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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dates (1914; 1975)

It appears that some anti-Witness writers (especially the apostate ones) like to use such information as "proof" that the Watch Tower Organization is a "false prophet." Most often they concentrate on dates such as 1914 and 1975 which haven't had the fulfillment that was originally expected for them. Then they find one of the extremely rare instances where the Watch Tower Society apparently calls itself a "prophet" in some sense (such as one particular 1972 WT article) and then conclude that the Organization claims to be a Prophet, but its predictions fail to come true. Therefore, they reason, the WT Organization must be a False Prophet as defined in the Bible and must be strongly resisted by honest-hearted Christians. (See the PROPHET study paper)

At no time did Russell, Rutherford, or the WT organization claim to be an inspired prophet with the gift of inspired prediction like some of those mentioned in the Bible. In fact, Russell himself taught that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (which include inspired prediction) ceased long before the beginning of the 3rd century! - WT, Sept. 15, 1911.

Russell himself taught this understanding of prophets: "There were a number of prophets (public orators) and teachers in the [early] church."

He continues,

"We see a distinction drawn in our lesson between prophets and teachers. The Greek word rendered `prophet' signifies a `forth-teller.' It might be understood to mean one who tells in advance, or foretells, or prophesies coming events; but in its general use in the New Testament the word seems to indicate one who tells forth, in the sense of proclaiming, giving public utterence to, or standing up before the people in declaration of the Lord's Message. The distinction between prophets and teachers, as here used, seems to be that the former were persons of natural talent and ability for teaching the truth in a public manner, in orderly discourse, etc., while the teachers would be those possessing talent as instructors, but not necessarily in a public, or oratorical manner; comparatively few have the qualifications for public speaking [prophets] .... some others, who have not ability as public discoursers, have talent for presenting the truth in a less public manner, as in Bible studies, etc. [teachers]." - p. 3005, May 1, 1902 WT.

Again, in the June 15, 1909 WT, Russell writes:

"We are not to despise prophecies, but to respect them and to heed them. But this is not what the Apostle refers to [1 Thess. 5:20]. By the word `prophesying' he meant teaching, public utterance. Do not despise what anyone may publicly utter as a child of God in the church of Christ....
"Nevertheless prove all things and hold fast to that which is good - that which stands the test. Because a brother is sincere, in earnest, does not prove that he is right in his Scriptural expositions .... Even if you cannot accept his proposition, the study of the subject, the searching of the Scriptures in the proving may be of lasting benefit to yourself, establishing you more than ever in the truth. But let us be sure that we hold fast to the good." - p. 4419.

So, by understanding what Russell (and Rutherford, et. al.) meant by the term "prophet" and that they certainly never considered themselves as inspired predicters of the future but merely imperfect, fallible men, we can see how their detractors twist their statements to make them appear to be "false prophets" in the Old Testament sense.

Russell wrote on pp. 5367, 5368 of the 15 Dec. 1913 WT (republished from an October 1, 1907 article):

"A dear Brother inquires, Can we feel absolutely sure that the Chronology set forth in the Dawn-Studies is correct? - That the harvest began in 1874 and will end in A.D. 1914....?"

"We answer," Russell continues, "as we have frequently done before in the Dawns and Towers and orally and by letter, that we have never claimed that they were knowledge, nor based upon indisputable evidence, facts, knowledge; our claim has always been that they are based on faith. We have set forth the evidence as plainly as possible and stated the conclusions of faith we draw from them....

"Many have examined these evidences and have accepted them; others equally bright do not endorse them....

"We neither urge nor insist upon our views as infallible, nor do we smite or abuse those who disagree; but regard as `brethren' all sanctified believers in the precious blood.

"On the contrary, it is those who differ who smite us and speak evil of us .... They are our critics who always claim the infallibility. We go humbly onward following the Apostle's example and words, `We believe and therefore speak,' whether others hear or forbear to hear. Is not this in accord with the Spirit of Christ? ....

"But some of those who come to a trifling point on which they disagree seem to imagine that the entire harvest work must be overthrown, or at least stopped, until they get their little jot or tittle satisfactorily adjusted." - p. 5367.

"But let us suppose a case far from our expectations: Suppose that A.D. 1915 should pass with the world's affairs all serene and with evidence that the `very elect' had not all been `changed' .... What then? Would that not prove our chronology wrong? Yes, surely! .... one of the strings of our `harp' would be quite broken!

"However, dear friends, our harp would still have all the other strings in tune and that is what no other aggregation of God's people on earth could boast. ....

"If, therefore, dearly beloved, it should turn that our chronology is all wrong, we may conclude that with it we have had much advantage everyway. If the attainment of our glorious hopes and present joys in the Lord should cost us such disappointment as our friends fear, we should rejoice and count it cheap!" - p. 5368.

And in the Jan. 1 1911 WT, Russell wrote:

"Suppose that our chronological calculations (never set forth as infallible) should prove to be fallible and in error. Our conclusion would merely be that the error could not be very great ....

"If, then, it should prove eventually that the crisis of earthly government will not be reached by the end of 1914, should we not be very faithful anyway, and remember that had it not been for that alarm clock which helped awaken us from the worldly stupor, we might not have been sufficiently awake to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful spiritual blessings which daily crown our lives?" - p. 4743
And in the Oct. 15, 1913 WT, Russell wrote:

"We wish still, however, to reiterate what we have said from the first respecting the date of the close of the Times of the Gentiles; namely, that the calculations as we presented them in Vol. II, Studies in the Scriptures, are the truth to the best of our knowledge and belief. Nevertheless, there is enough uncertainty about the matter of chronology to make it a matter of faith rather than of positive knowledge. We remind our readers that our consecration to the Lord is not to October, 1914, nor to any other time except that mentioned by the Savior - `Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.' - Rev. 2:10." - p. 5336.

Attempting to determine dates of future scriptural events in order to encourage fellow Christians was important to Russell (and Rutherford). If they did it honestly and publicly (which they did), it was a part of prophesying (in the sense of speaking out publicly), but it was obviously never considered as (nor promoted as) infallible inspired prediction! Nor was it considered to be an essential element of the essential work of a modern Christian "prophet." When it comes to proclaiming the truth of essential Bible doctrines, "where else is there to go?"

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