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Thursday, December 3, 2009

How do Jehovah's Witnesses view Charles T. Russell? Was he an Adventist or Millerite?

As Jehovah’s Witnesses today review the work that he did, the things he taught, his reason for teaching them, and the outcome, they have no doubt that Charles Taze Russell was, indeed, used by God in a special way and at a significant time.

This view is not based solely on the firm stand that Brother Russell took with regard to the ransom. It also takes into account the fact that he fearlessly rejected creeds that contained some of the foundation beliefs of Christendom, because these clashed with the inspired Scriptures. These beliefs included the doctrine of the Trinity (which had its roots in ancient Babylon and was not adopted by so-called Christians until long after Bible writing was completed) as well as the teaching that human souls are inherently immortal (which had been adopted by men who were overawed by the philosophy of Plato and which left them open to such ideas as the eternal torment of souls in hellfire). Many of Christendom’s scholars, too, know that these doctrines are not taught in the Bible, but that is not generally what their preachers say from the pulpits. In contrast, Brother Russell undertook an intensive campaign to share what the Bible actually does say with everyone who was willing to hear.

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. As early as 1876, he recognized that the year 1914 would mark the end of the Gentile Times. (Luke 21:24, KJ) Other Bible scholars had likewise perceived some of these things and had advocated them. But Brother Russell used all his resources to give them international publicity on a scale then unequaled by any other individual or group.

He urged others to check his writings carefully against God’s inspired Word so that they would be satisfied that what they were learning was in full harmony with it. To one who wrote a letter of inquiry, Brother Russell replied: “If it was proper for the early Christians to prove what they received from the apostles, who were and who claimed to be inspired, how much more important it is that you fully satisfy yourself that these teachings keep closely within their outline instructions and those of our Lord;—since their author claims no inspiration, but merely the guidance of the Lord, as one used of him in feeding his flock.”

Brother Russell claimed no supernatural power, no divine revelations. He did not claim credit for what he taught. He was an outstanding student of the Bible. But he explained that his remarkable understanding of the Scriptures was due to ‘the simple fact that God’s due time had come.’ He said: “If I did not speak, and no other agent could be found, the very stones would cry out.” He referred to himself as being simply like an index finger, pointing to what is stated in God’s Word.

Charles Taze Russell wanted no glory from humans. To readjust the thinking of any who were inclined to give excessive honor to him, Brother Russell wrote, in 1896: “As we have been to some extent, by the grace of God, used in the ministry of the gospel, it may not be out of place to say here what we have frequently said in private, and previously in these columns,—namely, that 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.”

As his death neared, he did not take the view that there was nothing more to be learned, that there was no more work to be done. He had often spoken of preparing a seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures. When asked about it before he died, he said to Menta Sturgeon, his traveling companion: “Some one else can write that.” In his will he expressed the desire that The Watch Tower continue to be published under the direction of a committee of men fully devoted to the Lord. He stated that those who would thus serve were to be men “thoroughly loyal to the doctrines of the Scriptures—especially so to the doctrine of the Ransom—that there is no acceptance with God and no salvation to eternal life except through faith in Christ and obedience to His Word and its spirit.”

Brother Russell realized that there was much work yet to be done in preaching the good news. At a question-and-answer session in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, in 1915, he was asked when Christ’s spirit-anointed followers then living could expect to receive their heavenly reward. He replied: “I do not know, but there is a great work to be done. And it will take thousands of brethren and millions in money to do it. Where these will come from I don’t know—the Lord knows his own business.” Then, in 1916, a short while before he began the speaking tour on which he died, he called A. H. Macmillan, an administrative assistant, to his office. On that occasion he said: “I am not able to carry on the work any longer, and yet there is a great work to be done.” For three hours he described to Brother Macmillan the extensive preaching work that he saw ahead, on the basis of the Scriptures. To Brother Macmillan’s objections, he replied: “This is not man’s work.”

- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, 1993 WTB&TS

Was Charles Taze Russell a Seventh-day Adventist or Millerite?

Pastor Charles Taze Russell (1852 - 1916) was never a Seventh Day Adventist nor was he friends with Ellen G. White (1827 - 1915). Also he was never a Millerite nor was he friends with William Miller (1782 - 1849). William Miller died in 1849 and Charles Russell was born in 1852 so they could not have been friends. The original Millerite movement began in 1831 and ended with the Great Disappointment in 1844 long before Russell's birth. Some of Charles Taze Russell's early friends had ties with the Millerites and later Advent Christians not the Seventh Day Adventist Church. If you do not know the difference in these groups you might want to read - History of the Second Advent Message and Mission, Doctrine and People. - By Isaac C. Wellcome (1874). Reprint Edition (2008) Second Advent History - Introduction by Gary Land.

Thirty years after the Millerite “Great Disappointment” of October 22, 1844, Isaac C. Wellcome published the first general history of the movement that had promoted the belief that the Second Advent of Jesus would take place on that date. By 1874 the Adventists had developed into several separate groups, among them the Evangelical Adventists, the Advent Christians the Church of God, and the Seventh-day Adventists. Each group claimed to be the legitimate heir of William Miller and his teachings. Wellcome belonged to the Advent Christian branch and wrote his work not only to maintain memory of the Millerite movement, but also to demonstrate that the Advent Christians continued the original Millerite faith while, among competing groups, the Seventh-day Adventists had their origins in fanaticism and existed outside the recognized boundaries of Adventism. Part history and part apologetics, Wellcome’s History of the Second Advent Message nonetheless has become recognized as an important source of information about early Adventism that also gives insight into the movement’s self-understanding as it sought to define and preserve itself in the wake of bitter disappointment.

The Advent Christians (Second Adventists), were spiritual descendants of William Miller, who had predicted Christ's Second Coming in 1843/1844. This branch of Adventism should not be confused with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Joseph Bates along with James and Ellen White formed the Seventh Day Adventist Church on May 21, 1863. Pastor Russell's early friends, Jonas Wendell, George Storrs, George Stetson, Nelson Barbour, and John Paton all had some former contact with the Advent Christians (Second Adventists), not the Seventh Day Adventist. In the 1870s Charles Taze Russell was friends with these former Millerites, he may have attended some of the Advent Christian meetings (with Jonas Wendell & George W. Stetson) and subscribed to some of their publications (The World's Crisis & Advent Christian Times), however he was never a member of any Adventist church or body. Prior to his forming a Bible Study group with Joseph L. Russell, Margaret M. Russell, William H. Conley and Sarah Conley in the early 1870s, Charles Taze Russell was a member of the Congregational Church in Allegheny, Pa.

In his own words:

Let me begin the narrative at the year 1868, when the Editor, having been a consecrated child of God for some years, and a member of the Congregational Church and of the Y.M.C.A., began to be shaken in faith regarding many long-accepted doctrines. Brought up a Presbyterian, and indoctrinated from the Catechism, and being naturally of an inquiring mind, I fell a ready prey to the logic of infidelity as soon as I began to think for myself. But that which at first threatened to be the utter shipwreck of faith in God and the Bible, was, under God's providence, overruled for good, and merely wrecked my confidence in human creeds and systems of misinterpretation of the Bible.

Gradually I was led to see that though each of the creeds contained some elements of truth, they were, on the whole, misleading and contradictory of God's Word. Among other theories, I stumbled upon Adventism. Seemingly by accident, one evening I dropped into a dusty, dingy hall, where I had heard religious services were held, to see if the handful who met there had anything more sensible to offer than the creeds of the great churches. There, for the first time, I heard something of the views of Second Adventists, the preacher being Mr. Jonas Wendell, long since deceased. Thus, I confess indebtedness to Adventists as well as to other denominations. Though his Scripture exposition was not entirely clear, and though it was very far from what we now rejoice in, it was sufficient, under God, to re-establish my wavering faith in the divine inspiration of the Bible, and to show that the records of the apostles and prophets are indissolubly linked. What I heard sent me to my Bible to study with more zeal and care than ever before, and I shall ever thank the Lord for that leading; for though Adventism helped me to no single truth, it did help me greatly in the unlearning of errors, and thus prepared me for the Truth." - Charles Taze Russell - July 15, 1906

RUSSELL, PASTOR--Re Membership in Nominal Churches. Q607:1 QUESTION (1911)--l--Did you ever belong to the Adventist church? Some say you did, and some say you left for a reason. If so, please say what.

ANSWER.--I never belonged to any church except the Lord's and the Congregationalists. I was a Congregationalist, and in my endeavor to be faithful I was trying to convert an infidel, and I did not convert him, but while trying to do so, I got enough new thoughts into my head to give me a lot of trouble; and finally, I became an infidel, and was about a year in that condition. I still worshiped God, but not recognizing the Bible, and not knowing if Christ were my redeemer. I still, nevertheless, continually went to God in prayer and asked for guidance and finally, in God's providence I came to see clearer light on the divine Word. I never was an Adventist--excepting that I believe in the advent of our Lord- -very glad to believe our Lord is to come again to receive the church to himself. But I never believed that about the world being burned up, nor any other things of that kind that constitute special features of the Adventist belief.