Apocalypse Delayed

Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses

M. James Penton
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 464
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442670907
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  • Book Info
    Apocalypse Delayed
    Book Description:

    Penton offers a comprehensive overview of a remarkable religious movement, from the Witnesses? inauspicious creation by a Pennsylvania preacher in the 1870s to its position as a religious sect with millions of followers world-wide.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7090-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-x)
  3. Illustrations (pp. xi-xi)
  4. Tables (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Preface (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction (pp. 3-10)

    The religious community now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses originally developed into a separate sect in the 1870s and has remained one ever since. H. Richard Niebuhr assumed in 1929 that a sect, faced with increasing success, the upward social mobility of its members, and reconciliation with the world, would almost automatically become a denomination - a routinized and accommodated sect.¹ This has not happened with the Witnesses, however, as has been recognized by such noted sociologists of religion as Bryan Wilson and Thomas O’Dae. Rather, Jehovah’s Witnesses have become an ‘established sect,’² but one which, although routinized, is still hostile...

    • CHAPTER ONE The Beginning of a Movement (pp. 13-46)

      Jehovah’s Witnesses have grown out of the religious environment of late nineteenth-century American Protestantism. Although they may seem remarkably different from mainline Protestants and reject certain central doctrines of the great churches, in a real sense they are the peculiarly American heirs of Adventism, the prophetic movements within nineteenth-century British and American Evangelicalism, Methodism, and the millenarianism of both seventeenth-century Anglicanism and English Protestant nonconformity. There is, in fact, very little about their doctrinal system which is outside the broad Anglo-American Protestant tradition, although there are certain concepts which they hold more in common with Catholicism than Protestantism. If they...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Creation of a Theocracy (pp. 47-76)

      On 6 January 1917, Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford,¹ for some years Russell’s personal lawyer, was chosen president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and its associate organizations to replace the late Pastor. With his election, a new era in the history of the Bible Student-Jehovah’s Witnesses began.

      Born on 8 November 1869 in Missouri and raised on the small farm of his Baptist parents, Rutherford was a very different man from Russell. Instead of growing up in a big-city atmosphere under the loving guidance of a prosperous and benevolent father, Rutherford had to work very hard in near...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Era of Global Expansion (pp. 77-98)

      When Judge Joseph F. Rutherford died, Jehovah’s Witnesses were under total ban in many parts of the world. Many languished in prisons or in concentration camps. Even in the United States the Supreme Court held that their children must salute the flag when required by law to do so or face expulsion from public schools. Because they were regarded as unpatriotic slackers who would neither salute the flag nor fight for their country, they were subjected to mob violence unexperienced by any religion in America since the nineteenth-century persecution of the Mormons.

      As already indicated, the judge had believed that...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Prophetic Failure, Reaction, and Rebellion (pp. 99-126)

      When 1975 came and went with nothing spectacular having happened, many Jehovah’s Witnesses were greatly disillusioned. Untold thousands left the movement. The1976 Yearbookreported that during 1975 there had been a 9.7 per cent growth in the number of Witness publishers over the previous year.¹ But in the following year there was only a 3.7 per cent increase,² and in 1977 there was somewhat more than a 1 per cent decrease!³ In some countries the decrease was far greater. In the Philippines, for example, in 1975 the average number of publishers was 76,662.⁴ By 1979 it had dropped to...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Relations with the World (pp. 127-156)

      Although Witness relations with the world are only one aspect of their history, they are so important that they deserve a separate chapter. Nothing besides their apocalypticism itself has helped forge the nature of their community so much as what has been their ongoing conflict with the world on one hand and their occasional accommodations with it on the other. Also, an examination of those relations tells much about the general attitudes of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      One of the more common criticisms of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years has dealt with their outspoken denunciations of other faiths, religious leaders and clergymen....

    • CHAPTER SIX Bases of Doctrinal Authority (pp. 159-183)

      Dealing with the doctrinal concepts of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a most difficult matter, even for one thoroughly familiar with them. The Witnesses have no systematic theologians and no systematic theology. Thus they seem unaware of many of the logical contradictions in their very complex doctrinal system and are unable to come to grips with them intellectually. Furthermore, as demonstrated earlier, since their doctrines are constantly in flux, it is really impossible to discuss Witness theology in the same way that one can discuss the more stable doctrinal systems of the great churches. Nevertheless there are certain concepts which do serve...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Major Doctrines (pp. 184-208)

      With a general knowledge of bases of doctrinal authority, it now becomes important to look at the primary or major doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although, as with all of their teachings, these have undergone some changes, in the main they have been fairly constant. Thus, what is said here had beengenerallytrue during the last hundred years unless specified to the contrary.

      In its narrow sense the term ‘theology’ means the study of God and his nature. It is in that sense that the term is used here. What, then, can be said about the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses?...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Organizational Structure (pp. 211-252)

      The formal organizational structure by which Jehovah’s Witnesses are governed is very important; to them it is the government of God on earth - the theocracy. As British sociologist James Beckford has recognized, what the Watch Tower Society calls ‘theocractic government’ as directed by the governing body in Brooklyn, New York, ‘has welded the witnesses into a more self-consciously unified and more determinedly united religious group than any other sect, denomination or church.’¹ Yet before discussing that structure, two points need to be made. First, the term ‘theocratic’ really means hierarchical and, second, there are informal organizational relationships which are...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Witness Community (pp. 253-302)

      Although there have been some good sociological and anthropological studies of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years, the number is surprisingly small. Groups such as the Hutterites and Unificationists (the Moonies) are much smaller in both North America and the world,¹ but there are far more studies of them. The following information, based on both published data and personal observation, may serve in a modest way, then, to increase the general knowledge of a community which is one of the largest Christian sects which has developed out of America to become a world-wide movement.

      As Reginald Bibby and Merlin Brinkerhoff state...

  10. Conclusion (pp. 303-306)

    No religion in the modern world demonstrates the tremendous potency of millenarian ideas more obviously than do Jehovah’s Witnesses, even in what has been often dubbed a ‘secular age.’ It shows the willingness of millions to trust in the prophetic authority of certain individuals or a group even despite the fact that time and again their prophecies have proven false. Then, too, it indicates how, by using a date-setting eschatology which has long promised great rewards - both spiritual and material - to the Bible Student-Witness community, men such as Charles Taze Russell, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, and their successors have...

  11. Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1985: An Afterword (pp. 307-336)

    During the years sinceApocalypse Delayedwas first published in 1985, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses has grown significantly. The trauma caused by the disappointment of 1975 seems nearly forgotten within the community today; while in 1986 there was a peak of 3,229,022 Witness publishers, and 8,160,597 attendees at the Memorial celebration, in 1995 those figures had increased to 5,199,895 publishers, and 13,147,201 Memorial attendees.¹

    The graphs below show the average and peak Witness publishers, the number of persons baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the number of Memorial attendees for each year from 1986 to 1995.

    Taken alone, these data...

  12. Notes (pp. 337-398)
  13. Bibliography (pp. 399-424)
  14. Index (pp. 425-444)

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