Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

The First Modern Missionaries Created Profit-Producing Businesses

The first wave of Protestant missionaries in modern history was a surge of Moravians from Herrnut, Germany, in the 18th Century, under the leadership of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf. Notable about these missionaries is the fact that they left Herrnut for far-off places with enough money to get them to where they were going, understanding they would not be receiving financial support from home. 

These pioneers of missions believed it was a missionary's duty and obligation to not only "preach the Lamb" that was slain for the salvation of souls, but to also help with the physical needs of those they evangelized. For Moravians, this meant provision of a livelihood. This provision was a big part of what it meant to truly love the people to whom they were sent. Many of these missionaries built spiritually and economically integrated communities similar to Herrnut, a town built by Moravians on property Count Zinzendorf had granted, where one out of every thirty-five residents was a shoemaker.

The first modern missionaries created profit-producing businesses. Lots of them. One New World community, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1761, had nearly 50 businesses in a town of 2,500. Not only did these businesses meet the financial needs of the missionaries themselves, who earned their living "as they went," but they provided much-needed employment for the people they came to evangelize and truly love.

Besides saving souls, Zinzendorf wanted to "teach the natives the dignity of labor," and to promote the welfare of needy people. In the process, Moravian missionaries worked daily in the marketplace beside neighbors who knew not Christ. What better place to be a living witness? (What a novel idea!)

The Moravians traveled to neglected and marginalized people. They seemed to specialize in the poor and exploited of the world. Slaves in Surinam. Eskimos. Indians in America. Among the many kinds of businesses established were: textile manufacturing, pottery-making, baking, and watch-making. In Labrador, the missionaries owned trading posts and cargo ships.

Zinzendorf disliked taking offerings, or appealing for aid. According to William J. Danker, author of Profit for the Lord, Zinaendorf's said reason for rejecting the collection-plate economy was because he did not think it was right to interfere [compete] with other Christian causes. But, clearly, there was more to his thinking.

For more on the Moravian theology of work and missions, I recommend William Danker's book:

In Profit for the Lord, William J. Danker wrote: "...the most important contribution of the Moravians was their emphasis that every Christian is a missionary and should witness through his daily vocation. If the example of the Moravians had been studied more carefully by other Christians, it is possible that the businessman might have retained his honored place within the expanding Christian world mission beside the preacher, teacher, and physician."

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Moravians Didn't Think So

Not long after the "Iron Curtain" came down in the late 1980s, a friend of mine spoke to a group of believers in Eastern Europe on the topic of economics. When he suggested they start small businesses, even if popping popcorn at home, putting it into bags, and selling it on the street for a profit, the question was raised: "But wouldn't it be wrong to sell something to others for more money than you paid for it?"

The idea among Christians that profit-making is somehow wrong [or to be greatly minimized] is more common than you might think, even in the USA. I speak from personal experience here, because I do workshops for churches and other Christian organizations, as well as individuals. My work is viewed as "ministry," and this is a code word among Christians meaning without profit. Consequently, I have a "Donate" button at the side of this blog. But few use it.

Yet, for followers of Christ, is there any legitimate work that is not ministry? Can a believer do work "heartily as unto the Lord" and not have that work be worship?

Any work that's worth doing is a way of serving God and loving people. Do you repair cars? You're loving people! Do you sell shoes? You're ministering to people! Do you work at a bank? You're in the ministry of money management! It's ministry when done "unto the Lord." So does making a profit in the process somehow void the idea that "a man's shop and his chapel are both holy ground?"

18th Century Moravians didn't think so.

In 1457, sixty years before Martin Luther officially started the Reformation, the longest-lived Protestant church was formed. They called themselves the Unitas Fratrum, or United Brethren. They emerged out of the teachings of John Hus, a Catholic rector of the University of Prague who criticized the Church for selling indulgences, and argued that all Christians had the right to read the Bible for themselves. He was burned alive in 1415 for his "heresy."

The United Brethren suffered persecution and suppression for the first 250 years, but experienced great vigor in the 18th Century under the leadership of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf and a Moravian carpenter by the name of Christian David. The church became known as the Moravians.

What happened then may surprise you. It did me.

Stay tuned.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Germans Calmly Sang On"

The Wesleyan revival set in motion a series of "happenings" that led to significant reforms in England. Those reforms [including the abolition of slavery, and more] touched the world, as far off as Africa, America and India. But to have a fuller understanding of Wesley and the Wesleyan revival, one must understand the people God used to get the preacher himself on track: the Moravians.   

In 1735, Wesley spent eight weeks on board a wooden ship crossing the wide Atlantic with 80 English and 26 Moravians from Germany. They were sailing to the New World colony of Georgia. A young Wesley was on his way to convert Indians to Anglicanism. In his journal, he wrote of a fierce gale arising just as the Moravians were starting to sing:  

"In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, 'Was [sic] you not afraid?' He answered, 'I thank God, no.' I asked, 'But were not your women and children afraid?' He replied, mildly, 'No; our women and children are not afraid to die.' A couple of sentences later, Wesley added: "This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen."

The personal, living faith demonstrated by the Moravians deeply impressed Wesley. It was a kind of faith he had not known for himself. At the time of the storm, Wesley was fearful of death. Upon his arrival in Georgia, Wesley got to know a Moravian Pastor by the name of Spankenberg. This man asked Wesley if he personally knew Jesus Christ. That question led to many more questions.

Through Wesley's continuing contact with the Moravians, observing their lives lived by simple faith in Christ, he was drawn to the Scriptures. Eventually, after returning to England, Wesley experienced his own "great change," to use the language William Wilberforce employed in describing his personal encounter with Christ years later. 

Before I get off this history kick I'm on, I must dedicate more space to the Moravians. Why? Because of their theology of work, which provided a driver for their enthusiastic integration of faith, business, and profit-making.

Did I say profit making? Yes, profit making!

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Friday, March 7, 2014

The Effects Of Persecution Are Unpredictable

“It is impossible to tell from a typical sermon whether the preacher is a follower of Confucius, Muhammad, or Jesus Christ.”

Sir William Blackstone made this observation over 200 years ago, “after visiting the churches of every major clergyman in London,” reports Chuck Stetson in his 2007 foreword to the reprint of William Wilberforce’s manifesto, A Practical View of Real Christianity.

By the time Blackstone toured London's churches in the 1700s, he “did not hear a single discourse which had more Christianity in it than the writings of Cicero,” relates Stetson.

What led to Blackstone’s observations? For one thing, vicious anti-Puritan legislation was passed by the British Parliament in 1661. As a result, ministers who were Puritans (1/5th of all British clergy) were expelled from the Church of England.

But the effects of persecution are unpredictable, as in the case of early 20th-Century Korea, after the anti-Christian Japanese imperialists imprisoned 2,000 Korean Christ-followers who refused to bow the knee to the Japanese Emperor-god.

In England, after John Wesley's heart had been “strangely warmed” by the Holy Spirit in 1739, he began to preach a different message in his open-air meetings, outside the institutionalized church. Over the next fifty years, Wesley (1703-1791) commissioned many preachers who were not ordained or licensed by the Church of England.

At the same time, Wesley organized groups of believers to meet for the mutual strengthening of their faith through a structured approach to discipleship, beyond the purview of the ecclesiastical establishment. Wesley's "method" of advancing real Christianity via structured discipleship groups became a hallmark of “Methodism.”

In 1786, when the Methodist movement was in high gear, William Wilberforce experienced his own personal spiritual awakening, just five years before Wesley passed on. Wilberforce called this his “great change.”

If it had not been for the persecution-stirred awakening of 18th Century England in which John Wesley played such a significant role, I wonder if William Wilberforce’s conversion would have taken place.

I also wonder what effects John Wesley's method of group discipleship had on Wilberforce’s Clapham Circle, where believing friends practiced the kind of "real Christianity" they were not hearing about in church.

Lifesize statue of John Wesley at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky. Photo by Adam Davenport. This file, from Wikipedia, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

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