Thursday, April 19, 2018
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Some of this has been posted here before. This is an updated version with, we think, important additions. This is the working version of a chapter for volume 2 of Separate Identity.
Usual rules apply. You may copy for your personal use but do not share it off the blog. If you do you compromise our copyright and interfere with volume 2. Any observations are welcome, including proof reading comments. If you're serious about proofing this send me an email and I'll send the word version.
Here is an adherent who took the message to those within his former church. He seems to have maintained some sort of connection to it. He was willing, given the opportunity, to take the message to a wider field. Separated by doctrine from his fellows, he still engaged with them, shared with them socially. Belief that he had found Scriptural gems, the truth, sustained him. Russell was aware of this dichotomy. Isolated from “worldly” belief and practice by a desire for holiness and divine approval, adherents also felt compelled to take the Gospel to others. Drawn from his experiences with Watch Tower believers, he wrote:
Usual rules apply. You may copy for your personal use but do not share it off the blog. If you do you compromise our copyright and interfere with volume 2. Any observations are welcome, including proof reading comments. If you're serious about proofing this send me an email and I'll send the word version.
3 Out of Babylon
Sociologists especially, but historians too, struggle to place the Watch Tower movement in an easily identifiable niche. The results are usually unsatisfactory. Watch Tower adherents were religious pilgrims, often unsatisfied by their original churches. They were religious seekers, some of whom moved from one small group to another.
The nature of Russell-era congregations is misstated by Biblically illiterate historians and sociologists. Some present adherents as isolated, disenfranchised and alienated from society. John Wigley, considering a cognate group, thought that early 19th Century British Sabbatarians came from among those who felt economically and politically threatened. He saw them as religiously “introverted.” If there is such a thing as religious introversion, it characterizes those who seek New Testament separation from the world; those who would be ‘in the world but separate from it.’ This is a New Testament view of the world, and those who held it – including Watch Tower adherents – sought to maintain Bible standards. It is a mistake to find the roots of belief in a pessimistic world view. Simplistic, economic, or social explanations for belief systems are suspect as are “chiliasm of despair” explanations.
Edward Abrahams asserted that, “Russell used the words ‘alienated,’ ‘isolated,’ and ‘troubled’ to describe his congregations.” Abrahams meant that Watch Tower adherents were disenfranchised and alienated from an evolving social structure. We ask, “Where?” Where did Russell use these terms in this way? Between 1879 and the end of 1916, the word alienated appears in fifty-nine issues of the Watch Tower. Watch Tower writers used it as commentary on Colossians 1:21-23: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.” This is not a statement of social alienation, but of the need for reconciliation with God through Jesus.
The word appears in quotations from other sources, usually as commentary on the alienation of the young from contemporary churches and the Bible. This is not a reference to Watch Tower congregations. Russell never uses the word alienated in the sense meant by Abrahams. Russell said the Church has no part in the world’s social upheavals and essential sinfulness. But the Church has an obligation to uplift, to declare salvation, and to rebuke wrongdoing. Christians are not to approve of the world’s ways. This is not the social alienation that led to the Haymarket affair or the Railroad Insurrection. This is a push for holiness and engagement.
But what of Russell’s use of the word “isolated”? When using it of Watch Tower adherents Russell meant those who were the lone believer in their area, not that they were isolated from their communities. An example is found in the October 1881 Watch Tower which reported on evangelical progress “to strengthen and encourage the lonely and isolated ones.” And, using the word “isolated,” he reported on the Communion observance in 1884: “In some places only two or three assembled, in others more, and some isolated individuals alone, but the general testimony is that the Master was present at least in spirit; and for aught we know was personally present.” Does this seem to be a reference to social isolation? Not to us. But, as we shall explore, their unique beliefs changed their relationship to the religious community. Again in 1884, Russell wrote:
There are many such isolated ones, and all have much the same experience – in the world, tribulation; in Christ, peace. It is also a source of encouragement to learn that while we realize that the harvest is great the laborers are being multiplied, and that so far as we can learn, the saints are realizing their call to make known the glad tidings, and that though their talents be many or few they are not to be folded away in a napkin. We have learned that there are as many ways to preach the Gospel as there are talents among the saints.
We rejoice with all these that we have been so enabled to comprehend the Gospel as to find that out of the abundance of the heart our mouth must speak; that the love of Christ and the knowledge of his glorious truth constraineth us.
But while we thus rejoice together, we can but rejoice with trembling as we realize the secret, subtle, and persevering efforts of the Prince of this world to overcome the saints. No artifice or effort is left untried: Opposition, ridicule, rejection, flattery, false reasoning to disprove the truth, cares of this world, bribery with the good things of this world, and allurements of various kinds, are all used as the necessities of the individual cases may require.
This is within Christian experience. Early Methodists and Baptists, and First Century Christians all experienced isolation because of belief. Plymouth Brethren chose separation for the sake of pure belief. Adherents felt the isolation, but the counter to it was suggested in this article. Because they were ‘true believers,’ they were also evangelists, expressing their beliefs to others. There is no alienation in this. They were determined to speak as God would have them speak, to bring the gospel to any who would hear.
Letters published in Zion’s Watch Tower help us understand the sense in which lone believers felt isolated. An illustrative example came from a believer in Boston, Massachusetts. Though there were other Watch Tower readers in the Boston area they were unknown to the writer. He was alone in the faith, but not isolated from his community:
The “Z.W.T.” is a great blessing, there is spirit and life in it; it is not like the dead theology that abounds; it helps and strengthens me wonderfully. But it would make my heart leap to meet a brother in this hope, for I am all alone, and what is precious wisdom to me is foolishness to all my brethren here, yes, an unknown tongue to them. How wonderful it seems to come out into the sunlight, to feel the mind and heart expand under God's love and truth, and to realize that we have an unassailable position, not dependent upon the wisdom of man for its defense. Truly that which can bring heart and mind into perfect unison, so that they shall work together as one, instead of antagonizing one another, must be the wisdom and the power of God. How we ought to thank God that he has so led us out of the mists and fogs of Babylonian theology. It is a great privilege to preach these things, and I count that man thrice blessed who can do it, but we can't all be preachers in a large way; and not every man's lips are “touched with fire.” But as God wills, if the Spirit shall lead me to leave my work here – a quiet and humble one – and go elsewhere, to any large work I trust he will give me the necessary strength.
Here is an adherent who took the message to those within his former church. He seems to have maintained some sort of connection to it. He was willing, given the opportunity, to take the message to a wider field. Separated by doctrine from his fellows, he still engaged with them, shared with them socially. Belief that he had found Scriptural gems, the truth, sustained him. Russell was aware of this dichotomy. Isolated from “worldly” belief and practice by a desire for holiness and divine approval, adherents also felt compelled to take the Gospel to others. Drawn from his experiences with Watch Tower believers, he wrote:
But where is this faithful Church to be found? – this people so set apart from the world, so faithful, so loyal and so true? – so ready always to recognize and accept the Lord’s help? Does it gather here or there or yonder? and is God manifestly in the midst of its congregation as evidenced by its joyous songs and fervent prayers? Ah, no! it is a scattered flock; so much so that the world does not discover that there is such a people. The world knows them only as isolated and peculiar individuals who cannot assimilate even with the masses of those who bear the name of Christ. There is one in the quiet of country life whose chief interest is not in the harvest of his earthly crops, and who only plants and reaps thus that he may be able to devote himself so far as possible to the reaping of God’s harvest. He has glorious tidings for his neighbors far and near, of the kingdom which is soon to be established in the earth. And there is a farmer’s wife: in the midst of her busy cares the blessed sound of gospel grace has fallen on her ears. She feels at once like dropping the domestic duties and going abroad to tell the good news. But no; she remembers the Lord’s teaching, that he that provideth not for his own house is worse than an unbeliever; and so she says, I will let my light shine here. These little ones around my feet shall learn to rejoice in the truth; my companion, my neighbors, my farm hands and all that I can reach through the mail or the press shall know of it; and all these domestic duties which I realize the Lord would not have me ignore shall henceforth be done with an eye single to his glory.
Here is an invalid and there is an aged saint. Their faith in the Word of God … brings upon them many reproaches which are meekly born for Christ’s sake, while they humbly endeavor to let their light shine upon those about them. And yonder in a crowded city are a few who dare to be peculiar – to separate themselves from the customs and habits of social life, to forego the pleasures and present advantages of former social ties, to speak the new and heavenly language, to sing their songs of hope and praise and by every agency within their grasp to send forth the glorious message of the coming kingdom. And then scattered far and near are some unencumbered with earthly cares and joyfully denying themselves, esteeming it a privilege to devote all their time and energy to the great harvest work. Yes, “the Lord knoweth them that are his,” and he is in the midst of them. He knows their loyalty to him and they know his voice and are ever ready to follow his leading. Thus no harm can overtake them. They will stand and not fall, and will in the end be crowned as victors. A thousand will fall at their side and ten thousand at their right hand in this day of trial, but they will be kept in the very midst of the wildest confusion. They may, as the trial proceeds and as the faint-hearted and unfaithful fall, be left to stand almost or entirely alone in their several localities; but then they will realize all the more the preciousness of being alone with God.
It is hard for us to see Watch Tower adherents in the Russell era as social misfits in the same sense that those at the extremes of the labor movement and other disenfranchised groups were. Former slaves and their children, poor farmers, under-paid and abused laborers, shop girls who prostituted themselves because they were not paid a fair wage suffered from forces outside their control. Separation from ‘the world’ on a doctrinal and holiness basis was a choice. Put in apostolic terms, either one served God or one was part of the world.
Russell wrote a commentary on the First Psalm, saying said that the “righteous man” pictured“those … justified by faith … new creatures, walking in their Master’s footsteps.” They were “sometimes imperfect” through fleshly weakness. The Psalm says the righteous should avoid: “(1) the ungodly – literally, the wicked, (2) sinners or transgressors, and (3) scorners or the conceited and unteachable.” “The proper course is to have no fellowship (sympathy and common interest) with people of any of these classes,” Russell wrote. He explained that this did “not mean that we are to treat them unkindly or discourteously, nor that we are never to be seen walking, standing or sitting with such; but it does imply that our company should, as far as possible, be select, and of those who reverence our God, and that other fellowships should not be encouraged.”
Russell felt most believers would avoid common sinners and the unquestionably wicked. But most were “in danger of getting into fellowship with the scorners or unteachable.” Association with them would lead “to the same spirit, and that leads gradually to violation of the covenant with God; and that leads to open wickedness and willful sin.” The safe way was to have “no fellowship with darkness: it is never profitable.” This affected church affiliation:
In all the nominal churches there are many who have a form of godliness, but who are really ungodly – far from being in harmony with God and his plan. In the nominal churches are also many sinners, living in known violation of their covenant with God. And there, too, may be found, alas! sometimes even in the pulpits, those who are of an unteachable, haughty spirit, who even scoff at God’s Word and make it void through their traditions. Come out from among them; and neither sit, nor stand, nor walk in fellowship with such. (Rev. 18:4; Isa. 52:11.) Stand with God, even if that should seem to imply standing alone. The Lord knoweth them that are his, and he has yet more than seven thousand who bow not to the idol of sectarianism.
Obedience to the principals of good fellowship brought happiness rather than social isolation:
Some might suppose that one thus isolated would have an unhappy lot; but no, he is truly said to have a delightful experience. He delights day and night in meditating upon God’s will and plan. In this he finds a joy and a peace which the world and a worldly church can neither give nor take away. One thus consecrated and full of the spirit of the Lord finds that God’s laws of righteousness are not restraints which he would fain be freed from; but, like the Master, he can say, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: thy law is engraven in my heart.”
This is not the disenfranchisement that Abrahams and others envision. It is engagement but on terms set by holiness. If the world is common and ungodly, it is not association of choice for Christians, but it is populated by those who need to hear the gospel and to whom Christians owe courteous behavior. Those historians and sociologists who take this to mean Watch Tower adherents were disenfranchised and disgruntled, misunderstand the religious spirit of the age. Russellite “separation” doctrine differs in no respect from Methodist and Baptist belief in this era, except that Watch Tower adherents practiced it where others ignored it.
Watch Tower theology – on the issue of holiness and obligations to fellow men – fits directly into common religious belief. Russell’s contemporary, Samuel L. Beiler, a professor at Boston College, suggested similar doctrine:
The scorners are those who make an open scoff at religion, and blaspheme and ridicule it. These … are as many now as in Psalmist’s day. They still have their ‘seat’ or assembly and form a deliberate confederacy in wickedness. To ‘sit’ in their ‘seat’ does not necessitate being an open-mouthed blasphemer, but may only imply a silent member of such a company, who in his own heart … harbors such feeling. Beware of mocking, ridiculing, scoffing, scorning sacred things. Such a spirit indicates a heart empty of good and of god, near to destruction. … The ungodly … will be as the chaff blown away by the wind. … In the great day of judgment the hearts that are like empty shells will be found wanting …
Abrahams offered as proof of Watch Tower adherents’ disaffection and social status a series of letters from readers too poor to pay for a subscription. There are many more of these than he cites. But with remarkable blindness he ignores the extreme financial depression of the 1880s and its reoccurrence in the 1890s. Poverty was not exceptional, and many who were well off in prior years lived a very marginal existence. To return to Abrahams’ suggestions, we should note that “troubled,” the third term he mentioned was never used in the sense he claims. Abrahams is just wrong.
Isolated but Engaged
Those who were the only adherent in their communities were tempted to move to where they could find fellowship with those of like faith. Wilhelm [William] Myer, an immigrant from Hannover, was the only believer in the tiny town of Leonardville, Kansas. Neither his wife nor children believed with him. A letter to the editor of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Enterprise said: “He was the only one in that place in the truth, and consequently was very lonely, and craved fellowship; he was planning on moving to Topeka this spring so as to be able to fellowship with the friends there.” The remainder of the article shows that while spiritually isolated he was not socially isolated. When he died, his wife enlisted the German Evangelical pastor to preach the sermon. He insulted Myer’s faith, saying he had been “led astray in some things” but praised him as a man, showing him to be engaged in his community.
Zion’s Watch Tower and its traveling evangelists served as points of contact with the “twos and threes” and individuals. After the Lord’s Memorial Supper in 1887, Hamilton Lincoln Gillis wrote to Russell expressing concern for the smaller groups. Russell printed his letter in the Watch Tower:
I have the great pleasure to report a very interesting and profitable meeting, on the evening of the 7th inst., of a little company, sixteen in number, who “kept the feast” in remembrance of “our Passover, slain for us.” We remembered the more isolated ones, who were not so privileged; also the little bands of twos and threes, and companies like our own, here and there all over the earth. We prayed also for the dear brothers and sisters in Allegheny; and we doubted not that we were also remembered, and the assurance gave us courage and strengthened us in our glorious privilege. We all join in sending our love and sympathy to you and Sister Russell, and to all the dear household that are privileged to see you face to face.
Watch Tower adherents believed the Bible was inspired of God and literal in meaning. Most of those who rejected a Literalist approach removed themselves by 1887. The Literalist tradition is based on belief in the plenary inspiration of Scripture. The Bible is an inerrant guide. Its prophecies have literal fulfillments. Watch Tower adherents saw themselves as part of a prophetic movement. For prophecy to be useful and at all reliable, the Bible must be absolutely true, not open to fanciful interpretations. We defined Literalism in volume one of this work, but a reminder is appropriate here. Richard Bernard, a 17th Century British expositor, defined Literalist exegetical principals. The goal was “to give ... right exposition of the place, to judge of other mens [sic] interpretations, for approving of the best, for the redirecting of the worst, to examine aright also variety of reading and translations, in what sense to take word of diverse significance; to make supply of Grammatical Ellipsis; yea to reconcile truly places which seem to disagree.” Among these principals was “laying Scripture to Scripture.” A successful exegete would place the scripture “in hand” with “other places, the clearer expanding the more obscure.” The Prophets “must be laid to the Law, and the New Testament to the Old; for the searching of scripture commanded by Jesus and for which the Bereans are commended.” This belief, common to most of Christendom at the start of the 19th Century, was in retreat.
View of Religion
A committee report delivered to the thirtieth annual YMCA convention in October 1882 said Zion’s Watch Tower was “of doubtful character owing to its opposition to church organization.” Russell, and Storrs (and many others) didn’t oppose organization at the local level, but they opposed denominational organization. They saw it as “Babylon,” the whore of Revelation. Russell defined the True Church in the October 1882 Watch Tower. His article, entitled “The Ekklesia,” addressed two issues: Barbour’s claim to divine appointment and the definition of the true church:
To-day there are many organizations claiming to be the church, and having various bonds of union; but we wish to know, upon the authority of God’s Word, what ekklesia, body, or church, Jesus established, and what are its bonds of union; secondly, we wish to show that every Christian should belong to that church; thirdly, the injurious effects of joining the wrong ekklesia or church; and fourthly, having joined the right church, what are the results of losing our membership.
The true church was organized by Jesus. It was “the little company of disciples who had consecrated earthly time, talents and life a sacrifice to God.” They were “members of one society” with “laws and government, and consequently a head or recognized ruling authority.” They were united by “bonds of love and common interest.” Jesus was their head, their captain. They shared “hopes, fears, joys and sorrows, and aims … and thus they had a far more perfect union of heart than could possibly be had from a union on the basis of any man-made creed.” It was an organization “of the Spirit;” their law was love and they were under the “law of the Sprit” as “expressed in the life, actions, and words of their Lord.” This is an idealized view of First-Century Christianity. The unity of belief and sympathy Russell postulated often existed in the breach rather than in reality. He wrote about what should have been, rather than what was. Russell and Watch Tower adherents contrasted the True Church with fixed denominational structure. Russell wrote:
Thus we see the early church organized, governed, and in perfect unity and harmony under the rulership or headship of Jesus. Contrast this church organization with what now affects to be a continuance of the same – viz.: the various denominational organizations, each of which binds its members to a mental union on the basis of some creed or dogma of its own (many of them anything but lovely) and each having its own laws.
These laws emanate from their heads, or rulers and law-givers; so it is clearly seen that these present day churches, have and recognize as heads, or directing, ruling powers over them, the ancient founders of their various creeds, each contradicting the other, while their clergy, in conferences, councils, synods and presbyteries, variously interpret and enforce the “traditions of the elders” which “make void the Word of God.” These take the place of the true head of the church – Jesus – and the true teacher and guide into all truth, the Holy Spirit. … And the whole nominal system is described in the Revelation as “Babylon” – confusion – Papal mother and Protestant daughters. Will they own this to be so? No, for the lukewarm nominal church of today believes herself to be rich and increased with goods, having need of nothing; not knowing that she is wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (Rev. 3:17.) …
The True Church is composed of those, “fully consecrated to the doing of our Father’s will, amenable only to Christ’s will and government, recognizing and obeying none other.” It is the composite of all “saints” from the beginning of “the Gospel Age … to its close.” Jesus is “the head and ruler of the entire living church, and in every assembly where two or three meet in his name he is the head, ruler, and teacher.” Jesus teaches “by using one or more of those present as exercising the qualities of the head, or teacher; by using one or more of those present as His mouthpiece in unfolding truth, strengthening faith, encouraging hope, inspiring zeal, etc.” Russell saw himself and others prominent in the movement in this role; they functioned as members of the body of Christ, “just as the head of your body can call upon one member to minister to another.” He cautioned prominent preachers, such as Barour, saying:
If one becomes as useful an instrument as a right hand, he should take care that he aspire not to become the head. Be not puffed up; pride will paralyze and render useless. “Be not ye called Rabbi (master, teacher) for one is your master (head) even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” And let not the least member despise his office, “for if all were one member, where ere the body?” “Nay, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary” “God hath set the members every one of them, in the body as it hath pleased him.” ….
It is evident that if you have given up all your will, talent, time, etc., you are recognized by Jesus as a follower, and member of the ekklesia, or body of which he is the head. But says one: Must I not join some organization on earth, assent to some creed, and have my name written on earth? No; remember that Jesus is your pattern and teacher, and neither in his words nor acts will you find any authority for binding yourselves with creeds and traditions of the elders, which all tend to make the word of God of none effect, and bring you under a bondage which will hinder your growth in grace and knowledge … . But say some: If it is not proper to unite with any of the present nominal churches, would it not be well to form a visible organization of our own? Yes, this is what we have – an organization modeled after that of the early church. We think we have come back to primitive simplicity. The Lord Jesus alone is our head or lawgiver; the Holy Spirit is our interpreter and guide into truth; our names are all written in heaven; we are bound together by love and common interest.
Do you inquire – how shall we know one another? We reply, how could we help knowing one another when the Spirit of our Master is made manifest in word and act, and manner and look? Yes, the living faith, the unfeigned love, the long-suffering meekness, the childlike simplicity coupled with the constancy and zeal of maturity, make manifest the sons of God, and we need no earthly record, for the names of all such are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Members of the True Church visit the sick, finance the Lord’s work, are willing to “sacrifice reputation” and suffer “the reproach of the world and a degenerate nominal church.” When some sought organization to confront the “disorderly” among them, Russell wrote: “If we have no organization such as we see about us, how can we free ourselves from such, as the Lord requires us to do? We answer: Do just as Jesus and Paul directed.” There are, he wrote, “various degrees of advancement among the individual members, and Paul says (1 Thes. 5:14) some are feeble-minded, comfort them; some are weak, support them; but while you should be patient toward all, warn the disorderly (those who are drifting away from the true spirit of Christ). Don’t mistake the disorderly for the weak, and comfort them; nor for the feebleminded, and support them.” He advised applying Matthew 18:15, 18.
Christ’s church “has its evangelists, pastors and teachers appointed and directed by the Lord.” There was no Apostolic Succession, but they were anointed by Holy Spirit to preach. He restated the General Priesthood of All Believers doctrine, writing that Jesus wants “all the members of the body to preach …, and it is the duty of every member of the body to exercise his office for the edification of the other members.”
Russell believed direct statements tended to close ears. So it is not surprising if one finds this article prolix. Put bluntly, Russell rejected creedal churches because they were populated by those who proved false to their obligations to God and their brethren. Churches were worldly. Their creeds stifled scriptural inquiry, and they rejected his key doctrines. Most of this article considers mutual obligations. It is commentary on the post Civil War shift to secular interests and the adoption of misunderstood Darwinism with its idea of human progress that negated the need for Redemption. Teachers were known by their subjection to Christ. Substituting oneself for Christ, as he believed Barbour had done, marked one as outside the fellowship. At the article’s end he retuned to the contrast between the true and the false church:
How complete is the organization of the church of Christ with its heaven-written, love-bound and Spirit-ruled membership, and how sad the error of mistaking the nominal for the real church! … It would indeed, be a dreadful calamity to lose our membership in the true church or body of Christ. And no member is out of this danger except when keeping a vigilant watch over the old nature, counted dead, lest it come to life again, and assert itself in the form of pride, selfishness, envy, evil-speaking – or what not? But if filled with love (the love that prompts to sacrifice) and clothed with humility, and under cover of the redeeming blood, we are safe in the church (body), having the assurance that it is our “Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.” …
We may have our names cast out as evil by those of the nominal church, and yet “rejoice and be exceeding glad because our names are written in heaven.” They may frown upon you and despitefully use you and say all manner of evil against you falsely, or they may seek to win you back by flattery, saying they cannot afford to lose your influence – you could do so much good by remaining among them. Oh, how necessary in this “evil day” is the faith – That bears unmoved the world’s dread frown, Nor heeds its flattering smile; That seas of trouble cannot drown, Nor Satan’s arts beguile.”
Belief in the Holy Spirit’s guidance is New Testament doctrine, and in this era it was a characteristic belief of Christian sects, especially the socially conservative. For instance, The Christian Workers Magazine, published by Moody Bible Institute, issued a call for world-wide prayer signed by prominent clergy, among them James Gray, Robert Russell, A. T. Robertson and R. A. Torrey. Their joint letter claimed that they “were led by the Spirit of God to make this recommendation.”
Early in 1883, someone asked: “Would not an earnest, aggressive organization (or sect), built upon scriptural lines, be the best means of spreading and publishing the real Good Tidings? We must have fellowship and sympathy. Union is strength. It is not the skirmishers that win the battle, but the disciplined and solid battalions.” Russell suggested otherwise:
We believe that a visible organization, and the adopting of some particular name, would tend to increase our numbers and make us appear more respectable in the estimation of the world. The natural man can see that a visibly organized body, with a definite purpose, is a thing of more or less power; therefore, they esteem the various organizations, from which we have come out, in obedience to the Master’s call. But the natural man cannot understand how a company of people, with no organization which they can see, is ever going to accomplish anything. As they look upon us, they regard us simply as a few scattered skirmishers – a “peculiar people” – with very peculiar ideas and hopes, but not worthy of special notice.
But, though it is impossible for the natural man to see our organization … we trust that you can see that the true Church is most effectually organized, and in the best possible working order …. The Apostle Paul urges all to unity of faith and purpose (Phil. 3:15, 16 – Diaglott.) All led by the same Spirit may and do come to a knowledge of the same truth. Under our Captain, all the truly sanctified, however few or far separated in person, are closely united by the Spirit of Christ, in faith, hope and love; and, in following the Master’s command, are moving in solid battalions for the accomplishment of his purposes. …
Recognizing this organization, which is of the Spirit, and desiring no assimilation whatever with the worldly, who cannot see or understand it, we are quite willing to bear the reproach of a peculiar people. We always refuse to be called by any other name than that of our Head – Christians – continually claiming that their can be no division among those continually led by his Spirit and example as made known through his Word.
We disown none of our Lord’s dear children. The weakest child of the household of faith (in Christ, our Redeemer) we gladly recognize as our brother. Some, in ignorance of their privilege of the communion of saints, are mixed with the various worldly organizations, to their great detriment. Though we cannot follow them there, we gladly welcome them when they come among us. …
As Campbellites had before them, Watch Tower adherents saw themselves as restored to New Testament doctrine and practice. This gave them a distinct identity. Russell addressed this in October 1883 with an article entitled “Our Sect.” Russell referred to Webster’s definition of “sect” as “A part cut off,” “Hence a body of persons who have separated from others by virtue of some special doctrine, or set of doctrines, which they hold in common.” They were a “sect,” he wrote, “since we hold to a set of doctrines delivered to the saints by Jesus and the Apostles, and since we separate and cut ourselves off from all other religious jurisdiction and control.” Citing Ephesians 5:11 and 2 Corinthians 6:17, he said they were “separate from sinners” and had “no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” Their distinctive standing before God was based on obedience and on a restored, pure doctrine: “We obey the Lords command, ‘Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean, and I will receive you …’ In doctrine we hold firmly to the glad tidings preached by Jesus and explained by the Apostles, and will receive none other.” Ransom by Christ’s blood was the underlying truth, “and built upon it, is our realization that we are justified and cleansed from all sin in Gods sight, by his … sin-sacrifice.” All who accept of their share in this atoning sacrifice are properly termed Christians.
While the early church progressed beyond first principals to “strong meat,” a “comprehension … of the deep things of God,” “babes in Christ” are part of the true church. This makes the strong responsible to help the weak: “The more advanced in grace and doctrine bore the infirmities of the weak, each and all seeking to grow in grace and knowledge.” Division entered the body of Christ when apostolic rule lapsed. (Russell cited 1 Corinthians 11:18, 19.) Christians are separated from the world, separate from sinners, “separate from all others in that they accept of Jesus and salvation through his blood.” While “there should be no schism or division” (He cited 1 Corinthians 12:25.), “it is not remarkable” that Satan sought to divide the sheep, to put up denominational fences that hinder some “from following the Shepherd into green pastures of fresh and living truth.” Russell found it strange that Satan can “fetter the reason of so many, that they should think it a mark of spirituality to say, I am of Luther, a Lutheran; I of Calvin and Knox, a Presbyterian; I of Wesley, a Methodist” in the face of Paul’s question: “Is Christ divided?” Paul marked such divisions as an expression of a carnal mind. “Did Paul or Peter or Knox or Calvin or Wesley or anyone else than Christ die for your sins and redeem you?” Russell asked. It is improper to name the Bride of Christ “after any other than the Bridegroom.”
Russell wrote that “God cannot and does not sympathize with or recognize any split in the real church. He does not recognize the narrow creeds in which so many of the sheep are confined and starving.” Unfaithful teachers who bind the sheep in creedal pens will be “bound and beaten with stripes.” Watch Tower adherents objected to denominational creeds because they pushed Bible study into predetermined conclusions. Creedal statements made it difficult to reason with those who saw the creed as scripture, as a wall against error. Russell said as much when replying to a question about Restitution and eternal punishment doctrine: “We claim that … only the strong prejudice of early training hinders Christians from seeing” matters as he saw it. “Only this prejudice and training leads any one to suppose that God will punish willful sin with a life of torment when he positively declares, ‘The wages of sin is death’ (cessation of life), and that ‘all the wicked will he destroy.’”
The Russellite view of the church was not new. When discussing the Donatist controversy, Philip Schaff defined the issue of purity as opposed to a church that welcomed people of all sorts as “a conflict between separatism and catholicism; between ecclesiastical purism and ecclesiastical eclecticism; between the idea of the church as an exclusive community of regenerate saints and the idea of the church as the general Christendom of state and people. It revolved around the doctrine of the essence of the Christian church, and, in particular, of the predicate of holiness.” The idea that Christians were saints, holy ones, who transformed from sinner to obedience to Christ is apostolic, and it was already a point of conflict in the First Century. Watch Tower adherents came down on the side of pure doctrine and holy behavior which they believed they had rediscovered. Accordingly, Watch Tower belief appealed to the religiously conservative. Yet, there remained a certain element among them that wished to compromise to appeal to a wider population. Before passing on to other matters, we should note that this continues to be an issue among Jehovah’s Witnesses, the largest of the descendant religions. An ‘apostasy’ centered in Canada in the 1980s was based on this conflict. And the idea that strict behavior and pure doctrine defined Christianity became the subject of District Convention presentations.
There is almost no record of the earliest congregations’ internal structure or of the nature of their meetings. Though meeting guidance was given as early as 1884, a standard meeting format wasn’t introduced until the 1890s, and nature of meetings varied by place. To understand them we must rely on comments made in later decades. While some of his observations were appropriate to later years, the anonymous author of the Watchtower series “The Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses” accurately describes affiliated congregations in the period before 1900:
These early congregations were called by the name in the Greek Scriptures, “ecclesias,” and sometimes “classes.” They were organized on the congregational and presbyterian style of church government. All members democratically voted on certain matters of business and also elected a board of seven or more “elders” (presbyters) who directed the general governmental interests of the congregation. … These ecclesias were loosely tied together merely by accepting the leadership and pattern of activity of the Pittsburgh congregation where Russell and other Watch Tower writers were elders.
Groups that most closely identified with Watch Tower doctrine followed the Allegheny congregation’s twice weekly meeting schedule. They tended to read Watch Tower tracts and the paper closely, discussing the topics raised. Some, perhaps most, had an open discussion period, an Adult Bible Class that was free-wheeling and sometimes fraught with controversy. The Allegheny Congregation had a “questioners’ meeting” after the evening discourse “at which questions from the audience on Bible subjects” were “entertained.”
The Allegheny congregation’s meeting format evolved between 1870 and 1875. Thomas Hickey, a Welsh immigrant, attended Allegheny meetings from about 1874. He recalled that “the first convention” was held in 1875. We do not know its character or purpose, but we suspect it was held in connection with the annual communion observance. Fewer than one hundred attended. Testimony Meetings, a fixture of Watch Tower adherent congregations into the Rutherford years, developed out of an informal meeting held in the Russell’s home sometime in 1875, at which “six consecrated hearts were present.” Hickey recalled that “Charlie (Russell) would give them little talks.” By 1876 they had matured enough to formalize their meetings, electing Russell their pastor. “When they started to call him Elder Russell, the question arose as to what would be the proper title for their minister,” Hickey recalled. “Brother Russell ... answered simply, ‘We will just go on without any names, for we are all one in Christ.”
Doctrinal unity did not exist in this period. Some of their number had been Second Adventists and others Literalist, Age-to-Come believers. Most of the Allegheny-Pittsburgh believers were former Methodists. These brought into the movement a huge diversity of belief. When Watch Tower writers’ belief in the preexistence of Christ became an issue in mid 1880, Paton wrote:
That we meet with some whom we believe to be Christians, and in some respects seem to be well advanced, who do not believe in the conscious or personal pre-existence of Christ, is true. Though never having doubted this great truth for a single moment, even when reading the arguments offered against it, yet we have never been disposed to make our opinions on this subject a test of fellowship. We rejoice that it has been our privilege to convince some of the truth of our position. We have often said that the statements of the Bible are on the side of the pre-existence, but the opposite view has been sustained in many minds by unanswered questions as to how this or that could be.
Paton defined Christianity loosely, often pointing to behavior rather than doctrine. Russell believed that atonement by shed blood was a defining doctrine, but also tended to see behavior and obedience to Christ as key determiners. Pointing to 2 Corinthians 11:2, Russell said the faithful church was a “chaste virgin” committed to Christ. The First Century church defined Christianity. It maintained its purity for a period, but “gradually became enamored of the world and the prospects it offered and finally united with it, constituting the system of Papacy.” Russell said that church-state alliances were a mark of corruption. Union with the world marked the abomination, the Harlot Church.
The Harlot Church compromised with ‘worldly’ practice. “She claims to be desirous of knowing and doing what would please the Lord, but actually studies and does what will please the world. She has a form of Godliness but really is far from God-like-ness.” The false church attracts and then admits into fellowship the unrepentant and unreformed. Russell’s description of the apostate church is drawn from his own experience. (Our readers may want to return to volume one of this work and review chapter one, pages 23-26.) Russell’s experience with church fairs and raffles found a place in his description of the Babylonish church:
She felt that she must erect a grand church building with the tallest spire, and that every inch she added to the spire and every dollar added to the cost of building would help draw to her bosom some of the world’s children with bags of gold. She lives luxuriously with the world and is supported by the world. … The world, though caressing and flattering, wants the interest on the church mortgage, and if the church cannot think of a way to get it scripturally, he [sic] has plans for festivals, grab games, and church theatricals. She hesitates for a moment only, to thus disgrace and prostitute herself. The money must be raised. It would be useless to ask the Lord for it, since she disregards his wishes by contracting the debt. Necessity knows no law, and though the pure ones rich in faith, protest and weep for her condition, yet they are the poor of this world, and the poor of the worldly church seldom occupy a church office of any influence, and their protests and entreaties are drowned by the exultant songs and shouts of the gay company who “glory in their shame.”
Framing his views in terms of his past experience, he said that the nominal church was the Babylon the Great of Revelation. It is not interested in holiness but in numbers. Returning to his experience with church socials, Russell wrote:
Socials are arranged at which the wives and daughters are expected (even though followers of Jesus) to so dress and act as to decoy and captivate worldly and carnally minded men. Soon such a one is called brother and urged to join the church. At first he feels shocked at being asked to become a church member. He has heard of people being converted, having a change of heart &c., but soon settles down to the thought that he is as good as others, that morality is the needed thing, and finding it to be a passport to the best society and an aid to business he does not long refuse. Now he is a member of church in good and regular standing; perhaps begins to like and feel interested in church affairs; becomes an officer in the Sunday school. Now he is looked upon as one of the principal members … . Who shall measure the baneful influence of this wolf in sheep's clothing upon the true sheep and lambs, supplanting truths with errors, ignoring true faith and trust and fostering and encouraging pride and worldliness, to say nothing of the effects upon the world when, it may be after having been years with the flock, this influential member is discovered to be a thief, who for years has systematically stolen from his employers …? So the whole flock becomes suspected of being hypocrites, until now very few business men consider it any recommendation to an employee, to know that he is a christian. Nor should this be wondered at when we reflect that if any large defalcation or financial irregularity occurs you will find yourself as well as the infidel inquiring – Of what church is he a prominent member? [Spelling and grammar are as in the original.]
Watch Tower readers had or knew of similar experiences. Clergy misconduct was an issue too. Russell took up clergy inadequacy in the January 1880 issue. They were dependent on their creeds; they referred matters of doctrine not to the Bible but to the ‘reformers’ who founded their churches. Questioning parishioners were seen as a threat. Drawing from his experience within the Congregational Church, Russell wrote:
As Papacy established the priesthood over the church, so Protestantism has established almost the same, and there is no opportunity for the body to edify itself, every joint taking part. True, there is a seeming show of liberty at prayer-meetings, etc., but it is only upon the surface, for the ordained pastor is to watch zealously lest anything contrary to the teachings of his church should be expressed, and if so to silence the audacious member at once, for the church creed is the rule, not the Word of God. If this is not sufficient, they must have a sort of church trial and excommunicate him.
Forming Fellowships and Congregations
The formation of new congregations and fellowships usually followed one of two patterns. Sometimes the Watch Tower office referred newly interested to nearby believers. In mid-1882 Russell had one of his associates write “letters of introduction” to subscribers in Britain “wherever two or more reside in one town.” After a traveling ministry was established, evangelists who found interest would remain long enough to collect people into a Bible study fellowship. This was especially so after the publication of The Plan of the Ages in 1886. An example of this is found in the December 15, 1907, Zion’s Watch Tower:
As the earnestness and spirituality of the Colporteurs increase and abound more and more, their work becomes more lasting, more effective, as, for instance: a report from one group of Colporteurs ... showed that after their canvass of a small city they were able to locate a number of deeply interested Christians, some of whom had purchased from them, while others already had the dawns in their possession. These were gathered to a little meeting in one of their homes. The Colporteur talked over with them the Divine Plan of the Ages for a whole Sunday, and on the following Sunday he urged that they have regular meetings. This was decided upon by a vote of twenty, and one of their number, who manifested not only a deep consecration but a clear knowledge of the Truth, was chosen as their Elder or leader for further cooperation in the studying together of the Divine Plan.
In some few cases, clergymen, lay preachers, and prominent church members drew prior associates into congregations that were largely or totally Watch Tower adherent. We present a few examples in another place, but one we note here occurred in Williamsburg, Ohio, a small village not far from Cincinnati. It had about eight hundred residents, some of whom attended a meeting where Watch Tower beliefs were discussed. The person leading the meetings wrote to Russell in mid-1885 explaining their method:
I am busy, preparing and reading a series of papers before a considerable congregation. The manner in which these meetings are conducted is like this: I spend from twenty to thirty minutes in reading an essay; after the reading is done each hearer is permitted to present a written query concerning the subject. These I answer as best I can at the next meeting. I think they will get quite interesting as we proceed. Why evil was permitted is our present theme. When we are fully under headway I will write you and let you know how we are coming on. I am preparing manuscripts from z.w.t. in the shape of lectures which I intend to deliver whenever opportunity presents. I was a little slow to accept the doctrines held forth by the tower, but I wanted to be sure they were correct before I embraced them. I was hungering for something like it for some time, and it seemed a mere accident that I got possession of it; but I thank God that I have found the truth. Here is a dollar to pay for my paper, and to send some back numbers if you have any to spare. Send me anything that I can use in the lecture field. I will send more for the work by and by. I am happy now, since I have the truth, let come what may.
Interest moved away from the tiny village into outlying areas. There seems to be no way to recover more of this group’s history. What we come away with is their determination to study and that they were led by a determined, recent convert.
Examples with the most detail come from some few years after 1886, but they represent an establish process. Those few examples from before 1886 present an effort to gather friends for Bible study. A young person, about thirty according to his letter, wrote that he had “been thinking of forming a Bible Class, for searching the Scriptures in connection with the Watch Tower, as a help to the few who are willing to receive the light.” A letter from Ducansville, Pennsylvania, a small village near Altoona, illustrates another path toward a fellowship of believers. Food for Thinking Christians convinced a husband and wife. He withdrew from the Methodist Church and she from the Baptists, causing significant disruption in their little community. “We … are now forming a little true church in our family,” he wrote to Russell. The Baptist minister visited them, calling their new faith “all wrong.” They sent him home with a copy of Food. His Methodist ‘friends’ stopped talking to him. But he was determined:
I do thank God for the comfort I feel. I have been for many years trying to live wholly to glorify God, but I can now feel an assurance I never knew before. My companion is happy in the truth. I shall from henceforth work to bring other bound ones out into the large pastures. Pray for us, and my God bless you, and make you the means of setting many free.
Called by His Name
Russell and many of his earliest associates came from traditions that rejected any name but Christian or some version of a Bible-based name. They saw sectarianism as of the Devil. That left them nameless. Augustus Bergner told The New York Sun that he belonged “to a company of Christians who have no common name. We are not Second Adventists, and we are not the ‘Holiness’ or ‘Higher Life’ sect.” Maria Russell said that most if not all early fellowships met in homes. She spoke of the true church as “scattered all over the world, many of them standing alone, and some in little companies, often numbering only two or three, and meeting from house to house.” When Frank Draper spoke at Glens Falls, New York, it was in the home of W. H. Gildersleeve, who was willing to invite the public into his home. Somewhat later the Glens Falls meetings moved to the home of Mrs. C. W. Long, but within two years they returned to the Gildersleve home on Birch Avenue. Hayden Samson, a Watch Tower evangelist, seldom spoke in a public facility. A newspaper noted that “most of his meetings … have been held in the parlor of some member of the church.” There are many other examples of home-churches, but most of that history is more suitable for the third book in this series.
Congregations experimented with names. Most of the names that have come down to us are from outside the period we cover in these three volumes, but we should note some examples. The congregation in St. Louis, Missouri, styled itself “Seekers After Truth.” The newly-formed congregation at Salem, Oregon, called itself “The Church of the Living God,” a Biblical phrase. They met in the Women’s Christian Temperance Hall. Believers in Akron, Ohio, organized regular meetings in late 1902. A representative told a reporter that they “may be called Dawn Students, or members of the Church of the Living God.” Their meetings were held in the homes of members. The Watch Tower congregation in Grants Pass, Oregon, also used the name. The Cedar Rapids congregation used it too, as did the congregation in Saratoga, New York. W. Hope Hay, a Watch Tower representative, used it as well. In Cortland, New York, they called themselves the “Church of the Living God and Church of the Little Flock.” Occasionally, gatherings were described as “a meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.” When R. E. Streeter spoke there in December 1902, it was on the well used topics of “The Coming Kingdom,” and “Restitution of all Things.” An advertisement for his sermons used the Little Flock designator. He spoke in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union hall, and the congregation was still meeting there in 1904 and still using the name. Though Church of the Living God was appealing because it is derived from scripture, it was also used by a politically radical Black church, and Watch Tower congregations distanced themselves from the name.
The work of the North Carolina evangelists, many of whom were former clergy, bore fruit, and a small congregation formed in Nicolas County near Elizabeth City. The local paper reported: A new religious sect has been started in the wilds of Nicholas county. [sic] The New sect is called the “New Lights.” The sect is said to have arisen from the influence of Rev. Russell, of Allegheny City, where he conducts a newspaper called Zion’s Watch Tower. The members of the New Light sect profess to believe there is no hell.” The New Light name was reused in West Virginia.
When the Scranton, Pennsylvania, congregation was formed they used the name The Watch Tower Bible Class. When Russell spoke there, the press release used adjective laden phrasing: “Readers and students of the ‘Millennial Dawn’ series and all others who are interest in the subject of the pre-millennial advent.” When the Richmond, Indiana, congregation was organized by J. G. Wright, a Watch Tower “pilgrim,” it was called The Millennial Dawn Society. A meeting-time announcement for the Richmond, Virginia, congregation called them Believers in the Dawning Millennium. They met Sundays in Marshal Hall on East Broad Street. The announcement did not capitalize as we have, and the name seems more of a description of belief than a title. Using some form of “Millennial Dawn” in advertisements resulted in some calling them “Millennial Dawners.” In Elmira, New York, they were the Millennial Dawn Bible Class. In Flushing, New York, they were “the Millennial Dawn Society.” In December 1900, Russell spoke to the congregation in Washington, D. C. The newspaper ad described them as “Millennial Dawn and Zion’s Watch Tower friends.” A meeting announcement published in the September 8, 1906, Syracuse, New York, Herald described the small congregation there as “readers of Zion’s Watch Tower.” They met in the Royal Templars’ Hall on State Street.
The Washington, D.C., Evening Times, December 1, 1900.
When Russell addressed a convention in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1898, they were simply called the “Believers.” The abbreviation “Believers” was used again the next year in Boston. When a Watch Tower convention was held in Philadelphia in June 1900, they described themselves as Believers in the Atonement through the Blood of Christ. A convention held in Denver, Colorado, in 1903 was of “Believers in the Second Coming.” In Albany, New York, the same year, it was a “Convention of Believers in the Atonement.” Watch Tower conventions continued to use the “Believers” designation until about 1908. A convention held at Manchester, England, the last two days of 1906 and the first two days of 1907 billed itself as “the Convention of Believers in the Ransom for All.” A convention held in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1906 was for “Believers in the Atonement Sacrifice of Christ.” This was used again at Indianapolis, Indiana; Niagara Falls, New York; and Norfolk, Virginia, in 1907. It was used in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1908. A convention held at Put-in-Bay, Ohio, in 1908 was designated a “Bible Student’s Convention,” but the invitation was to “all believers in the ransom for all.” Afterwards larger conventions were “Bible Student’s Conventions.”
The Cortland, New York, Standard
November 29, 1902.
In Albany, New York, Believers in the Restitution met in Fredrick J. Clapham’s home at 288 First Street. Earlier, at least one meeting was held in a “Bro. Fletcher’s home.” Elsewhere the name Millennial Dawn Readers was used. In Omaha, Nebraska, a newspaper called them Believers, without saying what they believed. When a one-day convention featuring C. T. Russell and C. A. Owen, “the local minister,” was announced for Indianapolis, Indiana, they use a long descriptor instead of a pithy name, calling themselves “believers on the lines of Millennial dawn [sic], and of the ransom of the whole human race by the blood of Jesus Christ.” A meeting announcement published in The Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader used the fulsome descriptor: “The 10:30 Bible study of Watch Tower, Millennial Dawn and Old Theology readers.”
The Cincinnati, Ohio, congregation advertised meetings as The Church of Believers. In 1891 they met at 170 Walnut Street, Room 8, for “instruction and fellowship.” In late 1891, J. B. Adamson held weekly meetings there. Russell reported that Adamson had circulated “about 4000 Millennial Dawns,” adding that Adamson and wife “have done and are doing a good work –gathering ripe wheat and witnessing to others. Sunday Meetings held by Brother A. help to water the good word of present truth which he scatters during the week by circulating millennial dawn.” By May 1892 the Cincinnati Believers were meeting at 227 Main Street, and inviting people to “free lectures on present truths, in accord with the Bible, explained by Millennial Dawn.” The Believer’s advertisement said that “these lectures show the grand harmony of our Creator’s plan of the ages, the high calling and the restitution of all.”
Adamson found interest in a “Dr. A _____.” While we can’t identify him more specifically, he testified to others in the Cincinnati medical community. An advertisement in the December 27, 1894, Enquirer placed by a W. Val Stark read: “I should like to meet a young man familiar with the ‘Millennial Dawns’ who desires to actively further their notice on the churches.” Stark gave his address as 44 West 9th Street, the address of the Cincinnati Sanitarium, a private hospital treating insanity and addiction. Despite a large local circulation of Millennial Dawn volumes, the congregation remained small. In 1902, thirty-seven were present for the annual communion celebration; eleven of these were newly interested.
Believers in the Atonement congregation in Patterson, New Jersey, met at 180 Market Street to hear lectures on the Plan of the Ages as expounded by Russell at an address held at the Opera House the preceding Thursday.
At Los Angeles, California, in 1899 they advertised themselves as The Gospel Church (Millennial Dawn). By 1902 they were using Millennial Dawn Readers, and in 1903 they were Millennial Dawn Friends. There are several examples of Russell suggesting that they were The Christians. For instance, when he spoke for an extended period on Boston Commons in 1897, The Cato, New York, Citizen described him as “the leader of a new sect called simply ‘The Christians.’” An invitation for a Watch Tower meeting late in 1901, described it as “a convention of believers in the great redemption sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” When the Flint, Michigan, congregation listed itself in the newspaper church directory it was as “Zion’s Watchtower People.”
In Wharfdale, England, they called themselves The Church of Christ. The London Daily News said they were more commonly known as “Millennial Dawn.” In Sheffield, England, they called themselves the Zion’s Watch Tower Bible Mission. They rented space in the ‘large meeting room’ of the Wentworth Cafe on Pinstone Street and in a meeting room at 19 Fulton Road, Walkley, for lectures by an American Watch Tower evangelist.
Outsiders were pressed to find descriptors. When Sam Williams, one of the organizers of the Huston, Texas, congregation preached there in 1903, The Huston Daily Post described the movement as “those of Mr. Williams’ faith,” attaching no other name. Earlier The Post described it as Millennial Dawn faith. The 1912 Morrison and Fourmy Directory of Houston listed them as Millennial Dawn Church. Identity confusion followed Watch Tower publications and evangelists. A Watch Tower evangelist speaking at Poole’s Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana, included in the newspaper announcement that his meeting was not “Catholic Apostolic.” Another example comes from a period somewhat later than we consider in this book. At the request of a Mrs. A. Axtell, The Perry, New York, Record ran a brief article correcting rumors about a “Millennial Dawn” meeting held in a private home:
The Los Angeles Herald, December 31, 1899.
The Los Angeles Herald, July 4, 1902.
The Los Angeles Herald, May 10, 1903
The Los Angeles Herald, November 8, 1903
Will you kindly give space in your paper for the correction of the rumor to the effect that the meetings recently held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. Axtell, were in the interest of Mormon belief? And let it be known, that instead they were Bible instructions along the line taught by “The Millennial Dawn Series.”
Further, as a correction to one other rumor, let it be suggested that all lovers of the truth read carefully, with an open Bible, Vol. V of “Millennial Dawn,” before coming too hastily to the conclusion that the author does not worship the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1909 someone asked Russell: “By what name would you suggest that the local classes advertise their meetings, so as to avoid the confusion of a multiplicity of titles, such as: “Millennial Dawn,” “Believers in the Atonement,” “Believers in the Precious Blood,” “Bible Students,” etc.” Russell’s answer is illuminating:
It is a difficult matter to know how to advertise, not for ourselves, but difficult to keep from being misunderstood by the people. “Church of God”; “Church of the Living God”; “Church of Christ.” Any of those names would suit us very well, and we would have no objections to them, but we find that there are various denominations who have appropriated those titles, not that we think they have a right to apply them to themselves, but we would like to live in peace. It is a difficult matter to decide, and each class will have to do that for themselves.
In his view they were the Body of Christ, and while true sheep may be found within other churches, the various denominations were not of the Body of Christ. They were false religions. In the earliest period, Watch Tower evangelists never identified themselves with a church. They presented themselves as connected to Zion’s Watch Tower or to the Tower Publishing Company. Or they lectured without suggesting any affiliation, mentioning only the location of their speech. As congregations were formed, an organizational name became more pressing. James A. West, once a Methodist clergyman, lectured in Brooklyn, delivering the first of an eight part series on “the plan of the ages.” A reporter asked him the name of the new church. There was none:
A new church, which puts forth the claim of being The Church, was opened yesterday afternoon in Co-operative hall, Howard avenue and Madison street, up on the fourth floor, in a comfortably and rather prettily appointed lodge room. The minister was James A. West, who was once, it is understood, a Methodist minister in the West. He had an audience of probably sixty people. His discourse was the first of eight lectures on “God’s Plan of the Ages,” taking into consideration the “Millennial Dawn.” A large chart back of the platform depicted the different ages of the world, the birth of the world, its growth, the flood age, the present age, etc. Mr. West makes a decided claim for undenominationalism, saying there is but one head of a church, who is Christ. All churches are wrong in maintaining their different grades and conditions of doctrine, and in this way Mr. West claims for his followers that they are the church.
Russell reiterated this concept, and we find it expressed in a September 1901 lecture at Rochester, New York:
We are not a denomination, not a sect. I don’t know how many belong to our church. It is a church where no names are written. Our church consists of those who believe in Jesus Christ as Redeemer and make a full consecration to Him. We are trying to find them. All of our effort is to find who are His. We are not in any list of churches or sects. The true church has never been known by a name. We are satisfied to be known unto the Lord.
Convention Ribbon - 1899 and Convention Program - 1898.
Used by permission of Tower Archive.
Forming Congregations and Fellowships
New fellowships formed from the desire to locate others who shared the newly found beliefs. When possible, Russell ensured that Watch Tower adherents knew of each other, but many were isolated from others of like faith. This situation would ease in the next decade but was a serious problem in the 1880s. Russell suggested that isolated believers should ‘let their light shine’:
There is a disposition on the part of all, to be together and have the comfort and support of fellow travelers in the narrow way. But, beloved, this does not seem to be God’s plan; we are scattered, so that we may let our light shine. If we should get to one place, we would probably be scattered as were those mentioned in Acts, 8:1.
If you feel the “glad tidings” filling your heart, and wish that others could also hear the message? Gather from this that you may and should, let your light so shine as to glorify your Father in heaven. God is able and willing to use you, if you will let him. See then at once that your consecration is complete, and begin at once to tell the message the best you can, praying for more ability, and digging for it in God’s Word, and you will become daily a vessel of greater honor as you are daily more filled with the spirit of truth and used by our Master. But remember that to be used of the Lord, we must be very humble – “Broken and emptied vessels for the Master’s use made meet.” “The Lord abhorreth the proud, but giveth grace [His favors] to the humble.”
Maria Russell, writing in 1887, addressed the issue of adherents’ relationship to their previous churches, writing that, “in the various sects of the nominal church ... some of the saints [are] judged by the standard of human creeds and cast out, but very rarely [is] one of the ‘disorderly’” cast out.
Nancy C. Hudgings (1857-1922) of Ash Grove, Missouri, was introduced to the Watch Tower in 1894, and shared what she read. Her obituary reports: “When Sister Hudgings first began to read the truth she forthwith put her light upon a candlestick instead of under a bushel, with the result that she was immediately excommunicated from the Baptist church, even before she had read enough to comprehend the call to ‘come out of her, my people.’” Mrs. Hudgings became a zealous worker, taking “her place along side the other members of the little ecclesia of which she was a member each time there was a call for service.” Her obituary called her a “faithful saint.” W. F. Hudgings, her son, eventually became a director of the People’s Pulpit Association, now the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York.
Another example from near this in time comes from Alabama. The Vernon, Alabama, Courier of January 13, 1891, reported that a “Rev. Dr. Blalock” would “preach at least four sermons on ‘Russellism’ or Russell’s doctrine of ‘Restitution’ and ‘Death-Extinction’ at Bethabora [sic] Baptist Church, beginning Thursday before 3rd Sunday in February.” We cannot identify Dr. Blalock with certainty, but the article said that after his course of sermons was complete “a ‘Council meeting’ to decide the doctrines and troubles said doctrine have produced” was held. The Bethabara church was divided; Blalock’s sermons were meant to address the division.
New Castle, Pennsylvania
The New Castle congregation had its start in a book canvas by John Adamson. Writing to Russell in late June or early July 1887, he said:
I am having grand experiences every day. It seems impossible to get through New Castle. Yesterday took 46 names and left in afternoon train for home. In no other town have I got in so many books to the square, and I have excellent talks. Some careful thinkers are investigating, and awakened sleepers by the dozen. Of course there are bitter opposers, but as far as noted people are willing to investigate for themselves, and I have fruit already and expect much fruit. You may increase the order to here to 300 copies.
A small congregation formed by late 1889, the local newspaper reporting that “a comparatively new form of religious belief has recently obtained among certain people of this city.” They had, the newspaper claimed, “very decided and definite opinions as to the date of the millennium.” They met in the office of Andrew Lewis, [1834-1916] a dentist with offices at 2 Washington Street, “for the study of the Bible and for prayer, and the discussion of the millennium.” They claimed to have “Biblical authority” for believing the millennial reign of Christ near at hand. Lewis came out of the Methodist Church, where he had been “a charter member.” His obituary does not mention his association with Watch Tower belief and implies that he died a Methodist. This may not be true. We’ve encountered other obituaries prepared by relatives ashamed of Watch Tower adherence that omit or misrepresent. His last provable year of adherence was 1891. His father’s funeral was conducted by a “Rev. [William A.] Wallace” of the Millennial Dawn congregation.”
Wallace, a phrenological lecturer, preached in areas near his Ohio residence. He was an effective colporteur and speaker. A letter from him to Russell shows him to be a determined evangelist who did not let obstacles stand in his way. He was “Church Leader” at East Liverpool, Ohio, in 1894. Wallace enters the record through the 1889 Lord’s Memorial Annual Convention held at Allegheny where he was one of the speakers. Russell’s convention summary says:
Brother Wallace illustrated his method of presenting the outlines of the Plan of the Ages to the audiences he meets. Bro. W. was a traveling lecturer and professor of phrenology before the harvest truth reached him. When he received it, he began to mix with phrenology the good tidings of great joy for all people; and now as the truth has reached his mind and heart more fully, it has so quickened his zeal in the Master's service that the old profession is almost crowded out, except as it serves to pave the way for the glad tidings which now fills his heart and overflows at every opportunity. His talent is for public speaking, and after every lecture the DAWN is presented as a further elaboration of the great subject to which he has called attention. To illustrate his lectures, he has had the Chart of the Ages (from DAWN Vol. I.) enlarged and painted on canvas, and ornamented with pictorial illustrations of the various ages; and above all a beautiful symbolic sky representing the changing conditions of the various dispensations, from Eden to Paradise restored.
While Adamson may have sewn the seeds, the congregation owed its existence to A. C. Wise, once a United Brethren minister. United Brethren were a German speaking church with doctrines similar to the Methodist Church. Their clergy were untrained, and Wise was uncomfortable with public speaking. When speaking briefly at a Bible Student convention in 1907, he remarked: “I have been placed on this program without any consultation, and I am not engaged much in addressing the public, but more from house to house on the great Plan.” It was through his house to house ministry that the New Castle congregation was formed. The New Castle, Pennsylvania, Daily City News reported: “One Dr. A. C. Wise, of Neshannock, Mercer county, [sic] is a leader in the new doctrine, the theories of which he obtains from a book called ‘The Millennial Dawn,’ for which he is agent.”
Wise [1845-1932] was no sort of doctor. The Daily City News appears to have ‘played it safe’ by calling a clergyman “doctor.” Instead he was Aaron C. Wise, a farmer by trade and an itinerant Brethren preacher with no discernable education. Wise was one of the organizers of a United Brethren congregation in 1863. He left the Brethren about 1886 or 1887 to spread the Watch Tower message. An obituary said: “He was born on a farm within less than two miles of where he spent his entire life. Mr. Wise was widely known throughout the United Brethren Churches in Sharon, Sharpsville, West Middlesex and other valley communities. For the past 45 years he was a member of the International Bible Students Association, and took an active part in the organizations work.”
He was new to the work. In a letter to Russell dated to May 1894 he says he had been in the work about five years. That takes us to this period. He explained his view of ‘the work’ in that same letter: “The work, as I understand it, is to find the ‘wheat’ class, and with the present Truth intellectually seal them and thus separate them from Babylon. In doing this, many DAWNS are sold to others who may not now appreciate them, but who thus assist in bearing the expense of the laborers; and they will be read by and by.” He reported lecturing “some and quite acceptably, but have no ambition to make that a special work.”
Wise loved humor, incorporating it into his evangelism. We cannot place as to time or place the one example he left, but that seems not to matter. This was his preaching method:
The Scriptures show us that having ... having thus consecrated our wills, we may be able to be of service to our fellow beings, neighbors and friends, and might by the Lord's grace, impress these precious things on their hearts and minds. How many of these incidents have come to our attention in our service of the truth! I remember working in a town where they said, “If you will see a man down there he will talk the Scriptures to you.” And towards evening I called on him, and this is what occurred. I am a little humorous in my way of approaching people and I said, “I understand you are quite a teacher of the Bible and understand it.”
“I have come in to run you in a corner.”
“Every time you do you will get a five-dollar note.”
And I gave him a little talk on the divine plan of the ages from the chart, and when I got through he says, “Do you believe that?”
“I certainly do.” And he had not a word to say. Thus was I instrumental in impressing on his mind the great and glorious truth. I did not see him afterwards, but I learned he came into the truth.
A. C. Wise – later in life.
The New Castle paper described Wise as “chuck full of the ideas of the book he is selling.” It reported that he “succeeded in inculcating the doctrines pretty deeply where he has been at work.” The paper said that a “J. C. McCombs” was “one of the most zealous ‘Millennial Dawn’ disciples. McCombs, a shoemaker, was, the paper said, “a deep thinking man and a member of the Methodist church” from which he had withdrawn over doctrinal difference. City directories suggest that this was Joseph A. McCombs who in addition to running a shoemaking business owned other business as well. Nothing is firm here. John C. McCombs was Joseph’s son, and the local paper consistently confused them. It appears that both were adherents. A brief meeting announcement found in the July 10, 1915, New Castle Herald called Joseph the group’s pastor. Within Watch Tower usage he would have been Class Leader, an Elder. Another similar announcement appeared in the July 19th issue.
New Castle News – June 19, 1915.
The Daily City News said the “object of the millennium expectants is not to organize or to form any settle or distinct denomination, but the principles are to be maintained and supported by individual rather than collective belief.” The paper called the believers in New Castle “earnest and zealous in their convictions.” As did most Watch Tower adherent congregations, the first years’ growth was slight. The New Castle paper, with its customary inattention to detail and poor grammar, reported:
A little congregation of about 14 people in the Seventh ward firmly believe that the end of the world is near at hand and that according to their interpretation of the Holy Book the world is now passing through the period known to seers and wise men as “God’s Harvest.” ... The believers in the near approach of the Millennial morning claim that the harvest of the Lord commenced in the year 1874 and that the end of the world will come during the year 1914, 40 years being allowed for the preparation. Those following this faith believe that there is only one church – the church of the people of God – and that all who do not repent and become ... sanctified in the grace of the Master will be lost in the fire. There is no ordained ministers among the sect, the exhorters being known as pilgrims and travel among the faithful seeking no reward other than the blessing of the faithful.
Interestingly, the article reported as a visiting speaker from Youngstown, Ohio, a “Mrs. T. B. Hewitt.” T. B. Hewitt is Thomas Bolton Hewitt. We have one short letter by him to Russell appearing in the May 1, 1901, Watch Tower. It says he was from Ohio, but it contains no biographical information. Since Hewitt did not marry until September 1906, and then to a nineteen year old about half his age, the newspaper’s “Mrs.” appears to be a misprint for “Mr.” By 1915 there were about 28,000 people in New Castle and about 40 adherents, and by 1906 the congregation was called The Watch Tower Class.
“About the first of December” 1894, Amelia Erlenmyer, probably working with another female evangelist, contacted Emma Woodworth. Emma purchased The Plan of the Ages, sharing the book with her husband Clayton. He was moderately well educated, a graduate of Nunda Academy, a tuition-charging, post-Common School institution. He attended Geneseo State Normal School, a teacher college in New York and was employed as chief clerk by International Correspondence Schools. A later newspaper article suggests that he “helped found” ICS. We have no contemporary proof, but acknowledge the possibility. The Watchtower published a brief obituary saying he was “an editor and textbook writer before coming into the Society’s service.”
Amelia impressed the Woodworths, and they considered her “one of the Lord’s dear saints.” The Woodworths were “deeply interested in the subject of our Savior’s return,” and she had “little difficulty” persuading them to take The Plan of the Ages. Erlenmyer promised to return as soon as they had time to read it. And read it they did. “In two or three weeks” they “were interested to such an extent that although nearly everything else was mixed up” that they “scarcely knew what” they believed. Clayton explained:
We did see clearly that there certainly is some special prize, some exceptional opportunity, for which the humble, sacrificing members of Christ’s flock are invited to strive. We felt that there was only about one plank in the old platform left for the Christian worker to stand upon, and that was the one in which we have always been most interested, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” We have always been expecting to fall into some trap unless we clung close to our Savior, and at the time of which we speak were by no means sure that your interpretations of the Scriptures, despite their apparent harmony with them, were not the well-meant views of another class of those unfortunates who unwittingly go about “deceiving and being deceived.”
Amelia Erlenmyer returned “about a week later,” renewing their interest and leaving the next two volumes of Millennial Dawn. “We saw the old landmarks of orthodoxy topple and fall on every side,” Woodworth wrote to Russell. Between Erlenmyer’s visits they had engaged to support a missionary. This was now an issue. They no longer believed Methodist doctrine. Could they conscientiously support a missionary teaching doctrine they no longer accepted? The woman missionary was unable to accept an assignment because of eye disease, and in this way, though saddened by their friend’s illness, the Woodworths were relieved of the conflict. Tragic as this was for their friend, the Woodworths saw in it a divine answer to prayer: “We asked our Father in Heaven to show us the truth or falsity of your teachings by sending our friend as we had planned, or preventing her from going.”
Those converting from Methodist churches found the Watch Tower promoting holiness and what some call ‘perfectionism,’ hallmarks of Wesley’s theology, but largely abandoned by Methodists. Otherwise, a significant shift in belief was necessary. Writing to a friend about their failed expectations concerning 1914, Woodworth recounted the changes:
Twenty years ago you and I believed in infant baptism; in the Divine right of the clergy to administer that baptism; that baptism was necessary to escape eternal torment; that God is love; that God created and continues to create billions of beings in His likeness who will spend the countless ages of eternity in the strangling fumes of burning sulphur, pleading in vain for one drop of water to relieve their agonies . . .
We believed that after a man dies, he is alive; we believed that Jesus Christ never died; that He could not die; that no Ransom was ever paid or ever will be paid; that Jehovah God and Christ Jesus His Son are one and the same person; that Christ was His own Father; that Jesus was His own Son; that the Holy Spirit is a person; that one plus one, plus one, equal one; that when Jesus hung on the cross and said, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou Forsaken Me,’ He was merely talking to Himself; . . . that present kingdoms are part of Christ’s Kingdom; that the Devil has been away off somewhere in an unlocated Hell, instead of exercising dominion over the kingdoms of this earth . . .
I praise God for the day that brought Present Truth to my door. It was so wholesome, so refreshing to mind and heart, that I quickly left the humbug and claptrap of the past. . . .
By April 1, 1895, they were fully committed believers, identifying themselves with the “Scranton class of the Bible students”:
Now we have proved the Lord, and he has answered us, and we mean to obey the call. With fear and trembling, but with confidence in our mighty King, we enter at the eleventh hour to run the race for crowns which others have flung aside. The thought that others have had them and lost them almost unnerves us. Oh! may he grant to strengthen our weak hands and confirm our feeble knees, that we be not castaways after having once entered the Holy Place and feasted on the wonderful truths so providentially placed in our way, is the heartfelt prayer of Your loving brother and sister in Christ.
The Woodworths were young, both eager to serve Christ before they met and married. Clayton dated his “consecration” to his nineteenth year. Clayton was baptized into his new faith about June 1896. He wanted to meet Russell and traveled to do so, attending one of Russell’s lectures. Woodworth recalled: “I first met Pastor Russell at a meeting of Bible Students in New York in the year 1895. The latter part of the year 1895, and whenever I had the opportunity after that to visit in town in which he was scheduled to speak I made it a point to visit that town and hear him speak, if it was within the limits of my personal and business engagements.” When Russell’s Thy Word is Truth: An Answer to Robert Ingersoll’s Charges Against Christianity was published, Woodworth “placed advertisements in sundry magazines and religious periodicals” at his own expense. He advertised under his own name but directed purchasers to the Watch Tower Society address.
Others represented pre-existing interest in Scranton. Among them was Daniel Milburn Hessler (1860-1917) who owned a laundry business in Scranton with branches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He appears once in the Watch Tower through a letter to Russell in February 1891, and he named a son born that year Charles Russell Hessler. We find him expressing his strongly held belief:
I received January number last night and quickly noticed the new suit in which the tower is clothed. I feel sure that the improvement will be greatly appreciated by its readers. The emblem of the cross and crown is an appropriate and beautiful design to be worn by the tower. Its presence should ever encourage, sustain and comfort the household of faith. It should also be a warning or reminder; for as the cross and crown are inseparable in the design, so the two are to be inseparably associated in the experience of the overcomers. If we would wear the crown we must bear the cross.
Hessler drops out of the record with this letter, but we know his family and probably Daniel maintained interest. His son is listed as a “special representative” of the Watch Tower Society in the 1943 Yearbook. By July 1895, meetings were held in George W. Hessler’s home at 728 Green Ridge Street. Erlenmyer would have directed the Woodworths to this meeting. A meeting notice appears in the July 13, 1895, Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune:
The Watch Tower Bible class will meet at the residence of G. W. Hessler, 728 Green Ridge street, [sic] Sunday, July 14, at 10 a. m. The subject will be “Restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began,” Acts, iii 21. The leader will also explain from the “Chart of the Ages” the special call of this gospel age, “The straight gate and narrow way to life, and the few there be that find it.” Matt. Vii, 14.
We do not know who the class “leader” was, but we do know something of Daniel Hessler’s brother George. [Died May 1913.] He was a cabinet maker, “well known in building circles,” and a member of the Improved Order of Heptasophs, a fraternal organization. Hessler was an inventor, holding patents for a ‘book holder’ and a toilet chair. A German immigrant, he became a citizen in February 1909. Later in life he invested in a Cuban gold mine and he was swindled. We do not know if he maintained his interest. When his daughter Hazel was married in 1905, it was by the “Reverend Stahl.” This cannot be taken as evidence of later belief because in this era adherents turned to clergy for weddings. Few Watch Tower evangelists were recognized by state or county officials to perform marriages.
The Scranton congregation drew traveling evangelists. Frank Draper, a well-traveled and well-known Watch Tower representative visited nearby Peckville in May 1896, holding two meetings in the Grand Army of the Republic Hall. A newspaper announcement read: “A cordial invitation is extended to all, especially the interested readers of Millennial Dawn. Bring your Bibles and come rain or shine.” It is likely that the meeting was sponsored by Hayden Samson who was then living in Peckville.
Russell visited the congregation in May 1897. This wasn’t unusual. He continued to travel extensively, visiting small groups until a few years after his sermons were syndicated. The newspaper article that announced his speech was sponsored by the Watch Tower. It said that “Scranton readers and students of the ‘Millennial Dawn,’ series of Bible helps, and all others who are interested in the subject of the pre-millennial advent of the Lord have a rare treat in store for next Wednesday evening. C. T. Russell, the author … has consented to come to Scranton and deliver an address on “Why Christians Should Take a Lively Interest in the Second Coming of the Lord.” His talk was held in the Green Ridge Tabernacle, a Methodist church, on Jefferson Avenue.
Most of the article was an advertisement for Russell and his books. The Watch Tower press release said:
Mr. Russell stands free from all creeds and sects of men and is therefore able to give an unbiased view of every phase of Scripture truth and it is believed that all classes of honest thinkers who read his works will be enabled to realize the Bible as indeed God’s word and to recognize his plan therein revealed as one sublime exhibition of justice, wisdom, love and power. This is borne out by the fact that “Millennial Dawn” has been the direct means of conversion of hundreds of life infidels.
Frank Draper followed Russell, delivering two lectures on “the signs of the times” and “kindred topics” at Raub’s Hall, October 17, 1897. The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune carried an announcement:
Mr. Draper is not an alarmist, but with very many excellent Christian people of today, he believes that “important events cast their shadow before,” when viewed in the light of prophecy, and that we are well into the time when “many were to run to and fro and knowledge be increased.” Hence the importance of attending these meetings.
We could not locate post-event reports for either Russell or Draper’s lectures, but the announcements seem to convey the content. Watch Tower press releases in Scranton were typical of the age. A speaker if prominent was praised. (Russell was presented as freed from all creeds, an independent Bible student, able to discern the divine message where others had failed.) Many others believed as did the speaker. If you were a thinking person, you would too. Argumentum ad populum was common in American advertising. Russell used the technique too.
Clayton James Woodworth – 1913
Emma died in April 1899, and Russell traveled to Scranton to preach the funeral discourse. Clayton became seriously ill during the winter of 1898-1899, and Emma, ill herself, took on additional family responsibilities and her husband’s care. She collapsed at his bedside, dying of heart failure. The funeral was held at the Woodworth residence. The small Scranton congregation, really not more than a fellowship, placed a notice in The Tribune separate from the funeral notice: “Charles T. Russell, author of the “Millennial Dawn Series,” will be in the city Sunday to conduct the funeral services of Mrs. C. J. Woodworth. He will also address the Bible class which meets at Gurney’s hall. … All are invited to hear the most wonderful Bible scholar of the age.” Though hyperbole is within the context of the era, one is still taken aback by the lavish praise heaped on Russell. When set against the modesty attributed to Russell by himself and others, it comes across as crass advertising. If his friends and associates saw the praise as deserved, many more of his contemporaries did not.
Though still small, by 1897 the Scranton group was well-established. A report of annual communion attendance said twenty attended in Scranton, eight more than the previous year. By 1899 the number had increased by one. A report from 1900 said that the Scranton group was one of those “leading in the volunteer work,” the circulation of Watch Tower tracts outside public places. Thirteen of their number were regular participants.
Russell and other Watch Tower evangelists continued to support the fledgling group. Russell returned to Scranton in late July 1902, speaking to the congregation in Guernsey Hall. His address resulted in a lengthy newspaper article, and this time Russell was introduced only as an editor and author; all the hyperbole had disappeared. Hayden Samson returned to Scranton in September 1902 to follow up interest generated by Russell’s talk. An announcement said: “All people … who are interested in ways and means for the betterment of social, economic and religious conditions, as all in this valley must be in such times of unrest as the present, will be doubly interested in the subject for discussion, ‘God’s Agency for the Blessing of the World.’”
As the congregation grew, so did opposition. Clergy in Scranton supervised the burning of Russell’s books. The pattern found here was repeated elsewhere, and was by the 1890s not a new one. We can find similar events in places such as Richmond, Virginia; Huston, Texas; and Washington, D. C. Colporteurs and locals testified to their neighbors, telling “the truth of the Bible as they saw it.” Residents were introduced to Watch Tower literature. Lectures were presented. Local interest was gathered by letter or by personal invitation. Russell accepted invitations to speak. These were advertised in newspapers. Forming new congregations was a group effort, not the work of one man.
Testifying to those of similarly serious faith produced results, and some groups formed out of this type of personal evangelism. In Virginia, a “sister” reported that when she “began to tell what she had recently been learning to a few neighbors privately ... so many came that presently a schoolhouse was needed to accommodate them, and it even was crowded.”
Advertisement: Scranton Tribune¸ July 26, 1902.
Indianapolis News, February 20, 1897
Accepting the Watch Tower’s unique doctrinal set brought conflict with one’s church. Some were expelled, and others, accepting the Watch Tower definition of Babylon and its image, left. Bible Students Tracts, Food for Thinking Christians, and later The Plan of the Ages gave some readers a new foundation for their faith. A letter from a Canadian reader appearing in the January/February 1882, Watch Tower illustrates the result:
dear brother:– The books and paper I have received safely, for which accept my sincere thanks. I have received a great deal of profit from the reading of them. God’s plan of salvation as seen by the aid of the “true light” (as I firmly believe), is sublime beyond anything of which I have had conception. My heart is overflowing with thankfulness to our Father and Saviour that I have been thought worthy to receive the “good news. “I feel as though my experiences were something like Paul’s – as one born out of due time. My wife also believes, but does not seem to be able to forget the old teachings so readily as myself. Do you know of any other members of Christ in this neighborhood?
Please put my name on your list of subscribers for the “Watch Tower.” Enclosed find one dollar to pay for above and postage on books, etc. 25 cents of the above was the price of a theatre ticket; I should have spent it for that before I received the light; now when I am tempted I shall send the money to you to use in the good cause. Will you kindly advise me in regard to severing my connection with the church of which I am a member? I feel as though I should not attend, because it would be consenting to their teaching, which I do not now believe. I have not really believed it for a long time, but I knew no better way. Now, thank God, it is different.
As withdrawal from previous affiliation grew more common, so did social pressure and persecution. A native of Kansas but temporarily resident in New York responded to a letter from Maria Russell. Her story illustrates the pressures on isolated converts:
I am sorely persecuted by my best friends; yet I have a sweet, deep peace beyond all comprehension, feeling nothing but pity for the blind and deaf. I am told that I am taking slow poison; that on peril of my soul I must burn all your papers; but I would burn my daily bread sooner. … I have been one of those who worked without ceasing in the nominal church, hence they are determined to try to bring me to my senses. The deacon has refused to take my name from the church; but I have written a second time telling him from henceforth I stand with you and your company. … I will not dissemble in spite of all opposition. The seed is taking root in Kansas, my former home. I expect to return in about one year, then I hope by the grace of God to be able to lead some out of bondage, and strengthen the weak. I must not let what talents are entrusted to me rust out.
Separation from previous fellowships brought with it problems. Families were challenged by changed belief. A letter from an unnamed woman illustrated this:
The watch tower for this month has not reached me, and I think the subscription may have expired. Sister ______ paid it last year, I think, and it seems I ought not to be among “the Lord’s poor” when I have the comforts of home, etc.; but I am flatly refused the amount for a paper that has been the means of my withdrawal from the M[ethodist] E[piscopal] Church, and even my postage and change are watched so closely that I have not been able to save even the small price of the subscription. However, I have the prospect of some change by washing, which I will send as soon as accumulated, with that of an acquaintance who is reading my “Food” and will be a new subscriber. Meanwhile please continue sending the paper, for it furnishes me more food than any reading matter I can get, explaining to me Scripture, and increasing continually my interest in God’s Word. And in almost every case where I become puzzled or troubled over some text, the next paper (by direction of God I am sure, not chance,) furnishes the solution.
This letter reveals why some found Watch Tower fellowship attractive. Many felt spiritually starved. The Watch Tower was a bibliocentric publication. Questions were answered, and, even if one disagreed with the answer, its arguments were Bible based where many church publications found modernist philosophy more attractive. When the paper addressed issues relevant to its readership adherents developed a sense of divine intervention in their lives. Food for Thinking Christians and other Watch Tower tracts met expectations where previous church affiliation did not. A letter to Russell dated March 5, 1884, touches on this theme:
I was a member of the Congregationalist church but not in sympathy with its teachings. I longed for something better. I thank God that I have it now. I am resting in Jesus and I am trying to let others know of the better way. My little book has been out a good share of the time, and it has been the means of setting some to thinking. I am all alone in this way of thinking, not even my husband sympathizes with me, and I suppose that I am considered very singular, but I am willing to suffer for the truth’s sake. The papers that I received for distribution I have sent to those I thought would read and think too. Being an invalid, I seldom get away from home, so I do not know what effect they had. After having done all that lies in my power I am willing to let it rest in God’s hand. I am nearly sixty years old, and am glad that I have found the truth even at this late hour. I ask an interest in the prayers of God’s people, for I do believe in prayer. I want to be found among the faithful, not only on account of a future reward, but for the joy it gives me here to know that I am doing God’s will.
Newly-found, strongly-held faith allowed some to face being the lone or nearly lone adherent. An elderly Christian from Hobart, Kansas, wrote in late 1883:
I am over sixty years of age; and have been very active in the cause of Christ for 40 years, but my light was dim until I got the Watch Tower and pamphlets. I held the office of deacon of the Baptist church here one year ago, but have come out of her, and, with one or two more, we stand alone. I have but very little of this world’s goods, but I feel truly rich to think that I have found the light and truth even in my old age.
Another Watch Tower correspondent wrote to Maria Russell in late 1884, explaining that she and her husband withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church in Palmyra, Illinois, accepting for the sake of strongly held belief, isolation from previous associates. They were not disenfranchised, low class residents. They did not accept Watch Tower doctrine because it appealed to the disenfranchised and socially isolated, but chose it because they saw it for truth:
It is almost a year since I left the M. E. Church, and myself and my husband were buried in baptism. It has been such a year of rest that I must write and tell you. Of course, we have had trials; those that once spoke well of us now say strange things, but you know all about that, for all are treated alike. … Several years ago I promised my Lord to do whatever I should see to be duty, regardless of others’ opinions, and the Lord always gave me strength to do what ever he required. As to knowledge of Scripture, I had none only the most simple; I clung to what I had but was afraid to try to learn more. I read my Bible just exactly as a Catholic counts his beads, in reverence and in ignorance. I was afraid to study it, because friends of mine commenced studying long ago, and, seeing the error in the church, left it, and left all. They saw the error in the church, but did not see the glory in true religion; they saw the failure of man, but did not see that God has a religion that is not, and cannot be defiled by man. I feared to study my Bible lest I should deny the Lord that bought me, and then … I saw that I might study – yea, I could go down into the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God, and he would aid me.
Questions of sectarian affiliation came to The Watch Tower frequently, and Russell addressed them through his paper. An example of this is found in the March 1884, issue. A Baptist asked:
What am I to do? I am a Baptist. I cannot now agree with them, and cannot see how I can consistently remain in the Baptist Church – giving my influence and support to what I now see to be error, even though there are good people in it, and some seeming good moral influence is being exerted by it. Yet there is no Church here holding the views which the watch tower maintains. Should I withdraw?
Russell’s answer was pointed:
We can only repeat to you the word of the Lord, quoted and expounded in other issues of the tower. If his command, “Come out of her (Babylon) my people,” be not sufficient for you, what could we say that would have more weight with you? ….
You are probably mistaken about there being no members of the Church of Christ [whose names are written in heaven] in your place; and as a member of that Church to whom God has given greater light, it is your duty, as it should be your joy, to let your light shine, and thereby bless the other members. There may be some of them with you in the Baptist Church, some in the Methodist, Presbyterian, and other sects, who, while really consecrated to the Lord, have been deceived as you were into rendering to sectarianism the service meant for God. Remember that Elijah once thought himself alone, and supposed that all Israel was worshipping Baal's image, but God informed him that there were seven thousand who had not. So it is to-day, the truth is daily seeking out those who are faithful and feeding them. All such will heed God's word, and are willing to face the frown of the popular sentiment of the nominal Church, and confess Christ and his teachings.
It should be our constant endeavor to seek out such. You know not how many starving saints may be hungering for the bread which you can supply. Don't expect to find them among the most popular Christians--the eminently pious--though there may be some such, but as a general thing it is now as it was in Jesus' day, that the poor of this world are the rich in faith. May God bless the humble messengers and receivers of his glorious truth.
Though Russell and a growing number of evangelists traveled extensively, it appears that most Watch Tower congregations and fellowships grew out of contact with the paper or a tract. Samuel W. Williams (November 30, 1853 – May 6, 1926) adopted the Watch Tower message through a circuitous rout. His story helps us understand how congregations developed in the decade of the 1880s. The Williams family lived in Leon County Texas, a sparsely populated rural county of about thirteen thousand people. He was raised a Methodist but in the late 1870s was increasingly dissatisfied with his religion. Five families started a study group. He recalled it this way:
In 1878, five of us brethren and our wives, all members of the Methodist Protestant church becoming dissatisfied with our living and with the low standard of the Church, decided we wanted to get nearer to the Lord. We saw that neither we, nor the Methodists, understood the Bible, especially the Prophecies, and we desired to, so we organized ourselves into a class for Bible study. … Soon another brother and sister joined and then another and another, soon, making our little band, when we could all attend, fourteen. We studied the Prophecies a great deal, and how they were quoted by the New Testament Writers, and I tell you we did have some of the grandest little meetings. The Lord blessed us. We held to the church and continued our studies. We met with the Methodists still, but enjoyed our little meetings the most.
They felt the lack of significant Bible study within their church. And they were dissatisfied with “the low standard of the Church.” In this period, the Methodist Church was troubled, the clergy were notoriously immoral, and, outside the larger urban areas, they were under-educated. On a broader scale, some prominent Methodists gave the church a bad name, but were retained as members despite their immoralities. “Boss” Tweed was a Methodist. The seduction and murder of Rebecca Cornell decades earlier by Ephraim K. Avery, a Methodist minister, still hung in the air. Though acquitted, most believed him guilty. The scandal was brought to memory in this era by his death in October 1869. Fraud uncovered at the Western Methodist Book Concern was fresh. We think, however, that Williams and his small group were distressed by the behavior of some in the church they attended.
Williams began to preach in the summer of 1879 without seeking a Methodist Conference license. He was confronted by concerned church authorities, but told them, “I do not think it would help me to preach.” His father, a long-term class leader suggested he apply for the license to avoid “confusion,” which he did. He was licensed in November and ordained in December 1879, elevating him from farmer to clergy. He became a circuit rider, largely or entirely within Leon County. On May 14, 1882, another Methodist clergyman handed him a copy of Zion’s Day Star, thousands of which had been sent out as sample copies. His life changed as a result:
We were busy and I put it in my pocket. The next day I was plowing and at noon I looked at the little paper; the first thing I noticed was “Man is Not Immortal.” I threw the paper away and went to my plowing. That afternoon I plowed and studied. “How foolish that man is to deny the immortality of the soul. Well,” I reasoned, “I am before the people; they call me a public man and I may have to meet this; I will collect the many Scriptures teaching the immortality and be ready to meet it.” I began to study that night. … After two hours study I gathered my many Scriptures together and was very much surprised and dissatisfied. I said, “Wife, do you know about the little paper I threw away today?” Yes, so she presented it. I looked at it outside and in. … I turned to the article and read it once, twice; put the paper up, prayed and went to bed thinking, “Can it be man is not immortal?”
He returned to his plowing the next morning and cogitated. He wrote letters to “three of the principal men of the conference,” asking for help. They answered immediately, but he was disappointed. They couldn’t present proof of inherent immortality either. “This was an awful time for me,” he wrote. “I cried unto the Lord earnestly.” He considered resigning his ministry, but fell back on sola scriptura doctrine:
My early teaching came to my help. I was raised … a Methodist but my parents taught me, “Bible first.” This saved me. I said, “I will take the Bible,” and I laid the old Book on my breast. “What it teaches, I will believe and teach to the best of my ability; what it does not teach I will not believe or teach.” O! What comfort came to my poor heart right then and there. Man mortal or immortal, can go to the winds, the Lord is my God, Jesus is my Savior, the Bible is my book; I am all right. I am happy and could and did say, “Glory to God,” as fervently as I ever did in a revival meeting.
Williams introduced the topic to the Wednesday Bible Class. They agreed “entire” that the Bible does not teach inherent immortality. He continued to keep his preaching appointments. And he sent for Paton’s Day Dawn, finding it helpful. Later that summer (1882) a retired Methodist minister returned from a trip with three of the sample copies of Zion’s Watch Tower. They studied them together until they were tattered. Despite his changed doctrine, the Methodist Conference continued him in the ministry but warned him, “Be very careful, you should not ask such questions; secret things belong to God.”
The retired minister whom we know only as Uncle Henry subscribed to The Watch Tower. They studied each issue as it came. In the spring of 1883, at Uncle Henry’s urging, their Bible Study Group met at his house and celebrated communion as an annual event. Williams recalled:
This was April 1883 and praise the Lord, we have not missed this blessed opportunity since. My Tower subscription began in April 1883 and we have them all to Jan. 1916. 1883 was a good year. We preached the Truth as we saw it and circulated “Food for Thinking Christians,” Tabernacle and Tower, taking subscriptions, etc., and began to get acquainted with C. T. Russell.
It appears that his first contact with Russell was through a letter written in January 1885. Unsigned as most published letters were, a letter found in the April 1885, Zion’s Watch Tower fits Williams’ circumstances perfectly:
Texas, January, 1885.
dear brother russell: I write this for information. We (a few brothers and sisters) have come out of the Church (so called), and are standing for, and searching for the truth. I have been preaching four years, and from the first was called peculiar in my opinions. About two years past I received a copy of zion's watch tower of a dear friend and brother, which I read and compared with the Bible, and have been at it since. I soon began to preach in harmony with the tower, because I believed it to be in harmony with the Bible. Therefore my preaching got worse instead of better, my church said, and the consequence was I soon left them, shook off the shackles, pulled out of the yoke, and bless God I am standing in the liberty. During this time I have circulated the tower and preached in harmony with its teachings. When I left the church some others--about twenty and since then more—have also come out. The greater portion of us were Methodists. Having, therefore, never been baptized (by immersion), the question has been considered by us. Some want to be baptized, and others are satisfied. They have come to me, and as I have not been immersed I hesitated about immersing others. If I could find a brother that would baptize me, and do, nor ask, any more, I would be glad to receive baptism. The Baptists here will not baptize unless we join their Church, and we do not want to become again entangled with a yoke of bondage.
Now, what ought we to do? I do, and have for some years desired to do, God's will; and I do not want to leave one duty undone. I do pray and believe that you will find time to answer this letter.
Ill and unable to attend the Conference, he was left without assignments and a committee was selected to examine the charges against him. Similar to those posted against Peyton Green Bowman, the specifications were that he denied immortality of the soul and eternal torment, and that he believed in a future probation. He appeared for trial, pleading guilty and demanding proof that he was wrong. “I tell you we had a good time,” he wrote later. He saw demanding proof as a peaceful compromise with the committee, but they were unbending and voted to expel him from the Conference in June 1884.
A significant number of those attending were dissatisfied with the committee’s proof texts and apparently with the committee itself. The Bible Study fellowship from his home congregation left with Williams. And about fifteen members of the congregation where the trial was held (some thirty-five miles north of the Williams home) walked out too. The next month, July 1884, he received a letter from a group in an adjoining county. About twenty names were signed to an invitation to speak. He went and received a hearing, though he was more of a curiosity than otherwise but interest grew there too. Sam Williams had a growing family; his children were small. He worked hard on his home farm, but continued to preach to these assemblies. Unguided, except by the Bible and reading the Tower, three Watch Tower adherent fellowships developed. We think that this is representative of the period.
Considerable affection developed between Russell and the Williams. Sam (He preferred ‘Sam.’) became a traveling Watch Tower speaker in Texas. A letter from him to the editor of The New Era Enterprise recalled some of his earliest traveling work:
In my 40 years’ experience I sometimes received a brace to take along, and it mattered little to me whether it was called a lunch or a snack, just so long as it was put up nice.
I stopped at a Texas town, got off the train and noticed a man standing by himself, so I thought he must be looking for me; so I approached him and inquired. “Yes,” was the answer. “Now,” said he, “I am a very poor man and have only a wagon for you.” “All right,” I said, “we will go.”
On our way home he said: “Brother Williams, I suppose you are just from Allegheny.” Said I, “My home is just over in Lyon Co.” “Oh, do you live in Texas?”
As we drove up to his yard fence, he called to his wife, “Bro. Williams is a Texan; he will know how to put up with us poor folks. How I enjoyed that home! That brother is gone to his reward! I love him yet! ...
Events in Virginia also illustrate how churches reacted to those newly convinced by the Watch Tower message. Henry Clay Reamy (April 7, 1841 – April 6, 1928) of Westmoreland County, Virginia, and a prominent member of the Ephesus Christian Church, wrote to Russell in mid 1886. He explained that he had been an elder in the church for the past sixteen years and that he had his attention, “seemingly providentially,” called “to a paper published by you in which you clearly set forth the plan of God.” The context suggests that he read Food for Thinking Christians. He “read it carefully and tried it by the only infallible rule,” the Bible. He said it was “equal to the measure” and none were able to prove otherwise to his satisfaction. He shared what he learned with others and found himself “with a little flock of about fourteen who are not ashamed to own the Lord nor defend his cause.” Reamy was a Confederate veteran, enlisting at sixteen in Company C, 55th Virginia Infantry.
Some of Reamy’s fellow believers “proposed to withdraw from the church.” Reamy discouraged it because “the Disciples had neither name nor creed” to which they could object. As did Watch Tower adherents, Disciples of Christ claimed the Bible as their creed. Reamy said it was their duty to “speak the truth with boldness, and if they object let them act accordingly.” He “made an appointment” to speak about ransom/atonement doctrine, but illness intervened, and he couldn’t keep it. Instead the large “crowd met to hear myself and brethren of like faith denounced as heretics and disturbers of the peace of the community.” Reamy’s letter to Russell explained what happened next:
On the following Sunday we renewed our appointment and filled it; but the opposing brethren engaged the resident Baptist preacher to meet me and reply. The fire was kindled; the next Sunday we met to search the Scriptures to see if these things were so. The Baptist preacher was present, and the search did not lead in the right direction for one who had been preaching the immortality of the soul and eternal torment for forty years, therefore he objected to the results, but failed to offer any proof, though we gave him an opportunity. The Church was next called together by my brother Elders to put a stop to this business. We complied with the summons and when arraigned we stated our position as plainly and simply as we could, and then asked them to prove us guilty before they condemned us. Finding themselves powerless to act, they deferred the case until the fourth Sunday in June, at which time we are told we will be tried by six Disciple preachers.
In the meantime the community was called together at the Disciples Church to hear the Baptist preacher preach our funeral and bury our doctrine beyond the power of a resurrection. The decision, so far as I have been able to learn is, that there is danger in preaching live men’s funerals. He proceeded first, by throwing a stone at my character; second, by reading from a secular paper the horrible crimes and the dreadful threats attributed to the Nihilists, Socialists and Communists, and tried to fasten them with an iron bolt of slander, to what he was pleased to call Russellism, and as a result of their teaching; third, he found it more easy to misstate and misrepresent our position than to make the least attempt to prove it false.
When he closed, he found we were ready to help him prove false all he had attempted to prove false, and it only remained for us to restate our position, fortify it with Scripture, and ask him to prove that false, before he condemned it. Now, Brother Russell, a man may slander my character, but he shall not slander the truth of God and go entirely without rebuke.
The Baptist clergyman misrepresented Russell’s doctrine as it touched social issues. While Russell was sympathetic to oppressed laborers and would see Henry George’s economic theories as attractive, he was not a Nihilist, Socialist, Communist or any such thing. This is the first such accusation we’ve found, but many similar misrepresentations followed, almost all of which seem to be conscious falsehoods. Reamy asked Russell if he were “correct when I assert that you have never in any of your writings alluded to the crimes committed by Socialists, Communists, and Nihilists in any other light than that they are the works of Satan and the result of his unrighteous reign, save that you refer to them as an unmistakable prophetic sign, of the presence of the heavenly king?” Russell replied, restating basic Watch Tower doctrine and addressing Reamy’s question:
Regarding Anarchism: No well-balanced mind could favor it, or conceive it an advantage to any class. Nevertheless God’s Word clearly reveals the fact that this extreme of evil will be the means by which present empires will fall. Hence these will, in a measure, be God’s instrumentality, even as he has often caused the wrath of man, as well as of Satan, to work out his plans. Another side of the question would show that there is a measure of right on the part of Labor, the ignoring of which is leading on to Anarchism. But this we must leave for a fuller consideration at another time.
Reamy asked for debate suggestions. Russell answered:
Your faithfulness in not keeping your light under a bushel is bringing some of them face to face with the truth and with their claim to the Bible as their only creed. The responsibility is thus upon them. Let us hope that the meeting for the examination of your views may be marked by candor and honesty on their part, with a sincere desire to ascertain from a Bible standpoint what is truth. Let me suggest that, so far as possible, you allow this view of the matter to control your feelings toward them, and your utterances. A danger under such circumstances is to feel that it is a battle. Should they treat it thus, let your words be seasoned with grace. (Col. 4:6.) Let the spirit of the glorious truths you now see, so fill your heart that out of its fullness your mouths may speak to the Lord’s praise, and to the enlightenment and profit of your opposers as well as the hearers.
It would not be well that I should attempt to give you details. These must be found at the time, and must depend somewhat upon the course of your opposers. While preparing, as much as possible, by studying the subject and arranging plans of thought, for it is our duty to have the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God, which is able to make us wise – well in hand, so that we shall be able to give to him that asketh us a reason for the hopes that are within us, yet back of all this, our strength and confidence should be in him who declares, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” The truth is his and you are his – his ambassadors. He will give you a mouth and wisdom which none of your adversaries shall be able to gainsay or resist. (Luke 21:15.)
The Ephesus Church elders called the church together to end “this business.” Reamy and his associates “complied with the summons” and stated their position “as plainly and simply” as they could. They demanded that the elders prove them guilty before they condemned them. They couldn’t. So they deferred the case for trial by a committee of prominent clergy and the State Evangelist. Expecting candor and a spirit filled discussion was, of course, a vain hope. The Disciples’ State Evangelist brought four others with him. He preached a Saturday evening sermon, announcing at its conclusion the purpose of his visit. Discussion followed that the Evangelist, W. J. Cocke, found frustrating. He tried to cut it short. Our sole source record comes from Reamy’s letter, but there seems to be no reason to question the account. Reamy reported:
In our conversation he first tried to have us think of “that man Russell” as a fanatic, etc., but we have begun to see things in a different light. We conversed on various subjects, giving reasons for our faith, and for the rejection of former theories; he finally stated that no good could be accomplished by an argument, as we would reject his proof and call it figurative if it did not suit us. All arguments were cut short ….
The discussion centered on the death state. In typical clergy fashion, Cocke and his associates focused on Russell instead of scripture. Reamy and his friends turned the discussion back to Scripture. Cocke, a native Virginian, was born into a family of Disciples of Christ preachers; three of his maternal great-uncles were Campbellite ministers. A glowing biography says he was “educated under the tutorship of Capt. John Richardson, that prince of teachers, for six years.” After leaving common school, Cocke attended Transylvania University. He “held important pastorates in the East” and was State Evangelist in Virginia. Afterward he held the same post in Maryland, Georgia and Kentucky. A reasonably articulate sermonizer, his biographer described him as “thoroughly equipped for his work.” He was not, it seems, equipped to deal with fourteen committed Watch Tower adherents.
They met the next day. Frustrated by arguments they could not answer, Cocke and his committee attempted to limit discussion to questions with “yes or no” answers. Reamy reported: “those five preachers met us in the church yard Sunday afternoon seemingly to entangle us in our speech by asking mixed and tangling questions, and demanding an answer, yes, or no. We all answered according to the questions and not with respect to their desire.”
The discussion was terminated by the Sunday sermon. Cocke preached on the subject “Christian Union our Plea.” At sermon’s end, he announced that the issues troubling the church would be decided by Monday, June 27, 1886, and the decision would be final. The congregation reconvened Monday at eight pm. Three hundred were present, far beyond the usual number. Cocke preached again. Reamy reported that he: “went on to show that death was not death, that is, man does not really die but only sleeps, referring to the cases of Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, etc., as proof, stating that we might call it figurative if we liked, but it was there.” He did not restate the Watch Tower party’s arguments, but it hardly mattered. Everyone had heard them. Cocke and his committee presented a resolution to the church:
Inasmuch as certain views are held and advocated by those whom we have hitherto considered as one with us, which views we hold are speculative, unreasonable and unscriptural, and do but engender strife and produce no good result, and inasmuch as the Disciples of Christ have a right to Ephesus Church and premises, and do hereby forbid for the above reasons, the public expression and propagation of said opinions, -- therefore, be it. Resolved, by us the Committee selected, that those holding such views be required to cease from expressing themselves upon such views. And should they not agree to this, that they here make known their intention, and publicly withdraw themselves from the Disciples worshiping at Ephesus, giving their names, and the Secretary of this meeting will note them, and the clerk of this church will strike them from the church register. And if they do not comply, we withdraw and are no longer responsible. Be it further Resolved, that we deplore this sad occurrence and love these brethren in spite of their erroneous opinions, but to save the church and preserve the harmony, peace and prosperity of her membership, we feel this our bounden duty.
photo of Cocke here
It is clear from the resolution that they feared losing the church building. There were only fourteen Watch Tower adherents, but the congregation was small, and they represented a significant portion of the membership. Reamy does not leave us with the impression that they sought control of the building. His interest, and we presume that of the others, was to preach what they believed. Reamy asked permission to speak. He proposed an alternative resolution, stating his position with some bitterness:
Notwithstanding the Disciples regard the Holy Scriptures of both testaments as their only creed, Be it Resolved, That hereafter no person holding membership in the church at Ephesus, shall search those Scriptures in order to learn that he may teach to his fellow man, any truth which was not seen and advocated by Alexander Campbell in his day.
Reamy told the congregation they should think through the meaning of Cocke’s resolution. If they rejected it, the fourteen would stay with the congregation. If they adopted it, they would drive from their “midst every Christian who has in his heart a proper reverence for the Word of God and love for his fellow man.” He ended by saying: “You will not drive us from the Word of God, nor from the Christian Church, but from your midst, into the pure, free air of heaven. In that pure air, on this free American soil, we will still search those Scriptures and speak of their truths.”
Reamy was ruled out of order. No-one favoring the Watch Tower party’s views was allowed to vote, so the committee’s resolution was adopted “without a dissenting voice.” Four of them immediately asked that their names be stricken, stating that the church was “no longer responsible for our teaching, nor we for their actions; that we must obey God rather than man.” Cocke’s response was: “I have never been in such a trouble before, and we pray God we never will be again; it has been forced on us and we have tried to settle it the best we could.”
Reamy does not reappear in the pages of Zion’s Watch Tower. His descendants know nothing of this event, but after nearly a century and a half, that’s not exceptional. Reamy died April 6, 1928. He was eighty-two and “in failing health for several months.” His funeral, conducted by his cousin M. L. T., was held in the church that had expelled him, and he is buried in the church cemetery. The dead don’t determine where they are buried or by whom the service is conducted. We don’t know what his final beliefs were.
Local fellowships formed through the private and public evangelism of Watch Tower adherents. Unlike those who remained within the Barbourite movement, Watch Tower adherents were vocal advocates of their belief system. Congregations were strengthened by visits from Colporteurs and other authorized Watch Tower representatives, but theirs was not a trouble free environment. We consider congregation culture in the next chapter.
 J. Wigley: The Rise and Fall of Victorian Sunday, Manchester University Press, 1977, pages 33-35.
 E. H. Abrahams: Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, American Studies, Spring 1977, page 61.
 C. T. Russell: In the Vineyard, Zion’s Watch Tower, October/November 1881, page 5.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1884, page 1.
 View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1883, page 1. [Not in reprints.]
 C. T. Russell: God is in the Midst of Her, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1891, pages 108-109.
 C. T. Russell: The King of Zion, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 15, 1892, pages 90-91.
 Beiler’s commentary is found in: Boston Homilies: Short Sermons on the International Sunday School Lessons for 1892, page 113ff.
 R. Fritz: Brother William Myer, St. Paul Enterprise¸ May 13, 1919. Immigration record is found in the 1870 Kansas Census.
 Letter from H. L. Gillis to Russell, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1887, page 8. [Not in reprints.] Gillis was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 1836 to Ander and Isabelle Gillis. About 1857 he married Isabel Crawford. They had four children. During the Civil War he served as a private in the 6th Regiment, West Virginia Cavelry (Union). Though some online genealogies say he died in 1916, he died in 1906. Gillis traveled to Austraila in the late 1890s to mine for opals. On his return, they were stolen from him by an Aleck Cramer. [Swindled by his Friend, San Francisco Call, March 10, 1898] He returned to West Virginia.
 R. Bernard: The Thoughtful Shepherd, London, 1606, pages 28-29.
 Associated as Christians: Buffalo, New York, Evening News, October 11, 1882.
 C. T. Russell: The Ekklesia, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ October 1881, page 8.
 ibid., page 9.
 He quotes from they hymn “O For a Faith that Will Not Shrink” by W. H. Bathurst.
 A Call for World-Wide Prayer, The Christian Workers Magazine¸ March 1917, page 529.
 C. T. Russell: Questions and Answers, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1883, page 6.
 The article “Our Sect” is found on page 3 of the October 1883 issue.
 C. T. Russell: Questions and Answers, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ October 1882, page 8.
 Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses - Part 2 – Small Beginnings (1879-1889), The Watchtower, January 15, 1955, page 47.
 Pastor and People, The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dispatch¸ May 24, 1890.
 Convention Notes, The St. Paul, Minnesota, New Era Enterprise, December 26, 1922. Hickey was born November 11, 1844, at Tredegar, Wales. He and his family immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1860s, briefly returning to Wales in 1873-1874. An obituary suggests they returned to the USA in 1877, but this conflicts with Hickey’s personal recollection. The 1870 Census lists him as a Puddler, a specialized iron-furnace worker. Hickey died in January 1927.
 J. H. Paton: Pre-existence of Christ, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1880, page 3.
 C. T. Russell: Babylon is Fallen, Zion’s Watch Tower, November 1879, page 1.
 C. T. Russell: Babylon is Fallen, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ November 1879, page 1.
 C. T. Russell: Dialogue – Rev. xiii, Zion’s Watch Tower, January 1880, page 2.
 C. T. Russell: Bro. Boyer, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1882, page 1.
 Pages 372-373 in that issue.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1885, page 2. [Not in reprints.]
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, November 1883, page 2.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1884, page 1. [Not in reprints.]
 This is true of Russell for the decade he associated with Age-to-Come believers.
 Churchgoers Astonished: The New York Sun, August 15, 1881.
 M. F. Russell: Discipline in the Church, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1887, page 4.
 Extracts from the Bible, The Glens Falls, New York, Morning Star¸ November 11, 1897. According to the 1870 Census, William H. Gildersleeve was born in New York about 1842, or according to the 1892 New York State Census he was born near 1837. [Census record birth dates often conflict.] He seems to have been related to H. H. Gildersleeve, a cigar manufacturer in Glens Falls. In April 1884, a devastating fire broke out in rental space in a building he owned. [New York Times, April 29, 1884.] A newspaper article [Glens Falls Morning Star¸ January 22, 1895] notes him as prominent in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
 Untitled notices, The Glens Falls, New York, Morning Star, June 26, 1899 and October 21, 1901.
 Untitled notice, The Washington, D. C., Evening Star, August 18, 1900.
 Hypnotism Thinks Boy’s Father, The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 17, 1907.
 All Are Welcome to Attend, Salem, Oregon, Daily Capital Journal, November 2, 1900.
 Dawn Students, a New Religious Sect, In Akron, The Akron, Ohio, Daily Democrat, January 17, 1902.
 Free Lecture, The Grants Pass, Oregon, Rogue River Courier, March 17, 1904. The announcement was inserted by J. O. Sandberg. His first name may have been John. We are uncertain at this time.
 Untitled notice: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Evening Gazette, March 20, 1901. Untitled notice: The Ithaca, New York, Saratogan¸ January 18, 1902.
 Untitled announcements, The Utica, New York, Press, March 21 and 28, 1902.
 The Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Falcon, Oct. 12, 1888.
 Hessler was born about 1848. The 1880 Census tells us that he was widowed. He subsequently remarried. He was a cabinet maker, and later a contractor. Advertisements for his remodeling and cabinet and flooring business appear in the Scranton Tribune [e.g. October 7, 1898, and June 5, 1899 issues].
 End of the World in 1914, The Brazil, Indiana, Weekly Democrat, October 17, 1912.
 The Millennium, The Richmond, Virginia, Times, June 7, 1902.
 Sermon by Pastor Russell, The Bolivar, New York, Breeze, March 11, 1915.
 Millennial Dawn Bible Class, The Elmira, New York, Evening Telegram¸ April 14, 1906.
 Consigned to a Private Hospital, The Cincinnati, Ohio, Enquirer, June 13, 1904.
 “Believer in Session,” The Omaha, Nebraska, Daily Bee, October 3, 1898; National Believers’ Convention, The Duluth, Minnesota, Labor World, December 23, 1899.
 Believers in Atonement Services, The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Inquirer¸ June 18, 1900. This name was used for several conventions. Another example is, also from Philadelphia, is mentioned in The Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sentinel, December 30, 1902.
 Millennium in Sight, The Brooklyn, New York, Daily Eagle, July 12, 1903.
 Pulpit and Pew, The Albany, New York, Times-Union¸ October 3, 1903.
 See the convention reports for those locations and years.
 His Second Coming, The Albany, New York, Evening Journal, May 28, 1900. Various New York State Census records tell us Clapham was born in England between 1833 and 1834. He was a shoemaker. We do not know to what degree Clapham was interested in the Watch Tower message. A newspaper report from 1906 noted that he faithfully attended the Tabernacle Baptist Church “every Sunday but one in seven years.” [Albany Evening Journal, June 11, 1906.] We cannot identify Fletcher.
 Notice, The Minneapolis, Minnesota, Journal, February 18, 1905.
 Untitled notice, The Omaha, Nebraska, Daily Bee, August 23, 1899.
 Millennial Dawn, The Indianapolis, Indiana, Journal, July 13, 1902.
 See the issue of June 6, 1908.
 Advertisement, The Cincinnati, Ohio, Enquirer, November 1, 1891.
 C. T. Russell: Harvest Laborers: Pray for Them, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 15, 1892, page 50.
 See announcement in the May 4, 1892, Cincinnati Enquirer.
 See Adamson’s letter to Russell in Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1891, page 30. [Not in Reprints.]
 Advertisement, The Cincinnati, Ohio, Enquirer, December 27, 1894.
 Letter from E. F. R. to Russell appended to: The Memorial Supper Celebrated, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 15, 1902, page 157. [Not in Reprints.]
 Believers of Atonement, The Patterson, New Jersey, Morning Call, February 15, 1908.
 Continuous Sermon, The Cato Citizen, August 28, 1897.
 Not Known by Name, Rochester, New York, Democrat and Chronicle¸ September 30, 1901.
 Among the Churches, The Flint, Michigan, Daily Journal¸March 28, 1903
 See the March 7, 1906, issue.
 Sheffield Daily Telegraph, July 5, 1905, and June 9, 1906.
 Untitled notice, The Huston, Texas, Daily Post, May 29, 1901; Evangelist Sam Williams, February 22, 1903.
 The Rumor Untrue, The Perry, New York, Record, July 12, 1900.
 L. W. Jones [editor]: What Pastor Russell Said: His Answers to Hundreds of Questions, Chicago, 1917, pages 7-8.
 The Brooklyn New York, Daily Eagle, November 20, 1893.
 Not Known by Name, Rochester, New York, Democrat and Chronicle, September 30, 1901.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1882, page 1.
 M. F. Russell: Discipline in the Church, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1887, page 4.
 Death Notices: Nancy C. Hudgings, 79, The New Era Enterprise¸ January 24, 1922.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1887, page 2.
 Wiggins New Castle City Directory: 1879-1880, page 37. Census records give Lewis a birth date of November 1834. Other records vary but fall near that date.
 Dr. Andrew Lewis Called by Death, New Castle, Pennsylvania, Herald, December 5, 1916.
 A Long Fast End, The New Castle, Pennsylvania, News, August 5, 1891. Wallace was a chronological lecturer turned Millennial Dawn canvasser prominent in the work in the 1890s. He was “church leader” in an Ohio congregation. Later in life he was a news agent, a seller of newspapers and magazines.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1889, pages 2, 8; Voice of the Church, Zion’s Watch Tower – Special Issue, June 11, 1894, page 178.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1889, page 1. Wallace maintained his interest in phrenology into later years. See The Phrenological Era, April 1913, front matter unnumbered page. An example of Wallace’s combining his phrenology business with his Watch Tower lectures is found in the October 22 and 24, 1887, issues of The East Liverpool, Ohio, Evening Review.
 Souvenir Notes from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society’s Conventions of Believers in the Atoning Blood of Jesus Christ: 1907, part two, page 81.
 Not so Very Far, The New Castle, Pennsylvania, Daily City News, December 5, 1889.
 History of Mercer County, Pennsylvania: Its Past and Present, Brown, Runk & Co., Chicago, 1888, page 593. Date of Watch Tower adherence: Undated obituary in descendents’ possession. Wise was born July 29, 1843, and died March 30, 1932. [Death Certificate] He remained Watch Tower adherent until his death.
 The Sharon, Pennsylvania, Herald, March 31, 1932.
 Letter from Wise to Russell found in Voice of the Church, Zion’s Watch Tower, Special issue, June 11, 1894.
 A. C. Wise: Temperance, 1911 Convention Report.
 The Millennial Dawn, The New Castle, Pennsylvania, Daily City News, May 19, 1905.
 Thomas Hewitt was born September 20, 1873, in Ohio. He married Ellen Grace Cooksey September 4, 1906. There was a Bible Student adherent named E. Cooksey whose death in 1950 is noted in the May 1950 issue of Herald of Christ’s Kingdom. His Ohio death record shows him to be a resident of Youngstown and thus ‘our man.’
 Life of 76 Years in County Ended, New Castle, Pennsylvania, Herald, September 7, 1906.
 If there was one, we don’t know the name of the other evangelist. In 1892 she was working in concert with “sisters” Peck and Jenny Clark. In 1900 she was working with a Lenora Thompson, a single woman born in 1871. In 1900, she was a resident of Harrisburg, PA., boarding with Anna Mackey, an elderly widow. The 1900 census lists her as “a colporteur tract.” The 1920 Census says she lived in Allegheny, rooming with “Lina Guybert,” a misspelling of Leena Guibert, Maria F Ackley's sister. Amelia Erlenmyer was born in Germany in February 1852 to Otto Erlenmyer and died in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in 1932. Interestingly, the 1880 Census has her living with three grown children, all of whom used the name Erlenmyer.
 Her maiden name was Arthur, and the family claimed a blood relationship to Chester A. Arthur, president of the United States. See Carol Allen: Blessed with a Special Heritage, The Watchtower, October 1, 2000, page 27.
 “One of the colporteurs called at my home … and sold the books to my wife.” – Woodworth in United States v. Rutherford, transcript, page 574.
 Woodworth in United States v. Rutherford transcript, page 573.
 J. C. Woodworth Visits Nunda after 60 Years, The Nunda, New York, News, August 16, 1946.
 Faithful to Death, The Watchtower, February 15, 1952, page 128.
 Woodworths to Russell, published as “Out of Darkness into His Marvelous Light,” Zion’s Watch Tower, June 15, 1895, page 147.
 Woodworth said: “My parents were both members of the Methodist Church, devout members, and I received a good religious instruction.” United States v. Rutherford, transcript, page 573.
 Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom¸ 1993, page 634. We have not seen the original letter.
 Date is given by Woodworth in United States v. Rutherford transcript, page 575.
 Woodworths to the Russells, “Out of Darkness into his Wonderful Light,” Zion’s Watch Tower, June 15, 1895, pages 147-148.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1891, page 29.
 Charles Hessler’s activity as a Watch Tower representative in the 1930s is discussed in the August 1, 1988, Watchtower on page 20. He was Class Service Director at Patterson, New Jersey, in 1930. (Watch Tower, July 1, 1930, back page.)
 U.S. Patents numbers 263,290 and 752,551.
 Scranton Wochenblatt, February 25, 1909.
 The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Truth, January 12, 1911.
 The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Truth¸ June 7, 1905.
 Peckville, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, December 24, 1900.
 Author of Millennial Dawn, C. T. Russell to Speak in Scranton, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, May 1, 1897.
 The Signs of the Times, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, October 14, 1897. The “important events” quotation comes from a poem of the same name by the British poet Thomas Campbell [1777-1844].
 Both announcements appear in The Scranton Tribune of April 22, 1899.
 See ZWT May 1, 1897, page 134; April 15, 1899, page 94; July 1, 1900, page 198.
 Hopes for the Millennium, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, July 28, 1902. Text of his address is found in the booklet Millennial Hopes and Prospects.
 Free Bible Lecture, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, September 27, 1902.
 Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, page 642.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1883, page 1.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ January/February 1882, page 2.
 Letter to Maria Russell found in the August 1884, Zion’s Watch Tower, page 2. [Not in reprints.]
 Some Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, April-May 1884, page 1.
 Some Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, April-May 1884, page 1.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1883, page 3.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, November 1884, page 2. [Not in reprints.]
 C. T. Russell: Questions and Answers, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1884, page 8.
 This quotation and those that follow come from a letter from Williams to editor of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Enterprise. See the February 26, 1916, issue. In a letter from Williams published in the April 18-May 2, 1922, double issue of The New Era Enterprise, Williams dates this to the Fall of 1878.
 We document this in volume one on pages 277-278.
 See New York Times, May 21, 1870.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, April 1885, page 2.
 April 18-May 2, 1922, double issue of The New Era Enterprise.
 Extracts of Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1886, page 1.
 Extracts of Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1886, pages 1-2.
 They were E. A. Cole, H. C. Garrison, John Peed, and Charles Barker.
 They Shall Cast You Out, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1886, page 8.
 Richardson, other than being a Campbellite, a slave owner and a captain of artillery in the War of 1812, is given a reputation as teacher he did not deserve. The biographer’s intention was to build Cocke’s reputation on the back of another.
 W. H. Book: The Indiana Pulpit, The Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1912, page 55. One of Cocke’s sermons follows the biography. In our opinion it lacks depth but is typical of the era.
 They Shall Cast You Out, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1886, page 8.
 Undated obituary, from The North Neck News, published sometime in April 1928.