Special History Issue – Regathering


Carl Hagensick

Discouragement, disillusionment, and confusion reigned among the Bible Studentsherald history issue after the death of their beloved Pastor in 1916. The bitter succession battle that saw the questionable election of “Judge” Joseph Rutherford, with its charges and counter-charges, left many brethren disenchanted and at a loss for direction. The uncertainty was further heightened as the official organization introduced change after change to the historic beliefs that the Pastor had eloquently espoused, and changed the emphasis from character development to marketing.

In reaction to the new circumstances within the Society, various groups were formed to try to recapture the vision of Pastor Russell. Three of the first to form, all in 1918, were the Stand Fast Bible Students Association, the Pastoral Bible Institute, and the Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement.

The Finished Mystery

The breaking point for many came with Rutherford’s ouster of a majority of the board of directors, and, secondarily, with the publication of The Finished Mystery in 1917 and its subsequent partial renunciation by the Watch Tower Society in 1918. Purporting to be the posthumous work of Pastor Russell, this so-called “Seventh Volume” was an exposition on the books of Revelation, Ezekiel, and the Song of Solomon; it was co-authored by Clayton Woodworth and George Fisher at the direction of Rutherford. Its exegesis on Revelation was deemed speculative if not outright bizarre in places, by many in the movement. The last, greatly edited, edition of this book was published in 1927.

The Stand Fast Bible Students

When parts of the “Seventh Volume” were officially renounced by the Society in 1918, a few thousand, who felt the original anti-government position that was removed from the book should have remained, left that organization and some formed the Stand Fast Bible Students Association. The name “Stand Fast” was chosen to emphasize “standing fast” against the purchase of Liberty Bonds, a position then championed by the Society. The movement has since died out.

In 1922 a young brother, John Herderson, became convinced that Bible Students should become active in witnessing and preaching the impending doom of Babylon. After he failed to convince the Stand Fast community as a whole, he and C. D. McCray, formed the Elijah Voice Society within the Stand Fast movement to implement that mission. For the larger number of dissenters, the words “Stand Fast” took on the meaning, “Patiently stand fast in Bible study … until Christ’s kingdom would be established.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses

When Rutherford’s expectation that the ancient worthies would be raised in 1925 failed, he admitted to no mistake. Instead he changed the teachings, a few each year, and demanded that others “Keep up with the new light!” He changed the name to “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in 1931 and progressively seized control over local classes until he called it “God’s Theocratic Organization.” Others called it a ruthless takeover.

Joseph Franklin Rutherford

To disagree with the organization, or with him, became tantamount to treason against Jehovah God himself. Those who left or were disfellowshipped were not allowed further contact, and were to be shown no mercy.

The Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement

P. S. L. Johnson had been a prominent pilgrim under Pastor Russell. When his interpretations of the separation of Elijah and Elisha, and of “that evil servant,” caused him to be rejected from the editorial committee of the planned new journal at the Asbury Park, New Jersey, convention in 1918, he, Raymond Grant Jolly, R. H. Hirsh, and most of the Philadelphia congregation left. They formed the Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement, and their intense witnessing efforts gathered a sizeable group of mostly former members of the Society as adherents. They held Pastor Russell in high esteem. A prodigious writer, Johnson produced a series of seventeen books under the general title of Epiphany Studies in the Scriptures.Abounding in typology, the LHMM categorized both prominent ones involved in their work, as well as those who differed with them, under various symbolic names. Teaching that the door to the High Calling was closed, they claimed Paul Johnson was the last member of the Church and his successor, Raymond Jolly, was the last member of the Great Company. Their two periodicals The Bible Standard and Present Truth continue to be published today.

P.S.L, Johnson

Two smaller groups split off from the LHMM. In 1955, Raymond Jolly withdrew the credentials as a pilgrim from John Krewson when Krewson began circulating an opposition paper. Krewson formed what came to be called in 1962 the Laodicean Home Missionary Movement in Philadelphia and published a journal entitled The Present Truth of the Apocalypsis. A year later John Hoefle of Mount Dora, Florida, also had his credentials withdrawn; he formed the Epiphany Bible Students Association. Hoefle taught that the door to the high calling had closed at a date later than the LHMM taught. He published a monthly newsletter that has been continued by his widow.

The Pastoral Bible Institute

After a new committee to provide spiritual food for the brethren was selected at a July, 1918, Asbury Park, New Jersey, convention, the committee adopted the name Pastoral Bible Institute (PBI) for the corporation formed there. The committee then called for a general convention to be held in Providence, Rhode Island, on October 18-20, later postponed to November 8-10, to “calmly and soberly consider matters of vital importance to the New Creation, and take counsel together as to the best methods of conducting themselves and the work of the ministry during this stormy time” (quotation from the Committee Bulletin, September, 1918). A similar convention was scheduled for the Midwest in St. Louis, Missouri, from December 6 to 8.

The business meeting formally endorsed the legal incorporation under the laws of the State of New York and empowered the directors of the PBI to publish a journal under the guidance of an editorial committee headed by Isaac F. Hoskins and Randolph E. Streeter. The first issue of The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom appeared in December of that year. In addition to the magazine, the PBI also opened an extensive pilgrim service serving isolated brethren and provided free literature for public distribution. Horace Hollister, P. L. Read, Paul Thomson, and Will Siekman were also active in this effort.

The outreach of the PBI, while designed for the general public, was particularly aimed at reaching disheartened members of the Watch Tower Society. As a result it became an umbrella group for brethren with a wide range of views on the Scriptures. This “open door” policy was distressing to many who felt it encouraged deviation from the truths they had learned from the ministry of Pastor Russell.

While maintaining an editorial view that mirrored the Pastor’s historical viewpoints in the pages of its magazine, it simultaneously stood in defense of the liberty of other brethren to hold a broad variety of differing interpretations; some of the PBI’s pilgrims also espoused diverse ideas. Three notable teachings were questioned by several: the doctrine of the Lord’s invisible return, the church having a share in the sin offering [though not in the ransom merit], and the time and scope of the New Covenant. In the 1990s the Institute returned The Herald to the historic Bible Student positions expressed in the writings of Pastor Russell.

Watchers of the Morning

At its annual meeting in 1936, the openness of the PBI’s doctrinal policy came into question. The directors who were divided on the subject, as well as the style of Hoskin’s leadership, placed two competing slates of candidates before the membership. When the votes were tallied, a majority voted to retain the liberal position. The directors who advocated changing to a more restrictive policy then severed connections with the PBI and began to publish their own journal, Watchers of the Morning, under the editorial direction of Isaac Hoskins. This magazine remained in publication until Hoskins’ death in 1957.

Reunion Conventions

In a continuing effort to reach out to all who had left the Society, a Reunion Convention was hastily organized at the old Bible House in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, November 1-3, 1929. This gathering attracted as many as 375 attendees and continued as an annual event for ten years. Speakers in the early conferences included George Wilson, J. G. Kuehn, Robert Lee Smith, Isaac Hoskins, A. L. Muir, J. J. Blackburn, Ernest Wylam, and H. A. Friese.

The Radio Work

Norman Woodworth, with John Dawson, created the first radio program for the Society in 1927. It was in the form of a dialog between “Frank [Fact Finder] and Earnest [Truth Seeker].” After airing a number of programs featuring the truths taught by Pastor Russell, “Judge” Rutherford informed Woodworth that henceforth Rutherford would write the scripts and Woodworth would deliver them. When Woodworth objected to that approach, he was summarily evicted from the Watch Tower Bethel Home.

He and Dawson left the Society in 1928 and associated with the Bible Students of greater New York. By 1931 the idea was proposed to restart the “Frank and Earnest” program under the auspices of the New York congregation and the first program aired over the powerful WOR radio station on April 12 of that year. Success was so gratifying that the class made the decision to continue broadcasting as long as finances permitted.

As the radio work expanded beyond the New York area, the “Dawn Radio Committee” was formed in the Greater New York congregation. Needing literature on a regular basis to send to those who responded to the radio messages, a small press was purchased and Woodworth wrote scripts, recorded the broadcasts, wrote a small journal, set the type, and printed it. The journal was originally entitled “Radio Echoes” and in 1932 was expanded and the name changed to “The Dawn.”

Woodworth actively promoted the radio project on numerous pilgrim trips for the PBI. When some PBI directors and members objected that witness work was a diversion from the pastoral work for which the Institute had been formed, the two activities were separated.

The Dawn Bible Students’ Association

The radio work led to the formation of a new service organization, the Dawn Bible Students Association, originally known as “Dawn Publishers.” Originally headquartered in Brooklyn, it later moved its facilities to larger quarters in East Rutherford, New Jersey. George Wilson, Don Copeland, G. Russell Pollock, and Edward Fay were also active in the radio work.

Driven by a vision to spread the good news of God’s plan, the Dawn soon expanded its activities into other fields. A variety of tracts and booklets was produced; the six volumes ofStudies in the Scriptures were reprinted; an active pilgrim service was initiated; and advertising campaigns were carried out in newspapers and magazines, including such illustrious journals as Readers’ Digest and National Geographic. In an attempt to encourage personal follow-up, a program was inaugurated with small postcard tracts called “Kingdom Cards” with addresses encoded so the ones distributing the tracts would receive any response to enable them to follow through with a visit, phone call, or letter.

General Conventions

The fellowship and spiritual refreshment were so great at a 1937 convention in Aurora, Illinois, that it was decided to hold a general convention under the joint-sponsorship of the Aurora, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Stevens Point, Wisconsin, congregations from July 2-4, 1938, at a Methodist campground in Waupaca, Wisconsin.

The next year the Pittsburgh and Chicago congregations sponsored a five-day convention at Epworth Forest at Lake Webster, Indiana. The following year it moved to the Miami Valley Chautauqua campground near Dayton, Ohio, where it continued to be held until 1944. After a three-year hiatus because of World War II, it resumed in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York, as a self-supporting convention. It has been held annually at various venues ever since. Peak attendance, during the 1950s, was about a thousand.

A New Schism

The early general conventions featured speakers holding a wide variety of scriptural interpretations. The PBI tended to sponsor pilgrims and convention speakers with differing doctrinal viewpoints, particularly on the second presence of Christ, the covenants, and the church’s part in the sin offering, while the Dawn held to a more rigid doctrinal standard. As a result, considerable friction developed. In 1941, when the sponsors of the general convention voted to have only speakers that held to the historic truths proclaimed by Pastor Russell, brethren who held the PBI position felt disenfranchised and started their own convention, initially in North Webster, Indiana, in 1950, with an attendance of 250. This developed into the Berean Christian Conference, currently held in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Many classes also divided over the same issue with so-called “PBI” and “Dawn” groups meeting separately in a number of cities. Two later attempts to reconcile the differences and reunite the classes met with little or no success.

Network Broadcasting

The Frank and Earnest radio ministry had grown from one station to an average of seventy stations prior to the Second World War. With the ending of hostilities, the Bible Students considered a broader outreach. At the 1949 General Convention a motion was made to take up Good Hopes pledges to determine if sufficient funds would be available to broadcast the Frank and Earnest program nationwide. The proposal met with unanimous approval, and the programs began broadcasting weekly over 174 stations on the ABC network.

After a few years, the programs were switched to the Mutual Broadcasting System. Responses began flooding in to the Dawn and the need was felt to follow up on the interested names. Christian Zahnow and John MacAuley, Dawn pilgrims, began traveling to areas where there were a number of names and began organizing new classes where there were enough interested to do so.

The radio has also been used as a medium for their message by the Fort Worth Bible Students and the Winnipeg Bible Students. In recent years a radio call-in talk show, “Christian Questions,” featuring Rick Suraci and Jonathan Benson, has been airing weekly in Connecticut. There is also a call-in talk show on television from Tucson, Arizona, with John Harris.

The Divine Plan Movement

In the early 1950s dissension rose again. There were multiple causes for the new divisions. The Dawn leadership and pilgrims were perceived as presenting other viewpoints on justification, the role of Israel in Christ’s kingdom, the beginning date for the times of restitution and the millennial reign, and the chronological concepts of the jubilee. Some felt that the work of publishing and witness projects had become too centralized. After years of disagreement, a number of brethren organized a new general convention in Fort Collins, Colorado (later relocated to Denver).

The Fort Collins convention elders initiated a number of class-sponsored projects. Notable among them was the decision to publish a non-doctrinal journal to keep the brethren informed of activities, baptisms, deaths, conventions, and other news of interest to the fellowship. The original editors of The Bible Students Newsletter were Stanley Gorgas, Alvin Raffel, and Gilbert Rice. This periodical was shortly transferred to the Dayton (now Miami Valley), Ohio, ongregation.

In 1974 this convention was disbanded in favor of one in the Midwest under the joint-sponsorship of several classes in Indiana and Ohio. This conference has continued annually at a number of locations, with a current attendance of about 150. The platform of speakers is chosen based on a strict adherence to doctrinal viewpoints perceived to be the historic position of the Bible Student movement.

Decentralization resulted in a number of printing activities by different classes: New Brunswick, Chicago, Waterbury, Louisville (New Albany), Piqua, Oakland County Michigan, and other places produced public witness literature.

In the 1960s, exploratory endeavors were made to investigate the feasibility of a work in Japan. Robert Alexander and others organized The Divine Plan Foundation for the purpose. As the Japanese effort decreased in size, the Foundation turned its focus to funding several class-sponsored projects in other places.

George Wilmott of Fort Worth, Texas, began an extensive ministry in the preparation and airing of radio and television programs under the name The Divine Plan programs. To follow-up with the responses, he began the monthly Divine Plan Journal. He also reprinted theDivine Plan of the Ages in a magazine format and the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures plus Tabernacle Shadows in a single, hard-cover edition.

Reprinting Pastor Russell’s Writings

Another activity, also begun in the 1960s, was the reprinting of all the known writings of Pastor Russell. Over twenty books have been produced and have enjoyed a steady demand over the years.

Other congregations and individuals also print books for the movement. The Portland Area Bible Students publishes the works of John and Morton Edgar, Benjamin Barton, and Anton Frey. The New Brunswick, New Jersey, congregation printed two editions of Studies in the Scriptures that are thought to include the latest revisions of Pastor Russell, discovered after his death, as well as a comprehensive topical index. Waterbury, Connecticut, publishes the notes of Ludlow Loomis. New Albany, Indiana, has printed extensive notes on Revelation and Hebrews. Other individuals produce and publish treatises from time to time.

Although the writings of Pastor Russell republished by the Chicago Bible Students are now produced commercially, the first set of Watch Tower Reprints was printed by brethren on a press bought by George Tabac. This was formally organized as Bible Students’ Publications, and continues to produce materials for dozens of classes, as well as The Herald magazine, and many items for the Dawn Bible Students Association.

Youth Camps

Annual camps for young Bible students began in 1965 in Petersburg, Ontario. After two years in Canada, they were moved to various sites in Michigan. A second camp soon started in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. This evolved into the Midwest Youth Camp, which presently serves about a hundred young people. A committee of parents, as well as other interested brethren, plans this camp. Other camps have included ones in the Northeast, in Chicago, in the Northwest, the Southwest, and in Jackson, Michigan. The “Free Bible Student” movement also operates a series of camps at their own center at Camp Blessing near Wausau, Wisconsin, and at locations in Vermont and California.

International Conventions

In 1981 a committee was formed to organize an International Convention of Bible Students, which was held the following year in Kufstein, Austria. The organizing committee included Adolphe Debski of France, Hercules Gonos of Greece, Carl Hagensick of the United States, Bob Robinson of England, Lutz Ruthman of Germany, and Adam Zieminski of Poland.

This convention continues to be held every two years in various locations and has grown from an attendance of three hundred to about a thousand. After being held in various venues in Austria, Germany, Holland, France, and Hungary, it has been held in Poland since 2000.

Bible Students’ Retirement Center

Timothy Krupa envisioned the idea of a Bible Student Retirement Center and organized a board of directors to examine the feasibility of such a plan. As a result, a tract of land with a stately house in a Portland, Oregon, suburb was purchased with the help of gifts from many brethren. The Center began operation in 1985 and eventually twenty-eight living units were constructed. The Center provides both a pleasant physical and rich spiritual environment. Today it is filled to capacity and maintains a waiting list.

Work in Other Lands

For years the Dawn has had its magazine translated into many languages, as well as providing translations of other Bible Student material, and the sponsorship of its radio ministry. It has also provided traveling pilgrims around the world.

From the early 1940s, the Northwest Committee for India has provided logistical support for the brethren living in India. The work of that committee has been largely taken over by a new committee, appropriately called “The Friends of India.” Also active in providing assistance to that sub-continent is the Oakland County [Michigan] Bible Students and, recently the ministry of Global Solutions started by Larry Davis of Romania, formerly of Denver. This ministry is also active in Africa, specifically Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Ghana.

The elders’ meeting at the Fort Collins convention in 1971 authorized an exploratory trip by Carl Hagensick to see if it would be feasible to arrange for a follow-up activity in Africa. As a result of an encouraging report, the Bible Students’ Committee for Africa was organized and has found a steady growth of interest, not only in Nigeria, but in Ghana and other countries as well.

Robert Alexander broached the idea of expanding Bible Student activities to Japan. He, with Owen Kindig of Columbus, Ohio, became active in maintaining contact with brethren there. Today there is still a small number of Japanese brethren.

The class in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has given translation and literature support, as well as arranging regular pilgrim trips, to the Ukraine. A committee has also been established by brethren in Ohio to support activities in Romania.

New Witness Efforts

The various classes around the country have tried many forms of outreach to spread the gospel to those around them. While the number of these projects far exceeds the space available here, a few seem especially worthy of mention.

Television: After a trial effort in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1952, the development of TV programming was pioneered in Chicago under the direction of Alfred Burns. After an initial thirteen programs plus the half-hour color presentation King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, The Dawn took up the project and produced a number of television programs. When broadcasting costs became prohibitive, the service of Modern Talking Pictures was secured to place the programs in schools, churches, and other organizations. The Fort Worth Bible Students and the class in Winnipeg, Manitoba, also produced television programming. In more recent years it has been found more cost-effective to use spot announcements on television.

Audio-Video: Ken Wade Bordes, Frank Shallieu, and August Tornquist developed a three-screen multi-media presentation, The Third Temple, in the early 1970s. A few years later, George Tabac of Chicago produced a three-screen stereophonic presentation, For This Cause, that drew audiences of hundreds to many of its showings. This program along with several television programs was eventually placed on video and, in 2004, on digital video discs. Also widely distributed were two other programs produced in Columbus, Ohio: The Great Pyramid: Modern Wonder, Ancient Mystery; and Messiah, based on Handel’s classical masterpiece.

Israel: In the 1990s Kenneth Rawson and the New Brunswick congregation began an intensive ministry for the Jewish people, not only those in Israel but those residing around the world. This witness centered around the audio-visual presentation Israel: Appointment with Destiny, which was soon translated into a number of languages and enthusiastically received by Jewish audiences at exhibitions in synagogues and auditoriums throughout the world. The presentation was supplemented by a number of relevant booklets. Recently a second program directed toward Evangelical Christians has been completed.

Internet: The Internet has been effectively used by the Bible Student community worldwide. Different classes, service organizations, and individuals within the fellowship have established approximately fifty web sites. Most are located in America, Poland, Germany, France, England, Spain, Holland, Romania, and Australia. One site features the Divine Plan of the Ages in more than thirty different languages and is profusely illustrated. Two other sites, designed by Jordan Gray of Columbus, Ohio, are advertised on major internet search engines and produce numerous requests for free literature every month.

The computer has also been used as a means to connect the brethren through internet studies, with at least seven such studies being held each week. After Allen Springer of Ohio (now of Romania) spearheaded a project to computerize the six volumes of Studies in the Scripturesand the Watch Tower Reprints, several computer programs of Pastor Russell’s writings and other Bible helps have been produced. Since then, others have used his work and further expanded on it, including the work of Jeff Mezera in his vast collection of material in the Bible Students Library and the assimilation of Bible Student writings with the popular On-Line Bible program, a work initiated by Peter Hill of Australia and completed by Mezera.

New Covenant Fellowship

In 1909 a division occurred in the Bible Student movement between M. L. McPhail and Pastor Russell over their understanding of the covenants and sin offering. McPhail and E. C. Henninges of Australia formed the New Creation Fellowship. They published a journal, The Kingdom Scribe. Over the years that movement has evolved into various separate but parallel groups. Two of these are perhaps the most prominent in the United States.

The Berean Bible Students was organized in 1926 when the expected resurrection of the Ancient Worthies failed to take place. It was an outgrowth of the Ukrainian Bible Students, later joined by several young people from the Polish Bible Students in the Chicago suburb of Cicero (now meeting in Lombard). Their stand for Christian liberty has resulted in a wide variety of scriptural interpretations. Because of this open approach they often term themselves “Free Bible Students,” emphasizing their claim to be free of all sectarian bondage.

The Christian Millennial Fellowship was formed in 1928 and was formerly a part of the Italian Bible Students Association. Gaetano Boccacio was the editor of their magazine, The New Creation, and was succeeded as editor by Elmer Weeks of New Jersey.

Two “general” conventions are held annually by these groups, the Berean Christian Conference in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and the Christian Believers Conference near Boston, Massachusetts.

With all of its offshoots, the Bible Student movement today numbers in excess of ten thousand spread over forty or more countries.

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