"Those who have a critical eye must
discipline themselves in this way so that they do not lie, by
injecting their own opinions, standards, and expectations into
what God is saying, especially about someone else's life. Woe
to those who mix man's opinion with God's word and man's effort
with God's work." Elbert Eugene
Spriggs, Lack of Overweening Self Confidence, undated,
"If a man searches for salvation, he
may end up in a cult. The one who initiates cannot be accepted.
Only Yahshua's activity will not be in vain." Elbert Eugene Spriggs, The Good News, undated,
"Nobody decides to join a cult. They
just prolong the decision to leave."
Elbert Eugene Spriggs, "Yoneq," is the key to understanding Messianic Communities and its evolution. His own personal spiritual odyssey has been reflected in the group. Just as a local Church tends to take on the personality of the pastor, for better or for worse, so Messianic Communities has taken on the personality of Spriggs. It is our studied opinion that his influence has been immense over the life, leadership and direction of the Communities. Unfortunately, as time goes on and the group moves further from the original Vine Community Church of Chattanooga days, this influence is more destructive and controlling.
Renowned Christian author, Gene Edwards, wrote a book called Letters to a Devastated Christian. In this book he suggests some guidelines for evaluating groups and leaders. "Does the man who is leading the movement have in his nature a need to control everyone within his environment?" He then goes on to explain that some people have a "psychological flaw" to control. God can break that in a man's life and then use him. However, "if this need to control remains unbroken in a man, then he will almost always tend towards authoritarianism." Messianic Communities, under the leadership of Spriggs, has tended towards an extreme authoritarianism.
This group is a classic study of the evolutionary process that occurs when a person rises to a position of leadership, claiming a "direct pipeline" to God and having no accountability. Back in the early 1970's when the Vine Community Church first began Spriggs had an undisputed authority. However, there was a more "free-wheeling" expression of life and devotion to Christ. The group was then far more orthodox theologically and open to other Christian expressions. Many street people had their first encounter with Jesus through the witness of the Yellow Deli's, Areopagus, musical band "Salt," Freepapers, etc. People were allowed more freedom to come and go, express their opinions, dress individually. There was also always the promise to raise up others who would have a shared leadership position with him. This never developed. There are others who have the titles of leadership within the Messianic Communities, however, nobody wields the authority and power that Spriggs does. It is our conclusion that had the Messianic Communities truly been led by a "Responsible Ten" who were accountable to one another and shared in all decision making the group would be radically different and far less controlling.
The primary vehicle of control within the Communities are the "teachings." Since Spriggs is the source of new doctrines and the standard which measures the truth of any other teachings his influence is singular and absolute. Sociologically, the group has become more controlling over the years and more theologically deviant. A large part of the reason for this is the extreme isolation of the group. People live in community and look and behave alike. People also are not allowed to have any diversity of opinion, and certainly never question the leadership of the "anointing." They are also cut off from outside intellectual stimulation and challenge. What information is fed to the average Communities member is thoroughly filtered through the narrow lens of Spriggs' construct of reality. This is not to say that he personally reviews every piece of disseminated literature. However, it is his theological "never, never land" that has a secure and steadied influence over every aspect of Communities life.
That the Messianic Communities "majors in minors" is consistent with the corrosive effect that occurs in groups where members essentially abdicate all the decision making power in their lives to those in "authority over them." Major concerns for Communities members now consist of the "correct" name of Jesus, beards, ponytails, Sus pants, head coverings, complete obedience to authority, establishing 12 tribes, dietary restrictions, name changes, Sabbath keeping, etc. This appears to be Phariseeism. The Gospel of Jesus Christ should set a person free. However, people in Messianic Communities become increasingly weighed down with an ever expanding number of rules and regulations that demand strict adherence. To deviate from these regulations is to be "cut-off" from the "Body" and potentially be sent away. This is analogous to being damned. This is all managed with the greatest sincerity. Our initial reactions, when we had the privilege to visit various Communities, were only positive. We have met many, many fine people who have given up their lives to Messianic Communities. Thus, upon first exposure to the group there does appear to be a love that is demonstrated in a way not often found in Christianity. However, there is a seamier side to Communities life. The devastation in most ex-member's lives, and the teachings of Spriggs, evidence a litany of spiritual and emotional abuse. In their zeal to "forsake all for Yahshua" it is, in reality, a forsaking all for the Communities. This is because the members commitment to Messianic Communities is their commitment to God. This is a common confusion that often occurs in high control groups.
In our opinion, Messianic Communities is essentially
a Galatian heresy. In Paul's letter to the Galatians he is deeply
concerned about those who would once again reestablish the Law
as a means of pleasing God. Paul asks them in Galatians 4:9-11,
"But now that you have come to know
God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back
again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you
desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months
and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored
over you in vain."
This question must also be answered by Spriggs
and Messianic Communities. In their zeal to serve the Lord people
are once again enslaved, and tragically, in His name.