It is the 5th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1592.
Please indulge the whims of the Almanac as we would have observed, in this year, 1592, a most momentous event. On the 14th of March this year, at 6:53 and 58 seconds, it was the ultimate "Pi" moment: 3.14159265358.
As has often been the case in this jamboree year of 2020, we note those significant plagues and pandemics that were often thought to be the world's end. Usually, one of the utilities of history is to draw comparisons and also to see where cultures have diverged over time. It was common in the Early modern period, especially in urban centers, for some kind of pestilence to arrive about every 15 years. These scourges' severity would depend on the immediate response from both pastors and medical doctors and variables from travel and weather patterns.
During the 1592 plague, the Elizabethan era author Thomas Dekker wrote that this sickness was equivalent to death himself setting up camp, especially in what he called those "sinfully polluted suburbs." Another observer noted how some who caught the disease would go mad running into the Thames or jumping out of windows.
As things change, so they stay the same. Besides those wildly overreacting, some made the "bloody error" of thinking that the disease was not contagious. One medical doctor wrote that he "set down all that I have publicly taught" and tried to disabuse them of this fatal misconception that led "men, women and children with running sores" to "go commonly abroad and thrust themselves into company."
One more note on how things are different than in 1592: today, pubs and bars are amongst the first things to close, while back then, it was believed that ale had medicinal qualities, and thus taverns were especially crowded during a time of plague.
We often note on this show that while things in the past might resemble the present, the changing context can never allow for history to repeat itself precisely. This can be tricky in church history as doctrines can remain similarly taught, but the responses can vary wildly in different contexts. And this was certainly the case for a man baptized on this, the 5th of November in 1592: the Reverend Charles Chauncy.
The name might sound familiar. He was an emigre to the New World and became the second President of Harvard College. The likes of Cotton Mather praised him, and Chauncy wrote on the doctrine of justification and practical theological matters for the colonies. His son, Isaac, was well thought of theologian, and his grandson, also called Charles was an infamous theologian at the beginning of the 18th century.
Two stories will tell us a fair bit about Chauncy and his context in the early 17th century. The first is that while still living and preaching in England, he was arrested and imprisoned for refusing to replace the communion rails in his church. The reforms of Archbishop Laud required that communion rails not only be present to distinguish the altar from the rest of the church but also to protect the communion elements. It wasn't uncommon for dogs to come to church, and without a rail, could make a mess of the chancel. Chauncy, as a staunch Puritan, refused a law about church worship that wasn't found in the text of the Bible itself.
Chauncy was arrested for this, and the shame was so great, and it caused him to come to the new world where he was well-liked, save another controversy over the sacraments. Chauncy was a firm believer in infant baptism by full immersion only. Many of the Puritans and other Christians in the new world took to sprinkling infants instead of immersing them in part because of the harsh conditions that accompanied their primitive churches. A scene occurred one year when Chauncy was to baptize his two infant twin sons. The first son he dunked in the water, and it is said that the boy became frozen and lifeless. At this point, the mother of another child to be baptized attacked the pastor, and the baptisms were temporarily suspended. Chauncy found greater success as an author and college president. Born and baptized in 1592, Charles Chauncy died in 1672 at the age of 79.
The reading for today comes from our friend Dave Zahl over at Mockingbird Ministries. This is a good word on anxiety and our very dependable and predictable God.
"The only thing that remains reliably knowable is what God has made so, namely, what he has revealed in his son, AKA the least predictable revelation of divinity possible: the baby in the manger, the man on the cross, shedding real flesh and blood to deliver self-righteous rule-followers and self-seeking rule-breakers from sin, death, and disease. Didn't see that coming — but it came anyway. Thank God not all surprises are bad."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who, like Pi, plans to go on forever, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.