Name.—This sect, which originally was known as "Millennial Dawn," has gone more or less through an evolution of names. When their literature began to circulate, exposing them under this name, their leader, Pastor Russell, changed the name to "Watch Tower and Tract Society." Later it became "People's Pulpit Association." However, in the last days of Russell's leadership it became known as "The International Bible Student Association." This however was not the last stage of the evolution through which the name went, for when the leadership of the sect fell into the hands of Judge Rutherford, it was changed again, this time to the name of Jehovah's Witnesses. Although in the past this particular sect has been known as Rutherforites or Russellites, they are commonly known today by their latest adopted name.
History.—Charles Taze Russell was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February i6, 1852. Little did the world imagine the strides this one man was to make in the proclaiming of twisted Bible doctrines. He was privately educated in his early life, and was a Congregationalist. His study in the Bible, his reluctance to accept the popular conception of hell, and his independent way of thinking led him to write two works : Food for the Thinking Christian—Why Evil Was Permitted and Tabernacle Shadows of Better Sacrifice. Five years later there appeared the first volume of Millennial Dawn.
Pastor Russell, as he was called by his followers, began in the year 1879 to spread and proclaim his doctrines. In a short while he had followers which numbered in the thousands. They were persecuted by storms of protest from the other churches against their beliefs, but this seemed only to strengthen them.
Russell's subtle way of twisting the Scriptures to his own end lulled many to his way of reasoning. Those errors are dangerous from the point of orthodoxy, Pastor Russell contin-' ued the propagation of his doctrine through the years, and at his death in 1916 Judge Rutherford, a follower and able interpreter of Millennial Dawn, took his place of leadership.
Beliefs.—While perhaps the frequent change of name might also indicate a change of allegiance and of indentity, the fact remains that Russell's views on all matters are tenaciously adhered to, and his writings circulated with much zeal to this day. His erring ideas and beliefs have been translated in various languages.
Russell has drawn to him thousands of followers due to his absolute belief in a second-chance theory. He believes and propagates that Christ secured for all men a second chance to save themselves in the millennial age.
He does not accept the Bible as a guide and rule of faith. The Bible must be read with his aid, entitled Studies in the Scriptures. He asserts that his six volumes of Scripture studies are practically the Bible. If anyone studies the Bible without these Scripture studies, he is told that he will be led into darkness. However, if Scripture studies are read without the Bible, such will not be the case. Thus not the Bible itself but Russell's interpretation of it is to be studied. Specific beliefs are as follows: There is no authority in the Word of God for the doctrine of the Trinity of the Godhead; Jesus was only a creature of God, and not the Son of God from all eternity, and now since His death, the God-man no longer exists in human form; the Holy Spirit is not a person in the Godhead.
Concerning atonement Russell says, "The sacrifice for sin does not complete the work of atonement." He avoids the word redeemed and uses instead the word ransomed, thus changing the meaning of redeemed in the New Testament. He states that atonement will not be complete until the close of the millennium. This ransom does not guarantee everlasting life, but guarantees to man a second chance.
Man's present experience with sin will forewarn him fully, and when he is granted a second chance, only a few men will receive the penalty of annihilation. It is taught also that man did not lose a heavenly paradise but only an earthly one, because of sin.
The judgment day truth is taught to be a thousand years in length, and is stated to be the world's trial day, when all shall have a second chance. During these thousand years there is a gradual resurrection taking place. They believe that in 1878 those of the gospel age who died were resurrected and are now on earth. It is also taught that there will be no punishment for the wicked.
The belief that our Lord came in 1874, but started His restoration work in 1878, which continued until 1918, was declared by Rutherford. In 1914, he asserts, Christ took His throne here on earth, which time marked the close of Satan's rule. Since 1914 judgment of His servants has been taking place.
In his fanaticism, Russell denounced all forms of organized Christianity, referring to the churches as "the great Babylon of prophecy." He accuses them of misrepresenting the Bible and misleading the people.
During the recent war it was evident that the Witnesses were strict believers in noncombatancy. Many of them were placed in conscientious objectors' camps throughout the country.
They absolutely refuse allegiance to the flag, but are stout believers in freedom of press and speech, which has been gained under the red, white, and blue. Edward F. Waite, a retired judge of Minnesota, lists thirty-one Jehovah's Witnesses cases which have come before the Supreme Court since 1938, and shows how the verdicts rendered have widened the area of freedom of speech, broadened the conception of freedom of press, and made far more sweeping the protections accorded the exercise of religion. (Christian, Century, June 28, i944.)
The Supreme Court, which in times past granted this particular sect many privileges, has decided against them recently in the case of their imposing on children the duty of magazine canvassing as a religious requirement. However, this has not stopped the steady flow of literature which they as a people faithfully distribute. Many new followers are being drawn by their false doctrines today, just as in days past, and there seems to be a steady increase of believers.
KEITH L. BROOKS, Prophetic Program of fudge Rutherford, Successor to "Pastor" Russell (tract), American Prophetic League, Inc., Box BB, Sta. E. R., Los Angeles, (Price, 5c.)
J. L. NEVE, Churches and Sects of Christendom, Lutheran Literature Board, Burlington, Iowa, 1940.
T. T. SHIELDS, Russellism or Rutherforism, Zondervan, 1942. (Price, 5oc.)
(NOTE: A second discussion on Jehovah's Witnesses by another writer will appear in a later issue of THE MINISTRY.—EDITOR.)