ReligionNewsBlog recently ran the story “Branch Davidians, 20 Years Later”.
Twenty years ago today, on February 28, 1993, U.S. federal agents attempted to serve a search warrant on the Branch Davidians, a religious sect that lived in a community just east of Waco, Texas.
Sometimes, people try to claim that there is some connection between the Worldwide Church of God and the Branch Davidians (especially David Koresh, aka Vernon Howell), but there seems to be no link whatsoever. In fact, David Koresh was a split of a split from the Seventh Day Adventists, not the Church of God (COG) line.
Some try to claim that both were splinters from the SDAs, which is patently false, since neither the WCG or its predecessor CG7 were ever associated with SDAs officially.
In fact, the SDAs were actually the ones that decided to go their own way by choosing the name “Seventh Day Adventist” instead of containing the name “Church of God” in the name, as Scripture defines as the real name of the Church. I will not go as far as to to say that there are no converted sons and daughters belonging to SDA churches, and I believe there probably are. However, that is more due to the wide range of SDAs in existence, as they are not nearly as homogenous as many believe (or the official head wants to portray).
The only organizational relationship between the SDAs and COGs is of the 1830 – 1844 Millerite movement. Both the SDA and COG churches came out of the Millerite movement, but after the Great Disappointment, they took very different turns, mostly due to a dispute over the name and disputes over the validity of EG White’s visions during the conference in 1860 (see Journal timeline). However, Wikipedia points out in “Church of God (Seventh-Day)” that Gilbert Cranmer formed the group Church of God (Seventh Day) without a hyphen as early as 1858. Other independent groups joined that group a few years later after the conference. The SDAs were far from the only Sabbatarian game in town, although they were the majority.
BTW, it should be pointed out that this does not mean that SDA and COG members didn’t cooperate, affiliate and associate with each other through the years. There is evidence that it was an SDA who taught a COG member about the holy days!
Membership and new elders to the Church of God (Adventist) were sometimes added from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. One such elder was Greenberry G Rupert, a friend of Ellen G White, whose writings apparently proved impressionable on Herbert W Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God (initially known as the Radio Church of God) – for God works in mysterious ways.
Rupert brought with him the belief that the annual sabbaths, in addition to the weekly sabbath, are important for Christians to understand and to observe – this understanding impacted upon sections of the Church of God, a few members were already observing these days. During his time with the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the late nineteenth century, he performed missionary work in parts of South America. Later, in the 1960s, Worldwide Church of God ministers stumbled across many of these scattered remnants of Rupert’s missionary work. They never associated with any other sabbatarian group, but continued to faithfully observe the sabbath and in many cases, the annual sabbaths.
The Churches of God today have a Seventh-day Adventist elder to thank for bringing the annual sabbaths into their theological framework.
~ Origin of Nations, “Church of God Timelines”
Still, it isn’t all that surprising that church critics make false claims or try to make a relationship between David Koresh and the WCG. Looking at many of the stated doctrines, there are similarities. However, there are similarities between any “Christian” group by definition. Of course, what they concentrate on are the similarities of Branch Davidian and COG theology while ignoring rather significant differences.
What does surprise me, however, are those in the COG movement who might suggest or even state that David Koresh was a real Christian, in line with COG beliefs. It not only feeds that belief of outsiders of the similarities, but it also brings into question that person’s understanding of the doctrines of either group.
Wikipedia has a rather comprehensive article on the history and development of the Branch Davidian groups (there are not only more than one, but Koresh’s group was a split from the main Branch Davidian group). Some of the obvious beliefs are those of a second coming of Christ, but that is true of the SDAs as well.
The largest difference is the belief in the restoration of a Davidic kingdom prior to Christ’s return. This was taught by Victor Houteff, who tried to reform the SDA Church from within with this teaching. However, it was rejected by the SDAs, and he was excommunicated. His followers were disfellowshipped as well. They later formed the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists (Davidians for short).
Davidians believe that the spirit of prophecy is very important for the president of a church. Apparently, the main group believes there is a special resurrection of EG White and Victor Houteff, and that this gift of prophecy won’t exist again until then. However, one group disagreed sharply with this and formed the Branch Davidian group, who believes that any president must have it. In a nutshell, David Koresh was able to hold such sway over his followers because of their belief that he was a prophet.
Should I pause here while you contemplate the dangers of false prophets?
We must remember that all SDAs, including Davidians, teach that Jesus will return to the earth but then take the faithful with Him to Heaven for 1,000 years. This unbiblical teaching alone should point out a stark contrast between Koresh and COG teachings.
Also, SDAs believe that the ideal diet is vegetarian. It is debatable whether or not this is a “doctrine”, as some seem to hold to it more strictly than others.
To their credit, Davidians believe in keeping God’s holy days. However, oddly enough, Davidians don’t believe it is yet time to restore their keeping (?). Branch Davidians, however, do. This is perhaps the single most cited reason I’ve heard to try to justify a belief that David Koresh was a true Christian.
However, Branch Davidians also believe that daily worship should be held during “the 3rd and 9th hours of the natural day, in harmony with Christ’s intercession in the heavenly sanctuary.”
Branch Davidians believe the Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost are feminine aspects of the Godhead. This, like so many other split-of-a-split-of-a-split beliefs seems to be based upon political expediency. In particular, this became a “doctrine” apparently in order to allow the wife of founder Ben Roden, Lois, to gain a leadership position within the church.
Speaking of political expediency, David Koresh’s entire split was based upon obfuscation and political wrestling for control. He intentionally named his group the Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association in order to create confusion and wrest control of church assets.
David Koresh never really was a converted SDA anyhow. He was disfellowshipped from the main church “for moral reasons”. One action was to set fire to the printing press of Lois Roden, who was beginning to become popular even outside SDA circles. He never truly accepted the teachings of the Branch Davidians, as he had multiple wives, ate meat, drank alcohol and violated other teachings. His biography reads more like an opportunist than a messianic figure.
Speaking of messianic figure, whatever you might think of his other practices, he obviously believed he was Christ-like if not Christ Himself. The fact that he had stockpiled about 300 firearms shows where his real faith was. Jesus said that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword. While I am very critical of the ATF and FBI of the Waco compound raid, it is evident that Jesus’ words had no weight for Koresh in this matter. DNA tests proved he was the father of children born by underaged girls in his group. So, while he thought of himself as a type of messiah, it is obvious that he didn’t listen to Christ’s teaching let alone act anything like Him.
For people to say David Koresh was a true Christian is more ignorant, IMO, than any COG critic’s contention that Koresh and WCG are related. These are facts, and sticking your head in the sand is simply rebelling against the truth.