The leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses sometimes refers to the days of Russell as though the Jehovah's Witnesses and their organization was existing in those days. As a result, the dogmatism of the "Jehovah's organization" concept and many of the teachings related to that concept are often attributed to Charles Taze Russell. Nevertheless, the reality is that Russell never taught that "the true church" is represented on earth by any such authoritarian "visible organization" such as the Jehovah's Witnesses. Russell never spoke of "Jehovah's organization", although he did speak of "the Lord's organization", yet an examination of the context shows that he was not speaking of such in the same sense of Rutherford's "Jehovah's organization" dogma.
At least one of the JWs we have corresponded with has made the claim that Russell at first preached against such an organization, but "new light" came before he died, so that before he died, he had come to realize "the truth" concerning "Jehovah's organization". Such a claim, however, does not actually fit the facts.
One claims that "In 1879, he began the Watch Tower—what would later be known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the teaching organ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses." In reality, although Russell started a legal entity called "The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society", that legal entity, as he intended for it to be, was not never meant to be the teaching organ of an organization such "Jehovah's Witnesses". Indeed, one could say that Brother Russell's Watch Tower Society no longer exists, since Rutherford virtually destroyed Russell's Watch Tower Society after Russell died.
In this presentation, we will be presenting a lot of quotes from Russell which demonstrate what he believed and taught about "organization" as that word may be seen as related to the kind of organization that Rutherford created after Russell died. These quotes demonstrate that, even until his death, he never believed in the idea that anyone should set themselves up or be set up as "the authority" in the church.
One quote has been presented to us as proof that Russell did believe in such an organization, and that early in his ministry. The quote given is from the Watch Tower, March 1883, page 458:
We believe that a visible organization, and the adopting of some particular name, would tend to increase our numbers and make us appear more respectable in the estimation of the world.
The claim has been made that here Russell stated that he was advocating a "visible organization"; in reality, the quote has to be taken out of context, and then it has to be imagined that Russell was stating that he was advocating a "visible organization". The quote, taken in context, reveals that Russell doing just the opposite, that he was NOT advocating using a "visible organization":
We believe that a visible organization, and the adopting of some particular name, would tend to increase our numbers and make us appear more respectable in the estimation of the world. The natural man can see that a visibly organized body, with a definite purpose, is a thing of more or less power; therefore, they esteem the various organizations, from which we have come out, in obedience to the Master's call. But the natural man cannot understand how a company of people, with no organization which they can see, is ever going to accomplish anything. As they look upon us, they regard us simply as a few scattered skirmishers--a "peculiar people"--with very peculiar ideas and hopes, but not worthy of special notice.But, though it is impossible for the natural man to see our organization, because he cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God, we trust that you can see that the true Church is most effectually organized, and in the best possible working order. (See the plan of our organization, as stated in October issue, under the caption "The Ekklesia.") The Apostle Paul urges all to unity of faith and purpose (Phil. 3:15,16-- Diaglott.) All led by the same Spirit may and do come to a knowledge of the same truth. Under our Captain, all the truly sanctified, however few or far separated in person, are closely united by the Spirit of Christ, in faith, hope and love; and, in following the Master's command, are moving in solid battalions for the accomplishment of his purposes. But, bear in mind, God is not dependent upon numbers (See Judges 7, as an illustration).Recognizing this organization, which is of the Spirit, and desiring no assimilation whatever with the worldly, who cannot see or understand it, we are quite willing to bear the reproach of a peculiar people. We always refuse to be called by any other name than that of our Head --Christians--continually claiming that their can be no division among those continually led by his Spirit and example as made known through his Word.We disown none of our Lord's dear children. The weakest child of the household of faith (in Christ, our Redeemer) we gladly recognize as our brother. Some, in ignorance of their privilege of the communion of saints, are mixed with the various worldly organizations, to their great detriment. Though we cannot follow them there, we gladly welcome them when they come among us. Wherever we have hope of finding any such, in the various nominal Churches, etc., we tell them the "good tidings of great joy," and, by word and example, say, "Come out from among them (the worldly, though professing Christians) and be ye separate." How could we deliver this message if we were not obeying it? We have unbounded faith in our Captain; and this perfect organization, invisible to the world, marches on to certain and glorious victory.
Russell referred to an article in the October 1882 issue of the Watch Tower on "The Ekklesia". That study is online at:
In that study, Russell never presented the "organization" of the church as being a sectarian, denominational organization headed by men on earth. Indeed, he says just the opposite.
There is no organization today clothed with authority. -- Watch Tower, September 1, 1893, page 262.
A visible organization is out of harmony with God's divine plane. -- Watch Tower, December 1, 1894, page 1743
Beware of "organization." It is wholly unnecessary. -- Watch Tower, September 13, 1895, page 1866.
That Russell, even his later years, still did not believe in a the idea of such an organization as the JWs can be seen from Russell statement as published in “The Bible Students Monthly”, Volume 7 (1915), Number 9, in the article entitled, “The Catholic Church — St. Peter’s Kingdom Keys”. Notice that this was published about one year before Russell died.
I am aware that several churches claim to be Catholic, each declaring itself the true Church and reprobating the others as heretical. I take the still broader catholic ground-that the word catholic means general; and that any limitation such as Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, etc., to that extent denies their catholicity.Perhaps, therefore, I am really saying that I am more catholic than any of these brethren.I must prove my point or be misunderstood. I hold, and few, if any, will dispute it, that the one catholic or general Church of Christ is that mentioned in the Bible-” the Church of the Firstborns, written in Heaven.” If this be admitted, my next proposition is that the Lord in Heaven records as members of His true Church all the saintly-whether Roman Catholics, Anglican Catholics, Greek Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians, etc.-and none others.Have we not here the one Church, catholic, universal, the only Church which the Bible recognizes? In the past we have been too narrow and have sup posed that God was as narrow as ourselves. It was on this account that Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists persecuted and were persecuted, each thinking itself the true Church. Are we not all getting broader conceptions of our God and of His Church? Do we not see that we were mistaken in calling the outward organization the Church of Christ instead of remembering that the Lord alone writes the names of the Church, that He alone reads the hearts, that He alone is the Judge, and that He alone has the right to blot out the names of reprobates?St. Paul wrote against sectarianism, already manifest in his day-some saying:”I am of Paul”; others, “I am of Peter”; etc. The Apostle asks, “Is Christ divided: “(1 Cor. 1:10-13) He explains that these sectarian names signified a spirit of division that failed to recognize the true Head of the Church, His true representatives and His true members. The entire foundation of divided Christianity would disappear and the true Church of Christ be speedily manifest, if true catholicity were acknowledged.
—-We have reproduced the entire sermon at:
Also in 1915, Russell stated the following in the pages of the Watch Tower:
On one occasion I was called upon by a minister of the Reformed Church. He wanted to know how I managed my church. I said to him, "Brother __________ I have no church." He said, "You know what I mean." I answered, "I want you to know what I mean too. We claim that there is only one Church. If you belong to that Church, you belong to our Church." He looked at me in surprise. Then he said, "You have an organization; how many members are there?" I replied, "I cannot tell; we do not keep any membership rolls." "You do not keep any list of the membership?" "No. We do not keep any list; their names are written in Heaven." He asked, "How do you have your election?" I said, "We announce an election; and any or all of God's people, who are consecrated and are accustomed to meet with this company, or congregation, may have the privilege of expressing their judgment of who would be the Lord's preference for elders and deacons of the congregation." "Well," he said, "that is simplicity itself." I then added, "We pay no salaries; there is nothing to make people quarrel. We never take up a collection." "How do you get the money?" he asked. I replied, "Now, Dr. __________, if I tell you what is the simplest truth you will hardly be able to believe it. When people get interested in this way, they find no basket placed under their nose. But they see there are expenses. They say to themselves, 'This hall costs something, and I see that free lunch is served between meetings, for those living at some distance. How can I get a little money into this thing, anyway?" He looked at me as if he thought, "What do you take me for --a greenhorn?" I said, "Now, Dr. __________, I am telling you the plain truth. They do ask me this very question, 'How can [R5730 : page 219] I get a little money into this cause?' When one gets a blessing and has any means, he wants to use it for the Lord. If he has no means, why should we prod him for it?"There would be nothing to come out of, as an organization, if one is an International Bible Student. You cannot get out of anything you have not gone into. -- The Watch Tower, July 15, 1915, pages 218, 219.
Thus, as Russell explained, the Bible Students Association in his day was not "an organization". Therefore, when JWs or others speak of the Bible Students leaving their organization in the years 1917-1928, it is entirely misleading, since, as far as the Bible Students were concerned, there was no organization to leave.
In 1915, Russell stated:
The Bible says that we should "do good unto all men as we have opportunity, especially to the Household of Faith." (Gal. 6:10). Therefore we should do good to our Roman Catholic neighbors, our Methodist neighbors, and all other neighbors. We should be glad to do good to every one. But if we have the choice of doing something for the saints or for a neighbor, then we should give the preference to the Lord's saints, whether they be Presbyterian saints or what not. That would include whoever is a son of God. We are the children of God, and we are glad to serve any other child of God, though we would be glad to see them all enjoying the liberty wherewith Christ makes free, not being entangled in any yoke of sectarian bondage. If the Son makes us free, then are we free indeed--Gal. 5:1. -- What Pastor Russell Said, page 644
What would Russell think of the judicial committees and hearings that are prevalent today amongst the JW organization? Some often blame Russell for that organization and its hearings, etc., but notice what Russell stated in 1916 (we have expanded the names of the books of the Bible as an aid in searches):
QUESTION (1916)--1--ANSWER.--I agree with the suggestion of the question that it should be handled in harmony with the Lord's direction in the passage cited. The Lord's word does not authorize any court of the Elders, or anyone else, to become busybodies. This would be going back to the practices of the Dark Ages during the inquisition; and we would be showing the same spirit as did the inquisitors. The Lord has put the matter in a simple way and we could not improve upon it. The Bible says, "If thy Brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." That should end the matter. However, should it not be successful, the Scriptures give the next step. We read: "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established." If the wrong-doer will give heed to the admonition of the two or three and stop his wrong-doing, that would end the matter. It would not be within our province to make any demand upon him or to endeavor to administer any kind of punishment upon him. We should remember the Word of the Lord, which says, "The Lord will judge His people." If he should need any punishment, we may trust the Lord to give it to him and not take the matter into our own hands. We should have confidence in the Lord. If we stop the wrong that is as far as we can go. But if the wrong-doer should persist in his wrong- doing and not repent, and if the matter be of sufficient importance, then we are to bring the matter to the attention of the Church for correction. -- Matthew 18:15-18.We should not bring any small or trifling matter before the Church. It is my judgment that three-fourths of the things that are brought to my attention--matters of this kind--had better be dropped; and nothing at all be done with them. However, there might be an exception in case the matter had gone beyond the individual, and had somehow involved the whole congregation. In such event, it might be impossible to deal with the matter in an individual way. Then the Elders might constitute themselves into a Board or [Q480] Committee, and get one of their number to look into the case and see if the wrong could not be stopped, or adjusted. When the matter gets beyond the individual, we have no advice beyond the Word of God. Let us be careful not to become like Babylon, and hold inquisition and mix ourselves up. The Word of God is our sufficiency, and we should follow it closely and thereby avoid confusion. -- What Pastor Russell Said, page 479.
Just before Russell died, Russell had the following printed in The Watch Tower, August 15, 1916, page 248:
Let it be borne in mind that the Society exercises no authority, makes no criticism, but merely gives advice; and that in the interest of the Lord's Cause and the Lord's people.