August 13: The Monsters Under the Bed

West Side Moravian Church, Green Bay
August 13, 2023


When I was very young I had a recurrent nightmare. It was about a pirate waiting for me behind the bookcase. Even in my sleep I knew this pirate was not entirely real: He had no distinguishing features. He was glow-in-the-dark red, or sometimes yellow, but did not illuminate the books. And he never actually interacted with me. The pirate wasn't real — but the fear was real because the fear was in me.

There are no monsters under the bed, and yet there are. Having met Jesus we no longer have fear, except we do. We live the unity and the love of God's Spirit, unless we don't. Where does all this angst and emnity come from? What can we do about it?

What if we are the monsters under the bed? What if our fears are very close to us, if they are already inside of us? What if they are us?

What if we ourselves are the misworking of the cosmos which generates fear? If we are the ones who have the narrow opinions, the ones who insist on our share in the property? What if we are the ones going off by ourselves in the woods to build a cabin away from the rest of the community?

But what if we are also the ones who have been given the power to bring us back together?

August 13

Today is August 13, the day when you Moravians celebrate August 13. All you need is the date and everyone knows all about it. I guess it is a little like the Fourth of July. Everyone knows what the Fourth of July is about: Loud noises, cheap food, and dangerous explosives placed in the hands of children. In the same way August 13 is about happy immigrants overcoming their pettiness, sharing a church dinner, and living happily ever after.

As something of an outsider, though, I tell the story a little differently.


Christian David

Christian David was born in 1690 with a childhood predisposition toward churchiness. As a young adult he was apprenticed to a Lutheran carpenter; the evangelical outlook of that family pointed him to seek a deeper faith. As a journeyman carpenter, Christian David travelled broadly, mostly in the border regions of Moravia, Germany, and Poland. Travel aided his search for a mature religion although for much of this time he was hindered by the a lack of a Bible.

In 1717 David found opportunity in Görlitz, Saxony, where a large fire had created lots of work for carpenters. There he met Johan Andreas Rothe a ministerial student. He also met his future bride Anna.

Nikolaus Ludwig, graf von Zinzendorf

Meanwhile Nikolaus Ludwig was born in 1700. The future Graf of Zinzendorf grew up in a non-traditional family. His father died when he was very, very young and his mother moved away with her second husband leaving little Nikolaus to be raised mostly by his grandmother Henriette and his aunt (also named Henriette). The grandmother was a member of the nobility, a poet and an artist, and a patron of religious reform.

Nikolaus had a childhood predisposition toward religion but was sent off to study law.


There are 2 more years of particular importance to our story. The first is 1722 when the groundwork is laid for the excitement to come.

  1. Nikolaus buys Berthelsdorf from his grandmother providing a stage on which to act out our play.
  2. Nikolaus recruits Johan Rothe, our recent ministerial student, to serve the Berthelsdorf parish.
  3. Nikolaus meets Christian David whom he invites to the estate on Rothe's recommendation.
  4. Nikolaus marries Erdmuth Dorothea from Reuss-Ebersdorf (who plays a bigger role in later stories).
  5. Christian David brings the first contingent of immigrants across the border into Saxony.
  6. Herrnhut is founded as the immigrant community.

Early growth

Over the next few years David keeps busy guiding more tranches of immigrants to the new community while Rothe gains popularity as a preacher.

If life were perfect we could stop here and everybody would live happily ever after. With real people, however, problems crop up. In retrospect division seems inevitable based on who these immigrants were. As Hamilton and Hamilton write in the classic History of the Moravian Church:

Whether Lutherans, Calvinists, or Moravians, all the settlers were religious enthusiasts, each committed zealously to his own peculiar views. Sectarianism and separation threatened to wreak the welfare of the little community. [Hamilton and Hamilton, page 29]

First came disagreements over worship pitting Rothe, the minister, against Zinzendorf's property manager, named Heitz.

Then a strange person named Johann Krüger arrived at Herrnhut. He had a past history of divisiveness and argued that Jesus was not fully human. Krüger described himself as being oppressed by the powerful and perhaps in this way won over Christian David. In any case David, the carpenter, went off into the woods and built a cabin apart from the community.


Then comes the tumultuous year of 1727. By this time the community of Herrnhut is broken and in danger of total collapse. Zinzendorf arguably is the hero of this year, working with the others at Herrnhut to rebuild the community.

  1. Nikolaus Ludwig returns to Herrnhut to take charge.
  2. He sends both Heitz and Krüger packing, apparently deeming both too divisive to participate in reforming the community.
  3. He reconciles Johan Rothe to the community.
  4. He reconciles Christian David to the community.
  5. He apparently visits every household in Herrnhut.
  6. He sets up a small group ministry.
  7. He authors the Brotherly Agreement. (That was in May.)
  8. He calls for a community-wide service of worship on August 13.

Worship was led primarily by Rothe and included preaching, confessing, singing, and communion. The result is the Moravian Pentecost with a profound sense of God's presence, of forgiveness, of peace, and of love.

It is an edifying conclusion and reminds us of John's first letter where he writes: Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. [1 John 4:7 NET]

Young Adults

After all these centuries it is easy to forget that most of these people were young adults who had many more failures and successes yet to live. Nikolaus Ludwig was 27 years old in 1727; Johan Rothe about the same; Christian David ten years older.

Nine Lectures in London

A different story comes to us from 1741 when Zinzendorf was well into middle age (at 41) and visiting London. While there he met with John Wesley.

You will remember John and Charles Wesley as friends of the Moravians both in the Georgia colony and in London. It was at a Moravian meeting, upon the reading of a work by Martin Luther, where John's spiritual life was awakened. But by the 1740s there was sectarianism, division, and harsh words being exchanged. Others were trying to reconcile the 2 communities but at this moment Zinzendorf and Wesley were both perpetrating division. [Wesley's Journal in Forell, page xviii]

What were they arguing about? Personal status very likely and the word perfection certainly. To me, perfection seems an odd topic on which to start an argument, even more so when both parties hold that a Christian is perfected in love. In the first letter from John we read: If we love one another, God resides in us, and [God's] love is perfected in us. By this we know that we reside in God and [God] in us: in that [God] has given us of his Spirit. [1 John 4:12-13 NET]

Wesley laid some stress on the idea of sanctification, the path of becoming perfect under the influence of the Spirit. He asked potential preachers, Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? [Discipline ¶425] Zinzendorf answered, No purification precedes perfect love. [Nine Lectures, page xix]

By this time if either Zinzendorf or Wesley were going to be perfect heroes they would not be yielding to another round of divisiveness. But they were no more saints than we are — and no less either.

Monsters Under the Bed

I tell this second story as a counterpoint to the hagiography which sometimes characterizes the retelling of August 13. If you are looking for more stories illustrating Zinzendorf's limitations they are easy enough to find. There is the rift with his aunt Henriette or his failure to unify the Pennsylvania Lutherans among others. [Forell, xxii-xxvii]

The same will be true for Christian David, for John Wesley, for you, and (I suspect) even me. You might remember the history of this congregation or the stories of your own ancestors. However much God resides in us, however much God's love is perfected in us, we continue to be the discord and failure that we fear. After the episode with the Philadelphia Lutherans Zinzendorf wrote:

Briefly, the Savior has set my heart in such a way that I realized that I shall be and always remain a sinner. [Forell, page xxvii]

On August 13 the highlighted virtue is unity and a community at peace. It is good to remember that sometimes we have lived that virtue in reality. The monster under the bed is division, sectarianism, separation, even schism. It is good that we remember that sometimes we have lived that reality as well.

We will often be our monsters under the bed. But we may also also be the ones given the power to bring the community together. We do not fear our monsters because, even though we often fail in perfection, If we love one another, God resides in us, and [God's] love is perfected in us. [1 John 4:12 NET]


August, 2023