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Jehovah’s Witness Founder, Charles Taze Russell
Charles Taze Russell. President of the Watchtower, 1884-1916
Charles Taze Russell was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1852. His parents were devout Presbyterians. Dad owned several men’s furnishing stores in Pittsburgh, where the family moved early in Charles’ life. He joined his father in this business and was on his way to financial success even as a teenager.
Equally disciplined in his religious life, he left the Presbyterians for the Congregationalists at the age of 13. Three years later, still searching for the ultimate biblical truth, he began to question the credibility of the Scriptures after a not-so-successful debate with a friend. For a time, Russell wandered away from his Christian roots, even delving into Eastern religions.
Then, at the age of 18, he encountered the Adventists. It is worth pausing here to re-examine what this particular group observed in Charles’s day.
Adventism emerged from the Second Great Awakening in the early 1890s. William Miller was one of the leaders of this new movement that is still with us today, especially in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 22 million people today consider themselves “Adventists”.
It was here, and not just in his own head or Bible searches, that Mr. Russell discovered some of his errors. Although Adventists have much they agree with, there was and is much on the other side of the ledger. They have debated such topics as the state of the soul after death, destruction versus eternal torment, the resurrection of the wicked, observance of the Sabbath.
But, of course, the main feature of this movement was related to Advent, or the coming of Christ to Earth. Date setting was common and of course always wrong. Even when it was wrong, and apparently, the leaders of the movement could convince the sheep that something significant had happened that day. Perhaps Jesus came spiritually, invisibly, although He did not appear in the flesh.
That was October 22, 1844, the “certain” date of Jesus’ return. On October 23 of the same year, there was great disappointment.
After this time, the Millerites split and changed their basic name to “Adventists.” But there were Seventh-day Adventists (that’s what Mrs. White and company were called), First-day Adventists, Spiritualists.
In the midst of all these events, Charles Taze Russell had to make some decisions as he was exposed to several of their teachings. He decided against eternal hell. And he became convinced that the historic creeds of the Christian church were a betrayal of true Christianity. In 1870, at the age of 18, he accepted the basic package of Adventist prophetic beliefs of the time: namely, that the end times had begun in 1799; Christ returned imperceptibly in 1874. Christ was crowned King of Heaven in 1878. And 1914 will usher in Armageddon after a serious harvest period.
The doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses becomes a little more understandable when you know where Mr. Russell was coming from. When he grasped these new teachings, he made a serious commitment to writing about them and funding their dissemination. Everyone needs to know about Jesus’ return!
In 1870, Charles’ father and he formed a group for the study of the Holy Scriptures. Many Millerites were present and continued to influence him strongly. In 1876 he formed a partnership with the famous Adventist of the day, as mentioned above, Nelson Barbour, editor of the Adventist publication Morning Herald.
One item in this journal intrigued Russell endlessly. It claimed that all Christians who had died so far would be resurrected in April 1878. Then, too, the invisible spiritual reign of Christ will begin.
It seems to me that you could make everyone believe that something unseen is going on! Jesus warned us about such prophets, but Adventists did not listen to such gloomy Scriptures. Neither was Charles. He, as we say today, “went away.”
The stores he had acquired so far with his father’s business in the men’s furnishing department were sold and brought in the modern equivalent of millions of dollars.
He was then elected to pastor his study group.
But unfortunately. The year 1878 came and went without church excitement. Wise men abandoned this wing of Christianity. The false prophets continued unabashedly, leaving many who had dressed in their finest white that morning wondering how such a group could survive. But it happened. And does.
Russell and Barbour argued over the consequences of what had happened. It is what it was has not happened. Then they broke up. Russell withdrew all support from him.
But in 1879, almost missing out, Charles Taze Russell started his periodicalWatchtower of Zion and herald of Christ’s presence. (Today simply Watchtower. Exciting. Not to mention the physical coming of Christ, mind you. Only His coming into the “Presence” you will discover later is the ultimate code word for “witness.”
In fact, the concept of the coming “Presence” was already over 1,800 years old. Jesus had indeed already entered His Presence through the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost! Again, the obvious Scriptures were ignored. This line of Adventism was too exciting to pass up. Must be pressed with “movement”.
Also in 1879, he married Mary Frances Ackley, a move he later called a “mistake”. Like her.
And so it begins
In 1881, he co-founded the Watch Tower Tract Society with William Conley.
Many “treatises” followed. His first serious publication was called Food for thinking Christians, and was read by 1.5 million people in just four months. Other works followed with similar results. He became a prolific writer.
As mentioned above, in 1884 the society was registered. It was only clear that he would become its president. And in 1886 he changed the name to Watchtower Bible and the Tract Society. The members were simply called “Bible Students”.
Soon the group of five Bible study students numbered several hundred. Not only did he have to be president every year, but the group elected him “Pastor.”
Between 1886 and 1904, he produced a 6-volume Bible study series originally titled The dawn of the millenniumlater duplicated Scripture Studies. During his lifetime, 20 million copies of this work were distributed! And why not? He publicly expressed the opinion that a man could find more light in his six volumes than in sixty-six from the Bible.
The seventh volume was published after his death. But it was edited by Rutherford, his successor, and slightly altered. This created some problems that we have to deal with later.
The incredible increase in circulation opened many doors to preach and spread the various doctrines he found in the Holy Scriptures, of course with the help of his past friends. Shortly thereafter, CT Russell became famous around the world.
1897. In this year his wife left him. The story was promoted that she wanted more power and he wouldn’t give it to her. Maybe. But there was more. Forced celibacy did not help on his part. Mental cruelty, also from him, it was claimed. The cases came to court in 1903. She sued and got a divorce. Finally, in 1909, she also obtained alimony.
In 1903, newspapers decided to cash in on his popularity. They published the sermons he wrote in 4,000 newspapers. 15 million readers in the US and Canada could now drink what Russell poured. He became a phenomenon.
1908 Russell moved headquarters to Brooklyn, New York. The building they used became known as the Brooklyn Tabernacle! There is no connection with the church and choir of that name in our time.
By 1909 it was clear to everyone that he owned the entire company he had started. He was not accountable to anyone. This eventually allowed immoral business practices to creep in and more.
A Presbyterian magazine of the time stated that by 1912, Charles Taze Russell’s writings had more circulation than all the writings of all the priests and preachers in North America at that time!
By 1916, after his death, perhaps only the Bible and the Chinese Almanac were more widely available!
But 11 years later, in 1927, believe it or not, the Watchtower Society stopped publishing all of his writings! How quickly they forgot, thanks to the strong ways of his successor.
What Russell believed
What were his views, teachings that formed the basis of Jehovah’s Witness theology today? Today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses deny much of their origins and largely distance themselves from this man. But history cannot be denied.
There were some doctrines on which he and the churches of his day agreed. For example, justification by faith alone. Teaching about the imminent 2nd coming. Armageddon.
But in general his ideas were contrary to the Christian faith. Here is a partial list of his mistakes:
He denied eternal torment in hell.
The soul simply ceases to exist after death.
There is no Trinity.
Jesus is not God.
The Holy Spirit is not a person.
Jesus was a created being.
Jesus is Michael the Archangel in human form.
Jesus died, but He resurrected only “spiritually”.
There is to be a heavenly resurrection of 144,000 people.
The rest of humanity sleeps in death, without suffering. Resurrection of the Earth.
Jesus receives deity after death on the cross.
Christ returned invisibly in 1874. Ruled from heaven ever since.
World War I is the beginning of Armageddon.
And then there’s the pyramid thing…
The views of the pyramidologists, those who study the pyramids in search of hidden messages about today, were accepted by the Christians of the time and by Russell. Namely, the Pyramid of Giza was built to understand this in our day. It is the Bible in stone. The dates are from this pyramid study.
Then, from Barbora and the Adventists, Russell took these lessons further:
God’s favor has returned to the Jews.
Jews do not need to convert.
The Jews will be called back to their land to soon become the center of earthly rule.
1914, the Gentile nations will have no more earthly power. Emphasis on returning to the land!
The Great Apostasy begins in the first century.
Russell, unlike other religious leaders, pretended to have no visions, etc. He simply interpreted the Bible using “reason” and the prevailing teaching winds of his time. He believed he was in the process of restoring the faith of the New Testament, an idea we have heard from other denominations and independent groups.
There was more, but you get the idea.
Charges against Charles Taze Russell
I don’t want to start a gossip page here. But I’ve looked into reputable sources and found a lot that this man is missing. You will find the same.
The record is very real about Russell not being a morally sound person. We understand that the “accuser of the brethren” will try to hurt men of God, but usually the accusations fall away when the light is put on them. By contrast, such complaints seem to have stuck. I won’t go into detail about them, but I assure my reader that the documentation is available and encourage them to confirm it.
Russell became a dictatorial leader.
He was a shrewd (in a negative sense) businessman.
Frankly, he was known to cheat and deceive in business dealings. For example, he made a profit by selling what he called “miracle wheat”. It is said to be 5 times better than other wheat. It turned out to be a total fraud.
His wife accused him of mental cruelty.
He forced his wife into celibacy while they were married.
There was improper intimacy with a woman who was not his wife.
He claimed to know the languages, Hebrew and Greek, to pass himself off as a scholar, but he did not know these languages!
He was a pseudo-scholar who never finished elementary school.
He lied in court about the divorce.
He had no ministerial training but claimed to be a pastor. No ordination.
Some say his cult was nothing more than a money-making scheme.
He published accounts of sermons in many nations he never visited.
This base layer of Jehovah’s Witnesses was a fake man.
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