It is the 3rd of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1785.
While France was in the years leading up to its Revolution, the Americans had recently finished theirs. And the 1780s were a time of figuring out just how this new country would look. The revolutionary generation had eschewed the standards and norms set up by their English forebears— and now they would need to develop new standards and norms for a people not always inclined towards assimilation.
The well-known problem in the new confederation of states was raising national revenue to pay off the national debt. With no scheme of taxation, the government implemented the Land Ordinance of 1785. The Ordinance divided all the newly acquired land to the north and west of the Ohio River. The land was divided into townships of 36 square miles and was auctioned off at a dollar an acre.
In 1785, however, the frontier settlers were afraid that the new government would sell their territory in the Cumberland Valley to the French or Spanish for revenue. And so, the curious, independent state of Franklin was proclaimed in what is now Tennessee. It's an interesting story with the main takeaway that no one knew what they were doing, and a few ideas were off-limits.
In the church, the 1780s saw the decline of Anglican influence in America. When the Revolution broke out, many loyal Anglican ministers returned to England. What was the dominant church body in the colonies that would now suffer from a lack of ordained ministers? But even the rough and rowdiest of the new American Anglicans were traditional enough to think that without properly ordained ministers, the two ecumenical sacraments could not be properly administered. Unlike the earlier Puritans, the Anglicans thought the Lord's Supper was essential to observe regularly.
The Wesley's had been sending missionaries and preachers from their Methodist society to American, but by 1784 only a few remained. John Wesley implored the Anglican Church to send a Bishop to America so that proper ordinations could begin. Remember, there is no separate "Methodist" church at this point. The Methodist Society was a subset of the Anglican Church.
In 1784, John Wesley ordained Thomas Coke and sent him to America to begin the first self-consciously national church in the new country. A conference was called for Methodist circuit riders and missionaries in Baltimore. The group met for ten days over Christmas. These were the "ten days that started a church." They officially ended the conference and inaugurated a new church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, on the 3rd of January in 1785.
The "Methodist" part of the name refers to Anglicanism's affective form pioneered by the Wesley Brothers. They would adopt a revised form of the 39 Articles, excising those that exhibited Calvinist influence. The "Episcopal" part of the name referred to the fact that these would not be independent congregational churches but instead run by bishops. This was the least congruent aspect of the church with the newly independent people.
The Methodist Church would be at the forefront of the Second Great Awakening and, until the late 19th century, would be the largest church body in America. The Civil War divided the church into regional factions. The AME, or African Methodist Episcopal Church, also grew out of racial and segregationist issues in the original body.
Some of the churches came back together in 1939 to re-form the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1969, the MEC united with the Evangelical United Brethren to become the United Methodist Church. Today, the UMC is the third-largest church body in America behind the Catholics and Southern Baptists, a far cry from the independent and scattered Anglicans that met over Christmas in 1784 and came away with a new church on the 3rd of January in 1785.
The reading for today, the 9th day of Christmas, is from Charles Wesley. This is his "What angel can the grace explain."
1. What angel can the grace explain,
That very God is very Man!
By love paternal given:
Begins the uncreated Word;
Born is the everlasting Lord;
Who made both earth and heaven!
2 Behold him, high above all height!
Him, God bf God, and Light of Light,
In a mean earthly shrine:
Jehovah's Glory dwells with men,
His Person in our flesh is seen,
The character divine!
3 Not with these eyes of flesh and blood,
Yet, lo, we still behold the God,
Replete with Truth and Grace;
The Truth of holiness we see,
The Grace of full felicity,
In our Redeemer's Face.
4 Transform'd by the ecstatic sight,
Our souls o'erflow with pure delight,
And every moment own,
The Lord our whole protection is,
The Lord is our immortal Bliss,
And Christ and Heaven are one.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the Bishop of Random Lake and the President of the Free State of Gillespie, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember…the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.