The events outside of Waco, Texas, are saddening and regrettable to the utmost, especially to the families of those who were entrapped by the Svengali-like control of David Koresch. The type of character exhibited by Mr. Koresch manifests the worst sort of evil and wickedness in the guise of virtue. Wickedness as seen in his manipulation and control of people, most of whom had not the same abilities and will power as he, an exploitation of those weaker for the purpose of fueling his pride and self-importance; yet, all the while, in the mien of piety and truth. What deception!
The final consequence of the stand-off was a tragedy. But the tragedy existed before the arrival of federal officers at the compound. It existed for years prior, in that people's lives were controlled and directed by a man. They voluntarily gave up their freedom, a wholesome family life, and friendships outside their tight little circle, and so gave up a great part of living.
In a news interview with William Sessions, director of the FBI, the interviewer asked why things "went so very badly", which they undeniably did. Mr. Sessions began his reply by pointing out that we should not forget that 45 lives were saved. In the gloom of the event, hearing that statement took some of the sorrow >away. Humans have a capacity to see something positive in the worst of situations and we ought to thank God for this ability. There are some positive things in even the most terrible of circumstances. One good thing about evil happenings is that we can learn from our mistakes. We are a dull sort. We ought to have learned from the Jonestown travesty, but many did not. If we fail to learn from our mistakes we rob ourselves of fulfillment and spiritual health.
The magnitude of the control that David Koresch had over his "flock" was so great that it is beyond the understanding of most people. I do not comprehend it. This kind of domination over people's lives is rare enough that it is doubtful that even one person reading this article will ever be in danger of it. But one needn't be a roaring, staggering drunk to still make the potentially fatal error of driving under the influence of even moderate amounts of alcohol which can impair one's responses enough to make the difference between having an accident and not having an accident. One needn't carry on an affair in marriage but can yet entertain thoughts of infidelity and so diminish the quality of the marital relationship by a considerable measure. One may not physically assault another human being, but insulting and demeaning words hurt and should never be upon the lips of anyone professing godliness or decency. There are varying magnitudes of ill. Taking note of epic mischief can make us aware of lesser evils that defraud us of a fullness of life that is available to every child of God.
I take note of three errors that were conceded to David Koresch by his followers.
David Koresch was the leader. He made the decisions. The others obeyed. We do not see authority vested in one man when reading the New Testament scriptures other than Christ who is, in fact, God. Evidently, Mr. Koresch claimed he was the Messiah, but this was not the major problem. Charles T. Russell, founder of the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), did not make the claim. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, did not make the claim. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science cult, did not make the claim. The problem is in sole authority. We may even say the problem is in authority, period.
The Bible does reveal three offices of authority which are legitimate. The Old Testament prophet had God-given authority to direct and lead God's people and there was usually only one at any given time. But under the New Covenant there is a plurality of prophets even at the local level, as can be seen from I Corinthians chapter 14. Further, they do not function in the same way as the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament prophet exercised his gift of speaking as an encourager and comforter (See I Cor. 14:3). And, while the Old Testament prophet's proclamations are authoritative, the New Testament prophet's messages are to be evaluated (14:29). This is a rather significant difference!
There may be prediction of future events but there needs to be evidence of this ability. The listener should require it. What did the prophet say that indeed came to pass? If the prophet said something that did not come to pass he should be rejected forthwith (Deut. 18:22). Knowing the corrupt condition of the Christian community at large, skepticism is in order.
But prediction seems to have operated only during the early years of the church. Already when the epistles of Paul were written (55-65 A.D.) there is no record of this operation. If it did operate, and this is questionable, it was low-profile.
We can conclude from even a casual reading of the New Testament that prophets in the church are quite different than the prophets of Israel. We do not see anywhere in the New Testament scriptures one man leading God's people as a prophet.
Another office of authority is the apostle. We see twelve, not one. Now, if one apostle spent an extended period of time in one place (as Paul did in Ephesus) then he would indeed have authority in that place. We could safely rest on scripture and say that if someone today is an apostle we should obey him.
If someone makes the claim that he is an apostle then he should demonstrate it with the accompanying evidence - "signs, wonders, and miracles" (II Cor. 12:12). Lacking this evidence the pretension has as much merit as the Pope's claim to infallibility.
Finally, we see that an apostle can have an emissary. The apostle Paul sent Titus to Corinth along with another unnamed brother (II Cor. 12:17, 18; 7:13-15), also sending him to Crete (Tit. 1:5). Likewise, Timothy was sent to Corinth (I Cor. 4:17) and to Thessalonica (I Thes. 3:1, 2) by Paul and also had a special gift bestowed by Paul's hands (II Tim. 1:6). Titus and Timothy, as those sent by an apostle, carried similar authority.
The only authority we see in the New Testament, then, is that of an apostle or his deputy. If we conclude that there are no apostles in our midst then we must further conclude that there is no authority other than Godís Word.
There are among us men who take the prerogative of authority upon themselves or have it bestowed on them by some council of men. These men go by various names. In some places they are called "the pastor", in other places "the minister", also "Reverend", and still yet "the preacher" or "the evangelist". These are all different names for the same office, an office that does not even exist in the Bible! It is man-made. Search the scriptures. You will not find a man leading a group of God s people. It's not there!
There are shepherds (Eph. 4:11) but your own study (look in a concordance and read every occurrence of the word) will show you that there was always a plurality of shepherds ("pastor" is an old, obsolete word not used any longer except by religious leaders). These men led by example, not by rulership (I Peter 5:2, 3). There is no such office as minister, only God is called Reverend in the Bible (Psalm 111:9), and a preacher and an evangelist are the same thing - someone who proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ. The proclaiming was borne to the unsaved of the world, not to a group of Christians meeting in a "church building".
There is no Biblical authority to have one man leading a congregation of God's people. The Biblical example of plurality in leadership precludes the abuses of authority such as in the cases of notoriety mentioned. One-man ministry is fraught with peril for both the "pastor" (or whatever other title is taken) and those who look to him for guidance. For the guide the danger is pride and self-exaltation, though it may be hidden in the recesses of his heart and he, himself, might be unaware of it. For the parishioners it is in thinking that the hired functionary fulfills their obligations to God. What a system! Both groups are kept happy!
However, the problem is not solved by replacing the central authority of one man with a group of men and calling "the eldership" or "associate pastors" (neither phrase being found in the Bible) or any other name. The problem is authority without authority. That is to say, authority is established over God's people but there is no divine authority (from God's Word) to establish this authority.
There is leadership among the saints but it is the leadership based on growth in life. Those in whom the character of Christ has been wrought, through years of transformation, by experience and the working of Christ's indwelling Spirit, manifest a life and character which naturally elicits a desire for emulation among those who are trying to be like Christ. It is something enjoyable. There is a pleasantness in being around truly spiritual, men and women. Rulership is not present and friendship is a living reality. Instead we have patterned ourselves after corporate America, or the military, or a school, or some kind of fraternal order. Order and rank are the ways of men. Authoritarian rule will keep us from experiencing equality, freedom, and a full expression of love in our pursuit of God's ways.
We saw among the Branch-Davidians a seemingly blind acceptance of Mr. Koresch's declarations. It is all somewhat amazing to most of us. Although we are protective against someone trying to control our lives in the physical or economic realms, we are quick to be spoon-fed in the spiritual. How many Christians follow the example of the Bereans in searching the scriptures to see if what their clergyman speaks is correct? The Lord commended the Bereans for searching the scriptures (Acts 17:11). The Bereans thought for themselves.
There are three reasons why you ought to think for yourself. First, all people are fallible. Among the community of saints the degree of fallibility in any given area diminishes with the knowledge of God's Word and experiences in any particular area (e.g., relationships with the opposite sex, role of money, overcoming certain temptations or character flaws, etc.). No one man is going to possess experience and wisdom in all areas of life. There are some areas in your life in which you have some valuable experience that your church leader does not. To submit to his direction in an area where you have a measure of wisdom that he does not is folly. Moreover, it doesn't take much energy to study a subject in the Bible for oneself. Usually nothing more is needed other than a topical Bible or a concordance.
Consider Ė if the clergyman is fallible and you are fallible, should you not trust in your own ability to search and discover, as did the Bereans? This is not to say we should not take and even heed advice when it is reasonable and especially when the advice is from someone who has already been through the experience we are just entering. It is to say that we are responsible to test all things and not fear coming to a different conclusion than the leader has come to.
Second, God gave you a mind. With this mind is the ability to reason. God calls you to reason with Him (Isa. 1: 18). If we just "go along with the program" we may just be following the plans of men without thought or consideration. It may be that the program is scriptural and good, but we ought to conclude that it is after some rational thought. More on this shortly.
Third, God has given you an anointing. If you are a real Christian you have the Spirit of God within you! This truth is not just a nice doctrine but a blessed reality! His life in you, along with a sincere desire for truth, will guide you and direct you. Dispensing with a reliance upon this divine fact and consigning that reliance to another person is unwise.
David Koresch's determinations were based on his sensing what God wanted him to do. This feeling-oriented decision-making would lead him to promise that he would surrender to the civil authorities if they arranged for the broadcast of one of his sermons. The sermon was broadcast. Mr. Koresch then said that God "told" him not to come out of the compound. The objective observer sees this as a lie, which is what it was, but in Mr. Koresch's mind it was the right thing to do. Why? Because he was relying on some sort of subjective feeling to make decisions. This seems an obvious error in judgment, but most Christians that I speak with practice the very same thing. With great frequency I hear, "I feel that...", "I sense that the Lord is saying...", "The Lord told me...".
A friend of mine relates a story of one Christian man who said to him that the Lord told him to move to Tennessee. My friend was somewhat puzzled since his acquaintance had no friends or relatives there and no employment lined up. He did have a decent job in California where he lived with his wife and children. My friend tried to reason with him pointing out that it was not prudent to make such a move, but the man insisted that God "told" him to go. He and his family moved there. He sought employment but was unable to find any. Soon the small savings they had ran out and his wife and children literally went hungry. He fell into debt and one year later, with creditors calling, borrowed money and moved back to California, destitute, accomplishing nothing.
Is this how we should make decisions? I don't believe it is. For one thing, how do we know that the "inner sense" that we may have is from God, from the devil, or just our own desires impressing themselves upon our conscience? Moreover, we do not see this kind of judgment in the scriptures. Paul reasoned with the Thessalonians from the scriptures (Acts 17:2) and some were persuaded to faith in Christ. In Ephesus he was "reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus" (19:9) and this went on for two years.
Using our ability to reason is of God. Neglecting this gift and relying on feelings can result in some very poor decisions.
As in any other discipline, thinking has some fundamental rules. Most of these rules are self-evident and obvious as soon as we hear them but are easily neglected as we often try to manipulate the facts at our disposal in order to come to a conclusion that we want. The process is just subjectivism obscured, predetermined truth-finding, desire-driven decision-making. Let us avoid it at all costs.
1) The law of the preeminence of truth. We must decide if we really want to know reality or whether we will be satisfied with whatever makes us happy or whatever makes us feel better. Included in this should be an awareness of a psychological quirk known as "cognitive dissonance ". This is the negative sensation that we experience when we are accustomed to believing a certain thing and then are faced with evidence that our belief is incorrect. It is an unpleasant feeling, not usually noticeable in itself, more or less deep-seated and hidden, but growing in strength in relation to the importance of the belief. Since religious beliefs are usually important beliefs, often guiding one's whole perspective on life, changing our views on spiritual matters entails experiencing negative sensations for a time. But once we have become clear on the issue at hand the disconcerted feelings depart and are replaced by freedom! A worthwhile trade! Freedom is always the result of truth (Jn. 8:32), implying that bondage is the result of error.
2) The law of rationality. This says that one should draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence. To be rational is to recognize and honor the law of rationality. To be irrational is to draw conclusions for which one does not have adequate evidence. It is to reject the proper roles of evidence and reason in making determinations.
3) The law of identity. For propositions, this states that if something is true then it is true. That almost sounds too simple. Practically, what this means is that, given the same facts and circumstances, if a proposition is true for one person then it is true for another person. One may say, "Christ is the Savior of the world." For someone to respond, "Well, that's true for you", (implying that it is not true for him) is to violate the law of identity. Our realization of a truth may be inadequate but the truthfulness of a proposition is either yea or nay and does not change from person to person.
4) The law of non-contradiction. Something cannot be both A and non-A at the same time. It cannot be raining and not raining. A person cannot have a spirit and not have a spirit. A proposition cannot be true and not true.
5) The law of excluded middle. Something is either A or non-A. An animal is either a dog or a non-dog. The law of excluded middle is either true or non-true (false).
These five laws can be helpful in understanding truth. In fact, Jesus Himself used these laws. Read Matthew 21:23-27 and note how Jesus places the elders in a constructive dilemma. Consider Acts 9:20-22 and observe that Paul proved that Jesus is the Christ. You cannot prove anything with the above laws.
We will still make mistakes relying upon the Bible and exercising our reasoning ability, but we will make far more errors with subjective conclusions. There are some who can abuse these laws and twist them to subvert the truth. In fact, there is one Christian logician well known in the Church of Christ denomination that uses the last four laws and other rules of logic to defend the sins of division and sectarianism. He comes to many false conclusions; but, upon analysis, one would find that these false conclusions are not due to the wrongness of the rules, but in that leader's use of false premises, equivocations, and poor semantics. This only shows that if a person yearns for sin he will be able to justify it despite all safeguards to the contrary. Still, an objective approach to truth is a far, far better practice than a subjective one.
All this is not to say that there is no place for feelings in decision-making. No matter how reasonable a course of action seems, if we feel a lack of peace about the matter it may be that we subconsciously perceive some factor our initial consideration did not take into account. Hence, it may be best to patiently wait and gather more information before proceeding. To pay no attention to feelings at all is certainly an error. The problem, though, is usually on the other side. Using these five rules will help us become more objective in our thinking and thus help us walk with the Lord in the paths that He would have us travel.
Sects and cults are only the natural result of people associating together in the presence of these problems. We may not go as far astray as some but we are not where we should be. Are you in a system which owns these hindrances to growth? Rely on Jesus alone. Enjoy His presence and experience His freedom. Come out! A new day is waiting!