Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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Count Zinzendorf and an Egalitarian Revival

Ever since first finding out about them, I’ve been fascinated by Count Zinzendorf and the Moravian community he patronised and led in the 18th century. These Moravians were enthusiastic and influential evangelizers. John Wesley is just one person who was greatly impressed by their piety and courage in spreading the gospel.

The following article about Count Zinzendorf was written by Rob Dixon. It was published on his website with the interesting and apt name Challenging Tertullian. I have reposted it here with Rob’s permission. Enjoy.

Who doesn’t love a good revival story?!?

You know what I mean? Revival stories are tales about miraculous and divine interventions, where the human spirit is stirred with an unmistakable and intense hunger to know God more fully. Most of the time, revival stories simultaneously strengthen and stretch me. On one hand, I’m reminded of the unparalleled power of the Almighty. On the other hand, I’m reminded of my all-too-frequent dullness toward God.

In some ways, the revivals recounted in the book Count Zinzendorf and the Spirit of the Moravians (see here) are familiar. As ever, the descriptions are vivid, compelling and even a bit, well, crazy. For example, here’s one description of a Moravian revival:

“While they were singing this hymn, a powerful wave of emotion swept over the congregation. The awareness of the holiness of God was like a purging fire, leading them to a deeper repentance. People began to weep so profusely that their loud cries drowned out the singing. Some began to pray fervently with intense voices. New vigor and passion to worship filled their hearts as the power and the glory of the Holy Spirit descended upon the assembly. The presence of the Lord was so overwhelming, some reeled, some sank down to the dust before God. As time went on, the sweetness and joy of tasting the Lord’s presence was so intoxicating, they did not want to leave the church grounds.”

Amazing, right?

But, in one particular other way, Zinzendorf’s revivals were unique. How so?

The women were preaching.

Here’s how the Count put it:

“When you visit the ‘Quakers’ you will soon notice that the women will talk and preach. Rightly so. If we put women in the corner we will lose a Kleinod, a jewel. It is peculiar that when the Holy Spirit says your daughters will prophesy, we tell them ‘no.’ How can you explain Galatians 3:28? In Christ we are all equal, and I have always encouraged our sisters to teach and preach in our congregation, and I have put gifted women in key leading positions. When Paul talked about women being silent, he was telling a specific boisterous group of Greek women not to interrupt a service.”

Clearly, Zinzendorf was no Tertullian. Here’s what the author notes regarding the above quote:

“This was revolutionary in the 18th century, and Zinzendorf was attacked by his opponents for establishing a Weiberwirtschaft, women dominance.”

I bet he was.

So let’s celebrate Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, a community of saints who fervently sought and subsequently encountered God.

Further, let’s celebrate the fact that they did it together, as men and women.

Postscript: November 13, 2021
The Holy Spirit as Mother

Zinzendorf  wrote, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our true Father, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is our true Mother.” Did his views on the Holy Spirit influence his views on women and ministry?

Zinzendorf, and also John Wesley, was influenced by the writings of Symeon of Mesopotamia a monk who lived c. 300–390 and who wrote sermons (homilies) under the name Makarios. Four collections, written in Greek, still survive. Symeon repeatedly stated that there is no human birth without a mother, and therefore no spiritual birth without the Holy Spirit (e.g., Makarios, Homily 8.1). Here are a few more quotations from Symeon, AKA Makarios, about the Holy Spirit as Mother.

“As the mother of young birds cares for them, so the Holy Spirit provides food for God’s children” (Makarios, Homily 16.2).
“… the grace of the Spirit, the Mother of the holy…” (Makarios, Homily 27.1).
“She [feminine Greek pronoun: autē] is the kind and heavenly Mother …” (Makarios, Homily 27.4).
“And from his [Adam’s] time until the last Adam, the Lord, people did not see the true heavenly Father and the good and kind Mother the grace of the Spirit …” (Makarios, Homily 28.4).
From E. Klostermann & H. Berthold (eds.), Neue Homilien des Makarius/Symeon (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1961)

The Holy Spirit as Mother was a common idea in early Coptic (Egyptian) Christianity and also Syriac Christianity.

Further Reading

Follow Rob Dixon’s blog Challenging Tertullian here.
You may also enjoy Rob’s post on Boniface (b. 675) and his ministry collaboration with a woman named Lioba here.
More information about Zinzendorf is here.

Explore more

Female Martyrs and their Ministry in the Early Church
Marcella of Rome: Academic and Ascetic
Nino of Georgia: A Woman Evangelist “Equal to the Apostles
Catherine of Siena: Lessons from her Life and Ministry
The Countess of Huntingdon and Gospel Ministry
Phoebe Palmer: The Mother of the Holiness Movement

9 thoughts on “Count Zinzendorf and an Egalitarian Revival

  1. This was so interesting! Thanks for sharing such an encouraging article, Marg.

    On a funny and somewhat related note, my childhood cat’s name was Zinzendorf. I named him that because I had just read about him in homeschool history class (though no mention at all about his stance on women) and thought the name was funny and unique. Because I was raised in a complementarian home, knowing that I had this treasure near yet still hidden to me is somehow kind of prophetic and beautiful.

    1. That’s a funny story. I named my pets with ancient Greek names like Perseus and Andromeda.

      On a sadder note, I’ve noticed that women ministers often feature, along with the men, whenever there has been a Holy Spirit-led revival. But when the fervor passes, and the movement becomes staid, women are squeezed out of prominent roles.

      1. We had a pair of sisters that we were going to call Rachael and Leah, but instead named them Lois and Eunice. It fit them perfectly. Then we got a little boy cat and named him….. Timothy!! Poor Timmie died at 15 months, and we debated calling the next one Second Timothy, but instead called him BT for, BT Roberts. Now we have Rudy, named by his previous owner, and Farkas, named for John Farkas, who started a ministry to the Mormons that I work with annually. And then, figuring we needed a little bit of wisdom around here, we named our newest addition Sophia! So, this has nothing to do with the subject, but naming cats is fun and tells a lot about us. (I won’t tell you about the people I knew that called their cat “Kitty.” Too boring!)

  2. This is interesting. There used to be a lot of Moravian churches in Texas. Some of my ancestors are buried in a Moravian cemetery in the community where they lived. My GGrandfather’s cousin Biddy is the only gravestone that is still identifiable. Biddy is a Gaelic nickname for wise woman or leader in the community. Anyway, it’s sad that no Moravian churches exist in Texas anymore. I actually looked at finding a Moravian church at one time. There is only one here in Florida.

  3. Thanks for sharing this article about Count Zinzendorf and how he recognized women, as well as men, were gifted and called by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel in times of true revival in the Church. When you survey the history of the Christian Church, whenever there has been true revival, the Holy Spirit has raised up men and women who, in what Carolyn Custis James has called “the Blessed Alliance,” have worked together fervently and harmoniously to advance the cause of Christ in the world.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Francis. I’ve noticed this trend in Church history too.

      “Blessed alliance” – love it.

  4. Just a note, Weiberwirtschaft would be better translated as a female economy/industry or inn. Basically, they were putting him down for creating a Protestant clergy system similar to that of Catholicism, with a focus on nuns and education of women.

    1. Thanks J.

  5. […] The writings of Makarios influenced Zinzendorf (1700s) who wrote, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our true Father, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is our true Mother.” […]

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