I recently took a trip to the Yellow Deli in Chattanooga Tennessee. I had always been apprehensive about visiting the place because my peers had always painted the proprietors of the restaurant as a “cult.” As a Christian and someone who wants to love those around and appreciate their belief for their belief I was curious. Minutes after stepping foot in the establishment I discovered that the place had a very “hippy feel.” Since I am inclined toward the message of peace and love I was curious. I picked up their informational newspapers expecting to find something strange or eccentric to compliment the décor. However, this is not what I have found out, from the literature at least.
They call themselves the 12 Tribes of Israel: a separatist Christian group that lives a strictly communal life. My first question was obviously “is this really a cult?” Having read their newspapers I cannot disagree more. The community is based on the principle of unequivocal love and respect – sound familiar? However, many communities can make this claim. What the others cannot claim is to profess Jesus Christ come in the flesh (1 John 4:1-2). They have a motto that there can be no community without blood and there can be no blood without community- thereby acknowledging Jesus' work. This group takes very seriously the call of Jesus to forsake the world and follow him. The pamphlet quotes Jesus when he says that he came to bring mother from daughter etc. For the 12 Tribes this is no “spiritual” call: it is a commitment to literally leave the world behind and follow “the Master’s” way.
As a Christian, a scholar, and a man with very deep scars from the world and its evil, I resonated with this message. Christ does call us to leave all behind and become a new creation. Now the 12 Tribes ,specifically, may have eccentricities and practices that we are uncomfortable with, but we cannot overlook is their zeal for our Lord. If their practices result in resurrected-Jesus glorifying love and community, what right have we to call them anything but brothers. But my qualm is not with calling anyone anything except us calling ourselves Christians.
What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the message of the one true God making the world right through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Jesus said this would be fulfilled when we are one (John 17). He even went so far to say that our oneness in love is the way to show the on looking world the love of this universal redeeming God. Every Christian reading this, who is not splitting hairs over definitions, will agree with this assertion, however, do we, myself included, actually love this way? Nope. Oh how we’ve fucked that one up! Jesus’ Christianity is radical and should indeed cause the on looking world to question. Sometimes it even calls his disciples to question. Did we think he was kidding when he said sell all you have and give it to the poor? Is he understanding when we don’t love one another as we love ourselves? Does he overlook our human weakness to desire sex, money, and hedonism? By no means! He dealt with it on the cross. I am the chief of sinners in these matters and so I do not pass judgment on any of you, my family. However, I do call you to recognize the meaning of the word family.
Within a family bound by love there is no fear, anxiety, judgment, deceit, greed, hate, malice, or slander. Conversely there is openness, rest, acceptance, truth, giving, love, peace, and edification. Who among us would dare claim any of the latter and deny the former? Politics and philosophy aside, as much as it is possible, how many Iraqis would Jesus kill for freedom and democracy? Zero. How many people could he look on with contempt? Zero. How far would he go to make it in this world? If we are honest about the Jesus of the Bible and stop trying to create him in our image we, as a Church, splintered and cold, would repent and pray as one: Baptists and Presbyterians, Catholics and Protestants, American and Iraqi, Chinese and Indian, boy and girl, man and woman. We would not fear judgment but hope for revival. True love casts out fear but we hide, not behind our religiosity, but our hypocrisy. We call ourselves Christians but as a community look nothing like Christ. We are as separated and incomplete as a broken lamp while the light lay on the floor. We don’t care to pick up the pieces and pray for a miracle because we are convinced that we are honoring Jesus with our pathetic attempts at piety.
If we are to follow the Christ we must leave the world behind forsake our “lives” in order to live. There is no room in Jesus for fractures- only bonds. And until we are ready to admit our sin there is no room for grace. If this offends you – good. A wise man once said that if it is not offensive it is not the Gospel. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. So brothers and sisters in the words of Derek Webb:
who's your brother, who's your sister
you just walked passed him
i think you missed her
as we're all migrating to the place where our father lives
'cause we married in to a family of immigrants
my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom
there are two great lies that I’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him
but nothing unifies like a common enemy
and we’ve got one, sure as hell
but he may be living in your house
he may be raising up your kids
he may be sleeping with your wife
oh no, he may not look like you think