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The Bible Student movement is the name adopted by a Christian Restorationist movement that emerged from the teachings and ministry of Charles Taze Russell, also known as "Pastor" Russell. Members of the movement generally referred to themselves as Bible Students or Independent Bible Students.

A number of schisms developed within the congregations of Bible Students associated with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania between 1909 and 1932. The most significant split began in January, 1917 after the election of Joseph Franklin Rutherford as the president of the Society about two months after Russell's death, and Rutherford's subsequent replacement of four directors of the Watch Tower Society.

Thousands also left in the years following 1925, prompted in part by failed predictions for 1925 and disillusionment with Rutherford's doctrinal changes and his campaign for centralized control of the Bible Student movement. William Schnell, author and former Witness, has claimed that three-quarters of the Bible Students who had been associating in 1921 had left by 1931; in 1934, Rutherford himself wrote that "of the great multitude that left the world to follow Jesus Christ only a few are now in God's organization".

Several factions formed their own independent religious fellowships, such as the Dawn Bible Students Association (which continues to print and advertise the first six volumes of Russell's Studies in the Scriptures series and others of his writings), the Standfast Movement, Paul Johnson Movement (later called the Layman's Home Missionary Movement), Elijah Voice Movement, Eagle Society, and Pastoral Bible Institute of Brooklyn. These groups range from those who are more conservative, claiming to be Russell's true followers, to those who are more liberal and claim that Russell's role is not as important as once believed. Rutherford's faction of the movement retained control of the Watch Tower Society and adopted the name Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931.

The current total membership amongst the various Bible Students fellowships is unknown; worldwide membership among Jehovah's Witnesses exceeds 7 million.

Foundation

Charles Russell in 1911
1869 Russell came in contact with Advent Christian preacher Jonas Wendell (influenced by the Millerites) and began a Bible study group soon after in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvaniamarker. He acknowledged the influence of Adventist ministers George Storrs (who had earlier predicted Christ's return in 1844) and George Stetson, and also strongly reflected the teachings of Philadelphia Lutheran pastor Joseph Seiss.

In the mid-1870s, he published 50,000 copies of a pamphlet explaining his view that Christ would return invisibly before the battle of Armageddon, and in January 1876 met independent Adventist preacher Nelson H. Barbour of Rochester, New York, a former acquaintance of Wendell and the publisher of Herald of the Morning. Barbour, an avid student of Bible chronology, convinced Russell that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874. Russell provided financial backing for Barbour and became co-editor of Barbour's magazine, Herald of the Morning, and the pair jointly issued The Three Worlds (1877), written mostly by Barbour. The book articulated ideas that remained the teachings of Russell's associates for the next 40 years, many of which are still embraced by Jehovah's Witnesses and some Bible Students: they identified a 2520-year-long era, ending in 1914, which they termed "the Gentile Times", and they broke ranks with most Second Adventists in teaching that all humankind since Adam would be resurrected to the earth and given the opportunity for eternal perfect human life. It also revealed their expectation that the "saints", including Barbour and Russell, would be taken to heaven in early 1878.

Russell broke with Barbour in July, 1879 over the concept of substitutionary atonement and began publishing his own monthly magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence (now known as The Watchtower), with the pair engaging in a battle through their rival publications for the minds of their readers. Semi-monthly publication of the magazine began in 1892.

Russell continued to develop his interpretations of biblical chronology. By 1878 he was teaching that the "end times" had begun in 1799, and that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 and had been crowned in heaven as king in 1878. He believed that 1878 also marked the date of the resurrection of the sleeping saints, and the "fall of Babylon", when God officially judged that Christendom had proven unfaithful. October 1914 was held as the end of a harvest period that would culminate in the beginning of Armageddon, manifested by worldwide anarchy and the decline and destruction of civilized society. In early 1881, he predicted that the churches ('Babylon') would begin to fall apart and that the rapture of the saints would take place that year, although they would remain on earth as materialized spirit beings. In 1882, he declared the Trinity doctrine to be false.

Thirty study groups or congregations were established in seven US states in 1879, and the following year Russell visited the congregations to conduct six-hour study sessions and establish a set pattern of meetings.

Watch Tower Society

In 1881, Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was formed as an unincorporated administrative agency for the purpose of disseminating tracts, papers, doctrinal treatises and Bibles, with Russell as secretary and W.H. Conley as president. Three years later, on December 15, 1884, Russell became the president of the society when it was legally incorporated in Pennsylvaniamarker. (The society was renamed Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in September 1896). Russell began to write a stream of articles, books, pamphlets and sermons, which by his death totaled 50,000 printed pages, with almost 20 million copies of his books printed and distributed around the world. In 1886, he wrote the first of what would become a six-volume series called "Millennial Dawn", later renamed "Studies in the Scriptures", which established his fundamental doctrines. As a consequence, the Bible Students were sometimes called "Millennial Dawnists".

Russell advertised for 1000 preachers in 1881, and encouraged all who were members of "the body of Christ" to preach to their neighbours. They did not regard this as their primary duty, however, seeking only to gather the "little flock" of saints, while the vast majority of mankind would be given the opportunity to gain salvation during Christ's 1000-year reign. His supporters gathered as autonomous congregations to study the Bible and his writings. Russell firmly rejected as "wholly unnecessary" the concept of a formal organization for his followers and declared that his group had no record of its members' names, no creeds, and no sectarian name. He wrote in February 1884: "By whatsoever names men may call us, it matters not to us ... we call ourselves simply Christians." Elders and deacons were elected by congregations and Russell tolerated a great latitude of belief among members. He discouraged formal disciplinary procedures by congregation elders, claiming this was beyond their authority instead recommending that an individual who continued in a wrong course be judged by the entire ecclesia, or congregation, which could ultimately "withdraw from him its fellowship". Disfellowshipping did not mean the wrongdoer was shunned in all social circumstances or by all Bible Students. From 1895, Russell encouraged congregations to study his "Studies in the Scriptures" paragraph-by-paragraph to learn the "truth" he had discovered, and in 1905 he recommended replacing verse-by-verse Bible studies with what he called "Berean Studies" of topics he chose. Congregations were left to choose which form of study – Bible or Berean – they adopted.

By 1881, two missionaries had been sent to England and the International Bible Students Association was formed in Great Britain in 1914. Congregations were also formed in Canada; by 1914, they were active in many countries. The Watch Tower Society's headquarters were transferred to Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker in 1909.

From January 1914, the Bible Students began public showings of the The Photo-Drama of Creation, a presentation synchronising motion pictures with phonograph records containing recorded talks and music. The presentation covered the history of the Bible; worldwide attendance that year alone exceeded nine million.

International Bible Students Association

In 1910 Russell introduced the name International Bible Students Association as a means of identifying his worldwide community of Bible study groups. He wrote:

Russell explained that the association would be directed and managed by the Peoples Pulpit Association, which, in turn, represented the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. All Bible Student Classes using Watch Tower Bible study publications could consider themselves identified with the Association and were authorized to use the name International Bible Students' Association in respect to their meetings. The name was also used when advertising and conducting conventions of Russell's followers.

Formative influences

In addition to Russell, early figures and influences included:

First schism

In 1905 Paul S. L. Johnson, one of Russell's pilgrims and a former Lutheran minister, pointed out to Russell that his doctrines on the New Covenant had undergone a complete reversal: until 1880 he had taught that the New Covenant would be inaugurated only after the last of the 144,000 anointed Christians had been taken to heaven, but from 1881 he had written that it was already in force. Russell reconsidered the question and in January 1907 wrote several Watch Tower articles not only reaffirming his 1880 position – that "the new covenant belongs exclusively to the coming age" – but adding that since the church was under no mediated covenant, it had no Mediator at all. Further, the church itself would join Christ as a joint Messiah and Mediator during the Millennium. Several prominent Bible Students vigorously opposed the new teaching. On October 24, 1909 former Society secretary-treasurer E.C. Henninges, who was by then the Australian branch manager based in Melbournemarker, wrote Russell an open letter of protest trying to persuade him to abandon the teaching and calling on Bible Students to examine its legitimacy. When Russell refused, Henninges and most of the Melbourne congregation left Russell's movement to form the New Covenant Fellowship. Hundreds out of the estimated 10,000 US Bible Students also left, including pilgrim M. L. McPhail, a member of the Chicago Bible Students, A. E. Williamson of Brooklyn. The dissidents formed the New Covenant Believers. The group, which informally referred to members as Free Bible Students, published The Kingdom Scribe magazine until 1975. The group still exists under the name Berean Bible Students Church.

Leadership crisis

Russell died on October 31, 1916, in Pampa, Texasmarker during a cross-country preaching trip. On January 6, 1917, Rutherford, aged 47, was elected President of the Watch Tower Society, unopposed, at the Pittsburghmarker convention. Controversy soon followed. Author Tony Wills claims there is evidence that nominations were suspended once Rutherford had been nominated, depriving shareholders of the chance to cast thousands of votes for other candidates and within months Rutherford felt the need to defend himself against rumors within the Brooklyn Bethel that he had used "political methods" to secure his election. In the first volley of what became a bitter pamphlet war by opposing sides, Rutherford told Bible Students: "There is no person on earth who can truthfully say that I ever asked them directly or indirectly to vote for me."

By June the rumblings surrounding Rutherford's elevation to President were turning into what he called a "storm" that ruptured the Watch Tower Society for the remainder of 1917. The seeds had been sown in January when Johnson was sent to England following Russell's death with orders to inspect the management and finances of the Society's London corporation. He dismissed two managers of the corporation, seized its funds and attempted to reorganize the body. When Rutherford, who was convinced Johnson was insane and suffering religious delusions, ordered his recall to New York in late February, Johnson refused and claimed he was answerable only to the full Board of Directors. When he did finally return to New York and apologise to the Bethel family for his excesses in London, Johnson became caught up in a move against Rutherford by four of the seven Watch Tower Society directors.

issue were new by-laws that had been passed in January by both the Pittsburgh convention and the Board of Directors, stating that the President would be the executive officer and general manager of the Society, giving him full charge of its affairs worldwide. Opinions on the need for the by-laws were sharply divided. Rutherford maintained that Russell, as president, had always acted as the Society's manager, and the January 6 vote by shareholders to approve the by-laws proved they wanted this process to continue under his successor. He claimed it was a matter of efficiency and said the work of the Society "peculiarly requires the direction of one mind". Bible Student Francis McGee, a lawyer and an assistant to the New Jerseymarker Attorney-General, responded: "This is then the crux of the matter. He says he is that one mind." By June four board members – Robert H. Hirsh, Alfred I. Ritchie, Isaac F. Hoskins and James D. Wright – had decided they had erred in endorsing Rutherford's powers of management. They claimed Rutherford had become autocratic, refusing to open the Society's books for scrutiny and denying Johnson a fair hearing over his London actions.

At a Board meeting on June 20 Hirsh presented a resolution to rescind the new by-laws and reclaim the powers of management from the president, but a vote was deferred for a month after strenuous objections by Rutherford. A week later four of the directors requested an immediate board meeting to seek information on the Society finances. The President, who later claimed he by then had detected a conspiracy between Johnson and the four directors with the aim of seizing control of the Society as he believed Johnson had attempted in Britain, refused the meeting.

Within weeks Rutherford gained a legal opinion from a Philadelphiamarker corporation lawyer that a clause of the Watch Tower Society charter stipulating that its directors were elected for life was contrary to Pennsylvaniamarker law, and that all directors were required by law to be re-elected annually. The legal opinion stated that because the January 6 shareholders meeting had elected only three men to office – Rutherford, Secretary-Treasurer Van Amburgh and Vice-President Andrew N. Pierson – the remaining four board members, who had joined as early as 1904 and never faced re-election, had no legal status as directors of the Society. Even Hirsh, who had been appointed by the board on March 29, 1917 following the resignation of Henry C. Rockwell, was said to have no legal standing because his appointment had taken place in New York rather than Alleghany, as required by law. Rutherford claimed to have known these facts since 1909.

On July 12 Rutherford travelled to Pittsburgh and exercised his right under the Society's charter to fill what he claimed were four vacancies on the board, appointing A. H. Macmillan and Pennsylvania Bible Students W. E. Spill, J. A. Bohnet and George H. Fisher as directors. Rutherford called a meeting of the new board on July 17, where the directors passed a resolution expressing "hearty approval" of the actions of their president and affirming him as "the man the Lord has chosen to carry on the work that yet remains to be done". On July 31 he called a meeting of the People's Pulpit Association, a Watch Tower Society subsidiary incorporated in New York, to expel Hirsh and Hoskins as directors on the grounds that they were opposing the work of the Association. When the resolution failed to gain a majority, Rutherford exercised shareholder proxies provided for the annual meeting in New York the previous January to secure their expulsion. On August 1 the Society published a 24-page journal, Harvest Siftings, subtitled "The evil one again attempts to disrupt the Society", in which Rutherford stated his version of the events and explained why he had appointed the new board members.

A month later the four ousted directors responded with a self-funded rebuttal of Rutherford's statement. The publication, Light After Darkness, contained a letter by Pierson, dated July 26, in which the Vice-President declared he was now siding with the old Board. Although he believed both sides of the conflict had displayed "a measure of wrongs", Pierson had decided Rutherford and been wrong to appoint new directors. The ousted directors' publication also disputed the legality of their expulsion, stating that the clause in the Pennsylvania law prohibiting life memberships on boards had been only recently introduced and was not retroactive, exempting existing corporations from the statute. As well, they claimed, the Society's Charter allowed only directors to be elected as officers. If, like the other four, neither Rutherford, Van Amburgh nor Pierson had legally been directors in January, then nor could they be elected as officers. Their advice from several lawyers, they said, was that Rutherford's course was "wholly unlawful".

The ex-directors' publication claimed Rutherford had required all Bethel workers to sign a petition supporting him and condemning the former directors, with the threat of dismissal for any who refused to sign. Some workers complained they had signed under duress and it was claimed as many as 35 members of the Bethel family were forced to leave for failing to support Rutherford during his "reign of terror". Rutherford denied anyone had been forced out for refusing to sign an oath of allegiance. Despite attempts by Pierson to reconcile the two groups, the former directors left the Brooklyn Bethel on August 8.

Rutherford's re-election and aftermath

Publications from both sides continued through late 1917, with Rutherford on one side and Johnson and the four expelled directors on the other each accusing their opponents of gross misrepresentation and trying to usurp authority. The controversy fractured the harmony of the Bible Student movement and many congregations split into opposing groups of those loyal either to Rutherford or those he had expelled.

Rutherford's four opponents made one last attempt to unseat Rutherford, claiming that although he had the backing of the most powerful shareholders, he lacked the support of Bible Students at large. They therefore called for a democratic vote from all the Bible Students. Rutherford wrote in October, "I did not seek election to the office of President, and I am not seeking re-election. The Lord is able to attend to his own business." However, he then out-maneuvered his opponents, organizing a referendum of all Bible Students in December, a month before the annual Pittsburgh convention. Although they were not binding, votes were counted in more than 800 U.S. congregations, giving him 95 per cent of the vote for President. His opposers ranked 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th on the list of prospective directors, with the highest support given to Rutherford's existing six co-directors. On January 5, 1918, Rutherford was comfortably returned to office, receiving 194,106 shareholders' votes. Hirsh received 23,198 votes - the highest among the ex-directors - putting him in 10th place. A resolution was promptly passed to request that Hirsh resign from the Editorial Committee.

Rutherford admitted at the convention he was aware he had made many mistakes, but by mid-1919 about one in seven Bible Students had chosen to leave rather than accept his leadership, forming such groups as The Standfast Movement, Paul Johnson Movement, Dawn Bible Students Association, Pastoral Bible Institute of Brooklyn, Elijah Voice Movement and Eagle Society.

Associated Bible Students

Bible Students congregations who hold to the writings and views of Russell casually refer to themselves under the generic title "Associated Bible Students". All congregations are autonomous, and may not necessarily have contact with other congregations. The Associated Bible Students collectively form the largest segment of the Bible Student movement that separated from the Watch Tower Society.

Each congregation, referred to as an "ecclesia", is independent and under no central leadership, though most of the well established Bible Student congregations and members are well connected. Each ecclesia elects its own elders and deacons. Many ecclesias sponsor yearly conventions which consist of Bible discourses, panel discussions, vesper services, and testimony meetings. These conventions are each hosted by a local Elder, and served by three to six elders who travel from their home ecclesias (mainly in the United States or Canada) after having accepted an invitation to serve. The general public is invited, but the majority in attendance are Bible Students from surrounding areas, or those who have traveled from abroad; attendance is usually around one hundred. The yearly Indianamarker-Ohiomarker convention (known as I-O), the Dawn General Convention (held in July), both of the Chicagomarker Bible Student's New Year's and Memorial Day conventions, and The International Convention (held biennially in Europe in August) see the largest overall attendance.

Pastoral Bible Institute

In 1918 the former directors sponsored and held the first Bible Student Convention independent of the Watch Tower Society. At the second convention a few months later, the informal Pastoral Bible Institute was founded. They began publishing The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, edited by R. E. Streeter. Although publication of the magazine continues [171339], the Pastoral Bible Institute is essentially defunct, with only an editorial committee publishing the magazine.

Berean Bible Institute

The Australian Berean Bible Institute (BBI) formally separated from the Watch Tower Society in 1918. They published The Voice and the People's Paper magazine. Offshoot congregations of the BBI still exist, but the number of all Bible Students in Australia is estimated at less than 100.

StandFast Bible Students Association

In December 1918, Charles E. Heard, and some others, considered Rutherford's endorsement of the purchase of war bonds a perversion of Russell's pacifist teachings, and contrary to scripture. As a result, they founded the StandFast Bible Students Association in Portland, Oregonmarker. The name originated from their decision to “stand fast" on principles involving war that Russell had espoused. Opposed to public witnessing, they eventually dwindled in numbers, and then completely dissolved. A splinter group known as the Elijah Voice Society, was founded by John A. Herdersen and C. D. McCray in 1923. They were especially noted for their witnessing and pacifist activity.

Dawn Bible Students Association

In 1928 Norman Woodworth, cousin of C.J. Woodworth, left the Watch Tower Society after having been involved with their radio ministry, to create an independent Bible Student radio program Frank and Ernest. Funding was provided with the help of the Brooklyn Bible Students Ecclesia (congregation). In 1929 they sponsored and held the First Annual Reunion Convention of Bible Students at the old Bible House used by Russell in Pittsburghmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker.

In 1931 Woodworth (and others) founded the Dawn Bible Students Association for the sole purpose of resuming publication of the Studies in the Scriptures series that the Watch Tower Society had officially ceased publishing in 1927. The Dawn began publication of a leaflet called The Bible Students Radio Echo as a method of following up the immense interest in the radio program. This publication was soon made into a 16-page magazine and renamed The Dawn—A Herald of Christ’s Presence, which they continue to publish, along with radio, television, and internet radio programs.

Layman's Home Missionary Movement

Paul S. L. Johnson founded the Layman's Home Missionary Movement in 1919. Johnson's death in 1950 lead to internal disagreements, and resulted in the formation of splinter group of their own, such as the Epiphany Bible Students Association, and the Laodicean Home Missionary Movement. Johnson eventually came to believe that he was the last member of the 144,000 of Revelation 7, and that with his death all chance for a heavenly reward of immortality offered to the Christian faithful had ceased. His associate and successor, Raymond Jolly, taught that he was himself the last member of the "great multitude", also of Revelation 7. After his death, remaining members of the fellowship believed they would live upon a perfected earth in God's Kingdom as a group referred to as the "modern worthies", associates of the "ancient worthies" – the ancient Jewish prophets whom God will resurrect in Israel to guide and instruct the world in his Kingdom.

Free Bible Students

New Covenant Believers

In 1909, M.L. McPhail, a traveling elder (known as a "Pilgrim") and member of the Chicago Bible Students, disassociated from Russell's movement when controversy arose over Russell's expanded view of the application and timing of the "New Covenant" mentioned by Jeremiah, and led the New Covenant Bible Students in the United States, founding the New Covenant Believers in that year. The group, which informally referred to members as Free Bible Students, published The Kingdom Scribe magazine until 1975. The group still exists under the name Berean Bible Students Church.

Christian Millennial Fellowship

In 1928 the Italian Bible Students Association in Hartford, Connecticut withdrew its support from the Watch Tower Society and changed its name to the Millennial Bible Students Church, then eventually to Christian Millennial Fellowship, Inc. In time they came to reject many of Russell's writings as erroneous. This Christian community is now located in New Jerseymarker and call themselves "Free Bible Students". The group have published The New Creation magazine since 1940.

Independent Bible Students

Over the past thirty years controversy has surrounded the Dawn as their publishing and editorial committee began to espouse more liberal points of view, pulling away from some of Russell's viewpoints, and alienating many Bible Students as a result. In 1974 a group of Bible Students meeting at a Convention in Fort Collinsmarker, Coloradomarker formally decided to cease their spiritual fellowship with, and financial support of, the Dawn Bible Students Association for this reason. They refer to themselves as "Independent Bible Students". The split was not intended to eliminate or restrict personal fellowship, but rather was viewed as a 'stand for the truth' by ceasing sponsorship of elders associated with the Dawn, and avoiding attendance at conventions held by congregations that supported the Dawn. Attempts have been made to reintegrate the groups. The Independent Bible Students began publishing a monthly non-doctrinal Bible Student news and information magazine, called The Bible Students Newsletter, which has become the most widely distributed publication among all Bible Students worldwide.

Other groups

In 1917 Alexandre F. L. Freytag, manager of the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Switzerlandmarker since 1898, founded the Angel of Jehovah Bible and Tract Society (also known as the Philanthropic Assembly of the Friends of Man and The Church of the Kingdom of God). When he started publishing his own personal views he was ousted from the Watch Tower Society by Rutherford in 1919. He published two journals, the monthly The Monitor of the Reign of Justice and the weekly Paper for All.

Jesse Hemery was a prominent member of the Bible Students in Englandmarker, and was appointed overseer of the Watchtower Society's British Isles branch office by Russell in 1901, holding that post until 1946. In 1951 he was disfellowshipped by N.H. Knorr and then founded the Goshen Fellowship. He died in 1955, and the group is currently led by Frank Lewis Brown.

See also



References

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