Baptized Into One Spirit

by the Editors

The finger of God evidenced in a spirit of love.

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue 1 in 1982 ]

FIRMLY BELIEVING it to be the will of God, Zinzendorf had thus begun to mold a divided band of refugees of different denominations into a united and witnessing Congregation but all through the summer, the people seemed to be waiting and preparing for a still more signal visitation and commandment from the Lord.

In June, Zinzendorf and his family took up their new residence in the Herrschaftshaus at Herrnhut, before the walls of their apartments were dry. Sunday 2 July was a day of great blessing; the Count preached in Herrnhut; Pastor Schwedler preached in Berthelsdorf; and Rothe preached in the graveyard. All three places were thronged with hearers. The whole neighborhood was ablaze with thanksgiving to God . . .

On 19 July and the following week the practical genius of Zinzendorf for the expression and quickening of Christian fellowship gave birth to the “Bands” without which, he said, “the Brethren’s Church would never have become what it was.” A Band consisted of two or three or more persons of some spiritual kinship who met together privately and conversed concerning the state of their hearts, and exhorted, reproved and prayed for one another. Zinzendorf divided the whole number of the brethren and sisters into these Bands and appointed one person at the head of each group . . .

By day and night Zinzendorf continued to give himself to his work as the unordained catechist in Herrnhut. It was meat and drink to him; his house was never shut; and he visited the entire membership, helping, praying and guiding those in need. On 16 July he prayed with great efficacy among the young people. Besides the obligatory night watch, small groups of the single Brethren held night-long vigils of prayer and meditation which proved a real repose in God and in which Zinzendorf often joined. On 22 July ten of the Brethren, including Christian David, Melchior Nitschmann and Leonard Dober, covenanted together to meet frequently on the Hutberg in God’s Acre to pour out their hearts in prayer and singing and mutual exhortation.

From 22 July to 4 August, Zinzendorf was absent on a visit to Baron Gersdorf in Silesia. It was on this journey that he discovered the historic character of the Unitas Fratrum. In the Zittau Library he chanced upon the Ratio Disciplinae of Comenius and from the Preface he learned of Kumwald and Lhota and Sendomir and the early ecumenical vision of this ancient and irenic Church. He drew up an extract in German from the Ratio and on his return he gave it to the “Hidden Seed” in Herrnhut. Immediately they recognized the similarity between the Statues and the ancient Discipline. “We discovered therein,” wrote one Moravian, “the finger of God, and found ourselves, as it were, baptized under the cloud of our fathers, with their spirit. For that spirit came again upon us, and great signs and wonders were wrought among the Brethren in those days, and great grace prevailed among us, and in the whole country.”

There was indeed a great grace prevailing in Herrnhut. When Christian David suggested that in the public discourses a study should be made of the Epistles of John, “there was evidence of the fire of love,” records the Settlement Diary. There was a contagious and a holy expectancy. It would seem as if the people of Herrnhut were being led inevitably, step by step to the Pentecost of 13 August—the very crown of that golden summer and the original of all the wonders in Christian service and the glorious witness to Christian unity which were to follow. On 5 August Zinzendorf and fourteen of the Brethren spent the whole night in religious conversation and prayer. At midnight a large company assembled on the Hutberg for a prayer meeting; they greeted the dawn with the verse—“He is the Sun of Righteousness which rises with resplendent grace.” While conducting the afternoon service at Hermhut on 10 August, Rothe was so overcome by the nearness of God that he sank down into the dust before him. The whole congregation followed the pattern of the pastor and they continued together until midnight, praising God and covenanting with one another, with many tears and earnest supplications, to dwell together in love and unity. In the morning Rothe delivered an invitation to Zinzendorf and all the people of Herrnhut to attend the celebration of the Lord’s Supper at Berthelsdorf on the following Wednesday, 13 August.

Since this was to be the first Communion of the reconciled community, Zinzendorf visited every house in the Settlement and, in a friendly and familiar manner, prepared the families for the coming celebration. He also prepared forty-six questions for two young girls, Catharine Heintschel and Anna Friedler ,who were to be confirmed. All the brethren and sisters gathered together in the evening of 12 August and all were deeply moved as the two young girls answered the questions and confessed the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Catharine and Anna spent the rest of the night in prayer and meditation.

The great day of 13 August dawned; the great day which was to manifest the Lord’s blessing on the faith of the “Hidden Seed” and on Zinzendorf’s prodigious zeal and industry in his vineyard; the day which has always been regarded as the spiritual birthday of the Renewed Unitas Fratrum or Moravian Church.

Early in the morning, Rothe gave an address at Herrnhut on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Then as the people walked the mile to the church at Berthelsdorf, little groups of two or three were seen to converse closely together in mutual friendship and love. The experience of the preceding weeks, it was said, had humbled the exiles under the conviction of their individual sinfulness, need and helplessness, and taught them to think meanly of themselves and kindly of one another. All seemed to be awaiting an extraordinary visitation at the church. The service opened with the hymn “Deliver me, O God, from all my bonds and fetters,” and then Rothe pronounced a truly apostolic blessing and confirmed Anna and Catharine. The whole congregation responded with a fervent Amen. They all knelt down and sang:

My soul before Thee prostrate lies,
To Thee, its source, my spirit flies.

And this was accompanied with such a powerful emotion that loud weeping almost drowned the singing. Several brethren prayed with great power and fervor. They prayed not only for themselves, but for their brethren still living under persecution; they prayed for those who taking the name of Christian were yet separated from one another; and in particular they prayed that Christian David and Melchior Nitschmann, absent on a visit to Sorau, might be led at the same hour “into true heart’s fellowship with them.” Zinzendorf made a penitential confession in the name of the congregation, and Pastor John Suss of Hennersdorf pronounced the absolution. All were convinced that, partaking of the benefits of the Passion of the Lamb in real fellowship with one another, the Holy Spirit had come upon them in all his plentitude of grace. They had already been one body in a religious community with its own Statutes, but now from this day they were one spirit. The Herrnhut Diary describes how “those who formerly could not forbear, fell on one another’s neck in the graveyard before the church and pledged themselves together most sincerely; and so the whole congregation came back to Herrnhut as newborn children.” (—From Zinzendorf the Ecumenical Pioneer pp. 55–59, by A. J. Lewis, S.C.M. Press, London, 1962; used with permission.)

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