Random Blog Clay Feet: March 09, 2008
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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Concluding Reservations part 2

This is a continuation from part 1 posted previously.

So what am I to do now? What am I to learn and how am I to relate, not only with these people but in my interpretation of what I have observed when I talk with others about it? I do not want to be self-righteous in any way or feel superior because I can see their short-comings in theology. I very much want to have the Spirit of Jesus in how I view these people and I want to acknowledge the work that appears to be from God producing whatever fruits are legitimate in their lives. I don't believe I have the discernment to sort through which fruit is from God and which is from subtle legalism which does bother me to some extent. And part of that is because I still have not finished by own maturing process that would give me the required ability for really wise discernment. I can only depend on the promptings of the Holy Spirit who is able to differentiate between the bones and the marrow.

But what I need myself most of all is a fresh infusion of life and intimacy with Jesus in my own soul and spirit. I feel that living this close to people who demonstrate compelling “Christianity” whom I should not condemn but with whom I cannot fully agree has somehow left me a little confused and feeling empty. It has stirred up old feelings of fear, guilt-motivation and intimidation so familiar to me from institutions that I have lived in in the past. I now need a deeper reassurance of the truths that God has been bringing to my attention at much deeper levels in my own heart. What I really want is the genuine experience that is only approximated by the wonderful results I am seeing in this community. I really believe that when the real deal shows up, that as effective and compelling as these people's lives are, the truth and glory that will fill the whole earth foretold in Revelation 18 will make this look like infant babbling. This is a start in the right direction in some respects but there is far more power if it was carried out in the pure atmosphere of complete doctrinal truth but free from all fear or force.

Something I noticed last night in their answers to my questions was the fact that they believe the sharing of all things practiced by the early church was a requirement imposed by the apostles. That confirmed my earlier instincts that these communities are employing elements not found in the true model because they believe it is not possible to accomplish without the use of some degree of control. It is the ingredient of control that warns me that this is not yet the genuine. That is one of the truths that has been coming much more clear to me over the past few months and is one of the tests that my heart applies to any model or church or person to see if it is valid and of God or has the diluting ingredients mixed in that will weaken it in some way. Anytime I detect fear and control being subscribed to as legitimate means of accomplishing the work of God my heart goes into high alert and warns me that all is not right here. God has a much better plan and I need to keep searching while learning whatever can be gleaned from the present.

When I asked about a person's freedom to see things differently in the Bible than what the church passes down I was told that everyone always has perfect freedom. But they went on to explain that freedom means they are free to either submit to the collective body and beliefs of the church or they are free to disagree and take their life back into their own hands and away from Jesus. What is becoming clear is that, like the Catholic church, they believe the authority of the church preempts the personal relationship and conscience of the individual in spiritual matters.

Sadly, it looks like overall to me that they are actually attempting to put together some of the very same formulas for religion that have already been used by the very groups that they claim have failed God in the past and that they believe are replaced by their “nation”. They believe that they must develop holiness in their lives to a point that will allow the Messiah to return and set up His reign on earth. This is exactly the beliefs of the Jews in the time of Christ and is precisely why they rejected Jesus when He appeared as the Son of God. Jesus did not fit their criteria for religion and did not have the same agenda for power-sharing as they had. Nor did He share their interpretations of the religious words like “holiness”, “righteousness” or what it means to keep the law of God. This is the great burden of much of Paul's writings as he tried to expose the impossibility of achieving our own righteousness instead of trusting fully in God's righteousness.

The second formula they are trying to use has already been refined and practiced for hundreds of years by the Catholic church and many other Protestant churches, again without real success in pleasing God. They apparently believe that the only way to keep people together in unity and fellowship is to carefully restrict and control the minds and hearts of every member of the body from the head of the church. They only allow the leadership to think “outside the box” or to search for truth and seem to believe that anyone else in the organization cannot be allowed to listen directly to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They are afraid that to trust God to coordinate and facilitate the unity of His body will result in fracturing and disharmony and would undermine all that they have spent years to build up.

This is just the same kind of thinking that underlies the doctrine of the Catholic church that only the Pope is qualified to correctly interpret Scriptures and his views must be considered as priority above anyone else's ideas or teachings. This was refined and enforced so strongly during the dark ages that most people were not even allowed to touch or read the Bible for themselves on pain of death. But controlling and restricting access to the Spirit of God and the Throne of Grace is a tragic violation of the individual freedom that God demands as the right of every person He created and for anyone to violate that freedom and take away those rights is a crime against heaven itself.

I believe that it is only when people are so filled with a real revelation of the love of God for them personally that they will spontaneously devote all of their inferior possessions and relationships in love. Then will be seen the real demonstration of the true body of Christ. I believe that when the Holy Spirit is trusted to draw all men to the same Jesus and the same picture of God, when Jesus and an intimate connection with Him becomes the centerpiece instead of doctrines filtered through men before being passed on to others, then we will see the real thing, the real demonstration of purity, love and power the way Jesus revealed it in His life here on earth. We will see what real servant leadership looks like in place of control over others. We will see love and affection for one another and for our enemies that is totally spontaneous and unstoppable. We will see the real glory of God in the revelation of His character of humility, compassion and self-forgetful service flowing from hearts burning with the same passion that drives all of the heavenly hosts and emanates from the throne of God. There will be no need for restrictions and control to produce true righteousness, it will flow from hearts filled with the same Holy Fire that has burned away all selfishness and fear. There will be no desire to rule over others and rise to a dominate place of power for it will be understood that real power in the kingdom of Heaven is only found in totally humble, selfless service and unconditional love for everyone within our sphere.

While the doctrines should not be used as the attracting feature to draw people to Christ, the doctrines do become the underlying driving and determining factors in what the results will look like as worked out in the life. One reason all the churches are so powerless in my opinion is because of the mixed ideas about God still clung to in their doctrines or implied in some of their teachings. And the reason the 12 Tribes are not producing even more compelling attractiveness for God is because of the same problem, though from different doctrines in some cases.

What I am holding out for is a much deeper heart transformation than what is happening within this religion. Because they employ the use of apparently a heavy hierarchy in their model of governance and base their authority on a mixture of Scriptures and men's desire for control, the results they are producing while on the surface very good are inferior to what God really wants to accomplish. I do not believe that selfless giving can ever be a legitimate requirement externally imposed, it must be a natural fruit of a total rearrangement of priorities and values due to a very personal and intimate connection with the heart of God directly by each individual involved.

When men try to use alternative means of producing the symptoms described in the Acts believers than what really motivated those believers, they may be able to produce very good-looking results but it will always be far short of the deeper results of genuine heart-work from exposure to the real truth about God. God's glory is far greater than the imagined glory in the minds of the people in this church or any other other church I know of. These people believe that their glory will be found in ruling over others in God's kingdom. They believe that it is their job to put all of God's enemies under His footstool before Jesus can return. But they are trying to do things that God has never asked men to do. They are insisting that grace is given in response to obedience instead of in order to obey. This comes from typical misinterpretations of religious words prevalent throughout Christianity. Until we get a better grasp on the real meaning of the words we extract from the Bible we will continue to come up with external, man-produced ideas of what God's plans really are.

Concluding Reservations part 1

I awoke somewhere around 2:30 AM and felt uneasy enough that I could not go back to sleep. I started thinking and praying and trying to bring into focus whatever might be bothering me either in my mind or in my spirit. There are a number of potential things that could be at the root but I feel a need to get up and focus my heart on God and process on whatever He wants do within me. So here I am.

First I would like to finish my review of what I observed and experienced yesterday. The meals here have been very delicious and filling. Yesterday for breakfast we had something made up of a layer of oats topped with a layer of applesauce and then another layer of oats and then baked. This was put onto my bowl and then smothered with a generous portion of homemade yogurt and then homemade applesauce added. It was most delicious. Prior to this we had maté with milk in it. Every meal has some version of maté with some flavor added, usually a juice. Last night it was grape.

For lunch on Sabbath we were served chips, popcorn and wraps which were most delicious. For supper we were served in a separate house away from the group's most sacred time together called Breaking of Bread. We had salad and soup which was more than I could eat. I have not yet gotten hungry since the first meal we had here Friday night. Last night's meal was called a guest meal because anyone who is not part of their “covenant” must separate from the “brothers” to give them full privacy for their weekly (I assume) fellowship of total heart intimacy together in a highly personalized and enhanced communion service. I am not sure but I have a hunch that the women may not be a part of that service.

By what I could gather from answers to my questions and observe after the fact it appears that they choose partners much like Adventists do with which to share a footwashing time and then lay around Mid-eastern style on cushions or fleeces on oriental rugs and literally break bread and share some kind of meal together while opening their hearts in total vulnerability to each other. I was told that they consider this entering into the Holy of Holies in fellowship with one another. I am not sure what all that means in their minds or what it entails, but it does strongly convey that they consider this one of the most sacred rites of their practice of religion. Beyond these observations further comments by me would be pretty much total speculation at this point.

During the “guest meal” we were given opportunity to “ask any question we want” of the people assigned to host us. They were very nice and were open and straightforward in their answers though always careful to use the required terminology of “our Master” and other Hebrew-flavored phrases and words. Many of my thoughts were confirmed but I still did not have all my curiosity satisfied – mostly because I didn't think of everything I needed to ask.

It has become quite clear to me though, that this church firmly insists that they are the replacement for Christianity as a whole though they do believe in the Bible. They teach that God has foreordained that there would be three chances for “a chosen group of people” on earth to reveal His character to the world primarily through successful obedience to His requirements so that He could return and set up His literal kingdom on this earth. They believe that the Jews were the first people who failed to fulfill their mission and were replaced by the Christian movement which has subsequently failed to produce proper fruits of righteousness. And since they insist that the Word of God is interpreted literally when it talks about God's desire for a “righteous nation” then they fully believe that they are the third option that is going to fulfill all these prophecies of the Bible so that God will be allowed to return. They believe that their church must be viewed as a nation of sorts so that they can fulfill that requirement of God.

Because they believe that they are the replacement for Christianity as God's chosen nation on earth to usher in His millenial reign, they evidently tend to shun many things associated with mainstream Christianity such as Christian songs and even work hard to change much of their terminology so as to distinguish themselves as different from Christians. While they talk about Jesus and God using Biblical passages they prefer to use the Hebrew names for the prophets and for Jesus. They even believe that they need to change their own names to Hebrew names, I suppose so as to feel more like the chosen nation that replaces ancient Israel. Part of their assumed commission as they see it is to also put all of God's enemies under His footstool whatever that implies.

With such a background context they also insist that the words of Jesus about forsaking all including family members for His sake in order to be a legitimate disciple quite literally means cutting off completely any spiritual ties of authority from the outside that would interfere with the churches total priority and control over their spiritual guidance. They justify this by maintaining that the only way they can maintain unity and not disintegrate into just another of the many fractured denominations seen in the world today (they say there are something like 40,000) is for each person to surrender completely their sovereignty and opinions to the body of believers and the guidance of the leaders within the communities who are in turn completely under the control of the overall leadership of the religion. They teach that all the truth they need to know will come through the anointed leadership in session and directly revealed to them by God. Anything less than strict obedience to their teachings is a violation of the sacred covenant entered into at baptism and cannot be countenanced. Furthermore they practice what is known as “closed communion” which is quite understandable given the level of vulnerability that I assume takes place during that service. But it is also, I am sure, a potential time of reinforcing the bonds of authority within the body of believers as well as the bonds of fellowship and caring for one another.

As my mind tried to search for what is making me feel “not at rest” this morning, I sense that I may be observing something of a deception that is far more subtle than anything I have ever seen. They have a very rich way in which they celebrate Sabbath and have produced clear and obvious good-looking results of living in close and harmonious communities. It has many very attractive aspects to recommend this lifestyle which in many ways are very compelling, especially when compared to the mediocre and lifeless religion of most churches today. There are thousands who are talking the talk but who are nowhere near actually committing to living in close dependent communities like these people are doing. As one of them stated last night in his testimony, where is there anyone else producing the evidence of a real change in lives like that described in the book of Acts like what can be seen here. The churches, including my own denomination, make all sorts of claims but the evidence of real love for one another expressed in very real life is difficult to find anywhere. That is the most compelling attraction that this group seems to have.

But in that lies the greatest danger as I see it. Not that living this kind of life is necessarily wrong in all respects, but because so much of it seems to be right and particularly because it produces results that appear very close to what the Bible describes in the New Testament church. There are so few examples of anything approaching what can be seen here that it makes it very difficult to argue against their logic.

But the more truth there is in something the more subtly dangerous a little bit of error can be that is mixed in. Unfortunately we usually react to that by rejecting the whole package giving us excuse to not be convicted by the need to enter into the genuine life of fellowship that would produce similar but superior results to what can be seen here. And since the genuine is not very clear on the horizon as yet it makes it very confusing and frustrating to know how to relate to this. Hence part of my feeling of uneasiness.

Their doctrines about life after death and the final destinies of man are so far out of line with Biblical truth that it certainly prevents me from seriously considering joining this movement. That however, is not only where the danger lies. What is far more subtle is my hearts question about the real causes for the most excellent external results apparently seen in the way they raise their children and treat each other. I have no doubt that most of their interactions are sincere and good which accounts for their unusual success in producing far above average children in morals, politeness and peaceful living. But the part where it gets into the sterner areas that most likely takes place mostly out of sight are the elements that disturb me and make me wonder if there is not some “leaven in this bread”.

Most people believe that a little bit of necessary force is necessary for sinful men to successfully achieve the obedience necessary to produce the results desired, but it is right at this point that what I have been learning for the past few years comes into sharper focus. It challenges not only the assumptions of this church but the assumptions of nearly every human. It really goes back to what is a truthful understanding of how God operates and relates to us that is not yet completely settled in my own mind.

Tied into this is the disturbing belief that one's sovereignty must be completely surrendered to the body before fellowship can really connect. This flies in the face of my emerging understanding that the true body of Christ cannot be so easily externally distinguished at this point as most churches would like to imagine and that there are many places that I may find true believers in heart. I believe that until after the Second Coming of Christ only the Spirit of God at this point knows who are true followers and will alert observant and mindful people to opportunities to connect with hearts in sometimes most unusual circumstances. In short, I believe the body of Christ cannot be defined by men's external boundaries or artificial distinctions and we must have much more trust in God than in the outward appearances. But that reasoning becomes even more difficult to justify when confronted with compelling results like that seen in the outward lifestyle of the people belonging to the 12 Tribes communities.

I do not want to be condemning of this group in the slightest. I want to make it very clear that I believe they are very sincere in their pursuit of holiness and trying very, very hard to develop a character in harmony with the law of God. That is a noble desire although if their eyes could be opened more (along with all of us) it would be seen that they are really following in the footsteps of millions before them in history. I do not want to have a critical spirit about them and I would love to have a bonding connection with them in love. I am greatly inspired by their closeness and devotion and very inspiring worship. Many of their songs are very uplifting and insightful and inspired and their ability to dance before the Lord with joy makes me envious. They are a model of modesty and try to be very friendly to strangers and in many respects have developed a culture of joy and bonding that is desperately needed by the rest of the world.

To visit one of these communities is to see highlighted the failings of every other church that I am aware of including my own. I have no examples to point to as seemingly compelling as what is being demonstrated here. That leaves me almost defenseless if I was to argue against a person joining this movement on the basis of appearances. However, I still feel an uneasiness at my deepest gut level about this movement. I do not believe that most of these people are evil or diabolical or intentionally deceiving others. I think they are mostly genuinely sincere. What I do sense a little bit though is some of the most subtle deceptions that are so attractive found in shades of a little legalism mixed in with lots of New Testament theology. These are areas of intense debate in all churches and contribute to the issues in this case.

part 2