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Summary in 400 words or less:
History of the Watchtower Organization
The belief system of the organization called the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, otherwise known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, can trace their origins to the Adventist movements of the 1800s. William Miller, who was formerly a Baptist preacher, came to believe that by applying certain biblical calculations, he could predict when the “end” was going to occur and that Jesus would make his 2nd coming to the earth. He came up first with the year 1843. When nothing happened, he changed it to 1844. This event would be labeled in history as the “Great Disappointment of 1843 and 1844.”
Miller’s followers, known as “Millerites,” soon went their separate ways, splintering off into different groups, the two largest and most well-known today are the 7th Day Adventist Church and the Christian Advent Church. Nelson Barbour, a former Millerite, was writing for the 2nd Adventist movement when Charles Taze Russell found the publication Herald of the Morning. Russell invited Barbour to speak in Philadelphia and soon Russell joined this group in 1875. In 1879, Russell resigned from the Adventists and began publishing the magazine, Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. Russell “borrowed” from Adventist teachings and William Miller to form his own doctrines. Charles Russell went onto make many false prophecies, including that Armageddon would arrive in 1914. Russell even wrote that if a person read his “Studies in the Scriptures” books, he would understand the Bible, but if they were to put those books down and read the Bible alone, within two years he would go into darkness. (WT 9/15/1910, p. 298) This belief system is still with the Watchtower organization even 100 years later. Russell’s “Bible Students” believed that he was the “faithful and wise servant” of Matthew 24:45. Today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses apply this teaching to their governing body.
Today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses (named in 1931 by their then-President, Joseph Rutherford) reject the doctrine of the Trinity, deity of Christ, believe that Michael the Archangel is Jesus, reject eternal punishment (they are conditionalists), reject that Jesus died on a cross, but instead an upright cross. Salvation can be attained by joining the Watchtower organization, but only if you have done enough good works to merit it. The problem is that you never know how much is enough with this works-based system. In their quest to make sure that their followers read Watchtower materials rather than the Bible alone, in 1981 they wrote: “From time to time, there have arisen from among the ranks of Jehovah’s people those who, like the original Satan, have adopted an independent, fault-finding attitude . . . They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home, but strangely, through such ‘Bible reading,’ they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom’s clergy were teaching 100 years ago (WT 8/15/1981). Thankfully, reading the Bible alone has led many former Jehovah’s Witnesses to the truth about who Jesus Christ is and salvation in his name.
Scripture for YouVersion:
Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses
What Verses Can Help JWs?
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
References for further reading:
Winning the Witnesses by Daniel Rodriguez
Approaching Jehovah’s Witnesses with Love by Wilbur Lingle
Collaborators: Cynthia Velasco Hampton, Marcia Montenegro
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