The Historic Apostasy—and Many Apostasies.
As the “mystery of evil [lawlessness],” the apostasy was already fomenting in the Apostles’ day with “elders” emerging as “lords over God’s heritage” (1 Peter 5:3). But it became “antichrist” (instead of Christ) by not only replacing Christ’s sacrifice with an “abomination that maketh desolate”—the mass (Daniel 12:11)—but also supposedly setting up the Kingdom of Christ’s rule before Christ returned!
However, the Apostle John warned the Church that although “antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists” (1 John 2:18). So in principle, there have been many who have fallen away from the faith throughout the Age as well as during the end of the Age.
The First Apostate—and Apostates in the Early Church.
Lucifer was actually the first to fall way in a rebellion against God. Satan, the first apostate—through the serpent—then deceived Eve of the consequences of sinning. So she then sinned against Jehovah. Because Adam had “greater affection” for his wife than God (Matthew 10:37), he also disobeyed. And then both became apostates!
Those in the early Church who deviated from the Truth saying “the resurrection is past,” subverted the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:16). This certainly was an apostasy. Apostle Paul also warned of those who teach “other doctrine” than “those of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:3). Although the Protestant Reformation recovered some of the teachings of Jesus from the Dark Ages, the apostate church remained the “mother of [daughter] harlots.”
Faithful Founder of the Watchtower Did Not Delay Jesus’ Return.
One of the signs Jesus told his disciples would be an evidence of his return was that he would appoint a “servant” to give his household “meat in due season” (Matthew 24:45-51)—Bible Truth at the appropriate time. Charles Taze Russell, who founded the Watchtower, on the basis of Bible signs, time prophecies, chronology and corroborated by Biblical types, concluded and taught that Jesus returned invisibly in 1874. It was a call to freedom from denominational bondage. Although his full expectations for the consummation of the Age in 1914 seemed to “tarry” (Habakkuk 2:3), he did not then “delay,” that is, postpone the date of 1874 to a later time. Consequently, he did not “say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming and begin to smite his fellowservants…” (vss. 48, 49). Brother Russell passed this prophesied test of waiting even while the full establishment of the Kingdom seemed to tarry!
If anyone claimed to postpone the return of Jesus Christ, it was Judge Rutherford, who postponed it to 1914. He also imposed a centralized administrative structure on Bible Students worldwide—which he later called a theocracy, while to others it was a ruthless takeover.. Anyone who disagreed with him was thrown out of Bethel and/or disfellowshipped.
He also mandated door-to-door preaching and required reports of activity, and meeting places to be called “Kingdom Halls.” Rutherford changed other doctrines that had been established as Watchtower teachings for over 40 years, including the Heavenly Call, the Great Crowd, the return of Jews to Israel and the necessity of character development (Rom 12;1,2; Gal 5:22,23).
C.T. Russell’s Will directed that no President would replace him. He identified by name an editorial committee of five to take over the article writing duties at the Watchtower.
Today, the JW Organization says that Apostasy is leaving the doctrine of present truths taught by the GB and the faithful and discreet slave (GB). They say talking about the difference in doctrine constitutes apostasy. Based on today’s standards, do you think Bible Students at the time C.T. Russell died should have considered J.F. Rutherford to be a usurper and an Apostate leader?
“The Shining Light, that Shineth More until the Perfect Day”—and Apostasy
Jesus was “the light of the world” at his first advent (John 8:12). However, soon after the death of the Apostles, the Gospel light became mixed with error and darkness. But when Jesus returned, he gave his “household. . .meat in due season” (Matthew 24:45; Luke 12:42). The light of Truth became brighter. Especially unique was the recovery of the light of truth of the “Kingdom…in earth” being established for the whole unsaved world of mankind (Matthew 6:9, 10).
All peoples of the nations—which God had judged and condemned—would have an opportunity to be recovered. Specifically, Jehovah Himself judged and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. But He has also planned that they will be “daughters” to a restored Israel under a better and New Covenant in Christ’s Kingdom (Ezekiel 16:55-61).
Would it be an “apostasy” against “increasing light” to say that Sodom and Gomorrah would not be restored? And then would it be still more increasing light to say Sodom and Gomorrah would be restored—and then again, not restored?
After Brother Russell had consistently taught the recovery opportunity of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Watchtower went back and forth with its position on this teaching.
|Watchtower,Oct. 15(p. 367)
Watchtower, March 1
Watchtower, July 1
Watchtower, Oct. 8
Watchtower, April 15
Jesus’ Guidelines for Judging an Apostate.
In any case, who has the right to judge anyone as “apostate”—and then shun his or her fellowship? Jesus clearly laid down the guidelines for disfellowshipping. First of all, the purpose of calling anybody on sin is to regain and win back our brother or sister! To begin with, Jesus said we go to him or her first privately. If that does not help, then we take two or three others with us to confirm our concerns. Then finally, if that does not bring repentance, we take the issue—not even to the elders—but to the whole congregation.
Matthew 18:15-20 -“And if your brother sins,  go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 “And  if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. 18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” NAS
The whole congregation decides who is to be disfellowshiped and treated as a “Gentile” and a “tax gatherer”—in other words no longer privileged to have the special warm fellowship of our brotherhood. Just as we may allow strangers to our faith to come and listen at our meetings, but we would not have the same bond of fellowship with them. After all, even Jesus allowed “publicans and sinners” to come and hear him (Matthew 5:46, 47; 9:10,11; 21:31, 32; Mark 2:15, 16; Luke 3:12; 5:29, 30; 15:1; 19:2, etc.)
Of course, those anointed who have been “enlightened…partakers of the holy Spirit” who have willfully “fallen away” cannot be recovered (Hebrews 6:4-7). But again, only Jehovah can judge this degree of serious responsibility.
Apostles’ Authority to Judge.
However, the Apostles had a unique authority—not ever to be duplicated even by Popes—to judge certain cases of heresy. More specifically, Apostle Paul warned about Hymenaeus and Philetus who “have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). That doctrinal deviation would certainly be very serious, as Paul taught that Jesus gave his life “a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). That apostasy would destroy the whole point of the Kingdom paradise on earth!
As mentioned, in another letter to Timothy, Paul said, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing…” (1 Timothy 6:3, 4 NAS). In that context he is talking about treatment of widows, elders and slaves—not what is usually labeled “doctrinal issues.” Following this general admonition, he warned about the danger of loving money and advocated contentment instead (vss. 6-10).
Did Jesus Tell his Followers to Cast Off Family to Follow Him?
No, but he certainly warned that “members of his household” could be divided by the “sword” of truth and reject his followers. Yet faithful followers are to love Jesus even more than father, mother, son or daughter. Those who lose their precious family “life” for the sake of the Gospel will be compensated with a spiritual family life (Matthew 10:34-39).
But Jesus never told his disciples to cast off their Jewish parents or children who would not become Christian. He merely warned them that divisions could come within a household—and family members might reject those who have decided to follow Jesus!
Apostle Paul—Gentle with Issues in the Early Church.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the brethren at Thessalonica, he expressed himself as “gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children” (1 Thess 2:7). Even though he had to correct the Church at Thessalonica for believing falsely that already “the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). (They were centuries off in their thinking. . .)
Yes, Apostle Paul called the Galatians “foolish” and asked, “who has bewitched you” for believing they were justified by works of the Law (Galatians 3:1-3). But he tenderly closed out his letter to them, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. . . . And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:1, 9, 10).
When the Corinthian Church tolerated one in their midst who committed fornication with his father’s wife—he rebuked the “church of Christ which is at Corinth” as a congregation for not taking responsibility for appropriate action (1 Corinthians 1:2; 5:1). “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (vs. 13). He did not address only the elders to take action. But he addressed the whole congregation as responsible to take action removing this person as one who was an apostate from the faith.
On the prevailing, on-going issue of circumcision and certain Jewish customs in the early Church, Paul rebuked Peter—as well as Barnabas. “I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11-13). But Apostle Paul did not disfellowship either or call them “apostate.” Much later, Apostle Peter even commends Apostle Paul, “. . .our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you” (2 Peter 3:15)
Satan and Apostate System to be Destroyed—Those Blinded given Opportunity to be Saved.
In conclusion, yes, the Apostate Church of Rome, “the mother of harlots,” is judged and will be destroyed by those who formerly supported her (Revelation 17:15, 16). And, yes, the very first Apostate – Satan – will be ultimately destroyed in second death (Revelation 20:10).
However, those now “blinded” by Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) will have an opportunity to “learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9) on the “highway of holiness” where there will be “no lion” (Isaiah 35).
Of course, Adam being perfect, he could only sin willfully when he plunged his whole posterity under the death penalty. But Jesus being the perfect Man, laid down his life a Ransom as a corresponding price specifically for Adam. Thus Adam himself—as well as all his posterity which also fell away into apostasy—will come back in the resurrection. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).