Editor’s Note: 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 statement, in each 2016 issue of The Moravian. This month, we’ll discuss the introductory paragraphs of Ground of the Unity. In subsequent months, we will share different aspects of the foundational document, along with commentary and thought-provoking questions.
Thanks to Dr. Craig Atwood and the editors of Jesus Still Lead 0n 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.
—Mike Riess, editor, The Moravian Magazine
The Ground of the Unity
Titles are always important because they try to communicate the meaning of a text in just a few words. In the years leading up to the Unity Synod of 1957, German Moravians worked out a statement of basic principles (In Geman: Grundsätze) for the reorganized Unity. The word “Ground” was chosen as the best word to express in German and English the idea of foundational principles. According to Bishop H. G. Steinberg “a Statement was adopted which attempts to say in terms of our own day what the Lord’s will is for the Church Universal and for the Unitas Fratrum.” He pointed out that “ground” was chosen because the church’s faith is “rooted” in this ground and can be fruitful (The Moravian Messenger, Dec. 1957, p. 3).
Unity is an important word as well. Here it refers both to the official name of the Moravian Church, the Unitas Fratrum, and to the idea of a united body of believers. When our ancestors separated from the Catholic Church in 1457, they did not call themselves a “church.” Instead they were a union of brothers or a unity of the brethren. In Zinzendorf’s day the Moravian Church was known as the Brüdergemeine, or community of the brothers. Unitas Fratrum is the Latin version of the original Czech name for the church as well as the German Brüdergemeine. This idea of the church as a unity of brothers and sisters around the world has been a core belief for Moravians for over 500 years. Sometimes the idea of unity has been used to promote uniformity in the church. At other times, it has been recognized that unity includes diversity.
- What images does the word “Ground” bring to mind for you?
- What would you title a doctrinal statement? Why?
- What do you think of when you think of Unity?
- What does this title say about the Moravian Church and its approach to doctrine?
Called by Christ
The Lord Jesus Christ calls His Church into being so that it may serve Him on earth until He comes. The Unitas Fratrum is, therefore, aware of its being called in faith to serve humanity by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It recognizes this call to be the source of its being and the inspiration of its service. As is the source, so is the aim and end of its being based upon the will of its Lord.
The Ground of the Unity begins with a statement on why the Christian Church exists before it begins to discuss the purpose of the Unitas Fratrum. According to Christian teaching, the church has been called into being by Jesus Christ as his body on earth. Despite its many imperfections and failures as an institution made up of human beings, the Church itself is a divine institution. The Church does not exist for its own sake; it exists only to serve Christ. As such, if the Church no longer serves, it is no longer the Church.
The Unitas Fratrum shares in the mission of the universal (or catholic) Church to serve humanity by the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It does not exist for its own sake or its own prosperity. Its existence as a church is based on the will of Jesus Christ, our Chief Elder.
It is important to recognize that the proclamation of the Good News (or Gospel) is a way to serve humankind, not a way to justify ourselves as Christians. If our proclamation harms others or fails to communicate God’s reconciling love in Christ Jesus, then we should reflect on what we are doing and our relationship to the Chief Elder.
- What does it mean that Christ calls the Church into being?
- Why do you think there is a Church? Why does the Moravian Church continue to exist?
- What does it mean to proclaim the Gospel? Is this just in words or in deeds as well?
- How does your congregation fulfill the purpose of the Church? How do you share in this mission?
- How does your congregation serve humanity? How do you?