Today, May 26, 2013, is the 313th anniversary of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a most amazing figure in missions history.
Zinzendorf shaped the modern era of missions as much as any man of his time though he himself never became a fulltime missionary.
In the roughly 275 years that followed the posting of Luther’s 95 theses, very few breakthroughs were experienced in world evangelization. Then, in the early 18th century, the modern missions movement was launched by the arrival of the Count and his followers, known as “the Moravians.”
While in his early twenties, Zinzendorf had visited an art museum in Dusseldorf where he saw a painting titled Ecce Homo, “Behold the Man.” It portrayed the crucified Christ with the legend, “This have I done for you – Now what will you do for me?” The young count was profoundly moved and appears to have had an almost mystical experience while looking at the painting, feeling as if Christ himself was speaking those words to his heart. He vowed that day to dedicate his life to service to Christ.
The movement initiated by Zinzendorf emerged very much from German Pietism. Pietism emphasized personal godliness and added an emotional component to the religious life. This was in contrast to the state Lutheran Church of the day, which had grown to symbolize a largely intellectual faith centered on belief in specific doctrines. Zinzendorf believed in “heart religion,” a personal salvation built on an individual’s spiritual relationship with Christ.
Zinzendorf’s theology was extraordinarily Christ-centered and innovative. It focused intensely on the personal experience of a relationship with Christ, and an emotional experience of salvation rather than simply an intellectual assent to certain principles. In this sense, Zinzendorf was like Luther – passionate, moved by strong feelings, emotional, and yet committed to theology and Scripture.
One of the great contributions of the Moravian movement was their hymnody. Both Zinzendorf and Montgomery were prolific hymn writers, and many of their hymns reflected the deep piety and passion that came to characterize the Moravian missions movement.
We owe much to the Count and his followers, not the least of which is the fervent passion that characterized their lives and missiology. The work of God’s mission cannot go forward merely because we hold to an objective faith, but it must also be driven by a warm zeal for God himself.
For this passionate approach to missions, we can thank Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf on this, his 313th birthday.
– Dave Shive