World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / Church families / Moravian and Historic Peace Churches

Moravian and Historic Peace Churches

In 2013, the Moravian and Historic Peace Churches, including Mennonites, Brethren and Friends (Quakers), decided to be represented in the governing bodies of the WCC as one confessional family and gather as such during confessional meetings at WCC events.

In 2013, the Moravian and Historic Peace Churches, including Mennonites, Brethren and Friends (Quakers), decided to be represented in the governing bodies of the WCC as one confessional family and gather as such during confessional meetings at WCC events.

The Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Church, is that branch of the Christian church which began its distinct life in Bohemia (central Europe) in the year 1457. It was born of the great revival of faith at the close of the Middle Ages, arising from the national revival of religion in Bohemia, in which the writings of Wycliffe had great influence, and of which John Hus was the greatest leader. Within the movement Peter of Chelcic represented the traditions of Eastern puritanism and freedom from official control in matters of religion. Amidst these influences, the Unitas Fratrum (Latin for "community - or fellowship - of brothers") was founded, under the leadership of Gregory the Patriarch, with a three-fold ideal of faith, fellowship and freedom, and a strong emphasis on practical Christian life rather than on doctrinal thought or church tradition. Its numbers grew rapidly. The Unitas Fratrum sought to maintain a living contact with the early church. It obtained from the Waldenses (see the description of the Waldensian Church) the traditional orders of the ministry, including the episcopacy, and thus became an independent ecclesiastical body.

In the troubled period of the reaction against the Reformation, times of persecution alternated with times of comparative calm, until at last in 1620 the Unitas Fratrum with other Protestant bodies was utterly suppressed. A "Hidden Seed" survived in Bohemia and neighbouring Moravia, to emerge a hundred years later in the Renewed Church. Between 1722 and 1727, some families from Moravia, who had kept the traditions of the old Unitas Fratrum, found a place of refuge in Saxony (Germany), on the estate of Nicolaus Ludwig, Count Zinzendorf. Other people of widely differing views also found there a place of religious freedom, but their differences threatened to make it a place of strife until a profound and decisive experience of unity was given them in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on August 13, 1727. From this experience of conscious unity came a zeal for remarkable missionary outreach, beginning among slaves on the island of St Thomas in the West Indies in 1732. Within a single decade the missionary effort was extended to Greenland, Suriname, South Africa, Western Africa, Algeria, Arctic Russia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and among Africans and the indigenous population in North America.

The Moravian Church has asserted throughout its history that Christian fellowship recognizes no barrier of nation or race. The Unitas Fratrum cherishes its unity as a valuable treasure entrusted to it by the Lord. It stands for the oneness of all humankind given by the reconciliation through Jesus Christ. Therefore the ecumenical movement is of its very lifeblood. A simple statement titled "The Ground of the Unity" is the church's basic doctrinal statement and "The Covenant for Christian Living," which dates back to the renewal of 1732, sets forth guiding principles for common life and witness.

Mennonite and related churches are known as "Historic Peace Churches". They derive originally from the non-violent Anabaptist movement that emerged in Europe as a radical expression of the 16th century Reformation. Mennonites take their name from the Netherlands reformer and early influential leader Menno Simons (c.1496-1561). Migration, due initially to persecution, and mission spread the movement around the world. Today more than 70 percent of Mennonite Christians live in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

At the centre of Anabaptist-Mennonite faith stands Jesus Christ as Lord, Saviour, and model of life. The church as the body of Christ continues Christ's life and ministry in the world. At least three features shape the church in Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective. The church is a community of believers who seek to follow in daily life the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Believers who voluntarily confess the lordship of Christ receive baptism as the sign of the new covenant and of their commitment to a life of discipleship. Believers' baptism means also membership in the church and responsibility for its welfare. Autonomous from the state, the church lives under the authority of the word of God as set forth in the Bible. The text is best understood in the context of the community of disciples inspired by the Spirit. Social and personal ethics in a life of discipleship is a core part of the gospel. Followers of Jesus Christ live in the world to serve humankind through action and proclamation. Love of enemies and refusal of violence in the struggle for justice are understood as New Testament imperatives. Rejection of seeking wealth, and acting in favour of economic sharing, is frequently emphasized. Mennonite and related churches claim unity with all believers who confess Jesus Christ and seek to live the way of discipleship. Many cooperate with other Christian churches, especially in peacemaking, service, and mission.

Quakers - also called Friends or the Religious Society of Friends - date their origins back to 1652 in north-west England and deem George Fox, an itinerant preacher, their founder. Together with other "seekers", George Fox brought into the tumultuous times in Britain the message of the direct personal experience of God, informed by the scriptures, within a distinctly Christian framework. His theology was related to that of Anabaptist groups of the time, although the Quakers kept themselves distinct. This direct personal experience of the Holy Spirit has been characterized as "the Inner Light" or "that of God in everyone". Following on the teachings of Jesus, the sense of the kingdom in the present, and the aversion to killing "that of God" in anyone, Quakers refused military service and are generally pacifists. They are one of the historic "peace churches", along with Mennonites and Brethren. On behalf of Quakers world-wide, two Quaker organizations were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, in recognition of international Quaker relief work.

Buoyed by a strong evangelical fervour, Quaker ministers (all unpaid) spread the Quaker message throughout Great Britain and Ireland, northern Europe, the British colonies in the Americas, and the Caribbean. In 1682, William Penn received a royal grant of a colony now known as Pennsylvania, and founded its capital, Philadelphia, which remains a centre of American liberal Quakerism. As Quakers in the colonies grew in numbers and moved westwards with the expansion of the USA, different influences affected both their faith and practice. Today there are four strands of Quakerism, which are evangelical, pastored, conservative, and liberal unprogrammed who worship in silent waiting. Each strand traces its roots back to George Fox and the early Quakers.

In the early 1900s, Quakers from America and Europe sent out missionaries to Latin America, Africa and India. Today the largest block of Quakers can be found in East Africa; they are pastored Friends. Evangelical Friends can be found in Central Africa, India, Peru, Bolivia, Taiwan and Central America. Liberal unprogrammed Friends predominate in Europe, Central and South Africa, and the north-eastern USA. The organization within the Religious Society of Friends - the usual denominational designation - begins with the local monthly meeting or church, which belongs to a wider gathering called Yearly Meeting. There are umbrella organizations known as Evangelical Friends International, Friends United Meeting (pastored tradition) and Friends General Conference (liberal unprogrammed tradition), which regroup several yearly meetings.

WCC member churches in this family Related organizations