1. Are you Koresh’s Davidians?
No. We are in no way connected with David Koresh. We do not share his theology or condone his actions. It is quite unfortunate that this question is often the first to arise and we regret that it is the first in need of answering. That said, it must be answered. Due to the widespread misinformation concerning Branch Davidians, we would like to provide you with a brief outline of the facts:
The Davidian movement began in 1929 through the message of a man named Victor Houteff. As a laypersons’ movement within the Seventh-Day Adventist church, it continued under his lead until his death in February, 1955. A few months later, a Davidian named Benjamin Roden began to proclaim a new message in continuation of Victor Houteff’s teachings. Under Benjamin Roden, the movement received a new name – Branch. Branch Davidians have thus been around and going by that name since 1955.
David Koresh (originally, Vernon Howell) was not born until 1959 and had no contact with the Branch movement until late 1981 when he went to New Mt. Carmel Center (then the Branch Headquarters) to offer labor as a carpenter to Lois Roden, who was the leader of the Branch at that time (Ben had died in 1978). After burning down the Branch Davidian publishing house in 1983, Vernon left Mt. Carmel Center to form a new group called “The Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists” (DBDSDA) centered in Palestine, Texas. From that location, Howell led his group (under the DBDSDA name) for three years in opposition to Lois Roden and the Branch Davidians who were still located at New Mt. Carmel Center near Waco (we mention this to show the clear distinction between the two groups). Lois died in November, 1986. In 1987, Vernon illegally claimed presidency of the Branch Davidian movement and gained control over the New Mt. Carmel property in early 1988 after having a shootout with George Roden (Ben and Lois’ eldest son). From that time until the tragic siege and fire of 1993, Koresh was illegally usurping the name and identity of the Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, at least on paper. In his teaching, however, Koresh abandoned all things Branch Davidian, including the name. During the 1990’s, Koresh and his followers did not self identify as Branch Davidians; instead they called themselves “The Students of the Seven Seals,” only using the Branch name for records in order to keep the Branch property.
In summary, Davidians have, since 1929, existed as a religious movement separate from David Koresh – before, during, and after his lifetime. Here is a brief timeline of the Davidian Movement with its various presidents, including reference to Koresh’s activity during each period of time.
(not yet born)
(no contact with Branch)
(first contact in 1981 – led DBDSDA from ’83-’86)
(illegally usurping Branch identity from ’87-’93)
We hope that this helps to clarify the historical reality that the Branch Davidians have never been followers of David Koresh and David Koresh has never been the leader of the Branch Davidians. For more information on this topic, please see our page on the Waco Siege and David Koresh (forthcoming).
2. What is the difference between the Branch and other religions?
It is truly a challenge to attempt to answer such a broad question in such a short space, but we will do our best to summarize some of the major differences. In order to provide the most comprehensive and concise explanation we will focus on the fundamental principles by which our religion operates as distinct from other religions rather than endeavoring to discuss individual doctrines.
First – We Profess No Creed and Promote No Canon
While most modern religions are defined by a set list of doctrinal beliefs, the Branch is far more interested in principles and continual learning. While we do have a number of strong convictions, we recognize that religious creeds only serve to limit open investigation as well as to foster dogmatism. We find the same to be true concerning church canons, including scripture canons. We see critical and experimental investigation to be a far better approach. We are determined to accept any claim that stands the test of genuine investigation and to abandon all claims (however cherished) that prove to have no foundation in reality. In this, we must confess that there is much we do not know and much we must learn, but that is our goal – to discard error and discover (and live by) truth.
Second – We Advocate Progression
All religions start with some form of divergence from the status quo at the time of their inception. These divergences are seen by the religion’s advocates as an advancement from previous thought. Unfortunately, most religions cease to advance as soon as their founders die. The progression which was present at the beginning soon vanishes and the religion settles into a more fixed form, taking on creeds and the like. This is not to say there is no more development, as all religions continue to change over time; it is only to say that the trend of development is usually toward fixing positions and stabilizing a certain form rather than toward asking new questions and actively changing perspectives in light of new evidence. We are determined never to lose the principle of progression. We expect to always learn and to ever receive fresh revelations of truth. Throughout history, men and women have risen up to proclaim enlightening messages of truth and righteousness. Religions have been formed around these men and women in such a way that any other man or woman who would later arise to bear a similar message of revolutionary change is most often rejected. From our perspective, the continual rising of new men and women to call for change through a message of enlightenment is seen to be a part of the very fabric of true religion. Thus, we do not expect this phenomenon to cease, but to continue – ever onward and upward.
Third – We Are Materialists
By “materialists” we do not mean that we are greedy for luxurious objects (in fact, we view such a mindset to be entirely contrary to right principle). No, we refer to philosophical materialism – the position that all things which exist are material and that supposed non-physical realities are not realities at all. Some also refer to this basic idea as “physicalism” or “naturalism.” Whatever one may call it, the idea stands in sharp contradistinction to nearly all religious thought. Most religions are founded upon the idea that there exists another realm, apart from the physical – the realm of souls, spirits, angels, god(s), heaven, hell, etc. We find evidence for such a realm to be entirely lacking. This is not to say, however, that we deny the existence of all the things which most people conceive of as inhabiting this realm. Rather, we observe that the nature of these things has been grossly misunderstood. The words used to describe these things have been misinterpreted to the point that the ideas which they call forth in the mind are so radically different from their originally intended meaning that they hardly relate. For example, modern folk most often understand the words “spirit” and “spiritual” to be inherently opposed to “matter” and “physical,” as though the words themselves mean “non-physical.” Conversely, the ancient usage of the word (or, more accurately, the parallel words in ancient languages) was always material.2 The de-physicalization of the meaning of all these words for those of us in the modern western world is just one of the effects of the influence of Greek philosophy upon Judaic religions. Originally, Judaism (and proto-Judaism) was a physicalist faith in the strictest sense. So, while we deny the existence of what many today think of when imagining “spirit” (and the other words we have mentioned) we do not deny the existence of the things to which the ancient words originally referred. In other words, we reject the immaterialistic ideas of the Greek philosophers, but accept the materialism of ancient Judaism.
Ultimately, our materialist position, while informed by (and in agreement with) Hebrew Scripture, is not dependent upon it. Rather, the truth of this position can be independently verified without requiring one to accept certain presuppositions. Let us explain. The claims of most religions depend on their sacred text. One of the problems which arise from this circumstance is that religious disputes can hardly ever be settled, for both parties view their Scripture as the thing which defines truth and therefore, so long as their sacred text says something, they conclude that it cannot possibly be wrong. But what happens when two religious persons have two different sacred texts and both believe that their text defines truth? Each one believes certain claims and each has the same reason for their belief; that is, their scripture says so. Thus, both persons only have as much justification for their beliefs as does the other. If a third person is introduced who has no presupposition as to the truth of either of the claimed sacred writings, how would that person go about determining which (if any) is correct? S/he cannot simply assume one to be true, or arbitrarily side with one or the other, or choose by preference and expect to come to real knowledge. None of these methods are a reliable means of finding truth, as most all will candidly admit. Consequently, there must be something outside of, and beyond, all sacred texts and religions by which we can test all claims. Such a standard does exist and it is actually quite easy to discern. We will provide a brief example to demonstrate: Suppose a person claims to have a sibling. What determines whether their claim is true? Is it not the case that the material existence, or lack thereof, of such a sibling is what makes the difference? In other words, if they really do have a sibling in material reality, their claim is true. But if they have no sibling in material reality, their claim is false. An imaginary sibling won’t do, will it? Countless other examples could be given to demonstrate this point, but the lesson they all teach is this: Claims which do not correspond to physical reality are, by definition, not true, while claims which do correspond to physical reality are, by definition, true. This shows us that physical/material reality is actually what determines truth. Any claimed non-physical reality, then, is (by definition) false. Thus, our conclusion is that material reality is the standard by which all claims can and must be tested. Also, that materialism must be true and immaterialism must be false.
The implications of these conclusions are far too vast to expound upon here, but they impact literally every aspect of thought and belief, both in terms of the content of the beliefs themselves and in terms of the methods by which we form our beliefs.
Fourth – Our Conception of the “Divine” and Our Basis for Believing in Such
The vast majority of theistic religions advance the claim that there exists an immaterial God – beyond time and space. Since we have found that immateriality and nonexistence are, in reality, the same thing, we see such claims as self-contradictory from the start, and thus, unavoidably false. To state the same thought more clearly: If the immaterial and the nonexistent are really the same, then saying, “An immaterial God exists” is the same as saying, “A nonexistent God exists” – which is a self-contradictory claim. Truly, we find all arguments in favor of such a God to be lacking substance. That said, our rejection of popular God-claims does not equate to a rejection of all God-claims. The ancient Jewish scriptures make very different claims concerning God(s) and other “divine” beings. For instance, the non-earthly beings spoken of throughout the bulk of ancient Jewish literature are all material, biological entities with bodies, parts, form, gender, location, etc. While claims concerning immaterial beings are beyond the realm of any normal investigation, the same is not true concerning the material claims of ancient Judaism.
Though this format does not permit us to even begin to elucidate the reasons and evidence for our positions, we would like to at least briefly explain the sort of things that we consider to be valid evidence. In order to do this, we must start with the fundamentals of knowledge. Our position is that all genuine knowledge is gained by carefully reasoned experimentation conducted through the senses. This can be done either directly or indirectly. Let us illustrate: Suppose a man comes to a sidewalk. Is the sidewalk safe to walk upon, or will it fall through under the weight of his body? One way of finding the answer is to conduct a direct experiment by stepping onto the sidewalk and observing what happens. The other way is to conduct a number of indirect experiments which relate to the question. In this instance, the man would have likely already conducted such experiments by walking on a number of other sidewalks thus gaining a knowledge of what a safe sidewalk is like. Knowledge thus obtained becomes a rule by which he may test this sidewalk. If the man was to observe that the sidewalk was missing the normal components of a safe sidewalk, he might question whether it is safe and lack a true knowledge of its condition. On the other hand, if he observes that it has all the regular properties of a safe sidewalk, he knows that he can place his foot down without hesitation. Sure, he could doubt even then (as anyone could choose to doubt anything), but he has done the experiment and thus obtained justifiable knowledge as to the condition of the sidewalk. This illustrates the fact that knowledge gained by direct experimentation in the past becomes a basis for knowledge of similar things in the future. Likewise, when examining the evidence for the existence of beings other than ourselves, we can do so either by direct or indirect experimentation – indirect being the most common. We say that indirect experimentation is the most common because we have never had direct contact with most beings (whether human or other animals) whom we know to exist (whether beings of the past or the present). The evidence gained through indirect experiment is sufficient for us to determine the truth of their existence.
The way that we can test the existence of proposed beings is to gather up the facts in relation to those beings and to see whether the existence of the being is a necessary condition in order for the facts to be what they are. We will give an example, but let us first define some important terms. A fact is an individual item of reality. Evidence is a fact, or a series of facts, that are supportive of, and concordant with, one and only one conclusion. If a fact can be used in support of a certain conclusion only as justifiably as it could be used in support of contradictory conclusion, it cannot be used as evidence. There are a few requirements for any conclusion to be genuinely known to be correct: (1) It must not contradict any of the facts, (2) it must be sufficient to explain the facts, and (3) it must be necessary to explain the facts. In order to clarify why the third requirement is necessary, we offer this example: Suppose one made the claim that there is an interstellar jellyfish-like creature which is all-powerful and has the ability to create worlds and that it is that particular creature which created our world. That claim does not itself contradict any facts of the world in any obvious way and it is sufficient to explain the facts of the world, but it is not necessary to explain the facts of the world. Countless other claims could be made that are just as sufficient as explanations and just as concordant with the facts of the world, but so long as they are unnecessary, there is no justification for believing one claim over the other. A giant dolphin-like creature as the creator of the world is just as good an explanation, but since neither explanation is necessary, neither have merit.
Now, to our example of testing the existence of a being. Let us take Paul of Tarsus. Some of the facts that we have concerning this individual are that there are a number of letters claiming to have been written by him, some of which are confirmed to date to the time in which Paul would have lived. There are also a number of writings by other authors also dating to the first century CE which reference Paul in such a way as to indicate that the authors believed him to be a real person. Moreover, there are other letters which claim to be written by Paul which have been confirmed not to have been written by him, but by others claiming to be him. There are ancient witnesses which speak positively of Paul, and others which speak negatively of Paul. In any case, the ancient witnesses are unanimously in favor of his existence. There are many other facts that could be mentioned, but this should be enough to make the point. The hypothesis that Paul really did exist certainly stands in non-contradiction with all the facts. It is also sufficient to explain the facts in that it provides a reason for the existence of all this Paul-related material. Finally, it is necessary in that it is the only means of explaining the various facts including the combination of pro-Paul and anti-Paul material, the existence of letters forged in his name, and the contemporary belief in his existence. All these reasons, and many more, are why all historians believe that Paul really did exist. We understand that our presentation of this example is extremely simplified, condensed, and lacking in detailed explanation, but to present it otherwise would run counter to the purpose of our providing it. Our aim is simply to provide the sort of evidence necessary to establish the existence of proposed beings. In short, the sorts of experiments which must be conducted to obtain knowledge of the existence of earthly beings are, in principle, the same as the sorts of experiments which must be conducted to obtain knowledge of the existence of non-earthly beings. In conducting these sorts of experiments, we have found that at least some of the proposed non-earthly beings mentioned in ancient Jewish literature do, in fact, exist. For information on what we believe concerning these beings please see our studies which deal with the subjects of the Godhead and angels.
Fifth – Our Understanding of Morality
There are two primary differences between our view and that of most religions in this area. They are (1) the basis of morality and (2) the solution to immorality. First, the basis: Many religions suggest that morality has its origin with God and/or that he created it and instilled it within each of us. This is often set in opposition to secular morality, most versions of which view morality as a social construct which evolves over time and space from society to society. Both conceptions of morality, we find to be flawed. We agree with the latter in that it accurately describes how moral systems actually play out in the real world, but we disagree with it in that it confuses the moral systems created by societies with morality itself. We agree with “religious morality” in that it proposes what is supposed to be a more objective model for morality itself, but we disagree with it in that it requires that we view this objective morality as being arbitrarily chosen by a supreme being (God). We say, “arbitrarily” because the view implies that God could have chosen for anything to be moral and immoral and that there is no outside standard beyond God to test his choice. This is nothing more than “might makes right” – the principle which lay at the root of bullying.
In contrast, our view of the basis of morality is this: moral claims are just as much claims as are any other, and so must be tested in the same manner as any other claim. The standard by which they must be tested is material reality. This necessitates that material reality is the foundation and standard of morality. We will give some examples to illustrate. The reason why lying is wrong (both morally and in terms of its truth value) is because each lie is a claim contrary to material reality. The reason why stealing is immoral is because, in order to steal, one has to pretend (whether in thought or in action) that the object in question is theirs, when, in material reality, it is not. Murder is wrong because it is the wiping out of a part of material reality – the person. More examples could be given, but this should be sufficient to teach the lesson – material reality determines what is moral and immoral; the “moral” is choosing to act in harmony with material reality and the “immoral” is choosing to act contrary to reality.
The second difference between our view of morality and the views of others relates to the solution for immorality. Among the advocates of pagan religions, a commonly faced problem was/is that, by misbehaving (acting immorally within their morality system), the god(s) could become very upset with them and potentially curse them and perhaps even seek to take their lives. The solution which these religions offer for this conundrum was/is to appease the god(s) by offering some sort of sacrifice. Obviously, killing the innocent in order to “get off the hook” with an angry God is not a genuine solution for immorality. In fact, it only causes immorality to fester and grow, for the act itself is immoral and it provides illegitimate reason for a person to continue in immorality, provided they are willing to kill another creature (whether human or another animal).
Other religions, such as modern Judaism and Islam, teach that moral behavior is highly important, but that we are not to expect ourselves to act morally at all times. The thought is that so long as our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, we are a good person and will thus merit everlasting life. There are a number of problems we have with moral systems that promote this sort of idea, but for now it should be sufficient to say that making an effort to do good more than bad does not actually solve the problem of immorality, it only restrains it to a certain degree. In doing so, it actually justifies doing wrong some of the time.
The traditional Christian view is that, due to the sin of Adam, humanity has been in a state of entire moral depravity – incapable of even choosing the right. In this condition, humans are thought to be deserving of death or even eternal torment by the wrath of God. The death of Jesus is understood as satisfying the wrath of God so that God no longer desires to bring the penalty of death on those who ask Jesus to enter their hearts. In other words, Jesus has been killed and/or tormented in place of his followers. Because of this, it is thought that so long as you “accept the sacrifice of Jesus” you are in good terms with God, and that even if you sin, God does not see your sin; he only sees Jesus and his righteousness (moral behavior). We take issue with this teaching on a number of points. First, it offers no true solution to immorality, it just proposes to block God’s view of how immoral people really are. Moreover, the supposed means of accomplishing that end is entirely nonsensical. Let us illustrate by analogy: Imagine a judge. The judge makes a law and sets death as the penalty for breaking it. A man in the jurisdiction of the judge then breaks the law. The judge not only condemns the man, but also all his children. All are sentenced to death and are considered incapable of keeping the law because the one man broke it. The judge then decides that he wants to provide a way for the children and the man to be free from the death penalty. So, he brings in his own son, who has never broken the law, and executes the death penalty on him. Then he tells the man and his children that if they believe that his son died in their place, they don’t have to die anymore. Even if they break the law again, they will not be punished, just so long as they believe in the death of his son.
If a real judge did this, what would you think? Would you think it makes sense? Would you think it is a solution to immorality? No! You would recognize the judge to be totally insane and the circumstance to be wholly lacking in rhyme or reason. Moreover, you would certainly see it all to be horrific and exceedingly immoral. Unfortunately, this is not so different, in principle, from the doctrine taught by Christianity. God is the judge, his son is Jesus, the man is Adam, and the children are descendants of Adam (the human race). While much more could be said concerning this doctrine, we hope it is plain to all that we find it to be absolutely horrendous and immoral, and we also hope you can see some of our reasons why.
In our view, the solution to immorality is quite simple. Since morality is choosing to act in harmony with reality and immorality is choosing to act in disharmony with reality, the solution is for people to be acquainted with reality and to choose to act in harmony with it. The cause of immorality is, in some instances, a lack of knowledge concerning reality; in other instances, it is ignoring reality. Where there is a lack of knowledge, supplying the lack will bring about moral behavior. Where there is willful ignorance, the solution can be found in a change of thinking whereby someone realizes the importance of choosing to act morally. The promotion of truth, then, is really what can set people free from immoral behavior, so long as they are willing to accept it and act in harmony with it. Since there is no part of reality which is isolated from the whole, we see action against a part of reality as being, in principle, the same as acting against the whole. The mindset which is willing to work against reality in one area will undoubtedly be willing to work against it in another area. It is really a change in mindset that is needed. We all need to be thoroughly persuaded that all immoral action is unjustifiable and grossly detrimental to reality and all of its component parts, including ourselves and all other lifeforms. A way of thinking which is governed by truth and only truth will lead a person to act morally and only morally. Anything short of this standard is a danger. Condoning, or lessening abhorrence of, any amount of immorality opens the door for its spread. Loving truth and hating falsehood is the only way.
Though it is drastically different from, and contrary to, the popular Christian doctrine, we have found that the moral system we have advocated here is the one advanced by Jesus and his early followers. Evidence for this is given in our written, audio, and video studies.3
3. What does “Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist” mean, and what is its origin?
Perhaps the first things one needs to recognize in order to understand the meaning of the name is that it is composed of the titles of a succession of movements starting with the Adventist movement of the first half of the 19th century and leading up to the Branch movement of the mid-20th century. Each name that was added qualified the previous name. Thus, the word “Adventist” describes someone who believes in the imminent return of Jesus, but “Seventh-Day Adventist” describes a sub-category of Adventists who also believe, and participate, in the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. Likewise, the phrase “Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist” describes a sub-category of Seventh-Day Adventists who also believe in, and work toward, the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom. Finally, “Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist” describes a sub-category of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists who believe in, and co-operate with, the work of “the man whose name is Branch” (Zech. 6:12).
The Adventist Movement – As mentioned before, the word “Adventist” designates a person who believes in the soon coming, or arrival (advent), of Jesus to this world a second time. The Advent movement began in the 1830s with William Miller as its predominant leader. The Adventists expected the return of Jesus to occur in about the year 1843 (later, 1844) based primarily off their understanding of a prophecy in Daniel 8:14. When their expectations were greatly disappointed in October, 1844, the majority of believers left the Advent movement while others set dates later in the 1840’s or 50’s. Still others continued to believe in the soon coming of Jesus, but set no dates for his return.
The Seventh-Day Adventist Movement – Among those Adventists who continued to believe in the soon coming of Christ, but without setting new dates, was a small group who ended up concluding that the Advent movement was correct as to the date (Oct. 22, 1844), but wrong as to the event. Prior to 1844, the common idea was that the “sanctuary” of Daniel 8:14 was the earth and that its being cleansed was its cleansing by fire at the second coming of Christ. This small group of Adventists, however, concluded that the sanctuary being referred to in Daniel 8 was the sanctuary in Heaven where Jesus went to minister on behalf of humanity after his ascension. The cleansing of that sanctuary was seen to be the fulfillment of the cleansing of the Israelite sanctuary on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Since on that day the Israelite high priest would enter the Most Holy Place, this group of Adventists believed that Jesus entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary in 1844 to accomplish the final cleansing, both of the record of sin, and of sin itself within the lives his professed followers on earth. A young woman named Ellen Harmon (later Ellen White) received a number of dreams and visions in relation to this event and the other experiences of the Advent people. In one vision,4 she saw Jesus move into the Most Holy Place of the Heavenly Sanctuary wherein dwelt the ark containing the ten commandments. She saw a halo of glory around the fourth commandment and was shown that God had not changed the Sabbath – that it was still in force and called for observance. The Adventists who believed in these dreams and visions ended up joining together and comprising the Seventh-Day Adventist movement.
The Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Movement – The Davidian movement began in 1929 through the teachings of a Seventh-day Adventist named Victor Houteff who was burdened to share with other Seventh-day Adventists a message he received concerning the sealing of the 144,000 and the purification of the church. At that time, those who accepted the message of Victor Houteff were not yet called “Davidians.” By 1934, they were called “Shepherd’s Rod Seventh-Day Adventists” (borrowing the name from Victor Houteff’s first two publications, The Shepherd’s Rod, Vol. 1 and The Shepherd’s Rod, Vol. 2). In the late 1930’s, Victor Houteff received another revelation, this time concerning the restoration of the ancient kingdom of David in the Promised Land prior to the return of Christ. It is the belief in this teaching to which the name “Davidian” refers. Shepherd’s Rod believers began to be called “Davidians” starting in the early 1940’s.
The Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Movement – Shortly after Victor Houteff died in 1955, a Davidian named Benjamin Roden was given a message of rebuke to bear to the leaders of the Davidian movement (this included Victor Houteff’s wife, Florence, and others who had formerly been members of the governing body of the Davidian Association), and later to the leaders of the Seventh-Day Adventist church. When he had written the first letter, he was hesitant to sign it by his own name since he knew that its contents did not originate with himself. He then heard an audible voice telling him to sign the letter by the name “Branch.” Later, he understood that “Branch” was the new name of Jesus as prophesied in Rev. 3:12; 2:17; Zech. 6:12, 3:8, among other passages. Those who accepted his teachings become known as “Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists” or “Branches,” for short. This new name was received, not just as a distinguishing mark between those who accepted Roden’s message and those who did not, but in fulfillment of certain prophecies which describe how God’s people would receive a new name, even the new name of Christ (Jer. 23:5-6; 33:15-16; Isa. 62:2, 65:15, etc.) Because of prophecies such as Isaiah 65:15, Ben Roden taught that, when our work within our parent movements comes to an end, the names “Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist” will be dropped and only “Branch” would be retained since it is the only one prophesied as being the name of God’s people.
Note: The summaries we have here provided concerning these movements are intentionally brief and selective. We have only given what is necessary in order to explain the name, but it must be understood that there is much more to the history and teachings of each movement. If you would like to learn more concerning these movements and the messengers and messages associated with them, we recommend for you to read the brief bios for each author on our website by going to their individual author page which you can find under “Authors and Writings” in the above menu.
4. What is your religious identity? Since your beliefs and practices are so different from other religions, how do you think you should be classified? Do you consider yourselves to be Christian, Jewish, or something else?
While classification can be helpful, it can also serve to encourage misrepresentation. The reason for this is simply that different people associate the same words with different ideas. The idea that one person has when thinking of the word “Christian,” for example, is not precisely the same as what another person imagines while thinking of the same word. Thus, to categorize one’s self using such a word could communicate the wrong idea to another person if that person understands it to mean something other than the meaning intended by the person using it. We mention these things to highlight the importance of judging everything, and everyone, on their own merits and to seek to understand individuals and people groups according to their own intentions. We ask that you keep these principles in mind as you read our explanation of our own religious self-identity.
Another preliminary aspect we feel we must mention is the practical role which self-identity often plays for individuals when encountering different ideas. Every individual has a sense of religious (or non-religious) self-identity which is part of their overall self-image. This self-categorization gives each person a sense of belonging in the community which shares the same self-identity. Those who are raised as Muslims, for example, grow up with a Muslim self-identity and a sense of belonging in Muslim communities. To change their religious self-identity would be to lose their sense of belonging and to isolate themselves from their community. The same is true for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Since changing one’s self-identity and potentially isolating one’s self from one’s community can be very uncomfortable, and even frightening, most people hold themselves back from seriously considering something which might cause them to radically change their views and, consequently, their religious identity. Another factor which often becomes involved with this is one community’s overall perspective of another community. Often, people negatively categorize other religions and so the thought of self-identifying as part of another religious body from what one is currently in, seems unappealing or unattractive. Also, there is the potential fear of how one might be perceived by their current religious (or non-religious) community if s/he was to self-identity as part of a religious system which is viewed negatively by their current community. All these factors show the practical importance of religious self-identity for the lives of individuals. What it also shows is that most people have a lot more in consideration when investigating religious claims than simply whether or not they are true. What we encourage all people to do is to prize the truth more highly then their self-identity or their standing in their community. As we have explained in another answer (above), truth is the foundation of all things and separation from truth can only bring immorality and suffering upon the world. This said, please consider our view of our own self-identity with thoughtful care.
Because of our belief in the message and mission of Jesus, most people would probably categorize us as Christian. And if all one means by the word “Christian” is “a follower of Jesus,” then we have no problem with that categorization. However, for many people, the word “Christian” carries with it certain doctrinal viewpoints and devotional practices, such as the acceptance of a certain Scripture canon, a supernatural worldview, belief in a conscious state of the dead, trinitarian theology, participation in the mass, Sunday church attendance, etc. none of which we believe or advocate. Thus, self-identifying by the term “Christian” could certainly misrepresent our actual positions. Moreover, believing in the mission and message of Jesus is not (historically speaking) a unique Christian perspective. What we mean by that is that Jesus’ original followers were not actually Christians, but Jews. Neither his disciples, nor the writers of the New Testament, nor any of his followers spoken of in the New Testament self-identified as “Christians.” Historians have recognized for some time now that Jesus and his first followers were actually a sect within Judaism. This sect, according to the New Testament (Acts 25:5, 14), and a number of early Christian sources, was known as the Nazarenes (Netzarim in Hebrew), meaning “branches” in English. The Nazarenes were a sect of Jews within Judaism just as much as were the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and other groups. It was really only in the second century that certain gentile believers in Jesus (Ignatius, among others) made a split with Judaism to start a new religion which they called “Christianity.” Meanwhile, the Nazarenes continued on at least until the early fifth century as a part of Judaism, not considering themselves to be part of “Christianity.” Since we believe in the mission and message of Jesus and since he and his followers were Nazarene Jews, also since our beliefs and practices are in keeping with the ancient Nazarenes and do not resemble those of Christianity, we self identify as Nazarenes (or Branches) rather than as Christians.
This does, of course, mean that we have a Jewish self-identity. Unfortunately, this also is subject to misunderstanding and misrepresentation. When most people today think of the words “Jew,” “Jewish,” “Judaism,” etc., they typically think of the Judaism of the Rabbis, or “Rabbinic Judaism” since that is the predominant Judaism today. This Judaism is different in many respects from Nazarene Judaism and so we must encourage all to take care not to conflate the two due to the shared word, “Judaism.”
Lastly, while the phrase “Nazarene Judaism” is a fair description of our religion and while it is a self-identifying phrase, it is easy for people to think of the phrase only in regard to people from the early centuries of the common era. On the other hand, the phrase “Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist” or even just “Branch Davidian” communicates more effectively our recent history, including the various movements which have led us to our present position. Unfortunately, however, the name “Branch Davidian” is so often incorrectly associated with David Koresh and his beliefs and practices that it commonly conveys the wrong idea. All this said, we know of no identifying terms which are not subject to misunderstanding and which do not require at least some explanation. The terms and phrases by which we self-identify include “Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist,” “Branch Davidian,” “Branches,” “Nazarene Jews,” “Nazarenes,” and “Netzarim.” Ultimately though, as stated above, we will eventually drop the names “Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist” and retain only the name “Branch” or, in Hebrew, Nazarene.