Christian Research Newsletter

Return to Index Page - This File/ Plain Text

The Branch Davidians:
Deadly Delusions

by Hank Hanegraaff

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.

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

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

This data file is the sole property of the Christian Research Institute. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute"). This data file may not be used without the permission of the Christian Research Institute for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content with the exception of a few brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words.

If you desire to reproduce less than 500 words of this data file for resale or the enhancement of any other product for resale, please give the following source credit: Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000.

More About the Christian Research Newsletter - Return to Index Page

Christian Research Institute

P.O. Box 7000
Rancho Santa Margarita
California 92688-7000

Visit CRI International Official Web Site: