These words have guided Moravians for hundreds of years. But, the question quickly follows: “What are the Essentials?”
Ministerials & Incidentals
One of the most important and brilliant theological innovations of the Moravian tradition is the distinction between the Essentials of the Christian faith and what we call Ministerials and Incidentals. While some denominations place things like the Bible and doctrine in the “essentials” category, Moravians do not. Instead, Moravians view the Bible, the Church, Sacraments and doctrine as very important, but not essential. These are gifts God has given us to lead us to what is essential, to minister to us. That is why we call them “Ministerials.” Early Moravians recognized that if these gifts are abused, they can become tools of oppression rather than liberation. So they aren’t sacred in and of themselves; they’re sacred insofar as they lead to God and liberation.
Likewise, some denominations place things like which translation of the Bible is used or what clothing is to be worn in the “essentials” category. This can lead to cultural supremacy, when one culture is considered better than all others and necessary. Moravians distinguish between that which is relative and contextual to regions and people groups of the world and that which is essential. Contextual and relative things are “incidentals.”
So what are the Essentials?
For Moravians, the Essentials are less of a list of doctrines we must affirm and more of an awareness of our relational connection with the divine. There are six:
1. God Creates (and Creation is Good)
“God is love.” Out of the overflow of the love eternally shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the three Persons of the divine Trinity—God created the universe and called it good. Moravians glorify God’s creative brilliance and power and honor humanity’s calling as imago Dei (the image of God) to steward God’s good creation on God’s behalf.
2. God Redeems
Missio Dei: God is on a mission. God is a liberator who has sent Jesus the Messiah to redeem humanity. The divine Son has taken up a human body and lived a human life—with all its joys and sorrows, blessings and pain. Through the incarnation (birth), ministry, death and resurrection of Christ, God has redeemed humanity from the curse of Sin and the sting of Death, making a Way of salvation.
3. God Sustains (or Blesses, or Sanctifies)
God remains present and active within the world and among God’s people. Jesus called God’s Holy Spirit the Paraclete, the Advocate or Counselor—the One called along-side us. God’s Spirit blesses, sustains, and sanctifies (makes us holy). And the Holy Spirit gives gifts to the church, empowering Jesus’s disciples to be his witnesses.
4. We Respond with: Faith
For Moravians, faith is not merely a matter of intellectual assent—a list of doctrinal beliefs. Rather, faith is a relational way of life expressed in trust and confidence in God. Many Christian traditions emphasize “justification by faith alone.” Moravians emphasize justification by allegiance alone, placing our lives in God’s hands and covenanting with God and one another.
Love is the heart of Moravian theology. For Moravians, even faith must be completed in love. And love is not merely an emotion, but action. To love God is to do God’s will and to love one’s neighbor is to seek their good. To love is to participate in the divine nature and seek justice/righteousness, which is love in public.
Moravians reorder the “three that remain” from First Corinthians 13.13 to correspond to time. Hope comes last because it defines our orientation toward the future. We joyfully await the return of our Lord Jesus Christ to consummate his Kingdom on earth as in heaven. This hope gives us the courage to be bold witnesses and endure trials. With the global body of Christ, we cry Maranatha: “Come, O Lord!”
Jesus is the Center
The Moravian Motto is: “Our Lamb Has Conquered. Let Us Follow Him.” Christocentricity (Christ-centeredness) is a hallmark of Moravian theology and spirituality. Jesus is not only God’s Son and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, he is also our brother and the Chief Elder of the church. Through Jesus’s teachings, ministry, and especially through his self-giving death and resurrection, we see who God is most clearly. Moravians say, “Christ and Him crucified remain our confession of faith!”
Jesus compared the Reign of God to a seed that grows into a large tree of provision. He also said that he was the Vine and we are branches. The Essentials help us to see our relational connection to God and the Kingdom.