The Branch Davidians/Shepherd's Rod—Who Are They?
George W. Reid
The Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas, fame were themselves a division of a small offshoot group known as the Shepherd's Rod, who left the Adventists Church in 1930. To meet a continuing need for information about this group, this brief article, reprinted with slight alteration from theAdventist Review, is provided for readers.
Beginnings of the Shepherd's Rod
The experience of the Branch Davidians was part of the saga of a breakaway splinter group that left the Adventist Church in southern California in 1930. Then and now they represent themselves as the true Seventh-day Adventists.
Victor T. Houteff, then an Adventist church member, introduced personal ideas into his Sabbath school classes, ideas he taught at private meetings as well. Following earnest efforts to reason with him, the congregation finally dropped him from membership in November 1930.
Within two years Houteff had produced and circulated two large documents titled "The Shepherd's Rod" promoting beliefs directly contrary to Adventist understandings. These, he claimed, were the genuine message of God. Building on Houteff's assertion that he was the antitypical David, as well as on his claims to possess the prophetic gift, his group adopted the name The Shepherd's Rod.
In 1935 Houteff and 11 followers moved to a newly purchased farm near Waco, Texas, which they named Mount Carmel Center. By 1937 a tentative organization was functioning, calling itself "The General Association of the Shepherd's Rod Seventh-day Adventists." The group continued zealously producing and distributing its literature, infiltrating Adventist churches in search of anyone who could be persuaded to join them.
The U.S. Selective Service draft in 1942 confronted Shepherd's Rods with a quandary. Draftees could be granted Sabbath privileges only if they could be shown to be bona fide members of a recognized religious group advocating that belief.
Being unrecognized as members by Seventh-day Adventists, Shepherd's Rod draftees faced serious difficulties. Therefore the leaders dropped their claim to be regular Seventh-day Adventist members and registered with the United States government under the name Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.
They issued certificates of membership and documented their ministers. The transition to a separated group in 1942 was almost complete; however, they continued to insist that they comprised the true and faithful Adventists.
Shortly before his death in 1955, Houteff announced that following a period of 1260 literal days, Christ would initiate His kingdom. His wife, Florence, succeeding to leadership, identified the 1260 days as extending from November 9, 1955, to April 22, 1959. As the fateful day approached, a call was issued for the faithful to dispose of property and come to Mount Carmel Center. An estimated 800 persons arrived, many bringing the proceeds from the sale of possessions.
When the day came and went, unmarked by the expected event, disillusionment led to fracture of the Shepherd's Rods into smaller groups, the largest remaining at Waco and adding the name "Branch." Some members returned to Seventh-day Adventist churches.
Following an unsuccessful effort by Adventists for reconciliation, late in 1961 Mrs. Houteff renounced the Shepherd's Rod teachings as in error and shortly moved to disband the group.
However, one of the factions gained possession of the Mount Carmel Center. Eventually the center came under the control (in 1984) of Vernon Howell, who had been disfellowedshiped in 1981 from the Tyler (Texas) Seventh-day Adventist Church. Howell later changed his name to David Koresh. Under his leadership the group radicalized its program and stockpiled heavy firearms, prompting the February 28 raid by law enforcement authorities—ending in a shootout and standoff that propelled the Branch Davidian group into the media limelight worldwide.
Shepherd's Rod Teachings
The question arises, What are the main teachings that distinguish Shepherd's Rods from Seventh-day Adventists? In brief, the differences center on a series of assertions having to do with last-day events.
Perhaps the most important is the idea that a Davidic kingdom of absolute righteousness is to be established in Palestine prior to the close of probation. This was the event foreseen for April 22, 1959. By divine intervention, Arabs, Jews, and others would be displaced to make room for this kingdom, whose citizens would be the 144,000, including Shepherd's Rods and certain others.
Shepherd's Rod teachings deny that messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 7:14 ("Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son. . .") and Micah 5:2 ("But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, . . .out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel") met complete fulfillment with Jesus, arguing that they should apply to the coming Davidic kingdom. Shepherd's Rods see themselves as called to announce the approach of this Davidic kingdom. Afterward, it is said, Jesus will return to establish another kingdom with the Second Advent, which is to follow the close of probation.
Houteff also interpreted the parable of wheat and tares and the harvest of Revelation (Matt. 13:36-43; Rev. 14:14-19). These he applied to the present time period, anticipating the coming of the Davidic kingdom. Instead of describing events to occur at Jesus' return, Houteff believed the harvest of grain began January 1, 1931, with a vision he received appointing him to call out the 144,000. The harvest of tares, he taught, will be a divine slaughter of Adventists who reject his message, fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 9.
Yet Jesus clearly assigns the harvest and the separation of grain from tares to His return at the end of the world, which follows the close of probation (Matt. 13:39-43).
A major theme of Shepherd's Rod teaching has been an interpretation of the prophecy of Ezekiel 9. At a point prior to probation's close, we are told, divine agencies will destroy those Adventists who reject the appeals of the Shepherd's Rod. This represents an invisible coming of Christ to establish the Davidic kingdom prior to probation's close. Later, Jesus is to come in visible glory to establish His kingdom following the seven last plagues.
Adventists, in contrast, see the prophecy's primary meaning in the Babylonian conquest of Judah, although parallels with the visions of Revelation 7:15,16 indicate analogies with certain final events. But those events will follow the close of probation.
The fracturing of the Shepherd's Rod movement that began in 1961 has led to a wide variety of additional beliefs promoted by different subgroups. Vernon Howell's special interpretation of the seven seals of Revelation (6:1-8:1) offers an example.
His declaration that he alone holds a satisfactory understanding of the seals is used to bolster his claim to be the Lamb who alone can open the seals (Revelation 5). His interpretation stands in marked contrast to the Adventist understanding, which sees Jesus as the Lamb and the seals as reaching across 2,000 years from the time of Jesus to His return.
Sifting Truth From Error—Questions to Ask
The experience of the Shepherd's Rods and similar groups illustrates the hazards, not in holding strong religious faith, but in distorting it. As Ellen White reminds us, "the track of truth lies close beside the track of error" (Review and Herald; Oct. 22, 1903). Several simple but important tests should be applied by every believer who wants to build solid faith while hedging against error.
1. Is there a heavy concentration on one or two main points?
2. Am I hearing a careful pursuit of understanding, or an urging toward quick conclusions?
3. Does the person or group distance themselves from the larger body of believers? Such separation robs us of the balance provided by hearing the whole church.
4. Does the promoter or group emphasize impending danger to the point of creating a feeling of desperation? A true walk with Christ builds hope and confidence, not terror.
5. Is undue attention given to the ideas of one person?
6. Am I urged to accept uncritically whatever is promoted, buttressed by the use of selected Bible texts and Spirit of Prophecy quotations as proofs?
Ours is a perilous age for Christians, not only from unbelief, but a willingness to believe too much. The false lies beside the true. The drives of human needs and the hype of marketing, both in products and ideas, push us to make the most crucial of decisions on shallow evidence. Christ has a better way: careful searching of His Word and placing utter trust in Him alone.
Reprinted from Adventist Review, April 1, 1993
Distributed by the Biblical Research Institute
I thought this was a purely SDA site...""Adventist Online is the largest social network for Seventh-day Adventists. Find your SDA friends on the most active & fun Adventist forum!""......Obviously not then, since I was just told that non SDA's whose agenda in our church is to get people out are many in this site.
So I can only deduce that SDA anywhere, groups, forums, churches etc..are NOT totally SDA...we do not know if we are talking to a real SDA or not..how comforting and safe..NOT.
Tell me something who is an SDA. Now you will not see anything about SDA in the bible but all those bible pioneers will be saved so would you call them an SDA or not? First you need to define who is an SDA and then you need to define who God's ppl are then you will be able to answer that.
We really DO AGREE, LESLIE! Great response...
@Alli M - sure... if anyone - and that includes SDAs here cause trouble - then yes... the owner of site can ask them to leave. but if they are not causing trouble. then they should stay! we will not be a good witness to non sdas if we ask them to leave! I think that would be disgusting behaviour if we turned non sdas away! truly! it would be!!
@Alli M - oh and - you can just ask them out of curiousity if you want to know if they are sda or other christian. really its very simple. lets just all be kind to everyone here. no one needs to leave unless they are breaking site rules and continue to do so! I am sure the owner of the site will do the right thing to those who cause problems!
The purpose of our faith is also to share it to others. How challenging that can be sometimes. But the message must be told to all.
Good Morning Alli,
Sorry for your disappointment unfortunately, we are dealing with the last day. I was very disappointed, i went to church one Sabbath, i was welcome by a Sherpard Rod. Needless to say, I was unhappy i went straight to a church leader. The sermon was about Sherperd Rod, i'm assuming the pastor got a hold of the message we have a Shepard Rod among us. The point I'm trying to make, The Bible told us what to expect, at the end of time. We are at the end of time. We cannot be diappointed at the SDA online. The imposter will be the imposter, our job is to pray among ourselves, and make it to heaven. We have to fight fire with water in order to get rid of it. Not fire with fire.
Alexander i asked who is a Seventh Day Adventist and what distinguishing marks do they have that one can identify them?
For the majority of the people, a Seventh Day Adventist is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church. That is what they are asking...if ______ is a member of the SDA church. Yes, since the SDA church is established on Biblical beliefs then you could be a believer without having your membership in the church. I don't know why a person in this time period would chose not to join the church if they have the same beliefs but maybe someone didn't join. So simple question and answer would be that if someone asks you if you are SDA, they mean do you belong to the SDA church.... How much more simple could it be than yes or no.
And if the answer is no and you believe that your teachings are correct and the SDA church is wrong, why be ashamed to say so? Sort of like Peter denying Christ. If you don't stand up and say what you believe, then you are denying Christ. Regardless of how you think we on the site that are SDA would react, a person should be willing to confess to others what they believe about Christ and what they stand for. Being an SDA means I belong to the SDA church. No more, no less to answer that question.
I thought if you are keeping the commandments of God and waiting for his second advent then you are an SDA.
Nowhere in the bible does it speak about SDA.
Yes I know God raised up the SDA church and gave truths i am not disputing that.
But if a sheppherd rod (I am not one) is living the commandments that does not disqualify him/her that they are not a SDA.
They may not have all the truths that is certain but they are still SDA because they are waiting for the second advent of Jesus.
God will bring them into all truths.
All Seventh Day Adventist who goes to church in the organization do no believe the same things so what distinguishes them apart arent they still all SDA.
Jesus did not die for SDA he died for his ppl and this is biblical.
There are two classes of people on the earth the people who keep the commandments of God and has the testimony of Jesus also the faith of Jesus and the people who dont.
There is only one church and one truth and if four people decide to form a group and live that truth they will not be doing anything wrong neither will they be breaking any principle of God.
SDA feel that they have to go to the organization for God to teach them and that it is only being there they will be saved that is incorrect.
The church is within you and wherever two or three are gathered in his name he is there to bless.
Now I not saying it is wrong to go to the organization churches that is not my point.
Each individual has a work to do and if you belong to the organization or not it does not change the fact that you still have a work to do and that is to preach the everlasting gospel to all the world.
God is doing his work and whether we agree with this or not his work is going forward but it is not only the SDA organization is doing the work.
We are all laodecia which means declaring judgements the seventh church no new organization.
Alexander I am a SDA some may say otherwise but what can I do about that will it change or erase anything?