Monday, March 28, 2011

Life According to Ek

The New Testament word translated "church" in our English Bibles is ekklesia, from whence we get the term "ecclesiastical." The word literally means "called out assembly." The prefix of the word is the little two letter Greek preposition, ek, which means out of, from, by, away from. The church is a called out assembly. Its people are called by God's Spirit to come apart from where they were and what they were and gather to Christ, to His word, His sacraments, His fellowship. The church is, among other things, an embassy for God's kingdom, and a foretaste of what life in the age to come will be. As such it is certainly cordial and welcoming. But as it is "called out" it is also non-conforming to the broader culture around it.

I see just the opposite happening in many places. Falling over themselves to be welcoming, affirming, relevant, accessible, seeker-friendly and all the rest, many churches are becoming less and less God's ekklesia, on a track toward becoming something He didn't call into being. I'm not thinking here of style but of substance.

From the apostle Paul:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor. 3:11-17)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bi-polar Jefferson

There were two Thomas Jeffersons. One wrote the Declaration of Independence, penned the Kentucky Resolution for interposition of states against the federal government, was cordial with the Indians, believed America should consist of numerous local (and minimal) ward-republics, and generally opposed the centralizing tendencies of the Federalist Party. The other Jefferson was a radical democrat who wanted public schooling for backcountry children, made the Louisiana Purchase, endorsed the Lewis & Clark expedition, and was favorable toward manifest destiny and westward expansion. The latter Jefferson influenced James Madison, who launched the War of 1812 -- which nearly drove New England to secede from the young union.

I've been quietly entertaining the notion of moving to the aptly named Jefferson County, TN (where my mother resides), in what Indian fighter John Sevier called "lesser Franklin." Franklin was a short-lived political unit that seceded from North Carolina after the Revolution, a grouping of counties across the Blue Ridge inhabited by the "overmountain men" that had defeated Patrick Ferguson and the Loyalists at Kings Mountain. Some of my ancestors -- Cables and Birchfields on the my dad's side -- were among those overmountain people that wanted a new political identity.

Franklin wanted to be separate from North Carolina for legitimate reasons. The terrain and culture were quite different from that down east, and representation of interests for mountaineers was poor. But there was more to Franklin than simply starting another small country. It wanted to become the 14th state.

I have been re-reading Kevin Gutzman's book Virginia's American Revolution. One of its important themes is the difference between the eastern Virginia establishment -- the decentralized, laissez faire, property rights, aristocratic part of the state -- and western Virginia, which like the ill-fated Franklin consisted primarily of backwoodsmen who crossed the Alleghenies to challenge the Indians for elbow room. These latter folk were radical democrats; and they wanted federal protection from the Natives and state-funded internal improvements (roads, canals) as they pushed westward. The two Virginia's depicted the two sides of Jefferson's character: the eastern representing the man's ideas before he became president, the western being more his commander-in-chief psyche.

East Virginian political thought was exemplified by John Randolph of Roanoke, an eccentric whose biography (by Russell Kirk) I will soon delve into. Randolph was the subject of a recent lecture I viewed on C-SPAN by Brad Birzer, history professor at Hillsdale College. Birzer outlined several major points held by the Randolphian "old republicans" or "Quids" (including John Taylor of Caroline), a group of Jeffersonians who broke from Jefferson when the more imperial side of his nature emerged during his presidency (remember what Lord Acton said about power). The Quids had no use for internal improvements or standing armies -- goodies that private property and wealth are expropriated to fund. Their attitude toward the western settlers was, "We wish you well. Go settle the land; make friends with the Indians, buy their property if they will sell it to you. But do not expect the militia or, worse, federal troops to come to your rescue if you get into trouble." The Quids were concerned not only for the welfare of the settlers and the Natives, but the extension to which "American" territory over the Appalachians would invite an expansion and strengthening of federal power.

From a Quid perspective it would have been fine for Franklin to become its own little republic, or principality under Sevier, or whatever (Franklin came and went before the Quids arose in the early 19th century). But Franklin, like western Virginia, wanted more than a little autonomy and a good luck wish. It wanted federal support. And none came -- those were the more lax days of the old Articles of Confederation. In a little more than four years the breakaway state was absorbed back into North Carolina, unable to protect itself from the Cherokees. The farther "lesser Franklin" pushed into Cherokee territory, the worse affairs went for the settlers.

I'm a descendant of both the overmountain men and the Cherokees. All things considered, however, I think the Quids had the better political argument. Today, it is not the wild west we're worried about, but the push to subsume the oil-rich portions of the globe under pax Americana. The earlier side of Jefferson still has something to say.


A note from Kevin Gutzman:

Another way to put it is that people in western Virginia wanted eastern Virginians' money, and if they couldn't get that, they wanted the federal government to give them other states' money -- just as Leigh says in the last chapter of my book.