August Gottlieb Spangenberg
An Account of the Manner in Which the Protestant Church of
the Unitas Fratrum, or United Brethren, Preach the Gospel,
and Carry On Their Missions Among the Heathen.
German edition, 1780
English translation, London: H. Trapp, 1788
and in all things,
--Moravian Church Motto
Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg (1704-1792) was born in Klettenberg-Hohenstein, Saxony, and became a bishop and leader in the Unitas Fratrum (i.e. Unity of Brethren), also known now as the Moravian Church, an international expression of Christianity. A staunch Pietist, Spangenberg worked as a Christian missionary in North America beginning in 1735.
Spangenberg studied law at the University of Jena, but in 1722 became a Pietist and began to study theology. In 1732, he joined the theological faculty at the University of Halle, but was released from his position there in 1733. Through his association with Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Spangenberg traveled to North America as a Moravian missionary leader where he established the North American Unitas Fratrum in Pennsylvania. In 1741-1742, Spangenberg established the Unitas Fratrum in England, became a bishop in the Unitas Fratrum, and returned to North America for further mission work. In 1762, he went back to Germany where he was a leader of the Unitas Fratrum until his death in 1792.
Spangenberg was a prolific author of several books, including Idea Fidei Fratrum (Exposition of Christian Doctrine, London, 1784), and Leben des Herrn Nicolaus Ludwig Grafen und Herrn von Zinzendorf (The Life of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, London, 1838).
Spangenberg's Moravian Background
The Moravians locate their initial identity with John Hus (1373-1415), leader of the Czech Reformation, rector of the University of Prague, and a leader of the Bohemian Brethren. Hus, a popular Roman Catholic priest who preached in Czech at Bethlehem Chapel, Prague, opposed what he saw as Roman Catholic abuses (i.e., pilgrimages, the Papacy). Hus advocated reform of the Church that included a Bible in the hand of the laity. During a period of exile, he took the position that the Pope was the anti-Christ. Subsequently, the Council of Constance condemned Hus and had him burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.
The execution of Hus provoked further an anti-Roman feeling among the Bohemian and Moravian people (contemporary Czech Republic), and at least three major factions followed Hus. A common belief among these people was a pietistic understanding of Christianity as a religion of the heart. In 1457 a group of these Bohemian Brethren (modern day Germany) organized the The Brethren of the Law of Christ, and the Unitas Fratrum traces its origin back to The Brethren of the Law of Christ.
Moravian church history reveals a fifteenth century witness to Protestantism, and by 1600, The Brethren of the Law of Christ had grown influential in Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, The Brethren of the Law of Christ suffered from the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation and the Thirty Years' War, 1618-1648. Between 1620 and 1628, the numbers of The Brethren of the Law of Christ decreased dramatically, and the remaining Brethren were relocated after Roman Catholicism became the state-sanctioned religion. In both Bohemia and Moravia, small and hidden pockets of the Brethren remained in the larger Catholic majority.
In 1722, a group of Moravians led by Christian David settled on the estate of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), a Lutheran Pietist, who had studied at both the University of Halle and the University of Wittenberg. On Zinzendorf's estate in Saxony, the Moravians built the town, Herrnhut ("under the watch of God"), where--in freedom--they practiced their "heart religion" in a communal context.
In 1727, Zinzendorf led a spiritual renewal of the Moravians who, in turn, began to have a similar influence on Europe and the non-Christian world. From Herrnhut, the Moravians sent out missionaries to the West Indies and the colonies in America, where the Moravian missionaries evangelized the black slaves. The Moravians were the first Protestant church to send missionaries to the non-Christian world for the stated purpose of conversion. From 1737 to 1747, Zinzendorf helped to establish Moravian congregations in England (1738, primarily under the aid of Peter Boehler) Holland, and North America, including Labrador and Greenland. One of Zinzendorf's most important contributions to Christian history, however, was his role as a hymn writer.
In England, John and Charles Wesley were associated with the Moravians as they discovered a growing pietism between themselves and the Moravians. On an ocean voyage from England to Georgia in 1735, John Wesley and various Moravians--including August Spangenberg--shared their Christian experience. The Moravians had a significant influence on Wesley's commitment to a "heart religion" that extends the Christian message to those who have not heard of the Christian gospel.
Upon Wesley's return to England after two and a half years in Georgia, he continued his association with the Moravians, and the Moravian Peter Boehler befriended Wesley. Under Boehler's guidance, Wesley had a profound religious experience in the Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London (see The Journal of John Wesley, § vi.ii.xv, § vi.ii.xvi) on May 24-25, 1738. In 1749, the British Parliament recognized the Moravians and encouraged them to settle the American colonies.
Spangenberg's Work in the American Colonies
After conducting missionary work among native Americans and black slaves in Georgia (1735-1740), Pennsylvania (1736-1739), and North Carolina (1750s), Spangenberg helped to establish Moravian settlements in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (1741) and Bethabara, Bethania, and Salem (now Winston-Salem), North Carolina. In 1762, Spangenberg established the Moravian Church in America and then returned to Germany and became the leader of the Moravian Church there.
Spangenberg wrote, An Account of the Manner in Which the Protestant Church of the Unitas Fratrum, or United Brethren, Preach the Gospel, and Carry On Their Missions Among the Heathen, for the purpose of relating information "concerning the method which the evangelical Brethren make use of, in their missions among the heathen" (Preface, p. 1). He divided the book into three parts:
1) the method of Christ's disciples in preaching to the Gentiles,
2) the methods the Brethren have used in preaching among the heathen, and
3) the method by which to bring and preserve the heathen in the
Christian life (Preface, p. 1, p. 2).
Two important appendices also appear in Spangenberg's book. The first reproduces a 1768 letter in which an account is set forth for the Brethren's spread of the gospel to the heathen. The second appendix document is the "Stated Rules of the Brethren's Society, for the Furtherance of the Gospel among the Heathen." This second appendix contains twenty-five "articles" that reveal the London Brethren's Societal rules for the missionary work.
Of the Unitas Fratrum, William Carey--in his 1792 An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens--awards the highest accolade when he says,
But none of the moderns have equalled the Moravian Brethren in this good work; they have sent missions to Greenland, Labrador, and several of the West-Indian Islands, which have been blessed for good. They have likewise sent to Abyssinia, in Africa, but what success they have had I cannot tell
The rhetorical similarities between Spangenberg's Account and Carey's Enquiry are obvious. At least two key differences, nevertheless, remain: 1) Spangenberg's more extensive and detailed theological argument for preaching to the heathen, and 2) Carey's inclusion of detailed statistical data about the peoples of the world.
Click on the links below for a full-text, image presentation of:
August Gottlieb Spangenberg
An Account of the Manner in Which the Protestant Church of the Unitas Fratrum,
or United Brethren, Preach the Gospel, and Carry On
Their Missions Among the Heathen
German edition, 1780;
English translation, London: H. Trapp, 1788
Of the Heathen, and of their Conversion according to the Scriptures.
Of the Occasion of the Brethren's Labour among the Heathen, and of the
Steps and Measures They Took Therein.
Of the Method of the Brethren to Preach the Gospel among the Heathen.
a.) A Letter to a Friend; in which Some Account is Given of the Brethren's Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel among the Heathen.
b.) Stated Rules of the Brethren Society, for the Furtherance of the Gospel among the Heathen.
Prior to his missionary treatise, Spangenberg wrote An Exposition of Christian Doctrine (1784). In this book, Spangenberg included an interpretation of Mark 16:15 and Matt. 28:19-20 as the basis for Christian missionary work. To view these pages, click on the title below:
August Gottlieb Spangenberg, An Exposition of Christian Doctrine, as Taught in the Protestant Church of the United Brethren, or UNITAS FRATRUM. With a Preface by Benjamin La Trobe. London: Printed by W. and A. Strahan, et al., 1784, pp. i, 422-423.
For pertinent reference articles, click on the links below:
Phillip Schaff [1819-1893], The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1952 [reprint ed.]).
J. E. Hutton, History of the Moravian Church, 2nd ed.
(London: Moravian Church Publications, 1909).
"Settlements of the United Brethren Among the Heathen," in Rev. Thomas Smith,
The Center for Study of the Life and Work of William Carey, D.D. (1761-1834) gratefully acknowledges the Interprovincial Board of Communication, Moravian Church in America, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for permission to use the Moravian Church's official seal as the background on this page and permission to quote Edwin A. Sawyer, All About the Moravians, © 2000 Moravian Church of America (Good Shepherd Church, Calgary, Alberta, Canada) as follows:
The seal of the Moravian Church goes back to the sixteenth century, possibly earlier. In the center is the Lamb of God, a favorite symbol of the early Christian church. A lamb is holding a staff, and from the staff waves a banner of victory. On the banner a cross is clearly displayed.
The uniqueness of the lamb symbol for Moravians is the inscription attached (often in a circular band): Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur, "Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him." It is found on church publications, stained glass windows of churches, and among other appointments.
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Created: May 1, 2002 Updated: March 23, 2009