(Watchtower Bible and Tract Society)
On 1879 by Charles Taze Russell
Headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, the organization is lead by a president and a group of men known as “The Governing Body,” which oversees every aspect of the “Society” including the material that is written for its periodicals and study books.
“Watchtower” and “Awake,” which are semi-monthly magazines and one or two doctrinal study books published annually.
“Theocratic Organization,” another name for the “Society;” and “Kingdom Hall,” which is a designation for the local congregation.
In that the president of the Watchtower Society tends to leave his own particular imprint upon the Society, the movement can be outlined in five specific “eras” to date, as follow: Charles T. Russell (1872-1916), Joseph F. Rutherford (1917-1942), Nathan H. Knorr (1941-1977), Frederick W. Franz (1977-1992), and Milton G. Herschel (1992-present).
Born in 1852, Charles Taze Russell founded the Zion’s Watch Tower in 1879, became its first president, and later incorporated the group under the name Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society in 1884. Although Russell had a church upbringing, he became dissatisfied with several of its teachings. After a time of agnosticism, he began exploring other religions — two of which had a significant impact on his belief system, Seventh Day Adventism and Christadelphianism. Although Russell was heavily influenced by Adventism, he also modified it.
Adventist doctrines in harmony with Jehovah’s Witnesses include: (1) the rejection of a biblical hell; (2) the rejection of an immortal soul; (3) in part, the Adventists have a works emphasis in salvation; (4) they each believe themselves to be the only true remnant church. Russell’s rejection of most Christian doctrines and his personal beliefs are cataloged in his six volume series titled, Studies in the Scriptures.
Beginning with only a few followers in the 1880’s, Russell began to spread his message to the world. In 1893 the Society’s first national assembly was held in Chicago and attended by about 360 participants. At the time, and with the cooperation of the Calvary Baptist Church of Chicago, approximately seventy attendees symbolized their baptism into Christ’s death by immersion in water. It was from this first national assembly that the idea for local assemblies grew into today’s practice.
As a result of Russell’s death in 1916, he was eventually replaced by the Society’s next president, Joseph F. Rutherford. In 1921 Rutherford began replacing Russell’s writings with his “Harp of God.” Between 1921 and 1941, Rutherford wrote approximately 20 books and numerous pamphlets, which slowly revised the doctrine and structure left by Russell.
One of Rutherford’s books, the seventh volume of the Studies in the Scriptures, gave birth to critics within the Society and eventually caused some of its followers to leave it and start their own organization, e.g., Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement and later the Dawn Bible Students Association. Because of the confusion that was caused by these splinter groups, the name of the Society was officially changed in 1931 to the “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.” Under Rutherford’s leadership and partly because he insisted that the world was about to end and Armageddon was “at hand,” the Society began to experience phenomenal growth. In 1928 the Society recorded 44,000 members and by Rutherford’s death in 1942, the membership had grown to over 115,000.
The next president, Nathan H. Knorr, streamlined the Society and began a worldwide outreach strategy that has survived to this day. In 1943, he began the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead — the forerunner of the Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching methods of today. Also under Knorr’s leadership between 1950 and 1960 the six volume set of the New World Translation of the Bible was published. This “translation” supported many of Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrines while ignoring accepted rules of language translation. At Knorr’s death in 1977, the Society had grown to approximately 2.2 million members. The next president of the Society was Frederick W. Franz, and under his direction the Society grew to over four million members. With Franz’s death in 1992, Milton G. Henschel became the fifth and present president of the Society.
This biblical doctrine is totally rejected by Jehovah’s Witnesses for the following five reasons.
While the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there is only one true God, they deny the biblical concept of the Trinity, which teaches that although there is only one God (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 6, 18, 22; 1 Corinthians 8:4); the Father is God (2 Peter 1:17; Philippians 2:11), the Son is God (John 1:1; 8:58; Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6-9; Hebrews 1:8), and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3, 4). Furthermore, just because certain things are beyond human comprehension, e.g., “particle physics,” this does not make them irrational.
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses completely deny the deity of Christ, their explanation of Him is somewhat convoluted. Their “Jesus” existed in three different stages or phases, even, in a sense, as three different persons: (1) the Archangel Michael (also “the Word”); (2) the man Jesus of Nazareth; (3) a new superior, recreated Michael. The Society’s three phases of Jesus follow:
(If it was not the material part of Jesus that was raised, perhaps it was his immaterial nature — his soul and/or his spirit. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the soul and the body are the same thing. So, if his body did not rise, his soul did not rise from the dead. Furthermore, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the spirit is nothing more than breath. In dying Jesus gave up this spirit or breathed his last breath, and thus his spirit could not be raised from the dead. If it was not the body of Jesus nor his soul nor his spirit that was raised from the dead, what then was resurrected according to Jehovah’s Witnesses? In actuality it was nothing. It was not Jesus who rose from the dead [Cults and New Religions, by John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Harvest House Publishers, 1999])
This is why Jehovah had to recreate Michael as a new immortal spirit, for nothing was left of Jesus of Nazareth; and in this process, Jehovah did not look to the material human stage of Jesus’ existence, but to his previous existence as an “angel.”
Contrary to Watchtower theology, the Bible presents Jesus not a created being or an angel, but rather as the Creator (John 1:2, 3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 22:8, 9).
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct person of the Godhead but is Jehovah’s “impersonal active force” — a force or energy that accomplishes God’s will. It is not Jehovah’s “power.” “Power” is essentially the ability or capacity to act and can be latent, dormant, inactively resident in someone or something. “Force,” on the other hand, describes energy projected and exerted on persons or things. Part of the reasoning utilized by the Society to prove that the Holy Spirit is impersonal is that the Spirit has no personal name.
The Holy Spirit is not only God but also clearly has personality according to the Bible (John 16:13, 14; Acts 8:29, 13:2).
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe a person has one of three possible destinies. The “anointed” (144,000) will be in heaven to reign with Jehovah. It is only the “anointed 144,000 that will be resurrected and changed into spirit creatures, which constitute being “born again.” Jehovah provides to the “anointed” at least five benefits that He does not give to the other two classes of people:
The “earthly” class includes the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses. These must earn salvation while on earth, but are not subject to the five benefits reserved for the “anointed” class. They have no desire or need for the spiritual rebirth (being “born-again”) in this life, since the new birth has relevance only for the 144,000. If they remain faithful and earn their salvation, they will be given positions of leadership in the millennial age. However, they are also warned that if they do not pass additional millennial tests, they will forfeit their eternal life and be annihilated.
The rest of mankind are resurrected to life on earth in the exact moral condition in which they died (good or evil), and they must then seek to attain their own perfection during the millennium. If they attain perfection and also pass the final millennial test by avoiding the judgment of Jehovah in Revelation 20:7-9, they will obtain eternal life on earth, which, being earthly, is distinguished from the immortality of the spiritually recreated 144,000.
Jehovah’s Witnesses stress works-salvation, something the Bible, as far as spirit-salvation is concerned, condemns in the clearest terms (Galatians 2-3; Ephesians 2:8, 9). The Bible does teach works-salvation relevant to soul-salvation, and it is their misunderstanding of many “soul-salvation” scriptural passages that add to the Society’s misconception of true Bible doctrine. But then their disbelief in true Bible doctrine is understandable, since lost man is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) and is unable to accept the things that come from the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).
As for the atoning death of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses may at first appear to believe in it. But in reality they view it as less than a completed atonement of infinite value. They claim that Christ’s death alone did not atone for everyone’s sins; in the end, good works and good character do this. As in Mormonism, Watchtower writings speak highly of “the atonement.” But as to its importance, the Society relegates it to a secondary status behind human good works.
It is not faith in Christ that applies the merits of Christ, but the good works and perseverance of the individual and his faith in the Watchtower Society. The Witnesses’ doctrine of the ransom largely ignores the biblical teaching on the subject, by claiming to accept the “ransom sacrifice” that was provided in the death of Christ not as a finished work, but only as a foundation from which man works to provide his own salvation.
The true Bible position of salvation is multi-faceted, involving the spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). “Spirit-salvation” is a grace-gift of God, totally paid for by the sacrifice of Christ, may only be obtained by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; Acts 16:30, 31; Ephesians 2:8, 9), and can never be reversed or nullified. “Soul-salvation” is obtained by faithfulness during this lifetime, to be determined at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and will be realized during the Messianic Age (Hebrews 2:3; 10:39; James 2:14-20; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12). “Body salvation” will be obtained at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35-54).
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that man is a creation of Jehovah, they deny that man is created in His image with an immortal soul. In Watchtower theology the body is the soul. Man consists of a mortal body (the soul) and the mortal life energy that activates it (the spirit or breath, or “life force”).
Satan is the author of the Christian concept of an immortal soul. If man has no immortal spirit, he cannot be subject to eternal punishment — when the body dies, the person is extinguished (this is why the Jehovah’s Witnesses actually believe in recreation, not resurrection). As a result, the Society denies the biblical teaching of death as separation from God; they prefer a materialistic interpretation of total annihilation or extinction. The doctrine of hell is believed to be from Satan. Annihilation is God’s only judgment or “punishment” on sin. And heaven is only for the elect (144,000).
Since its inception, the Society has made false prophecies about the end of the world. Predicting the end in one form or another for the years 1914, 1918, 1925, 1075, and 1089 has caused its membership to maintain a steady upward trend.
It should also be mentioned that Jehovah’s Witnesses have from their beginning rejected the medical practices of vaccinations, organ transplants, and blood transfusions; that is, until recently. Now vaccinations and organ transplants have been acknowledge by the Watchtower as acceptable practices, contradicting their previous doctrinal position. Also, the Watchtower has maintained a long standing policy of denying its members any involvement in political causes or service in the Armed Forces. And, furthermore, they reject the practices of celebrating personal birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Mothers’ and Fathers’ day as well as most other holidays.