Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Answer to an email from another historian ...

If he gives me permission, I'll post his email too, but I don't have permission yet. So herewith is my answer sans the original email:

Update: I now have permision to post it. Here it is:


Just wanted to update you on my progress. I received your book last week. I have read it including almost all the footnotes. And have highlighted most every page with red pen so that I can go back and zero in on certain points, which I plan to do.
 
I very much appreciate your labor of love on this project. From my own areas of research, I understand how much work and tedious effort goes into such a production. As authors and researchers, you excel at this task.
 
Through your hard work I am beginning to perceive that the type of people interested in the issues and the various publications that dealt with them represented a broad Circle or “network” of truth seekers, rather than simply “Adventists” or “Age to Come” folk. It seems to me that several papers churned various doctrinal discussions back and forth, with replies and republications of articles shared between them all.
 
I would think that many of the readership(s) subscribed not to just one of the papers, but to two or more. Even though each paper “represented” a particular slant or interpretation, nevertheless subscribers not fully attached to that view read and often replied to articles appearing in various papers. In this way, it seems that there was a body of truth seekers spanning several “churches”/”parties”/”ministries”/”works” including those tending to One Faith, Age to Come, Bible Students, Church of God groups, or even Sabbatarian Age to Comers who were strongly opposed to SDA E. G. White’s control. 
 
Seems most of these shared a common belief in the literal Millennium with Israel restored at some point to lead the nations under the transformed Elect. Within this Circle there was intense interest in restoring Biblical truths concerning such areas as: restoration, restitution, probation, Lords Supper, feet washing, Passover, OT types, state of dead, fate of the wicked, role and fate of Satan, identity of Israel and return to Land, name of church, nature of Jesus, preexistence, trinity, holy Spirit, etc. The papers served to keep all these “hot” issues “popping” before the churches and scattered individuals within this network/Circle.
 
What is becoming apparent to me is that the borders between these participants were “soft” as members migrated from one part of the Circle and in some case back around again. Even when the groups themselves wanted harder boundaries, members within those closed groups would often find themselves moving on and around over time.
 
Thus, the labels we tend to use, such as Life and Advent, Church of God, One Faith, Christadelphian, Jehovah Witnesses, Age to Come, etc. may be rather artificial attempts to pigeon-hole members of the faithful Circle so as to forge some kind of device by which to fix them in place for examination. From what I read from your work, even the “leaders” and “founders” and publishers of these “groups” over time often developed new ideas and took new directions, within the larger Circle.
 
During this period of the nineteenth century, in order for truth seekers within this larger Circle to communicate their studies and ideas, they had recourse to attending church, conferences, guest speakers and receiving items by snail mail such as paper publications. This was there “connectivity.” This was their means to a “network.” Had they been here today, they would be using the internet and participating in “discussion groups” and “list servers.” Too, they would likely be meeting on the weekend with local people of like minds, but would hasten back to their internet connections at home to share ideas and debate with others within this broader, and often divergent Circle. During the period of the early Russell, this broader network functions similarly, but by means of the dozens of publications and itinerant teachers, instead of the internet and dozens of list servers.
The model that I am trying to describe may be contrasted to my previous view which did not see the connectivity between all these many groups, but saw each of them as sealed off from the others more tightly than they actually were. That wrong perception probably arose due to my reading about each of these groups, churches, sects in handbooks of denominations which would have each one located in its own chapter with its own doctrines categorized. This presented a static “cookie cutter” version of reality that hid the dynamic organic nature of these people whose lives were dedicated to searching and seeking the “kingdom of God” wherever there seemed to be a revelation of it.
 
Please feel free to correct or modify my current perceptions of these issues.
 
I will continue to reflect on your book and the material in it.
Best Regards,
Phil Arnold, Ph.D.

My reply:

Yes, there was drift between the two primary millennialist groups, Adventists and Literalist Age-to-Come believers. Age to come was in turn divided into smaller parties which included on one side the Christadelphians and on the other small independent congregations, sometimes the only representative of their unique doctrine. The Restitution represented the most active and committed and most numerous of the age to come bodies in this era.

They did read each other’s papers and magazines, often commenting on something found in other papers. This practice decreased some after 1880. Advent Christians and Church of Christ (age to come, not Campbellite) believers broke off association in that era. References to World’s Crisis, the main AC publication, decline in The Restitution after that. This would change again, somewhat by mid 20th Century.

We find Watch Tower adherents reading a number of Adventist and Age to Come journals. Interest in Advent Christian and Life and Advent Union periodicals seems to die sometime near 1883-1885. They continued to read Restitution for several more years, to sometime near 1900. By 1882 Watch Tower readers usually also read Herald of the Morning, and J. H. Paton’s World’s Hope. The Herald suspended publication about 1885. A. P. Adams’ Spirit of the Word commenced about then, and saw a limited readership among Watch Tower readers. The number who read these three magazines was small in comparison to the total Watch Tower readership, but it was significant enough that Russell continued to address issues raised in these competing magazines until the mid 1890s.

Until about 1887, many of the congregations which drew Watch Tower interest also drew others with millenarian views, sometimes with opposing views. This was occasionally disastrous. The Newark, New Jersey, probably the second largest group in 1881, dwindled to nearly nothing after A. D. Jones defected. Morals issues, doctrinal division and personalities nearly killed the congregation.

Truly new congregations developed after 1882. This accelerated with the publication of Plan of the Ages in 1886. After 1886 we meet the first exclusively Watch Tower congregations. Where Paton’s followers were active, they often attended Watch Tower meetings because there were no others. Paton never had a large following. My best guess is that he had fewer than 1000 readers. The Watch Tower had about 10,000 or more by 1886. (Figures differ, but that’s close.)

If you read Day of Vengeance, you will note that Russell read widely. He cites a surprising number of religious periodicals. While this is true of him, it was becoming less common among Watch Tower readers. By 1903, when one of Paton’s sons picketed a convention in Denver, few delegates knew who he was. Fewer still cared that he was there.

Many who’ve written about millennialist movements suggest that those drawn to them were disaffected and alienated. This isn’t so. The suggestion that they were poor and uneducated is also false. The period in which the Watch Tower movement developed is sometimes called the Age of Optimism. The suggestion that God’s judgment impended seemed in contrast to be pessimistic, and we find Adventist and similar theologies described as “pessimistic sects.” This is false too. Though they had differing beliefs, they believed God intended ultimate Good for man. This was more clearly so of Age to Come believers, among whom we must class Watch Tower adherents. They believed in a sharp judgment, but a blessing to the bulk of mankind. So wide was their view of salvation that opponents called them Universal Salvationists, which is not at all accurate.

The first chapter of Clarke Garrett’s Respectable Folly (John Hopkins U. Press, 1975) has a useful review of historical perspectives. There is much to disagree with, but anyone interested in the broader history should read that.

May I post your letter and my reply on our history blog? Doing so may generate comments from others with insight into this history.

2 comments:

roberto said...

Mister Arnold, your analysis struck me.

"What is becoming apparent to me is that the borders between these participants were 'soft' as members migrated from one part of the Circle and in some case back around again. Even when the groups themselves wanted harder boundaries, members within those closed groups would often find themselves moving on and around over time."

You've said few reflected clear thoughts.

As the rest, I will never give up to say thanks to Mr. Schulz and Madam de Vienne for their priceless work.

Semer said...

Thanks a lot for sharing these emails with us.