Many of you have been asking me about my thoughts after visiting the 12 Tribes community in Weableau, MO. I’ve been struggling to get them on paper, but today a friend messaged me and the answers seemed to form well. I thought I would just share the record of that conversation for those who are interested.
Friend: how was the trip to the 12 tribes community?
Nate: asking a lot of questions right now…the trip was awesome…the questions it raises, not so easy to decipher. They have some theological quirks that give me more than a little pause, but they were living the way we ought to be living. Plus, I had an experience with the Ruach that seemed pretty clear, but that I’m having a difficult time coming to terms with intellectually.
Friend: let me know what conclusions you draw. I am anxious to hear more about them.
Nate: to tell you the truth, I don’t know how to come to a conclusion. We are going to go visit another one of their communities at the end of the month. To see an in town as opposed to a country/farm version, and to see if the same impressions hold true in another location with a different group of people. Also, it will enable us to keep our children out of the world while “Halloween” is happening.
Friend: Good for you! I would be interested in that as well. Is the community totally isolated from interaction with unbelievers?
Nate: No, they are very connected with seeking individuals, and amazingly evangelistically minded, although not at all like we would think of evangelism when we ponder the evangelical or fundamental American church
Friend: evangelism based on relationship, and living holy lives, as opposed to ‘here’s a track, hopefully we’ll see you in church next Sunday and you can get saved?’
Nate: we were on a farm in the middle of nowhere! yet in the 4 day we were there, at least 4 (perhaps 5) visitors or groups of visitors showed up.
Friend: wow, that’s cool
Nate: we were welcomed with open arms, yet nothing about their beliefs was shared without us asking, although they did create opportunities for us to ask questions
Nate: read some of their freepapers and you will quickly see that they interpret Scripture literally without theological frameworks. They also balance doing what Scripture says with seeking the Ruach’s guidance on every matter of adoption. It seems a good way to find balance between Scripture and tradition.
Friend: That’s cool. I’m REALLY wrestling with that right now. I like Jewish tradition, but what you said a couple of weeks ago about unleashing creativity in God’s people has really stuck with me.
Nate: Read 3 Eternal Destinies of Man and you will see how problematic it is to those of us with a traditional theological approach to soteriology, for example. Yet I cannot argue that the passages they use to support their views do say what they claim they say. For example, the passage about the Great White Throne judgement does say that the sheep and the goats will be separated on the basis of their deeds.
Friend: i’m curious…what is the deal w/ the headbands, and also…do the guys wear tzitzit?
Nate: they do not wear tzitzit. I asked them about this and the response was that God gave that to the Jews because of the hardness of their hearts. Their hearts are not hard and they are seeking daily to live out the commandments. And indeed, I have never been in an environment where it is a daily encouragement/accountability to keep God’s commands. They also said, however, that God may show them differently at any time.
Friend: hmm….interesting… their approach is refreshing to say the least
Nate: The headbands, they refer to as “diadems”, which historically were worn by princes/kings to support the metal crown. They are woven of linen (interestingly) and they seem to imbue them with all the significance and symbolism that you and I would give to tzitzit. There are some additional references however, for example to the passage in Revelations that says the beloved will be clothed in fine white linen. Intriguingly, I guess the more that pure linen is worn and washed the whiter it becomes
Friend: wow… Sounds like it was quite an experience. What is their approach to modern technology, i.e. computers and internet and the like?
Nate: they utilize all the modern conveniences like electricity, cell phones, etc., but they are very careful to limit how computers are used. They don’t use them unless there is a need to do so, and nothing, hobby or otherwise, must come between relationships with others in the community.
Nate: For example, my wife asked about making picture albums, and the response was absolutely as long as it doesn’t pull you away from the rest of the folks in the community.
Friend: that’s very cool…I like the emphasis on community.
Nate: back to computers, however, that doesn’t mean they aren’t savvy. They are writing what sounds like a cross between a CRM and inventory system in Access to use for their produce selling business, for example.
Friend: wow. how large is the group internationally?
Nate: I don’t know what their international numbers are. However, I think that I may have heard something like 2500 around the world…but I could easily be confusing that with something else
Friend: and they name each community after a tribe in the Torah, right?
Nate: No, each community is a clan within a Tribe
Friend: ahh, I see
Nate: and each clan has a shepherd, each tribe a council, and then an inter-tribal council
Nate: actually each clan has a couple shepherds, but one that seems to be the elder. The farm had 19 people living there. The community in Warsaw, MO has 55 if I remember correctly.
Friend: are the shepherds appointed, or elected?
Nate: appointed as the Spirit leads; perhaps selected would be a better term
Friend: wow…i’m gonna have to do some reading up on this.
Nate: if you’re into terms of government it is definitely seems to be an oligarchy
Nate: here’s one gotcha. They would view you (and me) as *not* being “in Messiah”. We would be considered part of the “righteous”, but not the “holy”
Friend: and why is that? Not because we wear tzitzit?
Nate: because they view themselves as the remnant of disciples, and until you truly take up your cross, give up your possessions, follow Yahshua, and covenant to become a part of their body, your one of the righteous, but not one of the true disciples (overcomers/ holy, etc.)
Friend: Obviously, I have issues with that.
Nate: I’m a bit sketchy on this, as I’m just trying to figure it out. 3 Eternal Destinies of Man, will help make sense of this. Me too. However, while like I said, intellectually I would initially at least totally reject this idea. I’m having a real struggle with what I experienced. The Ruach definitely broke in upon me Yom Kippur morning, and the message that seemed crystal clear at the time was that I needed to be a part of them. I’m doubting that message now, but trying to figure why I would, since it was so clear then and completely uninfluenced by them.
Nate: they were having their regular morning gathering, focused on them worshipping HaShem, I was simply a bystander. I left the meeting when it happened and they let me go. But it became clear upon my return that the shepherd, Naboth, was available to talk if I wanted, although he did not suggest it. Only upon reflection did I realize that he was up in his room, doing nothing, basically it seems waiting to see if I would seek him out, and making sure he was available if I did. He listened a lot, spoke rarely. It was the total opposite of “being recruited”
Nate: I would love it, if you would also investigate their writings, and perhaps even visit them also.
Friend: I will definitely read their stuff. I am VERY interested in knowing more about them, and B’H, we’ll check them out in more detail.
Nate: One of the things that I’ve thought is 1) one what if they’re right?, and 2) what if they’re wrong? If they’re right, then I need to be there, because everything that spoke to my spirit about how much more whole I would be living in community is definitely true. If they’re wrong about who God decides is “in” or who attains what status…what does that really matter? God decides anyway, and there is a lot of Scripture that I certainly wouldn’t claim to be able to definitely say, “this is what it means”. But in the meantime, they truly are living out a biblical lifestyle. So what is to lose?
Friend: what happens if you don’t buy into their theology, but still wish to participate in the community? What then?
Nate: I don’t know all the details. However, there was a gentleman who has been living among them off and on since 1986. He participates fully except for a few details. I’m assuming you can live with them and contribute to the community without having taken the covenant relationship with them and Yeshua. However, I don’t know how they would work out details of monetary possessions, etc., in the meantime.
Friend: so EVERYTHING is communal? as far as possessions and everything? In other words, if you join, you no longer own anything, the community owns it all?
Nate: My impression is that they welcome anyone who wants to join, and then it is between that person or persons and Yeshua when they become convinced and want to join. However, in conversation it was relayed to me that two or three weeks is the norm for people to make that decision. There is a guy who took 3 months and that was unusual. Obviously, this guy that has taken years is the extreme exception.
Nate: Yes, you give up everything. I mean you keep personal mementos like pictures, your wedding rings, etc., but your car is either sold or becomes the community’s, etc. although at one point, they all decided to sell their wedding rings in order to pay the significant debt of one member.
Friend: do you cut off family ties?
Friend: are you able to travel outside the community whenever you want?
Nate: I don’t know how that works. I know it happens and is allowed, but it is a different way of thinking. For example, if you want to go visit family, how is that going to be paid for?
Nate: Here’s another example: if you and/or your wife wanted to give birth in a hospital that is allowed. But what you have to think of is, are you going to want to do that, because that means the community is taking on the burden of paying for that because of your decision. Explaining this part would take a long conversation, and frankly I don’t understand it all myself. You have the right to make your own decisions, however we are so individualistic that it is hard to explain how that works in a true community.
Friend: so, socially speaking, it is very communist? (based on what I know of communism)
Nate: No, while communism is very similar it produces a drastically different vibe. The only way I can explain it is the Acts 2 community. No one has any individual possessions, but no one is in need.
Friend: what did your wife think of all of this?
Nate: She loved the people, loved much of the idea. Has a hard time with some of the particulars that she views as extreme. Like, Elisa doesn’t like a lot of the organic food they eat, and doesn’t like the mate tea that they drink a lot of. However, that having been said, she is very on board with going to see them again at the end of this month, and even seems to be preparing for what she views as the very real possibility that we will eventually be joining them. Elisa is very different from me. She expresses herself in actions more than in words. So some frustration with how different it would be and wondering if it really needs to be *that* different came out in words, but in action she thinks it was the real deal.
Friend: how do they view the Jews, or do I need to read that paper?
Nate: That is complex. At first you will begin to wonder if they practice replacement theology. However, after digging further it becomes apparent that they don’t, but in some ways it comes very close. I’m still struggling to understand how they view it. They are not fans of Jewish tradition, however.
Nate: In other words, they are coming to the same conclusions our movement has, but they are coming from a very different point of origin. I told Elisa that if a godly lifestyle is the top of a triangle, then the two legs are their movement and ours. Both heading to the same place, but originating in very different places. And they have some illumination that we are missing and we have some that they are missing. …in my estimation. However, the key for me was that they are very much still learning and growing and changing, and that they readily admit they have things which are wrong, and they are looking for HaShem to teach them.
Friend: do they have to wait for some “decision from the top” concerning right and wrong beliefs before they change their minds?
Nate: it’s not a decision from the top, it’s an agreement among the community
Friend: majority rules, or unanimous?
Nate: not like that; can’t explain it
Friend: k, no worries
Nate: it is not a democracy, but I don’t think it has to be unanimous either. basically it becomes clear that the Spirit is affirming something in their hearts according to His word, so it probably is unanimous, but it’s not like that is why or that it has to be…I haven’t actually seen that in action, so I can’t speak to it further. It is something I don’t think you and I have experienced but it strikes me as the way it is supposed to be.