An unfortunate scrap of history provides the answer as to the origins to “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” After the death of Pastor Russell in 1916, the purpose of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society changed drastically. Joseph Rutherford, whom Pastor Russell had recently dismissed from his staff, seized legal control of the Watch Tower, dismissed the majority of the Board of Directors and established dictatorial control. The Watch Tower became the central head and authority over all congregations willing to yield their sovereignty. Basic doctrines of the new “society” seriously digressed from the teachings of Pastor Russell and the writings of Pastor Russell were discarded. The methods of conducting the evangelistic work were altered. The more sensational digressions, such as refusing blood transfusion and saluting the flag, caught the public’s eye...
But many individuals and whole congregations refused to surrender their Christian liberty or accept the new teachings. As early as 1917, the exodus from the newly declared sovereign headquarters began. By 1918 one-fourth of the Bible Students left Rutherford and remained true to the teachings of the late Pastor Russell. During the struggle between Rutherford and the Bible Students, William Schnell was in the upper echelon of the Watchtower and made some very insightful observations. At the time he finally wrote his book, THIRTY YEARS A WATCHTOWER SLAVE, Schnell was neither a Jehovah’s Witness nor a Bible Student. Schnell noted that further doctrinal changes and aggressive promotions by Rutherford resulted in a large increase in new members, but this also generated opposition from Pastor Russell’s Bible Students who still remained endeavoring to reverse Rutherford’s revisionism of doctrine and practice. Rutherford’s reaction is described as follows:
Between 1925 and 1931 Rutherford embarked on a campaign to purge Russell’s followers. By 1931 over three-fourths of those formerly associated with the Bible Student movement in Pastor Russell’s day remained faithful to his teachings by completely separating from Rutherford.
Regarding those who left, Schnell remarked, “That is precisely what the new Watch Tower Society wanted and what they had hoped to accomplish.”7 Speaking of the new converts, Schnell said:
These, of course, were in the majority after the bloodletting of three-fourths of the Bible Students had been so adroitly accomplished.
Further, Schnell observed:
The old Bible Students, spirit begotten…individuals, true Christians, would never have stood for such subversion of thinking and practices. Being students of the Bible, they had been warned by what Paul had said in 2 Tim. 4:3: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.”
The lineage of the Bible Student congregations of today traces back through these separatist Bible Students to Pastor Russell their founder. A description Schnell gives of Russell’s Bible Students reveals why Rutherford could not subdue them:
Bible Students had been of such rugged individuality type that they claimed they had fled various [church] organizations in order to become and remain free and unencumbered in their quest of Bible studies and living as Christians. They felt that the organizations from which they had fled had become too rigid and stifling, a condition which they considered detrimental to their course as Christians. In fact, in those days Bible Students were the most rugged individualists ever to appear since the days of the early Church. Their motto of “non-conformity” became a by-word in the 80s and 90s of the last century.
The picture is clear. The historical data reveals beyond a doubt that Pastor Russell’s Bible Students and Judge Rutherford’s Jehovah’s Witnesses are two separate movements.
Yet, there is one point that tends to be confusing and contradictory.
Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to Pastor Russell as their founder? Certainly it is not because they agree with his basic teachings. In fact, they so vigorously disagree with his basic teachings that they have time and again categorized Pastor Russell’s Bible Students as the “evil servant” class who will be annihilated eternally.11 (Bible Students, on the other hand, have joyful expectation, for the Witnesses’ eternity.)
What is the sin of Pastor Russell and his Bible Students that make them so evil? What is the abominable sin that Pastor Russell’s Bible Students have committed that merits eternal destruction? The answer is simply that Bible Students still hold on to the teachings of Pastor Russell! That means that, therefore, they reject Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrines. To Jehovah’s Witnesses, the basic teachings of Bible Students are gross error–worthy of eternal judgment.
The absurd contradiction emerges, however, when Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Pastor Russell as their founder. Where did the Bible Students get their so-called gross errors, but from Pastor Russell? If he taught gross error, how can Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Russell as their founder? Why do they claim him anyway?