In last month’s 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 Scripture, the Moravian Church’s ecumenical views and the witness of a Christian Life.
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.
Paragraph 2 of MCCL:
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 Scripture is the sole standard of the doctrine and faith of the Unitas Fratrum [Moravian Church] and therefore shapes our life.
There has been much controversy in the history of Christianity over the Scriptures, even in early Christianity. The early church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, established the Bible as we know it today (although in Greek) and encouraged a figurative (or spiritual) reading of much of the Old Testament. Over the centuries the Catholic Church developed a long tradition of biblical interpretation that was the basis of doctrine and church life and which had as much authority as the Bible itself. Beginning with John Wyclif (d. 1384) and Jan Hus (d. 1415), reformers called for Scripture rather than tradition to be the final authority in the Church. The Moravian Church was part of this biblical reformation and encouraged the reading of the Bible in the common language of the people. The Covenant reflects the 500-year understanding of the Moravian Church that Scripture is the standard of our faith and practice, but God is the source of our life and salvation. Scripture is sacred to us because it points us to God.
Questions for consideration:
- What parts of the Bible do you read most often? Why?
- How do you think that Scripture shapes your life as a Christian?
- How does Scripture shape the life of the Moravian Church?
- What do you learn about God from reading the Bible?
- Do you think it is helpful to read the Bible in light of what we know about its original historical context?
A Church among Churches
Paragraphs 3 and 4 of MCCL:
With the universal Christian Church, we share our faith in the Triune God, who revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Savior of all people. We particularly declare His living presence and Lordship over the Church, joy in the benefits of His life, sufferings, death and resurrection and emphasize a close bond of fellowship with each other in His name. We believe that Christ is present with us in Word and Sacrament. We decline to determine as binding what the Scriptures have left undetermined, or to argue about mysteries impenetrable to human reason. In this regard, we hold to the principle “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” [This is sometimes called the Moravian motto.]
We thankfully recognize the value of the historic creeds of the Christian Church in calling upon believers in every age to give an obedient and fearless testimony, recognizing Jesus Christ as Lord. A Moravian confession of faith is to be found in the Easter Dawn Liturgy.
This section of the MCCL reflects The Ground of the Unity and it points to the Easter Dawn Liturgy (Note: see story on page 15 for the Liturgy). It is important to notice that the Moravian Church does not have a doctrine that separates it from the rest of the Christian Church. We affirm the basic doctrines of Christianity, but we do lay particular stress on Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior. This is what is often described as Christocentrism.
Notice as well that the Sacraments are as important to Moravians as the Word. Both communicate the presence of Christ within and among us. The MCCL also sets forth a guiding principle that is evident in Moravian doctrine and practice: we respect the complexity of Scripture and do not attempt to force a single interpretation on the Scripture.
We acknowledge that there are things in Christian doctrine and practice that remain mysteries. The statement on essentials and non-essentials reminds us that we are ultimately defined by our love. We are called to love and serve God, not to define and confine God by our limited understanding and vision.
Questions for consideration:
- What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Savior?
- How do you see this paragraph lived out in the Moravian Church?
- How does Christ remain a living presence in the church?
- How does devotion to Christ lead us into a deeper understanding of the Triune God and our responsibility as followers of Christ?
- What does the principle of “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love” (the Moravian motto) mean to you?
The Witness of the Christian Life
Paragraphs 5 and 6 of the MCCL:
We believe that as in baptism we have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection, so we have died to sin and should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1–11).
When seeking guidance we find that the simplest expression of Christian living is contained in the earliest of Christian confessions, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” This implies that obedience is due him as the absolute Ruler and Lord of our lives. Not only his teachings (e.g., Matthew 5–7) but, even more, the example of his life (Philippians 2:5; Ephesians 4:20) provide an understanding of the obedience that he desires. Although the early Church, guided by the Spirit of Jesus, did not develop a code covering all issues, it offered guidance in various areas of Christian living (e.g. Colossians 3:1–46; 1 Peter 2:11–3:12; Ephesians 4:1–6:20).
Baptism is one of the most sacred moments in the Christian life even if we do not remember our own baptism as infants, just as birth is the most important moment of our life although we do not remember it. In baptism, including baptism of infants, we make a public profession of our conviction that Christ leads us into a new and better life than we would live on our own.
Baptism is a seal of our intention to live as followers of Christ rather than following our own appetites and confused desires. Baptism gives us a distinct identity as children of God and gives us the name “Christian.”
The Covenant wisely identifies baptism as the beginning of our Christian life and connects it to the lordship of Jesus Christ. The Moravian Church also acknowledges that we have learned through the centuries that we cannot develop a binding code of Christian behavior that will apply for all people in all places in all ages for all circumstances. What follows in the Covenant is our mutual understanding of the teaching of Scripture concerning Christian living. Ultimately, in Moravian teaching, the ethical life is the joyful life because there is joy in following Christ.
Questions for consideration:
- What do you think is the significance of baptism?
- How does baptism acknowledge that we are called to live a life under the lordship of Christ?
- What does it mean to die to sin and walk in newness of life? Does this mean that Christians do not sin?
- Why does the Covenant state that the example of Jesus’ life is even more important than his teachings?
- What lessons have you learned about Christian living from the example of Jesus?
- In what ways does the Bible offer guidance for how people should live their lives?
- What is the danger in giving a rigid statement of Christian behavior?
Next month: Living By Grace, The Witness of a Living Church and Stewardship. ■