"If a Christian is a true seeker of God, they are better off reading the word of God at face value than buying into the traditions of mainstream churches. When a believer sincerely cries out to God, God will lead them into [our] community," said Wade Skinner, an elder of the Twelve Tribes community in Vista. Twelve Tribes was born out of the Jesus movement by Elbert Spriggs in the 1970s. "To me, Spriggs's teachings have an equal authority to Peter, Paul, or John," said Skinner, a friend of Spriggs for 15 years. Spriggs visualized the community as a new spiritual nation of God. The Twelve Tribes has grown to 50 communities in nine countries with two communities in San Diego County. The Twelve Tribes community believes they are the only true disciples of Jesus on earth. "After the book of James was written, Christianity underwent a period of Dark Ages, where there is no evidence there were people living as the Holy Nation. Sincere Christians today are righteous people, but they are no different than atheists," said Skinner. "If you are the seed of Abraham, you must do the deeds of Abraham. This means Christians will live as the early believers did in Acts 2, who sold their possessions and shared based on the needs of people." People who join the community give their possessions to Twelve Tribes. "When Christians hear about our community, they are very threatened by our life. All they want is personal salvation. But they are not truly God's people."
The communities' isolated lifestyle creates negative press attention. The U.S. government, claiming fear of child abuse, has raided the Twelve Tribes' group homes. "People see the outrageous behavior of people at Waco, Jonestown, and Heaven's Gate and assume we will do something outrageous. Some of the raids are because we are old school in how we discipline our children by spanking them," said Skinner. Children in the community are raised to be the "pure and spotless bride" for the second coming of Yahshua. The Twelve Tribes use Yahshua, the Hebrew name, instead of the name Jesus. Skinner believes the end of the world will not come until their communities grow to several million and represent the 12 tribes of Israel. "We have 11 tribes established; the 12th is being established now," said Skinner.
"We grow like beehives," said David Alexander, a longtime member. "A community reaches 40 or 50 people and splits. A characteristic of all the communities is that there is no difference of opinion." The Twelve Tribes does not allow different interpretations of scripture in the community. "My Christian friends think I went off to the loony bin when I joined the Twelve Tribes," confessed Alexander, who previously served 27 years in Evangelical churches. "I was a pastor in Vineyard and Calvary type churches, but the Christian communities I was involved in were not living according to the way, the truth, and the life."
The Saturday-evening service began as the group gathered in a great room to dance and sing songs. Men, women, and children performed Israeli folk dances in the center of the room as several people played tambourine, drum, flute, and guitar. Between songs, several men spoke about what God taught them from the Bible. David Alexander said the order of service is based on the Apostle Paul's instruction to the church in 1 Corinthians 14. The service ended with a several-hour-long members-only communion. Guests are invited to a dinner in another room.
Those in the commune work in one of several businesses the group runs. These businesses include a construction company, printing press, and farm. In addition to work, frequent trips are made up and down the coast to attend festivals in their bus. The bus is covered with painted flowers, people, doves, "flower power" peace symbols, all intermixed with Christian icons. "Our bus on the East Coast traveled 2 million miles following the Grateful Dead tour," said Alexander. "Two-to-three hundred people joined our community off the Grateful Dead tour. They were looking for a life of love and community but recognized they needed to do it without the damage of all the drugs and promiscuous sexual behavior."
I asked Elder Skinner what happens to a person when he dies. "People will reap what they sow; they will be judged by their deeds. God will judge and only those people whose deeds are worthy of the lake of fire will suffer the second death. Those who are judged to have lived righteous lives will live in the new earth as the nations. Skinner believes that those who live in their community will be the Holy who will rule over the nations for eternity. Alexander added, "Those who will be judged most strictly will be those who claim to be Christians."
2683 Foothill Drive, Vista
Denomination : The Commonwealth of Israel
Founded locally: 2002
Senior pastor: Elbert Eugene Spriggs, Sr.
Congregation size: 20--30
Staff size: 20--30
Sunday school enrollment: 12
Annual budget: would not disclose
Weekly giving: would not disclose
Singles program: no
Dress: head coverings, diadems, casual
Worship times: Friday and Saturday at sundown
Length of reviewed service: 5 hours