For Years it has been said that Bible Students are guilty of creature worship. That this “creature worship” led to the largest schism in Watchtower history, and separated the “Faithful Slave Class” from the “Evil Slave Class”. What is the creature they are charged with worshipping? None other then Charles Taze Russell, organizer of the International Bible Students Association and founder and first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. And who are these accusers who make such a claim? None other then the very Society Russell founded, the Watch Tower and it’s current members the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Notice this statement found in the book; Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose
The insistence that Russell had been “that Servant” led many to regard Russell in what amounted actually to creature worship. They believed that all the truth God had seen fit to reveal to his people had been revealed to Russell, and now nothing more could be brought forth because “that servant” was dead.” [1959, pg 69]
As recent as 1988, in the book Revelation – It’s Grand Climax at Hand! The Watchtower makes this claim:
“The John class, however, emerged from the tumultuous days of the first world war with a love for Jehovah and for the truth that impelled them to serve him with flaming zeal. They resisted those who tried to introduce sectarianism through practically idolizing the first president of the Watch Tower Society, Charles T. Russell, following his death in 1916.” [p. 35, 36]
Who were “those” the “John class” tried to resist? And how did “those” try “to introduce sectarianism”? The answer lies in the book; God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1973. It had this to say concerning the issue of idolizing C.T. Russell:
“This view was prominently featured in the book published in July of 1917 by the People’s Pulpit Association of Brooklyn, New York. This book was called “The Finished Mystery” and furnished a commentary of the Bible books of Revelation and Ezekiel and The Songs of Solomon. On its Publishers page the book was called the “Posthumous Works of Pastor Russell.” Such a book and religious attitude tended to establish a religious sect centered around a man” [pg 347]
Who or what was the People’s Pulpit Association? The answer again can be found in the pages of the book Qualified to Be Ministers published in 1967, by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. It had this to say about the Association:
“Such a corporation came into legal existence February 23, 1909, and was named People’s Pulpit Association. Thirty years later, in 1939, the name was changed to its present one, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc.” [pg. 309]
So, in essence, the Watchtower Society itself was to blame for promoting the idolizing of C.T. Russell, not a group of individuals. The Book The Finished Mystery was published by the Watchtower Society, it was sanctioned by then president J.F. Rutherford, and was the cause of much schism within the Bible Students Association, not because it was promoting Russell, but because it was filled with misquotes, half truths and perversion of thoughts.
Nowhere within the pages of C.T. Russell’s writings, is there a thought alluding to worshipping him. Never did he ever claim to be “That Faithful and Wise Servant” mentioned in Matthew 24:45-48. Yes … there were those in his day who believe he filled that office, members of the Association, some representatives of the Watch Tower Society, but Russell never made such a claim for himself. In fact his thought on the matter was:
“I have nothing to say about the subject. What I would say would not change matters any way. You have your right to your opinion and they have their right to theirs. [Convention Reports 1909, pg. 25]
Russell did teach “that servant” to be a class, representing the church as early as 1897 in the book, The Battle of Armageddon, but some years later, would change his mind and believed it to be an individual. Yet he never claimed to be that individual.
In fact, the thought of promoting Russell as “That Servant” and giving him prominence was J.F. Rutherford. In the 1916 Watchtower it stated:
Thousands of the readers of Pastor Russell’s writings believe that he filled the office of “that faithful and wise servant,” and that his great work was giving to the Household of Faith meat in due season. His modesty and humility precluded him from openly claiming this title, but he admitted as much in private conversation. [pg 357]
The only ones who admitted to these so-called private conversations were, Rutherford, VanAmburgh and MacMillan, the three individuals responsible for seizing control of the Watch Tower Society. Their motives behind such a promotion was to appease the close friends, colleagues and supporters of Russell. Rutherford vowed to continue the work Russell had started. But in promoting Russell, elevating him and his writings to that of equal par to the Scriptures, he created a monster. Many Bible Students parted company with the Society. Some actually believed and accepted this new idea. It was even taught through the pages of The Watch Tower that Russell was still directing the affairs of the Society from heaven.
Evidently Rutherford, decided to slay the monster he created, by cunningly denouncing all he had stated and written in The Watch Tower. Not only was Russell pushed to the background, but the Scriptures had been reinterpreted. Russell’s books were left to go out of print, with no new editions being published. His name if mentioned at all, was done only in passing, as “first President” of the Society. His writings were replaced by newer ones. This cause more schisms and departures by Bible Students who could not and would not accept the Society’s leadership, and autocratic rule.
For years afterwards, Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses grew apart, animosity and hatred was promoted by the Society towards the independent Bible Student groups who rejected the Society as God’s Sole Channel of communication. The Society rewrote its history, omitting many important facts, and in the cases cited above distorted many events, to place them in a good light and branding Bible Students as evil opposers who would rather follow and worship a man, rather than their organization. The Society claiming to be “The Faithful and Wise Slave Class” denounced all independent Bible Students outside of the Society as “The Evil Slave Class”, The Watchtower of June 15, 1987, had this to say:
“By the summer of 1918 … At the time of the Society’s conventions that summer, some apostates turned away and formed their own opposing religious groups. Manifesting the traits of an “evil slave,” they were ‘winnowed’ like “chaff” to be separated from Jehovah’s faithful remnant. (Matthew 3:12; 24:48-51) The Memorial of Christ’s death was celebrated on Sunday, April 13, 1919, with 17,961 attending in many lands. As compared to a partial report for 1917, the Memorial attendance had dropped by more than 3,000, indicating the effects of sifting.”
It was not so much that Bible Students “opposed” the work of the Society, the issue was the Bible Students and the Society were no longer in harmony doctrinally, the 3,000 or so who “dropped” out by 1918, eventually grew in the coming years, by 1930 seventy-five percent of the original Bible Students had abandoned the Society.
For years, the Society shifted the blame on Professor Paul S.L. Johnson, a colleague of Russell, an ordained minister, born a Jew, who joined the Bible Students Association and became an important promoter of Bible Truths. He was the Society’s scapegoat for many years. Most of the attacks on Johnson came after his death in 1950, and continued until the 1980s, it was as the old saying goes “beating a dead horse”, as Johnson was not alive to defend himself.
The Society tried to silence the Bible Students, by holding on to the copyrights of such works as Studies in the Scriptures and the Watch Tower Reprints. As Bible Students, they relied on their Bibles and nothing more. When the copyrights ran out, Paul S. L. Johnson, decided to reprint the Studies in the Scriptures. He contacted Rutherford, as they at one time were like brothers. Rutherford’s reply came in the destruction of the original plates. It was a slow process, but Johnson in 1937, made the Volumes available to the brethren. In that same time period the Dawn Bible Students Association, also reproduced the volumes. And years later, The Watch Tower Reprints were made available to the brethren by way of the Chicago Bible Students Republishing committee [with the exception of the years 1917-1919.]
Through the years many Jehovah’s Witnesses, upon obtaining these writings, have come to know the Truth, not only in regards to the Watchtower but in regards to God’s Plans and purposes. In 1971 the Watchtower had this to say, about the Bible Students and their witness work:
“The modern-day history of Jehovah’s witnesses shows that attempts have been made by some, making up an “evil slave” class, to assume control over Jehovah’s work and his people. This was especially seen during the World War I period. Jehovah, however, has cleansed his organization, and made it wholly theocratic. The credit is due to him, not to man.” [pages 436-7 ]
This led the Watchtower to warn Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, to read only those publications stamped with the insignia “Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society”. Russell’s books were viewed as “old light” and many were tyold to not waste time reading errors. In some cases Russell’s writings were on a “blacklist” on books not to read. Yes it is true that many Kingdom Hall libraries have Russell’s books, but there are there as a result of donation from a deceased witness, or there simply as a ornament of sorts. There have been documented cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses being disfellowshiped simply because of their reading, studying and apllying what they read in Russell’s volumes. Notice this quotes from the Watchtower:
“Individually, careful watch has still to be kept. The records show that, in our congregations, some need to be warned, others put on probation, and others have to be disfellowshiped. Why? Because, while claiming to be in the truth, they do not practice the truth. This often starts in a small way, but, if persisted in, it leads away from the light into the darkness. [ibid]
What is this “truth” these Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be “in”? it is the truth of the scriptures, the truths they learned in regards to God’s plans and purposes, the truths they learned from such works as “Studies in the Scriptures” written by the late Charles Taze Russell. Elders, Ministerial Servants, Pioneers, Bethelites and rank and file members of the Society, have been disfellowshiped because of their accepting these writings as containing truth.
The Society’s publications having a much larger circulation then all the Bible Student literature combined, tried a new tactic, everytime they mentioned the term “Bible Students” they always had in parenthesis “as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known as”. Giving the reader the thought that Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses are one and the same. When people came across the name or writings of Russell or Bible Students, they would automatically associate it with the Witnesses.
In recent years, with the advent of computers, and counter cult ministries, Witnesses were being made aware of the Bible Students, and the real issues being raised by the Watchtower Society. Some did their research, many returned to their roots, namely the Bible Students Association. Some were simply enlightened to their history as Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was not until the Society was forced to write a new history, still intent on perverting the truth, they nevertheless, did admit a distinction between Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses:
“After the death of Brother Russell, some former associates refused to cooperate with the Watch Tower Society and the International Bible Students Association, even opposing the work of these societies. Such fragmented groups used a variety of names, some of them clinging to the designation Associated Bible Students.” [Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, pg. 151]
This however does not state that the Bible Students still exist today, it merely referred to “fragmented” groups during the schism of 1917. However the fact that you are reading this … shows that you now know … that Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses are two distinct groups, with distinct beliefs. It is not so much the importance that we stress the individuality of both groups, for we do recognize the Watchtower Society, and do recognize our Jehovah’s Witness friends. But the fact that we have been misrepresented, not by Christians in general, but by the very association we helped build.
It is very strange … that the Watchtower Society, forbids its members from associating with the “evil slave class”, namely the Bible Students, and have chastised those witnesses, who possess and read Russell’s writings, and at the same time, the Society has been in contact with various Bible Student groups, exchanging literature and purchasing one anthers books. This is has been verified by both correspondence to and from the Society from Bible Students, as well as eye-witness accounts of Bible Student literature sitting on not only Kingdom Hall libraries, but Watchtower libraries as well.
One would be apt to conclude this is a love/hate relationship on the part of the Watchtower Society. But we know the promises contained in Scriptures will not allow this relationship to continue. For one day, in God’s due time, all of mankind will learn the truth, and all will reside under His loving care.