The sect, Jehovah's Witnesses, had their origin about seventy-five years ago, but did not gain their present strength until about twenty-five years ago. When they refused to salute a flag or enter any army, and willingly submitted to persecution, they were brought into international repute. The roots of the sect can be traced to other religious systems, yet it claims its own origin, and not only a new truth, but "the truth."(Iehovah's Servants Defended, pp. 30, 31.) Separation from all religious organizations is one of the movement's cardinal doctrines.
Although the sect now known as Jehovah's Witnesses has always been a single organization, it has been known by several other names, such as Millennial Dawnites, Russellites, atch Tower Bible People, International Bible Students, and Rutherfordites. In 1872' when the denomination was first organized, "Pastor" Charles Taze Russell announced in their official paper, The Watchtower: "We call ourselves simply Christians."—February, 1884. It is not known exactly when this name was adopted, since the sect is in many ways a "secret" one. In 1931, during a meeting in Ohio, foseph Franklin Rutherford resolved that the followers be identified as Jehovah's Witnesses. (Judge Rutherford Uncovers the Fifth Cot-7111111, p. 20.) He felt that the organization should not use the name of any man in its official title, and therefore decided upon the name Jehovah's Witnesses to designate his followers.
Russell, The Founder.—The founder, Charles Taze Russell, first organized the group in 1872 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. There is no unified record of the movement, and on the whole, present-day followers are totally ignorant of the fact that the group has a history.
Russell was a pious orthodox Congregationalist, until he got into a discussion on the doctrine of hell. Being a fundamentalist, he set himself to the task of examining the Biblical foundation of the doctrine, and after a lengthy investigation concluded that it was unscriptural. This led him to examine other beliefs, many of which he also found faulty. His faith was almost shaken in God's Word, too. It is of interest to read what he says of Adventism:
"Among other theories I stumbled upon Adventism. Seemingly by accident one evening I dropped into a dusty, dingy hall . . . to see if the handful who met there had anything more sensible to offer than the creeds of the great churches. . . . Thus I confess indebtedness to Adventists as well as to other denominations. Though his [Jonas Wendell's] Scripture expositions were not entirely clear, . . . it was sufficient under God to re-establish my wavering faith in the divine inspiration."—The Watchtower, July, 1906.
Russell was certain that the Second Adventists, or Advent Christians, "were 'called of God' and that they were precursors of His movement. They comprised the one religious denomination that he did not completely condemn."—H. H. STROUP, The Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 6. He believed that he had discovered the errors of William Miller, and proceeded to set new dates for the coming of the Lord. Some of the dates set were 1914, 1915, and 1918; and 1925 was set by his successor, Rutherford.
Pastor Russell ascribed to himself a degree of scholarship, claiming to know both Greek and Hebrew—but under oath during a trial, he acknowledged that he did not know these languages. (Ross, Some Facts and More Facts, p. 18.) He set down his early views in a volume called Food for Thinking Christians, published about 1880. In 1879 he established a magazine named Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. The most systematic exposition of his views can be found in his seven-volume series of Studies in the Scriptures (also called Millennial Dawn). Copies were sold for a nominal fee—twenty-five cents for a book, and five cents for a pamphlet. Free copies were given to those who could not pay for them.
Zion's Watch Tower and Tract Society
In 1880 a branch office was opened in England for distribution of literature. By 1888 "the Word" was being preached in the United States, England, China, Africa, India, Turkey, and Haiti. (The Watchtower, December, 1888.) The missionaries did not attempt to introduce schools, hospitals, or other institutions. At home the work was carried on by a board of directors through the Zion's Watch Tower and Tract -Society. Russell was president, and the rest of the board was comprised of a vice-president, secretary-treasurer, and three others. Those who had contributed ten dollars to the society were eligible to vote for the board. Each additional contribution of ten dollars meant another vote.
In 1909 the society was large enough to need permanent international headquarters, which were located in Brooklyn, New York, and incorporated as the People's Pulpit Association. The board, however, was only a formal legal structure, for in Russell reposed the real control and authority.
Judge Rutherford Succeeds Russell
When Russell died in 1916, Judge J. F. Rutherford succeeded him. Various elements split off from the parent body. Among the groups which withdrew at various times are the Stand-fast Movement, the Paul Johnson Movement. the Elijah Voice Movement, the Eagle Society. and the Pastoral Bible Institute of Brooklyn. These retained the essential theological message of Russell but did not approve the election of Mr. Rutherford as president. Before his death, however, he so skillfully organized the spread of his word that no great number of discontented ones reached the stage of a complete break from the movement. In 1940 Rutherford claimed that he had written ninety-nine books and pamphlets in twenty years. His writings appeared in seventy-eight languages. (Judge Rutherford Uncovers the Fifth Column, pp. 3, 4.) After his death, on January 8, 1942, N. H. Knorr became the leader.
The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society owns several radio stations. The most important, WBBR, is located at the central headquarters in Brooklyn. The society also owns land and a building known as Beth-Sarim, which means House of the Princes, the purpose of which is to serve as "some tangible proof that there are those on earth today who fully believe God and Christ Jesus and in His faithful kingdom, and who believe that the faithful men of old will soon be resurrected by the Lord, be back on the earth, and take charge of the visible affairs of earth."—RUTHERFORD, Salvation, p. 311.
Literature.—The number of items of reading matter distributed from door to door in any recent year makes the sales of best sellers look like census figures on small towns. Only the written works of Judge Rutherford are distributed today. Believing these messages to be divinely inspired, the Witnesses read them diligently and work strenuously to distribute millions of copies. They use most of their spare time trudging the streets and traversing the country selling books and 'magazines. According to their figures, The Watchtower, and Consolation have a yearly distribution of about seven million copies each. (Stroup, p. 50.)
There is little in the organization of the present society which ministers to the religious needs of Witness children. The movement has always hated Sunday schools, calling them "a thing of the past" and "a tool of the devil." Children, however, are welcome to come to meeting and take part in answering questions. If they are to become Witnesses, they are received even as older people are, and placed in the service work.
From its beginning the movement has minimized the significance of formal education, for they believe that this age is soon to come to an end. The founder of the movement said, "If every man were a college graduate, conditions would be much worse than today. Education is not for the masses."—Russell, Studies in the Scriptures, series 4, p. 450.
(To be concluded in December)