Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: October 2009

5 - Finishing the Mystery: the Watch Tower and “the 1917 schism”

Summary

INTRODUCTION

To the believer, distinctions between orthodox and schismatic, and between the authentic and the inauthentic, seem obvious. To the Jehovah's Witness, there seems an obvious continuity between the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, founded by Charles Taze Russell, and the present-day Jehovah's Witnesses, so named in 1931 by their second leader, Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Viewed superficially, a split in a religious organization appears to arise when a subversive leader rises to a position of power, gathers a following that challenges the orthodox teachings of the movement, fails to bring the entire movement to accept his teachings or authority, and subsequently secedes to form his own organization. As is frequently pointed out, however, history tends to be written by the victors, and hence the minority becomes allowed to disappear into relative oblivion.

This chapter focuses on the 1917 split within the Society, with particular reference to the controversies surrounding the Paul Johnson movement, and my aim is to examine the main causes of the schism that surrounded J. F. Rutherford's rise to power. In what follows, I shall argue that the so-called schisms of this period cannot be explained in such a simplistic manner. Indeed, even to refer to it as a “split” is to over-simplify the issues surrounding the dispute. Despite the fact that present-day Jehovah's Witnesses form a coherent unified organization with clear central authority, such a claim could not be made of the Watch Tower organization at the end of Russell's presidency.

REFERENCES
,Anon. 1916. “Biography.” The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, 37 (23), December 1, 1916, p. 5997.
Bergman, Jerry. 1985. Jehovah's Witnesses and Kindred Groups: A Historical Compendium and Bibliography. New York: Garland.
Bergman, Jerry 1999. Jehovah's Witnessess: A Comprehensive and Selectively Annotated Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Bergman, Jerry.Harvest Siftings. 2007. www.biblestudents.net/history/harvest_siftings_1917.htm, accessed September 13, 2007.
Haugland, Jan S. 2006. “The Successor Problem: A Focused Biography of Joseph Rutherford, 2nd Leader for the Jehovah's Witnesses, 1916–1942.” Master's thesis, University of Bergen, Norway, Fall 2000. Skepsis September 2006. Located at www.skepsis.no/articles_in_english/the_successor_problem.html, accessed July 24, 2007.
Macmillan, A. H. 1957. Faith on the March. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1996. Encyclopedia of American Religions (5th edn). Detroit: Gale.
Parkinson, James. 2007. Troubled Years. www.heraldmag.org/2004_history/04history_6.htm, accessed September 13, 2007.
Penton, M. James. 1985. Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Rogerson, Alan. 1969. Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A Study of Jehovah's Witnesses. London: Constable.
Russell, C. T. 1886–1904. Millennial Dawn, later renamed Studies in the Scriptures, 7 vols., Brooklyn, NY: International Bible Students Association.
Russell, C. T. 1916. Last Will and Testament of Charles Taze Russell. June 29, 1907. Reprinted in The Watch Tower and Herald of God's Presence 37 (23), December 1, 1916, pp. 5999–6000. Also located at www.pastor-russell.com/legacy/will_doc.html.
Russell, C. T. 1917. The Finished Mystery (completed by Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher). Brooklyn, NY: International Bible Students Association.
Rutherford, J. F. 1938. “Organization,” Part 2. The Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence, 59 (12), June 15, 1938, pp. 182–3.
Schnell, W. J. 1959. Thirty Years a Watch Tower Slave: The Confessions of a Converted Jehovah's Witness. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Weber, Max. 1968/1978. Economy and Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Weber, MaxYearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. 1975. Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.