The Bible Students were keenly interested in understanding not only Bible doctrine but also the manner in which God’s service was to be performed, as indicated by the Scriptures. They realized that the Bible made no provision for titled clergymen, with a laity to whom they would preach. Brother Russell was determined that there would be no clergy class among them. Through the columns of the Watch Tower, its readers were frequently reminded that Jesus told his followers: “Your Leader is one, the Christ,” but, “All you are brothers.”—Matt. 23:8, 10.
Early Association of Bible Students
Readers of the Watch Tower and related publications soon saw that in order to please God, they had to sever ties with any church that proved itself unfaithful to God by putting creeds and traditions of men ahead of his written Word. (2 Cor. 6:14-18) But after withdrawing from the churches of Christendom, where did they go?
In an article entitled “The Ekklesia,” Brother Russell pointed out that the true church, the Christian congregation, is not an organization with members who have subscribed to some man-made creed and have their names written on a church register. Rather, he explained, it is made up of persons who have “consecrated” (or, dedicated) their time, talents, and life to God, and who have before them the prospect of sharing in the heavenly Kingdom with Christ. These, he said, are Christians who are united in bonds of Christian love and common interest, who respond to the direction of the spirit of God, and who submit to the headship of Christ. Brother Russell was not interested in setting up some other arrangement, and he was strongly against contributing in any way to the sectarianism that existed among professed Christians.
At the same time, he fully appreciated the need for the Lord’s servants to assemble together, in harmony with the counsel at Hebrews 10:23-25. He personally traveled to visit and upbuild readers of the Watch Tower and to bring them together with others in their own area who were of like mind. Early in 1881 he requested that those who were holding regular meetings notify the Watch Tower office as to where these were being held. He saw the value of keeping them in touch with one another.
However, Brother Russell emphasized that they were not attempting to set up an “earthly organization.” Rather, he said, “we adhere only to that heavenly organization—‘whose names are written in heaven.’ (Heb. 12:23; Luke 10:20.)” Because of Christendom’s sordid history, reference to “church organization” usually reminded a person of sectarianism, clergy domination, and membership on the basis of adhering to a creed formulated by a religious council. So, when referring to themselves, Brother Russell felt that the term “association” was a better one.
He was well aware that Christ’s apostles had formed congregations and appointed elders in each. But he believed that Christ was again present, though invisibly so, and was himself personally directing the final harvest of those who would be heirs with him. In view of the circumstances, Brother Russell initially felt that during the time of harvest the arrangement for elders that had existed in the first-century Christian congregations was not needed.
Nevertheless, as the Bible Students grew in number, Brother Russell realized that the Lord was maneuvering matters in a manner different from what he himself had anticipated. An adjustment in viewpoint was needed. But on what basis?
Meeting the Early Needs of the Growing Association
The Watch Tower of November 15, 1895, was devoted almost entirely to the subject “Decently and in Order.” Candidly, Brother Russell there acknowledged: “The apostles had much to say to the early Church concerning order in the assemblies of the saints; and apparently we have been rather negligent of this wise counsel, feeling it to be of rather minor importance, because the Church is so near the end of her course and the harvest is a time of separating.” What moved them to take a fresh look at that counsel?
That article listed four circumstances: (1) It was evident that the spiritual development of individuals varied one from another. There were temptations, trials, difficulties, and dangers that not all were equally prepared to meet. Thus, there was a need for wise and discreet overseers, men of experience and ability, deeply interested in looking out for the spiritual welfare of all and capable of instructing them in the truth. (2) It had been seen that the flock needed to be defended against ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ (Matt. 7:15, KJ) They needed to be fortified by being helped to gain a thorough knowledge of the truth. (3) Experience had shown that if there was no arrangement for appointment of elders to safeguard the flock, some would take that position and come to view the flock as their own. (4) Without an orderly arrangement, individuals loyal to the truth might find their services unwanted because of the influence of a few who disagreed with them.
In the light of this, the Watch Tower stated: “We have no hesitation in commending to the Churches in every place, whether their numbers be large or small, the Apostolic counsel, that, in every company, elders be chosen from among their number to ‘feed’ and ‘take the oversight’ of the flock.” (Acts 14:21-23; 20:17, 28) The local congregations followed through on this sound Scriptural counsel. This was an important step in establishing a congregation structure in harmony with what existed in the days of the apostles.
In accord with the way they understood matters then, however, the selection of elders, and of deacons to assist them, was made by congregation vote. Each year, or more often if necessary, the qualifications of those who might serve were considered, and a vote was taken. It was basically a democratic procedure, but one that was hedged about with limitations designed to act as a safeguard. All in the congregation were urged to review carefully the Biblical qualifications and to express by vote, not their own opinion, but what they believed to be the will of the Lord. Since only those “fully consecrated” were eligible to vote, their collective vote, when guided by the Word and spirit of the Lord, was viewed as expressing the Lord’s will in the matter. Although Brother Russell may not have been completely aware of it, his recommendation of this arrangement was perhaps influenced to some extent not only by his determination to avoid any semblance of an exalted clergy class but also by his own background as a teenager in the Congregational Church.
When the Millennial Dawn volume entitled The New Creation (published in 1904) again discussed in detail the role of elders and the manner in which they were to be selected, special attention was directed to Acts 14:23. Concordances compiled by James Strong and Robert Young were cited as authorities for the view that the statement “they had ordained them elders” (KJ) should be translated “they had elected them elders by a show of hands.” Some Bible translations even say that the elders were ‘appointed by vote.’ (Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible; Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible) But who was to do that voting?
Adopting the view that the voting was to be done by the congregation as a whole did not always yield the results that were hoped for. Those voting were to be persons who were “fully consecrated,” and some who were elected truly met the Scriptural qualifications and humbly served their brothers. But the voting often reflected personal preference rather than the Word and spirit of God. Thus, in Halle, Germany, when certain ones who thought they should be elders did not get the positions they wanted, they caused severe dissension. In Barmen, Germany, among those who were candidates in 1927 were men who opposed the work of the Society, and there was considerable shouting during the showing of hands at election time. So it was necessary to switch over to a secret ballot.
Back in 1916, years before these incidents, Brother Russell, with deep concern, had written: “A horrible state of affairs prevails in some Classes when an election is to be held. The servants of the Church attempt to be rulers, dictators—sometimes even holding the chairmanship of the meeting with the apparent object of seeing that they and their special friends shall be elected as Elders and Deacons. . . . Some quietly try to take advantage of the Class by having the election at some time which is especially favorable to them and their friends. Others seek to pack the meeting with their friends, bringing in comparative strangers, who have no thought of being regular in attendance at the Class, but come merely as an act of friendship to vote for one of their friends.”
Did they simply need to learn how to handle elections along democratic lines more smoothly, or was there something from God’s Word that they had not yet discerned?
Organizing to Get the Good News Preached
At a very early point, Brother Russell recognized that one of the most important responsibilities of every member of the Christian congregation was the work of evangelizing. (1 Pet. 2:9) The Watch Tower explained that it was not to Jesus alone but to all his spirit-anointed followers that the prophetic words of Isaiah 61:1 applied, namely: “Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news,” or, as the King James Version renders Jesus’ quotation of this passage, “He hath anointed me to preach the gospel.”—Luke 4:18.
As early as 1881, the Watch Tower carried the article “Wanted 1,000 Preachers.” This was an appeal to every member of the congregation to use whatever time he could (a half hour, an hour, or two, or three) to share in spreading Bible truth. Men and women who did not have families that were dependent on them and who could give half or more of their time exclusively to the Lord’s work were encouraged to undertake work as colporteur evangelists. The number varied considerably from year to year, but by 1885 there were already about 300 who were sharing in this work as colporteurs. Some others also had a part but on a more limited scale. Suggestions were given to the colporteurs as to how to go about their work. But the field was vast, and at least at the start, they selected their own territory and moved from one area to another largely as it seemed best to them. Then when they met at conventions, they would make needed adjustments to coordinate their efforts.
The same year that the colporteur service began, Brother Russell had a number of tracts (or booklets) printed for free distribution. Outstanding among these was Food for Thinking Christians, which was distributed to the number of 1,200,000 in the first four months. The work involved in arranging this printing and distribution gave rise to the formation of Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society in order to care for necessary details. To prevent disruption of the work in the event of his death, and to facilitate the handling of donations to be used in the work, Brother Russell filed for legal registration of the Society, and this was officially recorded on December 15, 1884. This brought into existence a needed legal instrumentality.
As the need arose, branch offices of the Watch Tower Society were established in other lands. The first was in London, England, on April 23, 1900. Another, in Elberfeld, Germany, in 1902. Two years later, on the other side of the earth, a branch was organized in Melbourne, Australia. At the time of this writing, there are 99 branches worldwide.
Although the organizational arrangements that were needed to provide quantities of Bible literature were taking form, at first it was left to the congregations to work out any local arrangements for public distribution of that material. In a letter dated March 16, 1900, Brother Russell stated how he viewed the matter. That letter, addressed to “Alexander M. Graham, and the Church at Boston, Mass.,” said: “As you all know, it is my decided intention to leave with each company of the Lord’s people the management of their own affairs, according to their own judgments, offering suggestions, not by way of interference, but by way merely of advice.” This included not only their meetings but also the way they carried on their field ministry. Thus, after offering the brothers some practical counsel, he concluded with the comment: “This is merely a suggestion.”
Some activities required more specific direction from the Society. In connection with the showing of the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” it was left to each congregation to determine whether they were willing and able to rent a theater or other facility for a local presentation. However, it was necessary to move equipment from city to city, and schedules had to be met; so in these respects centralized direction was provided by the Society. Each congregation was encouraged to have a Drama Committee to care for local arrangements. But a superintendent sent out by the Society gave careful attention to details in order to make sure that everything went smoothly.
As the years 1914 and then 1915 passed, those spirit-anointed Christians waited eagerly for the fulfillment of their heavenly hope. At the same time, they were encouraged to keep busy in the Lord’s service. Even though they viewed their remaining time in the flesh as very brief, it became evident that in order to carry on the preaching of the good news in an orderly manner, more direction was needed than when they had numbered just a few hundred.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, WTB&TS
PASTOR RUSSELL'S CONVENTION DISCOURSES, BIBLE STUDENTS' LIBRARY
Synopsis of Remarks of Bro. MacMillan
at the New York City Temple,
Sunday Morning, Nov. 5, 1916
Part of the text reads:
On the morning he left he made a few brief remarks at the table, saying he would be away for a time and if nothing fails would get back to speak in the Temple, Sunday evening, November 5. He arose from the table and dismissed the friends with no further explanation. Immediately I said to him, "Brother Russell, didn't you forget something?" "No, brother, I have that all fixed." He passed me a bundle of letters, copies of letters, written to various brethren who were the heads of the various departments. As I read them over I was amazed at the wisdom that was displayed in the arrangement of the home and office. He invited me to accompany him to the depot in the taxi he rode over in. I told him what I thought about it. He said, "Brother, nobody can do anything without organization. We have one now, and the work should go on better than ever before."
Also see: FAITH ON THE MARCH
by A.H. Macmillan http://www.bible.cfmin.com/Faith%20on%20the%20March.pdf
INDIVIDUALS ARE UNIMPORTANT TO GOD'S WORK
That was a grave responsibility. In order for you to appreciate the position I was in personally, perhaps I should relate an experience I had with C. T. Russell shortly before his death.
Russell always spent the forenoon from eight o'clock until twelve in his study preparing articles for The Watch Tower and any other writing he had to do that called for research on the Bible. Nobody went to the study in the morning unless he was sent for or had something very important, a life or death case.About five minutes after eight one morning a stenographer fix said to me, "Brother Russell wants to see you in the study."
I thought, "What now?"
I walked up and knocked on the study door. He said, "Come in, brother. Please walk into the drawing room." (This was the room adjoining his study.) "I'll be with you in a moment or two."
When he walked in, with a serious expression on his face, he said, "Brother, are you as deeply interested in the truth as you were when you began?"
I looked surprised.
He continued, "Don't be surprised. That is just a leading question." Then he described his physical condition, and knew enough about pathology to know that he would now live many more months unless he had some relief.
"Now, brother, this is what I want to talk to you about: I am no longer able to take care of the work alone. I must have someone who can be an assistant to the president. The work is increasing rapidly, and it will continue to increase, for there is a world-wide work to be done in preaching the 'gospel of the kingdom' in all the world."
He gave me a word picture of the work that I now see in progress in building up the New World society. He saw it from the Bible. I thought he was talking about something he would like to see, but to me there was not much hope that he would see it.
Then I made an unfortunate remark. "Brother Russell, what you're saying doesn't add up right in my mind." "What do you mean, brother?"
"Your dying and this work going on. Why, when you die we all will complacently fold our arms and wait to go to heaven with you. We will quit then."
"Brother, if that is your idea, you don't see the issue. This is not man's work; it's God's work. No man is indispensable to its success. Now, you are acquainted with brothers in all parts of the country because of your extensive travel serving congregations. You can tell me who you think would be suitable for the position."
We discussed various ones from different parts of the country who were active workers preaching the kingdom message, but he did not seem to think any one of them would be suitable, or in a position to come to Brooklyn.
I moved to leave then, as it was about 11:30 A.M. There was a sliding door from the drawing room out into the hallway, and he pushed that door open. As I was going out he took hold of my arm and said, "Just a minute. You go to your room and pray to the Lord on this matter and come and tell me if Brother Macmillan will accept this position."
He closed the door and I stood there half dazed. I did think it over, very seriously, and prayed about it for some time before I finally told him I would be happy to do all that I could to assist him.
This was shortly before he went away on his final preaching tour. Before he left he wrote letters to what we then termed the heads of the different departments, outlining their duties and informing them that "A. H. Macmillan is to be in full charge of the office and the Bethel Home during my absence. Anything he says for you to do you must do; it doesn't make any difference whether you agree or not. If he tells you incorrectly, I'll attend to him when I get home." Then he handed me copies of all the letters and said, "You have the skeleton organization. Go to work and do things."
This matter weighed heavily on my mind during the two months preceding that election. Obviously Russell expected the work to go on. I had been willing to assist him in his absence, but the thought of taking full management of the entire organization appalled me. I dismissed it.
Then someone said to me, "Mac, you have a strong chance of getting in yourself. You were Brother Russell's special representative when he was gone, and he told all of us to do it as you say. Well, he went away and never did return. It looks like you're the man to carry on."
"Brother," I said, "that's not the way to look at this matter. This is the Lord's work and the only position you get in the Lord's organization is what the Lord sees fit to give you; and I am sure I'm not the man for the job."