History of the Twelve Tribes Cultic Movement
Elbert Eugene Spriggs was born into a religious family in East Ridge, Tennessee. His early adult life was marred with challenging times including divorce, the loss of his father and an uncertain spiritual quest. In many ways he encountered the same sense of cultural upheaval that many young adults were feeling in the 1960s – the Civil Rights Movement the assassination of a young president and the Vietnam War were all interpreted as part of a world in turmoil and change. It was in this framework that a youth counter culture developed, and many young people turned to religion. “The disappointments of this period encouraged many …to ponder many of the values and mores of the larger culture … “It was against this backdrop that Spriggs found his way to California and encountered a thriving Jesus Movement, known also as the Jesus People Revival. It was on a beach in Carpenteria, CA in 1970 that Elbert Eugene Spriggs realized and reaffirmed his need for Christ.
After this monumental life transforming happening, Spriggs worked briefly with the homeless and witnessed to people around the country, including Marsha Ann Duvall, who would emerge as his wife in 1972. They moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee and Elbert Eugene immediately began his mission work with local teens, drawing many to Christ. “Since that beginning Spriggs has never made any money for preaching or teaching the gospel.”
For a while Spriggs attended various churches, and then settled on regular attendance at First Presbyterian Church. In 1972 Spriggs started the “Light Brigade” for teens which was “a loose fellowship of disaffected youth trying to obey the Jesus of the Bible.” Eventually many young people began living communally in a house on Vine Street, which also served as a coffee house. In 1976 Spriggs worked with the leaders of the New Covenant Apostolic Order, which was short-lived.
Participants in the Light Brigade were from many different cultural, social class and racial groups. Because of this diversity, Spriggs endured conflict with the established churches. This was no doubt partially responsible for his growing disillusionment with what he perceived to be a low level of regard for the Gospel in local churches.
A final blow of disappointment came when he went to a church service to find that it was postponed for the Superbowl. After that, Spriggs began fellowshipping with his followers at his home and they soon established the Vine Community Church. They also began a number of business enterprises designed for evangelical purposes, as well as to raise funds for the group. They started the first of many cottage industries and initiated a network of restaurants around Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia that they called “Yellow Deli.”
Their vigorous activities and the controversial life style of the group drew attention and criticism and some local preachers began to doubt Spriggs’ authority to baptize. By this time, the anti-cult movement was gaining momentum in the U.S. and the Vine Community Church turned into a target of their attacks. Several Christian groups and colleges such as Bryan College and Tennessee Temple University “advised their students not to patronize the Yellow Delis, fearing they would be deceived by “bad doctrine.”
During this period the Community tended to withdraw from mainstream religious groups in favor of its own fellowship (which included “teaching and speaking in the Word, singing and dancing”). They did continue to witness and to reach out in the secular society via their small businesses. From this experience emerges a strategy that will define their future. Jeanne Swantko, member and legal counselor for the group says they “aim for a peaceful co-existence with society and seek to follow the guidelines laid out by American patriot Roger Williams who believed in the separation of church and state. On the other hand, they regard society as dominated by sin …”
A group of disaffected Christians invited Spriggs to become their pastor in northern Vermont. He declined that offer, but as a result of that contact, concluded that it was appropriate that the Vine Community should move to the small town of Island Pond, Vermont. So, in 1977 they began moving the group in stages. Upon arrival they adopted the new name “Northeast Kingdom Community Church.” Here they came to see themselves as the “literal revival of God’s people on earth, the restoration of the Messianic Jewish New Testament Community of the first century AD.”
When they moved to Island Pond, the church started anew several industries, including Strictly Vermont Candle, Futon Vermont, and the very successful Common Sense Wholesome Food Store and Restaurant. In addition to providing sustenance for the group, these businesses served also evangelical purposes.
If they felt any sense that the move to this isolated rural district of Northern Vermont would provide shelter against the kind of conflict they faced in Tennessee, they were mistaken. Hostility to the church came early. Part of the unfriendliness is understandable as townspeople were confronted with the arrival of a few hundred persons who had the potential, at least, of disrupting the status quo of this beautiful and serene community. A second source of clash came from attacks by religious and secular critics – most who were also outsiders – who took it upon themselves to monitor doctrines and practices of bizarre religious communities.
Religious leaders further helped arouse uneasiness about the new group by calling attention to several of the Churches’ beliefs that were regarded as atypical. In addition to traditional views regarding women, the “lightning rod” that would trigger strong antagonism to the group was its belief and practice regarding the Biblical injunction to “spare the rod and spoil the child.” They believe that spanking children is God’s remedy for dealing with disobedience and they make no effort to hide this practice. For now we simply note that this strife has been fierce, unrelenting and, further, the charges leveled against the Northeast Kingdom Community Church remain largely unsubstantiated.
In spite of ongoing harassment, the group found a home in this idyllic environment and created a life-style that matched their identity as simple people obeying God’s call. Among other things, the group gravitated towards more defined life-style. The men wear “plain, comfortable and baggy” clothing styles. Men wear beards and tie their hair back. Women remain modest, wearing shapeless and cuffed pants or long skirts and head coverings at times of gathered worship.” They also developed more wholesome and nutritious diets consisting of “whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and herbal remedies.”
In the early 1990’s the Church expanded beyond Island Pond and formed several communities in New England, each composed of several households. They also became known as The Twelve Tribes, in keeping with the aim of imitating the tribal life of Abraham and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Currently there are 25 communities worldwide with most of the communities are in the Northeastern United States, Missouri, and Colorado, but they have locations also in France, Spain, Germany, England, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and Canada.
The Twelve Tribes group takes an enormous pride in their “superior” doctrine.” I really don’t think that Eugene Spriggs left the church merely because of its tepidness; the Super bowl incident was at best a copout, and an excuse to create an autonomous group without accountability. However his experience at this particular church is now his base to teach that the whole Christian church is apostate. This also gives him a foundation to set up his self-proclaimed Apostleship. Again this goes back to the “What makes a group a cult?”
The Twelve Tribes fixate on living in community, specifically their communities. They won’t admit it, because it is so unbiblical, but a person is not saved unless they live in their community. This attention upon community comes from Acts 4. “They had all things in common ….” In response to this verse, they operate with their free slave labor their many Cafes’ named “Common Ground.” Now honestly I approve of living in community. I was discipled while living in a Christian community which is an excellent environment to learn to walk daily with Christ. The Twelve Tribes preach that a person can’t “truly love one another” or “follow Christ” without living in their community. This is exclusivist superiority doctrine.
The community converges attention upon the name of Jesus. They stress that those who call Him Jesus are not truly following Him, but rather worshipping Zeus. The Twelve Tribes states the name Jesus originated from (JeZeus). Rather they enlarge the name Yahshua, a combination of Yeshua and Yahweh. This is yet another ridiculous emphasis. I could call Jesus any name and I would still be alright. I could start to call Him Carl and that is just fine. I am saved by the blood of Carl who died for the sins of the world upon the cross nearly 2000 years ago. The point should be clear. I would like to look into where the name Jesus originated, though it really holds little relevance.
Elbert Eugene Spriggs teaches that community members can become gods. (This is a heresy). Sound familiar? Yes, this Mormonism. Supposedly, the members of the community will rule over the ever expanding population of the nations that inhabit the earth and the planets. The twelve Tribes freely borrow from other cults and sociological high control groups (cults). They are a mixture of various different religious cults such as Seventh day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, and the Mormons.
The biggest sore thumb in the Yahshua’s doctrine is the “three eternal destinies.” This is their belief that there is not merely a Heaven and a Hell, but rather three different places where the souls of men go upon the judgment. This is based upon Revelation 21:11 (Though even in this passage there are clearly two end results).
The Holy Place:
This is the highest of the three destinies and it is reserved for members of the Twelve Tribes alone.
According to the teachings of Elbert Eugene Spriggs, when a member believes in Yahshua and does good works (living in one of their communities) they will go to this place, and enjoy the greatest intimacy with God. These were convicted of their sinful nature and received faith and believed in the Son of God.
The place of the Righteous:
This is the second best in the Twelve Tribes doctrine, and this is limited to those who never had the opportunity to hear the true gospel and yet consistently lived according to their conscience. These will endure no punishment but rather will live under the ruler ship of the Most High and His faithful servants (12 tribes). So long as you are a “good” person you will be just fine.
The place of the unjust and filthy:
This is of course the hell of the three destinies and this is retained for those in Revelation 22:11 and consists of murderers, liars, thieves, sexually immoral, idolaters etc. Their definition of who will end up here goes as follows “Those who reject the true gospel after hearing it from a true disciple, and those who lived in such a way as to ruin other people’s lives to satisfy their own cravings, will be judged worthy of the second death, the Bible calls the lake of fire.” (“Why she didn’t Fly” page 48)
Christians fall into this category as well. According to the Tribes, only the people with really gross sins are punished for their sins.
They seek to answer the popular question of “what about the people, who never heard about Jesus, are they damned because of ignorance?” In twisting the Scripture, they have made a ‘Feelgood’ God, a God with a fairly loose judgment. As long as you do “good works” you are fine, it really doesn’t matter if you believe in Jesus but rather if you were a “good guy.”
The preeminent problem that I have argued with the TT on is the issue of fallen mankind. My Bible says that “There is no righteous, no not one.” Romans 3:10 and “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 Paul wrote the above passages to refute works salvation (following the law). “If righteousness could be achieved through following the law then Christ died in vain.” Paul is saying that if I can earn my salvation than Jesus died for no reason at all. However that is precisely what this group is advocating. They coddle the sinner and say it is all right as long as you’re a “good” person you are alright.
NO! That is why we need the blood of Jesus to cover our sins because all men are sinners by nature inherited from our forefather Adam. Who in their life has not lied, who has not stolen, who has not become angry (murder), who has not committed sexual sin, who is not guilty of idolatry? Even by their own standard all are worthy of death. Before I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior my “conscience” said that it was fine for me to smoke pot and live hedonistically. The Spirit of God began to convict me of my depraved state however, apart from Him I would have been quite content smoking pot all day. It was only by Him intervening into my life did I become dissatisfied and yearn for true purpose.
The contrast between the title’s “The Book of Life” and “The Lamb’s Book of Life” is used to support the justification of “good guys” who don’t love God. The difference they say is that the “Lamb’s book” is to judge the “holy nation” and the “Book of Life” is to judge the nations. (Non-believers) To bolster their claims they quote the following verse in Genesis 18:25: “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked: far be it from You.” With this passage as well as others similar to it they accuse Christian’s of ignoring the entire answer in Scripture.
However it is the autonomous Twelve Tribes leaders who need to double check their doctrine. Yes there are passages that clearly state “….judged by their works.” However in light of the blatant faith not works salvation statements by Paul we need to define what “good works” we shall be judged by. Paul in I Corinthians 13 in the connection of spiritual gifts says, I can perform many ‘good works’ yet if I fail to love it means absolutely nothing. Paul is emphasizing the heart of man rather than the deeds of man. Jesus said the inside of the cup must be clean before the outside is purified.
How do we get our heart in a place where our works are worthy to be laid before the Most High God? We need an inner cleansing, which can be nothing short of a work from God. Jesus states “and this is the good work that you believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” As fallen man this is all I can do to be righteous, to trust in the mercy and grace offered by Jesus Christ. For if I could be rendered righteous by being a “good guy” than Christ died for absolutely nothing (Romans 4:34).
My encounters with the Twelve Tribes:
My ministry centers on getting the gospel to hippy-travelers which is also an area of focus for the Twelve Tribes. We often go to Grateful Dead shows and hang out in the parking lot (where a lot of partying goes on) and give out tracts and talk to people about the Lord. At a few shows we will run into the Twelve Tribes group and eventually end up talking to their members.
When I seek to speak with TT members it often goes absolutely nowhere. Their leader, Elbert Eugene Spriggs instills such a prideful arrogance in them that they are right and the Church is dead. They are well trained to throw out answers when you point out their heresies, quoting Scripture out of context. But in each meeting I had with them the core of their message comes back to living in Community, their community. I have affirmed to them “Well I do live in community and we do share our food and vehicles, so what makes me any different from you?” The response has unanimously been “Well you don’t have a true apostleship or elders, that authority that only can be handed down.” Which only raise the question of “Well who handed it down to Yoneq?” This is where they possess no answer.
The group hands out these little booklet/magazines promoting their group and raw slander directed at the Christian church. Community members use these articles (slander) to deceive gullible Christians. And this only fuels the “we are so right on, and they are wrong” fire of pride.
I personally collect the booklets so I can refer to specific articles when talking with members. In every single meeting I have had with group members I did not feel they were concerned with my salvation but rather they knew I was a Christian and wanted to be right. They desired to merely prove their superiority over me, and to bash my beliefs. They display no love and only bitter condescending attitudes toward Christians. These guys are totally brainwashed, nothing short of a masked hatred. Their message is extremely seductive to people who have been burnt by the Church, or even just those who don’t want to have their sin exposed. “It is all right to be bitter, because they are wrong and hurt you, come live the true Christian life the way it was supposed to be with us.” This is their gospel message.