Unitas Fratrums
Origin and Growth of the Unitas Fratrum

The Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Church, is that branch of the Christian Church which began its distinct life at Kunvald in Bohemia in the year 1457. It was born of the great revival of faith at the close of the Middle Ages, arising from the national revival of religion in Bohemia, in which the writings of Wyclif had great influence, and of which John Hus was the greatest leader. Within the movement Peter of Chelcic represented the traditions of Eastern puritanism and freedom from official control in matters of religion.

Amidst these influences, the Unitas Fratrum was founded, under the leadership of Gregory the Patriarch, with a three-fold ideal of faith, fellowship and freedom, and a strong emphasis on practical Christian life rather than on doctrinal thought or church tradition. The statutes of Reichenau, 1464, contain the earliest statement of this common mind.

Its numbers grew rapidly. This extension drew the attention of the church authorities to the Brethren, who were denounced as heretical and treasonable. They sought to maintain a living contact with the early church, having obtained from the Waldenses the traditional orders of the ministry, including the episcopacy, and thus became an independent ecclesiastical body. The power of the state was then called in to suppress them, but persecution furthered their growth. The impact of the Brethren on the spiritual life in their country and over the boundaries of their homeland far exceeded the numerical strength of membership.

The Brethren were enabled to maintain a living fellowship in Christ with the help of the Bible and hymns in their own tongue, a careful system of discipline and schools for the young. The Brethren met Luther and other Reformers on equal terms, taught them the value of an effective church discipline, and gained from them new insights into the nature of a saving faith.

In the troubles of the reaction against the Reformation, times of persecution alternated with times of comparative calm, until at last in 1620 the Roman Church was placed in power by foreign armies, and the Unitas Fratrum with other Protestant bodies was utterly suppressed. The influence of Bishop John Amos Comenius, who had preserved the discipline of the church, and who had pioneered educational methods, was a great source of strength after the disruption of the church. He never ceased to pray and to plead publicly for the restoration of his beloved church. Strengthened by this faith, a 'Hidden Seed' survived in Bohemia and Moravia, to emerge a hundred years later in the Renewed Church.

Between 1722 and 1727, some families from Moravia, who had kept the traditions of the old Unitas Fratrum, found a place of refuge in . Saxony, on the estate of Nicolaus Ludwig, Count Zinzendorf, and built a village which they called Herrnhut. Other people of widely differing views also found there a place of religious freedom, but their differences threatened to make it a place of strife. Zinzendorf gave up his position in state service to devote himself to unite these various elements into a real Christian fellowship. He became their spiritual leader, as well as their patron and protector against interference from without.

By his example and pastoral care Zinzendorf quickened their. Christian fellowship and united them for communal life under the Statutes of Herrnhut (May 12, 1727), which were found to follow the pattern of the old Unitas Fratrum. Through earnest and continued prayer, they realized more and more the power of the Cross of Christ in reconciling them one to another. A profound and decisive experience of this unity was given them in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at a celebration of the Holy Communion on August 13, 1727.

From this experience of conscious unity came zeal and strength to share this fellowship in Christ with other branches of the Church Universal, and joy to serve wherever they found an open door.

In following out this impulse, relations were established with earnest Christians in many lands of Western Europe, in England from 1728, and in North America from 1735, while in 1732 their first mission to the heathen began among slaves of St. Thomas in the West Indies.

In order to secure official recognition for their workers, and to set a. seal upon the links with the old Unitas Fratrum, they decided to continue its episcopal orders, which had been handed down through Bishop Comenius and a line of bishops in the Polish Province of the ancient Unity. In 1735 Bishop Daniel Jablonsky consecrated David Nitschmann as the first bishop of the Renewed Church. The branches of the church thus established on the Continent and in Great Britain and America continued to develop in accordance with the differing opportunities presented to them, maintaining their association and uniting especially in the work of the spread of the Gospel in other lands.

Thus today the Unitas Fratrum, which has asserted throughout its history that Christian fellowship recognizes no barrier of nation or race, is still an international Unity with congregations in many parts of the world.

The Unitas Fratrum cherishes its unity as a valuable treasure entrusted to it by the Lord. It stands for the oneness of all humankind given by the reconciliation through Jesus Christ. Therefore the ecumenical movement is of its very lifeblood. For five centuries it has pointed towards the unity of the scattered children of God that they may become one in their Lord.

Growth of the Unitas Fratrum

The Lord Jesus Christ calls His Church into being so that it may serve Him on earth until He comes. The Unitas Fratrum is, therefore, aware of its being called in faith to serve humanity by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It recognizes this call to be the source of its being and the inspiration of its service. As is the source, so is the aim and end of its being based upon the will of its Lord.

The Belief of the Church

With the whole of Christendom we share faith in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We believe and confess that God has revealed Himself once and for all in His Son Jesus Christ; that our Lord has redeemed us with the whole of humanity by His death and His resurrection; and that there is no salvation apart from Him. We believe that He is present with us in the Word and the Sacrament; that He directs and unites us through His Spirit and thus forms us into a Church. We hear Him summoning us to follow Him, and pray Him to use us in His service. He joins us together mutually, so that knowing ourselves to be members of His body we become willing to serve each other.

Personal Belief

In the light of divine grace, we recognize ourselves to be a Church of sinners. We require forgiveness daily, and live only through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. He redeems us from our isolation and unites us into a living Church of Jesus Christ.

The belief of the Church is effected and preserved through the testimony of Jesus Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit. This testimony calls each individual personally, and leads him/her to the recognition of sin and to the acceptance of the redemption achieved by Christ. In fellowship with Him the love of Christ becomes more and more the power of the new life, power which penetrates and shapes the entire person. As God's Spirit so effects living belief in the hearts of individuals, He grants them the privilege to share in the fruits of Christ's salvation and membership in His body.

GOD'S Word and Doctrine

The Triune God as revealed in the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments is the only source of our life and salvation; and this I Scripture is the sole standard of the doctrine and faith of the Unitas Fratrum and therefore shapes our life.

The Unitas Fratrum recognizes the Word of the Cross as the centre of Holy Scripture and of all preaching of the Gospel and it sees its primary mission, and its reason for being, to consist in bearing witness to this joyful message. We ask our Lord for power never to stray from this.

The Unitas Fratrum takes part in the continual search for sound doctrine. In interpreting Scripture and in the communication of doctrine in the Church, we look to two millennia of ecumenical Christian tradition and the wisdom of our Moravian forebears in the faith to guide us as we pray for fuller understanding and ever clearer proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But just as the Holy Scripture does not contain any doctrinal system, so the Unitas Fratrum also has not developed any of its own because it knows that the mystery of Jesus Christ which is attested to in the Bible, cannot be comprehended completely by any human mind or expressed completely in any human statement. Also it is true that through the Holy Spirit the recognition of God's will for salvation in the Bible is revealed completely and clearly,

Creeds and Confessions

The Unitas Fratrum recognizes in the creeds of the Church the thankful acclaim of the Body of Christ. These creeds aid the Church in j formulating a Scriptural confession, in marking the boundary of heresies, and in exhorting believers to an obedient and fearless testimony in every age. The Unitas Fratrum maintains that all creeds formulated by the Christian Church stand in need of constant testing in the light of the Holy Scriptures. It acknowledges as such true professions of faith the early Christian witness: "Jesus Christ is Lord!" and also especially the ancient Christian creeds and the fundamental creeds of the Reformation.

Note:
In the various Provinces of the Renewed Unitas Fratrum the following creeds in particular gained special importance, because in them the main doctrines of the Christian faith find clear and simple expression:

  • The Apostles' Creed
  • The Athanasian Creed
  • The Nicene Creed
  • The Confession of the Unity of the Bohemian Brethren of 1535
  • The Twenty-One Articles of the unaltered Augsburg Confession
  • The Shorter Catechism of Martin Luther
  • The Synod of Berne of 1532
  • The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England
  • The Theological Declaration of Barmen of 1934
  • The Heidelberg Catechism

The Unitas Fratrum as a Unity

We believe in and confess the Unity of the Church given in the one Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. He died that He might unite the scattered children of God. As the living Lord and Shepherd, He is leading His flock toward such unity.

The Unitas Fratrum espoused such unity when it took over the name of the Old Bohemian Brethren's Church, 'Unitas Fratrum' (Unity of Brethren). Nor can we ever forget the powerful unifying experience granted by the crucified and risen Lord to our forebears in Herrnhut on the occasion of the Holy Communion of August 13, 1727, in Berthelsdorf.

It is the Lord's will that Christendom should give evidence of and seek unity in Him with zeal and love. In our own midst we see how such unity has been promised us and laid upon us as a charge. We recognise that through the grace of Christ the different churches have received many gifts. It is our desire that we may learn from each other and rejoice together in the riches of the love of Christ and the manifold wisdom of God.

We confess our share in the guilt which is manifest in the severed and divided state of Christendom. By means of such divisions we ourselves hinder the message and power of the Gospel. We recognize the danger of self-righteousness and judging others without love.

Since we together with all Christendom are pilgrims on the way to meet our coming Lord, we welcome every step that brings us nearer the goal of unity in Him. He Himself invites us to communion in His supper. Through it He leads the Church toward that union which He has promised. By means of His presence in the Holy Communion He makes our unity in Him evident and certain even today.

The Church as a fellowship

The Church of Jesus Christ, despite all the distinctions between male and female, poor and rich and people of different ethnic origin, is one in the Lord. The Unitas Fratrum recognizes no distinction between those who are one in the Lord Jesus. We are called to testify that God in Jesus Christ brings His people out of every ethnic origin and language into one body, pardons sinners beneath the Cross and brings them together. We oppose any discrimination in our midst because of ethnic origin, sex or social standing, and we regard it as a commandment of the Lord to bear public witness to this and to demonstrate by word and deed that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Church as a Community of Service

Jesus Christ came not to be served but to serve. From this, His Church receives its mission and its power for its service, to which each of its members is called. We believe that the Lord has called us particularly to mission service among the peoples of the world. In this, and in all other forms of service both at home and abroad, to which the Lord commits us, He expects us to confess Him and witness to His love in unselfish service.

Serving our Neighbour

Our Lord Jesus entered into this world's misery to bear it and to overcome it. We seek to follow Him in serving His brothers and sisters. Like the love of Jesus, this service knows no bounds. Therefore we pray the Lord ever anew to point out to us the way to reach our neighbours, opening our hearts and hands to them in their need.

Serving the World

Jesus Christ maintains in love and faithfulness His commitment to this fallen world. Therefore we must remain concerned for this world. We may not withdraw from it through indifference, pride or fear. Together with the universal Christian Church, the Unitas Fratrum challenges humanity with the message of the love of God, striving to promote the peace of the world and seeking to attain what is best for all. For the sake of this world, the Unitas Fratrum hopes for and looks to the day when the victory of Christ will be manifest over sin and death and the new world will appear.

Conclusion

Jesus Christ is the one Lord and Head of His body, the Church. Because of this, the Church owes no allegiance to any authority whatsoever which opposes His dominion. The Unitas Fratrum treasures in its history the vital experience of the Headship of Christ of September 16, and November 13, 1741.

The Unitas Fratrum recognises that it is called into being and has been sustained hitherto only by the incomprehensible grace of God. Thanksgiving and praise for this grace remains the keynote of its life and ministry.

In this spirit it awaits the appearing of Jesus Christ, goes forward to meet its Lord with joy, and prays to be found ready when He comes.

Essential Features of the Unity

The Unitas Fratrum was called into being by God as a Church which stresses fellowship. After its apparent destruction in the land of its origin, it was renewed in Herrnhut, Germany.

We recognize that it is the Lord's will to confront and call to Himself each individual through His Spirit and that formal membership in a congregation is for no one a substitute for a personal encounter with the Saviour, nor does it relieve any from making a personal decision to accept Him. We learn from the Scriptures however that it has pleased God to make the Church the place where God's fellowship with men and women becomes a reality. A living Church is the clearest witness for its Lord to the world.

A Church is and remains a living one when it:

  • Is attentive to God's Word
  • Confesses its sins and accepts forgiveness for them
  • Seeks and maintains fellowship with its Lord and Redeemer by means of the Sacraments
  • Places its whole life under His rule and daily leading
  • Ministers to its neighbor and seeks fellowship with all who confess Christ
  • Proclaims to the world the tidings concerning the Savior
  • Awaits wholeheartedly the coming of its Lord as King.

Within each congregation the various groups may become aware of, and participate in, the special gifts and tasks which can be drawn from the pattern of Jesus' life on earth. Such congregations are "living stones" out of which the Lord will build His Church on earth. Wherever such congregations exist in the various parts of the Unitas Fratrum they form a living Church - a member of the body of Christ on earth. Communicant members of the Unitas Fratrum are those who have been received in one of the following ways:

  • Baptized and received into communicant membership by confirmation
  • Received by adult baptism
  • Received from other Christian churches by Letter of Transfer and by Right Hand of Fellowship
  • Received by reaffirmation of faith.

The Witness of the Unitas Fratrum

The Unitas Fratrum is committed to the unity of the children of God as a reality created by God in Jesus Christ. This unity has been granted and preserved within it as a Church formed out of various peoples, languages and denominations. Its very life, therefore, is to be of service to the Church Universal.

The Unitas Fratrum is committed to the victory of the Lamb of God that was slain as the hope of the world. It accepts as its central commission the proclamation of this message in every place where the Lord Himself opens the door.

The Unitas Fratrum acknowledges its vocation to service in the homelands:

  • To bring the gospel to those who are far from God
  • To serve the youth by means of schools, camps, and other agencies
  • to serve in caring for the sick, for the aged, and for those in special homes
  • And to serve by means of the printed word especially the Daily Texts of the Moravian Church.

The Unitas Fratrum experiences in its missionary enterprise active help from wide circles throughout all evangelical Christendom through prayer, gifts, and individuals ready to serve. In this way also the unity of the children of God becomes visible.

The Unitas Fratrum appreciates the inestimable value of each human being for whom Jesus Christ gave His Life and counts no sacrifice too great to "win souls for the Lamb".

The Unitas Fratrum recognizes that its members are united by their Lord in congregations and are called to be pilgrims and messengers to carry the gospel to all mankind and into all human relationships. The "first fruits" of their witness are the pledge of the whole harvest.

The Unitas Fratrum recognizes its duty to grant the young churches full freedom concerning the future. God's Spirit must and will show them whether to remain a part of the Unitas Fratrum as a Province of the Unity, or to become a self-dependent church, or to unite with some other indigenous church or church group.

The Unitas Fratrum looks beyond this earthly witness of the Church to the great consummation when the Lord will "draw all people unto Himself' and His Kingdom be fully established.