Development of the Organization Structure
THE operation of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has undergone significant changes since Charles Taze Russell and his associates first began to study the Bible together in 1870. When the early Bible Students were few in number, they had very little of what outsiders would view as characterizing an organization. Yet, today, as people observe the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their conventions, and their preaching of the good news in over 200 lands, they marvel at how smoothly the organization operates. How has it developed?
The Bible Students were keenly interested in understanding not only Bible doctrine but also the manner in which God’s service was to be performed, as indicated by the Scriptures. They realized that the Bible made no provision for titled clergymen, with a laity to whom they would preach. Brother Russell was determined that there would be no clergy class among them.* Through the columns of the Watch Tower, its readers were frequently reminded that Jesus told his followers: “Your Leader is one, the Christ,” but, “All you are brothers.”—Matt. 23:8, 10.
Early Association of Bible Students
Readers of the Watch Tower and related publications soon saw that in order to please God, they had to sever ties with any church that proved itself unfaithful to God by putting creeds and traditions of men ahead of his written Word. (2 Cor. 6:14-18) But after withdrawing from the churches of Christendom, where did they go?
In an article entitled “The Ekklesia,”* Brother Russell pointed out that the true church, the Christian congregation, is not an organization with members who have subscribed to some man-made creed and have their names written on a church register. Rather, he explained, it is made up of persons who have “consecrated” (or, dedicated) their time, talents, and life to God, and who have before them the prospect of sharing in the heavenly Kingdom with Christ. These, he said, are Christians who are united in bonds of Christian love and common interest, who respond to the direction of the spirit of God, and who submit to the headship of Christ. Brother Russell was not interested in setting up some other arrangement, and he was strongly against contributing in any way to the sectarianism that existed among professed Christians.
At the same time, he fully appreciated the need for the Lord’s servants to assemble together, in harmony with the counsel at Hebrews 10:23-25. He personally traveled to visit and upbuild readers of the Watch Tower and to bring them together with others in their own area who were of like mind. Early in 1881 he requested that those who were holding regular meetings notify the Watch Tower office as to where these were being held. He saw the value of keeping them in touch with one another.
However, Brother Russell emphasized that they were not attempting to set up an “earthly organization.” Rather, he said, “we adhere only to that heavenly organization—‘whose names are written in heaven.’ (Heb. 12:23; Luke 10:20.)” Because of Christendom’s sordid history, reference to “church organization” usually reminded a person of sectarianism, clergy domination, and membership on the basis of adhering to a creed formulated by a religious council. So, when referring to themselves, Brother Russell felt that the term “association” was a better one.
He was well aware that Christ’s apostles had formed congregations and appointed elders in each. But he believed that Christ was again present, though invisibly so, and was himself personally directing the final harvest of those who would be heirs with him. In view of the circumstances, Brother Russell initially felt that during the time of harvest the arrangement for elders that had existed in the first-century Christian congregations was not needed.
Nevertheless, as the Bible Students grew in number, Brother Russell realized that the Lord was maneuvering matters in a manner different from what he himself had anticipated. An adjustment in viewpoint was needed. But on what basis?
Meeting the Early Needs of the Growing Association
The Watch Tower of November 15, 1895, was devoted almost entirely to the subject “Decently and in Order.” Candidly, Brother Russell there acknowledged: “The apostles had much to say to the early Church concerning order in the assemblies of the saints; and apparently we have been rather negligent of this wise counsel, feeling it to be of rather minor importance, because the Church is so near the end of her course and the harvest is a time of separating.” What moved them to take a fresh look at that counsel?
That article listed four circumstances: (1) It was evident that the spiritual development of individuals varied one from another. There were temptations, trials, difficulties, and dangers that not all were equally prepared to meet. Thus, there was a need for wise and discreet overseers, men of experience and ability, deeply interested in looking out for the spiritual welfare of all and capable of instructing them in the truth. (2) It had been seen that the flock needed to be defended against ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ (Matt. 7:15, KJ) They needed to be fortified by being helped to gain a thorough knowledge of the truth. (3) Experience had shown that if there was no arrangement for appointment of elders to safeguard the flock, some would take that position and come to view the flock as their own. (4) Without an orderly arrangement, individuals loyal to the truth might find their services unwanted because of the influence of a few who disagreed with them.
In the light of this, the Watch Tower stated: “We have no hesitation in commending to the Churches* in every place, whether their numbers be large or small, the Apostolic counsel, that, in every company, elders be chosen from among their number to ‘feed’ and ‘take the oversight’ of the flock.” (Acts 14:21-23; 20:17, 28) The local congregations followed through on this sound Scriptural counsel. This was an important step in establishing a congregation structure in harmony with what existed in the days of the apostles.
In accord with the way they understood matters then, however, the selection of elders, and of deacons to assist them, was made by congregation vote. Each year, or more often if necessary, the qualifications of those who might serve were considered, and a vote was taken. It was basically a democratic procedure, but one that was hedged about with limitations designed to act as a safeguard. All in the congregation were urged to review carefully the Biblical qualifications and to express by vote, not their own opinion, but what they believed to be the will of the Lord. Since only those “fully consecrated” were eligible to vote, their collective vote, when guided by the Word and spirit of the Lord, was viewed as expressing the Lord’s will in the matter. Although Brother Russell may not have been completely aware of it, his recommendation of this arrangement was perhaps influenced to some extent not only by his determination to avoid any semblance of an exalted clergy class but also by his own background as a teenager in the Congregational Church.
When the Millennial Dawn volume entitled The New Creation (published in 1904) again discussed in detail the role of elders and the manner in which they were to be selected, special attention was directed to Acts 14:23. Concordances compiled by James Strong and Robert Young were cited as authorities for the view that the statement “they had ordained them elders” (KJ) should be translated “they had elected them elders by a show of hands.”* Some Bible translations even say that the elders were ‘appointed by vote.’ (Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible; Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible) But who was to do that voting?
Adopting the view that the voting was to be done by the congregation as a whole did not always yield the results that were hoped for. Those voting were to be persons who were “fully consecrated,” and some who were elected truly met the Scriptural qualifications and humbly served their brothers. But the voting often reflected personal preference rather than the Word and spirit of God. Thus, in Halle, Germany, when certain ones who thought they should be elders did not get the positions they wanted, they caused severe dissension. In Barmen, Germany, among those who were candidates in 1927 were men who opposed the work of the Society, and there was considerable shouting during the showing of hands at election time. So it was necessary to switch over to a secret ballot.
Back in 1916, years before these incidents, Brother Russell, with deep concern, had written: “A horrible state of affairs prevails in some Classes when an election is to be held. The servants of the Church attempt to be rulers, dictators—sometimes even holding the chairmanship of the meeting with the apparent object of seeing that they and their special friends shall be elected as Elders and Deacons. . . . Some quietly try to take advantage of the Class by having the election at some time which is especially favorable to them and their friends. Others seek to pack the meeting with their friends, bringing in comparative strangers, who have no thought of being regular in attendance at the Class, but come merely as an act of friendship to vote for one of their friends.”
Did they simply need to learn how to handle elections along democratic lines more smoothly, or was there something from God’s Word that they had not yet discerned?
Organizing to Get the Good News Preached
At a very early point, Brother Russell recognized that one of the most important responsibilities of every member of the Christian congregation was the work of evangelizing. (1 Pet. 2:9) The Watch Tower explained that it was not to Jesus alone but to all his spirit-anointed followers that the prophetic words of Isaiah 61:1 applied, namely: “Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news,” or, as the King James Version renders Jesus’ quotation of this passage, “He hath anointed me to preach the gospel.”—Luke 4:18.
As early as 1881, the Watch Tower carried the article “Wanted 1,000 Preachers.” This was an appeal to every member of the congregation to use whatever time he could (a half hour, an hour, or two, or three) to share in spreading Bible truth. Men and women who did not have families that were dependent on them and who could give half or more of their time exclusively to the Lord’s work were encouraged to undertake work as colporteur evangelists. The number varied considerably from year to year, but by 1885 there were already about 300 who were sharing in this work as colporteurs. Some others also had a part but on a more limited scale. Suggestions were given to the colporteurs as to how to go about their work. But the field was vast, and at least at the start, they selected their own territory and moved from one area to another largely as it seemed best to them. Then when they met at conventions, they would make needed adjustments to coordinate their efforts.
The same year that the colporteur service began, Brother Russell had a number of tracts (or booklets) printed for free distribution. Outstanding among these was Food for Thinking Christians, which was distributed to the number of 1,200,000 in the first four months. The work involved in arranging this printing and distribution gave rise to the formation of Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society in order to care for necessary details. To prevent disruption of the work in the event of his death, and to facilitate the handling of donations to be used in the work, Brother Russell filed for legal registration of the Society, and this was officially recorded on December 15, 1884. This brought into existence a needed legal instrumentality.
As the need arose, branch offices of the Watch Tower Society were established in other lands. The first was in London, England, on April 23, 1900. Another, in Elberfeld, Germany, in 1902. Two years later, on the other side of the earth, a branch was organized in Melbourne, Australia. At the time of this writing, there are 99 branches worldwide.
Although the organizational arrangements that were needed to provide quantities of Bible literature were taking form, at first it was left to the congregations to work out any local arrangements for public distribution of that material. In a letter dated March 16, 1900, Brother Russell stated how he viewed the matter. That letter, addressed to “Alexander M. Graham, and the Church at Boston, Mass.,” said: “As you all know, it is my decided intention to leave with each company of the Lord’s people the management of their own affairs, according to their own judgments, offering suggestions, not by way of interference, but by way merely of advice.” This included not only their meetings but also the way they carried on their field ministry. Thus, after offering the brothers some practical counsel, he concluded with the comment: “This is merely a suggestion.”
Some activities required more specific direction from the Society. In connection with the showing of the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” it was left to each congregation to determine whether they were willing and able to rent a theater or other facility for a local presentation. However, it was necessary to move equipment from city to city, and schedules had to be met; so in these respects centralized direction was provided by the Society. Each congregation was encouraged to have a Drama Committee to care for local arrangements. But a superintendent sent out by the Society gave careful attention to details in order to make sure that everything went smoothly.
As the years 1914 and then 1915 passed, those spirit-anointed Christians waited eagerly for the fulfillment of their heavenly hope. At the same time, they were encouraged to keep busy in the Lord’s service. Even though they viewed their remaining time in the flesh as very brief, it became evident that in order to carry on the preaching of the good news in an orderly manner, more direction was needed than when they had numbered just a few hundred. Shortly after J. F. Rutherford became the second president of the Watch Tower Society, that direction took on new aspects. The March 1, 1917, issue of The Watch Tower announced that, henceforth, all territory to be worked by colporteurs and by pastoral workers* in the congregations would be assigned by the Society’s office. Where there were both local workers and colporteurs sharing in such field service in a city or a county, the territory was divided up among them by a locally appointed district committee. This arrangement contributed to a truly remarkable distribution of The Finished Mystery within just a few months in 1917-18. It was also valuable in achieving a lightning distribution of 10,000,000 copies of a powerful exposé of Christendom in a tract that featured the subject “The Fall of Babylon.”
Shortly after this, members of the Society’s administrative staff were arrested, and on June 21, 1918, they were sentenced to 20-year prison terms. The preaching of the good news came to a virtual standstill. Was this the time when they would at last be united with the Lord in heavenly glory?
A few months later, the war ended. The following year the officials of the Society were released. They were still in the flesh. It was not what they had expected, but they concluded that God must still have work for them to do here on earth.
They had just been through severe tests of their faith. However, in 1919, The Watch Tower strengthened them with stirring Scriptural studies on the theme “Blessed Are the Fearless.” These were followed by the article “Opportunities for Service.” But the brothers did not envision the extensive organizational developments that would take place during the decades that would follow.
Proper Example for the Flock
Brother Rutherford did appreciate that for the work to continue to move ahead in an orderly and unified way, no matter how short the time might be, proper example for the flock was vital. Jesus had described his followers as sheep, and sheep follow their shepherd. Of course, Jesus himself is the Fine Shepherd, but he also uses older men, or elders, as undershepherds of his people. (1 Pet. 5:1-3) Those elders must be men who themselves participate in the work that Jesus assigned and who encourage others to do so. They must genuinely have the evangelizing spirit. At the time of distribution of The Finished Mystery, however, some of the elders had held back; certain ones had even been quite vocal in discouraging others from sharing.
A highly significant step toward correcting this situation was taken in 1919 when the magazine The Golden Age began publication. This was to become a powerful instrument for publicizing the Kingdom of God as the only lasting solution to the problems of mankind. Each congregation that desired to share in this activity was invited to ask the Society to register it as a “service organization.” Then a director, or service director as he came to be known, not subject to yearly election, was appointed by the Society.* As the local representative of the Society, he was to organize the work, assign territory, and encourage participation by the congregation in the field service. Thus, alongside the democratically elected elders and deacons, another type of organizational arrangement began to function, one that recognized appointive authority outside the local congregation and that gave greater emphasis to the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom.*
During the years that followed, the work of Kingdom proclamation was given tremendous impetus, as by an irresistible force. The events in 1914 and thereafter had made it evident that the great prophecy in which the Lord Jesus Christ described the conclusion of the old system was undergoing fulfillment. In the light of this, in 1920, The Watch Tower pointed out that as foretold at Matthew 24:14, this was the time to proclaim the good news concerning “the end of the old order of things and the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom.”* (Matt. 24:3-14) After attending the Bible Students convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922, the delegates left with the slogan ringing in their ears: “Advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.” The role of true Christians came even more prominently into focus in 1931 when the name Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted.
It was obvious that Jehovah had assigned his servants a work in which all of them could share. There was enthusiastic response. Many made major adjustments in their lives in order to devote their full time to this work. Even among those devoting just part time, a considerable number were spending full days in the field service on the weekends. Responding to encouragement contained in The Watchtower and the Informant in 1938 and 1939, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses at that time conscientiously endeavored to devote 60 hours each month to the field service.
Among those zealous Witnesses were numerous humble, devoted servants of Jehovah who were elders in the congregations. However, in some places, during the 1920’s and early in the 1930’s, there was also considerable resistance to the idea of everyone participating in the field service. Democratically elected elders were often quite vocal in disagreeing with what The Watch Tower said about the responsibility to preach to people outside the congregation. Refusal to listen to what God’s spirit, by means of the Holy Scriptures, had to say to the congregation on this matter hindered the flow of God’s spirit in those groups.—Rev. 2:5, 7.
Measures were taken in 1932 to correct this situation. The point of principal concern was not whether some prominent elders might be offended or whether some of those associated with the congregations might withdraw. Rather, the desire of the brothers was to please Jehovah and to do his will. To that end, the August 15 and September 1 issues of The Watchtower that year featured the subject “Jehovah’s Organization.”
Those articles showed pointedly that all who really were part of Jehovah’s organization would be doing the work that his Word said must be done during this period of time. The articles advocated the view that Christian eldership was not an office to which one could be elected but was a condition attainable by spiritual growth. Special emphasis was given to Jesus’ prayer that his followers might “all be one”—in union with God and Christ, and thus at unity with one another in doing God’s will. (John 17:21) And with what result? The second article answered that “every one of the remnant must be a witness to the name and kingdom of Jehovah God.” Oversight was not to be entrusted to any who failed or refused to do what they reasonably could to share in public witnessing.
At the conclusion of the study of these articles, congregations were invited to pass a resolution indicating their agreement. Thus the annual congregational election of men to be elders and deacons was eliminated. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, some of the former “elective elders” left; other individuals who shared their view went with them. This resulted in a thinning out of the ranks but a toning up of the entire organization. Those who remained were people who were willing to shoulder the Christian responsibility of witnessing. Instead of voting for elders, the congregations—still using democratic methods—selected a service committee* made up of spiritually mature men who actively shared in public witnessing. The members of the congregation also voted for a chairman to preside at their meetings as well as for a secretary and treasurer. All of these were men who were active witnesses of Jehovah.
With congregation oversight now entrusted to men who were interested not in personal position but in doing God’s work—bearing witness to his name and Kingdom—and who were setting a good example by their own participation in it, the work moved ahead more smoothly. Although they did not then know it, there was much to be done, a more extensive witness than what had already been given, an ingathering that they had not expected. (Isa. 55:5) Jehovah was evidently preparing them for it.
A few with hope of eternal life on earth were beginning to associate with them.* However, the Bible foretold the gathering of a great multitude (or, great crowd) with a view to their preservation through the coming great tribulation. (Rev. 7:9-14) In 1935 the identity of this great multitude was made clear. Changes in selection of overseers during the 1930’s equipped the organization better to care for the work of gathering, teaching, and training them.
For most of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this expanded work was a thrilling development. Their field ministry took on fresh significance. However, some were not eager to preach. They held back, and they tried to justify their inactivity by arguing that no great multitude would be gathered until after Armageddon. But the majority perceived a fresh opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to Jehovah and their love for their fellowman.
How did those of the great crowd fit into the organization structure? They were shown the role that God’s Word assigned to the “little flock” of spirit-anointed ones, and they gladly worked in harmony with that arrangement. (Luke 12:32-44) They also learned that, like the spirit-anointed ones, they had the responsibility to share the good news with others. (Rev. 22:17) Since they wanted to be earthly subjects of God’s Kingdom, that Kingdom should come first in their lives, and they should be zealous in telling others about it. To fit the Bible’s description of those who would be preserved through the great tribulation into God’s new world, they must be persons who “keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Rev. 7:10, 14) In 1937, as their numbers began to grow and their zeal for the Lord became manifest, they were also invited to help carry the load of responsibility in congregation oversight.
However, they were reminded that the organization is Jehovah’s, not that of any man. There was to be no division between the remnant of the spirit-anointed ones and those of the great crowd of other sheep. They were to work together as brothers and sisters in Jehovah’s service. As Jesus had said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) The reality of this was becoming evident.
Amazing developments had taken place in the organization in a relatively short period of time. But was there more that needed to be done so that the affairs of the congregations would be conducted in full harmony with Jehovah’s ways as set out in his inspired Word?
“Theocracy” means “God-rule.” Was that the kind of rule that governed the congregations? Did they not only worship Jehovah but also look to him to direct their congregational affairs? Did they conform fully to what he said about these matters in his inspired Word? The two-part article “Organization” that appeared in The Watchtower of June 1 and 15, 1938, pointedly stated: “Jehovah’s organization is in no wise democratic. Jehovah is supreme, and his government or organization is strictly theocratic.” Yet, in the local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses at that time, democratic procedures were still employed in selecting most of those charged with oversight of meetings and field service. Further changes were in order.
But did not Acts 14:23 indicate that elders in the congregations were to be designated to office by a ‘stretching forth of the hand,’ as in voting? The first of those Watchtower articles entitled “Organization” acknowledged that this text had in the past been misunderstood. It was not by a ‘stretching forth of the hand’ on the part of all the members of the congregation that appointments had been made among first-century Christians. Instead, it was shown, the apostles and those authorized by them were the ones that ‘stretched forth their hands.’ This was done not by participating in a congregation vote but by laying their hands on qualified individuals. This was a symbol of confirmation, approval, or appointment.* The early Christian congregations at times made recommendations of qualified men, but final selection or approval was given by the apostles, who had been directly commissioned by Christ, or by those authorized by the apostles. (Acts 6:1-6) The Watchtower drew attention to the fact that only in letters to responsible overseers (Timothy and Titus) did the apostle Paul, under the direction of holy spirit, give instructions to appoint overseers. (1 Tim. 3:1-13; 5:22; Titus 1:5) None of the inspired letters addressed to the congregations contained such instructions.
How, then, were current appointments to service in the congregations to be made? The Watchtower analysis of theocratic organization showed from the Scriptures that Jehovah appointed Jesus Christ “head of the . . . congregation”; that when Christ as the Master returned, he would entrust his “faithful and discreet slave” with responsibility “over all his belongings”; that this faithful and discreet slave was made up of all those on earth who had been anointed with holy spirit to be joint heirs with Christ and who were unitedly serving under his direction; and that Christ would use that slave class as his agency in providing needed oversight for the congregations. (Col. 1:18; Matt. 24:45-47; 28:18) It would be the duty of the slave class to apply prayerfully the instructions clearly stated in God’s inspired Word, using it to determine who qualified for positions of service.
Since the visible agency that would be used by Christ is the faithful and discreet slave (and the facts of modern-day history already considered show that this “slave” employs the Watch Tower Society as a legal instrument), The Watchtower explained that theocratic procedure would require that appointments of service be made through this agency. Even as the congregations in the first century recognized the governing body in Jerusalem, so today the congregations would not prosper spiritually without central supervision.—Acts 15:2-30; 16:4, 5.
To keep matters in proper perspective, however, it was pointed out that when The Watchtower referred to “The Society,” this meant, not a mere legal instrumentality, but the body of anointed Christians that had formed that legal entity and used it. Thus the expression stood for the faithful and discreet slave with its Governing Body.
Even before the Watchtower articles entitled “Organization” were published in 1938, when the congregations in London, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles had grown to the point that it was advisable to divide them into smaller groups, they had requested that the Society appoint all their servants. The June 15, 1938, issue of The Watchtower now invited all the other congregations to take similar action. To that end, the following resolution was suggested:
“We, the company of God’s people taken out for his name, and now at . . . . . . . . . . . . , recognize that God’s government is a pure theocracy and that Christ Jesus is at the temple and in full charge and control of the visible organization of Jehovah, as well as the invisible, and that ‘THE SOCIETY’ is the visible representative of the Lord on earth, and we therefore request ‘The Society’ to organize this company for service and to appoint the various servants thereof, so that all of us may work together in peace, righteousness, harmony and complete unity. We attach hereto a list of names of persons in this company that to us appear more fully mature and who therefore appear to be best suited to fill the respective positions designated for service.”*
Practically all the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses readily agreed to this. Those few that held back soon ceased to have any share at all in proclaiming the Kingdom and thus ceased to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Benefits of Theocratic Direction
It is obvious that if teachings, standards of conduct, and organizational or witnessing procedures could be decided on locally, the organization would soon lose its identity and unity. The brothers could easily be divided by social, cultural, and national differences. Theocratic direction, on the other hand, would assure that benefits from spiritual progress would reach out to all the congregations worldwide without hindrance. There would thus come to exist the genuine unity that Jesus prayed would prevail among his true followers, and the evangelizing work that he commanded could be fully accomplished.—John 17:20-22.
However, it has been claimed by some that by advocating this organizational change, J. F. Rutherford simply was endeavoring to gain greater control over the Witnesses and that he used this means to assert his own authority. Was that really the case? There is no doubt that Brother Rutherford was a man of strong convictions. He spoke out forcefully and without compromise for what he believed to be the truth. He could be quite brusque in handling situations when he perceived that people were more concerned about self than they were about the Lord’s work. But Brother Rutherford was genuinely humble before God. As Karl Klein, who became a member of the Governing Body in 1974, later wrote: “Brother Rutherford’s prayers at morning worship . . . endeared him to me. Though he had such a powerful voice, when addressing God he sounded just like a little boy talking to his daddy. What a fine relationship with Jehovah that revealed!” Brother Rutherford was fully convinced as to the identity of Jehovah’s visible organization, and he endeavored to make sure that no man or group of men would be able to hinder brothers locally from receiving the full benefit of the spiritual food and direction that Jehovah was providing for His servants.
Although Brother Rutherford served for 25 years as president of the Watch Tower Society and devoted all his energy to advancing the work of the organization, he was not the leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he did not want to be. At a convention in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1941, shortly before his death, he spoke about the matter of leadership, saying: “I want to let any strangers here know what you think about a man being your leader, so they won’t be forgetting. Every time something rises up and starts to grow, they say there is some man a leader who has a great following. If there is any person in this audience who thinks that I, this man standing here, is the leader of Jehovah’s witnesses, say Yes.” The response was an impressive silence, broken only by an emphatic “No” from several in the audience. The speaker continued: “If you who are here believe that I am just one of the servants of the Lord, and we are working shoulder to shoulder in unity, serving God and serving Christ, say Yes.” In unison the assembly roared out a decisive “Yes!” The following month an audience in England responded in exactly the same way.
In some areas the benefits of theocratic organization were felt quickly. Elsewhere, it took longer; those who did not prove to be mature, humble servants were in time removed, and others were appointed.
Nevertheless, as theocratic procedures took hold more fully, Jehovah’s Witnesses rejoiced to be experiencing what was foretold at Isaiah 60:17. Using figurative terms to depict the improved conditions that would come to exist among God’s servants, Jehovah there says: “Instead of the copper I shall bring in gold, and instead of the iron I shall bring in silver, and instead of the wood, copper, and instead of the stones, iron; and I will appoint peace as your overseers and righteousness as your task assigners.” This is not describing what humans would do but, rather, what God himself would do and the benefits that his servants would receive as they submitted to it. Peace must prevail in their midst. Love of righteousness must be the force impelling them to serve.
From Brazil, Maud Yuille, wife of the branch overseer, wrote to Brother Rutherford: “The article ‘Organization’ in the June 1 and 15  Towers impels me to express in a few words to you, whose faithful service Jehovah is using, my gratitude to Jehovah for the marvelous arrangement that he has made for his visible organization, as outlined in these two Watchtowers. . . . What a relief it is to see the end of ‘Home Rule for Happy Hollow’, including ‘women’s rights’ and other unscriptural procedure that subjected some souls to local opinions and individual judgment, instead of to [Jehovah God and Jesus Christ], thereby bringing reproach upon Jehovah’s name. It is true that only ‘in the recent past the Society has designated all in the organization as “servants”’, yet I observe that for many years previous to that time you have in your correspondence with your brethren acknowledged yourself as ‘your brother and servant, by His grace’.”
Regarding this organizational adjustment, the branch in the British Isles reported: “The good effect of this was quite amazing. The poetic and prophetic description of this in Isaiah chapter sixty is full of beauty but not overdrawn. Everyone in the truth was talking about it. It was the main topic of conversation. A general sense of invigoration prevailed—a readiness to press a directed battle. As world tension increased, joy in theocratic rule abounded.”
Traveling Overseers Strengthen the Congregations
Organizational ties were further fortified as a result of the service of traveling overseers. In the first century, the apostle Paul outstandingly engaged in such activity. At times, such men as Barnabas, Timothy, and Titus also shared. (Acts 15:36; Phil. 2:19, 20; Titus 1:4, 5) They were all zealous evangelizers. In addition, they encouraged the congregations by their discourses. When issues arose that could affect the unity of the congregations, these were submitted to the central governing body. Then, “as they traveled on through the cities,” those entrusted with the responsibility “would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem.” The result? “The congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—Acts 15:1–16:5; 2 Cor. 11:28.
Already in the 1870’s, Brother Russell was visiting the groups of Bible Students—the twos and the threes as well as larger groups—to upbuild them spiritually. A few other brothers shared in the 1880’s. Then, in 1894, arrangements were made for the Society to have well-qualified speakers travel more regularly to help the Bible Students to grow in knowledge and appreciation for the truth and to draw them closer together.
If possible, the speaker would spend a day or perhaps several days with a group, giving one or two public discourses and then visiting smaller groups and individuals for discussion of some of the deeper things of God’s Word. An effort was made to have each group in the United States and Canada visited twice a year, though not usually by the same brother. In selecting these traveling speakers, emphasis was placed on meekness, humility, and clear understanding of the truth as well as loyal adherence to it and ability to teach it with clarity. Theirs was by no means a paid ministry. They were simply provided with food and lodging by the local brothers, and to the extent necessary, the Society helped them with travel expenses. They came to be known as pilgrims.
Many of these traveling representatives of the Society were dearly loved by those whom they served. A. H. Macmillan, a Canadian, is remembered as a brother to whom God’s Word proved to be “like a burning fire.” (Jer. 20:9) He just had to talk about it, and he did, speaking to audiences not only in Canada but also in many parts of the United States and in other lands. William Hersee, another pilgrim, is fondly remembered because of the special attention that he gave to young folks. His prayers also made a lasting impression because they reflected a depth of spirituality that touched the hearts of young and old alike.
Travel was not easy for the pilgrims in the early days. To serve the group near Klamath Falls, Oregon, for example, Edward Brenisen journeyed first by train, then overnight by stagecoach, and finally by bone-jarring buckboard wagon out into the mountains to the farm where they would be meeting. Early in the morning, the day after their meeting, a brother provided a horse for him to ride some 60 miles [100 km] to the nearest railroad station so that he could travel to his next assignment. It was a strenuous life, but good results came from the efforts of the pilgrims. Jehovah’s people were strengthened, unified in their understanding of God’s Word, and drawn closer together even though widely dispersed geographically.
In 1926, Brother Rutherford began to implement arrangements that changed the work of the pilgrims from that of simply traveling speakers into that of traveling supervisors and promoters of field service by the congregations. To emphasize their new responsibilities, in 1928 they were called regional service directors. They worked right along with the local brothers, giving them personal instruction in the field service. At this time it was possible for them to reach each congregation in the United States and in some other lands about once a year, while also keeping in touch with individuals and small groups that had not yet been organized for service.
During the years that followed, the work of traveling overseers underwent various modifications.* It was greatly intensified in 1938 when all the servants in the congregations were appointed theocratically. Visits to the congregations at regular intervals during the next few years afforded opportunity to provide personal training to each of the appointed servants and increased help in the field service for everyone. In 1942, before traveling overseers were again sent out to the congregations, they were given some intensive schooling; as a result, their work was carried out with greater uniformity. Their visits were quite brief (one to three days, depending on the size of the congregation). During that time they checked the congregation records, met with all the servants to offer any needed counsel, gave one or more talks to the congregation, and took the lead in field service. In 1946 the visits were lengthened to one week for each congregation.
This arrangement for visits to the congregations was supplemented in 1938 by the service of the regional servant in a new role. He covered a larger area, periodically spending a week with each of the brothers who were traveling in a zone (circuit) to visit the congregations. During his visit he served on the program of an assembly that was attended by all the congregations in that zone.* This arrangement was a great stimulus to the brothers and provided regular opportunity for baptism of new disciples.
“Someone Who Loves the Service”
Among those who shared in this service starting in 1936 was John Booth, who, in 1974, became a member of the Governing Body. When being interviewed as a potential traveling supervisor, he was told: “Eloquent speakers are not what is needed, just someone who loves the service and will take the lead in it and will talk about service at the meetings.” Brother Booth had that love for Jehovah’s service, as evidenced by his zealous pioneer service since 1928, and he stirred up a zeal for evangelizing in others by both example and words of encouragement.
The first congregation that he visited, in March 1936, was in Easton, Pennsylvania. He later wrote: “I would usually arrive at a place in time for field service in the morning, have a meeting with the servants of the company in the early evening and afterward another with the whole company. Usually I would spend just two days with a company and only one day with a smaller group, at times visiting six such groups a week. I was continually on the move.”
Two years later, in 1938, he was assigned, as a regional servant, to care for a zone assembly (now known as circuit assembly) every week. These helped to strengthen the brothers during a time when persecution was becoming intense in some areas. Recalling those days and his varied responsibilities, Brother Booth said: “The very week [in which I was a witness in a court case involving some 60 Witnesses in Indianapolis, Indiana] I was a defendant in another case in Joliet, Illinois, an attorney for a brother in yet another one in Madison, Indiana, and, in addition, had charge of a zone assembly each weekend.”
Two years after these zone assemblies were revived in 1946 (now as circuit assemblies), Carey Barber was among those assigned as district servants. He had already been a member of the Bethel family in Brooklyn, New York, for 25 years. His first district covered the entire western part of the United States. At first, travel between assemblies was about 1,000 miles [1,600 km] each week. As the number and the size of congregations multiplied, those distances shrank, and numerous circuit assemblies were often held within a single metropolitan area. After 29 years of experience as a traveling overseer, Brother Barber was invited to return to the world headquarters in 1977 as a member of the Governing Body.
During times of war and of intense persecution, traveling overseers frequently risked their freedom and their lives to care for the spiritual well-being of their brothers. During the time of the Nazi occupation of Belgium, André Wozniak continued to visit the congregations and helped to supply them with literature. The Gestapo were frequently hot on his heels but never succeeded in seizing him.
In Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) in the late 1970’s, people lived in fear, and travel was curtailed during a period of internal war. But traveling overseers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as loving shepherds and overseers, proved to be “like a hiding place from the wind” to their brothers. (Isa. 32:2) Some would walk for days through bush country, traveling up and down mountains, crossing dangerous rivers, sleeping at night in the open—all in order to reach isolated congregations and publishers, to encourage them to remain firm in the faith. Among these was Isaiah Makore, who narrowly escaped when bullets whistled over his head during a battle between government soldiers and “freedom fighters.”
Other traveling overseers have for many years served the organization on an international basis. The presidents of the Watch Tower Society have frequently traveled to other lands to give attention to organizational needs and to speak at conventions. Such visits have done much to keep Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere keenly aware of their international brotherhood. Brother Knorr especially pursued this activity on a regular basis, visiting each branch and missionary home. As the organization grew, the world was divided into ten international zones, and beginning on January 1, 1956, qualified brothers, under the direction of the president, started to assist with this service so that it could be given regular attention. Those zone visits, now carried on under the direction of the Service Committee of the Governing Body, continue to contribute to the global unity and forward movement of the entire organization.
Still other significant developments have contributed to the present organization structure.
Further Theocratic Alignment
In the midst of World War II, Joseph F. Rutherford died, on January 8, 1942, and Nathan H. Knorr became the third president of the Watch Tower Society. The organization was under heavy pressure because of bans imposed on its activity in many lands, mob violence under the guise of patriotism, and the arrest of Witnesses as they distributed Bible literature in their public ministry. Would a change of administration result in a slowing down of the work at such a critical time? The brothers caring for administrative matters looked to Jehovah for his direction and blessing. In harmony with their desire for divine guidance, they reexamined the organization structure itself to see whether there were any areas where there could be closer conformity to Jehovah’s ways.
Then, in 1944, a service assembly was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in connection with the Watch Tower Society’s annual meeting. On September 30, prior to that annual meeting, a series of highly significant talks were given on what the Scriptures say as to the organization of Jehovah’s servants.* Attention was focused on the Governing Body. On that occasion it was emphasized that theocratic principle must apply to all the agencies used by the faithful and discreet slave class. It was explained that the legal corporation did not have as members all the “consecrated” people of God. It merely represented them, acting as a legal agency on their behalf. However, inasmuch as the Society was the publishing agent used to provide Jehovah’s Witnesses with literature that contained spiritual enlightenment, the Governing Body was logically and of necessity closely associated with the officers and directors of that legal Society. Were theocratic principles being fully applied in its affairs?
The Society’s charter set out a shareholder arrangement in which each aggregate contribution of $10 (U.S.) entitled the contributor to a vote in connection with selection of members of the board of directors and officers of the Society. Perhaps it seemed that such contributions gave evidence of genuine interest in the work of the organization. However, this arrangement presented problems. Brother Knorr, the Society’s president, explained: “From the provisions of the Society’s charter, it would seem that the being a part of the governing body was dependent upon the contributions to the legal Society. But according to the will of God this could not be so among his true chosen people.”
It was a fact that Charles Taze Russell, who for the Society’s first 32 years was foremost in the governing body, was financially, physically, and mentally the greatest contributor to the Society. But it was not a monetary contribution that determined how the Lord used him. It was his complete dedication, his tireless zeal, his uncompromising stand for God’s Kingdom, and his unbreakable loyalty and faithfulness that marked him in God’s sight as suitable for the service. With respect to the theocratic organization, the rule applies: “God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased.” (1 Cor. 12:18) “However,” Brother Knorr explained, “inasmuch as the charter of the Society provided for voting shares to be issued to contributors of funds to the Society’s work, it tended to bedim or encroach upon this Theocratic principle with respect to the governing body; and it also tended to endanger it or create hindrances for it.”
Hence, at the business meeting of all shareholder-voters of the Society on October 2, 1944, it was unanimously voted that the Society’s charter be revised and be brought into closer harmony with theocratic principles. Membership would not now be unlimited as to number but would be between 300 and 500, all of whom would be men chosen by the board of directors, not on the basis of monetary contributions, but because they were mature, active, faithful Witnesses of Jehovah who were serving full-time in the work of the organization or were active ministers of congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. These members would vote for the board of directors, and the board of directors would then select its officers. These new arrangements went into effect the following year, on October 1, 1945. What a protection this has proved to be in an era when hostile elements have frequently manipulated business affairs so as to take control of corporations and then restructure them to suit their own aims!
Jehovah’s blessing on these forward strides in conforming to theocratic principles has been manifest. Despite the extreme pressure brought upon the organization during World War II, the number of Kingdom proclaimers continued to grow. Without letup, they vigorously continued to witness about God’s Kingdom. From 1939 to 1946, there was an amazing increase of 157 percent in the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they reached out to six more lands with the good news. During the next 25 years, the number of active Witnesses grew by nearly another 800 percent, and they reported regular activity in an additional 86 lands.
Specialized Training for Overseers
Some outside observers viewed it as inevitable that when the organization became larger, its standards would be relaxed. But, in contrast, the Bible foretold that righteousness and peace would prevail among Jehovah’s servants. (Isa. 60:17) That would require careful and ongoing education of responsible overseers in God’s Word, a clear understanding of his judicial standards, and a consistent application of those standards. Such education has been provided. A thorough study of God’s righteous requirements has been progressively provided in The Watchtower, and this material has been systematically studied by every congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. But, in addition to that, overseers of the flock have been given much added instruction.
Principal overseers of the Society’s branches have been brought together for special training at the time of international conventions. From 1961 through 1965, specially designed school courses, eight to ten months in length, were conducted for them in New York. From 1977 into 1980, there was another series of special five-week courses for them. Their training included verse-by-verse study of all the books of the Bible as well as consideration of organizational details and ways in which to further the preaching of the good news. There are no nationalistic divisions among Jehovah’s Witnesses. No matter where they live, they adhere to the same high Bible standards and believe and teach the same things.
Circuit and district overseers have also been given special attention. Many of them have attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead or one of its Extension Schools. Periodically, they are also brought together at the Society’s branch offices, or they meet at other convenient locations, for seminars of a few days or a week.
In 1959 another outstanding provision went into operation. This was the Kingdom Ministry School, attended by circuit and district overseers as well as by congregation overseers. It began as a full-month study course. After being used for a year in the United States, the material for the course was translated into other languages and was progressively used around the globe. Since it was not possible for all the overseers to arrange to be away from their secular work for a full month, a two-week version of the course was used starting in 1966.
This school was not a seminary in which men were being trained in preparation for ordination. Those who attended were already ordained ministers. Many of them had been overseers and shepherds of the flock for decades. Their course of study was an opportunity to discuss in detail the instructions from God’s Word regarding their work. Great emphasis was laid on the importance of the field ministry and how to do it effectively. Because of changing moral standards in the world, considerable time was also devoted to discussion of upholding Bible standards of morality. This course has been followed up in recent times by seminars every two or three years, as well as by helpful meetings conducted by traveling overseers with local elders several times each year. These afford opportunity to give special attention to current needs. They are a safeguard against any drifting away from Bible standards, and they contribute toward uniform handling of situations in all the congregations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses take to heart the admonition at 1 Corinthians 1:10: “I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” This is not a forced conformity; it results from education in God’s ways as recorded in the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses delight in God’s ways and his purpose. If any cease to take pleasure in living according to Bible standards, they are free to leave the organization. But if any start to preach other beliefs or disregard Bible morality, overseers take action to safeguard the flock. The organization applies the Bible counsel: “Keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them.”—Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:9-13.
The Bible foretold that God would cause just such a climate to exist among his servants, one in which righteousness would prevail and bear peaceful fruitage. (Isa. 32:1, 2, 17, 18) Those conditions strongly appeal to people who love what is right.
How many of such lovers of righteousness will be gathered before the end of the old system? Jehovah’s Witnesses do not know. But Jehovah knows what his work will require, and in his own time and his own way he sees that his organization is equipped to care for it.
Gearing Up for Explosive Growth
When research was being done under the supervision of the Governing Body in preparation of the reference work Aid to Bible Understanding, attention was once more directed to the way in which the first-century Christian congregation was organized. A careful study was made of such Biblical terms as “older man,” “overseer,” and “minister.” Could the modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses conform more fully to the pattern that had been preserved in the Scriptures as a guide?
Jehovah’s servants were determined to continue to yield to divine direction. At a series of conventions held in 1971, attention was directed to the governing arrangements of the early Christian congregation. It was pointed out that the expression pre·sbyʹte·ros (older man, elder), as used in the Bible, was not limited to elderly persons, nor did it apply to all in the congregations who were spiritually mature. It was especially used in an official sense with reference to overseers of the congregations. (Acts 11:30; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3) These received their positions by appointment, in harmony with requirements that came to be part of the inspired Scriptures. (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) Where enough qualified men were available, there was more than one elder in the congregation. (Acts 20:17; Phil. 1:1) These made up “the body of older men,” all of whom had the same official status, and not one of whom was the most prominent or powerful member in the congregation. (1 Tim. 4:14) To assist the elders, it was explained, there were also appointed “ministerial servants,” in accord with the requirements set out by the apostle Paul.—1 Tim. 3:8-10, 12, 13.
Arrangements were promptly put into operation to bring the organization into closer conformity to this Biblical pattern. These began with the Governing Body itself. Its membership was enlarged beyond the seven who, as members of the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, had been serving as a governing body for Jehovah’s Witnesses. No fixed number of members for the Governing Body was set. In 1971, there were 11; for a few years, there were as many as 18; in 1992, there were 12. All of them are men anointed of God as joint heirs with Jesus Christ. The 12 serving as members of the Governing Body in 1992 had among them at that time a record of over 728 years of full-time service as ministers of Jehovah God.
It was determined on September 6, 1971, that the chairmanship at meetings of the Governing Body should rotate annually according to the alphabetical arrangement of the family names of its members. This actually went into effect on October 1. Governing Body members also took turns, on a weekly basis, in presiding at morning worship and the Watchtower Study for members of the headquarters staff.* This arrangement went into effect on September 13, 1971, when Frederick W. Franz led the program of morning worship at the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.
During the following year, preparation was made for adjustments in the oversight of the congregations. No longer would there be just one congregation servant assisted by a specified number of other servants. Men who were Scripturally qualified would be appointed to serve as elders. Others, who met the Bible’s requirements, would be appointed to be ministerial servants. This opened the way for a greater number to share in congregation responsibilities and thus to gain valuable experience. None of Jehovah’s Witnesses had any idea then that the number of congregations would increase by 156 percent during the next 21 years, reaching a total of 69,558 in 1992. But the Head of the congregation, the Lord Jesus Christ, evidently was making preparation for what was to come.
In the early 1970’s, careful thought was given to further reorganization of the Governing Body. Ever since the incorporation of the Watch Tower Society in 1884, publishing of literature, supervision of the global evangelizing work, and arrangements for schools and conventions had been cared for under the direction of the office of the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. But after careful analysis and discussion of details over a period of many months, a new arrangement was unanimously adopted on December 4, 1975. Six committees of the Governing Body were formed.
The Chairman’s Committee (made up of the current chairman of the Governing Body, the preceding chairman, and the one next in line to be chairman) receives reports on major emergencies, disasters, and campaigns of persecution, and it sees that these are handled promptly with the Governing Body. The Writing Committee supervises the putting of spiritual food into written, recorded, and video form for Jehovah’s Witnesses and for distribution to the public, and it oversees translation work into hundreds of languages. The Teaching Committee’s responsibility is to supervise schools and assemblies, also district and international conventions, for Jehovah’s people, as well as Bethel family instruction and the outlining of material to be used for such purposes. The Service Committee supervises all areas of the evangelizing work, including the activity of congregations and traveling overseers. The printing, publishing, and shipping of literature as well as the operation of factories and the handling of legal and business matters are all supervised by the Publishing Committee. And the Personnel Committee has oversight of arrangements for personal and spiritual assistance to members of Bethel families and is responsible for inviting new members to serve in the Bethel families around the world.
Additional helpful committees are assigned to oversee the factories, the Bethel homes, and the farms associated with the world headquarters. On these committees the Governing Body makes liberal use of the abilities of members of the “great crowd.”—Rev. 7:9, 15.
Adjustments were also made in the oversight of the Society’s branches. Since February 1, 1976, each branch has been supervised by a committee of three or more members, depending on needs and the size of the branch. These work under the direction of the Governing Body in caring for the Kingdom work in their area.
In 1992, further assistance was provided for the Governing Body when a number of helpers, mainly from among the great crowd, were assigned to share in the meetings and work of the Writing, Teaching, Service, Publishing, and Personnel committees.*
This spreading out of responsibility has proved to be very beneficial. Along with adjustments already made in the congregations, it has helped to move out of the way any obstacle that might sidetrack individuals from appreciating that Christ is the Head of the congregation. It has proved to be most advantageous to have a number of brothers taking counsel together on matters affecting the Kingdom work. Additionally, this reorganization has made it possible to provide needed supervision in the many areas where it has been urgently needed during an era that has seen organizational growth of truly explosive proportions. Long ago, Jehovah foretold through the prophet Isaiah: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.” (Isa. 60:22) Not only has he speeded it up but he has also provided the needed direction so that his visible organization would be able to care for it.
The immediate interest of Jehovah’s Witnesses is in the work that God has given them to do during these final days of the old world, and they are well organized to accomplish it. Jehovah’s Witnesses see unmistakable evidence that this organization is not of men but of God and that God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, is directing it. As ruling King, Jesus will safeguard his faithful subjects through the coming great tribulation and make sure that they are effectively organized for accomplishing God’s will during the Millennium to come.
In 1894, Brother Russell arranged for Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society to send out qualified brothers as speakers. They were given signed certificates for use in introducing themselves to the local groups. These certificates did not confer authority to preach nor did they signify that what the bearer said was to be accepted without proper scrutiny in the light of God’s Word. However, since some persons misconstrued their intent, within a year Brother Russell had the certificates recalled. He cautiously endeavored to avoid anything that observers might interpret to be even the appearance of a clergy class.
Zion’s Watch Tower, October-November 1881, pp. 8-9.
At times the local groups were referred to as “churches,” in harmony with the language used in the King James Version. They were also called ecclesias, in accord with the term used in the Greek Bible text. The expression “classes” was likewise employed, for they were in reality bodies of students meeting regularly to study. Later, when they were called companies, this was a reflection of their awareness that they were in a spiritual warfare. (See Psalm 68:11, KJ, margin.) After publication of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in 1950, the modern-language Bible term “congregation” came into regular use in most lands.
The literal meaning of the word used in the Greek Bible text (khei·ro·to·neʹo) is “to extend, stretch out, or lift up the hand,” and, by extension, it could also mean “to elect or choose to an office by lifting up of hands.”—A Greek and English Lexicon to the New Testament, by John Parkhurst, 1845, p. 673.
For details, see Chapter 25, “Preaching Publicly and From House to House.”
Through the service director, the field service of those associated with the congregation, or class, was to be reported to the Society each week, starting in 1919.
As outlined in the folder Organization Method, each congregation was to elect an assistant director and a stockkeeper. These, along with the Society-appointed director, made up the local service committee.
The Watch Tower, July 1, 1920, pp. 195-200.
The service committee at that time included not more than ten members. One of these was the service director, who was not elected locally but was appointed by the Society. The others worked with him to arrange and carry on the witness work.
For a number of years, from 1932 onward, these were referred to as Jonadabs.
When the Greek verb khei·ro·to·neʹo is defined as meaning only ‘to elect by stretching out the hand,’ this fails to take note of the later meaning of the word. Thus, A Greek-English Lexicon, by Liddell and Scott, edited by Jones and McKenzie and reprinted in 1968, defines the word as meaning “stretch out the hand, for the purpose of giving one’s vote in the assembly . . . II. c. acc. pers. [with accusative of person], elect, prop[erly] by show of hands . . . b. later, generally, appoint, . . . appoint to an office in the Church, [pre·sby·teʹrous] Act. Ap. [Acts of the Apostles] 14.23.” That later usage was current in the days of the apostles; the term was used in that sense by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus in Jewish Antiquities, Book 6, chapter 4, paragraph 2, and chapter 13, paragraph 9. The grammatical structure itself of Acts 14:23 in the original Greek shows that Paul and Barnabas were the ones who did what was there described.
Later in the same year, 1938, Organization Instructions, published as a four-page folder, gave further details. It explained that the local congregation was to appoint a committee to act on its behalf. That committee was to consider the brothers in the light of the qualifications set out in the Scriptures and make recommendations to the Society. When traveling representatives of the Society visited the congregations, they reviewed the qualifications of local brothers and their faithfulness in caring for their assignments. Their recommendations were also taken into account by the Society in its making of appointments.
From 1894 to 1927, traveling speakers sent out by the Society were known first as Tower Tract Society representatives, then as pilgrims. From 1928 to 1936, with increased emphasis on field service, they were called regional service directors. Starting with July 1936, to emphasize their proper relationship to the local brothers, they became known as regional servants. From 1938 to 1941, zone servants were assigned to work with a limited number of congregations on a rotation basis, thus getting back to the same groups at regular intervals. After an interruption of about a year, this service was revived in 1942 with servants to the brethren. In 1948 the term circuit servant was adopted; now, circuit overseer.
From 1938 through 1941, regional servants, in a new role, regularly served local assemblies, where Witnesses from a limited area (a zone) met for a special program. When this work was revived in 1946, these traveling overseers were known as district servants; now, district overseers.
This arrangement took effect on October 1, 1938. There was increasing difficulty in arranging for assemblies during the war years, so zone assemblies were suspended late in 1941. Once again, however, in 1946, the arrangement was renewed, and the occasions when a number of congregations met together for special instruction were called circuit assemblies.
The substance of these talks is found in the October 15 and November 1, 1944, issues of The Watchtower.
Later on, they selected other members of the Bethel family to share in caring for those assignments.
[Blurb on page 204]
A clergy class had no place among them
[Blurb on page 205]
Not attempting to set up an “earthly organization”
[Blurb on page 206]
How were elders chosen?
[Blurb on page 212]
A director appointed by the Society
[Blurb on page 213]
Some elders did not want to preach outside the congregation
[Blurb on page 214]
Thinning the ranks but toning up the organization
[Blurb on page 218]
How were appointments to be made?
[Blurb on page 220]
Was Rutherford simply trying to gain greater control?
[Blurb on page 222]
Keeping in touch with the twos and threes as well as larger groups
[Blurb on page 223]
New responsibilities for traveling overseers
[Blurb on page 234]
An enlarged Governing Body with rotating chairmanship
[Blurb on page 235]
Needed supervision during an era of explosive growth
[Box on page 207]
Why the Change?
When questioned on his change of view regarding selection of elders in the various groups of the Lord’s people, C. T. Russell replied:
“First of all I hasten to assure you that I have never laid claim to infallibility. . . . We do not deny growing in knowledge, and that we now see in a slightly different light the will of the Lord respecting Elders or leaders in the various little groups of his people. Our error in judgment was in expecting too much of the dear brethren who, coming early into the Truth, became the natural leaders of these little companies. The ideal view of them which we fondly entertained was, that the knowledge of the Truth would have upon them a very humbling effect, causing them to appreciate their own insignificance, and that whatever they knew and were able to present to others was as mouthpieces of God and because used of him. Our ideal hopes were that these would in every sense of the word be examples to the flock; and that should the Lord’s providence bring into the little company one or more equally competent, or more competent, to present the Truth, that the spirit of love would lead them in honor to prefer one another, and thus to help and urge one another to participation in the service of the Church, the body of Christ.
“With this thought in mind we concluded that the larger measures of grace and truth now due and appreciated by the Lord’s consecrated people would make it unnecessary for them to follow the course outlined by the apostles in the early Church. Our mistake was in failing to realize that the arrangements outlined by the apostles under divine supervision are superior to anything that others could formulate, and that the Church as a whole will need to have the regulations instituted by the apostles until, by our change in the resurrection, we shall all be made complete and perfect and be directly in association with the Master.
“Our mistake gradually dawned upon us as we beheld amongst dear brethren to some extent the spirit of rivalry, and on the part of many a desire to hold the leadership of meetings as an office instead of as a service, and to exclude and hinder from developing as leaders other brethren of equal ability naturally and of equal knowledge of the Truth and competency in wielding the sword of the Spirit.”—“Zion’s Watch Tower,” March 15, 1906, p. 90.
[Box/Pictures on page 208, 209]
Facilities Used by the Society a Century Ago in the Pittsburgh Area
The Bible House, shown here, served as the headquarters for 19 years, from 1890 to 1909*
Brother Russell had his study here
Members of the Bible House family that served here in 1902
The building included this typesetting and composition department (top right), a shipping department (bottom right), literature storage, living quarters for the staff, and a chapel (assembly hall) that would seat about 300
In 1879, the headquarters was at 101 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The offices were moved to 44 Federal Street, Allegheny (Pittsburgh’s North Side), in 1884; and later in the same year, to 40 Federal Street. (In 1887, this was designated 151 Robinson Street.) When more space was needed, in 1889, Brother Russell built the Bible House, shown at the left, at 56-60 Arch Street, Allegheny. (This was later renumbered 610-614 Arch Street.) For a short period in 1918-19, they once again had their principal office in Pittsburgh, on the third floor at 119 Federal Street.
[Box on page 211]
Whose Work Is It?
Toward the end of his earthly life, Charles Taze Russell wrote: “Too often do God’s people forget that the Lord Himself is at the head of His work. Too often the thought is, We will do a work and get God to co-labor with us in our work. Let us get the right focus on the matter, and perceive that God has purposed and is carrying out a great work; and that it will succeed, entirely regardless of us and our effort; and that it is a great privilege granted to the people of God to co-labor with their Maker in the carrying out of His plans, His designs, His arrangements, in His way. Viewing matters from this standpoint, our prayer and our watching should be with a view to knowing and doing the will of the Lord, content whatever lot we see, since ’tis our God who leads us. This is the program which the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society has sought to follow.”—“The Watch Tower,” May 1, 1915.
[Box/Picture on page 215]
The letters V.D.M. represent the Latin words “Verbi Dei Minister,” or Minister of the Divine Word.
In 1916 a list of questions on Scriptural matters was prepared by the Society. Those who would represent the Society as speakers were asked to answer each of the questions in writing. This enabled the Society to know the thoughts, sentiments, and understanding of these brothers as respects fundamental Bible truths. The written answers were checked carefully by an examining board in the Society’s offices. Those recognized to be qualified as speakers were to have a grade of 85 percent or better.
Later, many of the elders, deacons, and other Bible Students asked if they could have a list of the questions. In time, it was stated that it would be beneficial if the classes selected as their representatives only persons who had qualified as V.D.M.
When the Society conferred the degree of Minister of the Divine Word, this did not mean that the individual was being ordained. It simply implied that the examining board in the Society’s offices had reviewed the doctrinal development of the person, and to a reasonable extent his reputation, and concluded that he was worthy of being called a Minister of the Divine Word.
The V.D.M. questions are as follows:
(1) What was the first creative act of God?
(2) What is the meaning of the word “Logos,” as associated with the Son of God? and what is signified by the words Father and Son?
(3) When and how did sin enter the world?
(4) What is the Divine penalty for sin upon the sinners? and who are the sinners?
(5) Why was it necessary for the “Logos” to be made flesh? and was He “incarnated”?
(6) Of what nature was the Man Christ Jesus from infancy to death?
(7) Of what nature is Jesus since the resurrection; and what is His official relation to Jehovah?
(8) What is the work of Jesus during this Gospel Age—during the time from Pentecost until now?
(9) What has thus far been done for the world of mankind by Jehovah God? and what by Jesus?
(10) What is the Divine purpose in respect to the Church when completed?
(11) What is the Divine purpose in respect to the world of mankind?
(12) What will be the fate of the finally incorrigible?
(13) What will be the reward or blessings which will come to the world of mankind through obedience to Messiah’s Kingdom?
(14) By what steps may a sinner come into vital relationship with Christ and with the Heavenly Father?
(15) After a Christian has been begotten of the Holy Spirit, what is his course, as directed in the Word of God?
(16) Have you turned from sin to serve the living God?
(17) Have you made a full consecration of your life and all your powers and talents to the Lord and His service?
(18) Have you symbolized this consecration by water immersion?
(19) Have you taken the I. B. S. A. [International Bible Students Association] Vow of holiness of life?
(20) Have you read thoroughly and carefully the six volumes of STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES?
(21) Have you derived much enlightenment and benefit therefrom?
(22) Do you believe you have a substantial and permanent knowledge of the Bible which will render you more efficient as a servant of the Lord throughout the remainder of your life?
[Box/Pictures on page 216, 217]
Buildings Used During Early Days in Brooklyn
122-124 Columbia Heights
Dining room in the Bethel Home
Offices, literature storage, mailing department, typesetting equipment, and an 800-seat auditorium were located here, at 17 Hicks Street (used from 1909 to 1918)
Bethel family members who worked at the Myrtle Avenue factory in 1920 (right)
35 Myrtle Avenue (1920-22)
18 Concord Street (1922-27)
117 Adams Street (1927- )
[Box/Pictures on page 224, 225]
Traveling Overseers A Few of the Thousands Who Have Served
Finland, 1921-26, 1947-70
United States, 1907-15
Traveling between congregations—
Mobile accommodations in Namibia
Sharing with local Witnesses in field service in Japan
Meeting with local elders in Germany
Providing practical counsel to pioneers in Hawaii
Instructing a congregation in France
[Box/Picture on page 229]
Early Legal Corporations
Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society. First formed in 1881 and then legally incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania on December 15, 1884. In 1896 its name was changed to Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Since 1955 it has been known as Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.
Peoples Pulpit Association. Formed in 1909 in connection with the Society’s moving of its principal offices to Brooklyn, New York. In 1939 the name was changed to Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc. Since 1956 it has been known as Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
International Bible Students Association. Incorporated in London, England, on June 30, 1914.
In order to meet legal requirements, other corporations have been formed by Jehovah’s Witnesses in many communities and lands. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not divided up into national or regional organizations. They are a united global brotherhood.
[Box on page 234]
‘Like the Primitive Christian Community’
The religious publication “Interpretation” stated in July 1956: “In their organization and witnessing work, they [Jehovah’s Witnesses] come as close as any group to approximating the primitive Christian community. . . . Few other groups make as extensive a use of Scripture in their messages, both oral and written, as they do.”
[Picture on page 210]
To provide closer supervision, branch offices were established. The first one was in London, England, in this building
[Picture on page 221]
J. F. Rutherford in 1941. The Witnesses knew that he was not their leader
[Picture on page 226]
John Booth, traveling overseer in the U.S.A. from 1936 to 1941
[Picture on page 227]
Carey Barber, whose district included a vast part of the United States
[Picture on page 228]
Brother Knorr regularly visited each branch and missionary home
[Picture on page 230]
Principal overseers of the Society’s branches have been brought together for special training (New York, 1958)
[Pictures on page 231]
The Kingdom Ministry School has provided valuable instruction for overseers around the globe
Kingdom Ministry School at a refugee camp in Thailand, 1978; in the Philippines, 1966 (upper left)
[Pictures on page 232]
Organization instructions have been progressively published (first in English, then in other languages) to coordinate the activity of the Witnesses and to inform all concerning the provisions made to assist them in their ministry