The Splendor of Smut

Feeling adventurous? Pick up any fine dining magazine these days, and you are barraged with all manner of exotic foods to tantalize your taste buds. As Americans, we just don’t seem to be satisfied with the “same ole, same ole” anymore. We’re always looking for something new and exciting. Well lately, the rage has been none other than huitlacoche (pronounced, wheat-la-CO-chay). This South American delicacy has been popping up in all the upper-echelon restaurants. The rich, nutty flavor, sautéed with garlic, wild onions, and chives, set steaming on a bed of fresh, wild-crafted, mixed greens, has brought forth scrumptious reviews from food critics in all the major metro areas.

More commonly known to farmers as corn smut, this one-time nuisance to the agri-business has now become a big-time moneymaker for growers. In fact, many farmers have decided to intentionally inject the spores of this fungus into their crops to ensure they get the large, bluish, pustule-like masses that have become so en vogue. At a popular Madison, Wisconsin farmers’ market one infected ear will go for around $5.

So how is it that a disease that used to be so vigilantly fought against has become accepted and even sought-after? To the common man, this deformed, mushroom-like growth might seem repulsive. Poor fellow! While he may look on and scratch his head in amazement, blinded by his lack of culture, the trained palates of the intellectually astute will continue their chitter chatter about the splendor of smut.

The Disease Cycle

Though the concept may sound strange, it’s not the first time something obviously bad has later come to be seen as something desirable. One of the most profound examples of this phenomenon wasn’t with a vegetable, but with the church. Although it began centuries ago, this odd transformation continues to this day.

So often, Yahshua used simple analogies from nature to communicate a deep message to His hearers. In fact, on numerous occasions, both He and the prophets compared Israel, and later the first-century church, to a plant.1 Plants are dependent on the sun for growth and reproduction, and if the light is hindered from reaching them, fungi and decay set in.

The first-century church began like a healthy and vibrant vine, bearing its fruit in clusters. You can read about it in the following passages:

All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need… Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35)

Like a healthy crop, the church started off full of the necessary nutrients and oriented properly toward the “Sun,” from which all of its life came. Continued reliance upon the nutrients of the Master’s commands and the apostles’ teaching would ensure strong, healthy growth.2 The fulfillment of the words of Yahshua was coming about, for when asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was going to come, He answered:

The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or, “There it is!” For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst. (Luke 17:20-21)

The life of the Kingdom of God was in their midst in a comprehensive and observable way.3 All of those who believed were together sharing all that they had, living in unity with one another, for they had been cleansed from their sins, and the love of God had been poured out into their hearts.4 This was no accident. No, the prophets had spoken long ago of such a movement:

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.” (Ezekiel 17:22-23)

And Yahshua had echoed this when He said:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-32)

Slowly, however, spores from other fields began to drift into the branches of this healthy tree and lodge themselves there. Though the apostles warned of this danger, those who tended the field let their guard down.5 Foreign agents crept in unnoticed, injecting their deadly fungus into the once-pure tree. The Apostle Paul lamented this process of decay, using a different metaphor:

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough… For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:2-4,13-15)

The true light of Messiah was being supplanted by the false light of Satan’s messengers, accelerating the cycle of decay that had already lodged itself in some of the communities, perverting the healthy growth the church had started out with.6 With time, though, the alarms were sounded less frequently. The original apostles started dying off, and smut infected the entire crop. The church stopped obeying even the most fundamental commands they had been taught. They stopped caring for the orphans in their midst, nor did they make sure the widows had what they needed, nor did they welcome strangers. A deadly fungus had gripped this once-majestic tree and was starting to transform it into something completely different from what it had been in the beginning.

A man named James, writing early in the second century AD, penned a desperate plea to the churches, which by that time had already become divided and dispersed all over the known world.7 He hoped that perhaps, through his earnest pleas, he could somehow get the attention of any true disciples that might be left. We still have his letter today. Here is a part of it, showing the decayed condition of the church:

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world…

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? ...

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! ...

But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 1:26-27; 2:1-4,14-19,26)

The smut had set in and was now beginning to take over.

A Modern-Day Delicacy

Sadly, the passionate appeals of James were not enough to arrest the disease that was spreading lethally throughout the entire church. The pustules of division grew into councils, factions, and denominations that multiplied and mutated into varied malformations. The spores spread from one city to the next, and down through the centuries, infecting entire nations of people and almost exterminating others.

Though many people over the centuries lamented the destruction of this once-pure growth, others in more learned and scholarly circles came to appreciate the variety of newer forms, and even began celebrating the mystical oneness of the many-splintered diversity as if it were a delicacy. Like corn smut, this new growth was heralded by the theologically elite as a better, more glorious and mature form than the simple common life of love and unity described so vividly in the book of Acts.

So, today we find ourselves living in a society that values things like huitlacoche, which is really a lifeless fungus, void of any nutritional value. Sadly, like this fungus, many take delight in the lifeless husk of a religion that has grown accustomed to the things that James so aggressively warned against. Though most will read this and find little wrong with a religion that boasts 37,000 denominations worldwide, there will be a few (perhaps you are one of them) in whom it will awaken a longing for something real, something that gives life and doesn’t leech it away.

It is for those few that we write, in hopes that something will stir in their hearts, for we have found the One who satisfies and doesn’t disappoint. While much of the world is being dazzled by the flashy façades of Christianity, there is a little sprout bursting forth from the “mustard seed” to spread its branches and make a home for those who desire life.

A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
is God in His holy habitation.
God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity;
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
(Psalm 68:5-6)

  • 1. Ezekiel 17:22-24; Matthew 13:31-32
  • 2. Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:15
  • 3. 1 Peter 2:12
  • 4. 1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Timothy 2:8; Romans 5:5; John 17:21-23
  • 5. Galatians 1:6-7
  • 6. Isaiah 50:11
  • 7. James 1:1 — This is not to be confused with the brother of Christ, or even James the apostle, since this letter was written during the second century AD. Though many Christian scholars believe that the letter was written around 40-45 AD, it would have been impossible for the communities to have fallen that far in such a short amount of time.

The Twelve Tribes is a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, composed of self-governing communities. We are disciples of the Son of God whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua. We follow the pattern of the early church in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, truly believing everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible, and sharing all things in common.

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