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 Relations with Other Churches and The Witness of a Christian Home and Raising Children.
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.
Relations with Other Churches
Paragraphs 19 and 20:
We will have fellowship, in all sincerity, with children of God in other Christian churches, and will carefully avoid all disputes respecting opinions and ceremonies peculiar to one or another church. In this fellowship we will cooperate with other churches in the support of public charities or Christian enterprises, which have a just claim upon us as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We realize that it is the Lord’s will that the Church of Jesus Christ should give evidence of and seek unity in Him with zeal and love. We see how such unity has been promised us and laid upon us as a charge. We recognize that through the grace of Christ the different denominations have received many gifts and that the Church of Christ may be enriched by these many and varied contributions. It is our desire that we may learn from one another and rejoice together in the riches of the love of Christ and the manifold wisdom of God. We welcome every step that brings us nearer the goal of unity in Him.
One of the most important passages of Scripture to Moravians is Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17, sometimes called his Last Will and Testament. In that prayer, Jesus prays that all of his followers will be one, just as he is one with the Father. However, since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have separated from each other over matters of doctrine, practice, politics, language, and many other things. Some of these divisions have marred the Body of Christ. The Moravian Church is unusual in the history of Christianity in that our church has always understood itself as a fellowship of believers within the Body of Christ rather than being the only true church.
We have also been unusual in our attitude toward theological controversies that have divided the Body of Christ. We believe that all Christian churches serve Christ in the world and that the Holy Spirit grants differing gifts to churches. Rather than being threatened by the different practices of the churches, Moravians have traditionally seen this as an enriching of the Body of Christ. On controversial matters, such as Holy Communion, Moravians have found that the simple teaching of Scripture and tolerance for differing interpretations have been a blessing to us spiritually and have benefited our work in the world.
- What opinions or ceremonies are peculiar to Moravians?
- What is the danger in religious disputes?
- Why do we need to be tolerant of other churches in order to better serve Christ?
- What are the advantages of engaging in cooperative ministries and public charities rather than trying to do all things alone?
- What do you think the Moravian Church could learn from contact with other Christian bodies?
- What unique gifts does the Moravian Church offer the Body of Christ?
- Is this statement calling us to create a new church that unites all Christian churches or to an increased appreciation for the distinctiveness of the different churches?
The Witness of the Christian Home
Paragraphs 21, 22 and 23:
We regard it as a sacred obligation to hold to the ideal of Christian marriage as a lifelong commitment given by our Lord in His teaching. We consider it essential, therefore, that all persons contemplating marriage should receive premarital counseling and that our young people should be instructed, beginning in adolescence, in the meaning and obligation of Christian marriage. This instruction should be given through the Church and home.
We regard Christian marriage as a lifelong covenant before God (an indissoluble union) which requires the continuous loyalty of the man and the woman toward each other. Any breaking of the marriage bond is a result of sin (involves sin against God) and causes human suffering; therefore it is the duty of husband and wife to meet all frictions, offenses, and disagreements with a humble, forgiving spirit that persistently works for reconciliation. If at any time the stability of their marriage is threatened, the couple is to seek the counsel of a pastor, of other spiritual leaders in the Church, or of other professional Christian counselors as soon as possible before any other action is taken.
Following the example and teaching of our Lord, we acknowledge the responsibility to deal compassionately and redemptively with human frailty and sin in every area of life, including the failure of marriage. As ambassadors of Christ we are called to be agents of reconciliation, we recognize that persons of sincere faith and with good counsel may still decide or be forced to divorce. We believe it our Christian responsibility to pray for, support, and encourage those who have divorced, the children of the divorced, and all who are wounded by divorce.
This is one of the longer sections of the Covenant, and it is the one that has been changed the most through the years. In the Moravian communities of the 18th century, marriages were arranged by the church rather than the couple or their parents. At that time the church stressed the idea that marriage is a serious and sacred matter. As the community system dissolved, Moravian young people adopted the modern practice of arranging their marriages on the basis of love and romance; however, the church continues to expect couples to think seriously about their marriages and how marriage is part of their Christian life.
In the 20th century, people began to live longer and the pressures on marriage increased as society changed. In the decades following World War II, it became evident to the church that the new social reality included divorce. Marriages were increasingly likely to end in divorce, and the church gradually recognized that the earlier practice of not blessing remarriages was driving many people out of the church, including many people who were sincere in their faith and commitment.
The church gradually recognized that divorce is rarely a simple matter where one party is guilty and one is innocent. The church also realized that the practice of telling women suffering in abusive marriages that they should remain with their husbands merely added to the abuse. Eventually, the Covenant was altered to reflect the reality that many Christians have suffered from divorce. The Covenant sets out the contemporary Moravian understanding that marriage is indeed a sacred bond that is sometimes broken, but that God’s covenant never is.
- Why do we teach that marriage should last “as long as you both shall live” instead of “as long as your love shall last”?
- What do you think are the most important things in marriage?
- What advice would you give two people thinking of uniting in marriage?
- What makes a marriage a Christian marriage?
- Do you think that the church was right to change the Covenant or should the Moravian Church forbid remarriage?
- Is divorce ever the right thing to do?
- How should the church minister to people who have suffered from divorce, including children?
Next month: Raising Children and Witness of the Christian Citizen
From the July/August 2015 Moravian Magazine