---My observations on Proclaimers (From years ago)
Billed at the time of its release as "objective and candid," (1) Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers Of God's Kingdom. gave WTB&TS writers and policy makers a unique opportunity to make a clean break with nearly half a century of historical revisionism.
In this respect, there are certainly positive things that can be said about Proclaimers. One that is immediately noticeable is its forthrightness concerning things that have at times, caused the Witnesses embarrassment. One example involves C. T. Russell's connections with a number of prominent Adventist figures of his day such as Jonas Wendell, George Storrs and George W. Stetson. It is a fact easily documentable from the period literature that Russell openly acknowledged his indebtedness to these men on certain points and quite apparently considered them to be his Christian brothers. The Proclaimers book frankly acknowledges this fact. (2)
honestly acknowledges the 1877 publication date of The Object And Manner of Our Lord's Return.
accurately describes not only the doctrinal significance attached to the year 1874, (3) but that of 1878 as well, the only
such instance in the modern literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (4)
Another example involves Nelson H. Barbour. Despite the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses today are indebted to Barbour for the one single chronological element taught during the entire Russell era that they still accept as valid, Witness publications typically manage only a few derisive comments about Barbour when and if they even speak of him at all. Barbour's position in the disagreement with Russell over the mechanics of the Ransom has routinely been twisted into a rejection of the Ransom itself. (5) For years, instead of giving credit where credit is due, Jehovah’s Witness writers have attempted to claim that C. T. Russell was actually the author of the 2,520 year time calculation.
In reality, the calculations in question were entirely Barbour's. (6) Further, while in regard to Three Worlds, it is true that Russell both financed and "gave some time and thought to its preparation,"(7) he was not its coauthor and in point of fact did not ever refer to himself as such. Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers Of God's Kingdom marks a refreshing departure from previous treatments of the subject by presenting a more accurate presentation of the difference of opinion between Russell and Barbour concerning the Ransom. (8) Even though it is strongly implied that Russell independently arrived at the 1914 date at around the same time as Barbour, (9) the indirect acknowledgement that Barbour’s application of the 2,520 years to the period of 606 B.C. to 1914 A.D. predates anything Russell wrote on the subject (10) is nevertheless, a unique occurrence within contemporary Witness literature.
Despite this greater candor however, Proclaimers is no more an objective look at Witness history than the Witness publication Life How Did It Get Here? By Evolution Or By Creation? is an objective look at evolutionary theory and this is not simply a case of a human failing on the part of the author or authors to hold their personal feelings, prejudices and doctrinal bias in abeyance. Proclaimers does not provide the reader with anything resembling an orderly chronological record of events, instead selectively presenting the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a tool in the promotion of theological precepts peculiar to Jehovahs Witnesses. These include the idea that Jehovah’s Witnesses are God’s chosen people, that they are fulfilling a unique, important and privileged role both as proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, and His sole channel in the dissemination of Bible truth today, and that their efforts are divinely directed.
Since Jehovah's Witnesses do not actually claim to be divinely inspired, they hold these beliefs not because God or Christ have in some tangible fashion, told them so, but as an inference drawn from their perception of events in conjunction with their own unique interpretation of Scripture. Consequently, this is not only an extremely complimentary organizational self-portrait, it is one that is almost entirely subjective as well.
This observation is not made as a criticism per se because in truth we would hardly expect a book written by Jehovah's Witnesses, and for Jehovah's Witnesses to present anything other than a pleasant picture. Although it is problematic that a book that is not objective and quite evidently not intended to be would be billed as such, the real issue with Proclaimers is not its lack of objectivity, but its lack of accuracy. Both in content and execution, the same pattern of dissemblance documentable in contemporary Witness literature is present in Proclaimers as well. This pattern ranges from statements that are simply misleading to those that are demonstrably false. For example, in regard to where the Bible Students immediately following 1914 imagined themselves to be in the stream of time, Proclaimers states:
"As the events following 1914 began to unfold and the Bible Students compared these with what the Master had foretold, they gradually came to appreciate that they were living in the last days of the old system and that they had been since 1914." (p.137)
However as was plainly stated in the prospectus appearing on the first page of the July 1879 issue of Zion's Watch Tower, the Bible Students had thought from the very beginning that they were living in "the last days." (11) Consequently the most that can truthfully be said is that the Bible Students gradually came to appreciate that "the last days" had started in 1914 instead of 1799 as they had originally thought.
In regard to significance the Bible Students attached to the expiration of the Gentile Times, the following statement is made on page 135:
"But what would the end of the Gentile Times mean? The Bible Students were not completely sure what would happen. They were convinced that it would not result in a burning up of the earth and a blotting out of human life. Rather, they knew it would mark a significant point in regard to divine rulership. At first, they thought that by that date the Kingdom of God would have obtained full, universal control. When that did not occur, their confidence in the bible prophecies that marked the date did not waver. They concluded that, instead the date had marked only a starting point in Kingdom rule."
No justification accompanies the idea that the Bible Students "were not completely sure of what would happen" save the fact that they revised their expectations when these went unrealized in 1914. Yet this fact by itself does nothing to establish what their attitude had actually been prior to this date. In reality, the seven point enumeration of the expectations attached to 1914 appearing on pages 76 - 78 of The Time Is At Hand was very specific and distinct. (12) The discussion abounded with words and phrases like "facts," "proof," "established truth," "Bible evidence," and "firmly established in the Scriptures." ( Proclaimers, which on this question, carefully avoids actually quoting the period literature, asserts that the Bible Students simply "thought," "suggested," or "earnestly hoped," that this or that might happen but "were not completely sure." (13) Thus Proclaimers wraps up the significance attached to the end of the Gentile Times in false and misleading statements which completely obscure the aggressive message preached by the Bible Students for over a quarter century prior to 1914.
In discussing the views of C. T. Russell and his associates, Proclaimers, like virtually all other Witness literature, uses the future tense to describe events that were never in fact regarded as such:
"Noteworthy too is what Brother Russell did with other highly significant truths that he learned from God’s Word. He discerned that Christ would return as a glorious spirit person invisible to human eyes." (p.622)
Russell did not at any point teach the idea that Christ would return invisibly. Russell's message was that Christ had returned in 1874.
also attempts to perpetuate the fiction common in Witness literature, that Russell and the Bible Students had expected a heavenly
rather than an earthly
establishment of God's Kingdom in 1914. One such example occurs on page 635:
"In its issue of October 15, 1913, The Watch Tower had stated: "According to the best chronological reckoning of which we are capable, it is approximately that time – whether it be October 1914 or later. Without dogmatizing, we are looking for certain events: (1) The termination of the Gentile Times – Gentile supremacy in the world – and (2) For the inauguration of Messiah’s Kingdom in the world." How would this come about? It seemed reasonable to the Bible Students then that it would include the glorification of any still on earth who had been chosen by God to share in the heavenly Kingdom with Christ."
Although it is true that Russell expected the fully glorification of the church in 1914, that is not what he was here referring to. As the complete quotation clearly shows, Russell's use of the term "the inauguration of Messiah's Kingdom in the world" was an explicit reference to the end of all earthly governments and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on the earth.
"Without dogmatizing, we are looking for certain events: (1) The termination of the Gentile Times – Gentile supremacy in the world – and (2) For the inauguration of Messiah’s kingdom in the world. The kingdoms of earth will come to an end and "the God of heaven will set up a kingdom." (Daniel 2:44) The Scriptures do not say that the trouble will come in an hour, or in one day or in one year. The intimation is that the catastrophe coming upon our civilization will be a very sudden one. (Revelation 18:8,10,17,22; 1 Thessalonians 5:3) But it will be very sudden if it comes within twelve months." (The Watch Tower October 15, 1913 p306 [Reprints 5328])
Russell clearly expected real, tangible events to occur on the earth within a year or so from the expiry of the "Gentile Times." The heavenly invisible event, which no one can prove or disprove that Jehovah's Witnesses teach today is a concept alien to Russell and Russell's teachings.
1. This was stated in the discourse at the time of its release, in The Watchtower May 1, 1994 p. 16 and in the publisher's foreword to the book itself.
2. See pages 45-46
3. See pages 47, 631-632
4. See pages 631-632
5. See for example The Watchtower March 1, 1989 p. 23; January 1, 1955 p. 8. Barbour explained his position at length in the August 1877 issue of Herald Of The Morning pp. 26-28. Although Barbour's move towards Socinianism proved to be incompatible with what was in many respects, an essentially Arminian outlook on the part of Russell, Barbour certainly never rejected the doctrine of the Ransom itself.
6. Barbour clearly stated his belief that the Gentile times were a 2520 year period extending from 606 B.C. to 1914 A.D. in the September 1875 issue of Herald Of The Morning, several months before he met Russell. Russell by his own testimony had soundly rejected Adventist chronology and date setting prior to meeting Barbour.
7. Charles Taze Russell, Harvest Gatherings And Siftings The Watch Tower; July 15, 1906 p. 230
8. See page 131 as well as page 620 where a page from both Barbour's and Russell's opposing articles as they appeared in the Herald of The Morning are partially reproduced.
9. See p 134
10. See page 135 and 622
11. See pages 121, 718 and 724 .
12. The Time Is At Hand pages 76 - 102
13. Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers Of God's Kingdom p. 135