A Vintage Student Mission Movement: Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians by Evan Burns

In the fall-out of post-Reformation doctrinal debates and Christian hero-worship of the early 1700’s in Europe, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf was used by God to bring revival and the greatest global proclamation movement in history.

Zinzendorf and his group of prayer warriors not only gave themselves to night-and-day radical prayer, but they also gave their resources. They vowed to send the gospel to the nations, and that meant that some would surrender their life plans and go, while the rest would sacrifice their life wealth and give.

In their understanding of Christ’s call to discipleship, a Christian had four options—go, send, pray, or disobey.

There were three pillars in Zinzendorf’s Christianity: (1) His deep impressions of the suffering and work of Jesus, which ignited a fire in his heart to surrender and suffer any loss so that he might experience fellowship with Christ on the mission field.

He had a mighty vision of Christ; (2) His firm determination to do whatever it took to send and support others to go.

This passion to send others was seen in the night-and-day houses of prayer that he established and in the overgenerous acts of giving that marked the Moravians; (3) His unwavering zeal to call his fellow Christians to a higher standard of following Christ by challenging them to lay down their lives in mission; and in result, he had a unique ability to unite Christians from all denominations to join him in this mission.

While at the University of Halle, Zinzendorf was mentored by August Francke, a renowned revivalist and lay evangelist. His direct contact with Francke later proved decisive for his future ministry. On his campus, Zinzendorf began small groups of prayer.

Before he left Halle, he reported to Francke a list of seven organized night-and-day prayer meetings. Among these prayer groups, Zinzendorf made lifelong friends and co-laborers who developed a fraternity society called the “Order of the Mustard Seed.”

This band of brothers took a vow to God and each other, pledging that “none live for themselves.” And their core convictions revolved around the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. They surrendered themselves to a life of abandoned devotion to Christ, lovingkindness to people, and global proclamation of the gospel of Christ.

They would do whatever it took at whatever cost to send the gospel to the nations. They were so determined to share Christ with the unreached that many would eventually sell themselves into a life of slavery to reach slaves.

Others would take creative forms of work to help enrich the unreached regions and also so they could support themselves in mission. Some of those in the Order could not do missions, but they felt called to mobilize a prayerful people who would carry out their missionary zeal.

One time during communion he encountered Jesus as Lord and Master, and in response, Zinzendorf renewed his commitment to a life of obedience and surrender to King Jesus. This experience refreshed and strengthened him for the rest of his life.

Because he had such a love for the slain Lamb, Zinzendorf robustly defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He preached salvation in Christ alone. His theology inspired his missiology.

In the small town of Hernnhut where Zinzendorf lived, there was a great revival of unity in the summer of 1727. There was much disunity between denominations, but Zinzendorf and many others committed themselves to extraordinary, persevering prayer, crying out for revival.

In August, the Spirit fell. Following this outpouring, many children would pray for hours, sometimes even longer than the adults. Initially, some people thought they were in heaven, not on earth. Together they fell in love with their Savior.

In this visible tabernacle of God among men, there was nothing seen or heard but joy and gladness. This supernatural experience was the decisive impetus for the 100-year Moravian prayer movement. For 100 years in Herrnhut, they literally prayed night and day without stopping.

This encounter with the majesty of Christ electrified their desire to proclaim the Gospel where Christ had not been named, even if it meant martyrdom, simply because He is worthy.

Wherever the Moravian missionaries went in the world, they would set up 24-7 prayer stations, and from these prayer movements, missions exploded around the globe. It is said that the sun never set where there were no Moravians praying and preaching.

Implications for a Campus Mission Movement

The history surrounding Count Zinzendorf is a classic example of the Holy Spirit awakening students to the supreme worth of Jesus Christ. As in most campus mission movements, there was a passionate and persevering plea for a Christ awakening, accompanied with much repentance and brokenness.

Zinzendorf and his band of brothers sensed the burden of the Lord to seek His face for a greater manifestation of the glory of Jesus. When “God came down” (as many revivalists have described), He showed Himself strong and mighty to save.

God stood forth from His Word, with silencing authority. Zinzendorf and his brothers were seized with the passionate heart of the great I AM. With such a huge vision of God, Christ became their life. Zinzendorf said, “I have one passion: It is Jesus, Jesus only.”

Having come from noble backgrounds, their life plans to gather wealth and comfort quickly dissipated. They surrendered their lives under the lordship of Christ and vowed to spend themselves in declaring His glory among the nations.

As this groundswell of revival increased, so did the charity among believers as they together found unified desire to preach the gospel where Christ was not named. They brainstormed ways for creative forms of mission–self-sustainable platforms, business as mission, and even selling themselves into slavery to reach slaves.

There was a common agreement that if some could not go to the nations, they would passionately mobilize others, give sacrificially, and intercede night and day, as with the very fire of heaven. Truly, this movement was not concocted by worldly wisdom.

To the world, this Christ-obsession was utter foolishness. But to those who were being saved, it was the power of God.

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