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Modern Christians might think it foolish to send missionaries to foreign fields without a “formal education.” Many mission boards require a certain level of higher theological education to retain doctrinal and practical purity. Though the Moravian missionaries lacked higher education in the modern sense, they were by no means theologically ignorant. Additionally, their community structure kept theology and practicality in check through brother being accountable to brother.
In fact, for four years before their sending, the first missionary volunteers were trained every evening after a typical day’s work in medicine, geography, languages, church history, and theology by the Count himself.1 Upon these first missionaries, the Moravians would build the next century of missionary work.
Zinzendorf was far from a theological ignoramus, but he also did not aspire to become a renowned theological writer. Researchers have had to uncover his theology in letters, addresses, and other forms of literature.2 Zinzendorf had a pietist Lutheran background. This background significantly affected the theology of the Moravians. Spangenberg wrote the first systematic of Moravian theology after the Count’s death. He did neglect some of Zinzendorf’s more controversial doctrinal views. Spangenburg agrees with the Augsburg Confession, and his positions are very similar to Lutheran theology as well.3
Zinzendorf’s theological focus for his missionaries was significantly more straightforward. His doctrine was thoroughly Christocentric,4 and he focused on what he believed were theological essentials, often teaching his followers to avoid focusing on issues outside the Gospel. As Mulholland states,
The Moravians preached Christ. Zinzendorf counseled outgoing missionaries, “You must go straight to the point and tell them about the life and death of Christ.” Earlier missionaries had often given elaborate proofs for the existence of God as though they were giving theology lectures. Zinzendorf urged the missionaries simply to tell the story of Jesus. There are numerous accounts of how that story awakened slumbering hearts and brought them to the Savior.5Kenneth B. Mulholland, Moravians, Puritans, and the Modern Missionary Movement
A Call to the Modern Church: Focus on essentials. Teach your church to tell the simple story of the Gospel in everyday life.
If someone were to describe the Moravians in a word, they might struggle to choose only one. Brave, determined, loving—these are all words that would surely define Moravian missions. But one word rises above all others: simple. The Moravians were masterful at stripping away the glamor and glitz so characteristic of many modern ministries and focusing solely on the most critical aspects of their Christianity.
They exemplified the aspect of simplicity in the presentation of their theology. Moravian doctrine was simple. No one should mistake simplicity for shallowness. Both Zinzendorf and Spangenburg laid deep theological foundations for the Moravians. But the Moravians knew the difference between essentials and nonessentials. In their public ministry, they focused heavily on Christ and His Gospel. This is not to say they did not learn more profound theology in their missionary training.
The unadorned Gospel was the Moravian’s primary apologetic.
In our modern world, Christians feel like they must have opinions on every issue, whether the Bible is clear or not on the topic. Many Christians often lose the Gospel among the weeds of preference. A simple focus on the Gospel and the story of Christ needs to be prioritized once again among churches and in missionary endeavors.