One of the brothers sent this in to me today from the August, 1889 issue of Zion’s Watchtower. On page 1134, there is an article titled “Protestants, Awake! The Spirit of the Great Reformation Dying. How Priestcraft Now Operates”

It is a long article, so I’ve extracted the relevant portions to demonstrate that what Brother Russell wrote over a century ago is still relevant today. All one has to do is replace “Protestants” or “Rome” wherever it appears in the text with “Jehovah’s Witnesses” (something I recommend you do as you read) to witness the stunning similarity between the two time periods. Nothing has changed! It seems that Organized Religion is doomed to repeat the same pattern over and over until that great day of accounting God has set aside. (Re 17:1)

It should be remembered that in Russell’s day, there were no Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those who subscribed to Zion’s Watchtower were mostly from Protestant faiths—often groups who had separated themselves from the mainstream religions of the day and were in the process of becoming religions in their own right. These were the early Bible Students.

(I’ve highlighted parts of these article excerpts for emphasis.)

[spacer height=”20px”]The underlying principle of the Great Reformation, to which all Protestants look back with pride, was the right of individual judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures, in opposition to the papal dogma of submission to clerical authority and interpretation. On this very point was the whole issue of the great movement. It was a grand and blessed strike for liberty of conscience, for an open Bible, and the right to believe and obey its teachings regardless of the usurped authority and vain traditions of the self-exalted clergy of Rome. Had not this principle been firmly held by the early Reformers, they never could have effected a reformation, and the wheels of progress would have continued to stick in the mire of papal traditions and perverted interpretation.

What the Governing Body teaches:

To “think in agreement,” we cannot harbor ideas contrary to God’s Word or our publications (CA-tk13-E No. 8  1/12)

We could still be testing Jehovah in our heart by secretly doubting the organization’s position on higher education.  (Avoid Testing God in Your Heart, 2012 District Convention part, Friday afternoon sessions)

Thus, “the faithful and discreet slave” does not endorse any literature, meetings, or Web sites that are not produced or organized under its oversight. (km 9/07 p. 3 Question Box)

[spacer height=”5px”]The foundation of the great Apostasy (Papacy) was laid in the separation of a class, called the “clergy,” from the church of believers in general, who, in contradistinction, came to be known as the  [R1135 : page 3]  “laity.” This was not done in a day, but gradually. Those who had been chosen from their own number, by the various congregations, to minister to or serve them in spiritual things, gradually came to consider themselves a superior order or class, above their fellow-Christians who elected them. They gradually came to regard their position as an office rather than a service and sought each other’s companionship in councils, etc., as “Clergymen,” and order or rank among them followed.

Next they felt it beneath their dignity to be elected by the congregation they were to serve, and to be installed by it as its servant; and to carry out the idea of office and to support the dignity of a “clergyman,” they deemed it better policy to abandon the primitive method by which any believer who had the ability had the liberty to teach, and decided that no man could minister to a congregation except a “clergyman,” and that no one could become a clergyman except the clergy so decided and installed him in office.

How Jehovah’s Witnesses achieved this:

  • Before 1919: elders were chosen by the local congregation.
  • 1919: Congregations recommend a Service Director who is appointed by the Governing Body.  Local elders continue to be chosen by the congregation.
  • 1932: Local elders replaced by a service committee, but still elected locally. Title “Elder” replaced by “Servant”.
  • 1938: Local elections discontinued.  All appointments are now done by the Governing Body.  There is one Congregation Servant in charge, and two assistants forming a service committee.
  • 1971: Elder arrangement introduced.  Title “Servant” replaced by “Elder”.  All elders and the circuit overseer are equal. Chairmanship of the elder body is determined by a yearly rotation.
  • 1972-1980: Rotating appointment of chairman slowly changed until it becomes a permanent position.  All local elders are still equal, though in fact, the chairman is more equal.  Any elder can be removed by the body except the chairman who can only be removed with Branch approval.  The Circuit Overseer is restored to his position above local elders.
  • Today: The Circuit Overseer appoints and deletes local elders; answers only to the Branch Office.

(Reference: w83 9/1 pp. 21-22 ‘Remember Those Taking the Lead Among You’)

[spacer height=”5px”]Their councils, at first harmless if not profitable, began gradually to suggest what each individual should believe, and came finally to decreeing what should be considered orthodox and what should be considered heresy, or in other words deciding what each individual must believe. There the right of private judgment by individual Christians was trampled upon, the “clergy” were put in power as the only and official interpreters of God’s Word, and the consciences of the “laity” were led into captivity to those errors of doctrine which evil-minded, ambitious, scheming, and often self-deluded men among the clergy were able to establish and false label, Truth. And having thus, gradually and cunningly, secured control of the church’s conscience, as the apostles had foretold, they “privily brought in damnable heresies,” and palmed them off upon the conscience-fettered laity as truths. –2 Pet. 2:1[spacer height=”1px”]But as for a clerical class, God does not recognize it as his elect teachers; nor has he chosen many of his teachers from its ranks. The mere claim of any man to be a teacher is no proof that he is one by divine appointment. That false teachers would arise in the church, who would pervert the truth, was foretold. The church, therefore, is not to blindly accept whatever any teacher may set forth, but should prove the teaching of those whom they have reason to believe to be God’s messengers, by the one infallible standard –the Word of God. “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isa. 8:20.) Thus while the church needs teachers, and cannot understand God’s Word without them, yet the church individually–each by himself and for himself, and himself only–must fill the important office of judge, to decide, according to the infallible standard, God’s Word, whether the teaching be true or false, and whether the claimed teacher is a true teacher by divine appointment.


What the Governing Body teaches:

Apostasy (a disfellowshipping offense) is defined as: “Deliberately spreading teachings contrary to Bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Shepherd the Flock of God, p. 65, par. 16)

“We need to guard against developing a spirit of independence. By word or action, may we never challenge the channel of communication that Jehovah is using today. “  (w09 11/15 p. 14 par. 5 Treasure Your Place in the Congregation)

[spacer height=”5px”]Notice, that the self-constituted clergy are not teachers, and do not and cannot appoint teachers; nor can they in any degree qualify them. Our Lord Jesus keeps that part in his own power, and the so-called clergy have nothing to do with it, fortunately, else there never would be any teachers; for the “clergy,” both Papal and Protestant, strive constantly to prevent any change from those conditions of thought and ruts of misbelief, in which each sect has settled down. By their course of action they say, Bring us no new unfoldings of truth, however beautiful; and do not disturb the heaps of rubbish and human tradition we call our creeds, by digging down through them and bringing forth the Old Theology of the Lord and the apostles, to contradict us and to disturb our schemes and plans and methods. Let us alone! If you go poking into our old musty creeds, which our people so devoutly and ignorantly reverence and respect, you will stir up a stench such as even we could not endure; then, too, it will make us appear both small and foolish, and as not half-earning our salaries and not half-deserving the reverence we now enjoy. Let us alone! is the cry of the clergy, as a whole, even if a few may be found to dissent from it and to seek for and speak out the truth at any cost. And this cry of the “clergy” is joined in by a large sectarian following.

*** w08 8/15 p. 6 par. 15 Jehovah Will Not Leave His Loyal Ones ***
Therefore, even if we as individuals do not fully understand a certain position taken by the slave class, that is no reason for us to reject it or return to Satan’s world. Instead, loyalty will move us to act humbly and wait on Jehovah to clarify matters.

Luke 16:24, long applied by JW publications to the suffering Christendom’s clergy endures under the truth onslaught of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this parable now finds application to the JW clergy itself as faithful ones are revealing its falsehoods and bad conduct.

From here on, Russell’s article pretty much speaks for itself.   I’ve taken the liberty to add a few notes in square brackets.

What he is admonishing the Protestants of his day to do is just as applicable to the Jehovah’s Witnesses of our day.

[spacer height=”20px”]The object of Rome [the Governing Body] in establishing a clerical class, as separate from what she terms the laity, was to gain and to hold full control of the people. Every one admitted to the Romish [GB] clergy is bound by vows to submit implicitly to the head of that system, doctrinally and in every way. Not only is such a one held fast to those doctrines and hindered from progress by the strong chain of his vow, but also by innumerable smaller ones–his living, his dignity of position, his title, and his hope of advancement in the same direction; the opinions of his friends, their pride for him, and the fact that should he ever confess to greater light and renounce his position, he would, instead of being honored as an honest thinker, be maligned, despised and misrepresented. In a word, he would be treated as though to search the Scriptures and to think for himself and exercise the liberty wherewith Christ made all his followers free, were the unpardonable sin. And as such he would be treated as an excommunicated [disfellowshipped] person, cut off from the church of Christ, now and to all eternity.


[spacer height=”1px”]Rome’s [Governing Body’s] method has been to concentrate authority and power in the hands of her priesthood or clergy.  They are taught that every infant must be baptized, [we are now pushing for young children to be baptized] every marriage performed, and every funeral service attended, by a clergyman [and in the Kingdom hall]; and that for any one except a clergyman to administer the simple elements of the Lord’s memorial supper would be sacrilegious and profane. All of these things are so many more cords to bind the people to reverence and subjection under the clergy, who, by reason of the claim that they have these special rights above other Christians, are caused to appear to be a special class in God’s estimation. [We teach that the elders will be the princes in the New World]


[spacer height=”1px”] The truth, on the contrary, is that no such clerical office or rights are established in the Scriptures. These simple offices are services, which any brother in Christ may do for another.

[spacer height=”1px”] We challenge any one to produce a solitary passage of Scripture giving one member of the Church of Christ more liberty or authority than another in these respects.


[spacer height=”1px”]While glad to acknowledge that Baptists, Congregationalists and Disciples approach the true idea, that the entire church is the royal priesthood and that each congregation stands independent of the jurisdiction and authority of all others, yet we beg them to consider that their theory is not fully carried out; and, still worse, that the tendency among them is backward toward centralization, clericism, denominationalism; and far worse still, that the people “love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31), and take pride in their growing denominational strength, which means their growing loss of individual freedom.


[spacer height=”1px”]It is only of late that these could be called sects or denominations. Formerly each congregation stood independently, like the churches of the apostles’ times, and would have resented any attempt on the part of other congregations to dictate regulations or faith, and would have scorned to be known as in any sense bound into a sect or denomination. But the example of others, and pride to be parts or members of a large and influential band of churches known by one name, and all confessing to one faith, and ruled over by a council of ministers resembling the assemblies and conferences and councils of other denominations, has led these generally into similar bondage. But above all other influences leading them backward to bondage has been the false idea concerning the authority of the clergy. The people, not Scripturally informed on the subject, are swayed much by the customs and forms of others. Their unlearned “clergymen” [JW elders] follow carefully and scrupulously every form and ceremony and detail suggested by their more learned clerical brethren, lest they should be thought “irregular.” And their more learned clergymen [JW elders] are shrewd enough to see how they can take advantage of the ignorance of the others to gradually create a denominational power in which they shall be able to shine as chief lights.


[spacer height=”1px”] And this decline in individual liberty and equality is regarded by the clergy [JW hierarchy] as desirable, as a supposed necessity, because here and there in their congregations are a few “peculiar people,” who partially appreciate their rights and liberties, and who are growing both in grace and knowledge beyond the clergy. These are causing trouble to the  creed-bound clergy by questioning doctrines long unquestioned, and by demanding reasons and Scriptural proofs for them. Since they cannot be answered Scripturally or reasonably the only way to meet them and to settle them is, by brow-beating and a show and claim of clerical authority and superiority, which holds itself bound to account in doctrinal matters only to fellow-clergymen and not to laymen.


[spacer height=”1px”]The doctrine of “apostolic succession” –the claim that the laying on of the hands of a bishop [the appointing of an elder by the Circuit Overseer] conveys to a man an ability to teach and expound the Scriptures –still holds Romanists and Episcopalians [and Jehovah’s Witnesses], who fail to see that the very men thus said to be qualified to teach are among the least able; none of them indeed seems to be any more able either to comprehend or to teach the Scriptures than before being thus authorized; and many certainly are decidedly injured by the arrogance, self-conceit and assumed authority to lord it over their brethren, which seems to be the only thing they do receive from the “holy hands.” However, Catholics and Episcopalians are making the most of this Papal error, and are more successful in smothering the spirit of inquiry than others. [JWs have surpassed these in their success at smothering the spirit of inquiry.]


[spacer height=”1px”]In view of these facts and tendencies, we sound an alarm to all who hold to the original doctrine of the Reformation– the right of individual judgment. You and I cannot hope to stem the current and to prevent what is coming, but we can by the grace of God, imparted through his truth, be overcomers and get the victory over these errors (Rev. 20:4,6), and as overcomers be granted a place in the glorified priesthood of the incoming Millennial age. (See, Rev. 1:6; 5:10.) The words of the Apostle (Acts 2:40) are as applicable now, in the harvest or end of the gospel age, as they were in the harvest or end of this Jewish age: “Save yourselves from the perverse generation!” Let all who are Protestants at heart flee priestcraft, flee clericism, its errors, delusions and false doctrines. Hold to God’s Word and demand a “Thus saith the Lord” for all you accept as your faith.


Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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