Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Did Russell Want Followers?

Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) expressed a number of times if he wanted to start a following around himself. Significantly, he is reported to have said: “Take your eyes off me, dear friends, and fix them on the Lord.”[1] There is documented corroboration for this statement. For instance, he wrote in 1896 under the subheading “Worshipping Fellow Messengers”:
while we appreciate the love, sympathy, confidence and fellowship of fellow-servants and of the entire household of faith, we want no homage, no reverence, for ourselves or our writings; nor do we wish to be called Reverend or Rabbi. Nor do we wish that any should be called by our name. … Nor would we have our writings reverenced or regarded as infallible, or on a par with the holy Scriptures.[2]
Some fourteen years later in a 1910 convention discourse, he declared:
Another thing: Some of the dear brethren seem to find as much about Brother Russell in the Bible as they find about the Lord Jesus, and I think that is a great mistake. I do not find it there. Some of them say that I am blinded on that subject, that they all can see better than I can. Perhaps they can, I do not know, but I think, dear friends, that there is a danger in that direction, and I would like to put you all on guard. … And yet I think there is a danger of some dear friends preaching Brother Russell. Brother Russell would like for you not to do so. He thinks it would not be to the glory of God. … But let us not go into anything that would be at all like man-worship, for I am sure that would be displeasing to the Lord and injurious to ourselves. … but [Brother Russell] does not want any worship, he does not want any undue adoration, he does not want any praise. He is glad to have the love of all those who are brethren of the Lord and to be considered a fellow-servant with all.[3]
Thus Russell made it very clear—just six years before his death—that he saw great spiritual danger in having a following, was in obvious opposition to it, and wanted no part of it. He warned against it. Thus, viewing him as a spiritual ancestor is to reduce religion and spirituality to superficial lines on a chalkboard—where the line connecting followers to him is as relevant and thick as the layer of chalk is.

[1] James Parkinson, Troubled Waters, Bible Student Fragments 1917-1967, page 6 n. 11. This states specifically that:
Edith Hoskins testified in 1929 that Pastor C.T. Russell “used to say, ‘Take your eyes off me, dear friends, and fix them on the Lord.’”
This testimony was given at “The Pittsburgh Reunion Convention” which “was held at the old Bible House 1929 November 1-3, with at least 150 attending.” (page 6)

[2] December 15th, 1896 Zion’s Watch Tower, “Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness.” NO. 2., R2080; 306. https://htdb.space/1896/r2079.htm

[3] “Church Federation—Part IV,” Convention Report Sermons, 124. https://htdb.space/MISC/CR.htm#CR124

Does the Governing Body Want Followers?

An immediate response to the above may be: Do the men taking the lead among Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Governing Body, want followers of themselves?

Two quotes from them immediately come to mind:
In order to avoid misunderstandings, Jehovah’s Witnesses try to be careful about how they express themselves. Instead of saying, “the Society [or Governing Body] teaches,” many Witnesses prefer to use such expressions as, “the Bible says” or, “I understand the Bible to teach.” In this way they emphasize the personal decision that each Witness has made in accepting Bible teachings and also avoid giving the false impression that Witnesses are somehow bound to the dictates of some religious sect.[A1]
Are you ready to defend your beliefs? For example, if someone wants to know why you do not take part in some unscriptural custom or practice, do not be satisfied with saying, “It’s against my religion [or the Governing Body].” Such an answer may suggest that you let others [the Governing Body] make your decisions for you and that you must therefore be a member of a cult. It might be better to say, “God’s Word, the Bible, forbids it” or, “It would displease my God.” Then give a reasonable explanation as to why.—Romans 12:1.[A2]
So on one hand, we follow the basic, principle teachings disseminated by them in order to function as Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the other hand, we are not bound to the Governing Body as their followers, but make Bible teachings our own (we do not robotically say “my leaders told me so”).

More recently, the Governing Body said: “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction.”[A3]

So at this point these statements make it blindingly obvious that they do not want followers of themselves, but are directing our primary teachings and the ministry.

Therefore this claim that they want followers betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of their intent, and collapses under its own weight.

[A1] The Watchtower 1998 3/15 “Living Up to Christian Dedication in Freedom” page 19

[A2] The Watchtower 2002 8/15 “Follow Me Continually” page 18

[A3] The Watchtower 2017.02 4:12, page 26. wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2017283#h=23 Or, as the Simplified Edition put it: “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor perfect. It can make mistakes when explaining the Bible or directing the organization.”—page 24.