Jehovah's Witnesses Reorganize the Watchtower Society

Jason Barker

This article was published in October 2000; some details - such as the Watchtower Society's tax status in France - may have changed since publication.

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 growth."[1] 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."[2]

Second, the Watchtower Society formed three new non-profit corporations to run the Society's operations in the United States. These corporations are:

  1. The Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses - will coordinate all service (i.e., proselytic) activities, including door-to-door proselytism, circuit and district conventions, etc.
  3. The 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.
  5. 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.[3]

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 Reorganization

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.[4]

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[5] - (to use Watchtower terminology, the anointed Governing Body provides "spiritual nourishment at the right time,"[6]).

Second, the 144,000 members of the anointed class had been filled, and the last members were alive, in 1935.[7] 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.[8] 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 in1914.[9]

1950 - The Watchtower teaches that Christ returned to earth invisibly in 1914.[10]

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.[11]

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."[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

1984 - The Society extends the "generation of 1914" to include all individuals who were babies during that year.[15]

1988 - The Society states that a biblical generation consists of 75 years.[16] Thus, 75 years from 1914 comes to 1989, marking the potential end of that generation.

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.[17]

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.[18]

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 1914."[19]

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;[20] 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.[21]. 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 the Society.[22]

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.[23]

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 corporate leadership.

Legal Problems and the Reorganization

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."[24] 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.[25]

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 [26] is debatable. While some former Jehovah's Witnesses - and current dissident Witnesses - believe that lawsuits are pending, Watchman Fellowship is currently unaware of any such suits awaiting trial.

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.[27] 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" [28].

What will be the Impact on Jehovah's Witnesses?

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.[29]

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,[30] but they also select the voting members of the Watchtower Society corporation (up to 500 individuals) who vote upon the candidates.[31] 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,"[32] and "Beware of 'organization.' It is wholly unnecessary."[33] The recent expansion of the Watchtower Society's bureaucracy shows that, if Russell were alive today, he would be disfellowshipped for his opinions.

[1] Jehovah's 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

[2] "Jehovah's Witnesses Order Shake-Up," New York Times, October 9, 2000 [Online]. URL

[3] "Watchtower Reorganizes for Legal Advantages," [Online]. URL

[4] 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

[5] "Faithful and Discreet Slave," Insight on the Scriptures, vol. 1 (Brooklyn:Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1988), p. 806.

[6] "The Path of Righteousness Does Keep Getting Brighter," The Watchtower, December 1(1981), p. 27.

[7] From 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.

[8] 1999 Report of Jehovah's Witnesses Worldwide [Online]. URL

[9] 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.

[10] "Who Will Share in the Final Witness?" The Watchtower, January 15 (1950), p. 22.

[11] "Use the Remaining Time Wisely," The Watchtower, November 15 (1950), p.419.

[12] "Hope of Survival Faces the Problem," The Watchtower, April 15 (1961), p.236.

[13] "Where are We According to God's Timetable?" The Watchtower, May 1 (1967), p. 262.

[14] Awake! October 8 (1968), pp. 13-14.

[15] "1914 - The Generation that will not Pass Away," The Watchtower, May 15 (1984), p. 5.

[16] "The Last Days - What's Next?" Awake! April 8 (1988), p. 14.

[17] Insight on the Scriptures, vol. 1, (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York,

Inc., 1988), pp. 917-18.

[18] "A Time to Keep Awake," The Watchtower, November 1 (1995), p. 19.

[19] See Jason Barker, "Talking 'Bout My Generation," The Watchman Expositor, vol. 16,no. 2 (1999) [Online]. URL

[20] "Watchtower Reorganizes for Legal Advantage," [Online].

[21] Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1983), pp. 25-26.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., p.26.

[24] "Foes: Witnesses Bracing for Lawsuits," The New York Times, October 10 (2000), [Online]. URL

[25] Ibid.

[26] See "New Watchtower Blood Transfusion Policy," [Online]. URL

[27] See "In the News." The Watchman Expositor, vol. 16, no. 1 (1999), p. 23 [Online].URL

[28] Los Angeles Daily Journal, December 12, 1997; quoted in Craig Branch,"Church of Scientology: A Religious Mafia?" The Watchman Expositor, vol.15, no. 1 (1998), [Online]. URL

[29] See "A Governing Body as Different from a Legal Corporation," The Watchtower,December 15 (1971), pp. 755-62.

[30] Ibid., p.759-60.

[31] Ibid., p.758.

[32] The Watchtower, December 1 (1894), p. 1743.

[33] The Watchtower, September 15 (1895), p. 1866.

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