To the contrary, in the early days (1877-1916), the Watchtower was simply a publishing house and lecture service, making its resources available to the Bible Students worldwide. The Watchtower did not govern or manage any congregations. Each congregation had full liberty in Christ to make their own decisions and elect their own elders annually, by majority vote of the consecrated members. In his book, “The New Creation,” C.T. Russell lays out what the Bible teaches about Church Organization, the opposite of what was taught by J.F. Rutherford and the JW Organization of today.
You can read C.T. Russell’s thoughts directly here: http://www.mostholyfaith.com/bible/volumes/F05.asp
Below are pertinent excerpts from pages 234-242. Subheads are supplied.
STRICT ORGANIZATION OR LIBERTY?
… Many men of many minds have favored more or less strict organizations, and so we find Christians throughout the world today organized on various lines and with more or less rigidity, and each claiming advantages for his particular denomination or system of government. This is wrong!… The tendency of the human mind is either toward anarchy on the one hand, or toward tight organization and bondage on the other. The divine arrangement, avoiding both of these extremes, marks out for the New Creation an organization simple in the extreme, and devoid of everything akin to bondage. Indeed, the injunction of the Scriptures to each individual Christian is, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Gal. 5:1
In showing forth this divine arrangement we must confine ourselves wholly to the divine records, and must entirely ignore ecclesiastical history–remembering that the predicted “falling away” had begun to work even in apostolic times; and that it proceeded rapidly after the death of the apostles, culminating first in the Papal system…
… We must fight against the natural expectations of our perverted judgments in respect to laws, and must remember that the Church as sons of God are given a “perfect law of liberty,” because they are no longer servants, but sons, and because the sons of God must learn to use the liberty of sonship and thereby show the more particularly their absolute obedience to the law and principles of love.
BODY MEMBERS SUPPORT (NOT PUNISH) THE WEAK
… In 1 Cor. 12 …”As the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ [one body or company composed of many members]. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body [whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free].” The Apostle proceeds to call attention to the fact that as the well-being of a human body depends largely upon the unity and harmony and cooperation of all its members, so also it is with the Church, the body of Christ. If one member suffer either pain or degradation or disgrace, all the members are affected, willingly or unwillingly, and if one member is specially blessed or comforted or refreshed, proportionately all others share the blessings. He points out (verse 23) that we seek to cover and hide the weaknesses, blemishes, etc., of our natural bodies and seek to relieve and help them; and that thus it should be with the Church, the body of Christ–the most blemished members should have special care as well as the covering of charity–love; “that there be no schism [division] in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another,” for the most humble as well as for the most highly favored member–Verse 25.
NO NEED FOR RULES TO CONTROL THE CONGREGATIONS
… A tree is thoroughly organized and unified from tips to roots, yet the branches are not held on by patent fastenings or cords or screws or printed rules and laws; and so with the body of Christ. If properly adjusted and harmonized and united on the lines which the Lord has laid down, there will be no necessity for cords, splints or screws to hold the various members together –no need for laws and creeds and human spectacular appliances to bring them together or hold them together. The one Spirit is the bond of union, and as long as the spirit of life remains, a unity, a oneness of the body must remain also, and this will be a strong or a weak union, according as the Spirit of the Lord abounds.
… It will be a new thought to many who are used to setting themselves and setting each other in places of glory and honor and trust and service in the Church, to realize that God has promised the superintending of this matter amongst those who are looking to him for guidance and are directed by his Word and Spirit… If this were recognized how few would dare to seek the chief seats and to wire-pull after political fashion for honorable stations! To realize the divine care over the true Church means…to seek reverently and humbly to know the divine will in respect to all of the true Church’s arrangements, services and servants.
JEHOVAH HONORS LOVE ABOVE OFFICE AMONG THE CONGREGATIONS
… The Apostle calls our attention to the fact that these differences in the Church correspond to the differences amongst the members of the natural body, and that each member is necessary and none to be despised. The eye may not say to the foot, I have no need of you; nor to the ear, I have no need of you; nor to the hand, I have no need of you; if they were all one member where were the body? “for the body is not one member but many.” Verses 19,14
… He proceeds to show that far above any of these gifts or services in the Church is the honor of possessing in large measure the spirit of the Master–Love. He points out that the humblest member in the Church who attains to perfect love, has reached a position higher and nobler in the sight of the Lord than that of any apostle or prophet or teacher who lacks the grace of love. He declares that no matter what the gifts, if love be lacking, the whole matter is empty and unsatisfactory in the sight of the Lord. Indeed, we may be sure that no one could by the Lord’s approval long hold the position of apostle or prophet or teacher in the Church unless he attained a standing of perfect love, or sought, at least, to attain to that standard. Otherwise he assuredly would be permitted to drift into darkness, and perhaps become a teacher of error instead of a teacher of the Truth–a servant of Satan to sift the brethren.
EVERY MEMBER IS TO HELP BUILD UP THE BODY IN LOVE
In his letter to the Ephesians (4:1-16) the Apostle reiterates this lesson of the oneness of the Church as one body of many members, under one Head, Christ Jesus, and united by one spirit–the spirit of love. He exhorts all such members to walk worthy of their calling in lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In this chapter the Apostle sets forth the various members of the body appointed to special services in it, and tells us the object of the service; saying: “he gave some [to be] apostles and some prophets and some evangelists and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry [preparing them for the glorious ministry or service of the Millennial Kingdom], for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we,…speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth… maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Eph. 4:11-16
HOW IS UNITY OF THE FAITH ATTAINED?
Unity of faith is desirable; it is to be striven for–yet not the kind of unity that is generally aimed at. Unity is to be along the lines of “the faith once delivered unto the saints” in its purity and simplicity, and with full liberty to each member to take different views of minor points, and with no instruction whatever in respect to human speculations, theories, etc. The Scriptural idea of unity is upon the foundation principles of the Gospel. (1) Our redemption through the precious blood, and our justification by demonstrated faith therein. (2) Our sanctification, setting apart to the Lord, the Truth and their service–including the service of the brethren. (3) Aside from these essentials, upon which unity must be demanded, there can be no Scriptural fellowship; upon every other point fullest liberty is to be accorded, with, however, a desire to see, and to help others to see, the divine plan in its every feature and detail. Thus each member of the body of Christ, maintaining his own personal liberty, is so thoroughly devoted to the Head and to all the members that it will be his pleasure to lay down all, even life itself, on their behalf.
UNITY IS OF THE HEART, NOT OF FORCE OR COMPULSION
The Apostle declares that it is the Lord’s pleasure that there be no schism in the body–no splits, no divisions. With human methods divisions are unavoidable–except as in Papacy’s period of triumph, when the nominal system became powerful and used drastic methods of persecution in dealing with all not fully in accord with itself. That, however, was a unity of force, of compulsion–an outward unity, and not a unity of the heart. Those whom the Son makes free can never participate heartily in such unions, in which personal liberty is utterly destroyed. The difficulty with the Protestant denominations is not that they are too liberal and, therefore, have separated into many fragments, but rather that they still have much of the spirit of the mother institution, without possessing the power which she at one time exercised for quelling and suppressing liberty of thought. We will, doubtless, surprise many by saying, that instead of having too many divisions or splits of the kind we now see on every hand, the real need of the Church of Christ is still more liberty–until each individual member shall stand free and independent of all human bonds, creeds, confessions, etc. With each individual Christian standing fast in the liberty wherewith he was made free by the Lord (Gal. 5:1; John 8:32), and each individual Christian united in loyalty to the Lord and to his Word, very quickly the original unity which the Scriptures inculcated would be discerned and all true children of God, all members of the New Creation, would find themselves drawn to each other member similarly free, and bound each to the other by the cords of love far more strongly than are men bound in earthly systems and societies. “The love of Christ constraineth us” [holds us together–Young’s Concordance]. 2 Cor. 5:14