Jesus issued the warning, "Beware the leaven of Herod" (Mark 8:15). Yes, he warned of other leavens-- Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes--but the leaven of Herod gets ignored. We can ignore it no longer.
While the Pharisees (fundamentalists) and the Sadducees (liberals) represented the extremes of the religious world (against which Jesus warned), Herod symbolized the political world. Actually we have violated all of the Leaven warnings of Jesus, but strange companions have been uncovered in the bedroom of Herod. In the day of Jesus, the Sadducees, from what we might call a "liberal" stance, had chosen to make some political compromises with the ruling country of Rome. As a result, Rome decreed that the chief priest would be a Sadducee. Thus, the political bedfellows were Herod and the Sadducees.
Today, we have kicked those Liberals out (Herod is safely still in bed) and we conservatives (Pharisees?) have crawled under the sheets in the political arena. Why did we do that? Simply because we believed that the salvation of our country depended on our ability to rope the raging bull of political power and get him in our corral.
The dream was clear: We must get "our man" in office, then everything will he all right. We had set the stage well. Books like The Power and the Glory and our frequent preaching of the tea, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I bear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land," (2 Chronicles 7:14) had led us to believe that we were the new "chosen people" and that the United States had replaced Israel as the central focus of the Bible. The implications that followed were obvious:
If the United States were the new "promised land" and "God's Chosen," then, Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we must do something about Herod. Back then the Pharisees despised Herod, The Sadducees compromised with him and other major groups such as the zealots (radical activists) fought with him and the Essenes (monastics) withdrew from him. The Zealots still fight, the Essenes still withdraw, the Sadducees lick their wounds of diminished power, but now the Pharisees are doing the compromising with Herod.
We have hoped in three Christian presidents in succession. About each of them I have heard many stories of spiritual commitment and dedication to Biblical standards. Stories abounded of who became Christian by walking what aisle; of who prayed with whom; of the sincerity of voice when prayer was requested; of who was pastor of whom.
The question is not whether all of the above stories are true. I'm sure they are. The question is whether we should put our hope in Herod--any of our hope--even just a tiny bit, like leaven.
Each president, regardless of his commitment to Christ, has failed to place us at the right hand of God and failed to place us in dominion over the world. What a pity. It wasn't because we didn't try hard enough.
I have never seen such frenzied and unquestioning political activity on the part of church people, all of it built around the argument, "When we take over, or when our man gets in, we will turn this country around and have utopia."
Now, (Would you believe it?) a whole new theology has sprung up preaching that we should be the Herod. This theology flies several banners: "Dominion Theology, "Kingdom Now Theology," "Restoration Theology." The bottom line of these approaches is that we Christians should take over all the power centers (financial, governmental etc.) of the world and establish the Kingdom of God so Jesus can come back and reign. They must think that this great we called the Church is better qualified, organized and trained to be the Herod than Nixon, Carter or Reagan were. It seems that I hear the mother of James and John asking for some special privilege for her good boys again. Somehow we think that power corrupts everyone else, but we are in a special category. We never learn.
The Bible is filled with scriptures that should give us pause before we plunge headlong into redemption by world power. Jesus informed Pilate that his kingdom was "not of this world" else his followers would fight. When Jesus told us we should be as the "younger," he was placing us in the category of pilgrim, even rebel. The younger was one who had little or no stake in the system of the world. The status quo was not his friend. We have abandoned that stance in order to become as the elder brother. We now wish to be the establishment. Jesus died "outside the gate" in shame. We want to live inside the gate in honor. (Hebrews 13:11-13) "Here we do not have an enduring city..." (Hebrews 13:14) but we are trying to prove the Scripture wrong and build our enduring city now.
We are no longer "looking for a city that is to come." (Hebrews 13:14) We have decided that that city is now in the United States and we get to build it."
Isaiah learned a lesson appropriate for our day. Uzziah may have been Isaiah's hero and candidate for messiah, but then a terrible thing happened--Uzziah died! (Isaiah 6) Then Isaiah records his incredible vision that resulted. "In the year Uzziah died, 1 saw the Lord..." At that same time, he also saw himself and his people as having unclean lips and needing help from the altar of heaven. I hope I can see this lesson clearly.
Perhaps, if we applied this passage to our day, we would have to say: "In the year that Nixon discovered Watergate, I saw the Lord..." " In the year that Khomeini discovered Carter, I saw the Lord..." "In the year that Reagan discovered the stars, I saw the Lord..." "In the year that the USA discovered drugs, I saw the Lord..." In the year Robertson discovered the Baptists of South Carolina, I saw the Lord..."
So, having said all of this, what is my answer. It is too simple. We are people of hope and our hope is in Jesus and him alone. If our hope is in this life, as Paul reveals, we are most miserable, but we are people of a different Kingdom whose rules the world cannot understand and whose establishment waits a returning king. In the meantime, the king rules in our hearts and in our actions.
We are to be a people who are not fooled by any of Herod's seductive ways. We can even be brave enough (as Jesus was) to say to a threatening Herod, "Tell that Fox" that we will go on healing and doing the work of God's kingdom until we reach our goal. (Luke 13:32) We will focus our attention on Jesus himself and do all we can to make his Name known. We will refuse to be identified by any party or power of our day. We are His. Does this mean we must have nothing to do with politics? Not at all. We must be as good as we can and as involved as we must for this day, but never lose our understanding that we are not people whose destiny is "this day.
The rules of the political world have not changed: Rule 1, get in power; Rule 2, stay in power; Rule 3, increase your power. The power to wash feet, to serve, is an afterthought, if it is thought at all. We must never hope that any of the systems of this world carry an ounce of redemption for us. I often told my students that maturity was simply being disillusioned and handling it wisely and that I prayed they would be disillusioned quickly so they would place faith in only God himself. Hopefully, we have now been disillusioned by the political world, and our hearts long for the government to be "upon his shoulder." Let us see the Lord.