Are Tribal Temptations Guiding You?
Perhaps nothing is as socially destructive and emotionally nauseating as partisan politics. We hear it said and we are tempted to believe that we’ve never before been this divided. Let me reassure you, however, that the tribal nature of God’s people is not a recent development. In fact, in the early first century, we see Jesus in disputes with people from multiple factions. If we look at the intentions and the outcomes of each of these groups, we can easily see we have been down this road before.
Perhaps the most well-known and devoted of the religious were the Pharisees. Probably originating out the of Maccabean Revolt, the Pharisees had a profound love for God, a commitment to understand and obey His word, and a deep pride in preserving the ethnic identity and religious purity of God’s people. When other nations would have become extinct, given up on the ways of God or simply assimilated into the cultures around them, the Pharisees were able to remind the Jews that they were the people of God, that God was worthy of knowing and obeying and that as the people of God, they were to be distinct from the rest of the world. But, as often happens, this deep internal devotion eroded into external hypocrisy. Instead of being the humble people that God was using to proclaim redemption to the entire world, they became prideful and began to look down on other ethnicities. The boundaries they built to protect their identity became walls to keep out others. What genuinely started out as sincere devotion to God turned into a nationalist separatist movement. Those who build walls will always be seen as people who are trying to keep others out — not as persons who value those they are trying to keep inside the walls.
We see many of these same people today in our churches. They deeply love Jesus and are committed to Him. However, in trying to maintain their identity, moral purity and devotion, they appear indifferent and intolerant of those who are unlike them. Like the ancient Pharisees, they are often more identified with whom they are trying to keep out rather than those they are trying to invite into the redemptive family of God.
The Sadducees were the ‘religiously sophisticated” Jews of the first century. They rejected all of the Old Testament except for the first five books of Moses. They rejected anything supernatural. Therefore, they did not believe in healing, in angels or demons, in miracles (particularly the resurrection), and in an afterlife. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian said, “They only gain the well-to-do; they do not have the people on their side.” They were the political elite of the Jews, held high positions in the synagogue, but were more sympathetic with the secular government than the church. It is said that they were most in fear of a messianic movement that would impact their political influence. (John 11:49) They wanted all the appearances of moral superiority. Yet, they not only rejected the miraculous work of God, but the “embarrassing” people of God as well. They saw themselves as culturally superior and more tolerant than those who held to a literal interpretation of scripture. Ironically, for all their “tolerance” of those who think differently, it was a Sadducees that presided over the trial that led to the false accusations and execution of Jesus. The “tolerant” Sadducees were in opposition to the early church, imprisoned Peter and John, and arranged for the death of James the bother of Jesus.
Similarly, we see these same people today. They want a “more respectable” Christianity that agrees with their previously held political and social ambitions, but reject the majority of the word of God, the supernatural acts of God and ultimately the people of God. They want the appearance of virtue and the identity that comes from a belief in God that doesn’t make moral demands or get involved in our lives. However, in their quest for “tolerance” of others, they can sometimes, though not always, be the most intolerant of those who disagree with them.
Herodians were more loyal to King Herod than they were to God. For political or pragmatic reasons, they were only loyal to God as long as it agreed with their political agenda. In what was perhaps one of the greatest political entrapment questions, the Herodians asked Jesus if it was legal to pay taxes to Caesar. (Matt 22:15-22) Jesus beats them at their own game by replying “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Today it doesn’t take long to spot the Herodians around the globe. Their loyalty to a perfect God is always secondary to their loyalty to imperfect leadership. Here in the U.S we find them on both sides of the political aisle. They are far more devoted to the person that is at the head of their party, cause or agenda than they are to God Himself. This is not to imply that we should not participate in the process or exercise our democratic privileges. However, if we are so loyal to a candidate that we can see NO wrong in their policy, character, or platform, we may be a “card-carrying Herodian.”
The zealots were a Jewish patriotic party whose purpose was to resist Roman rule by any means possible. They would often resort to violence and even assassination in order to express hatred of everything and everyone Roman.
The Zealots were more committed to their political agenda and imposing their will than they were devoted to God and the things of God.
Likewise, we see these people today in our culture and our churches. They often have ideas, but the “implementation” of these ideas involves violence and intimidation. They are on both ends of the political spectrum. To impose their values on others, they resort to means that are in complete opposition to the values that they expose. They want to bring about a more peaceful and unified society (or church) through violence and divisive tactics.
The name Essenes means “Holy Ones” and was used to describe a sect of Jews that lived at the time of Christ. Although other ancient historians recognize this group, we don’t see the Essenes mentioned in the New Testament. These people, although deeply devoted, made no impact on the world around them. It is said that they did not participate in the temple worship and lived “off the grid” by themselves. Although they were not to take oaths, adherents were admitted only after three years of living in this isolated community they took an oath to fully cooperate and never reveal the beliefs or actions to outsiders.
Without naming names, we know far too many examples of similar groups throughout history. They often start out with the best of intentions. In order to remove themselves from the corruption of society, they remove themselves from society. Since we all have a sin nature, what often happens in these secret communities is often worse than what takes place in the society they are leaving. Overall, anytime people (individually or collectively) withdraw from others, good things rarely happen. At best, these people are always forgotten.
Anytime we have to lay down our godly convictions in order to join a group or party, we little by little compromise who we are and greatly compromise our mission. Sadly, too many people have joined the system in an effort to change the system — only to just become part of the system and instead allow the system to change them.
I am thankful that we are part of a democratic republic. Any organization (church, government, school) that is made up of people will always be less-than-perfect. I am learning to live with imperfection, because I am learning to live with myself. I am not sure if parties and factions are a necessary evil. But I am sure that if our identity is primarily in Christ, then our affiliations and attitudes should come as second nature and should reflect Christ.
It has been said, “Jesus did not come to take sides, but to take over.”
So, as we continue to navigate this divisive season, just remember:
“Our kingdom is not of this world”
…And thank God for that !!! ?