Bible Student movement

Bible Student movement

The Bible Student movement is the name adopted by a Protestant religious movement with premillennialist expectations that emerged from the teachings and ministry of Pastor Charles Taze Russell. Members of this movement generally referred to themselves as "Bible Students".

Following a widespread schism which emerged after Russell's death the majority of members ceased fellowship with the Watch Tower Society which he had founded. Those who left came to form their own independent religious fellowships, all of whom still refer to themselves as Bible Students. Those that remained in fellowship with the Society eventually adopted the name Jehovah's Witnesses. The different Bible Students Communities worldwide are numbered at more than 30,000, while worldwide membership among the Jehovah's Witnesses numbers in the millions.

Early history

In addition to Russell, early figures and influences included:
* Nelson H. Barbour (1824-1905)
* John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)
* Henry Dunn (1801-1878)
* Dunbar Isidore Heath (1816-1888)
* William Miller
* George Stetson (1814-1879)
* George Storrs
* R. E. Streeter (1847-1924)
* Jonas Wendell (1815-1873)

Jehovah's Witnesses

Following the death of Pastor Russell in October, 1916 and the subsequent controversial election of Joseph "Judge" Rutherford in 1917 as the second president of the Watch Tower Society, a widespread schism arose among Bible Students which split the neo-Protestant/Adventist fellowship over the period of 1918 to 1928.

In 1931, the Bible Students who remained affiliated with the organization under Rutherford adopted the name Jehovah's Witnesses, a name taken from a scripture in the book of Isaiah - "'Ye are my witnesses,' saith Jehovah, and I am God.'" (The term "Jehovah's witness" had previously appeared in print prior to 1931 but solely in reference to the Great Pyramid of Giza which Bible Students believe is prophetically mentioned in scripture). Bible Students who refused to recognize the Watch Tower Society's new claim to be God's sole mouthpiece on earth were condemned as heretical and thereafter referred to as "apostates" or servants of "the evil slave" of Matthew 24:48. [ [ "The Golden Age, A Journal of Fact Hope and Courage"] , Vol. 12, No. 308, pages 655-657; [ "The Golden Age, A Journal of Fact Hope and Courage"] , Vol. 13, No. 315, pages 21-27; both (1931) published by the "Watchtower Bible & Tract Society", Brooklyn, NY] Jehovah's Witnesses are instructed to be wary of any association with Bible Students or any groups that disagree with the Watchtower Society.Fact|date=August 2008 They are taught that any such association may result in being led astray from their beliefs and morals through bad association.Fact|date=August 2008

Although the schism resulted in nearly three-quarters of the original membership leaving the organizationFact|date=August 2008, Rutherford and his Board of Directors maintained full control of the official organs of the Bible Society itself, including its offices, publications, and official journal, "The Watchtower".

Associated Bible Students

Many of the Bible Student congregations which hold to the writings and views of Pastor Russell casually refer to themselves under the generic title "Associated Bible Students". All congregations are autonomous, but despite use of this title may not necessarily have contact with others. Those using this name are the largest segment resulting from the massive exodus (75%) from the Watchtower Society in the decade following Russell's death in 1916. This occurred after Joseph Franklin Rutherford was elected the new president, and began changing the doctrinal platform and organizational structure Russell had supported.

In 1917 four members of the Board of Directors for the Watch Tower Society were expelled by Rutherford on a legal technicality that would have equally applied to him. [Rutherford dismissed the four directors by claiming that they had never been confirmed as directors at an annual corporation meeting. A. H. Macmillan claimed that Rutherford conferred with an outside lawyer who agreed that they could be dismissed for that reason. (Α. H. MacMillan, "Faith on the March", Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1957, p. 80.) The four deposed directors published their own tracts entitled "Light After Darkness" and "Facts for Shareholders of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society" that contained, among other things, legal opinions, also from outside lawyers, who expressed a view contrary to, and non-supportive of Rutherford's, indicating the Board members' dismissal was in fact illegal and manifested Rutherford's misinterpretation of the corporate laws of New York and Pennsylvania. Rutherford then published his own rebuttal in "Harvest Siftings", and later with "Harvest Siftings II". This act further disturbed many Bible Students who believed that he should not have used the printing presses under contract to the Society and its mailing list to publish his personal views, believing it to be an unscriptural act to 'attack your brother', and having understood that Pastor Russell's Last Will & Testament indicated no newly produced publications were to be published through the Society following his death.] The Directors took issue with Rutherford's actions for numerous reasons and insisted he was violating Pastor Russell's will. [Marley Cole, "Jehovah’s Witnesses – The New World Society" (New York: Vantage Press, 1955) pp. 86-89: "Four directors wanted a reorganization.... As things stood the president was the administration. He was not consulting them. He was letting them know what he was doing only after it was done. He was putting them in the position of advisers on legal corporate matters". The book was written by Cole, an active Witness, as if he were a non-Witness, and was published by an outside publishing firm to reach people that would not take Society literature, but it was sold by the Watchtower too ("The Watchtower August 15 1955, p. 511).]

In 1918 they sponsored and held the first Bible Student Convention independent of the Watch Tower Society. At the second convention a few months later, the informal Pastoral Bible Institute was founded. They began publishing "The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom", edited by R. E. Streeter. Although the magazine continues to be published today [] , the Pastoral Bible Institute is essentially defunct, with only an editorial committee publishing the magazine.

The Australian Berean Bible Institute also formally separated from the Watchtower Society in 1918. They published "The Voice" and the "People's Paper" magazine. Offshoot congregations of the BBI still exist, but the number of all Bible Students in Australia is variously estimated at less than 100.

In December 1918, Charles E. Heard, and some others, considered Rutherford's recommendation to buy war bonds a perversion of Russell's pacifist teachings, and contrary to scripture. As a result, they founded the StandFast Bible Students Association in Portland, Oregon. The name originated from their decision to “stand fast" on war principles that Pastor Russell had espoused. Opposed to public witnessing, they eventually dwindled in numbers, and then completely dissolved, but not without giving birth to a splinter group known as the Elijah Voice Society, founded by John A. Herdersen and C. D. McCray in 1923. They were especially noted for their witnessing and pacifist activity.

In 1928 Norman Woodworth, cousin of C.J. Woodworth, left the Watch Tower Society after having been involved with their radio ministry, to create an independent Bible Student radio program Frank and Ernest. Funding was provided with the help of the Brooklyn Bible Students Ecclesia (congregation). In 1929 they sponsored and held the "First Annual Reunion Convention" of Bible Students at the old Bible House used by Pastor Russell in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In 1931 the Dawn Bible Students Association was founded (by Norman Woodworth among others) for the sole purpose of resuming publication of the "Studies in the Scriptures" series that the Watch Tower Society had officially ceased publishing in 1927. The Dawn began publication of a leaflet called "The Bible Students Radio Echo" as a method of following up the immense interest in the radio program. This publication was soon made into a 16-page magazine and renamed "The Dawn—A Herald of Christ’s Presence". Today, they carry on with publishing work, as well as radio, television, and internet radio programs. Over the past thirty years controversy has surrounded the Dawn as their publishing and editorial committee began to espouse more liberal points of view, pulling away from some of Pastor Russell's viewpoints, and alienating many Bible Students as a result.

In 1974 a group of Bible Students meeting at a Convention in Fort Collins, Colorado formally decided to cease their spiritual fellowship with, and financial support of, the Dawn Bible Students Association for this very reason. Although not an offshoot group per se, they refer to themselves as "Independent Bible Students". The split was not intended to eliminate or restrict personal fellowship, but rather was viewed as a 'stand for the truth' by ceasing sponsorship of elders associated with the Dawn, and avoiding attendance at conventions held by congregations that supported the Dawn. In recent years attempts have been made to bring the two sides back together, with varying results. A committee that had been formed at the 1974 Convention decided to begin publishing a monthly non-doctrinal Bible Student news and information magazine, called "The Bible Students Newsletter". It has become what is now the most widely distributed publication among all Bible Students worldwide.

Each congregation, referred to as an "ecclesia", is independent and under no central leadership, yet most of the well established Bible Student congregations and members remain firmly united and strongly linked. Each ecclesia elects their own elders and deacons. Many ecclesias sponsor yearly conventions which consist of Bible discourses, panel discussions, vesper services, and testimony meetings. These services are each led by one of usually three to six elders who travel from their hometown (usually in the US or Canada) after accepting an invitation to serve that ecclesias' convention for that year. The general public is invited, but the majority in attendance are Bible Students from surrounding areas, or those who have traveled from abroad in an attempt to support and encourage one another. Depending upon the convention, and its physical location, total attendance is usually around one hundred. The yearly Indiana-Ohio convention (known as I-O), the Dawn General Convention (held in July), both of the Chicago Bible Student's New Year's and Memorial Day conventions, and The International Convention (held biennially in Europe in August during even years) see the largest overall attendance.

Free Bible Students

M.L. McPhail, a traveling elder (known as a "Pilgrim") and member of the Chicago Bible Students, disassociated himself from Russell's movement in 1909 when controversy arose over Russell's expanded view of the application and timing of the "New Covenant" mentioned by Jeremiah, and led the New Covenant Bible Students in the United States, founding the New Covenant Believers in that very year. The group published "The Kingdom Scribe" magazine until 1975. The group still exists today under the name Berean Bible Students Church.

In 1928 the Italian Bible Students Association in Hartford, Connecticut withdrew its support from the Watch Tower Society and changed its name to the Millennial Bible Students Church, then eventually to Christian Millennial Fellowship, Inc. In time they came to reject many of Russell's writings as erroneous. This Christian community is now located in New Jersey and call themselves "Free Bible Students". The group have published "The New Creation" magazine since 1940.

Layman's Home Missionary Movement

Paul S. L. Johnson, a very close friend and confidant of Pastor Russell, founded the Layman's Home Missionary Movement in 1919 as a result of Rutherford's condemnations of his actions, views, and beliefs. Johnson's death in 1950 lead to internal disagreements, and resulted in the formation of splinter group of their own, such as the Epiphany Bible Students Association, and the Laodicean Home Missionary Movement. Johnson eventually came to believe that he was the last member of the 144,000 of Revelation 7, and that with his death all chance for a heavenly reward of immortality offered to the Christian faithful had ceased. His associate and successor, Raymond Jolly, taught that he was himself the last member of the "great multitude", also of Revelation 7. Upon his death all remaining members of this fellowship ceased any thought of entering heaven, and believed they would instead live upon a perfected earth in God's Kingdom as a group referred to as the "modern worthies", associates of the "ancient worthies" – the ancient Jewish prophets which God will resurrect in Israel to guide and instruct the world in his Kingdom. In 2006, Layman's Home Missionary Movement have an average of 16.000 ["Present Truth" February, 2006, p. 9-13.] members.

Other groups

In 1917 Alexander F.L. Freytag, Branch manager of the Swiss Watch Tower Society since 1898, founded the Angel of Jehovah Bible and Tract Society (also known as the Philanthropic Assembly of the Friends of Man and The Church of the Kingdom of God, Philanthropic Assembly). When he started publishing his own personal views he was ousted from the Watch Tower Society by Rutherford in 1919. He published two journals, the monthly "The Monitor of the Reign of Justice" and the weekly "Paper for All".

Jesse Hemery was one of the most prominent Bible Students of England, and had been appointed president of the International Bible Students Association by Pastor Russell in 1901, holding that post until 1946. In 1951 he was disfellowshipped by N.H. Knorr and then founded the Goshen Fellowship. He died in 1955, and the group is currently led by Frank Lewis Brown.


ee also

* Jehovah's Witnesses splinter groups
* History of Jehovah's Witnesses

External links

* []
* [ Associated Bible Students of South Central Ohio]
* [ Bible Students Congregation of New Brunswick, NJ]
* [ Dawn Bible Students Association]
* [ Free Bible Students]
* [ Herald Magazine]
* [ History of the Bible Student Movement]
* [ Jehovah's Witnesses]
* [ Jersey City Bible Students, NJ]
* [ Layman's Home Missionary Movement]

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