Rough Draft Chapter

by vienne 9 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • vienne

    A few of you are interested in our historical research. Newly posted to our history blog is a mostly complete, rough draft of a chapter that will appear on Separate Identity, volume 2. [We are getting close ...]

    Comments are welcome. If you post a comment on our blog, please keep it on point. Open season here, I suppose.

  • cofty

    Thank you vienne.

  • vienne

    You're very welcome, Crofty.

  • nakrd

    Thanks vienne.

    Reading the account of Maria helps a person have mercy on themselves for searching in religion for human relief and justice.

    She seemed a brave person especially in the mid 1800’s. Women were discredited and vilified for stepping out of the bounds of domestic concerns. She was a searcher for human good.

    Ex-Jdubs should note that her search didn’t make her an acolyte of Russell. She might haveconsidered his teachings but left them to go on to help others -especially destitute girls and women fallen into prostitution . Hers were the practical actions we did not do as JWs (too bad). But we should have sympathy for the impulse to kindness that drove any of us to look into religion for human kindness.

    Pretty interesting.

    (-edited for clarity )

  • slimboyfat

    I appreciate the level of detail in your work, but I do think more could be done to make the material relevant to broader themes and concerns. As a reader I am often wondering why this person is relevant or why is it important. Which is not the same as saying it is irrelevant or unimportant, just that good scholarship should make explicit the significance and connections to wider issues.

  • vienne


    If we were writing a journal article, I might agree with you. But we're writing a book, the second volume in a three volume series. That means there won't be analysis in each chapter. Analytical comments appear in key sections. Even then they're limited. Most of our readers are academics who are at least somewhat familiar with Witness and Bible Student history. So we don't feel a great need to make connections that should be otherwise obvious.

    We focus on the narrative - the places where the original documents take us. This is an untold story, and because of that what's out there is misleading, false, sometimes purposely so. We address several issues. Russell, though acquainted with them, was not an Adventist. He and the Age to Come movement out of which he came followed a different hermeneutic. Their roots are in traditional millenarianism. We connect Russell's history to the history of the times in which he lived. This is almost never done, and in the few occasions where it has been attempted, the result is, in my opinion, very poor. We add biographical details to the characters in this drama that others have not found or saw as irrelevant. One understands a character from history by knowing something of his life. The theme of Separate Identity is just that. Russellism transitioned from a loosely affiliated group with wide differences in theology to an identifiable religion with a set doctrine.

    Much of the analysis made by others is a generalized view of causations, of the roots of millennial thought. Many of these do not stand close scrutiny. We examine the most common of these, presenting our own viewpoint, which we obviously think is the correct one.

    You cannot see these things by reading a rough draft chapter or part of a chapter.

    The blog is not meant to be analytical. The books is / will be in appropriate places.

  • slimboyfat

    Thanks that’s a really interesting analysis. I look forward to reading it as part of the book. And especially interesting to see how the detailed work combines to support this presentation of early Watch Tower history.

    I wonder if “Age to Come” believers is a title that early Watch Tower adherents would have applied to themselves, or others generally.

    I notice that the founder of the Christadelphians, John Thomas, published a magazine called Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come. So I wonder if Christadelphians and early Watch Tower adherents both come from common “Age to Come” stock, or what is the relation between the three.

    When you say:

    Their roots are in traditional millenarianism. We connect Russell's history to the history of the times in which he lived. This is almost never done, and in the few occasions where it has been attempted, the result is, in my opinion, very poor.

    I would be very interested to know explicitly what are the previous attempts you are referring to.

  • vienne


    Fredrick Zydek attempted to make connections to contemporary events. I do not recommend his book. It is very speculative (i.e. he makes stuff up). Zoe Knox does a better job in her newest book. Both are on Amazon.

    From Separate Identity Vol 1:

    Christadelphian Connections

    A number of writers postulate a Christadelphian connection. Among more modern writers one finds repeated references to Benjamin Wilson as a Christadelphian. Russell, they say, got his ideas from Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott, and Wilson was a Christadelphian. This is a fable. Wilson, son of an Oxford professor of Greek and an immigrant to North America, was associated first with the Campbellites. He was attracted to John Thomas’ teachings but he and Thomas parted company. Thomas was bitter and vituperative. Newell Bond addressed the issue in a letter to Thomas dated October 29, 1866, pointing to Thomas’ “sarcasm and [the] sport made of others who have believed and obeyed the same Gospel.” Such “go not very far with candid, thinking men as arguments in defense of the truth,” Bond wrote. Thomas’ reply was that Wilson was “of that class I am commanded to avoid.” He called Wilson a “rabid politician” and one of “the world’s own.” “I repudiate in toto the idea of such having like precious faith with the Apostles.” Thomas did not see Wilson as a Christadelphian. Wilson repudiated the association. Not at all ashamed of his repeated ad hominem attacks, Thomas published the letters for all to read.

    Because One Faith believers and Christadelphians draw from the same Literalist roots, Christadelphians speculated about a connection with Russell. Without confirming it, Christadelphian writers asserted that Russell was once “connected with the truth.” When “The Photo Drama of Creation” was released, The Christadelphian described it as a “piece of apostasy from the truth from which we understand Pastor Russell was in some way connected many years ago.” The editors of The Berean Christadelphain went further:

    About 50 years ago a man named Russell attended meetings of Christadelphians in Glasgow. He picked up part of the Truth and then went to America. There he started a new sect, which he called The International Bible Students' Association. Popularly its members were soon known as “Russellites” and he himself as “Pastor Russell.” We heard him on two occasions expound his ideas of religion.

    These claims constitute a self-serving myth. Still, Russell was acquainted with Christadelphian theology. He used their descriptors, calling Watch Tower congregations Ecclesias and traveling evangelists Pilgrims. His topic during a speaking tour in late June 1880 was “Things Pertaining to the Kingdom of God,” a characteristically Christadelphian topic and phrasing. We shouldn’t read too much into that. The topic is derived from Acts 1:3 and was used by many who were not Christadelphians. As we shall see in the next chapter, his theology was not derived from that source. It came from the Age-to-Come movement centered on The Restitution. Because the doctrines are somewhat similar and Christadelphians saw the One Faith movement as “vile,” they preferred to see themselves as the source. “He was once in touch with Christadelphains, and is much indebted to their writings for what good his system may contain,” one editor wrote.

    We cannot date with any assurance Russell’s first encounter with Christadelphianism. An “old brother Cattelle” claimed to have known him “many years ago” in Allegheny or Pittsburgh. We cannot date this, nor can we identify which Cattelle this was. That leaves us with an interesting claim but no way to evaluate it. It is probable that Russell’s introduction to Christadelphian teaching came early. Adherents were often isolated and attended meetings sponsored by others with similar faith, trying to persuade them to Christadelphian belief. A. E. Williamson, a Watch Tower evangelist, recalled an example of this. He reported that he had to contend with “a Christadelphian, who seemed much incensed because the discourse was so lengthy that he could not have a good opportunity to express himself.”

    John H. Thomas, a physician, moved to Pittsburgh toward the end of 1879. The Christadelphian noted him as a subscriber resident in Canada in 1867. By his advent in Pittsburgh he was straddling the line between One Faith and Christadelphianism. Letters and articles from him appear in The Restitution, one of which Russell reprinted in abridged form. Some of Thomas’ lectures were reissued in tract form and sold through The Restitution.

    If Russell and Thomas associated on any sort of friendly basis, that ended with the publication of Food for Thinking Christians. A brief notice found in The Christadelphian of 1882 says that “Dr. Thomas lectured twice at Berwick, Pa., and once at Bloomsburg, Pa., at which places he did much to neutralize the influence of that subtle enemy of God’s truth, called Russellism, which is a mottled mixture of truth and Universalism.”[10] He was tarring Watch Tower belief in a fair chance for all with the brush of Universalism. There is no Universalism in “Russellism.” To The Restitution he wrote: “I am sorry to say that the believers here are tinctured a little with Russellism, which is subversive of the truth as it is in Jesus.” It is interesting to note that Berwick, Pennsylvania, believers were on Russell’s speaking itinerary in June 1880.

    Thomas drew the small remnant of the original Church of God (Age-to-Come) congregation to himself, acting as its pastor. A letter from a Restitution reader noted that a “body of believers has been called out in Pittsburgh, and that they meet regularly every week” in Thomas’ home.[12] The congregation continued to have mixed views, and Thomas was willing to tolerate these. This caused controversy among his Christadelphian associates. A “brother Gunn” wrote to the editor of The Christadelphian complaining about Thomas. The main complaint seems to have been about his less than pure associates: “I had hoped that some of the brethren in the United States would have cautioned you long ago against Dr J. H. Thomas, who certainly is not sound in doctrine, and is striving to hold a position in which he can do great damage to the truth – passing as a Christadelphian and fraternizing with the vile Restitution.” A letter to the editor of The Christadelphian appearing in the April 1883 issue suggested that he seemed “to hold the truth himself, but is unprepared to exact it in every particular as the basis for fellowship with others.” R. K. Bowles, a fairly prominent One Faith adherent and contributor to The Restitution, commented on this, writing: “I think his remarks are uncharitable and I read them with regret. I do not know that I have seen all that Dr. T. has written, but what I have seen I highly commend, and hope he may prove himself worthy as a good soldier ever to the end.”

    Thomas left Pittsburgh for Rochester, New York, about 1883 and the small congregation dwindled. He circulated a broadside announcing his removal to Rochester. “Read and be Wise,” it said. “Dr. J. H. Thomas & Wife (late of Pittsburg, Pa.) at the Earnest Solicitation of Friends Have Removed to this City ... They Have Established for Themselves a Widespread Reputation in the Treatment of Chronic Diseases of Every Description by Electricity.” Thomas continued to lecture on Christadelpian topics and to promote quack medicines. He was as positive about his unfailing cures as he was about his religion.

    Lucius C. Thomas, John’s brother, left Pittsburgh sometime in 1882, returning in 1888 for his son’s funeral. He does not seem to have been a Christadelphian or even sympathetic to them. He was an American-born Electro-Medical Physician but a resident of Canada in 1870. The 1871 Census lists their church affiliation as “Church of God,” which would mark them as Age-to-Come (One Faith). His repeated contacts with The Restitution verify this. When his son Irving died in September 1888, G. D. Clowes preached the funeral sermon and The Restitution printed his obituary as written by his father:

    He had been an obedient and constant believer of “the gospel of Christ …” for many years. … Elder Cloughs [sic] of Allegheny City … talked to the people about ‘the hope and resurrection of the dead,’ very appropriately and ably; showing that while Atheism, Infidelity, Skepticism, Philosophy and Science can afford not comfort in the time of such bereavements and heart-rending grief, the Scriptures present us with ‘a strong consolation’ – a ‘blessed hope.’”

    We do not know what connection Lucius had with Clowes or Russell. It is interesting, however, that he sought out Clowes instead of any of the Christadelphian adherents.

    The Pittsburgh Age-to-Come congregation shifted to Christadelphianism by 1893. Henry Cornman wrote to The Christadelphian in late 1893 describing a series of lectures held in Pittsburgh. They added two to their number, he explained, but numbers remained small. What interest there was in Christadelphianism was undercut by Watch Tower evangelism. Cornman wrote that, “being myself acquainted with many who have been drawn to the Russell Party, of Zion Watch Tower fame, our giving up the hall at this time would be very much deplored.” He saw the loss in numbers and worried.[16] Similar complaints continued up to Russell’s death. In 1916 The Christadelphian described “Russellism” as “the system … that has beguiled some among us.”

    One must remember that both groups were very small, and though they saw their teachings as of major consequence, they were only marginally influential as religious movements. A continuing Christadelphian complaint was that The Watch Tower drew away “the faithful.” Louis B. Welch, most often called ‘Dr. Welch,’ a dentist in Shire Oaks, Pennsylvania, bemoaned this: “There are many of the faithful who read Russell’s works, and some have allowed their minds to be bewitched by his spiritual sorceries. He is very plausible to those who do not look deeply into the truth.” The difference between Welch and Russell was Christadelphian willingness to find types and symbolisms where Russell saw only the Bible’s plain statements.

    Welch wrote to Russell, trying to convert him to Christadelphian belief. He didn’t like the result:

    I know the man. I have corresponded with him. I know he is immovably fixed in his beliefs. I cannot therefore be “charitable” to his work, a work so deadly to the truth. He is the bitter, relentless enemy of the truth, though professing friendship for it. He must be treated as an enemy of the truth, and his teaching must be antagonised with all the power of truth at one’s command, regardless of how it may hurt his feelings or wound his vanity, or how it may affect those who, in any way, sympathise with his teachings.[18]

    Welch presented Russell’s teaching, which he called Watch-Towerism, as denying “the very foundation of future life and being to us” and as a deadly insult to God and His truth.” Watch-Towerism was worse than Catholicism, worse than Adventism. Welch was disturbed at the significant sympathy for Russell he found among Christadelphian believers, writing:

    And you, a brother, a Christadelphian, ask me to be charitable towards such teaching “because of the great work done” by the chief apostle of “Watch-Towerism!” Ah, brother, brother, do you know what you are asking at my hands and at the hands of others who know the length and breadth and depth of “Watch-Towerism?” God forbid that I or you or others should ever subject His truth to such a kiss of charity

    Sympathetic voices continued to be raised among Christadelphian adherents up to Russell’s death. In 1915 The Christadelphian released two “cheap” pamphlets to counter sympathies for “Russellism, some of the tenants of which have found favour here and there in the brotherhood.” The magazine “commended” them to “those who may be inclined to be smitten with ‘charitableness’ of this plausible ‘heresy.’” Russellism was, the editor said, “a greatly perverted” system.

    Russell was unquestionably familiar with Christadelphian belief. He rejected major portions of it, especially their “narrow” view of salvation. None of his doctrine is traceable to that source. Instead it comes from the One Faith movement with its similar, sometimes overlapping doctrine.

  • slimboyfat

    Thanks for the information. I wonder if there is anything at all to the claim that Russell encountered Christadelphians while visiting Glasgow. The Christadelphian movement was strongest in Scotland in the late nineteenth century. If Russell was to engage Christadelphians anywhere, then that might be the place for him to do it. But what year would it have been?

    I got a bit confused distinguishing two apparently different John Thomases.

    Despite Dr John Thomas (founder of Christadelphians) disapproving Benjamin Wilson, I noticed in conversation with them that Christadelphians continued to make use of the Emphatic Diaglott until recent times.

    I have a copy of Zydek’s biography. He writes well, but there is not a lot of supporting references. Knox’s new book I think is good.

    I noticed that the presentation of early Watch Tower history in this new book on early Bible Students in Vienna makes use of your work, with an interesting graphic which depicts the chronology of Watchtower development as follows:

    1600-1850 - Literalists

    1850-1879 - One Faith/Age to Come/Abrahamic Faith

    1879-1886 - Watchtower Movement

    1886-1931 - Bible Students

    1931- Jehovah’s Witnesses

    I guess you know the author and about this book since you are mentioned in the acknowledgements.änge-Jehovas-Zeugen-Wien/dp/1725925508/

  • vienne

    Yes, I know Barbenec very well. He's one of the best researchers out there, focusing (in limited circulation work) on biographies of prominent Watch Tower adherents.

    There is no evidence that Russell met Christadelphians in Scotland. His contact with them seems to have been in the 1870s. In that era he was not traveling internationally.

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