by Nathan A. Finn
A few months back here at Facts & Trends, I argued that prayer and revival always go together in a post titled “Prayer and Revival: Yesterday and Today.” I gave two examples of this principle from church history: the Teschen Revival of 1708 and the Businessman’s Revival of 1857.
More recently, in a post for Desiring God Ministries titled “History Could Happen Again,” I discussed the 1784 “Prayer Call” among British Baptists. The Prayer Call was inspired by the writings of Jonathan Edwards from the 1740s and helped bring about a missionary awakening throughout the English-speaking world during the 1790s.
In this post, I want to follow-up on these two earlier posts by looking at one more example from church history where revival, prayer, and the Great Commission were intimately connected. This particular event ties together directly the subjects of the other two posts. It all began with a commitment to prayer.
In the years following the Teschen Revival, many Continental Pietists became caught up in a remarkable spiritual awakening. The most famous of these revival-minded European believers were the Moravians, a group of Pietists who had fled persecution and sought refuge on the property of the Pietist nobleman Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760) in 1722.
They established a community called Herrnhut, and Zinzendorf became their leader. Within five years, around 300 Moravians were living at Herrnhut.
During the spring of 1727, the Moravians agreed to begin praying for further revival. By the late summer, almost fifty Moravians had committed to pray for one hour a day, one after the other, in a 24-hour prayer chain. Revival soon came to the Moravians, causing their little group to grow and drawing more evangelical refugees from all over Europe.
The revival only deepened the Moravian’s commitment to prayer. In fact, they kept the 24-hour prayer chain going nonstop for over a century. It has become known as the “Hundred Year Prayer Meeting.”
One of the fruit of the prayer revival was a missions revival among the Moravians. Beginning in 1732, Moravian missionaries began to leave Europe to spread the gospel to other lands. Early mission fields included the West Indies, Greenland, West Africa, South America, and the English colonies of Georgia and Pennsylvania (Moravians evangelized Native Americans in the latter two fields).
Moravian missionaries in Georgia played a role in John Wesley’s conversion and subsequent revival ministry; in later generations Wesley’s Methodists became deeply committed to global missions. Zinzendorf himself became a missionary in Pennsylvania, where he founded the city of Bethlehem in 1741.
By 1791, around 300 Moravian missionaries had been sent out from Herrnhut. That number was equivalent in size to the total number of Moravians when the Hundred Year Prayer Meeting first began in 1727. The Moravian missions awakening, though little known by Christians today, predated the “modern missions movement” by two generations.
When a missionary revival finally came to the English-speaking world, it came through the influence of William Carey (1761–1834). Carey was a poor shoe cobbler who became a British Baptist pastor.
Along the way, Carey grew increasingly fascinated with foreign cultures through his reading of maps, newspapers, and the journals of Captain James Cook, the famous British naval officer and explorer. Soon, that passion for foreign cultures turned into a burden for the salvation of the nations.
Though Carey was not a part of the Prayer Call of 1784, in 1792 he wrote a treatise titled An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. In his short book, Carey argued that the Great Commission is a binding command on every Christian in every generation.
The Moravians were included among the missionary role models Carey highlighted in his Enquiry. When Carey helped found the Baptist Missionary Society in 1793 and left later that year to serve as a missionary to India, he understood he was standing on Moravian shoulders.
Last month, the Southern Baptist Convention met in Baltimore, Maryland. The theme for that meeting was “Restoration and Revival through Prayer” and Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, was elected the new president of the SBC.
President Floyd has issued a call for Southern Baptists to pray for spiritual awakening for the sake of greater faithfulness in fulfilling the Great Commission. If Count Zinzendorf and William Carey were with us today, I think they would offer a hearty “amen.” I suspect they are doing just that from heaven.
Evangelicals should pray for revival in our personal lives, our families, our churches, our denominations, and our nation. We should pray that one of the fruits of the revival we long for would be a full-fledged missionary awakening similar to the ones experienced by the Moravians and the British Baptists of bygone days.
Revival, prayer, and the Great Commission have been closely tied together in the past. I, for one, remain hopeful they will be in our own day.
In addition to being a featured contributor at Facts & Trends, Nathan Finn (@nathanafinn) is an associate professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as a fellow of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture.
featured illustration: Moravian meeting place in the 1700s