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Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose

CHAPTER 4

Preparation for Harvest Ingathering Begins

LOIS: Before we go any farther this evening, John, I'd like to get one point clear. What was Pastor Russell's aim? The biographical note you read said he was not trying to start a new religion and that's what you said too in discussing the name Jehovah's witnesses. Whether that has actually resulted or not is beside the point at the moment. The most significant aspect of his message, as I see it, was that Christ's presence was imminent; but what did he want people to do and what did he expect would happen when Jesus returned?

JOHN: First of all, Pastor Russell and those associated with him believed Christ's invisible presence in spirit form had already begun in 1874. They realized Christ's main work at that time was to gather those that were his and to free them from the many contradictory teachings as to what the divine will was for them. They believed Christ's purpose in returning was to gather them together, restore the true worship and then, in 1914 at the end of "Gentile Times," take them into God's kingdom, just as a bridegroom would claim his bride. This meant that the first thing people must do was to forsake Christendom's apostate religion and learn the truth, then actively spread that truth to others.

CONGREGATIONS SPRING UP

TOM: How did they go about organizing themselves to get the work done?

JOHN: Well, it was a day of small things and they began in a small way. But they proceeded immediately to try to organize congregations wherever interest in the message was shown. To do this, Russell, and a few others associated with him, began to visit those who subscribed for Zion's Watch Tower and bring them together into study groups. In these first years of 1879 and 1880 they founded about thirty congregations in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Ohio and Michigan. Then in 1880 Pastor Russell arranged to visit all of these thirty congregations himself, spending at least one day with each congregation. The program that he conducted was intensive, consisting of at least six hours of study a day with each group. a

LOIS: That was a heavy study schedule. What kind of meetings did they hold?

JOHN: Well, of course, during those earliest visits of Pastor Russell he would give them talks on the Bible and answer questions. Then, later, as an illustration of their regular schedule, the Pittsburgh-Allegheny

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congregation on Sunday afternoons, from 2:30 to 4, would have a meeting that was open particularly to the public because Bible lectures were presented. On Wednesdays, from 7:30 to 9 in the evening, they held what were called "Cottage Meetings." These also came to be called Prayer, Praise and Testimony Meetings because individuals would get up to offer prayer or personal testimony as to their own Christian preaching efforts and experiences, and songs of praise would be sung. This Wednesday meeting was a forerunner of what Jehovah's witnesses have since developed into their service meeting. On Friday evenings their study of the Bible was based on points in their bound books, which had been published by this time. These studies were called "Dawn Circles" because the earlier bound volumes of the Society were known as the "Millennial Dawn" series. b They also had a small song-book called "Songs of the Bride."c

LOIS: What about communion services? Did they hold these too?

JOHN: Not in the customary way the churches of Christendom do. "Communion" or "Mass," as the Catholics call it, can be taken many times throughout the year. But that is entirely unscriptural. Since the arrangement Jesus made was to be a memorial of his death, it should properly be celebrated on the exact day of the year that he died, the true Passover date of the Jews. This would be Abib or Nisan 14. Their Nisan begins with the nearest new moon after the spring equinox as determined in Palestine. d Because of its nature, these early Bible students called this occasion the "Anniversary Supper" because they were implying that it should be celebrated only on an anniversary and once a year. Today Jehovah's witnesses call this the Memorial, which indicates the same thing; it is a remembrance of Christ's death. We also refer to it as the Lord's "evening meal," as in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. e

In those early years Pittsburgh was the largest of the congregations, as well as the oldest. The Memorial was generally celebrated there. As many of those who could, who lived in other parts of the United States, would go to Pittsburgh once a year for this occasion, somewhat like the Jews would go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in time past. Only the smallest congregations would celebrate the Memorial independently. This gathering in Pittsburgh served a good purpose because it not only enabled them to celebrate the Memorial together in spiritual unity, but it also served as the occasion for holding a convention for a couple of days. In this way these early brothers were cemented spiritually, unitedly growing together by meeting together. They could see each other face to face. This all helped, since they were not otherwise joined together. Their fellowship and their spiritual feeding together enabled them to get this early work moving ahead more rapidly. f

TOM: What do you mean when you say they were not otherwise joined together?

JOHN: Each congregation served more or less independently, although it was patterned somewhat after the first congregation in Pittsburgh. But the other congregations were not tied in organizationally with this congregation. True, they were assimilating the same spiritual food from the columns of Zion's Watch Tower, and that was an important tie, because the members had come from various religious organizations: Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregational, Lutheran, etc. So the Watch Tower study helped them to considerable unity, even though they had brought with

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them much of the religious thinking and methods of operation of the various denominational systems. As a result, the early congregations of Jehovah's witnesses were governed by a combination of Presbyterian and Congregational style of church administration. These congregations were called "ecclesias" from the Greek word for "congregation." Each had a board of presbyters, known as "elders," patterned after the Presbyterian Church. They were elected democratically as in the Congregational Church and would serve for a term of at most one year at a time, designating as a board various speakers, determining what was to be studied, and so on. This was a much different arrangement from what is now practiced by Jehovah's witnesses.

THOUSANDS BEACHED BY TRACT DISTRIBUTION

LOIS: So Pastor Russell was teaching that people should study the Bible and share in the harvest work. How did they go about doing that? I mean the ordinary Bible students, not the elders.

JOHN: At first it was mostly by tract distribution. By this time Pastor Russell had settled his business affairs and was devoting most of his time to writing and preaching. Then, beginning in 1880, tracts were published by the little headquarters group in Pittsburgh. After 1891 these numbered tracts, first regularly marked "Bible Student's Tracts," also were called "Old Theology Quarterly." They were provided free to readers of Zion's Watch Tower for general public distribution and they were designated to expose the errors of church doctrines. g Larger pamphlets were also published as additional issues of Zion's Watch Tower. Of these, Tabernacle Teachings and Food for Thinking Christians had both appeared by 1881. Today we would call these publications small books. Food for Thinking Christians appeared as a special edition of Zion's Watch Tower for September, 1881. On page 162 of the booklet of the 1884 edition, this item appeared calling attention to a Society and its work:


This Society [Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society] is organized for the purpose of spreading literature similar to this pamphlet, published by Zion's Watch Tower, an eight-page monthly journal. This pamphlet is a number of said journal put into more convenient shape, and during the last four years this Society has paid for and circulated over a million copies of it free of charge.


TOM: How could this small group put out a million copies of one booklet?

JOHN: Many of them, of course, were given away by readers of the Watch Tower through personal contacts. But two other unusual methods were employed also. Here are two examples as described in one of the Society's early publications:


The manager of the principal paper of New York City agreed to send a copy of the tract [Food for Thinking Christians] to their entire list of subscribers, and several other papers of Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York favored us similarly in the work, for which they have our sincere thanks. h


Pastor Russell then explained: "We omit the name of the papers only to save them inconvenience from applications from others. They say they have never before granted such privileges to any." Additionally, for this far-flung task,


from an apparently small beginning, the tract work has spread to the immense proportions of 1,200,000 copies, . . . has employed hundreds of men, women and boys in preparation and distribution, nearly 500 boys being employed to distribute in London [England], and about 300 in New York—other cities in proportion. The distribution was made in larger cities at the church doors on Sundays. i


To further tract distribution, in 1881 two of Russell's early associates were sent to Britain. They reported the distribution of 100,000 pamphlets in London and 65,000 in

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Scotland in the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. j

LOIS: What was the booklet all about?

JOHN: It was doctrinal, of course, and gave a resume of all the understanding of truths that these students of the Bible had learned up to that year, 1881. It opened in a dialogue style and the discussion was carried on much as we are discussing the history of the Society here in your home. Then, after exposing a few basic doctrines of the nominal churches, such as immortality of the soul, the booklet goes on to explain many features of the divine purpose of the ages. For the majority of mankind who will receive life here on earth, the booklet points out:


The balance of our race now thronging the broad road to death are to be restored because their guilt and sin are atoned for and will be remitted. As through the disobedience of one man all were placed upon the broad road and swallowed up of death, so, through the obedience of one (Christ), all will be forgiven and brought back to life. But when brought back to "their former estate"—the perfection of the original—they will not have life in the same sense that the Divine family will have it. Theirs will not be life in themselves, but supplied life. The restored race will, no doubt, live eternally. God will supply the means of continuing their life as long as they are obedient, and that, we are told, will be forever. k

ORGANIZING THE WATCH TOWER SOCIETY

TOM: What arrangement did the group have for printing these tracts and the Watch Tower magazine?

JOHN: At first, printing was done almost entirely by commercial publishing houses. Our first headquarters was at 44 Federal Street, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. 1 Russell realized that, if they were to continue to expand the distribution of tracts and the Watch Tower, and if they were to receive contributions, it would be necessary for them to have some sort of a society. In the Watch Tower for April, 1881, this item appears on page 7. It is headed "Watch Tower Tract Society."


The immense proportions which the tract work seems to be assuming suggested the idea of a combination of effort in this direction, and the result is the forming of this Society. There is a great demand for tracts. Over 900,000 pages have already gone out, and we are now making contracts for several millions of pages. We trust that the Lord may be pleased to use these as the agencies for opening blind eyes to the beauties of His word, as He once used even clay and spittle to open natural eyes.


The following year Russell inserted in the columns of the Watch Tower this item in regard to the Society:


This Society was organized less than one year ago, for the object indicated by the name.

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. . . We never solicit donations. Those who possess this world's goods and are wholly consecrated need only to know how they can use it. Donations to this fund should be specified. m


In 1884 this Society was organized into a corporation, Russell himself writing the charter. Its original name was "Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society" but now it is "Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania." n Its purpose is stated in article two of its charter.


The purpose for which the corporation is formed is, the dissemination of Bible truths in various languages by means of the publication of tracts, pamphlets, papers and other religious documents, and by the use of all other lawful means which its board of directors, duly constituted, shall deem expedient for the furtherance of the purpose stated.


A board of seven directors was provided for by the charter, with three of them serving as officers, a president, vice-president and secretary-treasurer. o

Within a few years their original headquarters had become too small, so they decided to build a structure of their own. It was finished in 1889. p The building contained an assembly hall for about 200, which would correspond to the modern-day Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's witnesses. It had a small room for printing, with shipping facilities in the basement, and also contained living quarters for the members of the family who served as the headquarters staff. Space also was provided for the editorial department, and there was a store front with a storage room from which they dispensed their printed publications to the public. This building was called the "Bible House" and served as the Society's headquarters for twenty years.

So Pastor Russell did not organize the Watch Tower Society just to receive contributions and print literature. As stated in its charter, it was for "the dissemination of Bible truths." To fulfill that purpose, more was needed than just establishing congregations for study with some incidental tract distribution on their part, and this further organization is really what Pastor Russell had in mind. I'll tell you about that next week.



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