Count Zinzendorf and the German PietismIn the 17th century, Pietism emerged as a reforming movement in the midst of the German Evangelical church out of a sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction. As primary initiator, Philipp Jakob Spener played a huge role in catalyzing the movement through his 'Pia desideria' – a writing he published in 1675 in which he proposed several ideas for a renewal of the church. Among Spener's ideas were those that became main focuses of the entire Pietistic renewal, which included: the emphasis on a personal spiritual life rooted in experience and the spiritual practice of prayer and personal bible study; the emphasis on personal consecration and holiness in the everyday life; the concept of the priesthood of all believers and thus the use of lay ministers.
The Little German Town Herrnhut
The Herrnhut Revival of 1727During the following months, the spirit of prayer manifested in several of the groups that Zinzendorf had initiated. This led to ever-growing prayer gatherings, as well as the first “night watch,” which began on August 5th. The days that followed were marked by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit (even among the children), which manifested in emotional and ecstatic prayer and singing meetings. On August 13th, 1727, these corporate meetings came to a climax; the entire community had been called together for the celebration of the Holy Communion, in which all discord between them found an end and real unity grew in them while singing hymns in brokenness and tears.
Soon after the night of Holy Communion, some of the citizens committed themselves to a chain of unceasing day and night prayer, which found no break for over one hundred years (which is the specific spiritual practice that is further investigated in the next chapter). Along with non-ceasing prayer, several other spiritual practices were established in Herrnhut. For instance, the lovefeast, the washing of feet, nightly song services, fixed hour prayers in the morning, as well as the reading of the daily scripture that was chosen by the casting of lots. At the same time, the idea and reality of the Daily Text Book emerged, which is still popular and in still in use today.
In the summer of 1727, the Herrnhut revival birthed the spiritual practice of non-stop prayer. However, this practice did not stand alone, but was embedded into a whole set of disciplines. The spiritual atmosphere of the town was increasingly marked by the daily practices of prayer-meetings, sermons, singing services, and small group bible studies. The singing and writing of hymns within the Herrnhut community, which was inspired by Zinzendorf's personal focus of music and singing in his own spirituality, became of growing interest among the Herrnhuterians. The count's so called 'religion of the heart,' with its emotional relationship to the Savior in its center, was the basis for a spirituality that was mystical in its essence. If there was not such a unique communal emphasis, it would have been easy to assume that Zinzendorf had monastic background rather than Lutheran.
The Idea of a Never Ending Prayer ChainThe start and practice of a never ending prayer line cannot be separated from the community and the revival of Herrnhut who are crucial to gain deeper understanding. Several groups called 'bands' had already started doing 'nightwatch' prayer meetings by themselves, in which they would walk singing through the village. At the end of every night shift, Count Zinzendorf instructed the night guards to sing certain hymns. In one of the Herrnhut corporate prayer meetings, Count Zinzendorf felt that the Holy Spirit was highlighting Leviticus 6:13 to him: “Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out.” Urged by the strong impression that “the intercession of his Saints should incessantly rise up onto [God], like holy incense”, Zinzendorf proposed the setting up of a never ending prayer-chain to the Herrnhuterians. Even though something like this had never taken place in the Protestant Christendom, this concept was not a new invention. The idea of praying without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) had inspired the monastic movement from its beginnings. Furthermore, there are biblical role-models in the Tabernacle of David (1 Chr 9:33), as well as Jesus' parable of the contending widow (Luke 18:7-8). However, it is not clear if and how strongly Zinzendorf was inspired by these Scriptures. Apart from the Old Testament typology of the fire on the altar there is no further reference to biblical texts.
The Prayer Chain Starts
The Why Behind Unceasing PrayerBasically, the prayer chain had two purposes: 1. “to lie prostrate before his throne both day and night, offering to him the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for all his kindness shewn unto them” and 2. “to lay before [the] Saviour, the distress and case of all who were known to them in or out of the Congregation.” Praise and thanksgiving included the singing of songs and hymns, usually whenever the praying person was not able to pray for a full hour. The second function involved interceding for the sick and oppressed, for the fellow believers who were persecuted and imprisoned, as well as for their own village of Herrnhut, which also suffered from the crossfire of criticism. Furthermore, the intercessors felt “how highly needful it was, that the Congregation in its present state of infancy, and having Satan as her adversary, who slumbers not day or night, should be preserved from his wiles, and be under constant and holy guardian care.” In order to fulfill their task most effectively, a weekly meeting was set up in which requests where shared and updated.
The Fire Keeps BurningThe number of intercessors grew quickly, so that in 1728 the Hourly Intercession was covered by 90 groups of up to seven people who met several times a week. As this movement became more popular, visitors from many places came to watch and experience the prayer-chain. Furthermore, even as missionaries, the Moravians would take the Hourly Intercession wherever they went. For more than 100 years, this prayer-chain would go on without a break, keeping not only the fire of revival alive, but also fueling one of the biggest missionary movements of the second millennium. With fervent love and the readiness to sacrifice their lives, the Moravians witness to all whom the Lord called them to reach.
Zinzendorf's Later MinistryFor the rest of his life, Zinzendorf's main activity and calling was to care for the spiritual life and well-being of the community of Herrnhut. In addition, in accordance to the general development of the Moravian Herrnhut community, Zinzendorf started traveling all over Europe and North America for the sake of mission, pilgrimage, and to establish more places in the style of Herrnhut (such as Bethlehem, PA in 1741). In the following years, many Moravian missionaries would be sent out from Herrnhut into even the farthest places of the world. Worried about the existence of Herrnhut because of the increasing attention and accusations, Zinzendorf tried to make as many friends as possible during his travels in order to have the favor of many. After being exiled from the Saxon territory, he often visited Herrnhut secretly. On May 9th 1760, Zinzendorf died in the Herrschaftshaus in Herrnhut, the town that can be seen as his greatest achievement.
For Zinzendorf, the Moravian community and the beautiful, unique settlement of Herrnhut, were, by far, his greatest achievements. The Lord used Zinzendorf and Herrnhut to restore the Moravian beliefs, traditions, and culture. Also, Zinzendorf was used to establish new concepts within the Church that would eventually lead to world mission and so change many lives and the face of planet earth for ever.