Waco – Have We Learnt the Lessons?

Church leaders, two college lecturers and a student reflect.

Waco – Have We Learnt the Lessons?

[BUC, TED, NCHE, and Messenger news service]

Will we ever learn from the past? Are there any lingering signs in our community of faith which show that we continue to struggle to grow and mature in Christ? We asked some church leaders, two Newbold lecturers, and a Newbold student to share their perspective on ‘lessons learnt’.

Eglan Brooks (President, British Union Conference)

As a Church, we need to learn lessons from the Waco tragedy. We need to provide a safe environment for our members and the people who interact with us. As a result of encountering us, people’s lives should flourish. Help us to be a caring, personal, and compassionate Church; and a Church protected by the presence of Jesus in our lives.

Don McFarlane (President, British Union Conference 2010-2015)

We remember with sadness and compassion those who lost their lives at Waco and the grieving families they left behind. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the salient reminder of the danger of extreme Adventist theology and the spin-off of false hopes and conspiracy theories. The event reminded me personally of the need to stay on the plain path that has been made by responsible Bible study and the consensus of many.

John Surridge (Executive Secretary, British Union Conference)

Hearing from people whose families were directly impacted by the Waco tragedy was deeply moving for those who attended the Anchored programme at Newbold College. The first-hand accounts of telephone calls, and correspondence with loved ones, brought home the reality of what happened thirty years ago, and the ongoing pain experienced by the bereaved. It also underlined the importance of taking measures to prevent such an occurrence in the future. Theologians and lecturers presented simple guides to biblical interpretation, including the importance of context and the distinction between general and apocalyptic prophecy. If taught correctly, these could help many Christians avoid the deceptions – deliberate or unwitting – which are even more prevalent today than they were in the time of David Koresh.

Tihomir Lazic (Senior Lecturer in Theology, Newbold College of Higher Education)

The commemoration offered invaluable support and a space for the Church to unite in solidarity, mourning with those still coping with pain and loss after the devastating fire in Waco. Furthermore, it has helped equip the Church with abundant theological and biblical resources, fostering a more knowledgeable and adept approach to scriptural prophecies and future-related concerns.

This thoughtfully curated event supplied essential theological tools and frameworks to prevent potential distortions that could result in disastrous outcomes and loss of life if misguided approaches and beliefs remain unchallenged. Overall, the commemoration offered a timely opportunity for reflection, remembrance, and resource development, enabling participants to build resilience, establish a robust and sound theological outlook, and attain a sense of biblically-grounded assurance.

Josephine Wilkinson (One Year in Mission and Service student, Newbold College of Higher Education)

The service was good. It is very easy to turn a blind eye to the things that we want to forget about but instead we have chosen to address it – to be honest about what happened.

One segment offered a reflection from individuals who were related to or knew of people who went to Waco, sharing their experiences and interactions – it was very honest, emotional, and this essence of vulnerability was needed.

Sometimes we can think of people who joined cults, and question: how can you be so silly to end up in that situation? How does it get to that point? In a way, it takes away their humanity. The interview with three panellists allowed us to remember that it is a very slippery slope, and it can happen to anybody. It’s not a matter of ignorance or stupidity or being any less human. We’re convicted, we’re persuaded, we are met in different areas and that is how things start to change.

I appreciated the teaching from the commemoration service, that it is important to study and descend into the Word for ourselves, and know God for ourselves, but also, we can advise. If we see someone going in perhaps the wrong direction, we can re-root them to our priority which is the Bible. Every speaker emphasised this idea.

The event also highlighted for me, the importance of developing a personal understanding and relationship with God. It was emphasised that relying solely on someone elses walk with God and the perception of who God is, can lead to misconceptions and being led astray. By taking the time to listen to others, listen to sermons, and personally engage in our own Bible studies, we can personally reflect and prevent things from being taken out of context.”

Ivan Milanov (Senior Lecturer in Old Testament, Newbold College of Higher Education)

The most impressive part of the commemoration service on 19 April at Newbold College church for me was the panel discussion. The participants (Mrs Dimplets Taylor, Dr Albert Waite and Mr Vilroy McBean) were relatives and/or friends of individuals that had joined David Koresh’s group and who perished.

The discussion offered a first-hand insight into the personalities and mindset of the people who had decided to follow Koresh to Waco, dedicated and idealistic Christians searching for a deeper experience with God. They were kind, caring and talented individuals in art, music, and academia.

It might sound odd to someone, but Koresh and his recruiters manipulated these individuals by using the quality of their characters and talents, not their weaknesses, as the prime vehicle of manipulation. But their only weakness was the inability to critically evaluate the nonsensical message and deviant personality of David Koresh.

It seems to me that, despite being dedicated and intelligent Christians, these nice people decided to link their excitement with Koresh’s ideas at the expense of their evaluative powers. In short, they trusted Koresh as they would trust God.

The panel discussion taught me that prevention, embodied in providing quality teaching and spiritual support on a daily basis, is the best prevention that the pastors, elders and teachers in the church could produce for the congregation and community at large.

Let me share if you will permit, six principles, preventative keys:

  1. For today’s generation who know nothing about Waco, I would advise, do not trust anyone as you trust God! No one, regardless of their kindness, intelligence and talents deserves our trust as we trust God. More particularly, do not commit hermeneutical idolatry. What I mean is, do not allow anyone, except the Holy Spirit, to be the final interpreter of the Scriptures for you.
  2. Never ever rely only on one source (e.g. preacher, book, or article) to inform your faith and practice. Even the Bible consists of more than one book, written by many human writers.
  3. Read and interpret the Bible in its totality: avoid proof-reading interpretation and overemphasising one text or passage at the expense of everything else in the Scripture.
  4. Do not listen only to the message of the person who preaches or teaches but look carefully to their personal life and practice: you will recognise them according to their fruits (see Matthew 7:15–23).

Regardless of the skilful preaching, deviating mindset and evil practice of these manipulators, Koresh included, should be a clear warning to anyone that they must leave the meeting or group and never come back. Do not join a group or follow a leader that you are not entirely convinced by the Spirit, confirmed by the Scriptures, in the correctness of their message and their practical life.

The following advice is precious: “If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and show you omens or portents, and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (whom you have not known) ‘and let us serve them,’ you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. The Lord your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast” (Deuteronomy 13:1–4).

  1. Do not make an important decision in a hurry. Koresh and his recruiters urged people to commit themselves to Koresh’s message and join them by using the car-salesman tactics: the deal expires soon; you’d better accept it now before it is too late.
  2. The last, but not least, pray and follow God’s guidance. The previous advice works best if you practice all the above-mentioned points simultaneously.

Marcel Ghioalda (Senior Pastor, Newbold College Church)

A prayer:

Dear Lord

Grant us a spirit of honesty:

To face the uncomfortable truths and realities of our past and

To confront our ideas, attitudes, and behaviours.


Grant us humility:

To admit our imperfections and

To put our hands up and acknowledge our limitations.


Grant us the courage required to live within the boundaries of our limits.


Grant us compassion:

For those whose choices differ from us, and

For those whose choices hurt others.


Grant us forgiveness:

For the way in which our own brokenness,

Led to the breaking of relationships with others.


In this spirit, help us:

Reflect honestly

Remember compassionately

Seek humble Reassurance and

Courageous Resilience.