As usual, do not expect this post to remain up more than two or three days. You may copy it for your own use. Do not share it off the blog. I am posting this for comments. We post material from volume 2 as rough drafts. Do not rely on anything. The final version may change. Without comments, posts like this one have no rational for existence. We read your comments, and though we may not reply we do note them. And sometimes they change our approach.
Russell era evangelism is the foundation upon which the descendant religions – Jehovah’s Witnesses and Bible Student congregations – are built. Yet, its origins are left unexplored. Watchtower writers focus on a few key events: An article in the April 1881 Watch Tower, Rutherford’s Advertise the Kingdom speech; the circulation of Food for Thinking Christians. These events are related with minimal or no connection to their context. Secular and opposition writers do no better, drawing almost everything they say from Watchtower Society commentary. The exception, though a regrettable one, is found in A. T. Rogerson’s D.Phil. thesis. He discusses Russell era evangelism with the same carelessness that he demonstrated in his previously published book:
From Zion’s Watch Tower alone there is no evidence that the Bible students participated in evangelisation regularly or in an organised way prior to 1881. The emphasis in the magazine articles was firmly on the doctrinal and devotional aspect of Bible student life. It appears that Paton and Jones and other contributors to Zion’s Watch Tower preferred this emphasis, and their articles showed more of an inward-looking concern with the group itself. Paton’s book was designed for an Adventist audience and there is little indication of a strong desire on his part (or on Babour’s before him) to propagate their message, or evangelise for converts – the initiative for their preaching tours appears to have come from Russell. This ‘inactivity’ was consistent with their deterministic world-view and their elitist conception of the ‘little flock’. Russell did tentatively suggest that his readers might distribute tracts, but it was only in 1881 that Russell’s emphasis on selling came to the fore. [His British spelling and punctuation retained, as is his grammar fault.]
As is most of what Rogerson wrote either in his book or his D.Phil thesis, this is tainted with misstatements, wrong conclusions and simple error. He suggests here that neither Barbour nor Paton were evangelizers. He based this on what he did not find in Zion’s Watch Tower. We can, to a small degree, excuse him for missing key statements in ZWT because he was dependent on the 1920 reprints which omit many of the earliest readers’ letters, but any excuse for his ignorance is moderated by clear statements of evangelical intent found in the reprinted volumes. Some of this we previously described.
Paton evangelized near his Michigan home, preaching in nearby churches to whoever would have him. He never gave up his self-identity as a clergyman, collecting fees for his ministry. This limited his ministry to congregations willing to host him and pay for the privilege, but he did evangelize. Day Dawn is an edited collection of his sermons. That this is so demonstrates a regular, evangelical ministry. We should observe too – as we did in the Introductory Essay – that Rogerson misidentifies Adventism. We doubt that Rogerson read Day Dawn; if he did he was totally unaware of American Literalism and how it differed from Millerite Adventism. Paton’s book addressed some Adventist issues, but in a critical way. The book’s content is Literalist. [Readers may want to refresh their memories by reviewing appropriate sections of volume one.] It is noteworthy that Paton’s magazine and theology are discussed in the Age-to-Come/Literalist paper The Restitution but not, as far as we could discover, in the Adventist press.
We addressed Barbour, Russell and Paton’s evangelism in volume one and in chapter two of this volume. There is no need to revisit that, except to say Rogerson got it wrong. But he also tells us that: “It appears that Paton and Jones and other contributors to Zion’s Watch Tower ... more of an inward-looking concern with the group itself.” This ignores half the evidence found in The Watch Tower. Until his defection, Jones regularly evangelized. He was part of a group of speakers willing to respond to requests for preaching, and he arranged his own venues as well. [See chapter 2, this volume.] Enough of this can be found in The Watch Tower reprints that Rogerson’s folly is inexcusable. Before we pass on to what stimulated evangelism among Watch Tower adherent groups, we should note that Rogerson’s claim that, “it was only in 1881 that Russell’s emphasis on selling came to the fore.” is wrong, which at this point should surprise no-one. None of the Bible Students Tracts and certainly not the two small books Tabernacle Teachings and Food for Thinking Christians were sold to anyone. They were freely given, Russell bearing the expense. Only over a decade later was Tabernacle Teachings retitled as Tabernacle Shadows sold at a nominal price.
Also, we reject Rogerson’s description of Watch Tower theology as deterministic. Determinism suggests that events unfold beyond human control. Watch Tower belief was that each was responsible for the decisions they made. Russell and his associates rejected Presbyterian fatalism. Rogerson’s description of Watch Tower belief as elitist is meant to be inflammatory. Watch Tower belief was that God would ultimately save and bring to heavenly or earthly paradise nearly every human who ever lived. To us, this is not elitism.
Watch Tower Evangelism
The Barbourite movement was narrowly focused, drawing almost entirely from non-Seventh-day Adventists, Age-to-Come believers and other Millenarians. Barbour saw those without millennialist belief as worldly and lost. He saw himself as God’s appointed voice for the Last Days. Paton believed he was divinely chosen, and he saw “advances” in spiritual insight as God’s special revelation to him. Both published tracts, Paton many more than Barbour who relied on the Herald of the Morning to further his ideology. Their focus was narrow.
Russell’s view was more expansive. He believed God’s people were scattered in all of Christendom, and some were as yet unfound in non-Christian religions. Connecting good-hearted Christians with ‘truth’ was urgent because they were in the time of final judgment, the harvest time of Jesus’ parables. To explain Zion’s Watch Tower’s mission, he quoted from the Millerite hymn Alarm:
"We are living, we are dwelling
In a grand and awful time;
In an age on ages telling
To be living is sublime."
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