NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, a military initiative to offer spiritual support to troops during war, plus the 10th anniversary of two natural disasters, one with devastating results.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: But first, 1,600 years ago, a proclamation against an early Christian heresy. Here’s Paul Butler.
PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: On April 30th, 418 AD, Roman Emperor Honorius decrees that it is illegal to preach Pelagianism, declaring it a heresy. In a Renewing Your Mind video from 2006, RC Sproul explains the controversy:
SPROUL: His categorical rejection of original sin…that man in his natural state as he is born now…within his nature, without the assistance of grace, the ability to live a life of perfect obedience…
Pelagianism focused heavily on man’s free will. Some proponents taught that the fall only affected Adam and Eve and claimed death was a physical necessity, not a result of sin. It later maintained that justification before God was a result of good works—denying the necessity of special grace to be saved.
Pelagius, after whom the heresy is named, had been condemned and banished for his teachings by a council of African bishops in 411 A.D. Four years later a church synod declared his theology as orthodox, and he was welcomed back. But theologians Augustine and Jerome wrote and preached strongly against Pelagius and his disciple Celestius. The Council of Carthage in 418 once again condemned the teachings—this time with the backing and authority of the Roman Emperor.
Debates over original sin and free-will flare up many more times throughout church history. The doctrines become widespread in the U.S. through the teaching of 19th century revivalist Charles Finney. Some theologians, like Michael Horton and the late RC Sproul have said that the excesses of the modern American evangelical church find their source in semi-pelagianism theology.
Next, May 3rd, 1861. The Congress of the Southern States passes a bill installing chaplains in Confederate armies. Bryan Crawmer is a Civil War chaplain re-enactor and historian representing the U.S. Christian Commission:
CRAWMER: And most often those individuals were a lay-reader at church locally. Maybe they were a pastor, as many were, or maybe they were seminary students, and they would go out and they would either serve in forts, they would serve in hospital locations, or actually embedded with troops…
Audio from a 2008 youtube video.
In November of 1861, the Union Army followed suit, making chaplains a regular fixture. Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chaplains served with distinction during and after the Civil War. From 1862 to 1864, as many as 200,000 Union soldiers and approximately 150,000 Confederate troops converted to Christianity during wartime revivals.
And finally, May 2nd, 2008 – two natural disasters occur within hours of each other.
AUDIO: Chile news story (in Spanish)
First, the Chaitén Volcano erupts in Chile, forcing the evacuation of more than 4,500 people from the nearby town. The resulting mudflow causes the Blanco river to overflow its shores and change its course—right through the middle of the town—one woman dies during the evacuation.
But a much more devastating event occurs on the other side of the globe.
AUDIO: Sound of Nargis making landfall
Sound of Cyclone Nargis coming ashore in Myanmar. The storm surge sweeps through the densely populated region, killing more than 138,000 people, leaving millions homeless, and causing more than $10 billion of damage. It is the second-deadliest cyclone of all-time.
Sixty-five percent of Burma’s rice farms are damaged. The delta waterways are littered with thousands of bodies for weeks, and the military government refuses international aid.
AUDIO: News clip about relief and problems
After a French ship loaded with relief supplies was turned away, France’s ambassador to the UN warned Burma’s government of being on the verge of committing a crime against humanity.
More than 30 private relief agencies do eventually make it in, but many supplies never make it to the areas most severely damaged.
That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.