Born in Saxony, August Gottlieb Spangenberg (1704-92) was the son of a Lutheran minister. He learned theology at the University of Jena, where he taught until 1732 after graduating with an MA in 1726. After teaching at Jena, Spangenberg briefly taught religion at the University of Halle but was forced out because his pietistic beliefs were viewed as too extreme. By the early 1730s he had formerly united with the Moravians under the leadership of Nicholas von Zinzendorf and soon became one of the count’s key lieutenants who was put in charge of establishing religious settlements. Spangenberg and a group of Moravian missionaries made plans to go to America in 1735, and on the way met John Wesley, who happened to be aboard the same vessel traveling to the new colony of Georgia. Spangenberg spent time trying to evangelize the Creek and Cherokee Indians of Georgia before moving on to Pennsylvania where he worked with Germans who had previously emigrated there. Throughout the 1740s and 1750s he travelled back and forth between America, Britain, and England, establishing societies and promoting the teachings of the Moravians. After Zinzendorf died in 1760, Spangenberg became the leader of the Moravians. He moved to Herrnhut where he supervised missionary activities throughout the world.
A Concise Historical Account of the Present Constitution of the Unitas Fratrum (1775)
In the Unitas Fratrum are, first, those Brethren which constitute a part of the ancient Brethren’s church, in so far as it is to be looked upon as a religious denomination, and even the most ancient among the Protestant religions. It is to be particularly observed, that this is said only of a part, for besides them there are many who belong to the ancient church of the Brethren, and are of the Bohemian confession. To this first division of the Unity belong also those members of the Unitas Fratrum, who are come from other religious denominations than those chief branches of the Protestant religion, the Lutheran and the Reformed, and who have joined themselves to the Unity.
Secondly, there are members of the Unity, who were born and educated in the Lutheran religion, but have joined the Brethren without separating from their religion.
Thirdly, to the unity of the Brethren also belong those who are of the Protestant reformed religion, and have entered into the aforesaid connexion with the Brethren without leaving the religion in which they were born.
The gracious providence of God itself gave occasion to the establishing of this union. For when many of the Moravian Brethren, who were concerned about the salvation of their souls, fled from their native country, settled in Upper Lusatia and began to build Herrnhut, others who were also concerned about their salvation, both of the Lutheran and reformed religion, flocked to them.
After all these had solidly agreed and united themselves together, through the grace of God, upon the uncontroverted fundamental truths of the holy scriptures, upon which the salvation of mankind depends, then they bound themselves together in love, and were unanimous, that they would bear with each other in non-essentials, and would for the sake of Jesus and his love, bury all disputes which might spring from or lead to such points. They explained themselves publicly in an act signed and sealed by a notary public, dated at Herrnhut, August 12, 1729. That they would not be separated from any one in other Christian congregations, who has been called by the Holy Ghost through the gospel, who has been enlightened by his gifts, and sanctified and preserved in the true faith, although such may have a different opinion in one or another non-essential article, or understand one or another text different from them. At the same time this was premised as a fundamental principle, that every one must necessarily be agreed and harmonize in those points, which must be truth in each soul, who will be saved, and these stand very clearly in the Bible.
After some time, that part of the ancient Brethren’s church who received the Augustan confession, asserted and obtained their ancient church rights, and their own ordination of the ministers of their church. The Unity of the Brethren makes use of these rights, as also of the constitution and church discipline of the ancient church of the Brethren with blessing, to the furtherance and spreading of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and particularly among the heaven. Even in Herrnhut the Brethren, with the approbation of the theological faculty at Tübingen, given on the 16th of April 1733, retained the constitution and discipline of the ancient Brethren, together with their conformity to the Protestant doctrines of the Augustan confession.
The Unity of the Brethren made it an important point of their attention to prevent those members of the congregation who belonged partly to the Lutheran, partly to the Reformed religion, from being swallowed up in the ancient church of the Brethren, and never to permit that church to become a distinct and separate religion and sect.
On this account the several members of the congregation, according to their different tropis paedias (ways of thinking and expression) have been arranged in their different classes, and not allowed to mix, notwithstanding their most tender and close union together in essentials, that so no one by becoming a fellow member of a congregation of the Brethren might step into a new religion; but on the other hand, it is settled, that if a brother is of the Reformed religion, he remains a Reformed; if of the Lutheran, he remains a Lutheran.
From hence follows, that members of a congregation of the Brethren, who belong to one of the aforesaid religions, when they sojourn somewhere out of the congregation of the Brethren, they not only attend the preaching of the gospel, but also partake of the holy sacraments in their religion from the Protestant minister, without the least scruple, agreeable to the principle established by the divines of the brethren both of the Augustan and Swiss confessions in the Consensus Sendomiriensis, even so far back as the year 1570.
Thus the Unitas Fratrum of the Augustan confession consists of these several divisions which are called in the Unity tropis paedias…
Touching the manner of teaching in the congregation, the synod held at Bern in the year 1531, and the eighteen first chapters thereof, is highly esteemed by the Brethren as a pastoral instruction: for it elucidates the words of Paul, I was determined to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified, in a most excellent manner.
Theoretic divinity is read diligently to our young students; but they are at the same time warned not to dwell upon those points, touching which the holy scriptures have said nothing positive, and are only problematic: for the only fruit which commonly springs from this is endless disputations, from whence no real improvement of the heart can be expected.
Catechetical divinity, on the other hand, is taught incessantly in all the congregations, and the aim is, that it may not only be comprehended by the head, but received and experienced in the heart.
Touching morality, it is not only of importance, that all be taught touching what is to be done, and what to be left undone, but that all be deduced from the right source. Because theoretic divinity contains the right reasons for what we should do or not do: therefore the Brethren choose to join always theologiam dogmaticam and moralem (theoretic and practical divinity) together. They believe that our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles also thus combined them. Yea they are afraid, as it may too easily happen, that morality becomes sapless, if our Lord Jesus Christ, with all his treasures of salvation which he purchased for us at so dear a rate, yea with his wounds and blood, is not mixed constantly in all things, and if the inward and outward walk of all the children of God is not deduced from thence.
[August Gottlieb Spangenberg], A Concise Historical Account of the Present Constitution of the Unitas Fratrum; Or, Unity of the Evangelical Brethren (London: Printed by M. Lewis, 1775), 27-31, 38-9.