Well, it’s been two years since I posted about the 12 Tribes, but a conversation this morning caused me to realize that I need to post a follow-up!
I remain fascinated by the 12 Tribes and amazed by the biblical lifestyle nature of their communities. I have spent a total of 15 days with them, visting on several occasions and in two different communities.
There were two factors that convinced us not to join the 12 Tribes communities. The first was sitting in on a morning of their homeschooling. They did a great job of educating their children, they have well developed curriculum, and I was impressed with the nature of homeschool with a group–taught by community adults. However, since I don’t agree with all their theology and since their theology (rightfully so) is woven into the very fabric of their teaching, I could not imagine how I could subject my kids to day-to-day teaching that I could not affirm.
Secondly, a close friend of mine and I were blessed to be at a community when a participant expressed the desire to covenant with the community, so we witnessed their baptism/induction ceremony. The key factor that stood out to us was the necessity of forswearing the Christian Jesus, and swearing allegiance to “Yahshua.” It was stressed that the Christian Jesus was not truly Messiah and that the prospective member must reject all that had led her forward in faith prior to meeting the Community.
This was a MAJOR red light to my friend and I. Granted, I have never met a group of people among whom the Spirit seems so present, however, since it was the Spirit of God and the Messiah Jesus (Yeshua, Jesu, etc., whatever name He may be called in various cultural and linguistic contexts) that has led us to where we are today, there is no possible way that I could reject the very God Who brought me to Him. Nor can I in good conscience say that the only true name of God’s Son is “Yahshua.” In fact, it is a made up name and there is no historical evidence to suggest that his mother called him anything other than “Yeshua” (or a nickname thereof).
What this experience emphasized to me was the abounding grace of God. I believe that the 12 Tribes truly know Him and are pursuing Him, even in the midst of a grave misunderstanding on their part (a misunderstanding that one can sort of understand; truly mainstream Christianity has often seriously misrepresented the true character and teaching of Jesus). However, I cannot give my assent to this monumental error, not even to benefit from their prophetic lifestyle of radical Gospel living.
Finally, there were other nagging issues like a series of interviews done with two men that were a long time part of the 12 Tribes and part of the upper echelon, the strangeness of Eugene Sprigg (aka Yoneq), the founder of the 12 Tribes, etc. that make me think that in many ways the 12 Tribes do not represent a balanced, healthy environment–particularly not for raising kids.
With all that having been said, there is a lot we can stand to learn from the 12 Tribes and their radical dedication to living out God’s instructions. There is a lot we may take as examples of what not to do, but much to be admired.
Someday I hope to write about them much more in depth, as they bear significant sociological investigation as regards Christian communities throughout the ages.
Bob Pardon of the New England Institute of Religious Research has this to say in their “Conclusion” about the 12 Tribes:
Our initial reactions, when we had the privilege to visit various Communities, were only positive. We have met many, many fine people who have given up their lives to Messianic Communities. Thus, upon first exposure to the group there does appear to be a love that is demonstrated in a way not often found in Christianity. However, there is a seamier side to Communities life. The devastation in most ex-member’s lives, and the teachings of Spriggs, evidence a litany of spiritual and emotional abuse. In their zeal to “forsake all for Yahshua” it is, in reality, a forsaking all for the Communities. This is because the members commitment to Messianic Communities is their commitment to God. This is a common confusion that often occurs in high control groups.
I don’t agree with everything that Pardon concludes about the 12 Tribes, but this seems to be an accurate analysis. (http://neirr.org/mcconclu.html)