Count Zinzendorf, Nicholas Ludwig
Founder of the Renewed Moravian Churchby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
In 1727, a group of 24 Moravians began a praying. Minutes turned to hours, hours to days, and days to years. Finally in 1827, 100 years later, the meeting was ended. The original members of this meeting had intended to take one-hour shifts, interceding on behalf of their community. As the meeting continued and more people joined, the focus of prayer expanded, to encompass their country, and the world. This prayer-chain resulted from the personal and extremely Christ-love centered relationship that Zinzendorf stressed.
Born in Dresden Germany in 1700, Nicholas Ludwig Count Zinzendorf came into life, a noble of nobles. When Zinzendorf was six weeks old, his Father, a high Saxon official, passed away, leaving him under the protection of his mother and grandmother. His devoutly pietistic grandmother would eventually shape and mold his faith into the personal relationship that was so contagious. Zinzendorf grew up immersed in Christianity. When he was six years old, thanks to his grandmother and tutor, he accepted Christ. Zinzendorf's relationship with his grandmother grew from a grandson-grandmother relationship, to a new believer-mentor relationship. In line with his pietistic upbringing, at nine years of age, Zinzendorf developed a desire for a living faith, namely an emotionally motivated faith, absent of dogma.
Like most noble youth, Zinzendorf was privileged with a thorough education, and was sent to the Padagogium at Halle Germany in 1710. In Halle Zinzendorf's faith was greatly strengthened, despite prejudiced teachers, and severe discipline applied to minor offences. During this time, Zinzendorf is said to have spoken continually of Christ. "He loved to speak of his Savior to the students. When no one was near to speak to, he sometimes spoke to imaginary people, to chairs, or to other objects, telling them of his love for his Savior."1 After graduating from the Padagogium in 1716, Zinzendorf attended the University of Wittenberg for three years. Zinzendorf wished to study theology, his mother and grandmother would not consent however, thus he majored in law. In spite of his exceptional academic achievements, Zinzendorf saw learning as a distraction from the work of God, and therefore a waste of time. In his final year at Wittenberg, Zinzendorf founded a small group called "The order of the grain of Mustard Seed." The purpose of this group was to bring together students of different Christian denominational backgrounds, and implant into them a firm love and desire of Jesus Christ.
Much to his chagrin, after graduating from Wittenberg in 1719, Zinzendorf entered into the world of civil service as a counselor. Zinzendorf lived in Dresden during this time, and though he was required to work on weekdays, he opened his house on Sundays to anyone who sought a Sunday meeting place. Zinzendorf also published a weekly journal titled "The Dresden Socratic" which was geared for those outside the formal church.
In 1722, after aging into his inheritance, Zinzendorf bought an estate which included the town of Berthelsdorf. The count purchased this tract of land so that it could be a place of refuge for persecuted Christians of every denomination. In the midst of this significant purchase, Zinzendorf married Countess Erdmuth Dorothea Von Reuss. The count saw himself as an ill match for any woman due to his lifestyle of self-denial and total theocracy, but, as John Holmes says "the countess and the count were of one heart and soul. in their determination to consecrate themselves, their children, their time, and their wealth to Christ and His service."1 Although the counts estate was bought, his duties in Dresden kept him, and he did not move into Berthelsdof until the summer of 1727, almost 5 years later.
The Counter Reformation in addition to the suppression from King Charles the VI forced those under religious persecution to the flee Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland. In 1722 a few families of Moravian refugees found Berthelsdorf, and asked count Zinzendorf to allow them to stay. These few Families were the basis of what was to become a thriving, God-loving, and unified community composed of numerous Christian backgrounds. With Zinzendorf's permission, the refugees began settling into his grounds naming the site of the first completed building Herrnhut or Lord's Watch. As the count continued his counseling practice, he gained opportunities to advance in social status, and political rank. These opportunities distressed Zinzendorf. He believed that to follow Christ was to reject all things of worldly wisdom and gain, and his current position grieved him.2 He felt obliged to retain his post as long as his grandmother was living, however, because it was her desire that he remain in government office. In 1724, the count and countess' first child was born, a son. Tragically, the baby lived only three months. It expired even as Zinzendorf knelt to offer his firstborn to the Lord. This would become a sad pattern for the couple, bearing twelve children, yet seeing only 4 of these live through infancy.
With the death of his grandmother in 1727, Zinzendorf retired from his government role, and moved his family to Herrnhut. The population had, by this time, grown in population to about 300. The group at Herrnhut continued to grow rapidly, and with this growth came numerous troubles and disagreements. Zinzendorf saw early on that he could not handle all the conflicts of the settlement alone, so he appointed 3 other "brothers" to share in this task. Soon though, keeping peace in Herrnut became too great a task for even 4 Godly men. A new solution was needed. On May 12, 1727, Zinzendorf, burdened to give an address concerning the state of Herrnhut, preached a sermon to the whole settlement and all were moved, that same day a constitution was drawn up, which set down the rules of the Herrnhut congregation. This date that the constitution was adopted (August 13, 1727) is considered to be the founding of the Renewed Moravian Church.
Ever seeking to bring more people into the fold of Christ, and ignite the relationship of those already in Jesus, Zinzendorf encouraged prayer meetings, scripture reading, and hymn singing. The entire Herrnhut settlement met at least three times a day to sing, pray and read from the scriptures. In methods like this the herrnhut community continued to grow in number, and in spiritual maturity. Zinzendorf composed many hymns, rhymes, sermons, and tracts he even worked some Bible translations for the congregations' worship services, and prayer meetings. It was during this time of enthusiastic growth that the hundred year prayer chain was begun. Zinzendorf was not content, however, to confine the spread of Christ salvation to Herrnhut, and he became continually outward minded. As early as 1728, the group at Herrnhut hut began discussing taking the gospel to places like: Turkey, Greece, Greenland, Pennsylvania, and Ethiopia. This was the precursor to modern missions. The Moravians sent their first missionaries out in1732, to the Danish West Indies, countless others followed. Both John and Charles Wesley are said to have been converted to Christianity by a group of Moravian Missionaries. During this time a group of Renewed Moravians spread throughout the continent of Europe, known as the "Diaspora", began to form.
In 1732, Zinzendorf was banished from Saxony by the local authorities, due to his religious views. Herrnhut remained a thriving Moravian town, and the count received occasional financial support from them. The Count began traveling the world, spreading the gospel of Christ. On his trip to America, Zinzendorf officially renounced his title of Count, and became Brother Ludwig. Thus he remained until his death in 1760. The countess remained in Herrnut throughout Zinzendorf's banishment, and died of natural causes in 1756. Brother Ludwig continued traveling until in 1760, he became ill and died shortly after. By the time of Zinzendorf's death, the Diaspora numbered around 7000.3
Zinzendorf's desire to bring a living and unified faith to the church and to non-believers was helped immensely by the influx of the Moravian immigrants and the influence he had with them. The Moravian church today numbers about three quarters of a million followers, all unified, and many passionate about their relationship with Christ.