Count Zinzendorf; Mission as Activism

A pivotal figure in Christian mission to Jewish people is the well-known Count Zinzendorf, and his influence upon Christian thinking in the 18th Century has been profound.  An incredible character with an incredible story, Count Zinzendorf was born into a highly influential aristocratic family who were Pietists. Raised primarily by his devout grandmother, Zinzendorf was known to write love letters to Jesus as a 6-year-old boy, and post them to God by throwing them out of his window! 

As he grew up, attaining a prestigious education and honourable position in the Royal court by the age of 21, Zinzendorf grew in his faith, voraciously devouring theology, and he sought fellowship and dialogue with Christians from many backgrounds. At his own estate, Zinzendorf had opened his property and land up to Moravians fleeing persecution, desiring Christian community, and he ensured an eclectic and inclusive community of denominations and beliefs were welcome. The Moravian leader who instigated the frank appeal for refuge from Zinzendorf, named the community of 300 people Herrnhut, meaning that the “Lord Watches over”. 

The diversity of belief and indiscriminate welcome to residents, did cause conflict and a gentleman amongst the community began to preach that Zinzendorf was the beast of the apocalypse! Upon realising that the ecclesiastic community that he felt responsible for, was descending into dissention and paranoia, he took leave of his royal appointment and returned to encourage and extort the community to unity and love. Zinzendorf took a pastoral approach and went from home to home, sharing scriptural assurance and advice, as well as beginning to allocate groups of people in “bands” which were determined by characteristics, rather than familial ties, so that each person had a relevant and understanding support group. 

Having taken on this active and immersed role, moving his own family to be a part of the Herrnhut, Zinzendorf took a visit to a city with an extensive library and he discovered a book that evidenced that the Moravian understanding of scripture and Christian lifestyle, preceded his own Lutheran inspired Pietist denomination and he returned to his Moravian charges, with more than an admiration and infinity but a conviction, so that he adopted their manner and led such fervent prayer and teaching, that a “Moravian Pentecost” took place within the community!  

Out of this Pentecost, many distinguished fruits of the Spirit were borne. Upon accepting an invitation to the coronation of Christian VI in Copenhagen at the behest of the Herrnhut community, he met a Christian brother at the Royal Court, who had formerly been a slave. Anthony Ulrich shared the experience of his conversion and explained that slaves in the West Indies were whipped for attempting to attend church, and oppressed with incredible cruelty. When this terrible testimony was shared with some brethren at Herrnhut, they were full of sorrow, unable to sleep, and together, they decided they must take action. 

Two of the brethren determined that they would go as missionaries and Zinzendorf supported this mission, once they had proven that they were as full of zeal and conviction after a whole year. This was the beginning of a commitment to mission on a determined and sustained scale of growth amongst the Moravians, as is credited to them but this catalyst, enabled by Zinzendorf, had its inspiration many years before hand, when he was a student under the Pietist instructor, August Francke.

As a student in the institute for youth discipleship which Francke headed in Halle, Zinzendorf met and listened to the testimony of an alumni who had returned from India and was describing the joy of leading people to Christ, and the impact upon people of the good news of the Gospel. This testimony inspired Zinzendorf with wonder and resonated with his lifelong desire of a heart connection with Christ and Neighbour. 

The most incredible fruit to be borne out of the revival that took place in Herrnhut, for Zinzendorf, was a conviction and passion for the Jewish people, that led to active and practical mission. This fruit was not without cost but borne out of affliction because the incredible fervour that defined Zinzendorf’s leadership of Herrnhut, caused vitriolic jealousy and he was banished from Saxony. Accepting refuge in a distant backwater estate of a gracious aristocrat, Zinzendorf took his family and some members of the Herrnhut community with him and he found that on that estate, there were Diaspora families. This put Zinzendorf into direct contact with Jewish people and he was delighted because he had been convicted by scripture that Christians ought to have a love and sense of duty for the Jewish people. 

Zinzendorf’s perspective on the Christian relationship with Jewish people is revealed in an anonymous fictitious publication he wrote in which a dialogue between a Jewish person and a Christian is presented; the topic of discussion is the witness of the Christian about Jesus as Messiah and the exchange between the characters is presented as thoughtful, kind, and respectful. When the Jewish character does not agree with Yeshua being Messiah, the Christian is respectful and having shared the good news as his theology, parts with good feelings and respect.  

This is the approach with which Zinzendorf instructed and equipped missionaries to Jewish communities from Holland to Africa; his understanding was based upon Paul’s writings in Romans 9-11, that the Jewish people are temporarily blinded to the Lordship of Christ but at the close of the age, will be receptive, as the Gospel is preached to them. 

Further writings about Zinzendorf’s perspective on the love and respect we ought to have as believers, are found in his theological book, “Sondersbare Gesprache”, published in 1739; Clearly and eloquently listed, is a succinct and concise list of points, which prove an inspiration to us all as believers, about our heart approach to the Jewish people;

  • Jesus is a Jew (Present tense) 
  • Most of the scriptures came from the Jewish people 
  • They are the “direct offspring” of Abraham, whereas gentile Christians are grafted in (Romans 11:17-24) 
  • Gentile believers are explicitly prohibited to boast against then for; They bear us and not we them (Romans 11:18) and, God is well able to graft them back in again and cut us off (Romans 11:21-24) 
  • When Jewish people return to their Messiah, they will do so wholeheartedly 
  • The Jewish people have for the most part, a sense that most of us lack, a sense of honour for God.