The Moravian Church on March 1, 2011, celebrates 554 years of Christian witness worldwide. In describing the Moravian Church one can testify like St. Paul: we are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Always carrying about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (2 Cor.4:8- 10).

The “Unity of the Brethren”, is a Protestant religious group inspired by Hussite spiritual ideals in Bohemia in the mid-15th century, on March 1, 1457 to be exact. They followed a simple, humble life of nonviolence, using the Bible as their sole rule of faith. They denied transubstantiation but received the Eucharist and deemed religious hymns of great importance.


In 1501 they printed the first Protestant hymnbook, and in 1579–93 they published a Czech translation of the Bible (the Kralice or Kralitz, Bible), the outstanding quality of which made it a landmark document in Czech literature. Their Confessio Bohemica, reflecting Lutheran and Calvinist influences, effected a union with Lutheran Hussites in 1575 that received Roman Catholic imperial sanction in 1609. By that time the Unitas Fratrum constituted half of the Protestants in Bohemia and more than that in Moravia. About the mid -16th century, Unitas Fratrum emigrants moved into Poland and survived there for some two centuries.

Having joined the Czech estates in their fight with the Roman Emperor Ferdinand I (Thirty Years' War), the Unitas Fratrum forces' defeat in 1620 at the Battle of the white mountain was a prelude to their suppression. In 1627 an imperial edict outlawed all Protestants in Bohemia. They sought to destroy the Unitas Fratrum, with all its churches, its Bible, and its hymn books, and its members who were forcibly “catholicized” or exiled. The Unitas Fratrum or the Moravian Church because of persecution became an underground movement. They were determined to serve their God in freedom, no matter what. Remnants of the group, however, eventually found refuge in Saxony and under the name of Herrnhuters had great religious influence through their missionary activities.

Both the Moravian Church and the Evangelical Czech Brethren Church in the Czech Republic trace their origin to the Unitas Fratrum.

Today, we commemorate the 554th anniversary of the founding of the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren) or the Moravian Church. This is a Church that has gone through the storms, the flood, the fire, but a Church which is resilient, because it knows the God it serves. It is a Church that will never die. Is there a witness for Jesus and the Moravian Church? Our Provincial theme 2011, Pursuing the Blessing, compels us to continue to witness for the Master in good times and bad.

As we celebrate this 554th year of Christian Witness, the question must be asked, is the Moravian Church growing? If not, why not? Growth in this context speaks to both Spiritual and Numerical increase. Looking through a number of reports from Conferences and Congregations, and interacting with Staff Members, it suggests that rather than increasing as a denomination, we are decreasing. What could be the reason or reasons for this apparent non growth?

The story is told of the funeral service of the president of a company, which took place in the auditorium of a Christian school. Many of his friends did not know he was a Christian, but supposed that his connection with the Christian school was as chairman of the PTA, having his children in school. They were surprised at the memorial address given by the minister who told them the deceased had been a man of ardent and devout faith. Indeed the man had kept his being a Christian secret throughout his lifetime. One of his friends said he was a genuine Christian, but there was no odor of Christianity about him.

Why was this man afraid to share his faith? Are there similarities in our Church today where there is no odor from us as to our faith? I believe that when a life is transformed, from sin to righteousness, from darkness to light that that individual has much to rejoice about. The song writer declares,

“It only takes a spark to get the fire going,

And soon all those around can warm up to its glowing,

That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it,

You want to sing, it’s fresh like spring, you want to pass it on.”

We read in Matthew a similar situation. In chapter 16, verse 15, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am.” And Peter replies, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” In verse 18 Jesus says to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Now, it only takes five verses for Peter to go from being the cornerstone of Christ’s church to being a stumbling block. One minute Peter is the most important stone in the building of God’s kingdom and almost instantly Jesus tells him that he is a stumbling block, a hindrance, he’s in the way. Not only is Peter not helping to build the kingdom , but he is actually preventing others from helping because now they are tripping over him.

Was Peter’s love not genuine? Of course it was. Peter loved his lord so much that the thought of any harm coming to Jesus was simply unbearable. Peter’s only motive was for the safety of his Christ, his lord, his teacher and friend. I don’t believe that Peter’s motives could have been more selfless. It wasn’t as though Peter did not know what the divine plan was. Jesus had just spelled it out for him and the other disciples. The problem was that he was just not comfortable with what God’s plan entailed so he made an honest attempt to change it. This is something we can all wrap our minds around as we are just as mortal as Peter was. Sometimes the plan God has for our lives does not seem like what we expect it should be.

So, if Peter really did have Jesus’ best interests at heart, why such a severe reprimand? To be called Satan must have felt extremely harsh coming from the leader, a peaceful man like Jesus, especially after having just been told that he was going to be the cornerstone of the coming church. Could it be that what Peter was actually offering Jesus was a way out; a more comfortable alternative option than the one he was going to have to face? Peter had just suggested a worldly alternative to a heavenly mandate. Just as the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness with worldly riches and power, now Jesus’ number one disciple is tempting Jesus with a very attractive “human” temptation to avoid pain, suffering and ultimate death. And, it is the temptations of worldly things that cause each of us to stumble, or become stumbling blocks that others could trip over. Is it any wonder Jesus reacted the way he did?

So, how do we avoid the temptations that cause our stumbling? How can we recognize when we are falling into that trap of being mindful more of worldly things than of heavenly things? It is often hard to see, especially when it is within ourselves that we must look for the answers because as we know, it is much easier to find fault in others than in ourselves.

It was Peter’s profession of faith that transformed him into the solid rock that Jesus could use to build his church on.

Like Peter, we also become building blocks for God’s kingdom when we acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the son of the living God, the savior. But, also like Peter we are fragile and fallible and human, and we can easily become stumbling blocks as well.

The building of God’s church, or kingdom, is not unlike building a physical building. The blocks must fit together and the mortar must be strong enough to hold them together.

How we witness to others the good news of Jesus Christ is what makes up the mortar that holds us together. If we mix our mortar with selfishness, resentment, envy, or greed, then the mortar will be weak and unstable which will cause the wall of bricks to fall.

In Romans 12, Paul gives us the recipe for mortar that is strong and will not crumble.

Let Love be genuine. Love one another with mutual affection. Extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Live peaceably with all. If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The demand of the Gospel is frequently interpreted as some definite injunction, such as prescriptions against smoking or drinking, or even dancing and the use of cosmetics. In the popular image, many people associate Christianity with a rather rigid set of moral rules. Indeed, the visible evidence of having accepted Christ and the promise to lead a new life is to give up smoking or drinking.

Plants grow in the upward direction towards the sun, that's where they get their energy and life from. If you block the sun, the plants will stop growing. We need to grow in that upward direction to our Lord, for we cannot let obstacles stunt our spiritual growth.