Many interested in Russell era Watch Tower history are committed to a sectarian mythology. Some profoundly misunderstand terms and concepts. You don’t have to be a sociologist or historian to understand that “organizational identity” is a different concept than expressed by Russell and other age-to-come believers who rejected identity as a sectarian organization. Many of Russell’s speaking announcements described him as “non-sectarian.” That came from Russell.
Russell believed as did Storrs before him that as soon as a Christian body organized beyond the local level they were part of Babylon the Great. But Watch Tower adherents gathered around Russell’s writings, and local groups often elected him pastor. This was a defacto organization. Outsiders recognized Watch Tower adherents as a unique organization because they developed a characteristic, well-defined belief system. Insiders recognized Russell’s voice as authoritative, and turned to him to resolve local conflicts. He was seen as God’s special representative even before he was identified as the Faithful and Wise Steward. So adherents had a clearly defined organizational structure that suited their belief, while asserting that they were simply non-denominational Christians. In time this became a fiction maintained for doctrinal comfort.
Those who point to Rutherford as the person who brought an organizational structure to Watch Tower adherents miss the mark. Rutherford brought a radical change to organizational structure among Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he did not invent organizational structure among Watch Tower adherents. He changed management structure, if you will.
Prior to 1932-1938, all Watch Tower congregations elected their own elders. They were united by adherence to a common doctrine. They were, after 1918, divided by whose voice they felt was authoritative. But each sect among adherents had a structure and a ‘voice.’ Local groups were most often presbyterian in structure. (Lower case ‘p’.) Within Russell’s life time the overall structure was congregational. This means that groups elected leaders and elders and deacons. Each congregation was independent, united only in adherence to a common doctrine. This is still an organizational structure.
In historical terms “organizational identity” does not refer to a specific ecclesiastical structure, but identity as a group. Watch Tower believers achieved group identity between 1881 and 1887. Adherents saw themselves as true, enlightened Christians. Outsiders saw them as a “new sect.” In terms historians and sociologists readily recognize, they developed an organizational identity.