During the latter half of 2006, the early part of 2007, and again in 2009 and 2010 I have had opportunity to visit with a community of Christians who call themselves The Twelve Tribes of Israel. I have visited with them and/or attended their morning and evening worship services about 30-40 times, and have spent the night at one of their communes about five or six times, and eaten with them about 20 times, and talked with about 20 of their members about their beliefs. And my take is as follows:
They are by far the closest-nit group of Christians I have ever associated with. By that I mean that they Live together, and work together, and worship together seven days a week. They also don’t consider themselves as owning anything themselves, but rather jointly. In other words they are very close to the Ideal community of what Christianity is supposed to be about. I also had a deep peace every time I visited with them. For the most part they are very friendly, and would offer me some tea, and ask if I was planning to stay for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. On two occasions they asked me to leave, as I did not agree with various things that they teach: including their take on the age of the earth.
They dance in circles when they worship, and their kids join in as well. Their kids are well behaved, and I never witnessed any arguments during any of my visits except for a brief disagreement between one of their members and myself on about the 10th or 12th time I was there. After this incident, on the next visit or two he and I made up for we continued to speak to one another afterward, and we even apologized to each other. For the most part, they seemed to be genuinely concerned about those who are outside of God’s Kingdom.
Four areas of disagreement
I disagree with them in the following areas:
The Lord’s Supper
I believe it is for Each and Every believer, and not just for those who are within a particular denomination. In other words, they will not allow anyone who is not one of their members to participate in the Lord’s Supper with them. The Lutherans do this as well, but the Scriptures simply say for a man to “examine himself” and so let him partake… and IF he is not right with the Lord, the Lord Himself will either convict him of his sin, or cause him to become sick, or even take his life if he persists in living in sin. In this regard I believe that both the Twelve Tribes and the Lutherans are afraid that if an outsider (who also names the name of Christ, and is committed to Him) were to partake in their church (or community) and not suffer any physical harm, that they might come to realize that THEY are not any better, nor more right with the Lord — just because they have joined a particular church, or community, and that there are other people out there who also Love the Lord just like they do, and who are also walking with Him daily, and striving to obey Him just like they are. Perhaps they have another reason, however, it isn’t Biblical.
Practicing the Sabbath
The Twelve Tribes practice keeping the Sabbath. I also have NO problem with this, except that the Apostle Paul said that it shouldn’t be something that divides Christians. In other words, the Apostle Paul considered it an area of Christian Liberty, just like eating meat, or meat sacrificed to Idols, or not eating any meat at all. See Romans 14: 1-12; Col. 2:16-17; Matt. 12:1-21
Giving up all your Possessions
The Twelve Tribes don’t own anything themselves, but consider all of their property and possessions to belong to the group. This is all well and good, or it can be good, however it can also be something that could be used for selfish purposes. In other words, when you join and give them all your money, or Houses, or whatever you own: who is there to oversee where it all goes? Are certain members favored much more than others? Also, while the Lord did say that IF we want to become His disciple, we will need to (at least be willing to) give up all of our own possessions (Luke 14:33); however, that does not mean that we can’t own anything and still be in God’s will, or still be used by Him to do great things (Luke 12: 13-21). In other words, the most important thing to God is Where is your heart, and what are you worshipping? Are you worshipping Yourself, and/or your possessions, or are you following and obeying the Lord and making Him and His will first in your life?
I believe that salvation is by Grace alone through Faith in Christ Alone: not by joining a certain church or religious group or community: even one that calls itself the Twelve Tribes of Israel. For Jesus Christ alone is the one who has the Power to save and to raise us from the dead (John 6:37-40). And He is the One who has the keys of death and of Hades — and the One to whom we will all give an account of our lives: John 5:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12.
In other words, in discussing this with several members of the Twelve Tribes, they seemed to think that their salvation was in the fact that they had joined the group, and had given up all of their possessions, and were now doing everything in their power to seek and to serve the Lord through the group — and with their approval.. The same could probably be said of many other churches. However, according to Scripture, believing in Christ and receiving His salvation means having a Personal Relationship with the living Lord. It involves both knowing Him Personally, and Loving your brothers and sisters in Christ as you love yourself. See Hosea 6:3; John 6:37; 7:37-38; 10:14, 27; See also Matt. 7:21-24 and note what happens to those whom the Lord didn’t KNOW Personally. See also Eph. 4:30 to see what happens to a Christian who isn’t living for the Lord. In other words, if you think you are saved, but your life hasn’t changed in any way, or you don’t have a deep peace, then perhaps you were never saved in the first place? I John 3:9-18; Heb. 4:1-16; John 14:27; II Tim. 2:19.
So my overall feeling about he Twelve Tribes is that IF they were to get over themselves, and stop thinking they are the only ones who are right with God, and cease from condemning almost all Christians who are not a part of their group (Luke 6:37; Ps 130:7-8), then they would be about as close to a utopian society on Earth as I can imagine.
Note that with regard to the above verse from psalm 130:7, they effectively change the meaning from abundant redemption to abundant condemnation.
In regard to judging others as less fervent than ourselves, I have been told that Campus Crusade for Christ has 27,000 full time Missionaries, and 186,000 part time missionaries. Are these less committed to the Lord than the Twelve Tribes? Or what about the 120-200 million born again Christians in China? Are they all in need of a “sent one” from the Tribes in order to be saved? Or what about those who have given their lives in Afghanistan or Iraq because of their Love of Jesus, and the cause of Freedom, and of their fellow man?