What can happen when the Bible is misread and people’s freedoms are abused
Thirty years ago on April 19, 1993, horrible images shocked the world. Members of an end-time apocalyptic cult in Waco, Texas, United States, perished in flames. Many of them chose to die because they believed it was a necessary part of purification by fire before the Advent of the kingdom of God (Dan. 8:14, KJV). One woman, according to eyewitnesses, emerged from the flames but tried to return in order to fulfill the mission to die. She would have if not prevented by a federal agent.
Eighty-two men, women, and children died in that fire, all because one individual claimed to have been chosen by God to reveal end-time secrets of the seals in the book of Revelation. He maintained he was not only the seventh angel of the trumpets but also the “lamb of God himself.” This splinter group of the Seventh-day Adventist Church ended in an incredible tragedy.
What Happened in Waco, Texas?
In the 1930s, a man dissatisfied with the Seventh-day Adventist Church broke away and founded his own movement called the Davidians. After he died, another man took control, renaming it the Branch Davidians. By 1962 this group had settled on a large compound in Waco, Texas.
The sect searched the Bible for clues on how the world would end, particularly studying the book of Revelation. In 1978 the second leader died, leaving his wife to lead the group as a “prophetess.” Several years later, Vernon Howell arrived at the compound. He became involved with the former leader’s wife, eventually taking full control in 1990.
Howell changed his name to David Koresh, claiming to be a “messiah” and “the lamb” in Revelation that could open the seals of the book of Revelation. Some of his practices included taking many “spiritual wives” from among his followers to father his children.
Eventually the United States government confronted the Branch Davidians on charges related to the violation of firearm regulations as well as child abuse. A siege resulted, lasting 51 days before federal agents moved in. As a result, fire broke out, destroying the compound and killing 82, including more than 25 children. It was later discovered that some inside had died by fatal gunshot wounds.
During the siege, four federal agents were killed in a gun battle, bringing to 86 the total number who died at Waco.
Leading People Astray
Offshoots or splinter groups often begin because one or more individuals break in their understanding of what the church teaches. Eventually they are disfellowshipped from their local church because their teachings become too extreme. Then they determine to reform the very church they left because they believe it is the church that has apostatized, not them. Next, they focus on recruiting other Seventh-day Adventists on the pretense of forming what they believe to be the future 144,000. This leads to a need for a future move to Jerusalem, where the new kingdom of God will be established.
How can a tragedy like the one that occurred in Waco be avoided? Understanding the following lessons can help to prevent us from drifting from genuine biblical faith.
The absolute principle of the Seventh-day Adventist faith is the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.All heresies, ancient or modern, diminish or assume the absolute rights of Jesus, the only Lord and Savior.
Jesus Christ is our only hope (1 Tim. 1:1). This is foundational to the Advent movement.
No one should submit his or her conscience to the control of any other person. Do not follow any human being, but God alone. God has direct access to us, and we have direct access to God.
The era of mediation has ended. Jesus assumed all the functions of God’s previous representatives. Jesus (God) is the only king (son of David), the only priest (son of Abraham), and the only sacrifice. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
Leaders of so-called reform Adventists who claim to have been designated by God to lead God’s end-time people falsely assume God’s unique rights. Only God is qualified to lead His people.
Only God can bring about revival and reformation. Revelation repeatedly admonishes: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, NKJV, emphasis supplied; cf. Rev. 2:11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). No human can take the place of the Godhead. Christ is alive. The Holy Spirit is the living omnipresent Spirit of God.
Leaders of apocalyptic end-time sects misinterpret the Bible. They use and abuse words of authority. They assert and dominate instead of serving — exactly the opposite of what Jesus said should be done.
No one has exclusive secrets on the interpretation of apocalyptic texts. Be careful when someone says only they can interpret Scripture. The Bible is given to all to study and learn of God’s will for His people (Rom. 12:2; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Acts 17:11; Eph. 6:11-17).
God wants to save people, even His enemies. Beware of those who claim to be the only faithful and chosen ones tasked with punishing the wicked — those who do not think like them.
Love is absent from their narrative and literature. The main language used is fear, often violence, and announcements of destruction for the wicked. In truth, God doesn’t want the wicked to perish, but to repent and be saved. God wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2).
Belonging to a sect, apocalyptic cult, or church is not equivalent to being saved. Jesus is the only Savior. Salvation comes from the Lord.
How one reads the Bible and the methodology used is critical. For example, the misreading of Psalm 45 led Vernon Howell (aka David Koresh) to claim he had to take his followers’ wives in order to produce 24 children to be princes in the new kingdom. In addition, his belief and misinterpretation of the seven seals of Revelation and the seventh angel led to the catastrophic outcome at the compound in Waco, Texas.
It is important to maintain one’s freedom of conscience. No one should be coerced or frightened into their beliefs. Only God is worthy to be followed.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church cannot be held responsible for offshoots who claim the name Seventh-day Adventist but drift into extremism. The church is protected by clearly articulated official statements voted at General Conference Session, the executive committee of the General Conference, and the administrative committee. Official documents include the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, working policy, and the Church Manual. These prevent any one person or group seizing the right to control minds or impose goals found outside the mission of the church.
To those tempted to follow leaders who claim to represent God, may I remind you that if someone is being guided by God, one of the clearest pieces of evidence is revealed in the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23, NRSV). The fruit of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with violence and/or controlling minds that were created in the image of God. May “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7, NKJV).
Ganoune Diop is the director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The full article is available from PARL.