Beware of Wolves Disguised as Sheep

Vernon Howell was a charming young man. A born-again Christian searching for the truth, he stumbled across a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church and was soon converted. Seeking to know God, he devoured the Bible, memorized immense portions of it, and frequently offered eloquent Bible studies that would last for several hours. Endowed with a charismatic voice and a handsome face framed by curly locks of hair, he frequently played the guitar and sang at worship services. Friendly and likable, he was a talented handyman who was adept at fixing things and helping out others. Young ladies competed with each other for his attention. Yet despite all his virtues, there were some vices: he hungered for attention, craved for power, and lusted for women.

While attending a SDA church, Vernon noticed a pretty young lady, who happened to be the pastor’s daughter, and demanded to marry her. But the pastor, wisely perceiving Vernon’s character flaws, warned him to stay away from his daughter. As Vernon’s lifestyle and beliefs gradually diverged from what was expected of church members, he became increasingly disruptive until he was disfellowshipped a few years later.

Dissatisfied with the SDA organization, Vernon turned to an offshoot organization whose roots began in 1929. The cult, initially known as the Shepherd’s Rod and later as the Branch Davidians, was led by a series of self-proclaimed prophets including Victor and Florence Houteff, and Benjamin and Lois Roden. Although claiming to embrace Seventh-day Adventist theology, the cult insisted that it had received “new light,” proclaimed as “present truth,” that the SDA church needed reforming by a divinely appointed, antitypical King David, who would unseal the prophetic secrets of Revelation and gather the faithful 144,000 to a new, earthly Kingdom of David. The cult’s theology and adherents provided just what Vernon was seeking. Aspiring to become the spiritual heir to King David, Vernon soon acquired control of the organization and changed his name to David Koresh. Sound familiar? His first name symbolized his spiritual lineage to King David and his last name represented the Persian name of emperor Cyrus the Great, who liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity. His name hinted at his aspirations and revealed his true character.

Long ago Jesus forewarned us to “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15, NIV). Echoing the words of Jesus, the apostle Peter also warned that “there will be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1, NIV). To avoid being deceived, we need to be vigilant and learn how to recognize them. Peter exposed their method: “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1, NIV). Just as Peter prophesied, the Branch Davidians mastered recruiting by subtly infiltrating SDA congregations. They typically preyed upon church members who were either new converts, experiencing interpersonal conflict, disgruntled with SDA leaders, seeking a deeper religious experience, mesmerized by prophets, or simply susceptible to psychological coercion. The Branch Davidians seduced new members by their immense knowledge of scripture and newly revealed interpretations, convincing them that their “new light” was indeed “present truth.”

Peter foretold that “these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories” (2 Peter 2:3, NIV), which is why it is imperative to distinguish between truth and error. The prophet Isaiah counseled us to “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:20, NIV). A careful and prayerful comparison of the so-called “new light” with the sacred scriptures should debunk false doctrines.

False teachers can also be recognized by their behavior. Jesus declared “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20, NIV) and Peter further stated that “Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute” (2 Peter 2:2, NIV). The self-aggrandizing “fruit” of David Koresh should have tipped off everyone that he exhibited “depraved conduct.” He married multiple women, including married women and single women as young as 13 years old—and allegedly claimed exclusive sexual rights to them. He bragged that he would father 24 children with selected women in the community and that they would serve as rulers during the millennium. Former followers accused him of child abuse. Although eventually acquitted, he was also charged with the attempted murder during a gunfight with a rival, George Roden, who himself was later convicted of murdering another rival for claiming to be the Messiah. Clearly his fruit was rotten.

Peter also prophesied that false teachers may bring “swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Peter 2:1, NIV). Those of us who are old enough to remember can vividly recall the disastrous raid by federal agents of David Koresh’s compound, the Mount Carmel Center, in Waco, Texas, on February 28, 1993, resulting in the deaths of four agents and six Branch Davidians. A subsequent 51-day siege ended even more tragically with the fiery deaths of 80 Branch Davidians, of whom 22 were under the age of 17.

But not all false teachers are as notorious as David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, which represent a worst-case scenario. Many are much more subtle when leading others astray and they may not even do so intentionally. False teachers lurk within our families, churches, schools, and offices, and they routinely appear on television, radio, websites, and social media. Jesus said “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19). That’s right: Jesus asks us to follow Him, not a human teacher. If we simply follow Jesus we will not be deceived by false teachers.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8051

This was a fascinating historical review that should serve as a reminder of mistakes and traps that we need to avoid in our spiritual journey. The Koresh “family” deception is the same as the California Manson “family”.There are three core ideas to learn from these tragedies:

  1. False teachings and cults make promises they can’t keep.
  2. When family members accept false beliefs, it causes conflict and creates separation in the home.
  3. Followers of false teachers are eventually disappointed when their leader’s self-serving motives are discovered.The result of false doctrine is destruction for both the family and society.

Good article! However, there is a factual misrepresentation in the second sentence. Vernon didn’t “stumble” into an Adventist church; he attended the Tyler SDA Church in Texas as a child, later moving to Dallas where he attended Dallas Jr. Academy in the 9th grade (for several weeks). His roots where in Adventism. Although he was not a close friend during his days in Dallas and later, he was an acquaintance of mine who worked for my father building a couple of homes in the Keene area.

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the first and best sign is primary emphasis on end times and not the Cross…

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Tom,

I noticed 1 like already on your reply. Unfortunately, I expect more.
You make a good point with your choice of words “primary emphasis”. One can also use other words like fixation, obsession, and "hobby horse"
Fixation on the cross probably has been as detrimental as that related to end times. The former becomes a temporary bar of soap and the latter promotes legalism and/or paranoia.
Both of these …and ANY fixations results in fanaticism and being unbalanced.

Notice what Paul said to believers as recorded in ACTS , in the section dealing with false teachers.

“For I have not shunned to declare unto you ALL the counsel of God.” ACTS 20:27

Notice the balance on this verse of Paul…
“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, AND Him crucified.” 1 Cor 2:2

Notice also, the balance of these verses of Paul…
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” Rom 5:9

"For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!: Rom 5:10

Over emphasis on hobby horse sections lead to fanaticism…

“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Rom 10:2

Preachers, in the old testament, were rebuked because they omitted scripture knowledge.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Hos 4:6

Pastors have told me that it is “hard” for them to do expository verse by verse sermons.

So they usually end up doing topical sermons which are vaccination/vitamin homilies to address one single spiritual ailment that they are interested in fixing in their congregations.
By doing these sermons , they in essence , void the law/word of God with their homiletic tradition.

So the danger is not isolated to Koresh, or Jim Jones (both dead), or any other preachers in the bible thumpers dog house, it extends to any preacher/teacher who teaches with an approach of diminution of scripture.

By the way…here is what a person, who used to attend Jim Jones church, said , years ago, on a large talk radio station in the San Franciso, Oakland, San Jose bay area.
She escaped the cyanide because she left his church after hearing him say this…
Jones put the bible on the stage floor, put his foot on it and said…“You don’t need this. You have me.”

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A timely article, to be sure. But absent clear definitions of what “false teaching” means, the fear can become a blunt weapon to discipline those members who raise questions about the accepted “true” teachings. When someone suggests that an established church doctrine should be questioned, or a historically acceptable biblical teaching may need to be reexamined, too many want to either ignore the question or humiliate the questioner. Are we not urged to “examine whether those things are so” as the Thessalonians did?

One last point: When Jesus suggests that the “wheat and the tares” must be allowed to grow together until the harvest, is he intimating that we should not trust our own devices to segregate between them? How does that square with this lesson?

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Hmm . . ., would that make Noah a false prophet? How about Moses? They focused on present truth; in the case of Noah, the deluge was imminent, and to ignore his warning was fatal. The same is true of Moses. Present truth for him was the Exodus. To ignore his instructions was to lose one’s firstborn on the night of the Passover, and to be unprepared to escape slavery.

And then there was John the Baptist. No mention of the Cross, but he announced the arrival of the Messiah. Here, in the time of the end, the Cross is still vital, but we also have a present truth, and that is that time is very short; the judgment has begun, the Second Coming is imminent, and preparation is essential.

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Tom, the Seventh-Day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine puts prophecy in its correct place:

The preaching of prophecy is for the one purpose of uplifting Christ who is the centre of all prophecy, and under the influence of the Spirit of God to prepare men for His glorious coming as King of Kings and Sovereign Lord. (pg. 197)

While you are right in that there are some who focus too much on prophecy while ignoring Jesus, but I would argue that you swing the pendulum to the other side, and downplay prophecy. There must, as the quote above suggests, be a balance between both: Christ centred, and a people being prepared for His second coming.

Edit:

Then John wasted a whole lot of ink writing Revelation.

You misrepresent those who study prophecy with that claim. Studying Daniel and Revelation does not mean you no longer focus on Christ. Furthermore you cannot focus on Christ without also focusing on what He has, and continues to reveal to us:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev. 1:1-3)

Edit:

Then you contradict John, who clearly wrote: “Show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” Speaking of the future.

You say past, John says future. One of you is wrong.

You play a dangerous game, Sirje.

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I know there is a one comment rule, so we could continue in the Lounge, if you would like to…

Anyway, back to the above portion of your comment. How are you personally preparing, and how is the SDA church corporately preparing?

And what are the preparations that make you/SDA’s more prepared than other Christians?

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Obviously, anyone who went to this guys compound, over the age of 19, had some marbles missing and is at much at fault as this guy himself. However, even in this day and age there are likely fringe movements going on.

As a generational Adventist you’ll start to see them.

It is often our jobs as grand stander Adventists to figure out who the true phonies are even before we become of age. The same phony you pick out at age 15 is likely the same type you’ll see at age 40.

You’ll sometimes hear a Catholic use the phrase “making a whore of the Church”.

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Where did David go wrong? Where did we fail him ? Men long to look upon the wondrous things of God , but you can go blind if Jesus does not stand between us and God. EGW, says , " New trues are always to be found in the word of God." But these trues must line up with all the trues that we hold.

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Heb. 1: God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Prophesy was ever meant to prepare mankind for the main event - God’s kingdom on earth. This is why Jesus, so often, spoke about “the coming of the kingdom”. The only way anyone can prepare for that, is in and through Christ. He is the “end game”. Once mankind saw God in Christ, the need for prophesy was over. The “time of the end” did not begin in 1844. Jesus heralded “the end time”. What is it we can possibly do, other than focus on Christ, that would better prepare us for anything that is to come upon us … Salvation, even at the time of the end, is still “through faith and not of works”.

The book of Revelation is a summary of the battle between good and evil throughout time. There is “prophesy” (as in new information) which the prophets in the Old Testament were delivering to a people seeking God; the prophesy in the New Testament is translated as “taking off the cover” of all that has gone before. By focusing on prophesy for new information we are setting ourselves up for a David Korash.

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The only way to embrace the Old Testament as a whole is to apply selective perception severely. My daughter was always an avid book reader, including the Bible, and always asked awkward questions about Bible “heroes” (generally so regarded). When it wasn’t one question it was another. Why were all the OT books written by men? why were the men so murderous and evil(eg Samuel advocating running pregnant women through with a sword? Why did David murder a man to take over his wife? and why did he try to rape a girl on his very deathbed?why did a writer advocate enslaving daughters ? yada, yada!!! She was, and still is I imagine(haven’t seen her for years, but we do exchange Emails ). I tried to switch her to Constantine’s collection (the New Testament) and the life of Yeshua. I almost shouted at her one time. What’s this? a father sending his son to be murdered via crucifixion? why then didn’t he set the example and do it himself? I refused to go into Bible readings with her, wondering if she saw my hidden notes raising these same matters for a book? it turned out she had been searching my book case and also found some nudies I had been hiding . Her Mom Called me at work in great panic, and we plotted that when I came home Mom would curse me out severely and burn the material. BUT I feel Koresh had such influence by using the Bible to lure the unsophisticated. After all, How was he different form DAVID? and SOLOMON? and other violent adulterers? We have to be watchful and discerning ; but on the positive side true humanitarianism has grown immensely , due to the influence of Jesus’ servant -leadership examples and has been adopted by notables such as King Arthur of the Table Round , leading to the parlimentary democracies of Europe , which was in turn exported to those countries subjudgated by Europeans during their conquests . Nothing is free. There is always the devil in the details!!!

I don’t believe that Seventh day Adventists are TRAINED to be Good Discerners.
I have even heard Ellen be used out of context by persons behind the pulpit. And nobody in the audience ever complained.
So if Ellen can be used out of context among long-term SDA’s then Scripture can be used out of context by persons behind the Desk, and listeners are NOT the WISER.

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The way I read this interesting article is that it has nothing to do with false doctrine, but all to do with personality and pshycological default settings.

‘False doctrine’ does not explain the phenomenon of David Koresh. ‘False doctrine’, the way I see it, is embedded in the historical genealogy of power; power to control, which was, of course, a key characteristic of Koresh’s opressive and fatal theology.

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“Peter foretold that “these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories” (2 Peter 2:3, NIV), which is why it is imperative to distinguish between truth and error.”

“False teachers can also be recognized by their behavior. . . .The self-aggrandizing “fruit” . . . .”

“False teachers lurk within our families, churches, schools, and offices, and they routinely appear on television, radio, websites, and social media.”

The 3 quotes above support what too many SDAs still wish not to believe. We wish that against all evidences to the contrary, we can safely trust even the glossier, higher, leadership and ‘star’ figures of SDA culture. But it was this very same fatal, mistaken wish that emptied Heaven of 1/3 of its brilliant, holy angels when they ‘fell’ for a bright ‘Lucifer’ whose ‘office’ was right next to the Throne of God.

Is it possible for any SDA to confirm the, ‘I had a dream . . .’, of the ‘3ABN Story’ ?

“I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying,
I have dreamed, I have dreamed.
How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies?
yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;
Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams
which they tell every man to his neighbour,
as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream;
and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.
What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.
Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD;
and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:25-29

. . . Thankfully, about 20 years ago, now, I had just recently read this in Jeremiah before I received a surprise ‘gift’ from my mother, who has been infatuated with 3ABN since she discovered it. She sent me a VHS copy of ‘The 3ABN Story’, which instantly reminded me of ‘Jeremiah’s Truth’ as I began watching it, and heard, ‘I had a dream . . .’, coming from the lips of a man whom, I am quite certain received a good portion of my widowed mother’s inheritance from my non-SDA father. Was the timing of these events in my personal experience ‘Providential’ ? Where are such ‘dreams’ recorded, anyway ? Where can we find a ‘second witness’ to confirm a ‘dream’, if not in the very ‘scriptures’ that warn against false prophets ?

My personal experience certainly kept me wary enough of the ‘spirit’ behind 3ABN, until I saw the 3ABN ‘Night Light’ all-male, (same-sex, or ‘homo-sex’) ‘panel discussion’ on ‘Women’s Ordination’ broadcast from the 2014 ASI convention. That ‘panel’ was ‘manned’ by at least 2 male SDA ‘TV’ personalities whom I have witnessed twisting ‘scriptures’ to suit their own teaching. One of them had even stopped short of completing a whole sentence of scripture in order to support his position, when simply finishing the sentence would have instantly condemned his actions . . . and all I heard from his ‘star-struck’ audience of SDA-‘zombies’ was a hearty, “AMEN !”

And, God meant just what Paul wrote to the Galatians, and not as a mere ‘salvational issue’ to be brushed aside from SDA church practice, as another ‘manly’ panel member has asserted:

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free,
there is neither male nor female:
for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed,
and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3 : 26-29 KJV

I cannot ‘put on’ the DNA-protein-formed ‘flesh’ of Christ, and neither does the Bible record that Christ ever had ‘sex’, or successfully reproduced anything, except ‘character’ of ‘motive’. ‘By beholding’ the character of Christ’s motivations, which were confirmed by his unexpected, unworldly actions, I can indeed choose to ‘reflect’ such unselfish purity of character from a mental ‘heart’ ‘clothed’ by the pure motive of affectionate admiration for the character of the Father, which was perfectly reproduced ‘in Christ’, whom I can safely ‘behold’, without being ‘consumed’.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but ever since the ‘credit-default swap’ scandal and outrageous ‘too-big- to-fail’ bank-bailout of 2008, I find it very hard to ‘admire’, or even to ‘trust’, any public figure who speaks while wearing a 3-piece ‘banker’s suit’, or even ‘country club’, casual, ‘golf’ clothes, for that matter. Ever since that some-people-can-never-lose-some-people-can-never-win atrocity, my ‘life’s test’ has become a long string of ‘trick questions’, and the simultaneous ‘weird’ behaviors of ‘too-big-to-fail’ SDA public figures have done nothing to ease the anxiety in the ‘test’ of my religious life that has come into the ‘test’ of my ‘economic’, and ‘political’ life, recently. So, now, the crisis has come for me in choosing which ‘trinity’ I will serve, which ‘family’ I will ‘dress’ like:

As the world’s self-absorbed economic, philosophical, and political hypocritical ‘stars’ ?

OR,

As the unselfishly-motivated ‘Father, Spirit and Word’ ?

. . . Perhaps there are, yet, one or two ‘star’ performers from the ‘folk’ world, who might be trusted to give good advice for handling the current crises. First, the ‘level-headed dancer’ of John Prine’s,
‘Spanish Pipedream’ :

“Blow up your TV, throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own”

Because:
“There is nothing in the world like persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus.”
~ Mark Twain ~

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My classmate went to the US to live with David Koresh in his compound as one of his “wives” when she was 15. I would ask “where are the parents”? And prosecute them. For one thing they obviously didn’t know the Bible well for themselves, but to allow a child to do that shows a great deal of ignorance/stupidity. Adults joining of their own free will I can understand, but if alarm bells don’t start ringing when he makes claims such as that he is Jesus Christ (which he did) then what hope is there. Read your Bible people.

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i do believe that false teachers are everywhere, and that they’re a special sign of our time…and i suspect it is the case that false teachers aren’t aware that they’re false teachers…they believe that what they believe is the gospel truth, which is why they believe it…

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So the net-net apparently is: “beware of charming young men who advocate reform in our church.” “Not all false teachers are as notorious as David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.” Not all young men who advocate reform are false teachers, Spectrum. Please keep that in mind.

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We have “church” run my the Fairies, and Jesus advocates reform. The old guard kills him.
We have Christians running church and the great President reformers advocate reform and are burned at the stake.
Protestant run the church and (White, Bates and all) advocate reform. (no one is killed, how strange) Or you could change the name to Smith and some were killed.
Now anyone that wants reform is “of the Devil”.
The more things change the more they stay the same.

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