“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”—Matthew 18:20
Condensed from the Booklet, “Our Association Together in the Ministry”
The history of Associated Bible Classes (and hence of the Pastoral Bible Institute), begins in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, during the period 1870 to 1875. A group of devout Bible Students began to meet together there. They realized that God’s oathbound covenant to Abraham (that in his seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed) must surely be fulfilled. Yet millions have died without receiving that blessing. These students observed the Apostle Paul’s teaching (Gal. 3:8, 16, 27, 29) that Christ is the primary seed of blessing, but that those who are Christ’s become heirs of God’s promise to Abraham. They are to be associate with Christ as kings and priests in ruling and blessing all the families of the earth (2 Tim. 2:12). They saw further, that in order to receive that blessing all must come out of their graves, be taught the truth of God, and come to a full opportunity to gain everlasting life (John 5:28, 29RV; 1 Tim. 2:3-6). This restitution work is also foretold in Acts 3:21.
The church is called to joint-heirship with the Lord in the Millennial kingdom. This is a clear scriptural teaching. But prior to that time they had failed to distinguish between the reward of the church now on trial, and the reward of the faithful of the world (whose trial is at the close of the Millennial age). The church is to be rewarded with spiritual glory, the divine nature. The world will receive a restitution glory—restoration to the human perfection once enjoyed in Eden by their progenitor, Adam.
Charles Taze Russell, a Pennsylvania businessman, became the leader of this movement. As time is a test to us all, so some of his early associates began to deny the teaching of a ransom price for Adam and all his race. Bro. Russell maintained that this teaching was the only foundation for Christian faith.
His first published pamphlet was The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return (1877—50,000 copies). It was written to show that the object of our Lord’s return is to bless all the families of the earth. Bro. Russell showed that Christ’s coming would be thief-like. He would not return in the flesh, but as a spirit being, invisible to man (John 14:14-19); and that the gathering of his church and the separation of true and false believers would continue during the end of this age without the world’s being aware of it.
In 1876, at the age of 24, Bro. Russell closed his Philadelphia business. Thereafter, for the next forty years until his death in 1916, he devoted his time and resources to traveling, preaching, and writing. The first issue of his magazine appeared in July, 1879. Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence continued as a monthly publication until December, 1891 and semi-monthly thereafter until his death. In 1881 he published Food for Thinking Christians and Tabernacle Teachings (about 1,400,000 copies each). These were followed by six volumes originally issued under the title Millennial Dawn, later renamed, as a series, Studies in the Scriptures (over 12,000,000 to date.)
The movement grew, until at his death in October 1916 he was pastor of more that twelve hundred congregations in various parts of the world. His writings were translated into more than 35 different languages. His weekly sermons, were syndicated and published in more than two thousand newspapers with a combined circulation of 15 million copies. He directed a lecture bureau of several dozen traveling lecturers on Bible subjects. This summary of the activities of Pastor C. T. Russell is necessary to understand the history of today’s Associated Bible Students classes.
Associated Bible Students
In his public work, Bro. Russell used the corporate name International Bible Students Association, a name was applied to the classes (or, ecclesias) of Bible students. Earlier, the name Associated Bible Students had also been used by such groups. The organization [now known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses] continued to use the name International Bible Students Association for several years following the death of Bro. Russell. The groups which drew away from the organization have generally assumed the former name: Associated Bible Students, or in some cases, Berean Bible Students.
After his death the organization changed many of its teachings from those presented inStudies in the Scriptures and ceased to publish or distribute Bro. Russell’s writings. Many individuals held to their understanding of God’s word and withdrew their support from the organization at this time. Those who did so were the beginnings of the Associated Bible Students classes and who, as a whole, adhere closely to the views presented in Pastor Russell’s writings.
The Consequence of Crisis
These historical events in mind, it can be seen how the passing of Pastor Russell resulted in a crisis in the work of ministering to the household of faith. The change in management of the organization meant a complete change in the spirit, policy, and methods of administration. Brethren who had served with Bro. Russell and who occupied positions of trust and responsibility were dismissed for no reason other than their stand in defence of principles of truth, love, justice, and righteousness and the life-work and ministry of Bro. Russell.
Brethren all over the world were called upon to answer questions involving truth and the liberty of the people of God. These friends, who faced similar tests of loyalty to Christ Jesus their head, saw advantages in cooperating among themselves. Through the efforts of these small groups of Associated Bible Students, the Pastoral Bible Institute came into existence in 1918.
The Associated Bible Students are congregational. That is, individual Bible classes are independent, self-governing bodies, while maintaining fellowship with other like congregations. Their ministers are termed elders, but assume no ecclesiastical titles. They recognize as brethren in Christ all who profess faith in his ransom sacrifice and have made a full consecration to God in response to his invitation in Rom. 12:1, 2, and who give evidence thereof in their course of life.
The apostle Paul declares that: ” Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work”—2 Timothy 3:16, 27 ASV.
On this basis the Associated Bible Students do not attempt to build another sect by creating tests of faith. They ask only for complete acceptance of God’s Word and conformance of the life to its teachings. Thus they are one with all who are truly the Lord’s. They have formulated no creed as a condition for fellowship, their position being that expressed in Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 6, page 241:
“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 that are men bound in earthly systems and societies. The love of Christ constraineth us”—[holds us together—Young’s Analytical Concordance] (2 Cor. 5:14).
One other passage from the pen of Pastor Russell on this matter:
“. . . the wisdom that cometh from above . . . entreats and exhorts for unity only in the Lord and along the line of questions positively settled by the Lord in the Scriptures—which generously leaves each with full liberty to act and to judge on all questions not positively settled by the Scriptures. We urge that all of the Lord’s dear flock copy the wisdom of the apostle in this matter (Zion’s Watch Tower).
The most concise summary of what Associated Bible Students understand the holy Scriptures to teach is that which from 1895 was published in every issue of the Watch Tower and can be found also in every issue of THE HERALD—currently on the inside cover of the wrapper—under the heading To Us The Scriptures Clearly Teach.
A New Creature
The Scriptures are clear. It is a new creature that counts. To be a new creature is everything. Membership in Christ is everything. However, getting into Christ is an individual matter and is not effected by any device, institute, or organization that we as the Lord’s people may form. We are accepted into Christ by a personal knowledge of God and by hearing the call from him to surrender all to him. This is the only way of becoming enrolled as a member of Christ’s church.
Membership in the Institute
Membership in our Institute is intended to preserve in the hands of those who are contributors the right of deciding how their funds shall be used. Membership implies no subscribing to a specified belief. and no one in becoming a member is in any sense of the word joining a church.
Anyone contributing five dollars is eligible for membership, entitling him to a vote in the management of the Institute’s efforts, its business meetings, elections, etc. This procedure was followed to prevent any individual from controlling the Institute’s elections.
We have not pursued a course designed to build a movement or attract a following. We feel certain that the end of the age is at hand and that the true saints are few—one here and one there. Any so convinced, who think to create a great organization composed of true footstep followers of Christ would surely be disappointed.
Nor do we propose a great work among men. As we have pointed out in THE HERALD the church in the flesh has never been authorized to do a great work of conversion or reformation that would affect either the masses of the world or the multitudes of professing Christians. On the contrary, we were only to feed his sheep (John 21:17) and to teach or make disciples (not converts) of all nations (Matt. 28:19, 20).
When asked about the Scripturalness of such a business arrangement for a service amongst the churches our reply is simple. We know nothing in the Scriptures forbidding such an organization. The Lord’s people are exhorted to use the spirit of a sound mind in all things, and to do whatsoever they do to the glory of God. The Apostle assures us that “the end of the commandment is [love]” (1 Tim. 1:5) and that “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor” (Rom. 13:10).
The preaching of the Gospel is a ministry of love. Any device that encourages such holy service in harmony with the principles of justice and love is to be lauded and not condemned.
Admittedly, we do not read of a corporation being authorized in the early Church, nor for the Church subsequently; but neither do we read of Jesus’ contemporaries riding on airplanes or using telephones or television. Who of us would abandon the use of such devices because the early followers did not have them? No one! The human family has increased in size, and civilization has introduced legal devices by which the world’s business is transacted in an orderly fashion. Incorporation is one of those. It is a tool which the Lord’s people may use as freely as they would board a plane. They should feel no guilt that their lot has been made easy while their predecessors were forced to journey hundreds of miles on foot or by boat.
The present work of the church was never intended to be large. The message is only for those who have ears to hear. These are to be gathered out of the world—a “people for his name” (Acts 15:14). The Gospel has never been popular—darkness still hates the light (John 3:19). The great work of the church, as the Scriptures clearly point out, will take place after all the faithful called-out saints of this Gospel age have been glorified. Then they will be together with Christ and compose the kingdom of God. This will occur after Satan is bound and the time for restitution of all things is fully ushered in. Meantime the present work and mission of the church is that of the perfecting of the saints for the future work of service, to develop in herself every grace, to be God’s witness to the world and to prepare to be kings and priests in the next age.
It is obvious that some are seized with the idea that their mission as God’s people is to do a work or engage in a great outward movement. They lose sight of their real work. As humans, we are not suitable in God’s purpose without growth and development in spirituality. If we would follow him we must develop the fruits of the Spirit: virtue, patience, long-suffering, meekness, gentleness, brotherly kindness and love. These qualities personify that complete Christian character which will be qualified to undertake the work or mission of the coming age, that of instructing and uplifting all humanity. Men offer ecclesiastical activity as proof of divine sanction. Such evidence is turned by the Word of God into the occasion of their own condemnation. Jesus foretells how some will ultimately come to him in that day, claiming the right of entering into the inheritance of the saints on the basis of their activities. Have we not done wonderful works? (See Matt. 7:22 ff.) Jesus declares that their wonderful works will receive no recognition, inasmuch as they had neglected the work of grace, the work of the Spirit in the heart, the work of producing a character like his own. Only this will constitute a person fit for membership with Christ in the kingdom and fit to share its responsibilities and honors with him.
In keeping with this Scriptural teaching the Pastoral Bible Institute was formed. Looking over history, it should be apparent that our purposes have been those stated:
- To be spiritually helpful to scattered friends in various parts of the world.
- To encourage and assist them in edifying and building up others of the Lord’s people in spiritual things.
- To encourage the friends to maintain a state of spiritual poise and balance (which condition is scripturally recognized as the peace of God) amidst present perplexities and confusion.
- To testify to God’s truths and minister the Good News to the extent which God allows during our lives.
- To preserve these principles we present pure, simple teachings of Christ and the apostles, and to uphold Bible truths in general.
A New Commandment I Give Unto You
The major tool of our ministry is the bi-monthly journey, The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom.We also distribute the divine message by means of booklets, leaflets, etc. We also assist capable brethren to travel, ministering the word of grace to large or small groups of friends (including isolated individuals) who desire and request such service. The Lord has blessed these activities. Finally, we communicate with brethren around the world, many of whom tell of their pain and heartaches and of the grace of the Lord that has so marvelously sustained and kept them through their experiences. Some write of their appreciation of the truth, the knowledge of the Lord, the knowledge of the principles of truth and righteousness, and that this knowledge is truly their shield and buckler at the present time.
Some Walk Not With Us
Quite obviously there are other brethren who are not associated in the ministry of the Institute. We have no quarrel with these. Furthermore we exercise the spirit of Jesus, praying that the Lord of the Harvest send forth more laborers into the vineyard (Matt. 9:38). We therefore refrain from controversial exchanges with anyone who desires to pursue other lines of Bible interpretation and service. The work at hand is not our work, but the Lord’s. We urge all so engaged to reflect our Master’s spirit as expressed in Mark 9:39, 40.
Those who accept Jesus’ commission to his church have no time for strife. Our hands are to be filled with carrying out his commission. The Apostle Paul said, . . . “let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Cor. 14:26). The spiritual interests of the Lord’s people deserve first consideration. Spirituality, demonstration of the Lord’s spirit of love, forbearance, and tolerance in our lives is sorely needed. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Let us join St. Paul in his study of this subject, in his analysis of love—that it is kind, does not seek her own interests, is not easily provoked, bears all things, endures all things, and never fails.
The love of Christ and of God is central to the character of the Son of God. All who would become joint-heirs with Jesus must possess this love before they can share in the riches and glory of the kingdom of heaven. They they will redound unto the glories of their Lord and Master and our Heavenly Father.