Sunday, August 26, 2007

That Charles Taze Russell question

In the Unreasonably Difficult round at Frank's this past week, I asked what religious sect was founded by Charles Taze Russell in Pennsylvania in 1870.

I expected the answer Jehovah's Witnesses, which perhaps one team answered correctly. Most teams answered Seventh Day Adventists. After announcing the answer I was loudly denounced by at least one person, who felt the need to shout "You're wrong, Chris, you're wrong!" He wanted no part of betting me $100 on that one, though. I make that offer when people challenge the answers, I believe 3 times now, and no one ever takes me up on it. That's a shame, as I'd be a bit richer if they did.

First off, the SDAs were founded in the 1830s-1860s (formally in 1863) in upstate New York in the ashes of the Millerite movement. In fact their origins can be traced to an insane mass delusional event called the Great Disappointment of 1844. No Russell, no PA, no 1870.

Russell, however, was a separate nut who founded what's now known as the Jehovah's Witnesses in Pittsburgh in 1870. They were originally known as "Bible Students," and after a schism in the group shortly before 1920 the folks loyal to what they saw as the teachings of Russell adopted the "Jehovah's Witness" moniker.

Huzzah. I have a feeling that no one will be shouting "I'm wrong, Chris, I'm wrong!" this coming Wednesday. Funny how that works.

UPDATE: It appears that some of Russell's early followers confusingly were Seventh Adventists (which only makes that answer more chronologically incorrect), and that the JWs are claiming a founding date of either 1872 or "early 1870s" in their own lit. My initial reference does read 1870.


Ronald said...

No, Charles Taze Russell was not the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, nor any other religion or sect. He was the main founder of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. He knew nothing of a "Jehovah's Witnesses" religion, nor did he believe in such an organization, nor did he believe what the Jehovah's Witnesses believe. It was Joseph Rutherford, who, after Russell died, gained control of the Watch Tower Bible Tract Society through deceit and legal trickery, and then used that legal entity as a basis for forming his new organization, which he later called "Jehovah's Witnesses.

QuizMasterChris said...

This last post was obviously from a Bible Student, who have the sort of bitter enmity toward their closest related sect (yes, Ronald, your group is a religious sect whether you like it or not) that only religions can inspire. I see that within a day of posting anything on the internet which connects Russell & the JWs one can expect some visitation from the BSers (no pun intended).

Everything that I read which is written by a neutral party in the conflict maintains that Russell's followers had a split in the early 20th century, and that the JWs themselves consider him to be their founder. That's good enough for me, whether anyone else likes it or not. Vatican II doesn't mean that Catholics don't consider St. Peter to be the first Pope; that your average Episcopalian doesn't believe exactly what Henry VIII did doesn't mean that that church wasn't founded because Henry wanted some new royal nookie. Etc.

That Russell doesn't believe precisely the same thing that JWs believe today means nothing. There's hardly a sect of people in any religious tradition anywhere who believe precisely as their founders did; theology and ruling structures change through time. Sometimes sects split and two or more sides lay claim to being the "true" descendants thereof.

In the case of Christianity we appear to have one or more 1st century AD founders with about 10,000 various sects each claiming to be the only true interpreters of the scripture laid out by the same founder(s). I don't plan to have an ongoing theological dispute in this forum over a wacky preacher who died almost 100 years ago; a pox on both your houses.

tom sheepandgoats said...

You are correct again, Chris, not wrong. All JW beliefs of any consequence are traceable to Russell. Various tweaks have occured along the way ever since. The name itself "Jehovah's Witnesses" was adopted in 1931.

Note that in the final book of Acts (chapt 28:22) the whole of Christianity was called a "sect," which it was at the time.... a breakaway group from Judaism.

The words actually mean something, but increasingly today, the terms "sect" and even "cult" serve only as a measure of the writer's distaste for whatever group in question.

QuizMasterChris said...

Thanks, Mr. Sheepandgoats! Thanks for stopping by and chiming in.

I don't use the word "sect" negatively here by the way, only descriptively. Everyone in a specific camp of Christianity (or any other tradition) is in a sect which differentiates them from the other churches' theology and organizational structure. I would use "cult" only in a negative way, though.

Ronald said...

Russell did not believe in the idea that millions of men, women and children, still blinded by Satan, will be eternally destroyed in Armageddon, as the JWs do. The doctrine of the ransom for all was considered the central doctrine by Russell, was discarded by Rutherford, and replaced with an almost an opposite doctrine by Rutherford. The idea of fear of eternal destruction at Armageddon, unheard of by Russell, has been a driving force of the JW organization. Russell was certainly not the founder of the "Armageddon" as JWs visualize it.

Christian love,

QuizMasterChris said...

Russell also sold "Miracle Wheat" to his flock, which is to say plain ol' wheat at marked up prices that he claimed had magical powers. He seems to have liked to diddle the young ladies and had a strange fascination with his own claimed divinity and with Egyptian pyramids.

The question thus becomes "Why does anyone who draws theology from Russell want to distance themselves from the JWs, because at *THAT* point we've decided things start to get weird?!"

Ronald said...

There was no Miracle Wheat deception by Russell. Russell did not claim it has "magical powers".

Russell had no sexual relations with anyone of any age. The unsubstantiated accusations against Russell along this line are just that: unsubstantiated accusations.

I have no idea what is meant by that Russell had a strange fascination with his own divinity. I have all of his known extant writings. I find no such "fascination".

Russell had no fascination for Egyptian pyramids. He did have a Biblical interest in one pyramid, that is, the one called the "Great Pyramid". Nothing wrong with that.

Christian love,

QuizMasterChris said...

I'd be a whole lot more likely to believe those links if they weren't run by Bible Students groups.

"Russell continued his teachings until his death on October 31, 1916,
aboard a transcontinental train in Texas. The former pastor had a
remarkable life highly colored with legal entanglements, but not without
success in his chosen field. In fairness to the reader and in the
interest of truth, the following account is quoted from The Brookly
Daily Eagle, Novermber 1, 1916 (Obit. Column), and has been inserted at
this point to authenticate beyond doubt the true history of Russell so
that even his most devoted followers may realize the character of the
man to whose teachings they have entrusted their eternal destiny.

A year after this publication, The Watch Tower, had been
established Russell married Maria Ackley in Pittsburgh. She had
become interested in him through his teachings, and she helped him
in running the Watch Tower.

Two years later, in 1881, came "The Watch Tower Bible and Tract
Society," the agency through which in later years "Pastor" Russell's
sermons were published (as advertisements) in newspapers throughout
the world. This Society progressed amazingly under the joint
administration of husband and wife, but in 1897 Mrs. Russell left
her husband. Six years later, in 1903, she sued for separation.
The decree was secured in 1906 following sensational testimony and
"Pastor" Russell was scored by the courts.

There was much litigation then that was quite undesirable from
the "Pastor's" point of view regarding alimony for his wife, but it
was settled in 1909 by the payment of $6,036 to Mrs. Russell. The
litigation revealed that "Pastor" Russell's activities in the
religious field were carried on through several subsidiary societies
and that all of the wealth which flowed into him through these
societies was under the control of a holding company in which the
"Pastor" held 990 of the $1,000 capitol and two of his followers the
other $10.

Thus Russell apparently controlled the entire financial power of the
Society and was not accountable to anyone.
The Eagle column goes on to say:

After the "work" had been well started here, "Pastor" Russell's
Watch Tower publication advertised wheat seed for sale at $1.00 a
pound. It was styled "Miracle Wheat," and it was asserted that it
would grow five times as much as any other brand of wheat. There
were other claims made for the wheat seed, and the followers were
advised to purchase it, the proceeds to go to the Watch Tower and be
used in publishing the "Pastor's" sermons.

The Eagle first made public the facts about this new venture of
the Russellites and it published a cartoon picturing the "Pastor"
and his "Miracle Wheat" in such a way that "Pastor" Russell brought
suit for libel, asking $100,000 damges. Government departments
investigated the wheat for which $1.00 a pound was asked, and agents
of the Government were important witnesses at the trial of the libel
suit in January, 1913. The "Miracle Wheat" was low in the
Government tests, they said. The Eagle won the suit.

Prior to entering the court the Eagle had said,

The Eagle goes even further and declares that at the trial it
will show that "Pastor" Russell's religious cult is nothing more
than a money-making scheme.

The court's decision vindicated the Eagle's statement and proved its

All during this time the "Pastor's" sermons were being printed
in newspapers throughout the world, notably when he made a tour of
the world in 1912 and caused accounts to be published in his
advertised sermons telling of enthusiatic greetings at the various
places he visited. It was shown in many cases that the sermons were
never delivered in the places that were claimed.

For the benefit of any naive Jehovah's Witness who may think that the
"Miracle Wheat" fraud is an invention of the "jealous religionists" who
are trying to defame the "Pastor's" memory, we document the scandal,
trial, and verdict as follows:

From originals (now microfilmed in New York) of The Brooklyn Daily
Eagle, the following dates and articles -

(1) January 1, 1913, pages 1,2. Miracle Wheat Scandal.
(2) January 22, 1913, page 2. Testimony of Russellite beliefs.
(3) January 23, 24, 1913, page 3. Testimony on wheat.
(4) January 25, 1913, page 16. Financial statements proving
Russell's absolute control, made by Secretary-Treasure Van
(5) Van Amberg's statement:
"...We are not responsible to anyone for our expenditures. We
are responsible only to God."
(6) January 27, 1913, page 3. Government experts testify on
"Miracle Wheat" and ascertain beyond doubt that it is not
miraculous or overly excellent.
(7) January 28, 1913, page 2. Prosecution and Defense sum-up.
Russell assailed, but not present to hear it.
(8) January 29, 1913, page 16. Russell loses libel suit.

In recent years the Watchtower Society has maintained that Russell
never made money on the "Miracle Wheat," and that proceeds from its sale
were "contributions" to the organization. They fail to note that
Russell controlled the Watchtower Society, owning 990 of the 1,000
shares of its stock. Any contribution to it were also to Russell!"

Ronald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronald said...

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle is not a good source for the true facts. The post of all these distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies, does nothing to alter the facts, except to discourage one from investigating the true facts, and to discourage one from investigating the truths that Mr. Russell and his associates presented from the Bible.

Let the true facts be known, not unless one wishes not be "confused" with the facts that he may continue putting his faith in his/her belief in the misrepresentations of the facts.

I will show, God willing, the facts a little at a time.

Fact: It was not Mr. Russell, nor Mr. Bohnet, but rather a non-Bible Student, K. B. Stoner, who made the claims for and referred to the wheat as "Miracle Wheat". Russell produced a quote from a newspaper concerning those claims two years before Mr. Bohnet ever donated any of the wheat to be sold. The claims of Mr. Stoner (who was not a Bible Student) were confirmed in US Government report including below.

The following is from
The Watch Tower, March 15, 1908, page 86 (note that this was two years before an announcement was printed in the Watch Tower concerning Mr. Bohnet's offer to sale Miracle Wheat):


The public press is telling of the origin of "Miracle Wheat" in answer to prayer. The description has the earmarks of truth to it, in that it gives the address of the man whose prayers are said to have been answered-- "K. B. Stoner, a farmer of Fincastle, Botetourt county, Virginia." It would appear from the account that the original stalk of wheat appeared in the midst of a crop of the ordinary kind, but with "142 heads of grain."

We quote:--

"Mr. Stoner was amazed. It seemed incredible. When a Frenchman, in 1842, announced that he had discovered a species of wheat in the Mediterranean country which produced four heads to the plant, people said he was crazy.

"But here was a plant with 142 heads!

"Naturally Mr. Stoner carefully preserved the heads, and the next year sowed the seed, continuing to do this each year, for he realized he had discovered a phenomenal brand of grain. And each year his amazement increased.

"That first year after discovering the plant he got 2000 grains. In 1906 he got sixteen bushels, and has now raised the crop of wheat, all carefully preserved for seed, to 800 bushels.

"What is most remarkable about the wheat is this: Whereas there is produced in the wheat sections of that country an average at the best of seventeen bushels to an acre, the average yield of the "miracle wheat" during the last three years has been fifty-six bushels to the acre; and whereas from eight to ten pecks of seed are required to plant an acre in Virginia, Mr. Stoner uses only two pecks, and, in comparison to the yield of ordinary wheat in the neighborhood, which is eight bushels for each bushel of seed, Mr. Stoner gets about seventy-five bushels for one. An ordinary stalk of wheat covers about four inches of space. The miracle wheat covers twelve.


"Last year United States government officials became interested in the remarkable wheat and sent Assistant Agriculturalist H. A. Miller to examine it. In his report he declares:

"'The wheat, which came from an unknown source, has been grown in the nursery every year since that time, and also has been grown under field conditions the last two years, giving excellent results. The yield has been from two to three times the yield of other varieties grown on the farm under the same condition of culture, except the rate of seeding, which was two pecks to the acre, while other varieties were sown at the rate of eight to ten pecks per acre, which is the common practice of farmers in the vicinity.

"'Milling tests have been made of this wheat, and its quality seems to be as good as, if not superior to, other varieties of winter wheat.'

"The average height of the wheat, according to the report, is four feet four inches.

"It is said that the Russian government has secured an option on the wheat, and will buy a consignment of 80,000,000 bushels when that quantity shall have been raised. During the next year the seed will be distributed among farmers in Virginia and North Carolina, who will raise it and preserve the seed, keeping the seed only for planting until the required amount will have been produced. By next fall, it is believed, 30,000 bushels will have been produced."


If this account be but one-half true it testifies afresh to God's ability to provide things needful for the "times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began."--Acts 3:19-21.
==end of quote

BTW, While the original "Miracle Wheat" strain became weaker over the years as it became blended with other varieties, a new high-yielding strain has been produced since then, which is also called "Miracle Wheat", and still produced to this day:

Christian love,

QuizMasterChris said...

I'm glad that you know that a newspaper staff from 1913 is not a reliable source of information. I suppose the fact that Russell lost his lawsuit against them also means that the court system in New York had a peculiar anti-Russell bias.

Everybody else is wrong and Russell and his followers are right. It must be wonderful being a cult member, not having to burn up all those extra calories by thinking. What suckers the rest of us are!

Ronald said...

The false charge was made that the Watch Tower Society and its affiliated associations were all under the control of a "holding company". Another site claims:

Russell owned 990 of the 1,000 shares of Watchtower Society stock. By this figure, 99% of every "contribution" for "Miracle Wheat" was in effect a contribution to Russell himself.

The above is repeated often on many sites and in many forums. The truth is that no one has ever owned any capital stock in the Watch Tower Society, not even Russell. There has never been one single share of capital stock issued. However, for each contribution of $10.00 any contributor was entitled to one voting share. By 1915 there were nearly two hundred thousand shares, most of which we understand were owned by people other than Russell, and as it was written in 1915, though "it would be an easy matter to elect some other man as president, there never has been cast a vote against Pastor Russell."

Nevertheless, the false statements appear to be based on Russell's use of a non-incorporated company called "United States Investment Company". This company was formed as a limited partnership by Russell around 1896 in Pennsylvania in which Russell put up the money for and capital was recorded in his name and two others. This may be where all these rumors of Russell owning 90% of the Watch Tower Society has come from, although this company was not the Watch Tower Society. Russell evidently formed this company because some had objected to the Watch Tower Society's receiving and selling real estate and other items, so this "company" had been formed for that purpose, to take care of this in a business manner totally separate from the Watch Tower Society. Of course, this made it appear at least on paper that Russell had 90% interest in any property and assets owned by this company so his opponents saw this as reason to promote all kinds of wild speculations and false accusations, which evidently became twisted to what is stated in the quotes above. In truth any profits that came from business activities of this company went directly to the Watch Tower Society. No one was receiving any secret profit from this company. This company had nothing at all to do with the sale of "Miracle Wheat", nor was this company a "holding company" for all monies of the Watch Tower Society.

Joseph Rutherford wrote a book in 1915, in which he stated:



Much ado has been made by his enemies about business corporations with which Pastor Russell is connected, particularly with reference to the UNITED STATES INVESTMENT COMPANY.

The fact is that this company was never a corporation in the strict sense of the word. It was a limited partnership organized under the Statutes of Pennsylvania. Its capital stock was $1,000. Pastor Russell furnished that $1,000 out of his personal means.

This company was organized for the purpose of taking title to certain property which it did take over and afterwards disposed of, and every dollar that was received therefrom went into the treasury of the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY, and was used for its religious work.

Pastor Russell did not receive one cent profit therefrom, nor has any other person ever reaped any pecuniary profit therefrom.

This company has been out of existence for more than two years, and does not own anything today, even its capital stock being expended by the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY in its religious work.

There is no corporation in existence anywhere in the world in which Pastor Russell owns a single share of stock, nor in which anyone else holds any stock for his use or benefit.


When Pastor Russell closed out his business, many years ago, he had upwards of a quarter of a million dollars. The greater portion he freely spent in the publication of Bible literature, which was distributed to the people without charge for the purpose of enlightening them concerning the harmonious Plan of God as taught in the Scriptures. The remainder of his wealth he transferred to the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY in harmony with and in fulfillment of an agreement between himself and wife made before their domestic troubles began.

Pastor Russell now has no money, no bank account and owns no property aside from a few personal effects, nor does anyone hold any property or money for his personal benefit.

His life for the past forty years has been devoted exclusively to religious work, during which time he has received as a monetary compensation his meals and a modest room in which to work and sleep, traveling expenses and $11 per month for incidental expenses, which amount is supplied by the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY.

The charge that he has used these corporations for his personal and private gain is absolutely false, as the books of the corporations abundantly testify. Every dollar that comes into his hands he accounts to the Society for the same.

As an illustration, it was incidentally shown in a lawsuit in which the books of the Society were necessary as evidence that on one occasion Pastor Russell was on the opposite side of the continent from New York when he was handed a draft for $10,000, payable to his own order and which he could have cashed and appropriated to his own use, but, on the contrary, he sent the draft at once to the Treasurer of the Society, authorizing him to indorse his name thereon and cash it for the benefit of the work of said Society, which was done.

On the occasion of the above lawsuit a committee of five gentlemen, experts, were appointed to audit the books of the corporation, and not one penny was found as having been misappropriated by Pastor Russell or anyone else.

I know these facts because it was necessary for me, as counsel, to go over the audit.

Christian love,

Ronald said...

Was Russell not accountable to anyone for how he spent the Society's funds?

Again, the idea that he was not accountable to anyone is false. We need to remember that there were many shareholders, holding thousands of voting shares. If Russell had been misusing the funds, it would have been easily detectable by those who knew him, and certainly would have come forward as an issue amongst the shareholders. No such issue was ever raised.

Indeed, the testimony of those who knew him showed that he divested his own fortune to forward the work of the WTS.

Christian love,

Christian love,

Ronald said...

Contrary to the impression left by the Eagle, there were no government agents (plural) present to testify at the suit against the Eagle. According to the court records, there was one witness for the Eagle, a Mr. Ball, who testified that he was "connected with the U.S. Government with the Department of Agriculture as an Agronomist and Acting Cerealist in charge of cereal investigations" (fol. 732). What he presented was a memoranda of experiments with Miracle Wheat, supposed to have been made at the Government station, by persons whom he was unable to name. This is the facts concerning what the Eagle alleged when it stated that "agents of the Government were important witnesses at the trial."

On the other hand, the Eagle failed to report that there were eleven witnesses at the trial that attested the truthfulness of the claims concerning Miracle Wheat. Eight of those eleven witnesses never heard of Pastor Russell or his religious teachings prior to the trial of this case, but had been experimenting with Miracle Wheat and found it far superior to any other wheat, so there testimony was not biased based on religious affiliation. The testimony of those witnesses are in the trial record, and is presented at:

Christian love,

QuizMasterChris said...

The court and a newspaper were poor sources of info, but the guy who ended up taking over Russell's position when he died is a good source of info?

The fact that you've posted early and often suggests not just cult but paranoid cult, one fearful of any criticism of its founder on the internet.

Ronald said...

Rutherford's statements are backed up by the court record itself. Being very familiar with the works of Charles Taze Russell, and knowing how he sought to stay as close to the Bible as possible, and knowing the underhanded "witch hunt" type of misrepresentations of his life and works by those who wanted to silence the truths he proclaimed, I have much greater reason to believe what Rutherford wrote in his book than what absolutely *know* to be misleading statements of the sensationalist "Eagle". The facts speak for themselves.

Christian love,

tom sheepandgoats said...

Hey, Chris, you really DO know a lot. I just checked in and was amazed to see how much has been built on our discussion.

Frankly, I did not read much of Ronald's comments, nor all of the excerpts you provided, not because I think them valueless, but because I don't really have the time (or interest) to prove/disprove all that is said. Besides, if you have to go back 100 years to dig up dirt, there can't be that much dirt to dig. (Not to say that is your motive. You are answering Ronald. I understand that) Moreover, most things have to be viewed in the context of their own time, not ours.

Every new person puts his stamp on any organization. We all understand that. (or should) Rutherford built on Russell. Knorr built on Rutherford, and so forth. Even the NT writers all emphasize noticeably differrent points. That doesn't necessarily mean they're not in harmony.

There are some folks, it seems, who want to freeze the clock, and paint Russell as the know-all and end-all.

QuizMasterChris said...

Thanks again, Tom. I have the feeling that Ronald and I are posting for the same reason at root; owing the Googlization of the web, this little exchange bizarrely becomes reference material for posterity!

I don't claim to be an expert here, I'm merely an individual with no horse in the religious race, a healthy dose of skepticism and an internet connection.