Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 51 - Ecumenical Churches in America (Video)

No. 51. >> Thanks for that, Professor Rast. I feel like I'm getting a handle on the ecumenical movement for the first time. Please tell me, are there any ecumenical churches in our country today? >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: Yes, there are, Josh. In fact, there are certain traditions that go back a long way that will define themselves intentionally as ecumenical. One of the foremost in this regard is the Moravian Church. Now, the Moravian Church has its roots way, way back. In fact, they trace their roots all the way back to the reforms of Jan Hus. Some cases even earlier than that. 100 years before Luther. In which you had a Reforming Movement that was in some ways similar to things that would come along a little bit later on with Luther. For example, putting emphasis on receiving the sacrament of both kinds. Vernacular preaching and reading of the Scriptures and things of that sort. Well, the reception of the Hussites or the Brethren, as they came to be called, was not any more positive than what the Lutherans would later experience. In fact, you might even say it was worse. Jan Hus himself was burned at the stake by the Council of Constance in the early 1400s. His followers were in large measure repressed, driven underground. And there they removed for about 300 years. Meeting in smaller groups. Always on the margin legality. And with the threat of the state hanging over them. Many, many years later there was a change of government. And they were driven out of their homes. And they sought refuge on the estates of a remarkable gentleman. A man by the name of Nikolaus Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf. Zinzendorf, as I said, remarkable individual. Who had been born in Saxony. As a Lutheran was baptized. And in fact, his godfather was Philipp Jakob Spener, one of the leaders of Lutheran pietism. Zinzendorf himself grew up hoping to become a pastor. Studied theology. Was preparing for the ministry in a sense. But also had responsibility to his family and to their vast estate. And as such, was precluded, at least officially speaking, from moving into a formal ministerial position in the particular setting in which he found himself. The result being he was a bit frustrated. And so when this group of religious exiles, these Hussite Brethren, were looking for a place to stay came to his attention, he invited them to settle on his familiar lands called Herrnhut in Saxon. And as a result, those sometimes called the unitas fratrum, the United Brethren, this group is also referred to as the Herrnhutters. And just to make it all the more confusing, because they had their roots in Moravia, they are sometimes called Moravians. The point of the matter being, this group has been expelled, settled on Zinzendorf's land. And ultimately they name him as their pastor and their bishop. Now, this is a tremendous point for Zinzendorf. From early on in his life, Zinzendorf has been seeking Christian unity. And the appearance of these -- the unitas fratrum, these Hussites, these Brethren, opens up new possibilities for him. In fact, over time they name him as their bishop. And he sees within this little embattled community the first opportunities for realizing a truly ecumenical church. What he is most interested in is finding the fundamental teaching, the basic reality of the Christian faith. And for him that ultimately will be the wounds and blood of Jesus. All who trust in the wounds and blood of Jesus as the people are God. Later on he'll write an enormously famous hymn, influential and rather beautiful hymn on this particular point. "Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness. My beauty are my glorious dress." That's Zinzendorf speaking about this most basic teaching of Christianity. So he's willing to be embracing if peopled hold to that fundamental point. Recognizing that there will be diversity of opinions in other matters. But stating by virtue of the work of the Spirit which draws us together in the context of the wounds and blood of Christ, we can at the very least recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Now, he's in Saxony. One of the Lutheran strongholds in Germany. And many of the Lutheran pastors are not all that thrilled about this doctrinal minimalism as they see it. Where is the robust confession of Trinity? Where is the confession of the two natures in Christ? His person. His work. What about teachings regarding the Lord's Supper, the presence of Christ and so forth? To Zinzendorf these are largely marginal. Tangential. To many Lutherans, these are the center of the Lutheran confession. And thus, Zinzendorf, appearing to be a Lutheran of sorts, oftentimes draws their fire. He actually seeks ordination in order to, if you will, give himself a certain establishment and authority over against the other preachers. But Lutherans in Saxony refuse. He is ultimately approved for ministry by the University of Tubingen. But he is disallowed formal ordination in his home Saxony. In the end he overcomes that problem by arguing that he has been self ordained, or better yet, ordained by Christ by virtue of the responsibility given him by this community of Herrnhutters. But ongoing tensions between you and the other Lutherans, between you and the state, finally lead to his becoming disabused of the notion of believing this can happen in Germany. In fact, in the early 1740s, he actually makes his way to the American colonies. And there, with other Moravian leadership as they are now becoming called, established several colonies in Pennsylvania and what later is North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, let will he hem and later Nazarite are established as Moravian colonies. In the south, Salem is established, also, as a Moravian colony. And in these they try and welcome all who hold to the wounds and blood of Jesus and trust there in him, downplaying doctrinal differences at every other point. This is enough, says Zinzendorf. This is what is truly essential. And as time goes by, the Moravians will be known for this particular phrase, one they help popularize. Namely, in essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity. Thus, to be in fellowship with the Moravian Church, one need not become a Moravian. One could, in fact, remain in one's current denomination and still be considered a Moravian in good standing. Thus, you could be a Lutheran Moravian, a Methodist Moravian, an Anglican Moravian and so forth. The membership is not the key, as they see it. Rather, the recognition and the visible and practical expressions of fellowship. Those are the keys. Thus, if you were to visit say the web site of the Moravian Church here in America, you would see them underscoring their ecumenical posture and their welcoming and embracing perspective. This will be, for them, definitional. This will be, in fact, the material principle, their ecumenical posture. Expressed, once again, in that phrase: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity. But they are not alone. There are other churches, as well, that will pick up that theme. And several of them will have a terrific impact on the American scene. Though they'll take their theology in a little bit different direction.