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© 2011 Jaco van Zyl

To read part 1 of this article, you may click here.

Since I was a Jehovah’s Witness for 13 years and served in various leadership capacities, I couldn’t honestly deny the striking, yet devastating similarities between what is written here and what I came to learn from the Watchtower organisation.  What took the Catholic Church centuries and generations to achieve, the Watchtower achieved in a matter of decades.  Here is why:

In the earlier days Russell recognised that the Ekklesia or Congregation functioned in an organised fashion.  He was certainly not unaware of the previous anti-Christian development into what we today see as mainstream, traditional Christianity.  In his book, In Search of Christian Freedom, former Governing Body member, Raymond Franz says, “[Russell] nowhere indicates that Christians should be under the direction and control of an earthly centralized administration or authority, one with claims on their submission. The bonds uniting its members were not organizational ties.  Their unity was not based on a form of organisational loyalty and submission.  The law governing them did not include organizational rulings.  It was an organization that kept no earthly lists of names.  The absence of the concept or an earthly authority structure is apparent throughout.  Wt 1881.”

No organisation needed.  Growth in numbers was not the aim.  No different name was required.  No impressive buildings or organisational efficiency.  Unity in truth and in spirit was the only goal…Today the picture looks much different.  The Watchtower argues that it is necessary to be looking to a visible, earthly organisation, namely the Watchtower Organization in order to be able to serve God and to be eligible for everlasting life.  While the First Century Church was an organism, the Watchtower (as are nearly all other churches) is a corporate organisation complete with its hierarchy and peculiar dogma.

Calling the Jehovah’s Witness religion “Russellites” is indeed a grave mistake.  JWs have to a large extent rejected or reframed the teachings and legacy of Russell.  Reading his material is discouraged today and none of his works are printed by his publishing house any longer.  Sadly, even Russell succumbed to immodesty later in his life.  He very tactfully encouraged his readers to follow the teachings of the “faithful and discreet slave” or “God’s channel,” referring to himself of course.  In 1910 Russell went as far as saying that anyone who reads only the Bible and not his Scripture Studies would ‘go into darkness within two years.’  To him, remaining in the light and on the side of the truth required more than the Bible; it required Russell and his writings…But the greatest deviation from his legacy came through the oracles of a rather sinister caricature, the second official president of the Watchtower Organisation, “Judge” Joseph F. Rutherford.

After the death of Russell in 1916 Rutherford brought about major changes in the Organisation.  He was a strident and dogmatic defender of the Watchtower and its traditional teachings.  He had very little regard and tolerance toward those who disagreed with him or the Watchtower.  Watchtower times and time periods were called “indisputable,” “of proven certainty,” “of divine origin and divinely corroborated” and “correct beyond the possibility of doubt.”  Anyone who dared to disagree met with disdain and intimidation.  Under Russell, no human elite/elect exercised authority over the affairs of individual Christians and their ekklesias.  Through persuasion and exhortation matters were settled or corrected.  Under Rutherford this was not enough.  Oppressive and threatening tactics was his governing style.  Unity and unquestioned obedience to his directives (via the Watchtower) was his sole aim.

In 1919 all congregational authority was surrendered to the Society.  Congregations were asked to register as a service organization with the Society and the Society then appointed a congregational “director.”  As the book Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose relates:  “This meant that for the first time authority was being taken away from the democratically controlled congregations under their ‘elective elders,’ and direction was to reside now, specifically, under the Society’s international supervision.  True, it was limited, but the visible theocratic organization got started with this arrangement” (page 95).

The very thing Russell had denounced as fleshly thinking, i.e., the development of a visible, aggressive, tight-knit, centralized organization, Rutherford whole-heartedly pursued.  Not holy spirit, not the Biblical message, but Organisation under the Governing Body was seen as the only way to give a thorough witness to the masses.  As we have seen, early Christians (and the early supporters of the Watchtower magazine) did not base their salvation on organizational membership, but on faith.  According to Rutherford, the only way to be under God’s direction was to be submissive to the instructions and directives from Brooklyn.  In fact a Christian could confess and practise everything Holy Scripture regards as necessary for salvation, including worshiping the Only True God and displaying steadfast faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and his Kingdom; and yet, all this would not be enough for salvation.  In fact, you would still be regarded as belonging to those “on the outside.”  Unless you belonged to the Watchtower Organization, you would not gain salvation!

The Watchtower organization came to be equated, even identified with Jehovah himself.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jehovah requires you to report your preaching activities every month.  Jehovah forbids you from enrolling at a secular institution for advanced learning.  Back in Rutherford’s day, Jehovah determined 1799 to be the start of the last days, 1874 the invisible return of Christ, 1914 the date of Armageddon and 1925 the date of the resurrection of the “ancient worthies.”  Later it was Jehovah who said that 1975 would be His appropriate time to act.  If rejecting falsehood in the light of Holy Scripture and such loyalty to truth leads one to turn one’s back on the Watchtower organisation, it would still be regarded as rejecting Jehovah and becoming a “hater of Jehovah.” As the Walsh trial in 1954 demonstrated, Franz et al. admitted that even if false, a Witness shall accept as true the teachings of the Organisation or else face excommunication.  In that trial Grant Suiter admitted that someone excommunicated, even for rejecting what later was found to be false, would meet with certain death at Armageddon.  It shows a striking similarity to the Clementine Homilies saying that “whoever disobeys your orders disobeys Christ, and whoever disobeys Christ offends God.”

To read part 3 of this article, you may click here.

8 Responses to “The Elusiveness of Christian Freedom under the Watchtower (Part 2)”

  1. […] To read part 2 of this article, you may click here. […]

  2. on 02 Jul 2011 at 6:49 amXavier


    Thanks for sharing your life story. Have you [or anyone else] heard of Ron Frye and his story in My Christisn Quest?


  3. on 02 Jul 2011 at 2:11 pmFiona

    Hi Jaco and Xavier
    It’s a sad fact that Ron Frye’s experience has probably been mirrored many times over in families throughout the world. Even sadder, is the fact that most of these(WT adherent) families, will never experience the true freedom of life in Christ. I think Jaco and I are still, years later, taking in great gulps of spiritual freedom since our escape from the WT. Unfortunately, others that have left have gone to other extremes of Atheism or plain indifference. Thank you, Jaco, for telling a tale that needed to be told. God willing, some members of the WT will read this and find freedom too.

  4. on 02 Jul 2011 at 4:07 pmXavier


    Unfortunately, others that have left have gone to other extremes of Atheism or plain indifference.

    I cannot say I blame them since I probably would have gone the way of atheism/agnostism.

    Like my father-in-law says, give me a born atheist any day but not a religious person. 🙂

  5. on 13 Jul 2011 at 9:07 pmanomynous609

    <He very tactfully encouraged his readers to follow the teachings of <the “faithful and discreet slave” or “God’s channel,” referring to <himself of course.

    Can you provide references and critical analysis for this please?

  6. on 14 Jul 2011 at 9:22 amSean

    anomynous…we do not allow anonymous names on this site…please use your real name

    thank you,

  7. on 26 Jul 2011 at 4:12 pmJaco


    Here is the information you were looking for…

    In September 15, 1910 issue of the Watchtower, Russell had written the following:

    “If the six volumes of SCRIPTURE STUDIES are practically the Bible topically arranged, with Bible proof-texts given, we might not improperly name the volumes – the Bible in an arranged form. That is to say, they are not merely comments on the Bible, but they are practically the Bible itself…

    “Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years – if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the SCRIPTURE STUDIES with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.

    “We would conclude, practically, that we could not understand anything about the Bible except as it was revealed. We would, therefore, not waste a great deal of time doing what we know some people do, reading chapter after chapter, to no profit. We would not think of doing it. We would not think we were studying the Scriptures at all… We would say that the same Heavenly Father who had guided us to this truth, to this understanding of the Scriptures as his children, if he had some further information for us he would bring it to our attention in some manner; and therefore we would not see the necessity of reading the New Testament every day or every year; we would not consider that necessary. We would consider that the Scripture which says, ‘They shall be all taught of God,’ would imply that in his own appointed way God would bring to our attention whatever feature of divine truth would be ‘meat in due season for the household of faith.’

    “We are not wishing in this to say anything against one’s poring over chapters that he does not understand and others do not understand, hoping that he might light on some truth…He has a right to spend weeks and years in this way if he chooses, but the chances even then are that when he does light on something he will have it all wrong.”

    Then, in October 1, 1909 issue of the Watch Tower, Russell says:

    “Our friends insist that this Scripture [Matthew 24:45] indicates that in the end of this Gospel age the Lord would use not many channels for the dissemination of the truth, but one channel. And that it would be the privilege of other of the Lord’s faithful ones to be ‘fellow-servants’ (co-laborers).” They insist that the facts connected with this harvest time abundantly substantiate this interpretation. They hold that all of them received their knowledge of present truth directly from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society’s publications, or indirectly through those who have received their enlightenment through this channel. They are glad correspondingly to co-operate as ‘fellow-servants’ with the Society’s work, believing that thereby are following the leadings of the divine providence, as well as the instructions of the divine Word. They believe that such as do other, oppose the divine word, antagonize the harvest work and will bring injury upon themselves.

    “They declare that, to their judgments, there is no other interpretation of the facts before us than that presented in our Lord’s promise; that at the appropriate time in the end of the age, in the time of his presence, he would bring forth from the storehouse of Grace, Wisdom and Truth things ‘new and old,’ and that he would select at that time one special channel through which those blessings would be called to the attention of the household of faith – indicating also that a privilege would be granted to others who might join the service as ‘fellow-servants.’”

    Now, some might say that Russell merely refers to the “channel of communication,” namely the church. Not true. Russell denied that the Church as a body would be the channel. Russell was the sole editor and writer of the Watch Tower. Referring to the Watchtower as the channel used by God is referring to himself as such.

    The Watch Tower of December 1, 1916 says,

    “Thousands of the readers of Pastor Russel’s writings believe that he filled the office of ‘that faithful and wise servant,’ and that his great work was giving to the household of faith meat in due season. His modesty and humility precluded him from openly claiming this title, but he admitted as much in private conversation.”

    So, it is clear that, although the Watchtower Society would claim today that Russell never implied inspiration, he in fact did, although in much more labored terms. His description of the slave being used by God as a channel without whom the Bible alone would not lead someone to these new “truths” is nothing more than claiming inspiration above and beyond what the Bible alone teaches.

    For more information, please consult Raymond Franz’s books, Crisis of Conscience and In Search of Christian Freedom. You will not be disappointed.


  8. on 24 Mar 2012 at 3:44 amJaco

    A great article on Christian freedom, focusing on the absence thereof in the Watchtower organisation, can be viewed here: http://www.jwstruggle.com/2012/03/witness-history-and-christian-freedom/#comments. Valuable lessons can be learnt and all of us can benefit from the information provided.


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