, and in practical terms presented an opportunity for socializing and conversation.
Count Zinzendorf’s Influence on Missionary Work
6. All can serve the Lord: Zinzendorf was ground-breakingly inclusive in understanding who was called to spread the gospel and how it should be worked out in practice:
Everyone should work to further the kingdom of God within the context of their own profession. If you are a teacher, then teach for the Lord, etc.
7. Living a life of the altar and the tent: Although he was a man of some means, he forsook extravagance. Above the door of his home he had an inscription that summed up his attitude to pilgrimage:
As guests we only here remain / And hence this house is slight and plain / We have a better house above / And there we fix our warmest love.
Later he would comment:
Our home will be that particular place where at the moment our Savior has the most for us to do.
8. Not merely maintaining what had been built, but aggressively spreading it: By the end of the 18th century, this tiny village of around 300 people was responsible for sending out over 1,000 missionaries to virtually every part of the known world. By the end of Zinzendorf’s life, the number of missionaries sent out from Herrnhut exceeded the total number of missionaries sent out by the entire Protestant movement in the whole of its previous history. These missionaries were mostly ordinary, working-class people, without formal education or financial resources, and few were ordained clergy.
9. A martyred living: Zinzendorf personally took an interest in training missionaries, interviewing volunteers, providing resources and instructions, and maintaining correspondence. Once, stung by critics who implied that he was happy to send followers overseas to death but unwilling to go himself, Zinzendorf traveled to the Caribbean to visit some missionaries. Zinzendorf traveled with a team of others and as they approached the island, Zinzendorf asked, “What if we find no one there? What if the missionaries are all dead?” A fellow Moravian responded, “In that case, we are here.” That exchange summed up the attitude of the Herrnhut missions.
Count Zinzendorf’s Influence on Prayer Life
10. Unceasing prayer: The community of Herrnhut (the “Lord’s watch”) was characterized by unceasing prayer. On August 27, 1727, two weeks after the “Moravian Pentecost”, a group of 24 men and 24 women entered into a solemn commitment to cover every hour of the day and night in continuous prayer. They did not realize that Herrnhut would go on to pray continuously for 100 years.
As with all Christian communities, the history of the Moravian Brethren is not without blemish and the book does a fair job of summarizing some darker moments in the history of Herrnhut. But this necessary “sifting” period helped to purify Zinzendorf and the community as a whole. Today, nearly three hundred years since its inception, the Christian church continues to reap the benefit of Zinzendorf’s contributions to the recovery of normal church life. On his gravestone is this apt inscription:
He was chosen to bear fruit; fruit that would remain.
While writing this post, I was reminded of James Reetzke’s biography of Count Zinzendorf and highly encourage readers to avail themselves of that freely available online resource. It will be an inspiration and help to us in our learning and practice of the church life, missionary work and prayer life.
Posted on February 13, 2012, in Book Reviews, Christianity, Culture and tagged church life, count zinzendorf, herrnhut, john wesley, local churches, moravian brethren, organic church, unceasingly pray, watchman nee. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.