Christians without a Tribe

Tim Brister
Tim Brister
2015 24 Feb

“Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah”

As I came across Joshua 7 in my devotional studies, there was something particular that stuck out to me in how God dealt with His people. The story has to do with the sin of Achan who took the items devotion for destruction and made them his own. God made it known to Joshua that there was sin in the camp, but the way it was discovered says something about how God’s people lived in community.

According to Joshua 7:16–18, the people of Israel was addressed on a tribal basis. From within the tribe, the various clans were evaluated. From within the clans, the families were accounted for. And from within the family, the individual (Achan) was discovered to be the one who had sinned.

According to Joshua 7:11, God says “Israel had sinned,” and all the references were in third person plural (they/them). But it was the sin of Achan alone, right? But God saw Achan in the context of His covenant people, Israel. And the way God was going to deal with the individual was through the fabric of Old Testament community. In the Old Testament, it was impossible to be a person without a family, without a clan, without a tribe, and without a nation. People knew you in reference to who you belonged to. You were known by your heritage and tradition, by your roots. Your past was a vivid remembrance and present reality every time they mentioned your name “Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi (family), son of Zerah (clan), of the tribe of Judah (tribe).”

I have reflected on that in the context of Christianity today in the West. It appears that we are living in a culture where that identity in community is just the opposite. Today, you can be a Christian without a family, without a clan, and without a tribe while still claiming to be a part of the nation. Identity is related to the individual alone to the point that little to nothing transcends a unique blend of a la carte spirituality. When someone covets or lies or steals, that individual Christian has no accountability or authority for their lives. Whether they live worthy of the gospel or completely out of step, who knows? It’s their life, and it is lived without mutual submission or any degree of nearness so that blind spots, patterns of disobedience, or idols of the heart can be exposed. And somehow this has not only become acceptable, but the norm today. There is sin in the camp, but the Achan’s are without a tribe.

Your Tribe, Clan, and Family

It is my conviction that a gospel-centered Christian cannot function without their own tribe, clan, and family. It is not enough that you belong to the Christian “nation” (the body of Christ universal). Christians grounded in the gospel will have their roots nourished in the life-giving community God intends for them to flourish in grace. If you were to be identified today, could it be said that your existence as a Christian is defined by who you belong to? Who’s your family? Who’s your clan? Who’s your tribe?

I contend that a contemporary expression of this kind of Christian-in-community could be expressed in the following way:

  • Family – your immediate circle of accountability (or life-transformation group)
  • Clan – your gospel community (or alternative form of “small group” life)
  • Tribe – your local church (where your covenant commitments reside)
  • Nation – your life in the body of Christ at large

This may sound like cumbersome Christianity, but I would push back by saying that we have allowed for compartmentalizing of the Christian faith to the extent that we don’t expect it to have a present reality in the context of everyday relationships where repentance and faith should most naturally be expressed. For example, do my children and my wife see me live out my faith in our family? When I sin against my children, do I humble myself, acknowledge my sin, and ask for their forgiveness? Does my wife see me growing in grace? Am I loving her as my sister in Christ and pursuing her joy in Jesus?

Expand that to my gospel community. We are committed to each other in prayer, and committed to our neighbors in mission. Do they see me as a disciple who is making disciples of Jesus? Is the gospel being shared in everyday conversations? Are we engaging each other, speaking the truth in love, so that we might be a community of light and love?

And then life in the local church. Is my church commitment summed up in a few Sunday morning services a month? Research shows that churchgoers used to attend 3 times a week. Now the average is 3 times a month. This is entirely unacceptable. Maybe for maverick professions, but not biblical Christians. We must orient our lives with the church at the center—not the building or even the programs, but rather the people and the mission we mutually share together to represent Christ to the world as His called-out covenant people.

Does our Christian faith find a home in our family, clan, and tribe? Do these venues of community shape our personhood so that our being “in Christ” (gospel) also mean being “in one another” (community)? That’s what I want for me.

My name is Tim, of the Brister family, of the NWCC gospel community, of Grace Baptist Church, of the people of God in SWFL desiring the invisible kingdom to become visible in word and deed so that our world would come to taste and see the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.