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Was Charles Taze Russell a Fraud and False Prophet?

The following article is taken from the book, “Pastor Russell: Messenger of Millennial Hope.”  Chapter 8, page 227.


The Pastor a Fraud and False Prophet?

Many of the allegations made against Pastor Russell under this category are sweeping and all inclusive in tone. Rev. Walter Martin and Rev. Norman Klann make no apologies in asserting:

“[There is] vast documentary evidence [that] definitely reveals beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt the faulty character of [Charles Taze Russell—] one of the greatest religious charlatans and frauds ever to masquerade as a minister of the gospel.”

However, upon examination, the “vast documentary evidence” turns out to be essentially the prejudicial views of one newspaper, the Brooklyn Eagle, and the malicious assaults of the Pastor’s arch enemy, the Rev. J. J. Ross of Hamilton, Ontario, as discussed in Chapter 7.  The attacks of the Brooklyn Eagle against Pastor Russell stood in sharp contrast to the overwhelming support given by hundreds of newspapers (and their readers) across the country, as demonstrated by carrying his weekly syndicated sermons, detailed accounts of his debates and world tours, and willingness in many areas to circulate his special sermons and tracts as supplements to the Sunday editions. The Rev. J. J. Ross indeed initiated many wild, slanderous charges, but none proved of any substance as we have already noted.

Thus, it is unconscionable for allegations of this magnitude to be made by responsible individuals and particularly by members of the clergy, whose actions and words seem unbefitting of their own calling. Sadly, this inevitably leads us to suspect ulterior motives and a general conspiracy on the part of such to continue in defaming an outstanding messenger of God and doing their utmost to detract from his minisitry.

In refreshing contrast to Martin and Klann’s distorted assessment of Pastor Russell’s character as “faulty” and his role as a gross “religious charlatan and fraud,” the historian M. James Penton provides an entirely different evaluation. He describes the Pastor as:

“Basically honest even when … misguided. In fact, his personal life was generally free from blemish. Furthermore, he was generally an attractive, kindly man, who was completely devoted to the steward ship which he believed to be his … He was sometimes guile less to the point of naiveté … In spite of [some] real shortcomings, in comparing him with [a number of other prominent] nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American religious leaders [who founded new churches and denominations] … Russell’s character fares rather well.”

Turning now to a more focused effort to criticize the Pastor, we note that many of his detractors label him as a false prophet. They base this on Pastor Russell’s interest in Bible prophecy and his pinpointing an actual date for the deliverance of the church and the establishment of God’s long promised Kingdom on earth. For some twenty-five years he had predicted the climax of these events to occur in the year 1914, and unquestionably there was great disappointment when it did not. But is this just cause for labeling him a false prophet? Josh McDowell, popular defender of orthodox Christianity, certainly thinks so:

“The prophecies made by Russell and the Watch tower concerning 1914 totally failed because the Kingdom of God was not established upon the earth … The Watchtower is guilty of false prophecy … [as well as] antibiblical theology, and misrepresentation of the truth.”

This accusation is very troubling, in that it unfairly selects merely the Pastor for such labeling and conveniently overlooks a host of other Godly expositors of the past who also attempted to predict end-time events but failed in their sincere efforts. Historian Leroy Froom points out that at the dawn of the nineteenth century, there was a remark able revival of interest in end-time prophecies of the Bible that spread across the spectrum of church denominations, both in this country and abroad. Many expositors shared the results of their studies and began to project dates for the fulfillment of specific time prophecies and the start of the Millennium and the return of Christ. Such men as Aaron Kinne, a Congregational clergy man; John G. Schmucker, an Evangelical Lutheran pastor; Alexander Campbell, founder of the Disciples Church; and A. L. Crandall, a minister from New York, incorrectly anticipated dates from 1847 to 1868 and beyond. Yet all were respected as scholars of the church and their various contributions lauded.

In our day, there are other examples of end-time prophetic date settings ending in disappointments that can also be cited. Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth and other best-selling prophetic books, and Collin H. Deal, author of Will Christ Return by 1988?, both predicted the Second Advent would occur in 1988 (though for different reasons); and Harold Camping, director of the Family Radio network, pinpointed the year 1994. Yet despite the failure of their predictions, these were not widely condemned in ecclesiastical circles as being false prophets and generally continued to be held in high esteem.

Regarding the year 1914, there were actually two events that the Pastor expected to take place then—the ending of the “Times of the Gentiles” prophecy, as well as the glorification of the church.

Bible Students are convinced that the outbreak of an unprecedented world war in that year confirmed the first part of this expectation, and that the Gentile lease of power or Divine permission to rule the world had come to a close. A wide range of secular authorities have likewise pinpointed 1914 as a unique year in human history: The Scientific Monthly (July 1951) called it a “turning point” in our day; Barbara Tuchman (in The Guns of August), “one of the great convulsions of history”; the St. Louis Post-Dis patch (Jan. 27, 1980), the start of “a cruel and perhaps terminal illness”; Rowse (in Oxford Historian and Biographer), “the end of an era and the beginning of another”; and Edmond Taylor (in The Fall of Dynasties, quoting Arnold Toynbee), the start of “a twentieth-century ‘Time of Troubles’ … from which our civilization has by no means yet emerged.”

Pastor Russell must be given the credit for anticipating that year as the closing of an old order and the start of the birth pangs that would lead to a new world based on his study of Bible prophecies. From that time forward the Gentile nations were being evicted and would face collapse in the Armageddon struggle to follow. As noted in greater detail earlier, man’s extremity in this troublous period would but lead to God’s open intervention and the full establishment of His long promised Kingdom.

Regarding the second part of his expectation for the year 1914, the Pastor freely admitted his error. In 1916, in the same month in which he passed away, he commented in the Fore words to his Studies in the Scriptures as follows:

“The work of Harvest has progressed and is still progressing—even though at one time we supposed that the Harvest work would have been fully accomplished with the ending of the Times of the Gentiles. That was merely a supposition, which proved to be without warrant, for the thrusting in of the sickle of Truth and the gathering in of the ripe grain has been progressing since October, 1914, as never before.”

“Dealing with subjects so difficult that they are rarely touched by others, it is not to be considered strange if some of the suggestions made … have not been fulfilled with absolute accuracy to the very letter … The Lord over ruled [our mistake] for the blessing of His people. The thought that the Church would all be gathered to glory before October, 1914, certainly did have a very stimulating and sanctifying effect upon thousands, all of whom accordingly can praise the Lord —even for the mistake. Many … [are] thankful … that the culmination of the Church’s hopes was not reached at the time we expected; and that we, as the Lord’s people, have further opportunities of perfecting holiness and of being participators with our Master in the further presentation of His Message to His people.”

It is evident that Pastor Russell was content to let the matter rest in the hands of the Lord. He had given the subject his best judgment and erred in part of his expectation of prophetic fulfillments in 1914. Yet he could see the good that had resulted regard less and therefore could rejoice in the Lord’s providence in over ruling the error. We submit that such thoughtful reflection and the spirit of acquiescence to the will of God that it represents are most commend able and would seem to further demonstrate the inappropriateness of using this incident as the basis for condemning the Pastor as a false prophet.

41 comments to Was Charles Taze Russell a Fraud and False Prophet?

  • Hank

    To Chuck;

    Great hearing from you. Back in Brother Russell’s day they had buildings at Bethel. You did not have to go there. But Halls were also rented to go to meetings. But the number of believers was small so they could rent a hall or go to homes if available. But try and do that with 8 million people or 20 million people at the evening meal.

    I didn’t completely understand your question ,so please post another.


    • Chuck Maly

      I guess I’m confused as to why you would need a place for 8 to 20 million people. The buildings at Bethel were used as a publishing house, and to house those in need or during visits. They were not a central meeting place for the Bible Students. Being that the space was available it made sense to have local meetings there rather than rent out another place. Today each ecclesia that I have met excluding Chicago is rather small and there is no need to own a building for fellowship. There were probably just as many if not more Bible Students during Br. Russells day than there are today and they did not build meeting halls around the world. As for Br. Russell being a vicar for Christ, that has never been how he is looked at or up to. He was one of a number of messengers the Lord has used throughout the Gospel age to bring forth more light on the truth. I was not raised around or aware of the JW beliefs prior to this site. I find them interesting to read about. I do find the concept of a governing body rather odd and not proper but that is just my opinion. Take care and God bless.
      Br. Chuck

  • Hank

    To Jacqueline;

    First it would be good to agree on a few things.

    1. Abel was a true worshipper of Jehovah.
    2. Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted.
    3. Korah and his followers fire holders were rejected.
    4. Aaron’s was not rejected.
    So we agree, God does the accepting and rejecting of worship.

    Lets go back to Abel, no mention of any religious building or as far as that goes no mention of and kind or place of a religious meeting. But it was good.

    Aaron on the other hand was high priest over a large group of people, why they had a large gathered assembly but not at a big building or stadium. But it was good.

    Him and Moses and others were told to build the sacred tent though, but remember Abel did not need one. But it was good.

    Later good king David saw a need for a temple and was told his son would do it. Did his son just have the temple built? No he had governmental buildings built. After them he set out to have to have a nationwide construction program. 1 Kings 9:20-22; 2 Chron. 8:7-10

    Again it is important for us to reason, faithful Abel and David had no temple building. Yet now during Solomon’s time the people do, and some big faith festivals took place here. So far we see nothing wrong with or without buildings.

    But Daniel gives us some more information on buildings. With regard to the temple which had been destroyed Daniel shows us while the people are in bondage at Babylon that they will return and rebuild the temple. What makes it more interesting he tells us that temple will be destroyed.

    So in it all God’s people had buildings and for periods of time did not have buildings. The early Christians had no need for buildings. Why is that? Travel back then was much slower than today. The truth period of growth for the believers would be a small period of time. Paul wrote at Acts 20:28 the wolves were on the way, and it was already at work. Later he mentions how he weeps for many who got taken back in by Satan’s system. And when the last apostle died it would flourish, the fake anointed. Why it got so bad that as a baby you were sprinkle with water and if you died the next day you were in heaven. Ruler and priest in heaven and you did nothing.

    Now today and going back to the middle 1800,s people began digging into the Bible. Not until about 1879 or thereabouts did a certain place take on meaning for Jehovah’s people. C.T. Russell and certain ones purchased buildings so they could further the work. Why one of his early WT,s was looking for 1,000 preachers. No where did he ever write that 98 years after his death there would be almost 8 million preachers.

    Now lets look at God’s wisdom in the past. Abel equals one equals no building.
    Noah plus 7 no building, but an ark which took time to build, and many who took no note. And 2 Peter 2:5 says he was a preacher, so the people who died and took no note had a chance. Maybe some ever helped build the ark, but tired out, we don’t know.

    Then Israel with millions got the temple and many other buildings.

    So we can see that God can go with or without buildings. Thus without not bad, and thus with not bad.

    But lets compare some apples.

    1. The WT Was used by God up and till Oct. 31, 1916.

    C.T. Russell when asked about that said he would find it remarkable for God not to continue using it after his death.

    2. Also before he died were not buildings used to print the literature and mail it out? And do not many Bible Student’s to this day believe he was the Vicar for Christ, of the Society?

    If they say yes there are two things they accept. The Vicar of Christ had buildings.

    And that’s exactly what the Vicars of Christ have, but many more buildings, and in part from a work C.T. Russell put into fast rolling action. Even though he never saw the huge number. Of that 8 million almost it does not include the millions who have passed away or sadly hopefully less than a million those who drifted away.

    Why do people drift away? Usually it is little small things that seem harmless. But like a rash it slowly starts to spread. And then soon they are gone.

    It is one thing to see the god of this world blind the minds of the masses, but when one of your own falls it hurts.

    And another thing is how people came against C.T. Russell, even more so after he died. But then going after the ones who ran the buildings he helped start. Remember he was not the first president. Being number one didn’t mean a thing to him, at least I can’t find any of his writings claiming it did.

    So if buildings bother you, consider Daniel 9:24-27, “so that the vision and the prophecy will come true, and the holt Temple will be rededicated…Jerusalem will be rebuilt…The city and Temple will be destroyed.” GNB

    So about 500 years Temple built and used and then destroyed. Early Christians met in homes, just like field service today. Early Christians out preaching just like today.

    I will say this, we would have been good friends if we met and shared the faith with other in the field. But life always doesn’t go the way I would like it.


    • Chuck Maly

      I am a Bible Student and to answer your question, I do not consider Br. Russell to be a vicar of Christ. A messenger maybe, but not vicar. All the meetings of fellowship I have attended were at someone’s house or a rented out building. Nothing owned by a central authority. So, I do not understand your question I guess (no. 2).

    • Jacqueline

      Hank I think you missed my point. I asked not whether jehovah has had and still do have true worshippers, but where does it say it would have a visible organization or ark. The JW say youy must physically be a part of the channel for salvation to survive armageddon. It says you must be a part of his visible organization to survive or live in Millennium without resurrection. Where are the scriptures telling us to look for and join and organization to get to him. Now I can present the exact quotes and wat references for these points.
      You, I agree should be a follower only of Christ and should associate with those of like mind searching for truth. I don’t see scriptural support for a system of laws, rules and regulations that one must follow or be DF if you differ. Rather Christ’s followers would be thrown out of their synagogues for searching for truth and discussing it. That in a nutshell is the history of the JW that started in 1931. I became a part of it in 1948 and have lived most of the constant 360 changes back and forth they go in a circle and says that this is God. Many would quote Moses sojourning for 40years but that was a punishment for wrong until all the old heads died. Freedom and Liberty in Christ is exhibited here as we are able to talk freely.
      I will admit I need to go over your answer with a fine toothe comb and will do so in a few hours. Thanks however so others can consider your answer also. In Christ Jacqueline

  • Hank

    It is called stuck in the mud. Read Is. 46:8 and Amos 3:7 and Pro. 4:18

    Then ask yourself, does God become a revealer of secrets? Or does he tell his people everything in one lump sum? Read Daniel chapter 2.


    • Jacqueline

      Hank I think you might be able to answer my one question I have asked all my life. Aside from mentioning of the “Faithful and discreet Slave” which any of us can be at death and without dying be appointed over all his belongings in heaven and earth which at that time during millenium money will have lost it’s value. So without going that route, for you only have one scripture.
      TELL ME SCRIPTURALLY where the bible said it would have an organization with Vicars for Christ after Jesus death. Not followers of Christ but a BRICK AND MORTAR CENTER, BUILDINGS, A RULING CLASS OR ONE MAN, an ORGANIZATION ON EARTH today. Remember the JW say you must have lived at the New York properties at some point to be the Vicars for Christ (Wat. feb-nov, 2013)
      I will wait for your scriptures and look all of them up. We will allow you space for your writing. Thank you, Jacqueline

  • Tim Daugherty

    I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1975 and have struggled to “find my place” in Christendom ever since. I have gone from Southern Baptist to Catholic to Methodist, back to Baptist and now am in a Calvinist bible church. I have read and studied the Studies in the Scriptures but I am somewhat put off by the continued use of old data, science and history in those volumes and am wondering if there is anything more up to date.

    • Jacqueline

      Tim hello and welcome. You have been on a journey and so glad to see you have leveled out on your walk. On this site are many interesting articles written by different ecclias. One of my fleshly brothers an elder with JW asked me why would I read something so old also?
      I told him I was asked almost the same question by someone else, but they were asking about the BIBLE. I am not equate SITS or any writing with the bible but if my husband told me something 29 years ago I don’t expect the info to change just because 20 years have passed. Today 5/19/2014 I am 65yrs old. 100 years from now you cann look back to that date and ask my age. I will still say 65 on that date.
      That was the problem I had during the 61yrs as a witness. I saw the revelation book go total opposites 4 TIMES. Everything about scripture changed about every 20 years so that as an old timer the newer seemed like fools to me as I noticed they thought they were hearing gospel truth. They weren’t aware it would change COMPLETELY not get more visible but an elephant would becomea chair so to speak anf yet they said it came from God.
      Brothers write a lot of and give many new facts and info that updates or add to former thoughts, that is why we have websites now. There is no need to stay in SITS as there is a lot out there. I think your reading them have probably given you great insight and something to think about. There are other Holy Writings even that were not included in the Bible Tim, I find them very informative.
      Mankind is forever looking for the truth about our creator, to the writing of many books there is no end and aren’t we glad!
      How is it in the Calvinist bible church? I will go look it up in Wiki. Isn’t it nice to have the freedom to check out other religions. I grew up with that freedom slowly taken away from me. To do so would have resulted in DF for Apostasy, although the accept Jesus more than witnesses did. The internet has a lot available on what others are finding. Alot of the older lost books I find yields the best corrobative info to the Bible. Hope this helps. Perhaps some of the others will jump in Tim. and again welcomw.

  • hank

    Ps 123:1, “You who are enthroned in the heavens.”

    2 Chronicles 2:6, “For the heavens and the heaven of the heavens cannot contain him.” These answers are from the inspired word of God, the one who made it possible for you to breath air and hopefully enjoy life.

  • Why do some believe Jehovah lives in our universe? True in our eyes the universe is big. Is it so in Jehovah’s eyes?
    Who is too even speculate our dimension is the only one? There may be millions of dimensions. Jesus said, “I have many mansions.”
    I used to know an old man (JW) who made claim he was of the 144,000. He spent many hours trying to figure out where in space Heaven was. He worked on where, and when Jesus left earth, and tried to get an angle from earth upward. I never believed Heaven was in our dimension. Besides, if God created this universe, why would he not create others?
    It seems man must always have an answer to everything…if he can’t find one, he will make one up.

  • hank

    To ResLight, Peter and Jeff;

    In the book by J. F. Rutherford called Reconciliation, page 14 it reads, “It has been suggested, and with much wait, that one of the stars of that group is the dwelling place of Jehovah and the place of the highest heavens.”

    What did Pastor Russell teach on Pleiades? R5710:2, “For this reason the suggestion has been made that the Pleiades may represent the Residence of Jehovah, the place from which he governs the Universe.”

    Both men wrote and taught it. Both men were wrong. Both men have been talked about badly. But both men pointed to Jehovah God as to whom mankind should worship.

    So what is more important? No where the center of the universe is? No who really is God? Both served the true God and both finished their earthly lives before astronomers brought understanding on it.

    Then the Watch Tower of 1953 11/15 explained that it is not the center of the universe and Jehovah’s dwelling.

    Is 48:6; Pr 4:18. Is it getting lighter outside?

  • Many do not realize that in 1904, Russell changed his view concerning the ending of the time of trouble in 1914, and that he came to realize that the end of the Gentile Times does not signify the end of, but rather the beginning of, the time of trouble. Indeed, during the years from 1904 on up to 1914, this appears to be the main thing that Russell was expecting for 1914.

    See my research on Russell and the time of trouble:

    Russell, however, never claimed to be a prophet; indeed, he disclaimed be a prophet many times. He never held that one had to submit to his conclusions regarding prophecy to be a Christian, or be in fellowship with the Bible Students.

    See my research regarding the claims that Russell was a “false prophet”

  • Thank you Jacqueline…and you have a good day with the family darling.

  • The world will always condemn those who step outside the teachings of false religion, as frauds and false prophets. It seem most of Gods people have stepped aside of the straight line of truth…Moses, King David, yes, even those men who were with Jesus…”I know this man not.”
    Do I believe Charles Taze Russell was a man of God? He was a better man than me. Was he correct in all he said? Perhaps not. But he was correct in the things that counted.
    Do I believe God was using Charles Taze Russell? Why would God not use him, he was Gods property.

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