Friday, June 27, 2014

Incomplete fragment of a rough draft

I'm posting this at Mr. Schulz' request. He is eternally hopeful that additional helpful thoughts might be forthcoming. If you have comments or thoughts, please do make them.

Two issues attached to the earliest congregations and small fellowships: Their self identity, and how outsiders identified them. Russell and many of his earliest associates came from traditions that rejected any name but Christian. 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.”[1]

Most if not all early fellowships met in homes. When Frank Draper, an early-days evangelist 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.[2] There are many other examples of home-churches, but most of that history is more suitable for the third book in this series.

Individual congregations experimented with names. Before the publication of The Plan of the Ages, groups were so small that they left little record. Most of the congregational names that have come down to us are from outside the period we cover in these two volumes, but we should note some examples. The newly-formed congregation at Salem, Oregon, called themselves “The Church of the Living God,” a Biblical phrase. They met in the Women’s Christian Temperance Hall.[3] Believers in Akron, Ohio, organized regular meetings in late 1902. A representative told a reporter that they “may be called Dawn Students, or member of the Church of the Living God.” Their meetings were held in the homes of members.[4] The Cedar Rapids congregation used it too, as did W. Hope Hay, a Watch Tower representative.[5] When the Scranton, Pennsylvania, congregations was formed they used the name The Watch Tower Bible Class. Meetings were held in the home of George W. Hessler.[6] When Russell spoke there, the press release used drawn out phrasing heavy laden with adjectives: “Readers and students of the ‘Millennial Dawn’ series and all others who are interest in the subject of the pre-millennial advent.”

            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.”[7]

            Outsiders were pressed to find descriptors. When Samuel 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.[8] This difficulty continued for some years. 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.[9] 

            In his view they were to 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. 

Clergymen and Lay Preachers 

            From the earliest days some clergy were attracted to the Watch Tower message. As we observed in volume one, abandoning previous affiliation was difficult because it meant giving up regular income. So we meet two classes of clergy: Those who suffered the consequences of their faith, and those who flirted with the message, believing all or part of it, but who did not become adherents. We should profile some of these. 

J. W. Ferrell

            Sometime near July 1883, a Baptist minister from Pittsburg, Texas was “excluded” from the church for teaching Watch Tower doctrines. Baptists in Texas were a fractious lot, inclined to oppose each other and embroiled in a test of influence and wills. The General Association meeting in Pittsburg in 1879 issued a glum report: 

The reports … showed a very discouraging condition …. Nothing had been prosperous. … There was great want of harmony and co-operation. Great complaints had been raised against the methods of the General Association as being partisan, and too much dominated by Waco University and the paper now called the Texas Baptist. A meeting had been held at Plano on July 3. and resolutions voicing these complaints and this dissatisfaction had been adopted. 

            A report made to the 1883 General Association conference suggested that Baptist churches were deeply troubled, “that associations have been divided in counsel, some rent asunder; churches have been torn by factions, and brethren alienated, and strife engendered.” [10]

            While the expulsion of this minister must be understood within the context of Baptist pugnaciousness, there were sufficient doctrinal differences between Baptists and Zion’s Watch Tower adherents to overheat any Baptist. The minister’s identity is uncertain. He is not named in The Watch Tower. There are some clues, however. The American Baptist Year-Book for 1870 names a J. W. Ferrell as pastor in Pittsburg.[11] 

Powell Samuel Westcott 

            In 1885 Powell Samuel Westcott, a Baptist deacon prominent in the Potsdam, New York, area, was also expelled for embracing Restitution doctrine “as taught by Brother C. T. Russell.”

We know more about Westcott then we know of the Baptist preacher at Pittsburg, Texas. He was born in Charlotte, Vermont, April 29, 1821. He served in the 244th New York Regiment as a non-commissioned officer from which he was honorably discharged on August 21, 1846. He was for a period a cheese, lard, and butter merchant in Boston. In the 1859 he moved to Potsdam, establishing a music business and teach vocal music at the Potsdam Normal School, now the State University of New York at Potsdam. He was for a few years superintendent of the Baptist Sunday School in Potsdam.[12] His obituary said he was “for many years an active member of the Baptist church.” It does not mention his association with Zion’s Watch Tower, but describes him as “a man of strong religious convictions and … and earnest and intelligent student of the Bible … a man of integrity, faithful in business and an upright citizen.” Westcott died January 3, 1893, and C. E. Bacom, a Baptist clergyman officiated.

We do not know where or how he encountered Zion’s Watch Tower. His story is not told in the Watch Tower, but in a letter from J. W. Brite to J. H. Paton. Brite says that he “was expelled from his denomination for heresy.” Though Brite was introduced to Paton’s writing through him, Westcott did not advocate Universalism.[13] We don’t know how enduring his association with Watch Tower belief was, but he was willing for his conviction to be expelled from the Baptist fellowship. We suspect that the Baptist funeral was held at the request of his wife Phebe Ann who seems to have not shared his beliefs.[14] 

Joseph Dunn 

Sympathetic clergy were faced with hard choices, and not all took a firm stand or openly expressed their beliefs. A Mrs. H. F. Duke of New York City wrote to Russell in September 1901 expressing her concern for “the spiritual welfare of Bro. Joseph Dunn.” She described him as “the one whom the Lord used as a helping hand to lead [her] into the light.” Russell returned her letter, saying he was “glad” that she was “solicitous for his welfare, and seeking to counsel with hand encourage him to the taking of right steps to place himself fully on the Lord’s side in every sense of the word.” He expressed some sympathy for Baptists, Disciples and Congregationalists because they were “more independent” than most. But he warned Mrs. Duke (in a subsequent letter he addresses her as “Sister Duke.”) that Dunn faced difficult decisions: 

I think Bro. Dunn, or any of us, would be justified in viewing such a congregation from the standpoint of its own claims, so that if its confession of faith were satisfactory to us, and if it agreed to give us full liberty of expression, we might consider it as one of the true congregations of the Lord. However, it would be most remarkable, under present conditions, if such a congregation should take such a stand and should maintain it for any length of time. Here will come the real test upon Bro. Dunn – whether or not he will preach the Gospel at any cost. If he does I am almost sure as that he lives that it will ere long mean a rupture between himself and the congregation and a sundering of their relationship as pastor and hearers. Indeed, I cannot see how any but spiritually minded people can accept the Gospel in the light of present truth as it is now shining. … I advice that you counsel him in every way to faithfulness, for certainly the Lord’s tests upon his minister are more crucial than upon the general average believer, and we all agree that it ought to be, for they have much advantage every way over the so-styled laity.[15] 

            Joseph Dunn was a Baptist clergyman active in Hague and in Glens Falls, New York. He was a popular preacher whose sermons were well attended, one report saying that his meetings were “very interesting” and the congregation large with nearly every seat occupied. Whatever interest in Watch Tower doctrine he had was insufficient, and he did not change his public doctrine. In April 1903 he was by unanimous vote of the congregation reappointed pastor of the Baptist Church at Hague.[16] 

William Davis Williams 

In the mid-1880s William Davis Williams (c. 1849 – 1918) was a “backwoods country” Baptist clergyman, school teacher and farmer. He described himself as “full of zeal and earnestness” traveling the back country on foot for he was “a poor country school teacher and owned no horse.” He felt responsible for others’ salvation and preached a fiery message: “I was a strong believer in the eternal torment doctrine, and the thought of sinners dying in their sins and plunged into an everlasting hell of torment, cause me to suffer with awful fear, and dread that through my neglect or carelessness some would die in their sins though lack of hearing the Word.”[17]

Some of his views conflicted with more conservative elements among the Baptist fellowship. He preached against sectarianism and maintained pleasant fellowship with people from other denominations: “I loved a good Methodist, Episcopalian or Presbyterian … and sometimes I boldly denounce those divisions as not in harmony with … Scripture. Some of our rigid brethren wanted to have me disciplined and brought to order for preaching ‘unsound doctrine,,’ but the majority stood by me.”[18]

Someone sent him a sample copy of Zion’s Watch Tower, and he found its theology agreeable until he realized its editor rejected Hell-Fire doctrine. He was shocked: 

I was delighted to find the Scriptures so beautifully opened up, giving me clearer light than any religious literature I had ever read before. But hold! What is this the editor is teaching? No hell of torment – why, Christ Himself taught that the rich man died and went to hell, and while in torment, he besought Father Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his fingers in water to cool his fiery sufferings! How can Bro. Russell thus condemn the very language of Jesus? I immediately sat down and wrote Pastor Russell a good lengthy letter, giving an account of myself and the pleasure and help I obtained from his teachings; in conclusion I denounced his error in teaching that there is no hell of torment. “By whose or what authority do you dare to make yourself wiser than Chrsit himself?” I demanded to know. 

            Russell wrote back, praising his zeal and commending his “close Scripture studies.” “Go on, Bro. Williams,” Russell wrote, “continue to feed on the pure Word, prayerfully and earnestly, and you will come to a knowledge of the truth, as it is in Christ Jesus, and not the traditions of men.” Russell ignored Williams’ demand and “never mentioned hell.” Williams’ was disappointed, concluding that, “He (Russell) can’t answer my question, therefore he ignores it.”
            Russell continued to send Zion’s Watch Tower and “many tracts on various subjects.” When The Plan of the Ages was published, he sent that too. Russell’s patience and message slowly altered his views:

I continued in the Baptist ministry, preaching the truth, as I saw it then, with the exception of the subject of future punishment, and I began to have my doubts on that subject; but having been reared from infancy in that horrible doctrine, it required time and strong convictions of the truth to overcome it.

Thanks to God, I was not left to grope in the darkness of Popish errors, but eventually the teaching of dear Bro. Russell convinced me beyond the least flickering doubt, and I could have shouted for joy. Oh, what a terrible burden was lifted from mind and heart! I thought that from then on I could preach the true gospel with such convincing power, until all men would receive it gladly and rejoice with me in the glad tidings of salvation which is to all people. 

            He “began to realize that the dividing time had come.” Williams tendered his resignation to the church at Sandy Creek, Florida. They were reluctant to accept it. The asked him to stay. He recalled it this way: 

“Why should you leave us?” they asked. “Is that treating us just and right? Can’t you go on and preach the Bible as you have light, without introducing subjects of doubtful decision, that only create confusion and distress?” And I would hold on awhile longer, praying all the time for light – more light. 

            Not everyone in Sandy Creek Church was happy with the compromise. “Persecution arose in the church,” he wrote. Whoever was unhappy took the matter to the Sandy Creek Baptist Association, the governing agency for Baptists in Holmes County, Florida, and Geneva County, Alabama. Two issues worked against him: What he believed though did not teach in the church and jealousy over his reputation and status within the Sandy Creek Association. A. J. Huggins, pastor of the Cerro Gordo, Florida, church led the assault. The Sandy Creek Association’s Minute Book contains the only record outside of William’s own memoir:  

Whereas, It having reached the care of this Association that Sandy Creek church did in the year 1881, call a presbytery and ordain W. D. Williams, and give him full liberty to preach the Gospel and administer all the church ordinances, said church knowing said Williams to be unsound in the Baptist faith all of which we deem to be unscriptural and disorderly. Resolved there for that she stand thus charged, November 4th, 1882.[19] 

            A committee of nine, Association clergy and prominent adherents, were chosen to examine the charge. A meeting was scheduled for Sandy Creek Church for “Saturday before the third Sunday in July 1883.”

[1]              Churchgoers Astonished: The New York Sun, August 15, 1881.
[2]           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.
[3]               All Are Welcome to Attend, Salem, Oregon, Daily Capital Journal, November 2, 1900.
[4]               Dawn Students, a New Religious Sect, In Akron, The Akron, Ohio, Daily Democrat, January 17, 1902.
[5]               Untitled notice: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Evening Gazette, March 20, 1901.
[6]               Hessler was born in Pennsylvania 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 business appear in the Scranton Tribune [eg. October 7, 1898, and June 5, 1899 issues] advertising his remodeling, cabinet and flooring business.]
[7]               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. 
[8]               Untitled notice, The Huston, Texas, Daily Post, May 29, 1901; Evangelist Sam Williams, February 22, 1903.
[9]               L. W. Jones [editor]: What Pastor Russell Said: His Answers to Hundreds of Questions, Chicago, 1917, pages 7-8.
[10]             Benjamin F. Fuller: History of Texas Baptists, Baptist Book Concern, Louisville, Tennessee, 1900, Pages 224-227.
[11]             Page 108.
[12]             Family history notes hosted on Rootsweb.
[13]             J. W. Brite: In Memoriam, The World’s Hope, February 15, 1892, page 61.
[14]             Westcott Obituary, The Potsdam, New York, Courier-Freeman, January 20, 1892.
[15]             Letter from C. T. Russell to Mrs. H. F. Duke dated October 3, 1901. Later letter mentioned above is dated November 2, 1901.
[16]             County and Vicinity New, The Glens Falls, New York Morning Star, September 26, 1903; Hague, Morning Star, April 3, 1903 and May 9, 1903; Untitled article in The Warrensburgh, New York, News, May 9, 1907.
[17]             W. D. Williams to Editor Saint Paul Enterprise found in the July 4, 1916, issue. Family Puzzlers, a genealogy paper, suggests (Nos. 585-636) that Williams was born William R. Davis, Jr. It is claimed that he was a lawyer in South Carolina sometime between 1870 and 1880, and that he killed a man. He subsequently moved to Florida changing his name to William Davis Williams. We cannot verify any of that.
[18]             W. D. Williams to Editor, Saint Paul Enterprise found in the July 4, 1916, issue. Unless otherwise noted, this material all comes from his letter.
[19]             Sandy Creek Baptist Association Minute Book as found in the Florida Baptist Historical Society Archives, Graceville, Florida.

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