Charles Taze Russell would have been in for quite
a shock were he able to see the modern-day organization he founded in 1879. From small beginnings, the Watchtower Bible &
Tract Society has grown rapidly, especially since the early '70s. From a pre-1900 circulation of 6000 copies, The Watchtower
magazine has a present circulation of over 20 million per issue, and the Awake! magazine about 19 million per issue.
What has been the reason for such rapid growth?
For one thing, Jehovah's Witnesses offer an attractive package. They offer
the householder eternal life on a paradise earth, and can quote the Scriptures to prove it. They offer to study the Bible
with interested persons, and use one of the Watchtower Society's publications such as Knowledge That Leads To Everlasting
Life. As the Bible is presented in simple terms, the householder is elated to find answers to questions that the churches
do not appear to answer. The newly interested person is now ready to challenge his friends and relatives on their traditional
religious beliefs, and is scarcely able to contain what he is learning. His friends and relatives become defensive, as their
belief systems are being threatened. The new convert is warned that even his family may persecute him and speak abusively
of him, according to 1 Peter 4:4. Suddenly, Christmas and Easter become pagan holidays that are forbidden to observe. Saluting
the flag is idolatry, and blood transfusions are against the rules, even in life-or-death situations. In just six months,
a person's life can be radically transformed so as to be unrecognizable by former friends.
It was not so in the beginning. C. T. Russell was against organizing his own
religion, or at least he said so (see The Watchtower, 1895 p.216; also 1894 p.384 & 1893 p.266). He also noted,
"The endeavor to compel all men to think alike on all subjects, culminated
in the great apostasy and the development of the great papal system, and thereby the gospel, the one faith that Paul and the
other apostles set forth, was lost - buried under the mass of uninspired decrees of popes and councils. The unity of the early
church, based upon the simple gospel and bound only by love, gave place to the bondage of the church of Rome...Each new reform
movement (like Protestantism) has made the failure of attempting to make a creed just large enough for its prime movers."
--WT, Sep. 1893, p. 1572
On why organizations don't work -
"...we have pointed out continually the tendency of Christian people toward
union, showing, too, that such a union is predicted in scripture; but that its results, while designed to be good, will really
be bad; and this because it will be a mechanical union instead of a heart unity."--WT, Mar 1893, p. 1504
The "Bible Students," as they were called back in the early years, could attend
other churches and celebrate Christmas. Yet, five presidents and ninety years later, the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society
is virtually unrecognizable from its origins. Boasting over five million active members and massive real estate holdings,
the Watchtower is a major industry that keeps a tight clamp on its financial records as well as its inner politics.
Skeletons In the Closet
By the mid-70's, some members of the Watchtower began to question their dating
system, notably their "Gentile Times" calculations. The trouble began when a handful of men were commissioned to write the
book Aid To Bible Understanding, a dictionary of Bible terms for the Witnesses. In researching their chronological
dating system for the "last days," historical research proved without a doubt that their foundational date of 1914 (supposedly
the invisible return of Christ) was nothing more than the start of World War I. This date had been arrived at through a series
of unrelated calculations, counting 2520 years from the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 BC to the year AD 1914. But the clock-stopper
was this: According to all historical records, Jerusalem was destroyed in 587-586 BC, a full 20 years later than the Witness
date. Neither was there found any basis in the Bible for a 2520-year "Gentile Times." Russell's dates and concepts had been
relied upon with inaccurate history as a foundation. A shock-wave within the organization was inevitable. No matter how tight
the security, sooner or later it would leak out. The-'trickle' began in the '70s, and the "dam" broke in 1980.
Most Jehovah's Witnesses do not realize the critical significance of the date
1914 to their entire organizational structure and doctrine. Though originally the return of Christ was said to be in 1874
and that 1914 would be the end of the world, modern-day Witnesses have come to accept 1914 as the return of Christ (though
an official statement to this effect was not made until 1929). The Governing Body has explained to the Witnesses that when
Christ returned in 1914, there was a "cleansing of the organization" for 3 1/2 years, culminating in Christ judging the organization
and finally choosing it in 1918 as his "faithful and discreet slave" to instruct mankind of God's truths in these last days.
This was also the year of the invisible "rapture, " where deceased Witnesses (supposedly including the early Christians) were
resurrected and ascended to heaven. The whole concept of "God's one true organization" is chronologically dependent on the
accuracy of the date 1914.
Yet that is not all. The choosing of another "class" of Christians, those
who would live on the earth but not be born again or anointed by the Holy Spirit, was also based on this pivotal date of 1914.
Counting ahead to the year 1935, President Joseph Rutherford was looking for an explanation as to why there were so many coming
into the organization, while the Bible (he believed) spoke of only 144,000 going to heaven and ruling with Christ. He began
searching the book of Revelation for some kind of answer, and Rev. 7:13-17 was
seized upon. This was providential, as it also seemed to solve another of their big problems - how to gain more control over
the local congregations. Up to this time, congregation overseers (called elders) had been elected into office, and many had
full control of their congregations, much to the dismay of Rutherford. Now, a two-fold interpretation of this passage would
"kill two birds with one stone." First, the "elders" of verse 13 were identified as these special 144,000 (represented by
the Board of Directors), and not the congregational overseers. Thus, the term "elder" was dropped, and all of the congregational
overseers lost their positions of responsibility. Those reappointed would now be called by a new name, "company servants."
Of course, a new method of choosing these key men was instituted simultaneously - they were chosen by the Board of Directors!
That meant that many previous "elders" were not reappointed to office, and Rutherford assumed complete control over who would
be leaders. Many of the former "elders" became disgusted and left the organization, taking others with them.
According to Rutherford, the class distinctions of the "144,000" (the anointed
ones) and the "Great Crowd" were now clearly identified by this reinterpretation of Rev. 7:13, 14. Rutherford reasoned on
this passage: Since the elders ask the question, "Who are these of the great crowd?" and John says to the elders, "You are
the ones that know," the elders ( 144,000 represented by Rutherford and his directors) can apparently make that decision as
to who they are! Rutherford then declares them to be an earthly class of believers who are not "born again" yet will live
eternally under the direction of the 144,000 "anointed ones," gaining full rights to life only after 1,000 years of testing
and thought-cleansing. The necessity of the representative Governing Body was emphasized by the added reasoning that, since
(1) the Bible was written to "anointed" Christians going to heaven to be with Christ who are filled with the holy spirit (1
John 2:20,27), and (2) that these of this newly designated "great crowd" could not be in the new covenant and have Christ
as the mediator (compare WT, April 1, 1979, p.31), one must conclude that the Bible was not written to them, and they would
be forever subject to believing the interpretations of the Governing Body as "new light" and "food at the proper time" (compare
The Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1967, p. 587). The passage at 1 John 2:27 could not apply to them, which says, "The anointing
that you received from Him remains with you, and you have no need for any man to teach you, for the anointing from Him (the
Holy Spirit) is teaching you all things." The possibility of a supernatural relationship with God and the intimate operation
of the Holy Spirit upon their lives (John 14:15-27) was denied them. The Governing Body was clearly the `clergy' class and
they were the `laity.' Truth thereby comes from Brooklyn, not by the Holy Spirit.
Now we are in a position to see the real importance of the date 1914. If it
is wrong, then so is 1918 and 1935. If 1914 is wrong, Christ did not return invisibly. If 1918 is wrong, Christ did not appoint
the Watchtower as his special prophet. If 1935 is wrong, there are no class distinctions - all Christians are the same, all
must be born again (John 3:3,5,7), all must take the bread and the wine (John 6:53,54) and all must have Christ as their mediator,
not a man-made organization (1 Tim. 2:5).
"Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and dubs? Every
day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour - when darkness reigns."
Luke 22:52, 53
The straw that eventually broke the camel's back began to materialize in 1965.
For some time, the third President of the Watchtower, N. H. Knorr, had wanted to print a Bible dictionary, later known and
published as the Aid To Bible Understanding. Originally Raymond Franz, the nephew of Fred Franz (fourth WT president),
was assigned to accumulate data for this work. Later, it was necessary to add four more men to this project, making a committee
of five. Two of these, Ray Franz and Lyman Swingle, later became members of the Governing Body. Edward Dunlap, registrar for
the Gilead School, also researched material for this project.
In his book Crisis of Conscience (p. 20-27) Raymond Franz tells of
the research he undertook regarding the dating system, which is based upon the cornerstone of 1914 as being the end of the
"Gentiles Times," a period supposedly running for 2520 years since 607 BC. Franz tells of how he sent his personal secretary
(Charles Ploeger) to visit the New York City libraries to try and substantiate this date for the destruction of Jerusalem.
No such evidence was forthcoming. Instead, the date 587-586 BC was reinforced. Later, in 1977, a Swedish Witness elder
sent a great deal of documentation based upon the cuneiform tablets (over 10,000) found in the Mesopotamian area that dated
back to the time of ancient Babylon, which tablets substantiated, not 607 BC, but 20 years later as the destruction of Jerusalem.
As Mr. Franz states in his book, "Much of the time and space (under the Aid book heading of `Chronology') was spent
in trying to weaken the credibility of the archeological and historical evidence that would make erroneous our 607 BC date
and give a different starting point for our calculations and therefore an ending date different from 1914." Franz and his
secretary even took a trip to Brown University in Rhode Island to interview Prof. Abraham Sachs, a specialist in ancient cuneiform
texts, in an attempt to find a weakness or flaw in the historical evidence. Not one possibility existed of such evidence being
erroneous. Yet, Franz felt obligated to write the article in the Aid book without revealing all of the facts, as the
rest of the Governing Body refused to reconsider the matter.
As previously mentioned, several of the key doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses
are based on 1914, such as the choosing of the organization in 1918 as the "faithful and discreet slave" and the separation
of the organization into two classes in 1935. To destroy the credibility of 1914 as the invisible return of Christ would truly
devastate the entire authority structure of the Governing Body. They could not be pointed to as the "appointed channel" of
communication (actually, the mediator) between God and unregenerate man. Readers of the Bible within the organization would
then be obliged to conclude that all true Christians would be with Christ and must be born-again, as Jesus insisted (John
3:3,7). They would have no need for any man or organization to teach them, for, as 1 John 2:27 says, the Holy Spirit would
teach them, even as Jesus promised in John 14:16-26. The "straw" of factual historical evidence had begun to break
the camel's back.
While it appeared as if nothing became of this for a few years, much trouble
was brewing. Changes in organizational structure put more power in the hands of several key men on the Governing Body, who
were not about to allow their power structure to be undermined by such self-destructive evidence. A lid was officially sealed
on any discussion of these matters, yet individuals within the organization asked questions, especially at Bethel, the name
given by the Witnesses to their headquarters. Just a few at Bethel knew of these matters at the time, yet these few let it
be known to others who asked.
By 1979, the evidence became known to several in the Spanish JW community
in New York City, and it got back to the Governing Body around Memorial time in 1980. Those who "talked" were dragged before
special committees set up after hours in isolated parts of the factory at 117 Adams Street. Cris and Norma Sanchez, who aided
in translating the New World Translation from English to Spanish, and who had lived at Bethel for many years as faithful
servants, were accused of "conspiring against the organization" and were called names before the others present, even by a
member of the Governing Body, Dan Sydlik. Denounced as leeches, a cancer, and worms, they were given a few hours to
pack up their belongings under total silence and leave the headquarters - they were now disfellowshipped. They appealed their
disfellowshipping but the appeal was denied immediately.
Their presence in Brooklyn was too dangerous - others might discover the secrets
they held and blow the whole organization wide open. Others were implicated and disfellowshipped as well, such as fellow translators
Nestor Kuilan and his wife, as well as Rene Vazquez. The local elders who at first believed the testimony of these ones were
later exonerated by reporting them to the Service Department, the "right arm" of the Governing Body. Members of the Bethel
family were generally in the dark about the whole thing, and most remain so to this day, believing simply the explanations
that are offered by the Governing Body that it was a planned conspiracy against Jehovah's organization, and that these men
and women were apostates and "spiritual fornicators," being "mentally-diseased" and "corrupt." Little did they know that the
real problems had just begun.
"If some tinge of doubt about Jehovah, his Word, or his organization has begun
to linger in your heart, take quick steps to eliminate it before it festers into something that could destroy your faith...do
not hesitate to ask for help from loving overseers in the congregation. They will help you trace the source of your doubts,
which may be due to pride or some wrong thinking.
...act quickly to rout out of the mind any tendency to complain, to be dissatisfied
with the way things are done in the congregation. Cut off anything that feeds such doubts." --Watchtower,
2/1/96, p. 23-24
Naturally, many in the Bethel family were concerned and wept at the breakfast
table when they heard what had happened with the Spanish brothers. Meantime, the Service Department was busy rounding up any
evidence they could in order to disfellowship Raymond Franz, as they felt he and Edward Dunlap were conspiring against the
organization. Lee Waters of the Service Department even made the statement that "They (the `apostates') had been building
a platform (upon which to attack) for many years." While Lyman Swingle stood up for Ray Franz and prevented him from being
disfellowshipped at that time (Lyman knew all the facts about 1914), Franz was spied upon and later disfellowshipped for eating
a meal with his boss, a former Witness (see Time Magazine of Feb. 22, 1982, p. 66). Edward Dunlap was disfellowshipped
after members of the Governing Body pleaded with him to ignore the facts and maintain their present understanding for the
sake of unity. Dozens more left the Bethel family or were disfellowshipped in the months to come, as they apparently "knew
too much." While members of the Bethel family heard regular denouncements of the "apostates," few knew of the events that
In the meantime, dozens of members of the Bethel family continued having regular
Bible studies every Monday night after the family Watchtower Study. Different
translations of the Bible would be used, as well as various Bible commentaries. The letters of Paul to the Romans and Galatians
were of particular fascination, as they pointed to a much better and superior understanding of life and a relationship with
Christ than the Witnesses were allowed to enjoy. But the fear of exposure and being disfellowshipped kept many from talking
to outsiders about their findings. On Monday nights they would carry Watchtowers to the studies, just in case a "spy"
knocked at their doors.
Schroeder's "Salvation by Law"
Albert Schroeder (a prominent spokesman on the Governing Body), during a meeting
of the elders of the Bethel family on May 29, 1980 (referring to those who have questioned their absolute authority), said:
"All the things they are teaching ignore the framework we have been developing all these many years."
Many Witnesses at headquarters were also beginning to appreciate that Christianity
is not a religion based on rules and regulations (like the Mosaic Law), but that Christianity is a relationship with Jesus
Christ and that Christians walk by means of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul said in Gal. 2:20,21:
"I am impaled along with Christ. It is no longer I that live, but it is Christ
that is living in union with me... if righteousness is through the law, Christ actually died for nothing.
"Furthermore, if you are being led by the spirit, you are not under law."
It is good to know that wherever the word "law" is not capitalized in the
New World Translation (or any other Bible), it is not necessarily referring to the Mosaic Law but to Law Systems
Or Rules Imposed Upon Christians. This is the key message of the gospel that collapses the Watchtower: Are we saved by
faith in Jesus Christ, or like the "Judaizers" in the first century, must we add the rules and standards of an organization?
The surfacing of this issue was more than the Governing Body of Jehovah's
Witnesses could bear. Stinging responses were made to the Bethel family such as these, made by Albert Schroeder, speaking
to elders of the Bethel family on May 29, 1980:
"We serve not only Jehovah God but we are under our `mother.' Our `mother'
has the right to make rules and regulations for us... This book, entitled Branch Organization Procedure, contains 28
subjects; and its sub-sections involve regulations and administration. In it there are 1,177 policies and regulations...
this is an improved, fine-tuned organization, and we are expected to follow its policies. If there are some who feel that
they cannot subject themselves to the rules and regulations now in operation, such ones ought to be leaving and not be involved
here in the further progressive work."
"Some have fallen away from the organization, NOT FROM THE BIBLE, saying there
is no need for COMING UNDER LAW...This great program of organization procedure is gathering the things of heaven and earth."
What treatment would this "fine-tuned" mother organization mete out to those
who believe they are not saved by following the organizational laws, but by faith in Jesus Christ?
During the peak of the Governing Body's paranoia over dissent, it published
an article reinforcing their view of two classes of Christians, and even put the "three rebels" (apparently Ray Franz, Ed
Dunlap and Reinhard Lengtat, co-authors of the "Aid To Bible Understanding" book) as #6 above, identifying them as "the stranger,"
"thief," "the hired man": Apostates and false shepherds. (picture from WT, 7/15/80, p. 26)
While Ray Franz was away on leave of absence, a special committee was established
to extract confessions of his close friends and acquaintances, to determine everything he had said in private that could be
used against him as respects to the aforementioned issues. For two weeks these committees intimidated many members of the
Bethel family and recorded their confessions. Then Ray was suddenly called back to Bethel and made to listen to these tapes
in the presence of the Governing Body. Raymond Franz was cast out and stripped of his privileges. He had served in every responsible
positions for decades and had traveled the world visiting the branch offices, but this made little difference.
Others were subjected to long hours of intense interrogation as the "Watchtower
committees" set up a series of ten "special questions" to ask any person suspected of talking about what was going on in the
Governing Body. Many were disfellowshipped from the organization simply because they could not believe and conscientiously
teach certain doctrines of the Witnesses. Such persons are then viewed as "spiritually dead" by the others and they are not
even allowed to talk with such ones. Many more left under benign pretenses just to escape without being disfellowshipped.
In the following weeks and months I noticed that the members of the Governing
Body minced no words in slandering and name-calling such individuals. They were called "spiritual fornicators," "mentally
diseased" and "insane." They were said to be following the "teaching of demons." In one committee meeting where a married
couple who had faithfully served for decades was disfellowshipped, one member of the Governing Body called them "suckers"
and "liars." One Bethelite, Randy Mangles, had his phone calls redirected through the Service Department to spy on his outside
connections. Members of the family would turn in even their own friends for suspicion of apostasy. It is important to know
that few of the family members knew what was really going on; the Governing Body kept it well-concealed and responded by defaming
the characters of those involved.
As previously mentioned, some members of the family had been holding their
own Bible studies to help understand the scriptures apart from Watchtower dogma. These groups were soon discovered and told
to stop unless they would use the Society's publications for reference. On April 30, 1980, Karl Klein of the Governing Body
stated to the whole family:
"If you have a tendency towards `apostasy,' get a hobby and keep yourself
busy to keep your mind off of it. Stay away from deep Bible study to determine meanings of the scriptures."
Another member of the Governing Body, Lloyd Barry, said on May 29, 1980 in
addressing the elders of the Bethel family:
"When we talk about law, we talk about organization. With all our hearts we
need to search after that law. Jehovah doesn't give individuals interpretation. We need a guide, and that is the `faithful
and discreet slave.' We should not be getting together in a clique to discuss views contrary to the `faithful and Discreet
slave.' We must recognize the source of our instruction. We must be like an ass, be humble, and stay in the manger; and we
won't get any poison."
These are a few of the many shocking things that could be seen and heard at
headquarters. Imagine yourself as one of these Bethel elders who had recently just begun to discover what real Christianity
is all about, and then imagine listening to these blasphemous statements that clearly contradict the entire message of the
letters to the Romans and Galatians, as well as the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, "You will know the truth, and
the truth will set you free."
"Where Else Can We Go?"
"Therefore Jesus said to the twelve: `You do not want to go also, do you?'
Simon Peter answered him: `Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and
come to know that you are the Holy One of God." - John 6:67-69, NWT
Control-oriented religions (often called "cults") like to pose an ethical
dilemma, should the recruit attempt to leave. Fears of what will happen to you if you leave the organization are implanted
firmly in your mind, so that any attempts to use your own judgment or discernment will likely result in guilt for even questioning
"Where else can we go?" is a pet phrase used by the Watchtower, slyly misdirecting
the loyalty of the JW from Jesus to an organization. Yet Peter's statement indicated that he would be willing to suffer at
the hands of men and institutions for the privilege of following Jesus his Lord.
In the history of the Church over the last 2000 years, it has oft been necessary
for men who fear God above man to separate themselves from organized religions when such become corrupt. As a result, we may
face a crisis of conscience in our lives when people and institutions we have come to know and respect turn out bad. To take
a stand means to be ostracized and shunned, perhaps even losing close friends, a marriage partner or even one's own children.
The days ahead may seem lonely and without direction. Yet this very time of change can result in a new life, especially when
accompanied by prayer, deep thought and a well-rounded education. Do not despair! Thousands are going through the same process
right now. If you are facing this, know that you are not alone.
When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you
to the most loving group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate
and understanding person you've ever met, and then you learn that the cause of the group is something you never dared hope
could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true! Don't give up your
education, your hopes and ambitions to follow a rainbow."
--Jeanne Mills, former member of the People's Temple and subsequent victim
of assassination a year following the Nov. 18, 1978 Jonestown suicides/murders of 911 adults and children.