Continuing the Conversation

Nate: I just hung up with one of the brothers from the Stepping Stone Farm. Man, the spirit those folks have is just amazing!

Friend: What do you mean?

Nate: what do I mean about what?

Friend: about the spirit of those folks?

Nate: it seems to be the Spirit…there is an amazing sense of longing that I feel very keenly when I am with them or talk to them, and I don’t recall ever having experienced it before. and it feels…pure

Friend: Let me ask you something that may seem somewhat unrelated to the major decision that you’re facing right now, but I assure you it is related…”Do you have a vision for your family, and if so, what is it?”

Nate: That is so on target. Yes, I have a finely developed sense of vision for my family…and it looks (with a few minor variations) like the 12 Tribes look. Actually living, moment by moment, hour by hour, as if eternity and the spiritual kingdom is what matters most

Friend: As a father, husband and man of God, will that vision be totally fulfilled with the 12 tribes? Will you be able to practice the gifts that God has graciously given within that context?

Nate: If I could answer that question with crystal certainty, I would be in the process of moving all ready. My answer today is that it seems as if I would be able to do so ever so much more so than now. What is plaguing me these days is that the theology that developed into their walk and the theology that developed my vision of a walk for my family are not the same on some issues. However, the rubber to the road is the same.

Friend: I can see that is where you’re struggling. I struggle with that issue myself in many areas. For me though, I guess that I’m still young and brash enough to think that God might use me to bring balance to our movement in that regard….

Nate: Your comment “I’m still young and brash enough to think…” that describes my dream for the last 3 years to a “T”. Two things have happened over the past 6 months: 1) I’m increasingly overwhelmed with the number of things I really don’t know when it comes to deciding what Scripture means, but at the same time more and more convinced about the importance of what I do understand means about how we ought to be living, and 2) there is a line in one of the 12 Tribes songs that has impacted me greatly. It says, “Come just as you are, leave your goals behind.”

Friend: is that song beckoning you to a life with the 12 tribes, or a life of devotion to the Master?

Nate: When I first heard that it made the hair on the back of my neck bristle. But as I listened to it over a matter of weeks, I began to see that even though my goals are all good, they really are still all wrapped up in me. But Yeshua said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I’m all ready living and have been living what our movement would consider sold out devotion to the Master.

Friend: I would challenge you not to exchange our movement’s ideals of sold out discipleship for another movement’s ideals.

Nate: I’m not. I’m comparing our movement’s ideals to my conviction regarding what sold-out discipleship is. And to my understanding of what a 1st century talmid looked like. Because that, after all, is what Yeshua commanded us, to raise up many talmidim, teaching them to observe all that he commanded.

Friend: I know that we discussed it in our first chat on the subject, but I don’t remember many of the answers. How are they impacting the world for eternity?

Nate: They live a life (as many of us have theorized) that draws the “sick” (to use Yeshua’s term) to them. It is absolutely unbelievable to witness, but there is a constant stream of visitors to their communities. As if that weren’t enough, every one one of their industries is geared around being able to touch people in the execution of their labors to make a living. Finally, they also engage in specific projects like bus tours, a huge festival that they threw in Washington D.C., etc. specifically geared to provide opportunities for their lives to intersect with the seeking.

Friend: I suppose that one of the things that really concerns me about the 12 tribes approach is that I perceive (big emphasis on that…I perceive…I could be way wrong) that if you don’t sell everything (just a step above monastacy) then you are not a true follower of the Master.

Nate: I really should allow them to respond to that rather than me. But let me just say that what I have been able to ascertain of their beliefs (and I was asking questions of that nature tonight) that is not the case.

Friend: In their understanding, what is the gospel?

Nate: I don’t know. I haven’t asked that succinct of a question. I will though.

Friend: so, let me ask this. Based what you’ve experienced, what is my eternal destiny if I don’t join their group?

Nate: You would be one of the righteous who has eternal life and lives in the Messianic Kingdom, then the Eternal Age. You just wouldn’t be one of those ruling and reigning with Messiah. But let me ask you this. Let’s assume they’re wrong about this. What difference does that make?

Friend: that’s a good question…and off the cuff, I would have to say that it really doesn’t make a difference. What are the main theological issues that you have?

Nate: that and the idea that they are the Body of Messiah. “Christianity” is where most of those who are being drawn to Messiah are, but unless they join the Body (the 12 Tribes) then they are the righteous not the holy. But then again I have to ask myself, what difference does that make if they are living a holy and righteous life, in a manner like no else that I have ever run across, and in a manner consistent with what I have envisioned as a biblical lifestyle for my family.

Nate: I asked tonight, if I started an intentional community here in Fort Wayne, that lived just like they do, but didn’t think of ourselves as exclusively the Body of Messiah (and was producing fruit) what would the difference between that community and them be. The answer was if that theoretical community was being led by the Spirit, then there would be no division between us and them!

Friend: the exclusive part is the main thing that concerns me…

Nate: did you catch that last comment though…

Friend: there might not be division, but their take that they are THE Body is pretty narrow in scope. In my mind it takes away from the work of God in all of the Nations.

Nate: When you have more time, let’s talk about that.

Friend: alright. I’ll hold you to it. I’m gonna take off for now. I’m praying for you, and trusting that the Father will guide you as He wills. Blessings and Shalom to you, my brother!

11 thoughts on “Continuing the Conversation

  1. Nate,
    Kudos to your friend. He sounds like a TRUE friend. He is asking the tough questions, and doesn’t seem too worried you’d be offended by them, that’s great!

    I know you will be sensitive and trust HaShem on where you will go from here.

    If you don’t mind, let me add, Nate, that there are others out there that are interested in such a community, but not necessarily 12 tribes, but more ‘messianic’. Maybe you could implement alot of the same things, community-wise, that 12 Tribes has, only with better theology. It may seem like a trivial matter, and although we know where we stand, I think we have to think about the impact the tension would have on our children to be a part of a community where everyone else is largely different in belief. This puts a lot of pressure on the children. Of course, you could be the guiding principle that helps bring them over, but I wouldn’t go with that expectation.

    I think there is a lot to be gained in the consideration of a Messiah-centered Torah community. I know that even among ourselves we might not totally agree, but if they can survive and thrive surely we who hail ourselves as true talmidim could prosper at such an endevour as well.

  2. Jamie, boy do I hear you! The only problem I would say is that at this point the 12 Tribes are living the life of true talmidim much more so than are we.

    However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t change that. And that, indeed, is one option that I am seriously considering, as you know.

  3. Nate-
    The 12 Tribes sound like replacement ideology. They don’t address it directly, from what I can tell from reading their stuff, but it does seem to be the underlying theme. What have you found out? I hope I am wrong.

    Honestly, I find such intentional communites very tempting! I understand your attraction – I have it, too. I also see them addressing some serious concerns that “we” Torah-people should be addressing as well!

    Just…can we have the community in PacNW??? The weather’s better 🙂

  4. Justin Martyr, speaking to the Jew Trypho said, “The Scriptures are not yours but ours.” Irenaeus said, “Jews are disinherited from the grace of God.” This is replacement theology, and I have not found this in the 12 Tribes’ writings nor in their hearts or mouths as we have spoken.

    I have found a lot that could be misconstrued as replacement theology. While the 12 Tribes themselves are not cut off from the world, their theology has been in many ways. As a result, they use many of the same terms we use, but with different connotations.

    I do think their perspective on things Jewish and things “Christian” could benefit from a refresh, as they seem to reflect a more 1970’s reality than they do today’s reality. Their attitude regarding Billy Graham and Christianity is indicative of this.

    I find their perspective on Jewish tradition rather ironic as they are actively involved in establishing their own equivalent of the Mishnah, etc., and the really wild thing is, it looks very Jewish.  However, as I mentioned above their attitude reflects a 1975 understanding of Jewish tradition, and hasn’t had the benefit of the New Perspective, E.P. Sanders reappraisal, etc..

    As for community, I am currently torn between joining them and trying to start a One-Torah community here in Fort Wayne.

  5. I vote for the one-Torah community 😉

    Do they see themselves as “G-d’s only people”? Actually, my concerns, the more I read about them (both their stuff and their critics), they seem more *explicitly* replacement – they are the ONLY children of G-d.

    Here’s a quote from a critic, a former member: “Community members also believe “Jews and Christians failed to perform God’s purpose, so God cut them off, cast them aside and waited 1900 years for a people willing to obey His commands.” They try to persuade people into believing that “only they bear good fruit.””

    I recognize that “bad blood” between people can lead to hyperbole…but….

    May HaShem give you wisdom, Nate. I’m praying for you and your family.

  6. Greetings, Pati!

    Thanks for your comments and your prayers.

    I have been investigating the 12 Tribes and their critics for roughly a year and a half. All I can say is that what I have found does not match up with what is being said by their critics, nor with the quote you gave, although I can clearly see that the misunderstanding does stem from beliefs they hold.

    It is sort of like this: How many people have you run into that no matter how long you’ve talked to them, at the end of the day they still think you believe we are saved by works, just because you keep the Torah?

    I have been regularly taken by surprise, to find that even folks I have been talking with for lengthy periods of time, still aren’t convinced that I believe in salvation by faith, through grace. Even though I have specifically contradicted this.

    The 12 Tribes are similar. If you don’t try to get in their heads and understand what they mean by certain terms and ways that they say things, you will misunderstand what they believe. And if you’re unhappy with them to begin with, of course you’re going to interpret stuff in a negative light.

    This is not to say I think their theology is all correct. But it is to say that I think it is regularly being misrepresented.

  7. Hello Nate,

    My wife and I will be looking to move in the summer of 2007. I think I mentioned to you that Ft. Wayne is one of the areas that we have considered–and all the more so that we know that your family lives there. If I take the plunge, do you think that others might follow? I would really like the idea of Jamie Guinn and Pati Smith joining us (among many others who I have not listed).

    If such a move were to take place, it might have to be done in several steps. Ideally a community would live in such proximity as to encourge observance of Shabbat. My wife and I are looking for a rural setting in which to raise our children. If we all agree that a rural setting is desired, it can take years before all of us can agree on a site that would accommodate us. I speak as a western-minded individualist. There are so many needy people who lack everything from parenting to food and clothing. I hope to God that a community setting would not prevent us from reaching out to others as the instruments of redemption and healing. In fact, one of our basic goals should be the demonstration of “true religion” which is to both “keep oneself unspotted from the world” and “to visit orphans and widows in their distress” (Jas 1:27).

    your brother in Messiah,
    PeterS (Tzuriel)

  8. Peter,

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to bring folks up to speed. We are actively engaged in establishing a One-Torah community here in Fort Wayne. Jamie Guinn and his wife are interested in considering a move here, although there are a lot of things up in the air, and all these things must be committed to the Father’s hands.

    There is another family in Pennsylvania that I could potentially see moving if the timing was right. In the meantime, we have 3 families and several single folks committed to the idea and working together toward that end all ready here in Fort Wayne.

    We are not yet sure how we will proceed. Ideal circumstances seem somewhat far removed, so we are open to considering ideas that are perhaps less than ideal as intermittent solutions that enable progress toward the goal. I’m not sure that we want a rural setting, although that is, of course, also an option.

    We would welcome your family to join us in that endeavor. The first step is commitment to a Sabbath fellowship, and that has taken place and is blossoming. The next step will be folks living in closer proximity so that our day-to-day lives can begin to merge ever more.

    My wife and I own two homes that could house more than a single family, that are right around the corner from each other in the same subdivision. There are, of course, other homes for sale in the same subdivision. Ideally, we would like to be on the same cul-de-sac, and more than that have considered options like Quadreplexes, building our own development that would be designed similarly to what you can find on the Internet by searching for “co-housing”.

    If you (or others) are familiar with the 1st century term “insula” then you can get a good idea of what I would like to see take shape in a contemporary form.

    Much remains to be “hammered out”, and I desire to do that labor in a communal environment. I look forward to speaking more about this next weekend in Chicago. (You realize that we have way more to talk about than we are going to have time!)

    In Messiah,


  9. I should add that as I ponder a vision for the future, I see both urban and rural settings, and would like to establish a model here in Fort Wayne, that we can easily re-produce elsewhere. I envision a fellowship of One-Torah communities that share basic beliefs and halacha…however, I see that goal as being 10-15 years out most likely (and perhaps longer).

  10. Nate,

    We will have to visit for more than just a Shabbat. I guess that I can give you a rain check before you leave knowing that this will be the start of something grand.

    May I ask you for where I can find information on housing costs in your neighborhood?

    kol tuv,
    PeterS (Tzuriel)

  11. Hey all,

    A company that I used to work with has a salary calculator on their web site. It approximates comparisons between costs of living in various areas. For example, if you provide your salary and metropolitan location, you can determine how much equivalent salary you would need to make in another location to maintain the same cost of living. Check it out:

    PeterS (Tzuriel)

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