Thursday, October 8, 2015

Organizational Identity

            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.


jerome said...

It is very easy for modern readers to have the word "organization" in mind as is applied to groups today (and well, let's say organizations today) and graft it onto history to demonstrate perceived similarities or differences. The last paragraph in Bruce's post puts it very well: "In historical terms “organizational identity” does not refer to a specific ecclesiastical structure, but identity as a group."

This is what volume two of the project will demonstrate.

JimSpace said...

This post reminds me of what A. H. Macmillan reported concerning Russell's last words to him. He said that after he told Russell of how impressed he was his Russell's ability to organize the Watchtower Society, that Russell said to him:

"Brother, nobody can do anything without organization. We have one now, and the work should go on better than ever before."

(Convention Report Sermons p. 504 "Synopsis of Remarks of Bro. MacMillan at the New York City Temple, Sunday Morning, Nov. 5, 1916", Berean Bible Studies v1.0 CD-ROM.)

So as you noted, the word "organization" was a flexible word, and like a two-sided coin.