Moravian Brethren

unitas fratrum. Church of the United Brethren, reborn following the decline of the Bohemian Brethren* after the Thirty Years' War. Fugitives from Moravia found refuge on the estates of N.L. Count von Zinzendorf* in Saxony (1722). Joined by others from Bohemia, in association with some German Pietists, they worshiped at Bertholdsdorf Lutheran church under Pastor J.A. Rothe. About 1724 they decided to set up a church constituted according to the old Unitas Fratrum; an agreement permitted them to manage their own spiritual affairs while still worshiping at Bertholdsdorf (1727). Zinzendorf, gradually drawn into their affairs, became superintendent, and succeeding months saw a great spiritual awakening. Their orders of ministry were restored when David Nitschmann* was consecrated bishop by Daniel Jablonski*, bishop of the sole remaining branch of the Bohemian Brethren in Poland (1735). After Zinzendorf's death (1760) the movement was reorganized under a governing body, the “Unity Elders' Conference,” whose influential president for many years was A.G. Spangenberg.* The Moravians led eighteenth- century German evangelicalism in the controversy with rationalism.

It was essentially a missionary movement. As early as 1732, Nitschmann and J.L. Dober* went to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; work followed in Greenland (1733), North America (1734), Lapland and South America (1735), South Africa (1736), Labrador (1771), among Australian aborigines (1850), and on the Tibetan border (c.1856). The proportion of missionaries to home communicants has been estimated as 1:60 compared with 1:5000 in the rest of Protestantism. Moravian influence was a major factor in the Evangelical Revival in Britain. John Wesley owed his conversion largely to the Moravian Peter Boehler.* The movement grew in Britain and was legally recognized as a church in 1749. Concern for education had been inherited from the Bohemian Brethren, and numerous boarding schools were established in Germany, Holland, England, Switzerland, and America.

The Brethren did not always encourage the establishment of local churches, preferring to remain as “a Church within a Church”—e.g., in Lutheranism and Anglicanism. This “Diaspora concept” militated against the survival of the movement in many areas. It is an episcopal church with presbyterian government; the Unity Elders' Conference is appointed by the General Synod. It is divided into autonomous “Home” Provinces (Continental, British, and American), and “Mission” Provinces in transition to autonomy. Each congregation manages its own affairs subject to the general laws of the province. Worship combines liturgy with freedom in extempore prayer. In the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon, the bishop is the minister of ordination. Infant and believer's baptism are both provided, followed by confirmation. The Moravians had the earliest Protestant hymnbook. Doctrine is basically that of the Augsburg Confession,* though liberty of view is permitted in nonessentials. Strongly evangelical, the movement considers Scripture to be the only rule of faith and conduct.

A. Bost, History of the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren (ET 1834); J.T. Hamilton, History of the Moravian Church (1900); J.E. Hutton, A History of Moravian Missions (1922); see also bibliography under Bohemian Brethren.