Waco Wake-Up Call

If you listen to wrap-up reports on the disaster in Waco, Texas, you might think David Koresh's cult was just one variety within Christianity. The Houston Chronicle quotes a religion professor saying that the same preaching is heard every Sunday in thousands of conservative Christian churches. "I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church," the professor said. And "I heard that preaching all my childhood." Another paper printed a letter to the editor that stated the point more crudely: "Christianity is the mother of all cults in our society," the letter read. "The church in your community is no less crazy than the Branch Davidians." Well, whoever wrote that has to be a little crazy himself. It ought to be obvious that David Koresh's gospel had nothing in common with historic Christianity. For starters, Koresh claimed to be Jesus Christ. The Bible calls that blasphemy. Not only that, he also preached to be Jesus come back as a "sinful Messiah," with a right to sexual relations with anyone he wanted--which included most of the women in the Waco compound. Anyone who thinks this is standard Christian sex ethics had better start reading the Bible more closely. No, Koresh's teachings were not in any way biblical. And real Christians should not feel in any way implicated in his craziness, no matter what critics say. If there's any clue to the Waco phenomenon, it is found in the nature of cults. From time immemorial, cults have had a common modus operandi--regardless of the content of their teachings. First, they teach that there is a secret knowledge, which they alone possess. In New Testament times, this was called Gnosticism, and every cult tends to be Gnostic. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that the basic message of the gospel is open to everyone, even to young children. A second trait of Gnostic groups is that they cluster around a charismatic leader--someone claiming special spiritual insight into the secret knowledge. This is why cults are anti-intellectual, sometimes even practicing mind control. Members surrender critical judgement to the keeper of the "sacred knowledge." But Christianity encourages people to think, ask questions. In Acts, Paul praised the people of Berea, who tested his message and thought for themselves. Finally, Gnostic groups teach radical dualism: The world is evil, they say; the cult is the only means of escape. They cut themselves off from society and prepare for war and persecution. But Christianity teaches that the world God created is good; the problem is not the world but sin. Real Christianity is not escapist. And it certainly does not prepare to go to battle with Uzi's and AK-47s. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, not to shoot them. In our secular society, news reporters are no longer theologically educated enough to make religious distinctions like these. So thoughtful Christians will have to do it for them. When you hear people lump Koresh with orthodox Christians, be ready to show them where lines of distinction have to be drawn. In real Christianity, there's no whiff of the cult mentality. God has given us minds and wills, and He calls us to worship Him freely.


Chuck Colson


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