an article from the Letter From The President column of the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 6: Number 2, 1993.
The Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter is Ron Rhodes.
For 51 days, the eyes of the world were riveted on a small religious sect -- the Branch Davidians -- near Waco, Texas as it held off hundreds of federal and state law enforcement personnel. David Koresh, the sect's self-proclaimed Messiah, had declared that God would destroy His enemies and vindicate the group. Instead, at noontime, April 19, 1993, his compound went up in flames -- killing at last count 77 men, women, and children who had fallen prey to Koresh's cultic pronouncements.
Since Koresh and his sect first exploded on the scene, CRI has been besieged by secular television, radio, and newspaper reporters. Among the questions they commonly asked were: What makes a self-proclaimed Messiah like David Koresh tick? Why would nearly one hundred people be willing to entrust virtually every aspect of their lives to such a man? And how can we prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again? These questions are worthy of our focused attention. To answer them, let's begin with a little history.
The Branch Davidian cult can be traced back to the Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) -- a millenarian church that emerged in the 1800s. Two important SDA emphases provided the germ for the later development of the Branch Davidians: (1) an inordinate preoccupation with eschatology or end-time events, and (2) a conviction that its own expression of Christianity was the only one that was valid.
In 1929, excommunicated Seventh-day Adventist Victor Houteff established his own following in California. In 1935 he moved with his disciples to Texas and named their compound Mount Carmel, claiming he was God's messenger. To the many SDA practices he embraced, Houteff added an aberrant eschatology as well as visions of himself as a prophet. Houteff originally called his church "The Shepherd's Rod Seventh-day Adventists." In 1942 Houteff changed the name to the "Davidian Seventh-day Adventists Association" in order to underscore his belief that he was the true "David" prefigured in the Old Testament historical King David.
At Houteff's death in 1955, his wife Florence assumed the prophet's mantle and predicted that God's judgment would begin on April 22, 1959. When her prophecy failed, the group splintered. Many became completely disillusioned, while others formed their own cultic factions.
The largest faction remained near Mount Carmel and was led by Benjamin Roden, who changed the group's name to the Branch Davidians. Roden proclaimed himself a chosen vessel of God bearing the message of the "fifth angel" in the Book of Revelation. At his death, his wife Lois assumed leadership, claiming to carry the message of the "sixth angel."
In 1981 Vernon Howell, having been recently excommunicated from the Seventh-day Adventist church, joined the Branch Davidians as Lois's "handyman." When Lois died in 1986, a skirmish ensued between Howell and Lois's son, George, over leadership. At stake was not only control of the cult but also the mantle of "prophet" and the claim of "divine anointing."
Without getting bogged down with further detail, Howell by 1988 had gained control of the cult and its compound at Mount Carmel, ten miles east of Waco, Texas. In the ensuing two years Howell recruited followers from across the United States and several foreign countries.
Howell enticed young girls into becoming his sexual partners by naming them as "wives" and prophetically declaring that they had been commissioned by God to help him repopulate planet earth. He proved to be a master at managing and manipulating the core followers in virtually every dimension of their lives -- including sleep, prayer, Bible study, diet, activities, reading, music, occupations, and finances.
Then, in 1990, Howell legally changed his name to David Koresh in an alleged attempt to help boost his aspirations of becoming a rock star. In truth, however, there was a deeper dimension behind Howell's name change: the name David Koresh was symbolic of a Messiah complex. Just as King David ruled over God's people and was a "type" of Christ, so Howell believed himself to be Jesus Christ, who would rule over God's people, and eventually the world. Just as Koresh (the Hebrew equivalent of Cyrus) was anointed to carry out God's mandate to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Isa. 45:1), so Howell believed he had been anointed by God to reconstruct the perfect human family and restore the world to God's rule.
Why would anyone want to follow such a mad "Messiah"? Ostensibly, the reasons fall into six definable categories which can be summarized using the acronym K-0-R-E-S-H.
K = King James Version Only. Koresh mistakenly believed that the King James Version (KJV) was the only acceptable translation of Scripture. Furthermore, he failed to recognize that the English language has undergone substantial changes since the KJV was completed in 1611. Consequently, Koresh recklessly ascribed connotative rather than denotative meanings to the biblical text, thereby rejecting a reasonable interpretation of Scripture.
O = Obedience. Through mental and physical manipulation, Koresh pressured followers into obedience and into surrendering their ability to think and question independently. Techniques used by Koresh in his program for ideological indoctrination included:
(1) Constantly emphasizing God's vengeance against those who leave the Branch Davidians.
(2) Extending to members a counterfeit love and sense of belonging -- but only as long as members give 100 percent to the cult.
(3) Leading members to believe that subjugation to Koresh's iron rule is God's will for their lives.
(4) Indoctrinating members with a hateful "us-versus-them" siege mentality designed to galvanize cult members against the rest of the world.
R = Reincarnation or Return of Christ. Howell proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ -- the Lamb of Revelation 5 -- since the mid- to late-1980s. However, like other cult leaders, he was terribly inconsistent. At times he taught he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ; at other times he said he was the "fulfillment" of Christ's second coming (or return). Regardless of his explanation, Koresh personified one of the most visible characteristics of a cult: the belief that the cult leader is as God to his followers. The "rationale" goes something like this: You cannot know God outside of God's man. And, as a Branch Davidian, you cannot be saved without David Koresh.
E = Esoteric Biblical Interpretations. David Koresh was a master at pouring esoteric meanings into biblical words and phrases. His misinterpretations ranged from the blasphemous to the bizarre. In the former category, Koresh claimed to be the Lamb of Revelation 5 (lamb with a small "l"); in the latter category he indelicately interpreted the "oil of gladness" referred to in Psalm 45:7 as "vaginal secretions" with which he believed he should be "anointed." In the process of misinterpreting Scripture, Koresh ignored language, context, literary style, history, grammar, and doctrine. In their place he substituted personal revelations, disjointed arguments, and mystical symbolism.
S = Sex. Koresh used sex as a powerful emotional and physical lure with which to control his followers. He abused Scripture to coerce male followers into surrendering their wives to him for his deviant sexual enjoyment. Even prepubescent girls were fair game for Koresh, who taught that he was to repopulate the earth with his perfect family. According to Koresh, God had given him the "revelation knowledge" that he could choose for himself 140 "wives," as well as have sex with any woman he wanted.
H = the Holy Spirit. Koresh claimed that his power and inspiration came from the Holy Spirit, but his words and actions proved otherwise. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 11:4, there is "another" spirit -- a counterfeit spirit that inspires devilish doctrines. Under the guise of "revelation knowledge," Koresh claimed that God is not triune (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but is rather a foursome (Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter). He believed that the Mother of the godhead is the Holy Spirit. The Daughter of the godhead is the Holy Ghost (KJV) who would be incarnated as Koresh's eternal mate. Koresh went so far as to say that she would emanate out of his side like Eve came out of Adam's side.
The Branch Davidians fit all the major characteristics of a cult from both a theological and a sociological perspective. Their leader was a man trapped in the quicksand of his own sin. Tragically, in the end, many of his deluded followers swallowed his spiritual cyanide and were swept into a flaming inferno in time and for eternity.
In the final analysis, Koresh and the Branch Davidians represent the unpaid bills of the church -- a church that has abdicated its responsibility to train believers to become so familiar with truth that when they experience a counterfeit they know it instantaneously. Had Davidian cult members instead been equipped Christians -- who, like the Bereans (Acts 17), daily examined the Scriptures to see if what Koresh taught were true -- they would not have had to needlessly die for the skin of the truth stuffed with an assortment of cultic lies.
While the blazing image that marked the end of a cult in Texas is still seared upon your mind, let me repeat the question I so frequently ask God's people: Are you willing to do for the truth what the cults do for a lie? I'm thankful that for many of you the answer is a resounding YES! Because of your faithfulness, many who may otherwise have been trapped in a cultic structure are instead being used as beacons of light in the midst of the gathering storm. Let us consider the Waco episode a renewed clarion call to always be ready to "make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15).
End of document, CRN0055A.TXT (original CRI file name), "The Branch Davidians: Deadly Delusions" release A, July 15, 1994 R. Poll, CRI
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