A Doctrine Unto Death: Branch Davidian Theology
Note: Jailed Branch Davidian theologian, Livingstone Faga, is believed by many to be the successor to David Koresh.
During the siege, Koresh sent Fagan out of the compound on March 23rd with the mission to present the Message of the Seven Seals to the world through the media. The remaining Branch Davidians are still recruiting new members. They have an active mailing list of over 600. He believes Koresh will be resurrected as a sign to the world by the end of 1996.
Fagan reviewed and verified much of the information in this article in exclusive interviews. He holds a Masters of Theology from Newbold College in England, a Seventh-Day Adventist institution.
The Branch Davidian tragedy received more media coverage worldwide than any other event in 1993. In the confusion of reports, and specials, a mixture of fact, distortion and myth was published by the national media during the siege and subsequent fire. Over a year has passed since the ashes have cooled. Still a number of questions remain. By referring to himself as the Lamb of the Book or Revelation, did Koresh believe he was Jesus Christ? Are the Branch Davidians simply a Christian sect with a narrow focus on prophecy? What do the Branch Davidians really believe?
The Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists are basically Millerites. They are historical and doctrinal descendents of the Seventh-Day Adventist and a break-off group of reformers, the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists.
The Branch Davidians refer to the Bible as their main standard of authority, but often use apocryphal books. They also regard the works and teachings of Ellen G. White, Victor Houteff, Ben Roden, Lois Roden, and David Koresh to be inspired prophecy (Letter from Branch Davidian, Brad Branch).
The Branch Davidians place heavy emphasis on the Old Testament, which they commonly refer to by its Judaic name, the Tenach. According to Livingstone Fagan, the Old Testament, particularly the prophets, expresses the Spirit/Mind of God (Livingstone Fagan interview, p. 17-18) while the New Testament "is just a record of an event. Christ's coming 2000 years ago -- to give that Spirit. That's all it was" (Fagan, p. 18). The priamary exception to this de-emphasis on the New Testament is the Book of Revelation, as Koresh wrote "...every book of the Bible meets and ends in the book of Revelation" (Seven Seals Manuscript, p. 7).
The Branch Davidians do not believe that David Koresh is/was the sovereign God on the throne. There was some confusion concerning this issue. In a Letter to the FBI, Koresh (speaking as a "prophet") spoke for God in the first person, and referred to himself, in the second person, as God's servant. The Branch Davidians believe God's full name is Yahweh Koresh, which is taken to mean "life and death." David Koresh is seen as God's servant who has his Father's surname.
Livingstone Fagan states that "God is Thought" (Fagan, p. 14) and as a result the Branch Davidians are greatly concerned with the "Mind of God." Their idea of God is not, however, impersonal, as they believe in a Godhead with a Heavenly Father, and with a feminine Holy Spirit as a Heavenly Mother (The Holy Spirit, She, 1979 and other works by Lois Roden).
To the Branch Davidians "salvation" entails knowing and understanding the Seven Seals, as Koresh "Prophesied" and wrote:
"Your only Savior is My Truth. My Truth is the 'Seven Seals'" (letter, 10 April 1993).
"The Seven Seals are the last prophecy to a lost world...You have a chance to learn my Salvation" (letter, 11 April 1993, p. 2).
"...if we disregard the truth of the first seal we really disregard Christ, who opened it and in so doing we disregard God who gave it. This indifference most surely will place one's Salvation in jeopardy" (Seven Seals Manuscript, p. 9).
Theology of Man
Man is seen as having a divine nature, being made in the image of God. This divine nature is, however, blocked (Fagan, p. 13). Men may use their freewill to surrender to the Mind of God/Will of God, or to continue in their own understanding which is really darkness since it is influenced by the lusts of the body (Fagan, p. 14). The Branch Davidians believe this is what is meant by "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).
Theology on the Afterlife
Like traditional Seventh-Day Adventists, the Branch Davidians teach "soul sleep" and do not believe in Hell as an eternal place of torment for lost humanity. The Branch Davidians do not believe that man has an inherently immortal soul, but that man obtains immortality only by receiving the eternal "Mind of God" (expressed in the Seven Seals). As Livingstone Fagan states:
"...the current thinking of man, which is born of the flesh is temporal, and when the body dies it will die too. But the eternal Thought of God...is eternal. To receive God you are actually receiving the Eternal, an Eternal Spirit which enables you to live forever" (Fagan, p. 15).
As a result Branch Davidians do not believe in a pre-resurrection afterlife (with the exception of the 144,000), but believe that the dead remain in the grave without any consciousness or existence until the rsurrection. This belief is evident in two of Koresh's statements:
"...of course 'buried' (in Rev. 5:3) in other words we do have dead in this world, you know..." (3-2-93 tape)
"...dead people don't know anything..." ("What is Truth?" tape)
According to his tape "What is Truth?" Koresh taught that there are two destinations in the post resurrection afterlife, "Hell" and "The Kingdom to Come." Those who go to Hell are seen as being annihilated out of existence, since they have not received the eternal Mind of God. By contrast those destined to enter the Kingdom to Come, who have achieved unity with the eternal Mind of God are destined to be exalted to Godhood, as Fagan states:
"...they themselves would become God. That's where we get the statement in Psalms 82, where he talks about God goes among the gods, and 'Know ye not that ye are gods?' Christ mentioned it himself, 2000 years ago, which caused great consternation among the Pharisees..." (Fagan, p. 20).
"You have the family unit which consists first of all of a mother and father...they have children...eventurally these children themselves grow into becoming mothers and fathers themselves...the only difference between those children and the mothers and fathers which bare (sic) them, is that the mothers and fathers were first...in their status of mother and fatherhood...that is the only difference ultimately that was supposed to exist, between God and his children. And anyway, they too are to obtain unto that position. I mean listen, there's a great big universe out there...and that universe is for His children...And there are going to be provinces that they populate with their own creations" (Fagan, p. 21).
The Branch Davidian concept of "Christ" is also quite different than that of traditional Christianity. The Branch Davidians recognize the words "Christ" and "Messiah" to simply refer to "an anointed one" rather than as proper nouns. An anointed one is one anointed with the Spirit/Mind of God.
Jesus is seen as having achieved this unity and becoming Christ sometime before his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, this 40 day fast proved that he was one with the Eternal Mind of God, and could live forever, even without food and water (Fagan, p. 28). Jesus is seen as having come to teach the Seven Seals. But, mankind did not accept the Seals. Jesus had failed in his mission and was crucified. Fagan explains:
"Contrary to popular belief, he [Jesus] did not come to die, albeit he ran that risk, consider John 3:16, notice the operative words, i.e. 'believed on him' not 'kill him.' Had they believed he was the Christ they would not have killed him, note 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, note also Luke 23:36; they killed him out of ignorance...Christ himself made it clear he did not come to die, consider John 8:34-42."
When this took place Christ is believed to have commended the Spirit he offered, the Seven Seals, to the hand of the Father (based on Luke 23:46 and Rev. 4:1) and created a temporary system of salvation by grace because of man's ignorance (based on Luke 23:34).
David Koresh is seen as having also attained unity with the Mind of God, being another messianic figure (Faga comments on rough draft). Koresh is seen as having proved this by opening the Seven seals, which only the Lamb could do (based on Revelation 5), as Fagan states: "...the only one can open that information in the first place. The Lamb. Mankind can not do it, because you're dealing with information which is synonymous with the Mind of God" (Fagan, p. 11).
"What David actually said was 'let me address for you the Seven Seals.'...from a knowledge of him unveiling the Book can you make a judgement (sic) of whether he's Christ?" (Fagan, p. 22).
David Koresh is, therefore identified by the Branch Davidians as the "anointed one" in such places as Psalm 2:2-3, where the "bands" and "cords" (in Ps. 2:3) are regarded as the Seven Seals (Video Bible Study, Koresh, 5 January 1992). Koresh is also seen as the anointed one in Is. 45:1 names "Cyrus" or "Koresh." Koresh argued that this was not the Persian king Curys because Cyrus (Koresh) was to be the surname of this anointed one based on Isaiah 45:4 (Ibid.).
The Branch Davidians also believe (based on 1 Corinthians 10:4 with Exodus 17:1-9 and Numbers 20:1-13) that since the rock (Christ) was struck twice, at two different times and places, so would Christ (a Christ) be rejected and killed at wo different times and places (Fagan, p. 23).
This introduced the unique belief which the Branch Davidians have regarding David Koresh, which they support with Psalms 40. David Koresh was to be that messianic figure with iniquities (Psalms 40:12). Thus, Koresh is viewed as the "sinful Messiah" prophesied in the Bible.
The Branch Davidians further support this belief by teaching that the two goats on the Day of Atonement offering (Leviticus 16:7-10, 15-26) allegorically represent Jesus and David Koresh.
The sin offering is seen as Jesus, being without iniquities, while the "azazel" or "scapegoat" is seen as representing Koresh, the messianic figure with iniquities. The goat being sent off into the wilderness is believed to indicate that Koresh would go out to the Gentiles (Fagan comments on rough draft).
In some ways Koresh's followers were not unlike their predecessors. Davidians under the Rodens and Houteff, and even many early Seventh-Day Adventists saw themselves as God's exclusive end-time poeple who would be used of God as His sole channel of salvation. Anything outside of their leader and immediate group was seen as being part of Babylon - under the control of Satan.
Unlike his predecessors, David Koresh developed a unique view of his own ministry and personal role in the salvation of the world. David Koresh did not consider hiself to be God on the throne, nor did he claim to be the man Jesus. At the very least, however, Koresh presented himself as a Christ. To this day his remaining followers see him as their "sinful messiah" whose coming and ministry was predicted in the Bible.