Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 31—Ending the Fourth, Beginning the Fifth Decade of Kingdom Operation
THE “kingdom of the heavens” with Jesus Christ in power as King at his Father’s right hand ended its fortieth year of rule amid its enemies in 1954, about October 1. It began ruling amid World War I in 1914; it ended its fortieth year amid the “cold war” between the East and West blocs of Kingdom enemies that followed World War II. Jehovah’s witnesses, knowing well the times and seasons of God’s purposes, approached and entered the Kingdom’s fortieth year without joining in the dire predictions that some religionists were making about 1954 on the basis of their ideas of parallel time periods in historical events. They entered 1954 planning and arranging to do still greater works in Kingdom service.
Their long fight in Quebec Province, Canada, to establish the right to preach the Kingdom news to the Catholic population there had been rewarded with a five-judge majority decision in the Supreme Court of Canada, at Ottawa, October 6, 1953, which ruled that Jehovah’s witnesses have the right to put out their religious literature in Quebec.* Future efforts by the adversaries of free speech and free worship in Quebec to block the application of this Supreme Court decision showed that they took it in bad grace, as enemies among whom Christ had to rule with an iron rod.
The exploding of two new models of hydrogen bombs in the Pacific Ocean by America in March, 1954, did not fill Jehovah’s witnesses with dread forebodings of the future. Undisturbed, they went on to give a still greater witness to God’s established kingdom by putting more preaching ministers in the field. In that March a new high number of 154,367 ministers reported time spent in preaching,* followed by a still higher peak of 169,015 in April,* in America. In other nations, too, the increase was going on. So by the close of the 1954 service year a new world-wide peak of 580,498 preachers was attained, a jump of 60,516 over the preceding year.* Door-to-door sermons from the Bible of three to eight minutes’ length were now specially recommended, and also ten- to fifteen-minute sermons in making return visits upon interested persons. All the congregations were brought into accord with a training program to have qualified, experienced ministers to give personal training to irregular ones or less successful ones or to newly interested persons in the most effective ways of preaching in the field. More attention also began to be placed on putting out individual copies of The Watchtower and Awake! at every opportunity, besides obtaining subscriptions for these magazines.
April 3, 1954, saw the entry of a new feature, the film entitled “The New World Society in Action,” of one hour and twenty minutes’ length. On that night this film was shown for the first time outside Brooklyn headquarters to an audience of 1,110 at a New York City circuit assembly. To date it has proved a mighty instrument in visually acquainting all viewers with the magnitude of the Society’s organization, its institutions, its field activities, its large-scale conventions, its smooth, efficient functioning and the spirit by which it is moved. In the territories of the Watch Tower Society’s branch offices, even in Taiwan during the eighteen-year-long ban upon Jehovah’s witnesses, the film was exhibited to large appreciative audiences. By the close of the 1955 service year this motion picture, with accompanying commentary, had been shown to 2,379,549 persons.*
The year 1954 proved to be a notable one for assemblies. During the summer, beginning with the Boston (Massachusetts) assembly on June 24, 1954, four-day district and national assemblies were held around the globe, including assemblies even in such places as Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, besides other places on six continents and the islands of the seas. Eighty of these assemblies brought out a total public audience of 427,000 and more, and a total of 14,509 were baptized. The Berlin assembly took the lead, with 22,500 present to hear “God’s Love to the Rescue in Man’s Crisis” and with a baptism of 1,022. At the Toronto (Ontario) district assembly a fifth day was added to accommodate the graduation of the 116 students of the twenty-third class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. The effect of all these assemblies became quite evident in the New World society.*
Quite appropriately in 1954, the seventieth year from when the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania was incorporated December 13, 1884, the Society completed construction of an outstanding building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to house its registered offices. On September 4, 1954, the building was dedicated by officers of the Society, and on Friday, October 1, 1954, the first annual business meeting of the Society was held there with its president as chairman. An attendance of 820 overflowed from the main auditorium, which seats 500, to the auxiliary auditorium in the basement of the building.*
The year 1955 opened the fifth decade for God’s established kingdom to rule amid its enemies. The early part of the year was marked by outstanding legal decisions. On January 7, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Lord Judge of the Court of Sessions handed down the decision that Jehovah’s witnesses are a religious denomination but their pioneer publishers and congregation servants are not “regular ministers” of religion within the meaning of the 1948 National Service Act of Britain. The adverse part of this decision was appealed to a three-judge High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh, only to have an unfavorable decision rendered by all three judges July 21, 1955.* On this an appeal is now being made to the House of Lords, London, England, the final court of appeal for the British Empire. However, in America, on March 14, 1955, the Supreme Court at Washington, D.C., ruled favorably on three cases of Jehovah’s witnesses, that the witnesses must be considered sincere conscientious objectors to carnal warfare of this world even though they are willing to fight a war at God’s command, a “theocratic war,” not an earthly kind. On these grounds the Court reversed the convictions of three witnesses who had refused induction into military service.* But in Poland, according to reports by news dispatches and radio, five witnesses of Jehovah were arrested on the false charge of being spies for political America and were sentenced in March, 1955, to years of imprisonment. Mark 13:9 and Luke 21:12 were still being fulfilled upon Jehovah’s witnesses in this “time of the end.”
For the general guidance of all Kingdom publishers in their field activities the new service booklet of 64 pages on “Preaching Together in Unity” was released on January 1, 1955. To increase the publication of literature, especially the magazines, in the spring of the year the Watchtower Society began building its new thirteen-story factory across the street from its present nine-story factory in Brooklyn. As a judgment against the entire system of worldly religion came the challenging message under the title “Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is ‘the Light of the World’?” This message exploded upon the world Sunday, April 3, 1955, by the simultaneous delivery of a uniform public address on that subject by speakers in thirty languages the world over. At the close of the address all speakers announced the release of the new 32-page booklet upon the same subject, copies of which were given free to all in attendance. Throughout the earth well over a half million attended this powerful lecture. According to the president’s letter of February 10, 1955, it had been expected to publish ten million copies of the booklet in ten languages. But the Society’s branches were so eager for the message that it was published in thirty languages and more than 21,000,000 copies were printed.*
Distribution of the booklet to the outside public followed at once upon the heels of the public lecture. Thousands of newly interested persons took a hand in the distribution for the first time. This produced a new peak of Kingdom publishers of 625,256, during the month of April. Thoroughly aroused, the friendlily disposed people turned out in unprecedented numbers the following Thursday night, April 7, to celebrate the Lord’s evening meal, to run up a total attendance of 878,303, of whom, however, only 16,815 partook as the remnant of the heavenly Kingdom class.* During April and the following month of May the new booklet moved out into eighty-eight lands, to reach a phenomenal circulation in just two months’ time, even in lands where Jehovah’s witnesses were banned, such as the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Spain, Portugal and Eastern Germany. The clergy of Christendom came in for direct attention later.* Along with this “blitz” distribution Jehovah’s witnesses wound up their special January-to-April campaign for new Watchtower subscriptions by obtaining 562,228 new magazine subscriptions by the close of April, and that in forty languages.
Thirteen “Triumphant Kingdom” assemblies next dominated the scene, occasioning the movement of hundreds of thousands of Jehovah’s witnesses from over sixty lands to the thirteen assembly sites, all at their own expense. Five-day assemblies these were, with a uniform program, the climax of which was the public address by the Society’s president or its vice-president on the theme “World Conquest Soon—by God’s Kingdom.” In weekly succession the series moved forward from June 22 at Chicago, Illinois, to Vancouver, B.C., Canada, to Los Angeles, California, to Dallas, Texas (in Spanish and English), to Yankee Stadium, New York city (for the third time), across the Atlantic to Twickenham (London), England, to Paris, France, to Rome, Italy (simultaneous with the last three days of Paris), to Nuremberg, Germany, to Berlin, Germany (simultaneous with the last three days of Nuremberg), to simultaneous assemblies at Stockholm, Sweden, and The Hague, Netherlands, and finally to Helsinki, Finland, August 25-28. The leap of the assembly series across the Atlantic from North American to European shores witnessed the greatest mass movement of conventioners from the Americas in history, over 4,500 of them.*
During the series the public address was delivered thus in nine countries and in nine languages to a total of 403,682 hearers. The number of those baptized totaled 13,016. From the assemblies a flood of new literature poured out over the world: Volume II of the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Qualified to Be Ministers, What Do the Scriptures Say About “Survival After Death”? You May Survive Armageddon into God’s New World and the public-address booklet World Conquest Soon—by God’s Kingdom. After the close of the assembly in each country 257,124 copies of the unprecedently distributed booklet Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is “the Light of the World”? were mailed world-wide by individual witnesses to each of the religious clergymen and editors of religious publications in their territory. What acknowledgments of receipt of the booklet were received varied from vicious or deploring to qualifiedly agreeing or kindly.*
At the end of August the 1955 service year ended. How? With a marked expansion in the New World society and its activities. The monthly average of preaching witnesses rose to 570,694 for the 158 lands reporting, whereas once a peak of 642,929 publishers was reached. A total of 63,636 were baptized. The total hours of field preaching went up to 85,823,250, accompanied by increases in the distribution of Bibles, books, booklets, magazines and tracts.* Yankee Stadium also witnessed its third graduation exercises of a class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, the 102 graduates making up the twenty-fifth class of the school since its founding February 1 of 1943.* To these have now been added the 106 graduates of the twenty-sixth class, whose graduation exercises took place at Gilead Sunday, February 12, 1956.* Missionary graduates are now sprinkled all over the earth in a hundred lands and islands. To these missionaries the Watch Tower Society has recently added more special pioneers in many lands, to augment the ingathering of “other sheep.”
The year 1956 has already experienced steps toward better management and regulation of the organization. The zoning of the earth into ten zones has taken place, each zone embracing a number of the Society’s seventy-seven branches. Over each of the ten areas is a zone servant. January 1, 1956, the first of the zone servants inaugurated this zone work of inspecting branches. February 29 the Society’s president himself departed by air from Brooklyn on a ten-week tour of the South Pacific and Far East to visit the Society’s branches there, to address assemblies and congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses and to address the public in major cities on the subject “Making All Mankind One Under Their Creator.”
Thus till now Jehovah’s witnesses have made an inerasable, everlasting record in modern history. This record will yet be added to before they finish their pre-Armageddon witness, all with praise and credit to the only living and true God, whose witnesses they have been privileged to be.
Awake! Nov. 22, 1953, pp. 3-11.
Informant, May, 1954.
Informant, June, 1954.
1955 Yearbook, pp. 38, 42.
W June 15, 1955, pp. 361-364; Nov. 15, 1955, pp. 680-683.
W Dec. 1, 1954, pp. 713-720.
W Dec. 15, 1954, pp. 745-747.
W June 1, 1955, pp. 329-332.
Awake! June 22, 1955, pp. 3-8.
Informant, March to June, 1955.
1956 Yearbook, p. 40.
Informant, June, 1955, p. 2.
The Stars and Stripes (European edition), August 5, 1955.
W Dec. 1, 1955, to Mar. 15, 1956.
1956 Yearbook, pp. 32-41, 286-289.
Awake! Oct. 8, 1955, pp. 27, 28; 1956 Yearbook, pp. 62, 63.
W Apr. 15, 1956; Awake! Mar. 22, 1956.