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The world is now marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley with celebrations, conferences, publications, and many other commemorations. (For trivia buffs and sticklers: The actual day of Wesley's birth was June 17 or June 28, 1703, depending on whether you follow the "old style" calendar in use before 1752 or the "new style" calendar used after that year.) But Americans may wonder, What difference did Wesley make to our country? After all, while he served as a parish minister in Savannah, he didn't last two years in the post before incurring the colonists' wrath and before returning to England.

In fact, America has a special claim on the man and his legacy. It was here that Methodism first became a separate denomination—separating from Wesley's beloved Church of England. Wesley reluctantly blessed the separation for a pragmatic reason: so many people were entering the church through Methodist ministry that there weren't enough Anglican priests to serve them the Lord's Supper. So Methodists had to be given the authority to ordain their own ministers.

America changed Methodism, and soon Methodism began returning the favor. In 1800, it was still a fairly small Protestant denomination among many others. By 1900, it had grown be the largest of them all. The small space of a newsletter won't allow more than a brief summary of the changes Wesley and his heirs brought to America, but we can at least begin to tell the story.

Most significantly, Wesley and Methodism joined other evangelistically minded Christians in promoting a faith deeply felt and actively lived. Christianity was no spectator sport for Wesley. From his Oxford "Holy Club" days to the end of his life, he sought to be a True Christian—unlike the many nominal ...

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