Following the outline established by the 2005 Jesus Still Lead On study guide, we are sharing different aspects of The Ground of the Unity, one of the worldwide Moravian Church’s key doctrinal statements, in The Moravian. In our final installment, we’ll discuss Serving the World, Authority of Christ and the Conclusion of the Ground of the Unity. Thanks to Dr. Craig Atwood and the editors of Jesus Still Lead 0n for this material.
—Mike Riess, editor, The Moravian Magazine
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 all 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 people. 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.
We love the world because Christ loves the world. This has been something that the Moravian Church has struggled with through the centuries. There have been many times when we were so concerned with our own spiritual development and purity in our communities that we have withdrawn from the world. The horrors of the 20th century demonstrated that Christians cannot leave the world to go its own way. Unless people of faith are engaged actively in promoting the message of God’s love for his creation and for all of his children, humans will destroy themselves and their environment. We have the technology and the hatred to destroy all things, but Christians know that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”
Moravians do not give credence to the apocalyptic fantasies that are peddled on newsstands, nor do we appeal to people’s fears and anxieties in order to increase our membership. In following Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we commit ourselves to the world that he has redeemed. Pride and fear often seem to rule the world and even the Church, but the Christian message is that we can be filled with faith, love and hope. We can challenge the world with the message of peace and reconciliation even in the midst of war and terror because the Prince of Peace strengthens us. We know that violence and evil do not have the final word. We know that we can fight with the weapons of faith rather than huddling behind the weapons of war. We do not need to be afraid because we know that “perfect love casts out fear.”
This message of peace is most needed when it is the least welcome. The Ground of the Unity makes it clear that we are called to seek what is best for all people rather than using people for our own benefit or making enemies. We stand opposed to the exploitation of the weakest people of the world and are called to raise our voices in their defense. We do not need to make others conform to our way of doing things. Rather, we are called to help them seek what is best for them. We do this because we look forward to the day when Christ’s kingdom is manifest on earth. Until that day, though, we are called to do what we can to make this world a reflection of heaven’s perfection.
- How can Christians work for peace and justice in the world? Is this separate from or related to the task of evangelism?
- What is the danger if Christians withdraw from the world and build their own protected communities divorced from others?
- Why is it hard to be a peacemaker in the midst of conflict?
- What does it mean to “seek to attain what is best for all people?” How do we know what is best for others?
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.
Moravians celebrate the election of Christ as Chief Elder of our Church every year, but we do not always take this idea seriously enough. It is important for us to realize that Christ is head of the entire body of Christ, not just our community of faith. We are grateful that this truth was experienced in a particularly significant way in our own history, but it is even more important that we make this a constant reality in our lives and in our community. This paragraph of the Ground of the Unity clearly reflects the Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934) by which some German Christians took a stand against Adolph Hitler and his messianic pretensions.
Christians owe their ultimate allegiance to God alone, and we know the will of God through the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is important for the sake of our own souls and for the good of the world that Christ loves that we never oppose his kingdom. This takes some discernment, but in general it is clear to most Christians when governments and other organizations stand opposed to the most fundamental Christian values. It is not as hard to recognize genuine evil as one might think.
What is hard is having the courage to resist evil in the name of Christ. It is hard to stand opposed to genocide, wanton destruction of creation, abuse of women, children, and men when our opposition may be costly. This is when we most need our faith in Christ. When we are doubting and wavering, we need to ask, “where Christ would be?” Would he be with the victims or the victimizers? If Christ is our Head and Lord, then we cannot let any lesser authority make us oppose Christ and his peaceable kingdom.
- Why is it vital that all Christians recognize that there are times when human authorities have become so corrupted by sin that it would be evil to obey their orders?
- What does the doctrine of Christ as Chief Elder mean to you?
- How do you know what would be opposed to Christ’s kingdom?
- What are ways in which authorities might ask you to oppose the Kingdom of Christ?
The Unitas Fratrum recognizes that it is called into being and has been sustained hitherto only by the incomprehensible grace of God. Thanksgiving and praise for this grace remain 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.
One of the hallmarks of the Moravian Church through the centuries has been a sense of joy and peace that comes from knowing Christ
and serving Christ. Contrary to the opinion of many in the world, it is in following Christ that we find our true happiness. This joy is not a fleeting emotion, but a deep awareness that nothing, not even our own failings, can separate us from the love of God. We do not presume to understand why God loves us or calls us into relationship with him. Rather, we simply rejoice in our experience of grace and look for ways in which to show our love for the Lord through humble and courageous service in the world.
The Ground of the Unity reminds us that we do not serve Christ under compulsion, like hired hands. We serve as dearly beloved children and friends of Jesus who strive to do what is pleasing to God. There is no division between our worship and our work, our praise of God and our love for one another. All is united in our joyful anticipation of the day when all things are restored. Therefore in the Moravian Church we stress that Christians look toward the return of Jesus or our going home to God with eager anticipation rather than fear and trepidation. We do not need or even desire to know the day or the hour of Christ’s return because we strive each day to be doing what the Lord requires of us: “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”
- Why is it important for us to remember that our church exists because of the grace of God rather than because of our own endeavors?
- Why are thanksgiving, praise, and joy essential features of the Christian life?
- What does it mean to be ready when the Lord returns?
- Having studied the entire Ground of the Unity, is there anything that you think needs to be changed?
- Has the study of Moravian doctrine changed your attitude toward the Moravian Church or your understanding of your faith? How?
The full text of the Ground of the Unity and Covenant for Christian Living are available on www.moravian.org. The Jesus Still Lead On study guide is available from the Interprovincial Board of Communication.
From the January/February 2017 Moravian Magazine