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Jehovah’s Witnesses and Adventism (Part 2 Theological Formulations) by Jason Wright

C T Russell - Click to enlarge

C T Russell – Click to enlarge

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Adventism

(Part 2 Theological formulations)

by Jason Wright

Introduction

This article is the second in a two part series exploring the historical and theological connections between Adventism, Charles Taze Russell and the subsequent Watch Tower organization. In review, part one dealt with the rise of Millerism, an Advent movement that taught that Jesus Second coming would occur on March 21st 1844. Suffice to say, Jesus non-appearance naturally demanded an explanation. This occurred by way of spiritualization. It was argued that 1844 was indeed a significant date marking an invisible heavenly event, something unseen to human eyes, but nonetheless epochal. This event came to be known as the “investigative judgment”.

However, despite the reinterpretation of 1844, the movement itself had been predicated upon a literal advent. With this vision dashed, Jesus non-appearance necessitated the formulation of new theological and doctrinal statements. Unfortunately Adventists had no uniform doctrinal statement; instead there existed a mixture of “theologies” – such eclecticism invariably lead to schism.

Adventist Schisms - click to enlarge

Adventist Schisms – click to enlarge

It is to C.T. Russell and these schismic branches that we now turn, for they hold the key to understanding the origin of the Watch Tower organization. This article begins by exploring Russell’s personal sitz-im-leben followed by a review of various age-to-come preachers and associates whom impacted Russell’s praxis and theology.

Overall it will be argued that Russellite theology is nothing more than aberrational Second Adventism masquerading as biblical Christianity. As such Watchtowerism must be rejected as antithetical to the Gospel.

Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916)

Russell, like all of us, was the product of his sitz-im-leben (life setting) – a man of his times. Born to Irish immigrants in 1852, Russell arrived late to Adventism. The American civil War of 1861-1865 had left circa 750,000 soldiers dead and a generation broken. Many disillusioned Americans, turned to various new religious groups to find peace and purpose, one of which was Adventism. Already by 1865 new Adventist groups were formulating doctrinal statements that were at odds with Christian orthodoxy.

Earlier in 1861 the young Charles experienced the tragic death of his mother, Eliza. What plagued Russell was the question of where she was: heaven or hell? (Zydek, 2010, p. 11) His Presbyterian Minister offered the confused Russell the solution by way of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. However it was a doctrine that the young twelve-year-old mind of Russell struggled to comprehend and accept. Eventually Russell moved to the Congregationalist Church in 1864.

During his time in traditional denominations Russell was exposed to millennialist eschatology through the preaching of calvinist Henry D. Moore as well as Scottish covenanter Archibald Mason and presbyterian pastor William James Reid (Schulz, de Vienne 2014, p. 29). No doubt these excursions into prophecy helped launch Russell’s preoccupation with the second coming of Christ; a topic widely discussed within 1860/70’s Pittsburgh culture.

It should be noted that the American psyche of the 1800’s was far more independent than most. “American individualism with its accompanying self-reliance” produced a period of history that became known as the Jacksonianism era. Jacksonianism asserts that a person does “not need to be an expert” to engage in the affairs of life, including theology. Russell no doubt was influenced by this idealism, namely “every-person could exercise his or her God-given talents and arrive at biblical truth through their own prayerful study of scripture” (knight, 2010, p. 31). Years before, the Adventist founder William Miller had exercised the same self-independence, rejecting formal scholarship as a hindrance to the purity of spirit led bible study.

By the age of 16 (1868) Russell having found no satisfactory answers abandons Church attendance and seeks answers in other belief systems; Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism etc. What emerges from this oriental excursus is an exalted awareness of God’s love for humanity juxtapose with human freedom. Such an elevated, unfettered view of love, feeds into the notion that God wants only the best for humanity. Consequently for Russell the concept of eternal punishment became an anathema. Love, void of justice is no love at all oftentimes leading to universalism.

The next year (1869) in a “dingy Allegheny meeting hall” aged only 17 Russell finally makes contact with the group which will change his life forever. All his nagging questions are answered; at last he feels set free from the oppressive doctrines of Christian orthodoxy. “The man teaching” that night was age-to-come preacher “Jonas Wendell”, a former “follower of William Miller” now associated with the Advent Christian Church (Zydek, 2010, pp. 27-28) and a firm proponent of age-to-come millenarianism. Thus begins the transformation of the impressionable seventeen-year-old Russell from a skeptic into a staunch life-long millennarian (Schulz, de Vienne, 2014, p. 2).

Jonas Wendell (1815-1873)

Jonas Wendell - Meat in Due Season

Jonas Wendell – Meat in Due Season – 1870

After the “great disappointment” of 1844, Wendell began searching the scriptures for a more certain advent date. His chronological speculations led him to conclude that Christ’ literal return would take place around 1873-74 (previously he had suggested 1868). In 1870 Wendell published his findings in the booklet “The Present Truth, or Meat in Due Season”. Interestingly Wendell was not alone in his predictions; John Fry, George Duffield and later Nelson Barbour each advocated these dates, which were published as valid in the Second Adventist journal, World’s Crisis and the Adventist Christian Times.

There is no doubt that Wendell nurtured and indoctrinated the impressionable young Russell. Without reservation Russell embraces Wendell’s doctrines of annihilationism and soul sleep, sweeping away any notion of the intermediate state, post mortem retribution or eternal punishment. The eternal destiny of his mother was no longer a question in the mind of Russell (Zydek, 2010, p. 29). Hence with Hell extinguished, Russell once again felt he could embrace the Bible and affirm that God is Love.

Spurred on by Wendell’s end time date (now fixed at 1874) Russell became a regular attendee at this small age-to-come group. Overflowing with enthusiasm that Jesus was soon to return, Russell soon convinces his Father Joseph and sister Mae to attend the meetings. While to Charles and his family these new teachings are revolutionary to local ministers and theologians Wendell taught heresy.

It is interesting to note how Russell sought answers to his deepest questions outside of Christian orthodoxy. Although Russell’s defenders insist that he had adequately explored the doctrine of Hell, and had read widely the teachings of Knox, Luther, Wesley etc. nevertheless I submit that a boy of 16 (the age when he abandoned the Church) could not have adequately plumbed the depths of Christian theology to arrive at an informed decision. Like my Nan always said “You don’t know your own mind at that age”. If you doubt this proposition simply recollect yourself at age sixteen. How spiritually mature were you? How far have you come since then?

Consequently instead of examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11) in his youthful exuberance Russell rejected off hand Christian orthodoxy. Why? – Because the doctrine of Hell did not fit Russell’s rational, logical understanding of a God of love. Clearly Russell was searching for a religion that fitted his preconceived understanding of the nature of God and he desperately sought clarity concerning where his mother was. Age-to-come millenarianism fitted the bill.

On August 14th 1843, Jonas Wendell died suddenly. Russell aged only 21 secured the position of spiritual leader over this small band of Allegheny believers, moving the weekly meeting to his home.

George Storrs (1796-1879)

George Storrs - click to enlarge

George Storrs – click to enlarge

Although much older than Russell, Storrs had much in common with Russell. He too had become alienated from Christianity because of his difficulty in accepting the doctrine of Hell (Johnson, 2015, p. 79). Between 1825-1940 Storrs was a travelling evangelist for the Methodist Church. However in 1840 Storrs left Methodism and joined the growing Adventists wherein he soon became a leading light in the movement.

Publication of his journal Bible Examiner began in 1843. In that same year Storrs accepted the teachings of former Baptist minister – now itinerant preacher – Henry Grew. Grew set forth the doctrine of conditional immortality, namely that the soul is not immortal and the dead remain unconscious until the resurrection whereupon they are judged according to how they lived their lives. This doctrine was published in Storrs treatise the “six sermons” and widely distributed amongst Adventists. According to the Watchtower (WTBTS, 2000, p. 30) Storrs believed the following:

  • Jesus paid his life as the ransom price for mankind.
  • There will be people who inherit everlasting life on earth.
  • There is to be a resurrection of all who died in ignorance. Those accepting the ransom sacrifice of Christ will receive eternal life on earth. Those rejecting it will be destroyed.
  • Immortality of the soul and hellfire are false doctrines that dishonor God.
  • The Lord’s Evening Meal is an annual observance on Nisan 14.

Interesting the founder of Adventism, William Miller, condemned and disassociated himself from Storrs over his conditionalist position. Miller wrote,

“I cannot be silent…it would be a crime against God and man. I disclaim any connection, fellowship, or sympathy with Br. Storrs’ views of the intermediate state, and end of the wicked” (Froom, 1954, p. 807).

One can only image what Miller would have said had he lived to see the development of Storrs aberrational theology. From 1863-1871 Storrs was the leader of the Life and Advent Union, a branch of Adventism, which emerged out of the Albany conference of 1854 and a firm age-to-come believer. Additionally Storrs was an active supporter of “outism” the notion that the Churches of Christendom were inherently corrupt and formed part of Babylon the Great. As such Storrs fermented separation, encouraging Adventists to “come-out” of organized religion. Russell readily accepted this idea believing that he and those who meet with Jonas Wendell constituted the “little flock” of true believers.

Russell was deeply affected by all of Storrs teaching, as were the entire Allegheny group who became avid readers of the “Bible Examiner” (Zydek, 2010, p. 42). In 1871 Russell read the publication “Vindication of the Government of God Over the Children of Man” wherein Storrs insisted that the Kingdom of God would be set up on earth. Herein Storrs suggested that not every resurrected person would live in heaven, rather many, he said, would be resurrected to earth, to a restored paradise where perfected descendants of Adam and Eve would live eternally. Storrs also introduced Russell to the idea that the 144,000 represent a special group of Christians (Rev. 7). Most importantly Storrs taught Russell the skewed doctrine of the ransom sacrifice, namely that Jesus death as a perfect man cancels out the sin of Adam. This transaction, Storrs argued, opened the way for sinful man to work his way back to sinless perfection.

Do not all these “doctrines” sound familiar? Of course they do, for Russell ingurgitated these teachings, later incorporating them into his own theology.

Henry Grew (1781-1862)

Henry Grew - Click to enlarge

Henry Grew – Click to enlarge

Originally from England, Grew moved to the USA in 1794. Aged 23 he became an ordained Baptist minister, but later resigned (or was deposed) because of his rejection of the trinity, immortality of the soul and a literal hell. From 1850 Grew was involved with the Age to Come Adventists lead by Joseph Marsh (to which Storrs also belonged for a short period). As has been mentioned, Grew heavily influenced George Storrs and George Stetson, who in turn indoctrinated Russell. According to the Watchtower (WTBTS, 2000, p. 30)[1] Grew believed the following:

  • Jehovah’s name has been reproached, and it needs to be sanctified.
  • The Trinity, immortality of the soul, and hellfire are fraudulent doctrines.
  • The Christian congregation must be separate from the world.
  • Christians should have no part in wars of the nations.
  • There are to be no clergy and laity classes among Christians.
  • Religious titles are from the antichrist.
  • All Christians must preach the good news.
  • There will be people living forever in Paradise on earth.

A perusal of the above confirms that much of Russellism is plagiarized. Such “borrowing” of ideas was rampant within adventist circles. Each preacher “studied the matter until they were convinced” after which “the conclusions became their own. In turn a claim to originality was an assertion of divine guidance, giving the messenger an authoritative voice” (Schulz, de Vienne, 2014, p72).

George Stetson (1814-1879) 

George Stetson - Click to enlarge

George Stetson – Click to enlarge

Stetson was an associate of Henry Grew and George Storrs and later with Jonas Wendell and Charles T. Russell. He was a member of the Advent Christian Church and wrote many articles for Storrs magazine, The Herald of Life and the Coming Kingdom. In 1872 Stetson met the young Russell and a life long friendship began, so much so that Stetson requested that Russell give his funeral sermon.

 

William H. Colney (1840-1897)

William H. Colney - Click to enlarge

William H. Colney – Click to enlarge

Colney and his wife Sarah comprised two of the five early 1870’s Allegheny Bible group, the other three being Charles, Joseph and Mae. A wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, Colney provided financial support to various religious institutions including Bethel Home Mission and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Additionally Colney contributed 70% of the original capital to launch Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ Presence in 1881. As the primary investor Colney became the Watch Towers first president between 1881-1884 after which Russell incorporated the society and made himself president.[2]

 

 

Joseph Augustus Seiss (1823-1904)

Joseph Seiss - Click to enlarge

Joseph Seiss – Click to enlarge

Seiss although a Lutheran preacher, was also the editor of the Adventist paper Prophetic Times. In 1870 an anonymous article was published in Prophetic Times listing twelve possible end time dates one of which was 1914. Barbour and later Russell accepted the chronological calculations as conclusive evidence that the gentile times would end in 1914. Seiss too acknowledged 1914 as a “significant date” (Johnson, 2015, pp. 107-108) although he is best know for his seminal work The Great Pyramid of Egypt, Miracle in Stone: Secrets and Advanced Knowledge (1877). Enchanted with pyramidology Russell irresistibly adopts much of this work.

 

 

Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900)

Charles Piazzi Smyth - Click to enlarge

Charles Piazzi Smyth – Click to enlarge

Like Seiss, Smyth was a Pyramidologist, himself influenced by John Taylor. In search of evidence for his theories Smyth travelled to Egypt, “accurately measuring every surface, dimension, and aspect of the Great Pyramid”[3]. His findings were published in 1864 “Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid”. Russell purses this new curiosity believing that the Pyramids provide a “stone witness” in the process of the divine plan, a process that he seeks to articulate and authenticate within his own unique chronology.

What is fascinating is that Russell rejects outright Christian orthodoxy, yet finds Pyramidology a biblically acceptable pursuit. Although the Watch Tower eventually abandoned Pyramidology in the 1920’s the fact that for over forty years it was taught as “truth” shows once again the inherent dangers of Russellite theology.

Nelson H. Barbour (1824-1905)

Herald of the Morning - Click to enlarge

Herald of the Morning – Click to enlarge

Barbour, like so many Adventists lived through the “Great disappointment” of 1844. However, unlike the Seventh day Adventists whom reinterpreted 1844 as a heavenly “investigative Judgment” Barbour, in similar vein to Wendell, argued that Miller had made a chronological error of thirty years, the true advent date being 1873. Barbour published his findings in 1871 Evidence for the Coming Of the Lord in 1873”. In that same year Barbour along with John Henry Paton began publishing “The Midnight Cry and Herald of the Morning” to further advertise 1873.

Russell also looked to 1873 as Christ Second Advent. However as 1873 came and went, Barbour moved the advent forward to 1874. Invariably with non-appearance in 1874 came further disappointment. Barbour sought to make sense of this by inserting a forty-year harvest period between 1874 and 1914, thus rescuing the 1874 date as “significant” while simultaneously pointing forward to a new date 1914.

Some Russellite defenders have argued that Russell did not believe Jesus would return in 1874 and that his interest in that date was retrospective. It is indeed true that Russell did not formally make contact with Paton and Barbour until 1876, nevertheless it was through Wendell that Russell had been introduced to the 1873/4 date and had come to accept it as accurate.

 “By the age of eighteen Charles is studying with the Adventist group on a regular basis. The most unusual teaching of Wendell’s small band of Bible students is their belief that Jesus will return in 1874” (Zydek, 2015, pp. 30-31)

 “[In 1873] as new teacher and pastor of the group, and because of his interest in the popular Adventist notion that Christ will appear in the flesh…at the latest in the fall of 1874…Charles begins to research the origins of [Wendell’s] teachings. He finds them being taught by J. H. Paton and Nelson H. Barbour” (Zydek, 2016, p. 41)

“When the predictions of J. H. Paton and Nelson H. Barbour concerning the second coming of Jesus are not fulfilled, a new wave of disappointment washes through the Adventists and certain among the group meeting with the Russell’s. Once again more than a few have purchased white robes they expected to put on at the moment they heard the trumpet that would announce the coming of their Lord. Although the group has shown ardent respect for Paton and Barbour’s thinking, Russell’s small flock isn’t disappointed” (Zydek, 2015, p. 44).

Russell’s interest in prophecy is only heightened after reading in “The Midnight Cry and Herald of the Morning” an article written by B. W. Keith. Keith proposed that Jesus had indeed returned in 1874, but invisibly. His argumentation focused upon the Greek word, parousia (Matthew 24:3). By drawing upon the work of Adventist and autodidact Bible scholar, Benjamin Wilson, Keith believed Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott (1864) offered a “logical” answer. Herein, Wilson translated parousia as “presence”, indicating a spiritual presence in the world unseen to the naked eye. Many, including Russell, accepted Keith’s reasoning claiming, “It will be the eye of understanding, not the eye of flesh” that recognizes Christ’s return in 1874 (Zydek, 2010, p. 45). “Analogous with 1844, the spiritualizing of 1874 acted as a self-correcting method against prophetic failure” (Wright, 2016, p. 11).

More and more Adventists are calmed by Russell’s explanation, (in truth the plagiarism of Keith’s article) which not only heralded Jesus invisible presence but also looked forward to Armageddon when the invisible Jesus would make visible the destruction of Babylon the Great in 1914. Such teachings demonized Christendom as the “archenemy of truth” further separating Russellism from mainstream Christianity.

By 1876, Barbour and Paton could no longer fund their journal “The Midnight Cry and Herald of the Morning”. Having inherited a small fortune ($10,000) from his Uncle, Russell financially rescues the journal and by December 1876 it is once again in print, republishing Russell’s first ever article “Gentile Times – When Do They End” which first appeared in Bible Examiner. “Soon after Russell is listed as one of the journals editors” (Zydek, 2010, p. 49).

In the spring of 1877 Barbour and Russell together publish “The Three Worlds” a book which “meshes contemporary events” with the prophetic material, which in turn “affirms their belief that they are living in the last days” (Zydek, 2010, p. 51). Notice how observations from contemporary culture are read back into the prophetic text artificially confirming their presuppositions.

On Nisan 14 of 1878 Russell and others meet to participate in the yearly communion service. Barbour believed that on this night the faithful remnant would be raptured to heaven. Pittsburgh papers reported how Barbourites gathered in white robes awaiting the resurrection of the dead and physical transition of the living into heavenly life. You’ve guessed it, another blunder!

Russell himself – despite reports – denied being present for the expected rapture, although he admitted some radicals from his group might have been. Can you imagine the disappointment? Yet another failure! “Barbour falls into a deep depression, doubting everything” he has ever taught (Zydek, 2010, p. 59). However Russell undeterred, reconsiders the evidence and concludes that the date is significant in that it “represents a transformation of the soul’s need to be in sleep, before resurrection.” In other words Russell proposed that as of April 1878 onward true believers would no longer sleep in death but upon death will be immediately resurrected as spirit beings into the celestial realm. After all if Jesus parousia is invisible why should we expect the resurrection to be visible?

How convenient – failed prophecy, failed dates, all spiritualized away into the unseen realm of heaven. The outcome is a wholly subjective interpretation that must be accepted blindly and without criticism. In essence this is a form of Gnosticism; mysteries long hidden “lie between the lines and under the text in both canonical and apocryphal literature” (Zydek, 2010, p. 265). Unhinged from any hermeneutical rules Russell could quite literally create new meaning ex nihilo according to the needs of the reading community. In hermeneutical terms this is a form of reader response criticism. Consequently only those illuminated through Russellite thought can ever know “truth”. This arrogance is well documented and drives the “faithful slave” narrative.

“Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the Divine Plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the Scripture Studies aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years – if he lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness [viz. orthodoxy]. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures”. (Russell, 1910, p. 298)

Protagonists defend Russell, claiming he was not so much an exclusive channel of truth but merely a facilitator (Zydek, 2010, p. 291).

“Our work has been to bring together these long scattered fragments of truth and present them to the Lord’s people – not as new, not as our own, but as the Lord’s…We disclaim any credit even for finding and rearrangement of the jewels of truth (Proclaimers, 1993, p. 49)

Despite these arguments the fact is that Russell believed himself to be chosen by God as did his followers. He was known as the Laodicean messenger, God’s end time prophet. Yet his voluminous writings are merely a collection of other peoples ideas and doctrines. Little or no credit is given to Russell’s primary sources. Instead throughout Watch Tower history truth claims are posited as “new light” from Jehovah when in reality much is plagiarism.

Returning to Barbour, he struggled with Russell’s spiritualization of the 1878 rapture. So much so, he became deeply depressed and finally writes an article in Herald of the Morning wherein he renounces all doctrines of eschatology and repudiates his previous faith in the significance of Jesus death and resurrection.

Needless to say, Russell along with associates J. H. Paton[4] and A. P. Adams[5], all remained loyal to the gnostic notion that Jesus had indeed returned invisibly in 1874 and that the invisible rapture of the Church had also taken place in 1878. Thus without reconciliation with Barbour the three men left Herald of the Morning to start a new Adventist journal. Strangely enough after leaving Barbour, Russell began teaching that 1881 marked the rapture of the Church.

“We adduce from the types and prophetic points as seeming to indicate the translation of the saints and closing of the door to the high calling by 1881”   (Russell, 1881, pp. 180-181)

Age-to-come (One Faith) & Restitution

Thomas Wilson birthed the newspaper “Restitution” in 1871. This became the voice of many age-to-come believers including Joseph Marsh and Benjamin Wilson. Age-to-come groups adopted various names, but may generally be identified as “one faith” adherents. Russell is heavily indebted to this particular strand of aberrational  adventism including his teachings concerning the restoration of national Israel – cf. Marsh, 1851 (Schulz, de. Vienne, pp. 58-63).

Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (1879)

After eleven years of age-to-come indoctrination, Russell now aged 27 launches his own millenarian journal. He utilizes Barbour’s subscription list along with H. B. Rice’s mailing list from the Journal the Last Trump (Rice himself was a failed Californian prophet). Together the mailing list consisted of 6,000 subscribers. All Russell had to do was convince them subscribe to his new journal (Zydek, 2010, p. 65).

“This is the first volume of “ZION’S WATCH TOWER” and it may not be amiss to state the object of its publication. That we are living “in the last days” – “the day of the Lord” – “the end” of the Gospel age, and consequently, in the dawn of the “new” age, are facts not only discernable by the close student of the word, led by the spirit, but the outward signs recognizable by the world bear same testimony, and we are desirous that the “household of faith” be fully awake to the fact, that – We are living, we are dwelling in a grand and awful time; In an age on ages telling to be living is sublime. “To him that hath an ear to hear what the spirit saith unto the Churches,” ZION’S WATCH TOWER hopes to give assistance and encouragement… As its name indicates, it aims to lookout from whence matters of interest and profit may be announced to the “little flock” and as the “Herald of Christ’s Presence,” to give “meat in due season” to the household of faith…terms fifty cents per year” (Russell, 1879, pp. 1-6)

Notice the reasons given for publication:

  • We are living in the Last Days
  • This fact is provable from Scripture and contemporary events
  • Zion’s Watch Tower gives assistance to the “Little Flock” (embryonic beginnings of faithful slave doctrine)
  • Zion’s Watch Tower heralds Christ invisible parousia of 1874
  • Zion’s Watch Tower provides “meat in due season” for the household of faith

Sound familiar? Upon these assumptions the whole edifice stands. No mention of Jesus Christ, no mention of God’s grace and the Gospel of Salvation. Instead the language betrays the narcissism of Russell – his obsession with dates and the conviction that he alone had assembled truth and unlocked the hidden mysteries.

“The truths I present, as God’s mouthpiece, were revealed not in visions or dreams, nor by God’s audible voice, nor all at once, but gradually since 1870, and particularly since 1880… God’s due time has come, and if I did not speak, and no other agent could be found, the very stones would cry out (Russell, 1906, pp. 229-230)

Note Russell freely admits his self belief that he is God’s mouthpiece and that if he did not proclaim his unique message then the very stones would cry out? Cry out what? Russellite theology? In the context of Luke 19:20 the proclamation therein is that Jesus is the Messiah. What duplicity! How dare Russell equate himself with Christ and assign Jesus words to his own speculative dates and aberrant theology? Such is the self-delusion and blasphemy of Gnostic Russellism.

Some suggest (Schulz, de Vienne, 2014, p. ii) that Russell’s  hermeneutical methodology was entirely literalist. However this is not the case. Russell’s interpretive methods can only be described as schizophrenic: typology, analogy, mathematics, pyramidology, historicism, spiritualization, you name it Russell tried it! He turned parables into prophecy, (cf. Matthew 24:45-47)[6] and continually sought ways of connecting contemporary History – including the Watch Tower movement itself – with his peculiar eschatological formulations. In the case of the Trinity he adopted a hyper-literalist hermeneutic (cf. John 14:28)[7] that made it impossible to hold in tension Jesus humanity alongside his deity (John 1:1, 14) – hence Jesus humanity superseded his deity, resulting in the rejection of the Trinity and affirmation of Arianism.

“E. T. Ellis characterized Russell during a personal interview in 1912:

 “I sought a prophet and found a business man! Instead of a humble seeker after truth, I found the cleverest propagandist of the age – a man before whom John Alexander Dowie, Mary Baker Eddy, Madame Blavatsky, Abbas Effendi, “Elijah” Sanford and Joseph Smith pale into puerile ineffectiveness” (Ellis, 1912)

Russellite Chronology - Click to enlarge

Russellite Chronology – Click to enlarge

Conclusion

Russell was a man of his times; sociologically thrust into a post civil war society, itself enamored with ideals of liberty and Jacksonianism, the perfect environment for a lost and hurting Charles to create a new paradigm.

The nexus of Russell’s search for religious answers lies in the tragic death of his mother. Like so many before him, his rejection of Biblical orthodoxy lies not in sound theology, but in emotive reasoning, the call of human logic. Russell’s gripe with God is as old as scripture itself. Did God really say? (Genesis 3:1). Our fallen flesh looks for answers that suit our needs. After all how could a good God condemn lost souls to eternal punishment? It’s not logical. In other words Russell sought a narrative that matched his own presuppositions; namely God is love and Hell is therefore irreconcilable.

Yet is God wholly love? (1 John 4:8). Some have taken the words of the Apostle John “to be a definitive statement concerning the essential nature of God. This is a great error. John employed those words stating a fact, he was not offering a definition. Had the apostle declared that love is what God is, we would be forced to infer that God is what love is. If literally God is love, then literally love is God, and we are in all duty bound to worship love as the only God there is. If love is equal to God then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical. Thus we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all His attributes save one, and that one we substitute for God.” (Towser, 2005, p. 68). Such reasoning makes love the antithesis of hell the end of which is universalism. Indeed Watch Tower doctrine of second chancism lies precariously close to universalism.

In contrast the “divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures. Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being Himself. And so with the other attributes” each in perfect balance. (Towser, 2005, p. 13).

Had Russell heard the Christian Gospel at his Presbyterian and Congregationalist Churches? Surely he had. Yet his self confessed conversion experience (aged 15) is somewhat puzzling. He recalls:

“I knelt down… and told the Lord that I wished to be his child, that I might come near unto him in a personal way” (Russell, 1911, p. 42)

Note Russell writes in retrospect aged 59. By this time his theological conclusions were definitive. This begs the question was Russell’s original commitment to God truly a born-again experience? Scripture warns:

“Beware of the false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them” (Matthew 7:15-16)

An honest evaluation of the “fruit” of Russellism alongside biblical truth suggests Russell was not a born-again beleiver (we leave his destiny to the mercy of God). The historical reality is that aged only 16 Russell lost all hope in the Bible and the Church, moreover he rejected the Gospel (Galatians 1:8). Russell sought answers in liberal theology, higher criticism and oriental religions subsequently immersing himself  in business enterprises (Schulz, de Vienne, 2014, pp. 32-53). In truth Russell yearned for answers outside of Christian orthodoxy.

Solace over this mothers death, his wrestling with post-mortem retribution, and loss of faith was restored by way of schismic Adventist (age-to-come) preachers; Jonas Wendell, George Storrs, George Stetson, Nelson Barbour etc. These men each fed the impressionable young Russell with a spoon of poison, poison that satisfies the mind and flesh but cannot satisfy the soul. Note below how these poisonous concepts once assembled doctrinally reinforce one another.

  • God is love = no Hell
  • No Hell = focus on earth
  • Earth = resides forever
  • Man created to live on earth eternally = interrupted by Adamic sin
  • Sin = death
  • Death = annihilationism
  • Jesus annihilated = therefore cannot be God = trinity false
  • Jesus went to heaven = heaven home of spirit creatures
  • Jesus resurrection = raised a spirit = thus will not return to earth
  • Second Advent = must be invisible parousia
  • Jesus died = as a corresponding sacrifice to Adam for all
  • For all = everyone who has ever lived. Thus the dead must get a second chance during the resurrection
  • Resurrection of majority = to a Paradise on earth with body of flesh
  • Resurrection of select little flock = to heaven with spirit body like Jesus
  • Admission to Paradise = by faith in Jesus plus works of righteousness
  • Righteousness = truth
  • Truth = Watch Tower
  • Watch Tower = Jehovah God
  • To be right with God = serve the Watch Tower

These are simplified bullet points which serve to illustrate how each concept interlocks one with another producing a logical belief system backed up by Watch Tower proof texts. Within this system is a reinforcement mechanism that cancels out other options. In fairness all belief systems have similar structures, and all of us, no matter what we believe, attempt to justify our position. Nevertheless the question we have to ask is this; is Russellism at its core truly biblical?

Indubitably, the litmus test for Christians must be scripture. Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses must ask the hard question does Russellism and Watchtowerism lead a person to salvation? You see the message of salvation, i.e. the Gospel is a nonnegotiable truth.

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough”. 2 Corinthians 11:4 (ESV)

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed Galatians 1:8 (ESV)

What then is the Gospel or Good News of Salvation?

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (ESV)

The message is very simple. Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised bodily on the third day. As Paul goes on to explain it is Jesus bodily resurrection that seals this selfsame reality for all who believe in Jesus. Without Jesus bodily resurrection we have no assurance of our own.

“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:20(ESV)

“Christ never stands alone; He forms “a body” with “many members” (1 Corinthians 12:12); He is “firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:18, John 15:5, etc.). His rising shows that bodily resurrection is possible; nay, it is inevitable for those who are in Him (1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:20 b, 1 Corinthians 15:23). In truth, the universal redemption of Christ’s people from the grave is indispensable for the realization of human destiny and for the assured triumph of God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)”.[8]

Jesus is the firstfruits of a heavenly resurrection? Who join him? WHOEVER BELIEVES!

“That whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:15-16 (ESV)

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven… Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. 1 Corinthians 15:49, 51-57 (ESV)

How can we ignore such wonderful promises offered unto all who would believe in Jesus? Where in all of Watch Tower History is the Gospel: salvation by faith alone in Christ alone? The Gospel is undeniably absent, replaced instead by a works orientated plan of salvation – men and women trying to earn their utopia. In view of the true Gospel – are you going to allow a religion to rob you of the Gospel truth: eternal life with Jesus?

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:20-21 (ESV).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Religious works – namely serving the Watch Tower organization – far from “saving” a person actually obscures, hinders, and robs the individual of eternal life. Therefore Watchtowerism must be rejected as antithetical to the Gospel.

Naturally the proposition of heaven for all born again believers, throws a proverbial spanner into the Watch Tower’s “earthly” resurrection theology, but scripture does not lie. Moreover there are biblical answers to every complex question. That’s what this website is all about. Helping Jehovah’s Witness break free from bondage and find the real Jesus. Today is the day of salvation. Choose freedom and life this day. Turn to Jesus, who loves you, and died for your sins. He longs to adopt you as his sons and daughters. Take a step towards him today you will not be disappointed. Jesus has paid the price of your sin – let him set you free!

“Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” John 7:37-38 (ESV)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28 (ESV)

Every blessing in Yeshua our LORD
Jason Wright

References:

Ellis, W. T. (September 26, 1912). Investigating an Investigator The Continent (microfilm) : 1342.

Froom, Leroy E. (1954). The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers Vol. 2 Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Johnson, R. (2015). The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree Global Destiny.

Knight, G. R. (2010). William Miller and the Rise of Adventism Pacific Press Publishing Association, Ontario

Marsh, J. (1881). The Age to Come, or Glorious Restitution of All Things Spoken of by the Mouth of All the Holy Prophets Since the World Began. Rochester, NY: Advent Harbinger.

Russell C. T. (July 1879) Prospectus Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, Vol. I, No. 1, pp. 1-6.

Russell C. T. (January, 1881). How Long, O Lord? Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, Vol. II, No. 7, pp. 180-181.

Russell C. T. (July, 15 1906). Harvest Gatherings and Siftings Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, Vol. XXVII, No. 14, pp. 229-230.

Russell C. T. (September 15, 1910). Is the reading of “Scripture Studies” Bible Study? Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, Vol. XXXI, No. 18, p. 298.

Schulz, B. W., de Vienne, R. M. (2014). A Separate Identity: Organizational Identity Among Readers of Zion’s Watch Tower: 1870-1887. Fluttering Wings Press.

Towser, A. W. (2005 reprint). Knowledge of the Holy Authentic Media.

Wright, J. J. E. (2016). A Hermeneutical Critique of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society’s “Faithful Slave” doctrine of Matthew 24:45. Bachelor of Theology dissertation, Chester University.

WTBTS. (1993). Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, Brooklyn NY

WTBTS. (October 15, 2000). Working the “Field” – Before the Harvest The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom, pp. 15-26

Zydek, F. (2010). “Charles Taze Russell – His Life and Times, The Man, the Millennium and the Message” Winthrop Press Connecticut.

Abbreviations

ESV                 English Standard Version

WTBTS           Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society

FOOTNOTES:

[1] http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2000766?q=henry+grew&p=par#h=1

[2] http://www.freeminds.org/history/russellnotfirst.htm

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Piazzi_Smyth

[4] http://ed5015.tripod.com/JWPatonJohnH18.htm

[5] http://www.pilkingtonandsons.com/apadams.htm

[6] https://carm.org/new-light-on-faithful-discreet-slave-watchtower

[7] http://www.gotquestions.org/Father-greater-I.html

[8] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/egt/1_corinthians/15.htm

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10 Responses »

  1. Hi Jason,

    I have enjoyed your two over views which confirm much of my own research. I don’t know if you have come across A Separate Identity: Organizational Identity among readers of Zion’s Watchtower 1870-1887 by W. B. Shultz and R.M. de Vienne

    see:-

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=NYiUBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA97&lpg=PA97&dq=%E2%80%9CVindication+of+the+Government+of+God+Over+the+Children+of+Man%E2%80%9D++george+storrs&source=bl&ots=ph6WqKBrbs&sig=BgeDoKYRphOhHmehGrqMEOnHuuY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjivZGf9vPOAhUEJsAKHeWeDSMQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9CVindication%20of%20the%20Government%20of%20God%20Over%20the%20Children%20of%20Man%E2%80%9D%20%20george%20storrs&f=false

    which you may well find of interest, see opening essay. You probably know this but just in case many old Watchtower publications are available online from Watchtower Archive

    see:-

    http://wtarchive.svhelden.info/english/books-and-tracts/

    May our Lord continue to bless your ministry,

    Michael

    • Hi Mike, thanks again for your encouragement – I still have lots to learn and much to read! I do have all the WT reprints as bound volumes, but also use online archives for searches. Much more I could have said, and I’ve probably missed out some important points? I will certainly check out your recommendations.

      My main concern for this article was to locate Russell’s theological origins and to understand why Russell chose the path he did – I felt if I could understand the dynamics behind that choice he made I would get to the core of his original error. Its also interesting to note how the socio-political landscape feeds into the worldview of Russell. For me it starts with the death of his mother at a very young age, the incoherent explanations of ministers, and finally his rejection of orthodoxy based on his own concept of love. With such disillusionment and pain of heart Russell as a sixteen year old boy was easy prey for Wendell’s brand of Adventism. The rest as they say is history!

      Understanding how Russell fell into deception is a warning for us all. We dare not simply go along with an idea because it “feels right” or because our heart rules our head – on the other hand our head must not rule our heart. All must be spirit led, which requires rebirth by the spirit of God – something Russell never experienced because he never accepted the biblical Gospel.

      For those who feel Christian orthodoxy is apostasy and a late 1st/2nd century invention I would advise an open minded reading of “The Heresy of Orthodoxy” by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger.

      For those who struggle with the origin and concepts of Hell, see my teaching on it here:

      Thanks again Mike – your insight and additional references are much appreciated.
      Shalom and blessings
      Jason

      • Hi Jason,

        Thanks for your reply and the Hell video. We had a sermon about Hell at our church recently not an easy topic and to some extent I am still struggling with the doctrine. I think it is significant that our Lord associated “wailing and gnashing of teeth” with it clearly indicating consciousness and Gehenna not being a symbol of everlasting destruction as JW’s believe.

        You might be interested in one of my recent you tube video’s entitled “JW’s Who was the FDS in 1919 Update” at:-

        I have tried to demonstrate that Rutherford was regarded as the so called “Faithful and Discreet Slave” and not a group of men appointed in 1919 based at Brooklyn who were predecessors of the present governing body as they now claim. I had in fact flagged up the issue of who actually was the Watchtower society FDS a few months before the 2012 claim that now the governing body are and not the remnant of the 144K class, see:-

        Every blessing,

        Michael

      • Hi Mike,

        Interesting stuff! I must admit I find the term “Hell” semanticlly misleading. Many Christians are taught a dualistic heaven/hell doctrine which fails to comprehend and explain the fullness of the intermediate state. In my survey of “Hell” I tried to follow the nuances from OT to intertestamental period and final NT revelation. For me the conclusions are conclusive. Jesus employed the language of postmortem retribution as found in the books of enoch, Judith etc. you just cannot escape this fact. Either Jesus was lying or he was telling the truth. No matter how hard the concept may be, I have to accept the latter and leave the “justice” aspect in the capable hands of our almighty God. Who am I to question God?

        Thanks for the links to youtube. I will take a look.

        Finally I have revised some portions of my two posts on Adventism to better reflect the narrower views of Russell concerning his age-to-come beliefs as opposed to strict millerism. The book by Schulz and de Vienne is helpful in this respect and I thank you for referring me to it. However I think it unwise to disconnect the age-to-come believers form Adventism. Much is overlap with both millerism, british literalism etc. – to be honest its all a bit of a mess.

        Looking at Russell’s interpretive methodology a believe a definite link can be be made to historicist premillennialism via Millerism, even if Russell himself had no understanding of this link. Again we have interpretive overlap and recapitulation of antecedents through a intermediary group, in this case the age-to-come believers. In other words I believe Millerism and more specifically age-to-come doctrine influence Russell; one indirectly and one directly.

        Anyhow I pray my amendments bring more accuracy to the historical situation.

        Every blessing
        Jason

  2. I don’t agree that Jesus endorsed the uninspired writings of the Apocrypha and Rabbinical literature. I think that the references to Gehenna and undying worms/unquenchable fire in Jesus’ words were references to the “valley of slaughter” in the OT and the dead corpses of Isaiah 66:24, which don’t speak of eternal torment. There were a number of different views in the intertestamental period including eternal torment, purgatory and annihilation, so I think that looking to intertestamental literature is problematic for establishing the meaning of Jesus’ words in inspired Scripture.

  3. Hi Jason, I am like you xjw, I live in London w9, and would like to meet up with former witnesses who are serious about, exposing the jw.org , are there any thing going on, wear I can get involved, please let me know. Kind regards claude Your Brother in Jesus Christ Our King And Redemer.

    On 3 Sep 2016 10:39, “Watchtower Investigated UK” wrote:

    Jason Wright posted: ” Jehovah’s Witnesses and Adventism (Part 2 Theological formulations) by Jason Wright Introduction This article is the second in a two part series exploring the historical and theological connections between Adventism, Charles Taze Russell and the”

    • Hi Claude, great to hear from you. We are certainly wanting to expose the Watchtower, whilst loving the individual JWs and trying to lead them to Jesus. Would you be willing to send me your story? It would be really good to hear about your involvement with the JWs and how you escaped. I will keep you informed about anything we are doing that you might want to get involved in. My email is newlight1914@gmail.com
      Blessings in Christ
      Tony

    • Hi Claude, great to make contact. Tony has already replied and will keep you informed of any meet ups or events which may be of interest to you.

      God bless
      Jason

  4. Your article is deeply flawed. You’ve relied in Zydek who is very inaccurate. If you want help updating it, email me.

    • I thought perhaps you may find my article and pass comment. I have your book which is impressive but only came across it after writing the article (thank you Mike!).

      The problem for any writer (as you will know) is confirming all the historical truth claims. I wish to be as academically accurate as possible but have to rely on sources, some of which are secondary – as in the case of Zydek. I would like to know why you feel so strongly that his work is in error?

      Overall Adventism vrs age to come etc. is a subject I would like to delve into deeper. I believe there is a middle road – adventism playing its role as an antecedent to the formation of secondary sects which in the main influenced Russell. These sects may well have moved well away from millerite theology but were nevertheless the progeny of that movement. Knight, Loughborough, Doan all link the schisms back to Adventism. Therefore while the immediate influences on Russell may well be “age to come” advocates etc. the paper trail still leads back to Adventism and as such cannot be entirely divorced from the parent. This is perhaps were we may differ.

      Having said all that, my main interest is in the hermeneutical methodology of Russell, not necessarily his theological formulations. There is a dearth of academic writing in this area and in time I wish to do a Phd on the subject of Russelite / Watchtower hermeneutics and the evolution of interpretation between presidents – a monumental task I know! Fascinating nonetheless. I will make a note of your email and contact you as and when I begin writing. All constructive criticism most welcome.

      One thing I must ask – Are you a Bible student or an Adventist or a JW? Not that I have a problem with any, I just need to know as despite our best efforts at neutrality presuppositions always play a role. It is unavoidable.

      Shalom
      Jason

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