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Tragic End of an Apocalyptic Sect at Waco, Texas: Lessons Learned from the Consequences of Misreading the Bible and Misusing Peoples’ Freedom

30 years ago, on April 19, 1993, horrible images shocked the world. Members of an end-time Apocalyptic cult revolving around the personality and choices of one individual perished in the flames. Many, we have learned, chose to die as part of purification by fire before the advent of the kingdom of God. They read a mention of the cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14 (according to KJV translation) as the purification of the earth by fire. One person, according to eyewitnesses, came out of the compound only to try to go back in to die, where she not prevented to do so by an FBI agent. The intensity of someone’s faith is no guarantee for the veracity of one’s belief or religion. In this reflection on the lessons learned regarding a cultic impulse and conviction, a basic premise is that there is more to reading than meets the eye. Simplistic interpretations of texts can do much harm when associated with the urge to control people.

Offshoots of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church whose successive leaders created further splinter groups took a path that led to a disaster. This tragedy represents a case study for understanding the imperative of enlightened freedom of conscience. The leaders and self-appointed prophets of these groups have each been disfellowshipped from their local Seventh-day Adventist churches. Subsequently, they set out to reform the church they thought had apostatized. These minority movements focused and still focus on recruiting seventh-day church members to form what they believed would be the future 144,000. The latter form of this belief envisioned a need for a future move to Jerusalem where the new kingdom of God would be established.

The pain this tragedy has brought to many people has been heartbreaking. Beyond the 86 who died during this tragedy, most incinerated in the fire that broke out on April 19, families and friends suffered unspeakable traumas. That their loved ones lost their lives because of following a person who claimed to have been chosen by God to reveal the end-time secrets of the seals of the book of revelation and himself not only as the seventh angel of the trumpets but also as the lamb of God himself seems excruciating and has left scars that are still in need of healing 30 years after the catastrophe.

The following lessons may function as antidotes against drifting from the genuine biblical faith which testifies of Jesus Christ as the only lord and savior who abolished all mediations to the salvation He alone can offer. No person can any longer claim to stand between God and human beings but God. Holy personnel, holy places, and holy objects are not mandatory in the New Covenant. All are priests and holy temples.

The following biblical insights are in order.

To those tempted to follow leaders who claim to represent God, may I humbly remind you, in the name of your personal infinite dignity that one of the clearest pieces of evidence of being guided by God is revealed in a person who bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control “(Galatians 5:22-23). But even the fruit of the Spirit is not license that those who demonstrate them in their lives or who display even exceptional gifts should be followed.

None of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is compatible with violence and/or control of the minds of people created in the image of God.

The image bearer should only follow the image giver, the only creator to whom we as Seventh-day Adventists give our complete homage, allegiance, worship, and complete devotion.

To all partakers of the blessed hope of the appearance of our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7), our only Lord and Savior.

Ganoune Diop, Ph.D.

[1] Scot McKnight with Cody Matchett. Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2023), 5.

[2] See” Andrew Doyle. The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World (London: Constable, 2022), 9.

[3] See Donald Guthrie, “The Lamb in The Structure of the Book of Revelation,” Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 64-71.