This week’s study in the God’s Kingdom Rules book celebrates the organization’s use, from early on, of a “variety of methods of preaching to reach the largest audience possible”. The study is taken from paragraphs 1-9 of chapter 7.
The first two paragraphs draw a parallel between Jesus’ use of acoustics when speaking to a lake-shore crowd and the organization’s use of “novel techniques to spread the good news of the Kingdom to large audiences”. The rest of the assigned material deals with two specific methods used in the early 20th century: Newspapers and the Photo-Drama of Creation.
Paragraph 4 points out that by late 1914, “over 2,000 newspapers in four languages were publishing Russell’s sermons and articles”. Paragraph 7, however, tells how the practice of using newspapers was discontinued. But, we may ask, why discontinue a practice which resulted in such wide exposure? Two reasons are given: the high price of paper in Britain and Russell’s death in 1916. But do these reasons make sense?
What paper prices had to do with this question is hard to know. Either the newspapers were benefitting from printing Russell’s sermons or they weren’t. In any case this was a regional issue restricted to Great Britain, and only relevant while the war lasted. On the other hand, Russell’s having written his last sermon certainly did put a wrinkle in the plan. But the article in the December 15th, 1916 Watchtower, from which the paragraph quotes, mentions neither of these factors. Rather, it gives another reason altogether: “[The newspaper work] had become greatly curtailed, owing to our dropping from the list many papers of small circulation, and further, to our policy of retrenchment [cost-cutting] necessitated by conditions produced by the war. (w1916 12/15 pp. 388, 389.) Cost-cutting? One blog dedicated to all things Russell states that “the Society bore the telegraph expense, but the newspaper space was given free.” But Edmond C. Gruss, in his book Apostles of Denial, pp. 30, 31, contests this notion of free space, citing two major newspapers as evidence that the “Society” paid for the space at advertising rates. This isn’t a very important issue, but I can’t help ask, if the “newspaper work” no longer made financial sense, why don’t they just say so?
Paragraphs 8 & 9 celebrate the then cutting-edge picture presentation of the Photo-drama of Creation. Certainly, this was an achievement of note. It is hard not to be impressed by the hand-colored slides and the ahead-of-its-time moving pictures with sound. Why the organization wasn’t similarly ahead of its time in the use of electronic devices and the internet is the question that naturally comes to mind, but that’s another matter.
While the information in this week’s study is fairly innocuous, there are a few glaring inconsistencies. First, while the book is careful not to call pre-1919 Bible Students “God’s people”, and refrains from stating outright that Jesus was directing the pre-1919 preaching efforts, the point is made indirectly with statements such as, “Under the direction of the King, God’s people continue to innovate and adapt as circumstances change and new technologies become available.” If the pre-1919 Bible Students were innovators, and “God’s people” continue to innovate, then it is strongly implied that the pre-1919 Bible Students were also “God’s people”. It seems they were God’s people whenever we need them to be.
Paragraph 6 opens with this statement: “The Kingdom truths published in those newspaper articles changed people’s lives.” Considering how many things have changed since then – like Russell’s rejection of the concept of a religious organization – it’s hard to say if lives were changed by things that are still considered “truths”.
And finally, there is the great irony of the statement in paragraph 5: “Those who have a measure of authority in God’s organization today do well to imitate Russell’s humility. In what way? When making important decisions, consider the advice of others.” The reader is then directed to read Proverbs 15:22:
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
How do the members of the Governing Body apply this counsel? Is there a simple way for individual JWs to submit suggestions? Or, if that seems like opening the door to too much correspondence, what about the elders? With thousands and thousands of elders logging onto jw.org, it would be a simple thing to ask their input on a given doctrinal or procedural change. But is it ever done? No. Men who are insecure about their claims to authority rarely ask advice. Besides, if you’re God’s appointed channel, what need have you of counsel from mere mortals?
Aside from the aforementioned inconsistencies, there’s also the matter of how the Good News was to be preached. In every instance in the Christian scriptures, individual Christians preach personally. True, they speak to large groups at times, but they do so personally. Never do we see them hanging banners at the entrance of cities, or canvassing a given city with written notes that speak for them. Could it be that Christians are expected to personally preach, rather than spread their message through the proxy of mass broadcasting?
Whatever the answer to that question, the counsel to be creative and innovative in preaching the Gospel is good advice. But let us not forget that, while active preaching is an important Christian activity, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God” consists primarily in showing love for one another – especially for the less fortunate among us. God’s people today would do well to “continue” to obey that most important of commands. That would really be something to celebrate.