Monday, October 26, 2015

A taste. Chapter introduction as it now is:

Out of Babylon

            There is almost no record of the internal structure of the earliest congregations or of the nature of their meetings. 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.[1]

            The groups that most closely identified with Watch Tower doctrine followed the Allegheny congregation’s twice a week meeting schedule. They tended to read Watch Tower tracts and the magazine 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. Doctrinal unity did not exist in this period. Some of their number had been Second Adventists and others Literalist, Age-to-Come believers. Many of the Allegheny congregation hd been 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.[2]

Paton defined Christians 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 as a key determiner. 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, constitution the system of Papacy.”[3] 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 of the world. 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.) 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

[1]              Watchtower Writer: Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnessed -  Part 2 – Small Beginnings (1879-1889), The Watchtower, January 15, 1955, page  47.
[2]              J. H. Paton: Pre-existence of Christ, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1880, page 3.
[3]              C. T. Russell: Babylon is Fallen, Zion’s Watch Tower, November 1879, page 1.

1 comment:

Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas said...

I am sure you know this article. It deals with some suggestion about meetings.

"A Practical Suggestion". In: Zion's Watch Tower, 1893, October 1, p.296 and 297 (Reprints, 1585; and published again in 1902, October 15, p.308 and 309).