A Brief History Of The Shepherd’S Rod
Where Did It Come From?
A Brief History of the Shepherd’s Rod
The fact that you have gone this far, may just mean that you are willing to at least give fairness a try. History may not be the most important aspect of our treatise, but before delving into the doctrines, one of the very important questions we must answer is, “how did the Shepherds come about?” The Denomination has repeatedly reported its history inaccurately and in the most exaggerated light. And so believing that you would like to have authentic knowledge of its past, we are constrained to give you a synopsis of its history.
The Shepherd’s Rod movement, as it is popularly known, was derived from a published series of biblical studies presented initially in Los Angeles, California, in the 1930's by Victor Tasho Houteff, a Bulgarian émigré, and while a Sabbath School teacher in a Los Angeles, California, Seventh-day Adventist church.
The name was derived from several places in the Bible, including this one found in the Book of Micah: “The Lord’s Voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.” Micah 6:9. Also: “Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel . . .” Micah 7:14.
You note here that this “rod” is capable of being heard because the man who is wise will hear it as the Lord’s voice crying unto the city. The church of Christ is likened to a city. (Matt. 5:14). God’s people are also commanded to feed on this “rod.” Thus it is not an ordinary or literal stick. The ancient Shepherd’s Rod was used to defend the sheep from wild beasts or thieves. It had a crook at the end that the shepherd would use to gently nudge the straying sheep back into the fold. No wonder David wrote: “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalms 23:4). Moses was told by God that he would do signs and wonders with his rod. So it is also a symbol of God’s power.
(Exodus 4:17, 7:9 - 20, 8:5, 16, 17). In prophetic language, Ezekiel declared that the righteous will pass under the “rod” and God will purge out the rebels. (Ezekiel. 20:37, 38). The idea hails back to ancient shepherds who counted the tithe by causing the tenth to pass under the rod. (Leviticus 27:32).
Houteff gives us some further insight as to how the name came about.
At the time we gave the name to this book, we knew nothing about the prophecies in the book of Micah; neither did we know this passage was there. We mean to say that it is not any of our knowledge of this particular scripture that compelled us to name the book by that title, but we feel it was done by the same divine providence that brought about the entire truth . . ..1
Victor Houteff was born in Raicovo, Bulgaria, March 2, 1885, and became a member of the Greek Orthodox Church before immigrating to the United States in 1907. 2
Houteff was forced to flee from his homeland after he along with others were “falsely accused of Conspiracy” 3 by fellow members of the powerful Orthodox Church, who were apparently angry over he and his cousin’s operating a successful and competitive business across the border in nearby Turkey. Although the charges were fallacious, to preserve his life, he was forced to flee his native land and headed for America. 4
In May, 1919, while running a small hotel in the Mid-west, he joined the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. 5 By 1923, Victor Houteff had relocated to Los Angeles, California, where he became a respected and popular church member and later a Sabbath School teacher of the local church in the Olympic Exposition Park area.
Church leaders have often contended that He was bitter because of an unfortunate experience he had in the Glendale Seventh-day Adventist sanitarium (hospital). However, there is absolutely no truth to this at all. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Houteff was taken ill. A retired Adventist minister recommended him to the sanitarium (hospital) as a member in good standing. 6 He was treated poorly but resolved to stay with the Church. His own words were: “The Sanitarium is God’s, and the Church is God’s . . .This is where God’s Truth is, though, and God helping me, I said, I shall stay with it. Yes, God did help me, I kept the faith, complained about nothing and stayed in the church with as good record as any.”7
During the Sabbath School lessons of 1928, and 1929, Houteff’s lesson studies became popular. His classes seemed to have revealed new and startling expositions of numerous biblical passages. His class burgeoned. At the request of the members, Houteff conducted afternoon classes in the church. The local church leaders on one pretext or another fought and brick-walled the afternoon classes. So, at the request of Florence F. Charboneau, a faithful church member who lived across the street, the class was relocated to her home. When room was limited, people stood outside and listened through the windows.
“Next they forbade us to attend their church services,” Houteff said, “and they began to excommunicate those who still wanted to attend our meetings. They tried to deport me, too but failed. Then they endeavored to get a court order against any of us going to church on Sabbath, but lost out. Once they called the police to have me arrested on false charges that I was disturbing the meetings, but after the officers in the police station heard my story and the deacon’s charges against me, he commanded the two policemen who brought us to the station to put us in their car again, and to take us right back to the church where they picked me up.” 8
In 1930 he compiled his message in a manuscript entitled, “The Shepherd’s Rod,” and personally handed thirty-three copies to church leaders at the General Conference held in San Francisco, California, from May 29 to June 12. In Response to the author’s plea that they make a careful study of its contents, the recipients promised to do so and make known, either in person or by letter, their findings and intentions. Unfortunately, after several years only two replied. Both replies were meager and provided nothing substantial to refute it. F.C. Gilbert, a prominent Conference leader, one of the few who replied, admitted that he did not even study the manuscript but only “perused certain sections of the document” 9
While not contradicting the church’s fundamental doctrines, his message called for a world-wide denominational reform and brought “new thought” to Seventh-day Adventists eschatology. Although most leaders dismissed the new teachings, some wholeheartedly embraced them. Men such as E.T. Wilson, the former president of the Carolina Conference.10
This brought on more waves of persecution. According to the testimony of Houteff and others, they were “savagely kicked,” “knocked down in the rain and mud,” “jerked,” “bodily dragged,” and “plumped in a heap on the outer sidewalk.” 11 In none of these cases were Rod believers out of place, rude, or manifested any inappropriate behavior. This kind of persecution continued for many years and is still occasionally manifested.
In 1930, Victor Houteff published his first Volume, also entitled, “The Shepherd’s Rod.” He published a second in 1932. The attacks intensified. Church leaders seemed determined to stamp out the fledgling movement and anyone who in any way associated themselves with it.
One such effort was made in 1934, when the Fullerton, California, Tabernacle SDA church became instrumental in getting the Pacific Union Conference to grant Houteff the hearing he had long been denied. Unfortunately, it would turn out to be only a political ploy. The hearing committee was composed of men who were already among the most violent opposers–men who were regularly having Rod adherents bodily carried out of the churches.12 Houteff’s cries for foul went unheeded. He had to meet them on their terms. Do bear in mind that not even a civil court, regardless of how insignificant the case, would select a jury of this kind!
The deceitful intentions of the committee were further revealed when they insisted that Houteff meet with them alone. Fortunately supporters did not allow it and some accompanied him. Other than this, Houteff was forced to comply. “And so,” he later wrote, “not to have wrung from our grasp the opportunity we had so long sought, and not to be made defaulters, to the detriment of the Truth, we were compelled to bow to their pleasure at our severe inconvenience, as well as to judges most of whom were already the Rod’s bitterest enemies.” 13
The Agreement stipulated that he was to present five subjects within one week. “After each study the committee was to deliberate and submit its evidence for or against.14 Such evidence was to be drawn only from the Bible and the writings of Mrs. White. If after the first study mistakes were found, then the studies were to end and Mr. Houteff agreed to renounce his advocacy of “The Shepherd’s Rod.” 15 On the other hand, if no errors could be pointed out, then he was to continue on with the next presentation. The same conditions were to prevail with each succeeding study.
After presenting the first topic, the committee decided not to deliberate as previously agreed. Instead, A.G. Daniels, chairman of the committee, insisted that Houteff move on to another. The group tried to hold them to the agreement. The committee adjourned and never responded to his first presentation. After a lapse of about four weeks, the committee called them back again to read to them a document that would later be entitled, A Reply to the Shepherd’s Rod–a document that endeavored to refute the Rod without specifically addressing the real message itself.
“Immediately after reading it to us,” Houteff later wrote, “they adjourned the meeting inflexibly denying our insistent pleas for even three minutes’ time in which to make a statement. Such arbitrary and inconsiderate proceedings, anything but Christ-like, indicate that the committee well knew that their report against the Rod had NOT refuted a single point. For had they believed otherwise, they right there and then would have solemnly charged us to honor our agreement to retract our teachings . . . But no, they refused to hear a word from any of us!” (Emphasis ours). 16
Finding no other recourse, Rod believers organized the Universal Publishing Association in Los Angeles, California. In 1935, he established a training center, in Waco, Texas, where for about 20 years the ministry catapulted the message to Adventists world-wide. It published and dispensed millions of pieces of literature, initiated and employed workers, all the while building an expansive self-sustaining institution with 389 acres.
The Center was not a separate denomination or Church. Rod-believing Adventists were still attendants of the local congregations, and still sought membership. They still do so up to this day. The purpose of the Center was the publishing of the Rod’s particular message. In short, Mt. Carmel Center, as it was known, was a self-supporting or independent ministry--NOT A CHURCH, and remains so today.
Up to 125 persons resided at the Center. By the mid 1950's, its regular subscribers, students, and devotees may have numbered close to 100,000 world-wide. The denomination then numbered just over 800, 000.
The church’s vehement persecution of the Rod increased as thousands embraced it. Rod supporters, besides facing constant verbal and physical abuse, were denied church benefits and other rights–although many Rod believers had helped to build those churches and institutions.
World War Two brought on a mandatory draft and other hardships. Young men were denied the church’s support as conscientious objectors simply because they were sympathetic towards the movement. These circumstances forced the Association to register with the State. To do this a formal name had to be adopted. To avoid misrepresentation, the name Davidian was chosen to accompany the standard, “Seventh-day Adventists.”17 Rod believers from then on were “legally” known as “Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.” But similar to the numerous self-supporting movements now in the church, their work remained as a ministry, NOT a separate denomination.
The Davidian cause, however, would later be irreparably marred by fanatical elements. On February 5, 1955, Victor Houteff died at Hillcrest Hospital, Waco, Texas, of heart failure. His wife was elected (contrary to rumors, she was not appointed by her husband) chairman of the Executive Council. But through a series of unfortunate and ill-advised decisions and predictions, the movement was plunged into disrepute.
In 1957, after completing the sale of the original Mt. Carmel Center established by Victor Houteff, the new Council purchased a larger property in a nearby township. On April 22, 1959, the Council predicted the establishment of the promised Kingdom of David—which, of course, did not come to pass. The leadership had taken the ministry in a completely different direction from that of its founder and original operation and goals; a direction that was certainly unbiblical and perilous, not to mention embarrassing.
This debacle became known as the “knock-out blow”18 and brought the subsequent dissolution and fragmentation of the movement and the association. Church leaders have taken hold of these unfortunate events and have given the impression that this was a part of the message; especially insinuating that Victor Houteff set dates. What Florence Houteff and her fellow Council members did was in fact totally contrary to the authentic teachings of the Rod and outside of its intent. Victor Houteff himself pointed out that the Rod “sets no dates either exact or approximate.” 19
In other words, events subsequent to his death were not supported theologically or otherwise by the message. In fact, orthodox Rod adherents decried what appeared to them as a wholesale betrayal. Pleas to Florence Houteff and the Council to abandon the time-setting and predictions went unheeded.
Houteff had himself forecasted this reversal. In 1951, just four years before his death, he announced: “Unparalleled, therefore, is the urgency that every eleventh-hour [Rod believers] church member now quickly and solidly brace himself against the Enemy’s effort to deliver a knockout blow. We must be alert, too, to realize that the blow is to come from surprisingly unsuspected foes--from professed friends of the gospel, who are no less pious than were priests in Christ’s day.20 Brackets added.
Between 1960 and 1961, many of the leaders, including Florence Houteff, who participated in the fiasco, had altogether renounced the message and Adventism. In 1962, the new Mt. Carmel Center closed and the property was sold.
Since that time, orthodox believers have reorganized endeavoring to carry ONLY the ORIGINAL-authentic message to the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, as taught by Victor Houteff from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Adherents are sprinkled throughout the United States and the world and continue to face stiff opposition from the church’s hierarchy, and at times, still have to contend with fanatical elements.
(For a detailed history of “The Shepherd’s Rod movement, please see the booklet, THE GREAT CONTROVERSY OVER THE SHEPHERD’S ROD, by V.T. Houteff .