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Jehovah's Witnesses

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES, one of the most prominent Adventist and apocalyptic sects to have emerged in America. Charles Taze Russell—raised a Presbyterian and heavily influenced by Adventist teachings—founded the denomination in the early 1870s, when his loosely structured Bible study groups evolved into a discernible movement. In 1879, Russell published Zion's Watchtower and the Herald of Christ's Presence (later known as The Watch-tower), which served as the principal means of spreading the Witnesses's prophetic interpretations and doctrines. In 1884, Russell incorporated the movement as the Watch-tower Bible and Tract Society, which would become known as the Dawn Bible Students, the Russellites, and the International Bible Students before adopting its current name in 1931.

Although the church has no ordained ministry, it has been led by a succession of powerful directors. After Russell died in 1916, leadership passed to the charismatic and volatile Joseph Franklin Rutherford, who expanded the fledgling sect into an organized international movement. Upon Rutherford's death in 1942, the more bureaucratic Nathan Homer Knorr took over. He further developed the Witnesses's publishing enterprise and instituted a series of international and regional assemblies. Frederick Franz succeeded Knorr in 1977, and Milton Henschel replaced Franz in 1994.

Like other Adventist groups, Jehovah's Witnesses emphasize the apocalyptic sections of the Bible, particularly the books of Daniel and Revelations. They worship Jehovah (the term comes from the name for God in the Jewish Bible) and believe in universal atonement through the crucifiction; in an Arian Christology—the nontrinitarian belief that Christ was an archangel who chose to become a human; and in the imminence of the millennium. In that golden age, they believe, 144,000 elected will share in Christ's rule as citizens of a messianic kingdom based in Jerusalem. According to Russell, the movement had reached 144,000 converts by 1881 (although, because of apostasy [abandoning one's faith], no one could know the absolute number of spiritually baptized saints). The numerical limit of saved converts has necessitated a unique doctrine in which there are two "classes" of Witnesses: the 144,000 elected, and others who may escape destruction and achieve limited rewards provided they join the Witnesses during their lifetimes.

Today, this tightly organized movement engages in widespread evangelism. Their principal activities include Bible study, door-to-door witnessing, and the publication and sale of religious literature. In the United States, Jehovah's Witnesses have attracted legal controversy due to their claim of exemption from military service, which is based on their commitment to fight in no battle except Armageddon; their proselytizing activities; their rejection of blood transfusions; and their refusal to pledge allegiance to the American flag (Witnesses pledge obedience to Jehovah alone). Popular animosity notwithstanding, the courts have consistently affirmed their right to dissent. Despite increasing defections, the Jehovah's Witnesses estimate their membership to be nearly one million in the United States and approximately six million worldwide, with international membership concentrated in Latin America and Africa. U.S. headquarters, including the Watchtower publishing center, are located in Brooklyn, New York.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Conkin, Paul K. American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Harrison, Barbara Grizzuti. Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of the Jehovah's Witnesses. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978.

Newton, Merlin Owen. Armed with the Constitution: Jehovah's Witnesses in Alabama and the U. S. Supreme Court, 1939–1946. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Peters, Shawn Calvin. Judging Jehovah's Witnesses. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

Glenn T.Miller/ShelbyBalik

See alsoAdventist Churches ; Conscientious Objectors ; Conscription and Recruitment ; Evangelicalism and Revivalism ; Protestantism ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; Religious Liberty .

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Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses

A popular millenarian Christian religious group that grew out of the ministry of Pastor Charles Taze Russell in the late nineteenth century. It is also known by reference to its corporate entity, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Its members have become a common sight in many countries as they go from door to door preaching their message and distributing their literature, especially the Watchtower magazine. Originally known as Bible Students, the group adopted the name Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931.

The Witnesses have, like many Christian churches, shown a marked aversion to Spiritualism and other occult phenomena. Very early in the group's history Russell attacked Spiritualism (which he called Spiritism), and periodically over the years the organization has published booklets and numerous articles warning members to eschew any association with the occult. The Witnesses' primary biblical doctrinal handbook, Make Sure of All Things, Hold Fast to What Is Fine (1965), includes an assemblage of texts believed to refute Spiritualism as well as a separate set dealing with reincarnation. Address: 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, NY 11201-2483. Website: http://www.watchtower.org/.

Sources:

Bergman, Jerry. Jehovah's Witnesses and Kindred Groups: A Historical Compendium and Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.

Can the Living Talk with the Dead? A Clear Explanation of Spiritism. Brooklyn, N.Y.: International Bible Students, 1920.

Russell, Charles Taze. Unseen SpiritsDo They Help Us? or, Do They Harm Us? Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1978.

. What Do the Scriptures Say about "Survival of Death?" Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1955.

. What Say the Scriptures about Spiritism? Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1897.

Watchtower: Official Site of the Jehovah's Witnesses. http://www.watchtower.org/. March 27, 2000.

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Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian group originating in the United States at the end of the 19th cent., organized by Charles Taze Russell, whose doctrine centers on the Second Coming of Christ. The Witnesses believe that the event has already commenced; they also believe the battle of Armageddon is imminent and that it will be followed by a millennial period when repentant sinners will have a second chance for salvation. The Witnesses base their teaching on the Bible. They have no churches but meet in buildings that are always named Kingdom Hall. There are no official ministers because all Jehovah's Witnesses are considered ministers of the gospel. Their views are circulated in the Watchtower,Awake!, and other publications and by house-to-house canvasing carried on by members. Since their beginning, the Witnesses have been the subject of harassment virtually everywhere that they have been active. Regarding governments as the work of Satan, the Witnesses refuse to bear arms in war or participate in the affairs of government. Their refusal to salute the flag brought about a controversy that resulted in a decision in their favor by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943. The Witnesses insist upon a rigid moral code and refuse blood transfusions. Before 1931, Jehovah's Witnesses were called Russellites; abroad the movement is usually known as the International Bible Students Association. Active in almost every country in the world, the group has more than 1 million members in the United States.

See studies by W. J. Whalen (1962), W. C. Stevenson (1967), J. Bergman (1984), and M. J. Penton (1988).

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Jehovah's witnesses

Jehovah's witnesses. An exclusive millennialist sect developed out of Charles Russell's International Bible Students Association (founded in Pittsburgh, 1872), now world-wide. Russell's successor, Judge Rutherford, sought to affirm Jehovah as the true God and developed the concept of a ‘theocratic Kingdom’ which will emerge after Armageddon. Date setting and prophecy have lessened, but they refuse any association with other denominations and regard civil authorities and secular governments as allies of Satan. Baptized by immersion, witnesses insist on high moral probity, oppose blood transfusions on scriptural grounds, write and publish prolifically (chief periodicals: The Watchtower and Awake!), and, after training, preach enthusiastically on doorsteps. The British headquarters functions as The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.

A. S. Hargreaves

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Jehovahs Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses. A sect derived from Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916), emphasizing biblical literalism and the imminent coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus is not God but the son of God, the first of his creations. The fulfilment of the promise of God's kingdom will be inaugurated by the battle of Armageddon, an event which was predicted for 1914—hence the saying of Rutherford, Russell's successor, that ‘millions now living will never die’. 1914 is now interpreted as the establishment of the kingdom. Jehovah's Witnesses engage in persistent door-to-door proselytizing, endeavouring to sell The Watchtower, in which the movement's interpretation of world events is contained.

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Jehovahs Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses Religious sect founded in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916) of Pittsburgh. The sect believes in the imminent end of the world for all except its own members. They hold to the theory of a theocratic kingdom, membership of which cannot be reconciled with allegiance to any country. They deny most of the fundamental Christian doctrines. The sect is active worldwide.

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