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Have There Always been Jehovah's Witnesses?
The Watchtower claims there have always been Jehovah's Witnesses. In that case, who were they prior to Russell? This article shows that not a single historical group has been found similar to Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Watchtower teaches there have always been Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Jehovah's witnesses have a history almost 6,000 years long, beginning while the first man, Adam, was still alive ... [Abel was] the first of an unbroken line of Witnesses ... Jesus' disciples were all Jehovah's witnesses ..." Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose pp.8-9
Jehovah's Witnesses consider themselves part of:
"The one original religion introduced by mankind's Creator (as apposed to) the many counterfeit kinds introduced by his adversary." Awake! 1989 Jan 8 p.7
The Watchtower claims that since Jesus there have always been people that believe what the Watchtower teaches, at least in regards to the major doctrine. This is because "Jehovah has always guided his servants in an organized way" (pe p.192).
"Nevertheless, through all the centuries of apostasy, there would exist individual wheatlike Christians, genuine anointed ones. (Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43) Thus, when the Lord's day dawned in October 1914, there were still true Christians on earth." Revelation - Its Grand Climax at Hand! p. 31
If this is the case, why did God chose the "apostate" Catholic church to compile the Bible Canon in the 4th and 5th century and not use his true followers?
What proof has been provided to support this 6000 year, unbroken line? Not a single historical person or group since the second century has ever been identified as acceptable followers of Jehovah, even immediately prior to Pastor Russell. Russell was not a link in a line of a like minded group. He rejected his Presbyterian (Calvinist) Church, drifted through several Adventist groups, joined up with Barbour and then split from him to take control of his own unique way of worship. After forming a new religious group he shows he drew upon numerous Christian ideologies when saying, "I confess indebtedness to Adventists as well as to other denominations." Zion's Watch Tower 1916 Jun 1 p.170
In an attempt to prove an unbroken line of Witnesses, the Watchtower has attempted to find religious groups with similar beliefs from prior centuries, occasionally discussing these groups in Watchtower articles. Historically there are very few groups similar to Jehovah's Witnesses and the ones the Watchtower mentions were around for only a fraction of the last 1900 years. The following research into the groups mentioned show that not a single group has ever believed all core Watchtower doctrine or that can be shown to be part of a Faithful and Discreet slave class.
When the Watchtower writing department was researching this topic for the Proclaimers book in the 1990's, Carl Adams gave Barbara Anderson just four criteria to identify the Slave:
Even with this short list, not a single group could be found. The result is that the Proclaimers book was reduced to making the following broad statement:
"Throughout the centuries there have always been truth lovers. To mention just a few: John Wycliffe (c. 1330-1384) and William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) furthered the work of Bible translation even at the risk of their life or freedom. Wolfgang Fabricius Capito (1478-1541), Martin Cellarius (1499-1564), Johannes Campanus (c. 1500-1575), and Thomas Emlyn (1663-c. 1741) accepted the Bible as God's Word and rejected the Trinity. Henry Grew (1781-1862) and George Storrs (1796-1879) not only accepted the Bible and rejected the Trinity but also expressed appreciation for the ransom sacrifice of Christ. Although we cannot positively identify any of such persons as "the wheat" of Jesus' illustration, certainly "Jehovah knows those who belong to him."" Jehovah's Witnesses-Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.44
The majority of these people believed the Trinity so were not part of the Slave. No one is mentioned prior to 1300 A.D. as before then few people had access to the Bible, apart from the Catholic clergy, so few groups developed a belief system even vaguely similar to Witness beliefs.
Albigenses or Cathari
Cathari are made to sound like Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Yet another movement got started in the 12th century in the south of France-the Albigenses (also known as Cathari), named after the town of Albi, where they had many followers. They had their own celibate clergy class, who expected to be greeted with reverence. They believed that Jesus spoke figuratively in his last supper when he said of the bread, "This is my body." (Matthew 26:26, NAB) They rejected the doctrines of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, hellfire, and purgatory. Thus they actively put in doubt the teachings of Rome. Pope Innocent III gave instructions that the Albigenses be persecuted. "If necessary," he said, "suppress them with the sword."" Mankind's Search for God pp. 281-282
However the Watchtower is forced to admit they held to key teachings that contradicted the Bible and so can not be considered Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Although the Cathari quoted the Bible extensively, they viewed it primarily as a source of allegories and fables .Many Cathar teachings were in direct contradiction to the Bible. For instance, they believed in the immortality of the soul and in reincarnation." Watchtower 1995 September 1 p.29 The Cathari-Were They Christian Martyrs?
"Most historians agree that the movement had its start about the year 1170. Poverty, preaching, and the Bible were at the heart of Vaudès' life .Among other things, the early Waldenses rejected lying, purgatory, Masses for the dead, papal pardons and indulgences, and the worship of Mary and the "saints." They also held annual observances of the Lord's Evening Meal, or Last Supper. According to Lambert, their form of worship "was, in effect, the religion of the ordinary layman .Over the centuries, Waldensian churches have been established in countries as far away from as and the . However, most historians agree with Audisio, who says that "Waldensianism came to an end at the time of the Reformation," when it was "swallowed up" by Protestantism." Watchtower 2002 March 15 pp.20-21 The Waldenses-From Heresy to Protestantism.
The New Catholic Encyclopeadia says the Waldenses were so similar to Cathari that they are assumed to be an offshoot of them. They held to many strange teachings, such as encouraging members to dissolve their marriages in order to live nomadic lives of poverty and continued to take sacrament in the Catholic Church.
"In the seventh century some who held to genuine apostolic Bible-Christianity were called Paulicians." Watchtower 1975 10/1 p. 583
The 1965 article misleadingly says this group was from "the seventh century onward". Though flourishing between 650 and 872 they had
disappeared by the middle ages.
John Wycliffe and the Lollards were the most significant heretical group in England before the Reformation.
"His followers, the Lollards, were more determined than ever to keep Wycliffe's work alive .The Bible was appealed to in support of what was taught. In training the preachers, Wycliffe himself had stressed the need to follow the simple instructions that Jesus had given when he sent out the 70 disciples. They roundly denounced pilgrimages, superstitions, indulgences, saints, shrines and the use of images. Gradually, certain prominent Lollards realized that they could no longer remain within the Church. ... Do we today appreciate the courage that may have been displayed by our ancestors? They cherished the Bible as a book worth reading and studying-indeed worth their land, freedom and life. Does that hard-won freedom to study the Scriptures count with us? We can only say that it does if we ourselves take up study of the Bible and display an active faith, sharing its truths with others." Watchtower 1980 August 1 p.24 The Lollards, Courageous Bible Preachers
The Encyclopædia Britannica 2002 Expanded Edition DVD states:
"The most complete statement of early Lollard teaching appeared in the Twelve Conclusions, drawn up to be presented to the Parliament of 1395. They began by stating that the church in England had become subservient to her "stepmother the great church of Rome." The present priesthood was not the one ordained by Christ, while the Roman ritual of ordination had no warrant in Scripture. Clerical celibacy occasioned unnatural lust, while the "feigned miracle" of transubstantiation led men into idolatry. The hallowing of wine, bread, altars, vestments, and so forth was related to necromancy. Prelates should not be temporal judges and rulers, for no man can serve two masters. The Conclusions also condemned special prayers for the dead, pilgrimages, and offerings to images, and they declared confession to a priest unnecessary for salvation. Warfare was contrary to the New Testament, and vows of chastity by nuns led to the horrors of abortion and child murder. Finally, the multitude of unnecessary arts and crafts pursued in the church encouraged "waste, curiosity, and disguising." The Twelve Conclusions covered all the main Lollard doctrines except two: that the prime duty of priests is to preach and that all men should have free access to the Scriptures in their own language."
Lollards share some similarities with Jehovah's Witnesses, having strong focus on Bible reading, preaching, and were against idolatry, celibacy and war. However, Lollards can not be considered Jehovah's Witnesses as they worshipped a Trinity. Nor can they be referred to as the Slave dispensing spiritual food, as there was no central authority or central doctrine.
"Although Lollardy can be said to have originated in the writings of John Wyclif, it is true that the Lollards had no central doctrine. Likewise, being a decentralized movement, Lollardy neither had nor proposed any singular authority. The movement associated itself with many different ideas, but individual Lollards did not necessarily have to agree with every tenet." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lollard (July 8th 2006)
Another group that the Watchtower has mentioned is Huguenots, but this was just another name for Protestants.
"Tired of waiting for changes, many members of the movement for reform within the Catholic Church sided with Protestantism. About 1560, numerous French aristocrats and their supporters joined the Huguenots, as Protestants had come to be called." Awake! 1997 April 22 p.5
Anabaptists, Socinians, Brethren Minor
The groups closest to current Watchtower teaching were the Anabaptists, Socinians and Brethern of the Minor Party. These were all closely related and lasted for around 100 years during the late 1500's. These groups had strong views against the Trinity, infant baptism and other Catholic doctrines.
"What the Brethren of the Minor Party Believed
However, in 1988 it had been shown that these too "were guilty of many errors", such as their belief in reincarnation and denial of the ransom.
"Like the religions around them, they were guilty of many errors. Still, of all the religions of the Reformation, this rivulet of Socinianism adhered to the Bible more than most.
. The Minor Reformed Church (as Socinians were officially called) flourished in for nearly a hundred years. At their peak they numbered up to 300 congregations.
Awake! 1988 November 22 pp.19-20 The Socinians-Why Did They Reject the Trinity?
Though not believing in the Trinity this groups understanding about the nature of God can hardly be deemed acceptable to Jehovah's Witnesses. Anabaptists did not share the Arian concept of God taught by the Watchtower Society. They believed in Modalism, the notion that there is one unique God that manifests Himself in three different modes or stages; the Father in the Old Testament, the Son in the four Gospels and the Holy Spirit since Pentecost.
It is common for high control groups to claim to be the only true religion, a copy of original Christianity and to have existed since Jesus, rather than since their historical introduction.
"The name "Christadelphian" was first used in the mid-1800s, but we believe that there have been people who share our beliefs throughout history." christadelphian.org.uk (Jan 15th 2006)
Likewise, the Watchtower Society claims the leadership are part of a direct line back to Jesus; and Jehovah's Witnesses span 6,000 years. Such assertions are impressive at promoting devotion to such organisations, but fail under scrutiny. If anyone has right to such a claim it is surely only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
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The Watchtower started to be printed in 1879 and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was incorporated in 1884.