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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ernest C. Henninges and the New Covenant Fellowship

By 1904 upward of a hundred people were receiving Zion’s Watch Tower in Australia. It now seemed appropriate to organize a branch office of the Society in Melbourne, allowing for the distribution of People’s Pulpit and other tracts, bearing an Australian address.

The first branch organizer, E. C. Henninges, announced that the list of subscribers for Zion’s Watch Tower in the state of Victoria had increased eighteenfold during the first eight and a half months of the branch’s operations. One subscriber donated ten pounds (which was then equal to $40, U.S.) to the tract fund, requesting it be used to pay postage on packets of tracts being mailed out. For this sum the brothers were able to mail 4,800 packets! How were names obtained? The brothers took them from electoral rolls and thus mailed out thousands of copies of the People’s Pulpit to the extremities of the country for the cost of one shilling (10 cents, [U.S.]) per 100.

Workers and lone cottagers along the railway tracks received the message of the coming Kingdom as friends threw bundles of tracts from train windows. Seeds of truth found good soil in the hearts of some lonely folk in this way. Tons of paper in tract form carried the message into mailboxes. On Saturday afternoons groups of enthusiastic Bible Students would each frequently distribute up to five hundred copies of The Bible Students Monthly, which also advertised meetings. Ships were visited when they tied up at city wharves, and newspapers and periodicals published column-length sermons weekly.

In 1907, property, consisting of two identical houses side by side, but with separate deeds, was purchased on George Street, East Melbourne. This housed the Bethel family of that time. The office was eventually situated in a building on Collins Street, Melbourne.

At the rear of the house, numbered 20-A George Street, was a small building (actually the old stable) that became known to the brothers as The Tabernacle. In 1925 a vertical Miehle printing press was received from the United States. William Schneider, and later Bert Shearmur, operated this printing press at The Tabernacle, where tracts and other literature were printed and sent out to the whole of Australia and New Zealand. Prior to this, all printing was done by outside firms. From earliest times the Melbourne ecclesia, or congregation, used the Masonic Hall on Collins Street for meetings.


In 1908 there was an upheaval in the organization in Australia. As indicated in a report appearing in The Watch Tower in 1910, the volunteer work slowed down. Branch organizer Henninges defected, “carrying the bulk of the Melbourne class with him,” The Watch Tower reported. Out of 100 associates, only 20 stood firm.

Describing the defectors, Edward Nelson, who endured the test, wrote to Brother Russell: “Many of them are not readers to any extent and have been drawn to his [Henninges’] meetings rather by his eloquence than by the truth. Some of them do not even acknowledge the ‘parousia,’ and one who happened to come in yesterday still had the thought that man has an immortal soul.”

- 1973 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS

The Volunteer work shows a bit less output than previously; but the outlook for the ensuing year is better, and able and willing ones are now getting systematically to work. One dear elderly Brother comes in regularly for his weekly supply, his face always beaming with joy at the privileges which he has of being able to put out 1,000 to 1,200 PEOPLES PULPITS per week. Throughout Australasia the work goes forward and new interest continually comes to light of some who are rejoicing in the very truths from which others have turned aside. It is as though those who have become upset over the Vow and become blinded as regards the Covenants and the Church's high calling have made room for others to "take their crowns." The great lesson appears to be "Take heed"--"Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

Of course, as was anticipated, Bro. H. carried the bulk of the Melbourne class with him. He had such a hold upon them that there was small opportunity for assisting them to the truth on the points at issue. He also did what he could to prevent their reading the TOWERS, so that some TOWERS received from America were simply readdressed to this office unopened (only two or three). Some whom I had not seen for two years and had left at that time in good fellowship--nothing having passed between us in the meantime--wanted to pass us on the street as though we were poison.

We have tried to take advantage of any opportunity that any would give us of helping them, and the Lord has been pleased to bless our efforts in this way so that some have been regained. When we started here there were about twelve with us; now we have usually about twenty-five at our Sunday evening meeting--but probably not more than twenty are thoroughly established in the Truth. Bro. H., I think, still holds about eighty or so, but many of them are not readers to any extent and have been drawn to his meetings rather by his "eloquence" than by the Truth. Some of them do not even acknowledge the "parousia," and one who happened to come in yesterday had still the thought that man has an immortal soul. I do not think that Bro. H. is making any progress, as I have not heard of any that he has gained, while we can count a few, say about ten, around Melbourne, besides more in other parts. Though our numbers remain low, it is not because there have not been additions, but on account of so many going out of the city, either to go into the Colporteur work or for private reasons. All the same, we are not discouraged and do not want to accomplish more than the Lord is willing for us to do; only we do not wish to leave a stone unturned to the end that we may gather every grain of "wheat" in the vicinity.........................

- Published in the February 15, 1910 ZWT

The vow was recommended to the "Watch Tower" pilgrims in 1908 March. In response to two letters, it was also suggested to colporteurs, elders, and deacons in June, and then to all IBSA associates. Most of the pilgrims had taken the vow within a few months. Several individuals in scattered locations objected to the vow and did not take it, though in 1908 there was no organized resistance to it.

With one article in 1908 Oct. 15, and in many more beginning in 1909 Jan. 1, the Watch Tower made a sharp distinction between a Gospel Age grace covenant and a Millennial Age new covenant. As early as 1908 Nov. 22, E.C. Henninges in Melbourne, Australia (previously prominent in the Bible House), expressed opposition to both the covenants doctrine and the vow, and a few months later protested emphatically that the church has no part in the sufferings and sacrifice of Christ. The use of the six volumes of “Studies in the Scriptures” in the Bible studies also became an issue (led by Horace Randle). The Henninges provided the leadership of the opposition, beginning publishing New Covenant Advocate 1909 April 1 and issuing a leaflet "Wake Up!" M.L. McPhail of Chicago (and his wife, though not his daughter, Laura [later Mrs. Benj. Hollister]) sided with the Henninges and published a booklet on the Covenants and Mediator. Others who terminated fellowship with the IBSA included J.H. Giesey (then Watch Tower vice president), James Hay of Liverpool, England, a Mr. Randall [Horace Randle?], Russell’s own sister Mae Land, and a handful in the New York-Brooklyn ecclesia (including the Williamsons). The total number leaving may be estimated at many hundred out of several tens of thousands.

- The Bible Student Movement, In the Days of C.T. Russell, Third Edition, 1999 Jan.

What did Pastor Russell have to say about this: “All who cut loose from the Society and its work, instead of prospering themselves or upbuilding others in the faith and in the graces of the spirit, seemingly do the reverse—attempt injury to the Cause they once served, and, with more or less noise, gradually sink into oblivion, harming only themselves and others possessed of a similarly contentious spirit. . . . If some think that they can get as good or better provender at other tables, or that they can produce as good or better themselves—let these take their course. . . . But while we are willing that others should go anywhere and everywhere to find food and light to their satisfaction, strange to say, those who become our opponents take a very different course. Instead of saying in the manly fashion of the world, ‘I have found something which I prefer; goodbye!’ these manifest anger, malice, hatred, strife, ‘works of the flesh and of the devil’ such as we have never known worldly people to exhibit. They seem inoculated with madness, Satanic hydrophobia [rabies]. Some of them smite us and then claim that we did the smiting. They are ready to say and write contemptible falsities and to stoop to do meanness.”

- Pastor Charles T. Russell, October 1, 1909

Additional Reading:

Ernest Charles Henninges died on February 3, 1939. His sect the "New Covenant Fellowship," is still active and offers his books and copies of the "New Covenant Advocate and Kingdom Herald." Henninges defection caused the second largest split in Watch Tower Society history, second only to the 1917 - 1931 schism. Ernest C. Henninges was also married to Rose Ball. When in England Henninges sought and found suitable premises in Forest Gate, East London, to accommodate an office for the British branch of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. On Monday, April 23, 1900, E. C. Henninges opened the first branch of the Society outside the United States. He also formed a branch in Germany in 1902, and one in Australia in 1904. By 1908 he was no longer working with the Watch Tower Society. Rose Ball Henninges died on November 22, 1950.

In 1905 Paul S.L. Johnson, one of Russell's pilgrims and a former Lutheran minister, pointed out to Ch. T. Russell that his doctrines on the New Covenant had undergone a complete reversal: until 1880 he had taught that the New Covenant would be inaugurated only after the last of the 144,000 anointed Christians had been taken to heaven, but from 1881 he had written that it was already in force. Russell reconsidered the question and in January 1907 wrote several Watch Tower articles not only reaffirming his 1880 position - that "the new covenant belongs exclusively to the coming age" - but adding that since the church was under no mediated covenant, it had no Mediator at all. Further, the church itself would join Christ as a joint Messiah and Mediator during the Millennium. Several prominent Bible Students vigorously opposed the new teaching.

On October 24, 1909 former Society secretary-treasurer E.C. Henninges, who was by then the Australian branch manager of the International Bible Students Association, based in Melbourne, wrote Russell an open letter of protest trying to persuade him to abandon the teaching and calling on Bible Students to examine its legitimacy. When Russell refused, Henninges and most of the Melbourne congregation left Russell's movement to form the New Covenant Fellowship Hundreds out of the estimated 10,000 US Bible Students also left, including pilgrim M.L. McPhail, a member of the Chicago Bible Students and A. E. Williamson of Brooklyn. The dissidents formed the New Covenant Believers. In 1908 they began publishing "The Kingdom Scribe", which ceased publication in 1975. Since 1956 they have published "The Berean News", a small newsletter. The group still exists under the name Berean Bible Students Church.

In 1928 the Italian Bible Students Association in Hartford, CT., withdrew their support from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania and later established the Christian Millennial Fellowship as a publishing arm for their ministry work. In 1940 they began publishing The New Creation, a Herald of God's Kingdom. The publishing house eventually reorganized and has relocated to New Jersey, with branch offices in Australia, Austria, England, Ghana, Germany, India, Italy, Japan and Romania. They withdrew their support in 1928, and in 1940, they produced the New Creation - a Herald of Christ's Kingdom magazine. However a few years later, Gaetano Boccaccio, began to be influenced by the writings of E.C. Henninges and M.L. McPhail. The CMF eventually discarded most of Russell's writings as error and converted to "New Covenant Bible Students." Gaetano Boccaccio was its leader since its inception, having been with the Society since 1917, he died in 1996. For over fifty years he led this group from Hartford, Connecticut. Today the group is international, has been relocated to New Jersey and is headed by Elmer Weeks.

This group refer to themselves as "Free Bible Students", implying that they are no longer under the control of a man or organization. Unlike the Bible Students, they eventually discarded most of Watch Tower Society founder Charles Taze Russell's writings as erroroneous. Now located in New Jersey, the Free Bible Students; published The New Creation magazine since 1940.

- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia