Normally a good eye-catching way to start out an article like this would be to rhyme of a bunch of examples of various tribes. The problem with this is that it immediately feeds into our minds tendency to want to “other” the problem away outside ourselves. Myself included. We could never belong to a tribe right?
What is a tribe?
Similar to a word Paul uses in 1st Corinthians 11 with “faction”, a tribe is an informal subgroup of Christians (or professing Christians) who share no explicit creed or charter but who nonetheless form, rally around and fiercely defend a shared set of accepted ideals, behaviors, tendencies, priorities and most commonly, lists of shared enemies to reflexively despise or guarded celebrities to reflexively defend. Absolute loyalty to the tribe is required.
Tribes are not the same thing as simply belonging to a group of like minded Christians. That is inevitable and not even something to necessarily be avoided. The problem is when certain groups devolve into tribalism. It’s when a group takes on a certain mindset which inevitably ends up being a petri-dish for bitterness, hypocrisy, pride, partiality and disunity in the larger body of Christ.
Tribalism leads people to condemn certain behaviors in others while ignoring those same behaviors in themselves or for members of one’s own tribe. We rationalize or flat-out overlook our own behavior and amplify every possible slight from the other tribe, real or imagined. It leads people to extreme paranoia regarding the possible motives of those not in their same tribes while exhibiting an obstinate inability to truly listen to others and grasp the meaning of what is being communicated.
The tribes within Reformed Christianity are toxic and they are ubiquitous. Seek earnestly to not belong to one. If you have one, confront your tribe-mates and seek to reform them. Get ready for backlash. Some tribes are so lost in these toxic behaviors that they don’t even recognize their own tribalism and regard all external or internal criticism as by necessity being comprised of “divisiveness”, “jealousy” or (of course) “demonic oppression”.
Other tribes are comprised of people so spineless that they band together with others of the same constitution and form a sort of “kumbaya” tribe where anything beyond a recitation of the creeds goes too far and no moral applications of God’s law are permitted. Ironically, these spineless consortium of weeping willows can sometimes be the most difficult to eradicate. Incredibly, some will condemn “tribalism” one minute and then engage in its most obvious excesses the next.
Satan is cunning. Worldliness is cunning. The desires of the flesh are cunning. Disunity in the church is a constant scourge and it’s the reason why the Bible spills so much ink warning about it. At the end of the day what may have started out as a good thing can easily morph into something you never intended in the first place.
It’s not always binary in the sense that you can be either in a tribe or out of one. Tribalism can creep in and out, the key is it needs to be continually stamped out in the life of every believer wherever it lies.
We’ve all probably either belonged to a tribe at one time, or belong to one now. If so, stop. It’s easy to get kicked out. Admit it in yourself. Confront someone who is engaging in partiality, special pleading, rank hypocrisy, paranoia, slander or bitterness. See what happens.
Without a practiced, skillful, impartial attention to what God’s law requires of us in scripture we will never be able to properly assess whether we’ve rooted it out.
For the sake of Christ and his body we must do so.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
– 1st Corinthians 1:10-13
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
– Ephesians 4:31