Reorganize the Watchtower Society
On October 6, 2000, the
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society announced a major reorganization of the
Society's corporate structure. The Society claims that these "revisions to
their legal organizational structure will allow them to keep pace with their
Contrary to this perspective presented by the Society, many non-Witness
observers see less altruistic reasons for the reorganization.
Two significant events occurred
in relation to this reorganization. First, the seven members of the Governing
Body, including (now former) President Milton Henschel, resigned their
positions as members of the Board of Directors of the Society; they nonetheless remain
members of the Governing Body. This resignation occurred, according to
Watchtower public affairs director James N. Pellechia, so that the Governing
Body can "concentrate more on the ministry of the Word."
Second, the Watchtower Society
formed three new non-profit corporations to run the Society's operations in the
United States. These corporations are:
Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses - will coordinate all
service (i.e., proselytic) activities, including door-to-door proselytism,
circuit and district conventions, etc.
Religious Order of Jehovah's Witnesses - will coordinate the activities of
those involved in full-time service, including pioneers, missionaries, and
circuit and district overseers.
- Kingdom Support Services, Inc. - will control
construction of all new Kingdom Halls and other facilities, and will hold
the titles to all Society-owned vehicles.
As noted above, the Society has
claimed that this reorganization occurred for practical - increased efficiency
in administrative duties - and theological - enabling the Governing Body to
focus on spiritual oversight - reasons. There are, however, several additional
reasons for this reorganization that are not being elucidated by the Watchtower
Society: the Society is almost certainly responding to its failed doctrines
regarding the anointed class, and the Society is protecting its assets in light
of governmental fines and potential litigation.
The Anointed Class and
A central tenet of Watchtower
doctrine is that the Society is to be led by members of the anointed class,
the select group of 144,000 who will reign in heaven with Christ over the
"Great Crowd" of Jehovah's Witnesses who will spend eternity in paradisiacal
conditions on Earth.
Two elements of the Watchtower's
doctrine regarding the anointed class is vital for understanding its
significance for the Society's reorganization. First, the anointed class also
constitutes what the Society calls the "Faithful and Discreet Slave;" it is
from the anointed slave that the Watchtower Society selects the individuals who
serve on the Governing Body. It is this anointed Governing Body that is
responsible for formulating all doctrine and teachings for Jehovah's Witnesses
(to use Watchtower terminology, the anointed Governing Body provides "spiritual
nourishment at the right time,").
Second, the 144,000 members of
the anointed class had been filled, and the last members were alive, in 1935.
Thus, the anointed class is aging: a member of the anointed class who was five
years-old in 1935 is now seventy years-old. This decline is vividly seen in the
number of Jehovah's Witnesses who partook of the eucharistic elements during
the Society's annual observance of the Last Supper (only members of the
anointed class may partake during this service): in 1999 the members of the
anointed class numbered only 8,755.
The anointed class is gradually dying out, meaning that the number of potential
anointed leaders for the Society diminishes each year.
"The Generation of 1914"
and how the Society Handled This Decline in the Past
Significant to the anointed
class - and particularly its alleged fulfillment in 1935 - is the "generation
of 1914:" those individuals who were alive in 1914. This generation is
significant because the Watchtower Society predicted that Armageddon would
occur before the "generation of 1914" completely passed away. In light of this
prophecy, it was entirely reasonable for the Watchtower Society to announce
that the anointed class had been filled by 1935: it is unlikely that the people
alive in 1935 - and particularly who were young children in that year - would
completely die out before all the "generation of 1914" had passed away.
Unfortunately for the Society,
the passage of time resulted in a decline in the numbers of the "generation of
1914," but did not result in Armageddon. The Society thus began to change its
criteria for the generation. Below is a brief chronology of these changes:
1889 - Charles Taze Russell,
the founder of the Watchtower Society, teaches that Armageddon would occur in
1950 - The Watchtower
teaches that Christ returned to earth invisibly in 1914.
1950 - The Watchtower
emphasizes that the thirty-six years between 1914 and 1950 have drawn the world
closer to Armageddon occurring before the generation alive in 1914 pass away.
1961 - The Society states,
"The foretold events having begun A.D. 1914, the generation of mankind
that is still alive from that year is the generation meant by Christ."
1967 - The Society changes
the meaning of "generation" to include only those individuals who
were alive in 1914 and able to view the events with understanding.
1968 - The Society specifies
that the age of understanding is 15 or older, meaning that Armageddon will
occur before all those who were 15 or older in 1914 have passed away.
1984 - The Society extends
the "generation of 1914" to include all individuals who were babies
during that year.
1988 - The Society states
that a biblical generation consists of 75 years.
Thus, 75 years from 1914 comes to 1989, marking the potential end of that
1988 - Later in 1988, the
Society revises its definition of generation, referring to a range of 70-80
years. Thus, the "generation of 1914" could be extended until 1994.
1995 - The Society redefines the term "generation
of 1914" to refer to anyone who is alive at any time who can understand
the spiritual significance of the date. The "generation of 1914"
can thus be extended indefinitely into the future.
Interestingly, the changes have
been so numerous that the Watchtower Society itself has publications on its
website that utilize some of the different understandings of the "generation of
How the Reorganization
Addresses the Problem of the Anointed Class
As we can see regarding the
"generation of 1914," the Watchtower Society has often changed its doctrine to adapt
to changing circumstances regarding one of its foundational beliefs. In the
case of the Society's reorganization, the Society is changing not only its
doctrine regarding the role of the anointed class, but is even changing its
legal structure to adapt to the decline in the number of people alive in 1935.
Dan Sydlik, a member of the
Governing Body, declared on October 6th that, while in the past the
Board of Directors of the Watchtower Society were anointed, there is no
scriptural reason for continuing the practice of selecting only members of the
anointed class to serve on the Board;
the new Directors are therefore not of the anointed class. This is a decisive
change in Watchtower doctrine. The Society had previously taught that the upper
administration of the Society - which by implication includes the Board of
Directors - is God's "channel" for organizing the Jehovah's Witnesses.
This administration - which was identified with the Faithful and Discreet Slave
- were charged not only with teaching, but also with caring "for all [God's]
'belongings,' or Kingdom interests on earth," i.e., the business activities of
Contradicting the Society's current claim that there is no scriptural
justification for legal administration by the anointed class, the Society
previously used Matthew 24:45-47 and Luke 12:42-44 as their scriptural
justification for giving all administration to the anointed Governing Body.
These contradictions in current
and past Watchtower teachings regarding the necessity for complete anointed
administration - while of tremendous spiritual significance - nonetheless do
not alter the fact that the reorganization benefits the Society by ending their
reliance on an increasingly aging (and expiring) group of people for their
Legal Problems and the
An Associated Press article
noted that some observers of the Watchtower Society believe that the Society
has reorganized as a defense from potential lawsuits from former members and
their families. The article quotes Randall Waters, a former worker at the
Society's headquarters in Brooklyn and director of the Free Minds ministry,
"[The reorganization is] clearly mean to provide isolation of guilt [in] the
litigious days ahead for the Watch Tower organization."
The article also quotes Raymond Franz, a former member of the Governing Body
(and author of Crisis of Conscience and In Search of Christian
Freedom, both available from Watchman Fellowship), who notes that the
Society is currently enduring legal problems in France and Germany.
The Society denies that it reorganized as a form of legal protection.
Whether the Society will be sued
by former members and families over such issues as the Society's changing
doctrines on blood transfusions
is debatable. While some former Jehovah's Witnesses - and current dissident
Witnesses- on the Hourglass2 [online at
http://www.cyberpass.net/~h2o/wwwboard/hourglass2board.html] and Witnesses.Net
[online at http://www.witnesses.net] bulletin boards believe that lawsuits are
pending, Watchman Fellowship is currently unaware of any such suits awaiting
Franz's observation about
foreign complications, however, is very valid, particularly in France. The
Watchtower Society is not recognized as a non-profit organization in France,
and has been fined the equivalent of $50 million in back taxes.
By creating a larger number of non-profit corporations, the Watchtower Society
can - should it face such a situation in the future - move its asset to a
corporation that is not currently fighting a lawsuit or under governmental
judgment, thus making it more difficult for complainants to collect on
judgments against the Society.
This particular strategy was
utilized by the Church of Scientology when a judgment for $2.5 million was
rendered against it in 1986. In 1997 the plaintiffs won an amended judgment in
which they "proved to the Court's satisfaction that the Church of Scientology
had conducted a pattern of systematically shuffling their assets between
various Church owned or affiliated corporate entities to avoid payment".
What will be the Impact on
What will be the impact of these
changes on Jehovah's Witnesses? Will there be a dramatic alteration in the way
in which the average Jehovah's Witness interacts with the Society?
In response, it is unlikely that
there will be any difference - either large or small - in the current
interaction between most Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower Society. There
are several reasons for this.
First, the resignation of the members
of the Governing Body from the Board of Directors - while a dramatic gesture -
has little impact on the Board (with the notable exception of allowing
non-anointed Witnesses to serve, thus dramatically increasing the pool of
potential leaders and enhancing the administrative viability of the Society for
the future). The Society has long stated - even if this was generally not
understood by most Witnesses - that there is a difference between the Governing
Body and the legal corporation of the Watchtower Society.
Furthermore, while the Governing
Body no longer serves on the Board, they still control who is selected for the
Board. Not only do they influence the selection of candidates for election to
the Board, but they
also select the voting members of the Watchtower Society corporation (up to 500
individuals) who vote upon the candidates.
Therefore, while the Governing Body no longer serves on the Board, they oversee
and coordinate the entire process of determining who is selected for the Board
of Directors. They will perform a similar function in the selection of
directors for the subsidiary corporations.
Second, it is important to
remember that the Board of Directors is only involved with the business
activities of the Society; all doctrine is still formulated by the Governing
Body. Therefore, unless the Board of Directors stages some form of a coup in
Brooklyn (which, even if such an event were to occur, would be unlikely to
receive the support of rank-and-file Jehovah's Witnesses), the Board is still
subject to the Governing Body. The Governing Body can still change (or refuse
to change) doctrine, thereby defining the parameters within which the Board of
Directors must work.
It is quite ironic that, in the
early days of the Watchtower Society, founder Charles Taze Russell stated, "A
visible organization is out of harmony with God's divine plan,"
and "Beware of 'organization.' It is wholly unnecessary."
The recent expansion of the Watchtower Society's bureaucracy shows that, if
Russell were alive today, he would be disfellowshipped for his opinions.
Witnesses Public Affairs Office, Press Release, "Jehovah's Witnesses Revise
Legal Organizational Structure to Further Stress 'the Ministry of the Word,'"
October 7, 2000 [Online]. URL http://www.jw-media.org/releases/001007.htm.
 For more
explanation of the anointed class vis-à-vis the Great Crowd, and their
respective eternal destinies, see Rich Branch, "Jehovah's Witnesses and the
Afterlife," The Watchman Expositor, Vol. 8, No. 7 (1991), [Online]. URL
and Discreet Slave," Insight on the Scriptures, vol. 1 (Brooklyn:
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1988), p. 806.
 "The Path of
Righteousness Does Keep Getting Brighter," The Watchtower, December 1
(1981), p. 27.
Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society of Pennsylvania, 1958), pp. 194-95; Man's Salvation Out of World
Distress at Hand! (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of
Pennsylvania, 1975), p. 302.
 Charles Taze
Russell, Thy Time is at Hand, vol. 2 of Studies in the Scriptures
(Allegheny, Pa: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1889), pp. 76-78, 98-99.
The date 1914 was changed to 1915 in later editions.
Will Share in the Final Witness?" The Watchtower, January 15
(1950), p. 22.
the Remaining Time Wisely," The Watchtower, November 15 (1950), p.
of Survival Faces the Problem," The Watchtower, April 15 (1961), p.
are We According to God's Timetable?" The Watchtower, May 1 (1967),
October 8 (1968), pp. 13-14.
- The Generation that will not Pass Away," The Watchtower, May 15
(1984), p. 5.
Last Days - What's Next?" Awake! April 8 (1988), p. 14.
on the Scriptures, vol. 1, (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of
 "A Time
to Keep Awake," The Watchtower, November 1 (1995), p. 19.
Reorganizes for Legal Advantage," [Online].
to Accomplish Our Ministry (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of
Pennsylvania, 1983), pp. 25-26.
 See "A
Governing Body as Different from a Legal Corporation," The Watchtower,
December 15 (1971), pp. 755-62.
Watchtower, December 1 (1894), p. 1743.
Watchtower, September 15 (1895), p. 1866.