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Christ the Chief Elder

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BY THE REV. JOE MOORE |

Photo of communion

Andrew David Cox, the Moravian BCM

This week Moravians around the world celebrate one of the things that makes us unique–our understanding of Jesus Christ as the Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. At a Synod in London in 1741, the Moravian leaders struggled to elect a new Chief Elder. The office had been vacated when Leonard Dober decided that, after having served as Chief Elder for six years, the job had become too much for one person.

Image of Johann Leonhard Dober (1706-1766)

Johann Leonhard Dober (1706-1766) | Public Domain Image

In the years between 1735 and 1741, the Moravian Church had grown rapidly from an isolated community in Germany to worldwide mission movement. After coming to the conclusion that no one person possessed the essential characteristics and gifts necessary, the Synod asked the question, “Would not the Lord our Savior be so gracious as to accept this office for himself?”

On September 14, 1741, Jesus Christ was officially named Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. Being in the days before email, text messages, and cellphones, it was decided that time was needed to spread the news around the Moravian world. November 13 was chosen as the day for all Moravians to celebrate the selection of Christ as Chief Elder.

Even now, over 275 years later, many congregations will celebrate Christ as Chief Elder with Holy Communion and/or a lovefeast on the Sunday closest to November 13. For me, having been born and raised in the Moravian church, I have always understood that Jesus is the head of our denomination. However, I’ve never really given it much thought, beyond knowing it as one of those things that makes the Moravian church different from other denominations. But is it something that is still relevant to the Moravian church in 2017? And what does it really mean to claim Christ as Chief Elder?

The Ground of the Unity (the doctrinal statement of the Moravian Church) says, “Jesus Christ is the one Lord and Head of His body, the Church. Because of this, the Church owes no allegiance to any authority whatsoever which opposes His dominion. The Unitas Fratrum treasures in its history the vital experience of the Headship of Christ of 16 September and 13 November 1741.”

Stained glass seal at Olivet Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC | Andrew David Cox, the Moravian BCM

It is clear from this that the Moravian church continues to recognize Jesus as the head of the church and, beyond celebrating it as something from our history with little contemporary relevance, considers it to be an important doctrine. In other words, it is not just something that our Moravian ancestors believed and we remember, but it is also the belief of the Moravian Church today. The language used may be a bit different, as the Ground of the Unity uses the phrase “Head of the Church” as opposed to Chief Elder, but the idea is the same.

It’s important that we understand that Jesus has been and is the head of the Moravian Church. But it is even more important that we understand what it means to recognize Christ as our Chief Elder. First it means that we look to Jesus for guidance, counsel, inspiration, and direction in ALL that we do. We rely on his leadership to help our church to be a reflection of his light in a dark world, we rely on his guidance to allow our lives to be a source of his love in a world filled with hate.

Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur (Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him)

Jesus is the best kind of leader. He is one who knows what it is like, he is one who has seen first hand how hard it is to do what we are called to do. He is one who has seen how dark this world is and how much it needs his light. Jesus is one who knows how much hate there is in this world and how much it needs his love. As we read in Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15)  Another way to say this would be, “For we do not have a Chief Elder who is unable to sympathize with our struggles, but we have one who in every respect has been challenged as we are.”

Jesus has been here, he has done what we are called to do. He knows how to lead us and guide us to be the people he has created us to be and to be the church that he calls us to be. He knows the challenges that we face and he can help us to overcome them and share his light and his love.

Photo of church Seal

Moravian Seal, or Agnus Dei, stained glass window in the Rights Chapel at Trinity Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, NC | The Rev. John Jackman, CC BY-SA 3.0

That is what it really means to claim Christ as our Chief Elder. It means that we are following the lead of someone who knows the way. On this day, as we celebrate our Chief Elder, as we remember how he loves us and gave his life for us, let us reclaim him as our Chief Elder, as Chief Elder of our church and of our lives. Let us follow him out of the dark and into the light. Let him lead us into love that overcomes hate.


Bio photo of Joe Moore

Photo via the Rev. Joe Moore

 

The Rev. Joe Moore is the Associate Pastor of New Philadelphia Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.  He has served in team ministry with his wife, the Rev. Kelly Moore, at Palmyra Moravian (NJ), Mayodan Moravian (NC), First Moravian Church of Georgia, and Fries Memorial Moravian (NC). Joe also served as the Chair of the Board of World Mission and as Assistant to the President of the Provincial Elders’ Conference. He is active in camping ministry at Laurel Ridge. (Portion of bio via NewPhilly.org)


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