Let’s face it: “Judge” Joseph F. Rutherford is dead – along with his doctrines and influence. And so are the reasons for Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “house-to-house ministry.”
In two articles published on Freeminds.org several years ago, I discussed the changes made to two major old Watch Tower doctrines that have definitely affected today’s door to door ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (One article has been updated and is available on this website. Link)
- The teaching, “Vindicate Jehovah’s Name,” officially changed in 1993 after seven decades of use to “Sanctify Jehovah’s name” (more in line with the Lord’s Prayer, “Let your name be sanctified”).
- And – the teaching that the Witnesses, when engaged in the preaching work, separate the sheep-like people from the “goat-like” people under the direction of the anointed class, who are under the direction of Jesus Christ. This doctrine was changed in 1995 when the Society explained that Jesus does the separating work when the entire wicked system of things ends (which is the same as Christendom has taught for 2,000 years).
Both of the above doctrines were Rutherford’s creations intended to increase the Society’s membership. His plan was simple: Give the flock compelling reasons to preach. The “preachers” would convert others to become “preachers” and growth of the religion would be guaranteed.
The “Judge” launched this drive starting with his 1922 campaign of “Advertise, Advertise, Advertise the Kingdom…” The emphasis on the “Kingdom” replaced the emphasis on the “Ransom” – which Russell believed was the most important doctrine of all. 1
Then, in 1923, Rutherford introduced a new explanation of who does the separating of the sheep and goats: Watch Tower preachers! And by 1929, “vindicating Jehovah’s name” was the catch phrase and the other key reason to be a Watch Tower preacher.
To top it all off, Rutherford gave the preachers an official name in 1931 that effectively manipulated the bearers to do what their new name, “Jehovah’s Witnesses” implied. That new name emphasized what the Watch Tower’s flock was told would be the most important thing a “true” Christian should do: Witness about God by advertising the Kingdom – separating the sheep from the goats. By doing this they would be “vindicating Jehovah’s name.”
(See how nicely it all fit together? It would not only attract people to a reinvented religion, but would also stamp out remaining traces of “Pastor” Russell.)
Until the early 1990s, most of these very important doctrines remained the same. Then a sort of “house cleaning” went into effect. Out went the interpretation of separating the sheep from the goats and out went vindicating Jehovah’s Name. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses kept as their psychological “reason-to-be-in-existence” the “Kingdom message” – whatever that entailed in the range of “present truth.”
The “Generation” Doctrine
Of course, not to be overlooked was another Rutherford teaching that would have to be eliminated:
Starting in the 1990s, the “generation” doctrine needed to be “re-clarified.” (Remember, I was in the Writing Dept. at Bethel during this time.) The old way (using 1914 as a starting point, etc.) that JWs taught until the mid-1990s was out. Why?
Time had simply run out for those faithful Witnesses who were part of that 1914 generation who didn’t see the end before they died – as they had been promised by the Watch Tower.
Basically, as with all the other changes that “increased light” caused, the old “Way” is now effectively gone. The Watch Tower Society reinvented itself – just like Rutherford. The Judge reinvented Russell’s version of the Society in the 1920s when he needed to refuel a dying organization. When he effectively took control In 1918, there were only 3,868 persons actively involved with the Watch Tower Society in all the world.2
Rutherford’s manipulation and/or erasure of most of the old Russell teachings, along with some other factors, did eventually bring success in numbers. The religion began to grow and prosper both in money and power.
Now almost all traces of the Rutherford reign are gone – replaced by present-day lawyer-influenced “updated” doctrines designed for a different era and a generation that is not attracted to the Adventist style of “ole’ time” religions.
What has been the result of these changes?
Constant doctrinal change has Witness preachers knowing very little about their religion – and they generally prefer it that way. And Witnesses don’t know exactly why they go door-to-door because they are no longer “separating the sheep from the goats” or “vindicating Jehovah’s Name.” They continue to say that they are the “only ones on earth advertising, advertising, advertising” a Kingdom that is supposedly ruling – a doctrine that few people on earth know about or even associate with the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
If the Society can’t come up with a way to motivate their bored preachers to zealously take part in the preaching work, Rutherford’s admonition to “advertise the Kingdom” will soon go the way that his “vindicating God’s name,” “separating sheep and goats,” and “generation” teachings also went—into oblivion.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they have the absolute religious truth and enjoy God’s favor mainly because they don’t espouse the three major doctrines of Christendom: a burning hell, immortality of the human soul, and the Trinity. That belief seems to be the major factor that makes them overlook the constant so-called “updating” of previously held—even to the death—beliefs.
The May 15, 1995 Watchtower featured three articles about “Flashes of Light” which the Society claims are “refining” the doctrines, organizational structure, terminology, and Christian conduct of the Watch Tower religion. And this “refining” will continue for one reason only—to try to keep the flock’s interest in an out-dated religion in a fast-paced world that “keeps on tickin’” despite the Witnesses’ never-ending promise of it eventually facing “God’s lickin’.”