20 Years After Waco, Texas

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.

4 thoughts on “20 Years After Waco, Texas

  • Big Red
    Big Red

    Wow, interesting post. I could make a bunch of comments about this, but I’ll try to restrict myself.

    First, I have several cousins in SDA. I remember them being pretty upset during that period, because the media would constantly mention SDA while covering the story. They regarded David Koresh as a complete wacko, of course.

    Second, I had an uncle (now deceased) who was a Texas police officer. He lived in the area. He and the other local law enforcement were very critical of how the Federal authorities handled the situation. There had been several opportunities to arrest David Koresh on his trips into town, but the Feds wouldn’t let them.

    After the compound had been surrounded, the Texas cops wanted to diffuse the situation with a simple knock on the door. Again, the Feds wouldn’t let them. Things just went from bad to worse after that.

    Third – and this is probably not in line with your main subject – but I have a slightly unconventional view of COG history. I absolutely agree with your statement that the COG is not a splinter of SDA. I disagree, however, that both came out of the Millerite movement.

    The COG had a presence in colonial Rhode Island during the late 17th century. Few in number, they had joint Sabbath services with the 7th Day Baptists. The two would eventually develop ties that become a little confusing, historically, but they always considered themselves as different groups. Collectively, they were called “Sabbatarians.”

    It’s an interesting period. One COG church had a wall decoration of a seven stick candle, with the fourth candle lit. They apparently considered themselves a remnant of the Thyatiran era.

    When the Revolutionary War broke, a number of little COG groups moved to the “frontier” of western Pennsylvania (to avoid war). After a host of “blue laws” were established at a later period, these COG groups moved still again… down the Great Lakes and to frontier country along the Mississippi.

    Not all COG members did this, course. Many of them got caught up in the Millerite movement.

    It was a 7th Day Baptist who convinced the budding SDA movement to keep the Sabbath. (Her name was Rachel Preston, if memory serves). Of course, this attracted a lot of COG types who got caught up in Miller’s lunacy. That’s how the budding SDA eventually adopted such doctrines as unclean meats.

    I’m running on. Bottom line, there was a COG that existed before long SDA came along, and never got caught up in the Millerite movement. It’s no wonder that those COGers involved in (what became) SDA had a big fight over the church name. You can’t re-establish something that already exists.

    [BTW, those who walked out of SDA eventually bumped into those little COG groups that were never a part of the Millerite movement. But like Paul Harvey used to say… “the rest of the story].

    • John D

      @Big Red: Well, I cannot resist saying a couple of things. First of all, I want to make a couple of things clear, just in case you or anyone else misunderstands:

      1. I understand that David Koresh is to the SDAs pretty much like but worse than Ronald Weinland is to the COGs.

      2. History is always simplified based upon major patterns. Individuals and individual experiences will always deviate to some degree.

      3. More importantly, I’m talking about organizations that exist today, not small groups or individuals. COG7 definitely came out of the confusion following the Millerite movement.

      4. Just because they came out of the Millerite movement doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before or have another name before.

      5. As you rightly point out, 7th Day Baptists have existed at least since the 1700s, and probably before. It was those in of that affiliation that first formed the core Sabbatarian movement of the mid-1800s.

      6. I’m sure there were small groups and individuals who did not believe Christ would return in 1843 or 1844. I’m sure there were those who did not believe Christ would return in 1975 as well. Need I elaborate?

      7. The history of the COG organizations is pretty well established. Thanks to the legacy of HWA, those who were around at the time were interviewed and those who knew them were interviewed. I believe people like HWA are raised up in part so that some slice of church history can be preserved.

      8. It is my opinion, and not necessarily any of any COG organization, that the SDAs are represented as the Church at Thyatira in Rev 2. They were beguiled by a woman who called herself a prophetess, and who entices others to participate in spiritual adultery, eating things sacrificed to idols, such as approving of Christmas and Easter. However, there are some, and they are growing, who reject such pagan ideas. It is evident they will exist when Christ returns (“But that which ye have already hold fast till I come”).

      BTW – The Church at Ephesus was threatened with the removal of the candlestick, whereas the other churches were admonished in other ways. Indeed, that first generation of Christians was removed eventually, or rather replaced by a false church. My $0.02.

      9. And it bears repeating that nothing I’ve said should be taken to condone the irresponsible and negligent manner that federal officials conducted the entire operation. In fact, Janet Reno not only was a worse criminal than Koresh, but IMO she should have never been AG in the first place considering the witch hunt she put on while being Florida AG (Wikipedia article “Janet Reno”, section “Bobby Fijnje”) as well as other seriously troubling accusations.

  • Big Red
    Big Red

    Well, looks like we have different views on a couple of points of church history, but it’s not a big deal. Nothing to get excited about.

    I intended to pass along some sources of information for your perusal. Problem is, they’re not available online. I do have a couple of things to offer, however. The “Good News” Dec ’81 article entitled “The Church They Couldn’t Destroy.” Also “A History of the True Church” by Andrew Dugger. Both of those are available online.

    At any rate, I want to take a side-step and pass along a story published in the old WWN, years ago. I’ve been digging through boxes and stacks of past issues, and getting frustrated, because I know it’s there, somewhere.

    This elderly lady from South Africa contacted the WCG. Her father had been a minister of the “Church of God” in England. The church fell apart somewhere around 1918, because “they literally threw rocks at us.” She eventually married, became very secular, and moved South Africa. One day, she received a package in the mail from her brother. It contained some WCG literature, and a note from him, saying, “the truth has returned.”

    The WCG had no knowledge of a COG group in England during that time period, so they did a little investigating. Turns out, this group had kept the Sabbath, Holy Days, taught unclean meats, and many other doctrines. They didn’t bother to baptize her when she joined the WCG.

    Yeah, I know. People can say things over the internet without any proof. But I’m not making this up. I can dig through those old WWN papers until I find it. The history of the church is incredibly fascinating to me, and I could talk about it all day long.

    • John D

      @Big Red: I don’t dispute the “elderly lady’s” account. There are many groups around the world, even in Communist China, who kept the Sabbath and holy days.

      There were a few things that HWA claimed towards the end of his life that bothered me. That’s why I don’t put much stock in men. He claimed over and over that WCG was “THE” Church, equating the organization with the spiritual body. Early in his ministry, though, he did not teach that. I believe this was one of those errors he fell into towards the end of his life.

      IOW, the Church history of CG7, RCG, WCG are very interesting, but we cannot make the mistake of believing they were the only ones out there. That simply is not true.

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