The Bible commands that the followers of Jesus Christ should be in the world, but not of the world.1 What this actually means has been the subject of much theological debate. The events in Waco, Texas, in the spring of 1993 provide us an opportunity to state clearly what the Scriptures teach about ‘living in community‘, and why we live as we do, sharing all things in common.2
We believe that possessing the one true Holy Spirit of God is the only way to walk the line between being in the world and not being of the world. Many groups claiming to obey the Bible isolate themselves from the world (society at large) and withdraw into an inaccessible life where people cannot see how they live. This is what the Branch Davidians did by living in their compound in Waco. In an effort to cut themselves off from the evil of the world, they ended up being destroyed by evil from within their own group. But the true power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in a people will be demonstrated when the love that they have for each other is plainly seen, so as to be a light to the world.3
They will not be hidden and will have no need to use arms to defend themselves. Those who truly belong to God will be able to live in the world without being of the world, that is, without being corrupted or controlled by it, because the Holy Spirit gives them the power to overcome evil and to live a life of love with each other in actual communities.
It is clear that the Branch Davidians were not living an open and accessible life, keeping their behavior excellent among the gentiles, as the people of God are commanded to do.4
The people in Waco, Texas, hardly considered the stockpiling and use of combat weapons by David Koresh and his followers to be excellent behavior. Regardless of the issue of self-defense, the evidence seems undisputed that they used their weapons to kill four ATF agents. But our Master Yahshua, the true Son of God whom we follow, said that if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.5 That proved true in Waco, as the word of God always proves true.
The Branch Davidians died by the sword. They chose to go to war with the government by not surrendering to them. But servants of the Son of God do not fight in wars. Anyone who takes part in war is of the nations, not a part of His kingdom, His people, His priesthood.
Our Master made it clear that there is a distinction between “the nations” and “His kingdom” in the gospel according to Matthew:
For all these things the nations eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:32-33)
The nations or Gentiles spoken of here are the people who don‘t know God (as it is translated in the New Century Version), even though many of them are religious or conscientious, striving to obey their consciences and do what is right. Others in the nations ignore their consciences, living without any moral restraint to govern their actions.
The nations are those who eagerly seek food, clothing, and shelter, but those who “seek first His kingdom” are a distinct people for whom Christ died. These people are the church, the community, the people of God:
Their community will be established before me... (Jeremiah 30:20, NIV)
“At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)
[Christ] gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession ... (Titus 2:14)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God‘s own possession, that you proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
The people of the kingdom dwell as communities in the midst of the nations, as a distinct people with a distinct purpose and a distinct way of life.
Revolutions and wars are fought by the people of the nations, not the people of the kingdom. Many honorable men of the nations have gone to war to defend their inalienable rights of conscience when they were threatened by oppressors who do not respect those rights. Wars are fought for the preservation of the nations, and those who participate in them are the people of the nations. A good example of this was the Revolutionary War between England and the colonies in America.
We do not condemn people of the nations for such actions any more than we would condemn them for working by the sweat of their brow for their food, clothing, and shelter.6 That is the way the nations have been commanded to live in this age under the curse of the Fall.7 But the word of God does condemn the Branch Davidians for taking up arms, because they claimed to be God‘s people and not of the nations. This same action, “claiming to see,” is what condemns them:
And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, We see,‘ your sin remains.” (John 9:39-41)
The first church would not participate in war. It was unthinkable for them to assume the role of a soldier in battle (or a magistrate, politician, statesman, or policeman for that matter) without renouncing their sacred covenant to follow their Master as His disciples. Neither would the churches of Christianity during the first two or three centuries, as they continued to follow some of the traditions of the first church. This put them at odds with the Greco-Roman world. Our Master‘s word disqualifies this way of life for disciples.8
There can be no confusion of the church with the world, or the church loses its salt and light and can no longer be a demonstration to the world.
As the early church‘s love waned, it began to undergo strange mutations, to the point of being unrecognizable as the church of Acts 2:42-45. The life that once was a vibrant demonstration of the love and unity The Master prayed for9 was now becoming the folk religion of western civilization known as Christianity. It became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, replacing the true church and becoming part of the world.
Rather than restore the church to its original foundation, the Reformation simply spread this folk religion to all parts of the western world in a different garb. During this period a host of national or territorial churches developed which gained favor with the political states and actively supported them in their wars. Both Catholic and Protestant churches have done this. The present-day conflicts that divide both Ireland and the former Yugoslavia show that the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches are still deeply involved in the affairs of this world.
From the Revolutionary War down to the Persian Gulf War, Christians have filled the ranks of the nations‘ armies. They would not dodge the draft; they made the best soldiers, with zeal and great loyalty so as to protect their “Christian nation,” in spite of John 18:36, James 4:4, and John 17:14-16. The love for the world is so intense in Christians that they risk their lives and even kill other Christians to protect their own country. In World War II, American Lutherans dropped bombs on Lutheran churches in Germany, destroying their fellow Christians. We don‘t have to wonder why John 18:36 (below) applies to His kingdom, and not Lutherans or Protestants or Catholics, since they have a history of engaging in war against each other instead of proving to be His disciples by their love for one another.10
Our Master confirmed what we are saying here when He established once and for all that His servants will never fight for any cause, or in any way defend themselves by physical force:
My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)
His servants will never use the weapons of the world to bring about His kingdom.
So what did the apostle Peter mean when he exhorted the early church, the new-covenant community, to keep their behavior excellent among the gentiles (or nations)?11 He understood that the true fruit of their life would be observed by their neighbors around them. Therefore he instructed them to keep their conduct excellent, so that it would bring no reproach to the name of God. Clearly, peoples‘ lives are most visible in the homes and neighborhoods where they reside.
In Waco, the Branch Davidians lived in a compound away from their neighbors. The Word of God teaches true disciples how to live together in communities so as to be a light to the world, that is, the people of the nations around them.
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:15)
The Davidians lived isolated and apart, enclosed by a barrier. It does not seem that their distant neighbors in Waco had high praise for them because of their good deeds. Nor did their deeds cause God to be glorified. The apostle Paul taught the disciples in the church at Philippi to:
Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation [i.e., the nations], among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:15)
If those who claim to be God‘s very own people live in such places that their neighbors cannot easily observe them, then they automatically will draw suspicion. The true disciples of the Son of God were easily approached and always ready to give testimony of the hope that they found.12 While many did not like what the early disciples said or did, they were always available. They did not use force against the governments of their day.
The purpose of government is to praise those who do good and punish those who do evil.13 By the time of the final attack on the Waco compound, government officials thought they had reasonable cause to believe that evil was going on inside. Whether the ATF or the FBI did everything perfectly isn‘t a matter for us to judge, but we know for certain that the Branch Davidians did not surrender.14
We can see that by having guns and stockpiling weapons for self defense, the Branch Davidians proved they were not of the kingdom of God, but of this world.15
David Koresh and his followers were deceived in believing that they were righteously fighting for God when they took up arms to fight. They were in total contradiction to God‘s Word. It seems that David Koresh was one of the many who
... will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will mislead many ... And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. (Matthew 24:5,11)
By fighting to defend themselves instead of submitting, the Branch Davidians brought reproach, not glory, to the name of God.16 Also, they didn‘t see how they had disobeyed God‘s commands. This proves that they were obviously someone else‘s servants, not servants of the true God of the Scriptures. There is no cause great enough that could get His servants to wage war. This is the absolute Word of God for all who think they belong to Him and are under His reign.
God‘s kingdom is not the kind that needs soldiers to fight for it. It is not built, nor is it maintained by military might. The apostle Paul instructed the Roman church:
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)
The behavior of the Branch Davidians in resisting the authority of the FBI is what condemned them to their fiery deaths. They brought judgment upon themselves by coming against lawful authority. They should have submitted to those who came with valid search warrants in the beginning, or else contested their validity through the courts.17
Some newspaper articles have referred to the Branch Davidians as the “Waco wackos.” Wacky means highly irrational or erratic, as if stunned by a heavy blow on the head. The Branch Davidians were erratic and irrational. Since they did not have a fixed or regular course, they were erratic.
Because the Branch Davidians were not endowed with a purpose based on the Holy Spirit‘s revelation of the word of God, while claiming to be special messengers of God, their behavior became irrational. Even though they claimed to base their lives upon the word of God, they were deceived18
If David Koresh did say that he was Jesus Christ, and he acquired followers who believed him, this is proof enough that they were all wacky. If Koresh claimed to be Jesus, the Davidians followed a false messiah to death.
But what about those who say they believe in Jesus, and do not obey Him? Isn‘t that just as irrational, just as erratic as the Branch Davidians? Aren‘t they in the same boat, spiritually? There will be no lack of clarity as to who the servants of the true Christ are.19
Many people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, saved from eternal damnation, and in possession of eternal life as well as the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is irrational to make such a claim while failing to obey His commandments and to love one another in the way He commanded:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love our brothers. He who does not love abides in death. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. But whoever has the world‘s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. (1 John 3:14-17,23)
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24)
If a person actually believes (trusts in and relies upon) the Son of God,20 then he will have no problem with 1 John 3:14,16, & 17 quoted above. But most people who claim to believe in Him are betrayed by verse 17, because they do not take to heart the apostles‘ teaching.21
How can someone claim to belong to the Son of God while following such an erratic pattern of conduct that allows him to pick and choose which verses he will obey and which he will ignore, or when to live for Him and when to live for himself?22
The only way to know for certain that your belief in the Son of God is real and actual is if you are loving your brothers in the way He commanded us to love. We are commanded to love one another the way He loved us. He loved us by laying down His life for us.23 Therefore, the only proof that we have passed out of death and into life is that we lay down our lives every day for our brothers and sisters (by living for them, not for our own independent, selfish motives). All who claim to know Him must believe and love one another as He commanded24
Indeed, the deaths in Waco were a great tragedy, but the ones responsible for those deaths are the adults who acted irresponsibly. One has to bear the accountability for what one believes and how one acts in reliance on those beliefs. Those who placed their trust in David Koresh reaped the consequences. They were irrational because they believed they had eternal life while not being endowed with reason based upon revelation of the Word of God. They were all affected by loss of normal mental clarity by believing in one who claimed to be Jesus Christ, but wasn‘t. What they believed in was not the truth. But, as Pilate asked the Son of God, before proclaiming Him innocent of any guilt, what is TRUTH? Our Master said to him, I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37,38). As believers in the Son of God, we, who live in the communities who publish this paper, take our stand by obeying what He has spoken in His word.
Having read this far, you may ask, “Who are you?” We are people who live in places where God has caused His name to dwell, a people who continually make offerings of praise and thanksgiving to our Creator.25 The royal priesthood and holy nation that will be God‘s own possession is a community, a people living in unity, not a group of unconnected private individuals.26
You are a chosen people, proclaims Peter in speaking to the first church, the people of God. If the first disciples had not lived collectively, as a people, they would not have been the church. Our Master did not leave His Holy Spirit to a bunch of independent individuals who ‘did their own thing‘, while proclaiming to believe in the same God. Rather, he commanded them as a people, you be subject to everyone, whether to kings or presidents, or even the local authorities who are established to punish evildoers and praise those who do right.27 For God‘s people, this is as true today as it was then. It is our ambition to lead a quiet life and our practice to attend to our own business, working with our hands.28 We devote ourselves to this life every day. We want to be doers of good deeds.29
We desire that our behavior would silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.30 No one has to be ignorant about us any longer. We are always available to give an account for the hope we have found in Christ.31
We believe in the truth of all the verses we have cited here, and that they were given as collective commands to a community of believers. In Webster‘s dictionary, collective means a group of individuals considered as a whole; something shared by all the members of a group. For example, 1 Ths 4:11,12 is written to a collective community. (The “you” in verse 12 is plural in the original Greek text.) It was read to those who lived together in that community, as the concluding verses of the letter indicate: have this letter read to all the brothers.
We believe in community as it was demonstrated in the first century by the community of believers in Acts.32 This is the foundation and pattern of what the church must continue to evidence and to be if it is going to be the church that the gates of hell will not prevail against, that will endure to the Master‘s return. Community is what the church must be, if it is going to be the church. A collective community, as a Body, is the only way God‘s Spirit can dwell in and among men. He will build His collective community. He will have an actual community or He will have nothing at all. If by His Spirit He cannot break down the selfishness in man so that this collective community can come about, then it is not possible for man to be saved.33
How else, except by our love for one another, demonstrated in the unity of our common life, can it be evident for everyone to see that God actually sent His Son and that He loves them?34
We hope that you can understand this one important thing. The Branch Davidians in Waco lived separately from the world in an attempt to not be of the world. Most Christians, on the other hand, live their lives completely integrated in the society around them. You can‘t tell them apart from the rest of society. There is no light, no salt, no contrast between their independent lives and the independent lives of their neighbors. So, which of these two evils is worse?35
How will you distinguish between these two? It is only when the actual Spirit of God dwells in a community of people that they become distinct from the world. His presence in our lives is the only true answer to this dilemma. He is the only One who can give us the spiritual power to live together as a people, in the midst of neighbors all around us, so that our distinct life of love and unity can be evident to all.36
This is what we want people in our area to know about us. We want you to know that we are glad to be here. We want our presence to be a blessing to you. We want to prove to be actual disciples of our Master Yahshua by loving one another as He loved us.
We don‘t want God‘s love in His people to be mystical, off in heaven like pie in the sky when you die in the sweet bye and bye. We want to be real! Real means actual, authentic, true; based upon the Author. The Author of our life together is the Son of God. We believe that actual obedience to His Word is the only factual way to bring about His church, His community here on earth. One day He will return for such a people, fulfilling God‘s eternal purpose.