Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How sending stuff helps us ...

These paragraphs are derived from material sent by two blog readers, each sending something different, and from a book in our research collection. If we'd had to rely just on our own material, this would not be nearly as detailed.

- "The story is in the details." - B. W. Schulz

Outside observers and antagonists commented on the mixture of doctrines out of which Watch Tower teachings were compounded. They seldom identified the exact sources. After William G. Moorehead, a professor at United Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Xenia, Ohio, pronounced “Millennial Dawn of C. T. Russell a mixture of Unitarianism, Universalism, Second Probation, and Restorationism, and the Swdenborgian method of exegesis” he was parroted endlessly and uncritically. Charles C. Cook suggested more wide ranging sources for Russell’s theology:


It seems as though in his earlier years, in his haberdasher’s shop in Allegheny, when business was dull, or after business hours, Russell had gathered together all the scraps and remnants of ancient errors, such as Gnosticism (know-it-all-ism), Manicheism, Arianism, Sabellianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Pelagianism, etc., etc., and had cast them, one and all, into the fusing-pot of his own great and fervid imagination, and that “Millennial Dawnism” came forth to enlighten (?) benighted humanity.[1]


            Russell’s theology derived from none of these “ancient errors.” While C. C. Cook, D.D., was apparently educated somewhere, we are safe in claiming that he either could not define these ancient belief systems or he simply made this up out of his own “fervid imagination.” Claims such as these were scare tactics used without regard to the facts. Two elements are at play here. Some expected something ‘original’ from Russell, and failing to find it wrote off everything he taught. Russell, of course, would have been horrified at the suggestion that he originated anything. He sought to recapture Scriptural truth and the First Century Christian polity. Labeling Watch Tower teachings allowed opposers to avoid engagement. It was like slapping a poison label on a bottle of water without having tested it. Most “refutations” of Watch Tower teaching consisted of personal attacks or the suggestion that believing Millennial Dawn doctrine led to a degraded Christian personality. There was a restating, sometimes an inaccurate one, of Watch Tower teaching presented for the “shock” value. There was almost never a serious attempt at refutation.

            While Russell and his associates derived their beliefs from varied sources, most of them came from within the One Faith movement. This doesn’t mean they uncritically accepted everything that came their way, and they certainly achieved something less than unity. But it was the unique doctrinal blend believed by the majority that gave them a separate identity. This was a process that covered some years, culminating with the publication of Millennial Dawn: The Plan of the Ages in 1886. Zygmunt suggests that Russell’s election as pastor and an increasing doctrinal unity were key elements in establishing a separate identity:


The transition from study-circle to congregation reflected not only Russell’s emergence as a leader within the Allegheny group but also the crystallization of a more or less distinctive doctrinal system. Although “bible study” continued to be an important feature of congregational activity, its initially “open-ended” exploratory character tended to wane in proportion as basic “truths” were discovered and instituted as creedal tenets. Formal sermon and “bible discourse” became more prominent parts of the proceedings, congregational “bible study” increasingly assuming the form of a selective review of scriptures supporting particular beliefs, and eventually being supplemented by more devotional exercises. The crystallization of a doctrinal system was important, in turn, in transforming the purely local congregation into a trans-local sectarian movement.[2]


            While we must note that Zygmunt supposes a unity that didn’t completely exist in 1876 or for some years thereafter, this is a good summary of events. Zygmunt’s research suffered from lack of resources and an occasional presumption made without evidence, but he was correct when he wrote: “The movement’s collective identity and earthly mission were derived directly from this configuration of beliefs.”[3]

[1]           C. C. Cook: More Data on Pastor Russell, the author, no date but c. 1912, page 4. Having read much of what Dr. Cook wrote about Russell and about the Catholic Church, one of the authors suggests that “C. C. Cook” is a misspelling for “C. C. Kook.”
[2]           J. Zygmunt: Dissertation, page 205
[3]           J. Zygmunt: Prophetic Failure and Chiliastic Identity, published in Jon R. Stone [editor]: Expecting Armageddon, Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy, Routledge, 2002, page, 68.

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