One Evening Meeting Ignites a Unique Church Plant

Jacob Huber’s tavern is now the site of a Bed and Breakfast called The Avenue.

The setting is Jacob Huber’s Tavern just north of today’s Lititz, Pennsylvania. It’s the evening of December 2nd all the way back in 1742. Local farmers are gathered to hear Count Nicolaus von Zinzindorf from Germany speak. (Look back at the last blog for background on him). He is here to preach, but also to share his vision of beginning a Christian settlement in this area of Pennsylvania. His thinking about church planting is different than that of the 21st century, but nonetheless insightful for today. Having read others of his sermons, here’s what I would think he said to communicate his vision:

Brothers, I’m so glad you are here and have responded to the invitation to be here. This is a very important evening for you.

The Gospel reading is from Matthew 13:24-30

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Painting of Zinzendorf

Let me get straight to the point. Here we have a good explanation of the Gospel passage and we cannot avoid the explanation because our Savior himself explains it, starting in verse 36 and following.

Now remember this is not the soils parable in Luke 8:4-15, where we sow the seed which is the word of God and the soils are the different degrees of openness of people’s hearts. No, this is very different. Jesus says the Son of Man sows the seed in the world, not men’s hearts, and the seeds are people. And weeds, weeds are not bad thoughts or false teaching, but they are people, too. However they are not sown by the Son of Man, but by the devil, himself. So in the fields both the seed of the Savior and Satan’s weeds grow up together. As farmers, you know, you could try to dig out the weeds, but if you do you can’t help but also pull up the wheat that you are trying to grow. The Son of Man says to wait until the final harvest at the end of time to get rid of the weeds.

You know the weeds, don’t you? They are those who try to ruin what the Savior sows, they try to destroy the plants, in other words they are poised to attack Christians. They are against everything the awakened ones stand for. They not only stand for evil, but they try to stop you, by ridicule or sin or whatever. Be aware of who those people are. They can be unbelievers, or they may be right from your church whether Lutheran, Mennonite, Moravian or any of the other good churches in this land.

If you have been awakened and live out of the salvation that Christ gave then you are the seeds planted out in the wilderness to grow out here. Don’t be discouraged by the weeds, but grow and flourish for there is much land to fill. There are many people to be reached; your German neighbors and friends and the Indians who are scattered not far from your farms.

But if you remain all alone so far from each other, you will have a more difficult time. The weeds can easily overtake you. There’s more protection if you gather with each other, believers living together for Christ. That’s why our dear Lord has commissioned me to issue an invitation to you, to not only be a church together, but be a community together living out the faith and reaching out to others. I have learned this lesson: there can be no Christianity without community.

I have had the blessing of seeing Christian settlements built over in Germany at my beloved Herrnhut and not far from here, up in Bethlehem here in Penn’s Woods. And the Savior longs to do the same thing here in this area. What do you think? Will you be part of this and grow up into the fruit that he wants?*

Zinzindorf was a seed that night that brought great growth. As a result of his time, a Christian settlement was begun that was known as “Litiz”, today’s Lititz. A strong church was built there as well as the community that resulted in great strengthening of the believers in their faith and their life. It was an impact that continued for 100 years and still affects believers today especially in the Moravian Church. Zinzindorf had a large vision that we could adapt and use. How could we use the idea of building Christian communities today?

The Lititz Moravian Church today.

* Adapted from a sermon by Zinzindorf at a Lutheran Church in Philadelphia in February, 1742 from the book, Zinzindorf’s Pennsylvania Journey, c/o 2001, Moravian Church of North America.

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The Spirit’s Means of Reconciliation

A story from history can bring hope to the Church.

Count Nicolas von Zinzendorf faced a huge problem of dissension in the Christian village he had set up. And though he was not the pastor, he was so upset about it, that he boldly took hold of the situation and the Spirit did the rest and brought about reconciliation. What happened can be a real encouragement as we face churches racked with division today.

Zinzendorf was a state diplomat at the time who had been influenced by the new waves in the Lutheran Church known as pietism.  In 1722 he created the village of Herrnhut out of his huge estate in Germany and gathered those who were seeking to escape the persecution that dominated nearby countries. And families from all kinds of fervent church backgrounds came for asylum. It was great, for a while!

But soon their fervency swung from major issues of the faith to the minor differences between them, which resulted in a lot of conflict and disarray as even village leaders were against each other. One leader had the audacity to call Zinzendorf the Beast of The Book of Revelation. Zinzendorf could have gotten defensive, but instead he followed another course.

The church at Herrnhut where the community met for their communion.

He took an indefinite leave of absence from his job and moved back to the village. And then he slowly worked, visiting the homes there, simply to pray with them and after some time he called the men together for an intensive study of scripture on what Christian Community looked like. The ongoing prayer and the conviction of scripture showed them their lack of love and sinful dissension. As a result they forged a document that set out how they should conduct themselves together and they all agreed to it.

But the Spirit was not finished yet. As they continued in prayer and study, they gathered one Sunday for a special communion service. All were feeling shame and guilt for how they had contributed to the divisions. Then the Spirit ministered among them, giving them a sense of his love, forgiveness and joy like they had never experienced before. Zinzendorf later described it as “The whole place represented truly a visible habitation of God among men.” They were fully reconciled!

That was the turnaround that changed everything!

From there, they began round-the-clock prayer that lasted 100 years, they intentionally started Christian communities in a number of places in the New World and eventually they sent out 300 missionaries. And thus ignited the considerable growth of the Moravian Church.

The Spirit used Zinzendorf praying with families and leading intensive study with the men to turn Herrnhut around.

In Romans 13:12, the apostle Paul says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” There is an urgency to deal with the darkness because the time is short. The light will dawn any minute. It’s the time of our salvation, we will be taken into glory. In the next verse, 13, he indicates the darkness includes a number of sins, one of which is dissension. So Paul is saying when you see that sin, it needs to be dealt with. Zinzendorf had that same sense of urgency so he did something radical and took hold of the situation in Herrnhut. If Zinzendorf felt that way how much more should we in our time. Isn’t it time we stopped all the church infighting, gossip and splits? The scripture is so clear in calling for the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6 among other places). Let’s get together and start praying and studying because there is so much left to do and so little time. And as we see our sins let’s confess them and forgive each other. And then we can trust the Spirit will take hold of us and renew our churches as well.