- Jehovah's Witnesses
- one of the most successful and one of the most controversial religious bodies, the Jehovah's Witnesses have spread their Adventism to large numbers of people all around the world. The group emerged from within the Adventist community in America in the 1880s.Following the Great Disappointment in 1844, when Christ failed to return as predicted, Adven-tists divided into several groups. one of them proposed a date of 1874 for Christ's coming or Parousia. In 1879, Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), who led an independent Bible study group in Allegany, Pennsylvania, suggested that the 1874 date had been correct, but that the nature of the event was misunderstood - Parousia should be translated not as coming but as presence. He suggested that the end-time had arrived and would culminate in a generation, possibly around 1914.To that end, he founded a periodical, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ' Presence and in 1884, an organization, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. He presented a systematic treatment of his perspective in a set of books, Studies in the Scripture. Groups formed to study his writings, and the movement soon spread across North America and Europe.Russell died in 1916, and leadership of the Bible students movement passed to Joseph F. Rutherford (1869-1942), who guided the movement through the disappointment that World War i did not bring substantive change to society. He began to mold the followers into what would in 1931 be renamed the Jehovah's Witnesses. He introduced kingdom halls, regular places for Witnesses to gather.Rutherford also introduced new ideas that pushed the Witnesses beyond the fringe of Christianity, according to many Protestants. Russell had adopted an Arian understanding of God and salvation that denied the divinity of Christ, though still calling Jesus the Son of God and Redeemer.The Jehovah's Witnesses grew with an aggressive program of literature distribution and door-to-door visits. They became targets of the Nazi party in Germany, which sent many of them to concentration camps. In the United States, attempts were made to halt their proselytizing activities, but they were sustained in a number of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases.The Witnesses decried what they saw as the evil systems of the world, including governments. Members refused to salute the flag of any nation, an act they considered idolatrous. They also were pacifists and refused induction in the armed forces. The Witnesses believe that biblical admonitions against drinking blood prohibit any medical procedures that include blood transfusions, and they have been challenged in the courts in cases that involve minors. They have promoted surgical techniques that do not require transfusions, procedures that were widely adopted in the 1990s following scares about tainted blood supplies.In the years after World War II, the Witnesses adopted a concerted program of lay evangelism that led to spectacular global expansion. Each kingdom hall is responsible for contacting all the residents in its assigned area. Those who wish to become full-time missionaries may attend the movement's school, Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, now located at Patterson, New York.The Witnesses affirm the entire Bible as the Word of God and they await the arrival of the millennium of Christ's rule on earth. By the end of the 20th century, some 6 million Witnesses were meeting in more than 85,000 kingdom halls in more than 200 countries of the world, with almost twice that number attending their annual memorial of Christ's death. They are either the second-or third-largest religious group in most of the countries of Europe, and have about 1 million members in the United States.World headquarters is located in Brooklyn, New York. There is also a strong anti-Witness movement in America supported largely by Evangelical Protestants.Further reading:■ Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract of New York, 1959)■ M. James Penton, Apocalypse Delayed: The True Story of Jehovah's Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997)■ Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract of New York, issued annually).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.