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 “Witnessing to Our Faith,” “Temperance” and “Opposition to Racism.”
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.
Witnessing to our Faith
We will at all times be ready cheerfully to witness to our faith (1 Peter 3:15,16) and if need be, to suffer reproach for Christ’s sake (Luke 6:22,23). Being aware that our witness is made by both what we do and what we avoid doing, we will endeavor to let our manner of life “be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27), “not being conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). But in our yearning for the redemption of the whole creation, we will seek to meet the needs of the world in self-giving love, and as true yokefellows of Jesus Christ, willingly share in the fellowship of his sufferings, walking in his strength, by whom all things “are given us that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Many people, including many Moravians, report that they are uncomfortable witnessing to others about their faith in Christ. This may be because of how some churches use the word “witness.” Many times witnessing to faith seems like an effort to convince other people that they are wrong for believing what they believe and that they must join a particular church. The Covenant understands witnessing to our faith to be a cheerful sharing with others the joy and comfort we have in following Jesus Christ.
Notice that witnessing is not simply verbal; it includes our behavior in the world. Sometimes our strongest witness is when we do not participate in the petty cruelties and violence we see daily in our world. That is not all, though. Like the preceding paragraph, this one calls us into active expressions of our faith formed in love.
Theologically, we recognize that this is a fallen and sinful world, but that all of creation is in a process of redemption. Moravians understand Christian love to mean self-giving love modeled on the love of Christ who shared in the sufferings of the world. We see here the paradox of the New Testament: by sharing in the sacrifice and suffering of Christ on behalf of the world we experience the joy and peace of Christ while we are in the world.
- Have you ever “cheerfully witnessed” to your faith? What does this mean for you? Is this different from other forms of witnessing that you have experienced?
- Have you ever been rejected or criticized for being an active follower of Christ? What happened? How did you respond?
- What are things that we can do as part of witnessing to our faith?
- What are things that we should avoid doing simply because others know that we are Christian?
- What does it mean to you to share in the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ and walk in his strength?
Remembering the admonition of Scripture to be temperate in all things (1 Corinthians 9:25), we shall endeavor to look upon our bodies as temples of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We must also remember to respect the welfare of others who may be affected by our actions (Romans 14:20,21). We are aware of the problems that can be caused by the intemperate use of such things as alcoholic beverages, food, tobacco, drugs, and other things. We consider it the responsibility of every Christian to decide most carefully how they can be used in good conscience. We regard intemperance in any area of living as being inconsistent with the Christian life.
Much of the Covenant deals with our responsibilities toward brothers and sisters in Christ and the world in general, but this chapter concerns our own bodies. If we acknowledge that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, then we acknowledge that they ultimately belong to God not us. Self-abuse is therefore an offense against God. According to the Covenant we are to treat ourselves and our bodies with the same loving care we show to others in the world.
A central feature of the Moravian Church in its early days was a focus on living a disciplined and temperate life. This was continued into the Moravian communities of the 1700s. Moravians were expected to maintain control over their desires and avoid a lifestyle of excess and greed. For a time in the late 19th and 20th centuries this general attitude of common sense and temperance slipped into an attitude of prohibition of alcohol and tobacco. With the writing of the current Covenant, there was a move toward moderation and personal decision rather than prohibition.
- What does it mean that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit?
- Does this mean that we are to worship our bodies and care only about our own health?
- What does “intemperance” mean to you? What are the dangers in intemperance?
- What are your views on the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other things? What is the difference between moderate use and addiction?
- How do our actions affect the welfare of others when it comes to what we eat, drink, or use?
- How do you think the church should deal with the issue of addiction? Is condemnation enough?
Opposition to Racism
We recognize no distinction between those who are one in the Lord. We believe that God in Jesus Christ calls his people out of “every race, kindred, and tongue,” pardons them beneath the Cross, and brings them into a living fellowship with himself. We regard it as a commandment of our Lord to bear public witness to this and to demonstrate by word and deed that we are one in Christ.
Because we hold that all people are God’s creatures (Genesis 1:27) and that he has made of one blood all nations (Acts 17:26), we oppose any discrimination based on color, race, creed, or land of origin and declare that we should treat everyone with love and respect.
This statement is in conformity with The Ground of the Unity’s statement against racial prejudice. It is important for Moravians to recognize that our church’s doctrine condemns all forms of racism and discrimination. This is not left to individual conscience but is a point of doctrine. For us, racial discrimination is a violation of the Gospel. This is consistent with our church’s practice for centuries.
Moravian missions began with bringing the Gospel to Africans enslaved on the island of St. Thomas. Though their masters told them they were worthless and did not have souls, Moravian missionaries brought the message that they were so precious to God that he died for them. Because of Christ, African slaves could be brothers and sisters with Europeans.
Although we have failed to live up to our ideals in the past, our church has never justified racism theologically. Notice that in paragraph 33 we extend our condemnation of discrimination to include persons who are not Christian. The Moravian Church opposes anti-Semitism and other forms of oppression based on religion as an offense against the God who made us all.
- Why does the Church need to have a statement that “we recognize no distinction between those who are one in the Lord”? Do we live up to this statement in practice?
- In what ways do we as a church bear “public witness” to the fact that we are all one in Christ? In what ways do you do this?
- Is racism and discrimination one of those areas where we should keep in mind that we are bearing witness to Christ in what we do and refrain from doing?
- If you believe that all humans have one Creator and are all related, would this change how you treat people outside of your own circle of friends and family?
- What are concrete ways we show respect to people who do not look and talk like we do?
Next month: Conclusion to Covenant for Christian Living ■
From the November 2015 Moravian Magazine