The nature of Russell era congregations is misstated by Biblically illiterate historians and sociologists. Edward Abrahams asserted that “Russell used the words ‘alienated,’ ‘isolated,’ and ‘troubled to describe his congregations.” We ask, where?
Between 1879 and the end of 1916, the word alienated appears in fifty-nine issues of the
Tower writers and Russell especially use 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 to God through Jesus. Watch Tower
The word appears in quotations from other sources, usually as commentary on the alienation of the young from contemporary churches and the Bible. These are not a reference to
congregations. Russell never uses the word alienated
in the sense meant by a sociologist. The one place where one might presume he
meant it in that sense is found in the Watch Tower January 15, 1912, . Russell
wrote: Watch Tower
The Church has cried in "the wilderness" in the sense that she has been alienated and separated from the world. She has called upon all who would hear to prepare for Messiah's Kingdom. She has told more fully than did John the Baptist of the effect of Messiah's Kingdom – the leveling up of the valleys (the lifting up of the poor), the straightening out of the crooked things and the smoothing of the rough things, that thus all flesh might see, appreciate, understand, experience the salvation of God. Both John and the Church declare that this salvation is to be brought through Jesus and His glorified Bride in Kingdom power. The point we are making is that while John the Baptist was an antitype of Elijah, and was forerunner or herald of Jesus, so, only more particularly, the Church in the flesh is a higher antitype of Elijah, and still more particularly a herald of the Messianic Kingdom.
Did Russell suggest that the congregations were socially alienated? Not in the way Abrahams and others suggest, and certainly this one occurrence is not an example of continual usage. Russell says the Church has no part in the world’s social upheavals and essential sinfulness. But the Church as an obligation to the world to uplift, to declare salvation, and to rebuke wrongdoing. Christians are not to approve of the world’s ways. This is not similar to the social alienation that led to the Haymarket affair or the Railroad Insurrection. This is a push for holiness.
But what of Russell’s use of the word “isolated”? When using it of
adherents, especially in the very early days, Russell
meant those who were the lone believer in their area, not that they were
otherwise isolated from their communities. An example is found in the October
1881 Watch Tower . Russell wrote an extensive report on the progress of Watch Tower evangelism “To strengthen and encourage the lonely
and isolated ones.” Reporting Communion
observance in 1884, he touched on the small number of believers, using the word
‘isolated’: “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 left them separated party or wholly from the
religious community. Again in1884, Russell wrote: Watch Tower
It is comforting to those who stand isolated in their own neighborhood to realize this. 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. The trials he described are common to those who live by New Testament standards. Some sociologists believe this is harmful. Adherents in this era 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.
Russell was aware of this dichotomy. Isolated from “worldly” belief and practice by the desire for holiness and divine approval, adherents also felt compelled to take the Gospel to others. Drawn on his experiences with
believers, he wrote: Watch Tower
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, regardless of the vain philosophies and traditions so commonly accepted, 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.
Strict adherence to Bible standards, no matter what the doctrine, has always produced something like this. It is hard for us to see
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 in every field, shop girls who prostituted themselves because they
were not paid a fair wage suffered from forces outside their control.
Separation form ‘the world’ on a doctrinal and holiness basis was a choice. Put
in Apostolic terms, either one served God or was part of the world. Watch Tower
 E. H. Abrahams: Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, American Studies, Spring 1977, page 61.
 C. T. Russell: Prepare Ye for the Kingdom, The Watch Tower,
January 15, 1912,
 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.
 C. T. Russell: God is in the Midst of Her, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1891, pages 108-109.