In our January issue of The Moravian Magazine, we introduced a new regular feature, “Studying Moravian Doctrine.” Following the outline established by Jesus Still Lead On, An Introduction to Moravian Belief, we will cover different aspects of two central documents outlining Moravian doctrine and belief each month. In 2015, we are working through the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living (MCCL); in 2016, we’ll cover the Ground of the Unity.
This month will cover the parts of the MCCL dealing with Living By Grace, The Witness of a Living Church and Stewardship.
Thanks to Dr. Craig Atwood and the editors of Jesus Still Lead On (produced in 2005) for this material. If you are interested in obtaining the entirety of Jesus Still Lead On, please contact the IBOC or visit store.moravian.org.
The full text of the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living and the Ground of the Unity are available as a free download from www.moravian.org. Printed copies are available from the IBOC.
Living by Grace
Paragraphs 7 and 8 of the MCCL:
Living the Christian life depends not only on our own effort but upon God our Father, who in Jesus Christ accepts us as heirs of God (Galatians 4:4–7) and strengthens and sustains us (Philippians 4:13).
We realize that our Christian faith must continually be nourished if it is to remain living and vital. Therefore, we desire to grow in our Christian lives through family devotions, personal prayer and study and the opportunities for spiritual development offered by the Church.
The Moravian Church has always understood that Christian living does not come naturally. We also know that it is not simply a matter of teaching and discipline. Christian living ultimately comes from being in relationship with the living Christ who works with us to shape our lives into images of his life. We also recognize that Christ works with people as individuals and that we are to represent Christ in different ways in the world. This means first of all that we must nourish our relationship to Christ by using all of the resources he has provided through the Church, but it also means that we will continue to grow. Ideally, according to Moravian teaching, we should be better Christians at the end of life than we were when we became Christian. In light of the fact that we are growing in our knowledge and ability to live according to Christ’s teachings, it is important that we recognize that other Christians are also “works in progress,” and we should give them the same grace that we have needed and continue to need.
Questions for consideration:
- Have you tried to follow the teachings of Christ on your own will and strength?
- Shouldn’t people be expected to be good on their own?
- Why is it important to nourish your faith? Why isn’t conversion and belief in God enough?
- What happens if you don’t engage in Christian practices, such as devotions, worship, prayer and study?
- What resources does your congregation offer you for spiritual development?
- What other resources would be helpful to you?
The Witness of a Living Church
Paragraph 9 of the MCCL:
As members of the Moravian Church we will abide by the decisions made by the official boards of our congregations, and agree to be governed, both as individuals and as a congregation, by the enactments of the Unity Synod of the Moravian Church and of the Synods of the Province to which our congregation belongs.
This paragraph points to one of the continual sources of conflict and difficulty in the Moravian Church, particularly in the American setting where anti-authority sentiments have abounded since the 1960s. The American mystique includes the lone rebel or cowboy who makes his or her own rules. The Moravian Church has traditionally stood for a different value system.
Historically we have understood that people actually develop their full personality and potential best when they are connected to other people in a living and supportive community that holds them responsible for their actions. Such communities do not exist without some type of structure and leadership. Therefore we have always organized our church as congregations within a larger church. Congregations are led by boards, and provinces are governed by synods.
Furthermore, the Moravian Church is a world-wide church that remains a single church connected through our Unity Synod. The North American provinces have a great deal of independence, but we are ultimately responsible to the other Moravian provinces. This whole organization, however, only works if the individuals within it agree to live with the decisions made by the governing bodies. Without the commitment of individual members, the clergy and church boards to the greater Moravian Church, this worldwide community of faith will collapse.
Questions for consideration:
- What do you think holds us together as Moravians?
- Why is it important that members of the Church abide by the decisions made by the governing bodies?
- What should people do if they disagree with a decision made by their local board or by their provincial synod?
- What are constructive ways that the Moravian Church can deal with conflict?
- Is it important to you that you are part of a province of the worldwide Moravian Unity?
- What, if anything, makes you feel connected to the larger Moravian Church?
- Could the Moravian Church improve its structure?
Paragraphs 10–12 of the MCCL:
We deem it a sacred responsibility and genuine opportunity to be faithful stewards of all God has entrusted to us: our time, our talents and our financial resources. We view all of life as a sacred trust to be used wisely.
We will support, according to our ability, the financial needs of the local congregation, the District, the Province, and the Unity. We will consider the support of the benevolent causes of the Moravian Church, both at home and abroad, as a privilege, an opportunity and a responsibility.
We will also recognize the support of worthy causes outside of the Church as part of our stewardship.
Stewardship is not a popular topic in most churches, but this is one area where Christian commitment takes a very concrete and practical form. The Covenant calls us to view stewardship both as a responsibility and an opportunity to express our devotion to Christ. The theology that underlies the Moravian attitude toward stewardship is that all of life is a gift from God. It is not because of our efforts that we have most of what we have. Our bodies, our minds, our talents, and many of our opportunities were given to us. Those who have received gifts have the obligation of gratitude toward the giver and the responsibility to care for the gift given.
It is important to understand that every Moravian has the opportunity to contribute to the entire ministry of the Moravian Church through their congregational giving. There are many things that we cannot do alone, but we can do them together. Every active Moravian contributes to evangelism, world mission, theological education, care for the elderly, social ministries, and many other causes. Some churches teach that members should only contribute to their ministries, often in terms of a tithe of their income, but the Moravian Church encourages many forms of charitable giving consistent with its mission of serving humanity. The Covenant also emphasizes that stewardship involves much more than giving money to the Church (although it includes that); it is an attitude toward living. Even the ways we pursue our secular vocations are a form of stewardship.
Questions for consideration:
- Why is stewardship included in a covenant for Christian living?
- Why is stewardship to the Moravian Church an important part of being a member?
- What do you know about the benevolences and causes of the Moravian Church?
- Why do you contribute to these efforts?
- What would happen to our mutual ministry if individuals or congregations decided to violate this portion of the covenant?
- What types of charities outside of the Church do you think would be the most worthy of support?
- How can your congregation encourage a lifestyle of stewardship?
Next month: “Love,” “Unity and Diversity” and “Settling Differences” ■
From the April 2015 Moravian Magazine