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|Charles Taze Russell|
Russell in 1911.
|Born||February 16, 1852|
|Died||October 31, 1916 (aged 64)|
|Spouse(s)||Maria Frances Ackley|
|Parents||Joseph Lytel Russell|
Ann Eliza Birney
|The neutrality of this article is disputed. (October 2013)|
|Charles Taze Russell|
Russell in 1911.
|Born||February 16, 1852|
|Died||October 31, 1916 (aged 64)|
|Spouse(s)||Maria Frances Ackley|
|Parents||Joseph Lytel Russell|
Ann Eliza Birney
Charles Taze Russell (February 16, 1852 – October 31, 1916), or Pastor Russell, was a prominent early 20th century Christian restorationist minister from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and founder of what is now known as the Bible Student movement, from which Jehovah's Witnesses and numerous independent Bible Student groups emerged after his death.
Beginning in July 1879 he began publishing a monthly religious journal, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. The journal is now published by Jehovah's Witnesses on a semi-monthly basis under the name, The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom. In 1881 he co-founded Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society and in 1884 the corporation was officially registered, with Russell as president. Russell wrote many articles, books, tracts, pamphlets and sermons, totaling approximately 50,000 printed pages. From 1886 to 1904, he published a six-volume Bible study series originally entitled Millennial Dawn, later renamed Studies in the Scriptures, nearly 20 million copies of which were printed and distributed around the world in several languages during his lifetime. (A seventh volume was commissioned by his successor as society president, Joseph Rutherford, and published in 1917.) The Watch Tower Society ceased publication of Russell's writings in 1927, though his books are still published by several independent groups.
Russell was a charismatic figure, but claimed no special revelation or vision for his teachings and no special authority on his own behalf. He stated that he did not seek to found a new denomination, but instead intended merely to gather together those who were seeking the truth of God's Word "during this harvest time". He wrote that the "clear unfolding of truth" within his teachings was due to "the simple fact that God's due time has come; and if I did not speak, and no other agent could be found, the very stones would cry out." He viewed himself—and all other Christians anointed with the Holy Spirit—as "God's mouthpiece" and an ambassador of Christ. Later in his career he accepted without protest that many Bible Students viewed him as the "faithful and wise servant" of Matthew 24:45, and was described by the Watch Tower after his death as having been made "ruler of all the Lord's goods".
After Russell's death, a crisis arose surrounding Rutherford's leadership of the society, culminating in a movement-wide schism. As many as three-quarters of the approximately 50,000 Bible Students who had been associating in 1917 had left by 1931, resulting in the formation of several groups that retained variations on the name Bible Students. Those who maintained fellowship with the Watch Tower Society adopted the name Jehovah's witnesses in 1931, while those who severed ties with the Society formed their own groups including the Pastoral Bible Institute in 1918, the Laymen's Home Missionary Movement in 1919, and the Dawn Bible Students Association in 1929.
|Part of a series onBible Students|
|Free Bible Students|
|Laymen's Home Missionary Movement|
|Dawn Bible Students Association|
|Pastoral Bible Institute|
|The Dawn·The New Creation|
Frank and Ernest (broadcast)
Studies in the Scriptures
The Photo-Drama of Creation
|Charles Taze Russell|
Jonas Wendell · William Henry Conley
Nelson H. Barbour · Paul S. L. Johnson
A. H. Macmillan · J. F. Rutherford
Conrad C. Binkele
|Jehovah · Nontrinitarianism · Ransom|
Dispensationalism · Sheol and Hades
Resurrection · Annihilationism
Charles Taze Russell was born to Scotch-Irish parents, immigrant Joseph Lytel Russell // (d. December 17, 1897) and Ann Eliza Birney (d. January 25, 1861), on February 16, 1852 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, USA. Russell was the second of five children, and was one of only two to survive into adulthood. His mother died when he was 9 years old.
The Russells lived in Philadelphia, as well as Allegheny, before moving to Pittsburgh, where they became members of the Presbyterian Church. In his early teens, Charles' father made him partner of his Pittsburgh haberdashery store. By age twelve, Russell was writing business contracts for customers and given charge of some of his father's other clothing stores. At age thirteen, Russell left the Presbyterian Church to join the Congregational Church. In his youth he was known to chalk Bible verses on fence boards and city sidewalks to draw attention to the punishment of hell awaiting the unfaithful in an attempt to convert unbelievers.
At age sixteen, a discussion with a childhood friend on faults perceived in Christianity (such as contradictions in creeds, along with medieval traditions) led Russell to question his faith. He then investigated various other religious, but concluded that they did not provide the answers he was seeking. In 1870, at age eighteen, he attended a presentation by Adventist minister Jonas Wendell. During his presentation Wendell outlined his belief that 1873 or 1874 would be the date for Christ's second coming. He later stated that although he did not entirely agree with the arguments presented by Wendell the presentation itself was sufficient to inspire within him a renewed zeal and re-establish his belief that the Bible is the word of God.
On March 13, 1879, Russell married Maria Frances Ackley (//; 1850–1938) after a few months' acquaintance. The couple separated in 1897. Russell blamed the marriage breakup on disagreements over Maria Russell's insistence for a greater editorial role in Zion's Watch Tower magazine, though a later court judgment noted that he had labelled the marriage "a mistake" three years before the dispute over her editorial ambitions had arisen. Maria Russell filed a suit for legal separation in the Court of Common Pleas at Pittsburgh in June 1903 and three years later filed for divorce under the claim of mental cruelty. She was granted a divorce from bed and board, with alimony, in 1908. Maria Russell died at the age of 88 in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 12, 1938 from complications related to Hodgkin's disease.
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About 1870, Russell and his father established a group with a number of acquaintances to undertake an analytical study of the Bible and the origins of Christian doctrine, creed, and tradition. The group, strongly influenced by the writings of Millerite Adventist ministers George Storrs and George Stetson, themselves frequent attendees, came to the conclusion that many of the primary doctrines of the established churches, including the trinity, hellfire and inherent immortality of the soul, were not substantiated by the scriptures.
Around January 1876 Russell received a copy of Nelson Barbour's Herald of the Morning in the mail. Russell telegraphed Barbour to set up a meeting. The first response was a visit by Barbour and John Henry Paton in Allegheny in March 1876 at Russell's expense to hear their arguments, and compare the conclusions that each side had made in their studies. Russell sponsored a speech by Barbour in St. George's Hall, Philadelphia in August 1876 and attended other lectures by Barbour.
Among the teachings Barbour introduced to Russell was the view that Christians who had died would be raised in April 1878. Russell, who had previously rejected prophetic chronology, was moved to devote his life to what he was convinced were now the last two years before the invisible, spiritual return of Christ. He sold his five clothing stores for approximately $300,000 (current value $6,577,000). With Russell's encouragement and financial backing, Barbour wrote an outline of their views in Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World, published in 1877. A text Russell had previously written, entitled The Object and Manner of our Lord's Return, was published concurrently through the offices of the Herald of the Morning. Russell was eager to lead a Christian revival and called two separate meetings of Christian leaders in Pittsburgh. Russell's ideas, particularly stressing the imminence of the rapture and the second advent of Christ, were rejected both times.
When 1878 arrived, failure of the expected rapture of the saints brought great disappointment for Barbour and Russell, and their associates and readers. According to one of Russell's associates, A.H. Macmillan:
While talking with Russell about the events of 1878, I told him that Pittsburgh papers had reported he was on the Sixth Street bridge dressed in a white robe on the night of the Memorial of Christ's death, expecting to be taken to heaven together with many others. I asked him, "Is that correct?" Russell laughed heartily and said: "I was in bed that night between 10:30 and 11:00 P.M. However, some of the more radical ones might have been there, but I was not. Neither did I expect to be taken to heaven at that time, for I felt there was much work to be done preaching the Kingdom message to the peoples of the earth before the church would be taken away.
Confused by what was perceived to be an error in calculation, Russell re-examined the doctrine to see if he could determine whether it had biblical origins or was simply Christian tradition. He concluded that it was Christian tradition and so he began teaching, through the pages of the Herald, what he believed to have discovered on the subject. Barbour, embarrassed by the failure of their expectations, rejected Russell's explanation and a debate ensued in successive issues of the journal from early 1878 to mid-1879. In a matter of months, Barbour's embarrassment led to a recanting of some of the views he and Russell had previously shared, including any reliance upon prophetic chronology. Their disagreements turned into a debate over Christ's ransom, resulting in a split between the two. Russell removed his financial support and started his own journal, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, with the first issue published in July 1879. Barbour formed The Church of the Strangers that same year, continuing to publish Herald of the Morning.
In 1881, he founded Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society, with William Henry Conley as president and Russell as secretary-treasurer, for the purpose of disseminating tracts, papers, doctrinal treatises and Bibles. All materials were printed and bound by Russell's privately owned Tower Publishing Company for an agreed price, then distributed by "colporteurs" (persons who travel to sell or publicize Bibles, religious tracts, etc.). The Society was incorporated in 1884, with Russell as president, and in 1886 its name was changed to Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
In 1908, Russell transferred the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society to its current location in Brooklyn, New York.
With the formation of the Watch Tower Society, Russell's ministry intensified. His Bible study group had grown to hundreds of local members, with followers throughout New England, the Virginias, Ohio, and elsewhere, who annually re-elected him "Pastor", and commonly referred to him as "Pastor Russell". Congregations that eventually formed in other nations also followed this tradition.
In 1881, he published his first prominent work entitled Food for Thinking Christians. The 162-page "pamphlet" was published using donated funds amounting to approximately $40,000 (current value $967,586). It had a circulation of nearly 1.5 million copies over a period of four months distributed throughout the United States, Canada and Great Britain by various channels. During the same year he published Tabernacle and its Teachings which was quickly expanded and reissued as Tabernacle Shadows of the "Better Sacrifices" outlining his interpretation of the various animal sacrifices and Tabernacle ceremonies instituted by Moses. Russell claimed that the distribution of these works and other tracts by the Watch Tower Society during 1881 exceeded by eight times that of the American Tract Society for the year 1880.
In 1903, newspapers began publishing his written sermons. These newspaper sermons were syndicated worldwide in as many as 4,000 newspapers, eventually reaching an estimated readership of some 15 million in the United States and Canada.
In 1910 the secular journal Overland Monthly calculated that by 1909 Russell's writings had become the most distributed privately produced English-language works in the United States, and that the entire corpus of his works were the third most circulated on earth, after the Bible and the Chinese Almanac. In 1912 The Continent, a Presbyterian journal, stated that in North America his writings had achieved a greater circulation "than the combined circulation of the writings of all the priests and preachers in North America."
Russell devoted nearly a tenth of his fortune, along with contributed funds, in publishing and distributing Food for Thinking Christians in 1881. In the same year followed The Tabernacle and its Teachings and Tabernacle Shadows of the Better Sacrifices. In 1886, after reportedly not making back most of the money spent publishing these three titles, he began publication of what was intended to be a seven-volume series. The volumes were collectively called Millennial Dawn, later renamed Studies in the Scriptures to clarify that they were not novels. Russell published six volumes in the series:
The delayed publication of the seventh volume became a source of great anticipation and mystery among Bible Students. Following Russell's death in 1916, a seventh volume entitled The Finished Mystery was published in 1917, which was advertised as his "posthumous work". This seventh volume was a detailed interpretation of the Book of Revelation, but also included interpretations of Ezekiel and the Song of Solomon. Immediate controversy surrounded both its publication and content, and it soon became known that much of the contents were written and compiled by two of Russell's associates, Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher, and edited by Joseph Rutherford, by then the new president of the Watch Tower Society.
Russell directed the production of a worldwide roadshow presentation entitled The Photo-Drama of Creation, an innovative eight-hour religious film in four parts, incorporating sound, moving film, and color slides. It was the first major screenplay to synchronize sound with moving film. Production began as early as 1912, and the Drama was introduced in 1914 by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. A book by the same name was also published. The project's expenses put the organization under some financial pressures; the full cost was estimated at about US$300,000 (current value $6,990,000).
Following his analytical examination of the Bible, Russell and other Bible Students came to believe that Christian creeds and traditions were harmful errors, believing they had restored Christianity to the purity held in the first century. Such views and conclusions were viewed as heresy by many Church leaders and scholars in his day. Russell agreed with other Protestants on the primacy of the Bible, and justification by faith alone, but thought that errors had been introduced in interpretation. Russell agreed with many 19th century Protestants, including Millerites, in the concept of a Great Apostasy that began in the first century AD. He also agreed with many other contemporary Protestants in belief in the imminent Second Coming of Christ, and Armageddon. Some of the areas in which his Scriptural interpretations differed from those of Catholics, and many Protestants, include the following:
Russell's health had become increasingly poor in the last three years leading up to his death. During his final ministerial tour of the western and southwestern United States he became increasingly ill with cystitis, but ignored advice to abandon the tour. He suffered severe chills during his last week, and at times had to be held in position in bed to prevent suffocation. He was forced to deliver some of his Bible discourses sitting in a chair, and on a few occasions his voice was so weak as to be barely audible. Russell, aged 64 died on October 31, 1916, near Pampa, Texas, while returning to Brooklyn by train. An associate of Russell's stated that at age 64 his body was more worn out than that of his father who died at age 89. He was buried in Rosemont United Cemetery, Pittsburgh. The gravesite (vide coordinates above) is marked by a headstone, nearby stands a 7-foot-tall (2.1 m) pyramid memorial erected by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in 1921.
In January 1917, Joseph Franklin Rutherford was elected president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, despite disputes over the election process. Further disputes arose over interpretation of sections of Russell's will dealing with the future contents of Zion's Watch Tower magazine, as well as who, if anyone, had authority to print new literature. By the end of the 1920s, nearly three quarters of the Bible Student congregations had rejected Rutherford's on-going changes in organizational structure, doctrinal interpretations, and congregational practices, some of which began to appear in material printed by the Watch Tower Society as early as 1917. Many Bible Students were disaffected by Rutherford's rejection of Russell's views regarding his role in the restoration of the "truth" and support of the Great Pyramid as having been built under God's direction.
Those remaining supportive of Rutherford adopted the new name "Jehovah's witnesses" in 1931, and changed the keyword of their magazine from "Watch Tower" to "The Watchtower". Many of the most prominent Bible Students who had ceased association with the changing Watch Tower Society attempted a regathering of disaffected Bible Students in October 1929 by holding the First Annual Bible Students Reunion Convention in the old Pittsburgh "Bible House" long used by Russell. These conventions were held yearly, but the process of regathering took nearly twenty years.
As early as 1892, Russell's views and management style were strongly criticized by certain individuals associated with his ministry. In 1893 a paper was written and circulated to Bible Students in Pittsburgh by associates Otto van Zech, Elmer Bryan, J.B. Adamson, S.G. Rogers, Paul Koetitz, and others. It accused Russell of being a dictatorial leader, a shrewd businessman who appeared eager to collect funds from the selling of the Millennial Dawn books, that he had cheated one of them out of financial gains, and that he issued thousands of Millennial Dawn books under a female pseudonym. A booklet entitled A Conspiracy Exposed and Harvest Siftings was written by Russell and issued as an extra to the April 1894 Zion's Watch Tower magazine in order to preempt attempts to have their views circulated to a wider audience of Bible Students. Russell printed copies of letters he had received from these former associates in order to show that their claims were false, and that those involved 'were guided by Satan in an attempt to subvert his work' as a "minister of the gospel".
In 1897 Russell's wife, Maria, left him after a disagreement over the management of Zion's Watch Tower magazine. She believed that, as his wife, she should have equal control over its administration and equal privilege in writing articles, preaching, and traveling abroad as his representative. In 1903 she filed for legal separation on the grounds of mental cruelty, because of what she considered to be forced celibacy and frequent cold, indifferent treatment. The separation was granted in 1906, with Russell charged to pay alimony.
During the trial Mrs. Russell's attorney alleged that in 1894 Mr. Russell had engaged in "improper intimacy" with Rose Ball, by then a 25-year old woman whom the Russells had previously cared for as a foster daughter after claiming to be an orphan. Mrs. Russell alleged that Ball had told her Mr. Russell claimed to be an amorous "jellyfish floating around" to different women until someone responded to his advances. Mr. Russell denied the accusations and stated that he had never used such terminology to describe himself. When the judge asked Mrs. Russell if she was accusing her husband of adultery, she replied, "No".
The Washington Post and the Mission Friend of Chicago reprinted the "jellyfish" story while also accusing Russell of immoral conduct. Russell sued the papers for libel; the jury decided in his favor, awarding him one dollar. Following an appeal, Russell received a cash settlement of $15,000 (current value $390,000) plus court costs, and an agreement that the two papers publish his weekly syndicated sermons as well as a retraction defending his character.
Rose Ball Henninges died November 22, 1950 at the age of 81 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, having for several years been an author for The People's Paper and remained associated with the Bible Students in Australia until her death.
On March 22, 1911, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published articles accusing Russell of gaining profit from a strain of wheat named "Miracle Wheat" by its alleged discoverer, K.B. Stoner of Fincastle, Virginia. Many critics insisted that Russell had deceived and defrauded many by selling the supposedly advanced strain of wheat for $60 per bushel, far above the average cost of wheat at the time. Throughout 1912 and 1913, the Eagle continued to report on Russell's alleged fraud. Russell sued the Eagle for libel, but lost. A government expert investigated the "Miracle Wheat" and said it "was low in the Government tests". Prior to entering the court, the Eagle declared that "at the trial it will show that "Pastor" Russell's religious cult is nothing more than a money-making scheme." Russell defended himself publicly, and in writing, claiming that the wheat was donated to the Watch Tower Society, and although sold for $1 per pound, Mr. Stoner routinely sold it for a $1.25 per pound. Russell claimed to have no financial connection to the wheat, and that no one claimed a refund despite such an offer for up to a year later for any who were dissatisfied with their purchase. According to official records, gross receipts from the fundraiser totaled "about $1800" (current value $45,000), of which "Russell himself did not get a penny" and "The Society itself made no claim for the wheat on its own knowledge and the money received went as a donation into Christian missionary work."
In June 1912 Rev. J. J. Ross (1871–1935), Pastor of the James Street Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ontario, published and widely distributed a four-page leaflet entitled, Some facts about the Self-Styled "Pastor" Charles T. Russell (of Millennial Dawn Fame), alleging that Russell was involved in questionable business practices, had defrauded his estranged wife, and denounced his qualifications, legitimacy and moral example as a Pastor. Russell in turn sued Ross for defamatory libel on December 2, 1912. After several delays the case came before Police Court Magistrate G. F. Jelfs on March 17, 1913. During cross-examination Russell stated that he had attended public school for only seven years having left when he was about fourteen years of age after which he received instruction through private tutors. He responded that he was versed in Latin terms "to an extent" but did not know Hebrew or Greek, that he had never been ordained by any bishop or minister, and had never attended a theological seminary or any schools of higher learning. The Hamilton and Toronto Ontario newspapers reported the claims made by Ross and provided a brief outline of the court proceedings, but made no reference to misconduct on the part of Russell, and criticized Ross for having fled Ontario when summoned and not being present during any of the court proceedings. On April 1, 1913 the High Court of Ontario returned a verdict of "No Bill" ruling that Russell was not entitled to damages because the libel was not likely to result in any violence within Canada. Following the libel case Ross published an expanded edition of 48-pages entitled Some Facts and More Facts about the Self-Styled "Pastor" Charles T. Russell (of Millennial Dawn Fame). In this work Ross claimed that during the proceedings on March 17, 1913 Russell had repeatedly lied under oath by affirming that he was ordained but then denying the same when cross-examined, by affirming that he knew the Greek language, but when shown by Counselor Staunton an extract from the New Testament in Greek by Westcott & Hort he was unable to recognize it, and that he had not been divorced from his wife, but retracted the statement under cross-examination. In response to Ross's accusations, Russell stated through various printed and public sources that he had never claimed knowledge of the Greek language, merely the alphabet and that early Christians were also criticized by the religious authorities for being unlearned and ignorant. He believed that his ordination was "of God" according to the biblical pattern, not requiring any denominational approval or theological training indicating that his annual election as "Pastor" by over 500 congregations worldwide constituted him as properly ordained. Russell contended that Ross and others were attacking him because they were unable to answer his theological arguments preferring instead to resort to slander and character assassination.
|This section may contain improper references to self-published sources. (May 2009)|
Several decades after his death, it was alleged that Russell had links with Freemasonry. Some have claimed that various symbols Russell employed in his published literature are Masonic in nature, and that such associations implied he engaged in occult activity. In later editions of the Studies in the Scriptures series a winged solar disk was stamped on the front cover, a symbol that is also associated with Freemasonry. However, Russell's use of the winged solar-disk originated from his understanding of Malachi 4:2, which denotes a sun with wings, as a symbol that Christ's millennial Kingdom had begun to emerge. Some critics also claim that the pyramid near Russell's gravesite is Masonic, because of its shape and its use of the Cross and Crown symbol, although this remains disputed. Despite these claims, the Grand Lodge officially stated that Russell was not a Freemason, and the symbols used are not exclusive to Masonry but pre-date the fraternity. The Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology notes that Russell's supporters, along with other Christian churches have "shown a marked aversion to Spiritualism and other occult phenomena. Very early in the group’s history Russell attacked Spiritualism (which he called Spiritism)".
In June 1913, during his transcontinental speaking tour, Russell gave a discourse in a Masonic hall in San Francisco, where he stated: "Although I have never been a Mason ... Something I do seems to be the same as Masons do, I don't know what it is; but they often give me all kinds of grips and I give them back, then I tell them I don't know anything about it except just a few grips that have come to me naturally." Throughout his ministry he stated that he believed Christian identity is incompatible with Freemasonry, and that Freemasonry, Knights of Pythias, Theosophy, and other such groups are "grievous evils" and "unclean". A Freemasonry website states: "Russell was not a Freemason. Neither the symbols found in the Watchtower nor the cross and crown symbol are exclusively Masonic."
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William Henry Conley
|President of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society|
December 15, 1884–October 31, 1916
Joseph F. Rutherford