Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity are religions that have been around for thousands of years. At some point in time all four of these religions were new, and I am sure viewed with some skepticism of this ideology being taught. Within all of these religions there have been people who have disagreed with the beliefs being practiced and this has caused many to leave to form their own religious groups. The road to finding one’s faith is not always easy and that is why religions are constantly being recreated to fit one’s perception of God.
The new religious movement for this paper will be defined as religions less then two hundred years old. They were formed due to separation from an established church or by an individual having a “vision” from God. There are two in particular that I will cover Branch Davidians and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I will not be focusing on the religion from where it came but rather on the history of the person, beliefs and the practices of these new religious movements.
The Branch Davidians were once known as The Shepherds Rod, a Seventh-Day Adventist Branch. Victor Houteff first heard the teachings of the Seventh- Day Adventist Church in 1918 at a revival meeting. Houteff eventually came to believe that the Seventh-day Adventist doctrines and teachings were inaccurate and he called for reform. The church isolated Houteff and his followers that resulted in a brake from SDA and the foundation of “The Shepherd’s Rod.” Houteff saw himself as a divine messenger sent by God to reveal the secret information in the scroll mentioned in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 5. Houteff compiled his beliefs in his book “The Shepherd’s Rod.” He began the process of attaining followers by founding the Mount Carmel Center near Waco, Texas with eleven of his followers in 1935. This event prompted Houteff to change the name of his group to the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association. In 1955, Victor Houteff died. With his mission incomplete and his prophetic claims unfulfilled, unease swept throughout the group.
Houteff’s wife, Florence, assumed leadership of the movement despite splintering within the group. One such splintered group, the Branch Davidians, led by Benjamin Roden, would later take control of the Davidian movement. Before this occurred, however, “Florence Houteff predicted that the time of God’s judgement would fall on April 22, 1959. She believed this would be when the 1,260 days of Revelation 11 would be completed and on that day God would intervene in Palestine. Followers began to assemble at the New Mount Carmel, located east of Waco, and on April 16, 1959 prepared to move to the Holy Land.” (Dallas Morning News)
Roden named his faction the Branch Davidian SDA. Roden declared himself the fifth angel (Revelation 9:1), in the same vein as Houteff, who had declared himself the fourth angel (Revelation 8:12). He lead the Branch until his death in 1978, whereupon his wife, Lois Roden, assumed the role of the sixth angel (Revelation 9:16).
Vernon Howell joined the group in 1981 and Lois expressed her belief that he would be the group’s next prophet. However, George Roden, Lois’s son, forced Howell and his followers out of Mount Carmel in 1984. In 1990, Vernon Howell changed his name to David Koresh. He chose his name from Isaiah 45, which states that Cyrus “was the only non-Israelite who was given the title ‘anointed’ or ‘a messiah’ or in Greek, ‘ a Christ’.”
The Branch Davidians embrace the core teachings of the Seventh-Day Adventists. The SDA Church follows most of the conservative Christian beliefs: creation, original sin, the virgin birth, the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, belief in Satan as evil, the infallibility of Scripture, salvation by the atonement of Christ, etc. However, three major doctrinal differences exist, and they also deny the concept of “innate mortality”. They believe that when someone dies they remain unconscious until they are either resurrected into eternal life with God, which is only given to righteous Christians, or annihilated. A second resurrection will occur and the righteous will return to a newly cleansed earth and establish the New Jerusalem.
Houteff interpreted current events as signs of the end of time. Under Roden, the Branch Davidians created a logo to represent their beliefs. In his writings, Roden focused on anti-Catholicism, recovery of Israelite festivals, and general conference reform. David Koresh ultimately became the leader of the Branch Davidians and ushered in a new era for this sect with his “New Light” doctrine and elevated prophetic status. Koresh furthered the work of his forefathers by continuing with the Adventist tradition, adopting a messianic role essential to human salvation, and ordaining the end time. With his focus on the Book of Revelation, Koresh desired to create a new lineage of God’s children from his seed, making him the perfect mate for all female adherents. Koresh established what he called the House of David and in 1984 began taking “spiritual wives.” Differing from past eras, he progressively linked his group’s activities to an imminent future and not too past traditions. A key distinction within Koresh’s era was his gradual revelation of the secrets of the seven seals in Bible study sessions, which convinced the group that they were living in the end time. In 1992, he renamed the Mount Carmel community “Ranch Apocalypse.” Under Koresh’s leadership, the group adopted a much more communal form of organization and recruited heavily from the young adult population. The “Mighty Men” were Koresh’s lieutenants who held various responsibilities with in the community. Gradually, tension with the larger society increased as the Davidians moved toward prophetic movement organization.
April 19, 1993 Koresh and about 75 of his followers, 21 of those were children perished inside of the Waco compound.His religious zeal and mistakes made by the Government were a lethal combination.
There are many self-proclaimed prophets who claimed to have “visions” from God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is one such religion.
In 1816, Joseph Smith and his family moved to Palmyra, New York, where, in 1820, a religious revival occurred. Joseph, a young 14-year-old boy, was very intrigued by the numerous preachers and what they had to say. However, he was also confused because each church claimed to be the “true” one. He decided to turn to the Bible for assistance. There he found the scripture: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5)
In 1823, Smith had another vision, this time of an angel named Moroni. The angel directed Smith to a hill near Palmyra; buried under this hill was a religious history of an ancient American civilization inscribed on golden plates. In 1830, Smith established the “Church of Christ” in Fayette, New York; however, later revelation commanded that the name be changed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The key belief of the LDS church is that it is a restoration to the Earth of the original Christian church, which was abandoned through the apostasy during the early centuries of the Christian era. Several key beliefs are contained in these statements, including a belief in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. LDS members have confirmed the purpose of life within the framework of three questions:
It is the firm belief of the members of the Church that they are the “spiritual offspring” of God the Eternal Father and that all people lived as spirit beings with God in a premortal life. In this life, people were taught all of God’s plans and purposes; also, it was here where God revealed his Plan of Salvation to them. Life on Earth serves several purposes, the main one being that it is a “test” to determine if people are worthy to return to live with God. After completion of life on Earth, Mormons believe that the spiritual body separates from the physical one and enters the Spirit World. It is here where the person is “judged” and it is determined if he or she is worthy to live with God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, for all eternity. LDS members do not believe that if one is judged worthy, he or she is automatically placed into the familiar notion of “Heaven.” This notion comes from Paul’s reference to “three heavens” in II Cor. 12:1-4; however, whereas most Christian denominations believe these “three heavens” to be the sky, outer space, and God’s kingdom, LDS members believe them to be three “degrees of glory.”
The Terrestial Kingdom is saved for those who lived honorable lives on Earth but were blinded by the “craftiness” of men and were not valiant in the testimony of Jesus. The highest degree of glory, and the one LDS members strive to reach, is the Celestial Kingdom. Entrance into this Kingdom requires a temple marriage and sealing (see below); people are able to dwell in the presence of both God the Father and Jesus Christ for all eternity. Members are typically baptized at the age of eight, although the age obviously differs for those who convert later in their life. At sixteen years of age, young men receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, where duties include blessing the sacrament and baptizing worthy people.
Another unique belief held by LDS members is that of baptism for the dead. Along with these beliefs, LDS members adhere to a strict set of moral codes. Young men and women are strongly encouraged to be honest and chaste; all members must abstain from premarital sex, pornography, foul language and gambling. The church has no paid clergy; rather, people are called to various positions and must fulfill their duties in their spare time. Perhaps the most important and central focus of the LDS church is the family. Marriages performed in the Church’s temples do not end at death; rather, both the marriage and family relationships are sealed for “time and all eternity.” This idea – of an “eternal family” – governs their way of life; every effort is made to live a life worthy of returning to live with God the Father (and thus their family in the Celestial Kingdom).
The Branch Davidians, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints both have separate ideologies but they are the same in the aspect that their religious perspectives are less then two hundred years old.
There are websites, movies, and books about Koresh and each hold a slightly different perspective about The Branch Davidians. I feel is due to the fact that each author has slightly bias opinion according to his or her religious beliefs. This in turn makes Koresh to be either a martyr or a deranged maniac.