[This article was contributed by Apollos]
The new teaching of the appointment of the Faithful and Discreet Slave has arguably made 1919 an even more important date to Jehovah’s Witnesses than 1914. Appendix B1 of the Revised NWT Bible shows a time line of the “Message of the Bible” in relation to God’s rulership. It is of note that the official doctrine of the establishment of God’s Kingdom in 1914 is not even mentioned – only that Satan was cast down “around” that time.
Ever since the 1919 doctrine was announced at the 2012 AGM, and subsequently published in the July 15th Watchtower 2013, the appointment of “the Slave” seems to have become a much more prominent topic in our teaching, and indeed in general discussion among Witnesses.
Of course we should remind ourselves that this new level of interest really has nothing to do with the date, and everything to do with the nature of the appointment. We had already been teaching the appointment of the Slave around that time, but the vital change was in the identity of that Slave, both then and now.
Previously on this site we have discussed whether there is any scriptural evidence that such an appointment occurred, and whether the passage in Matt 24:45 on which it is based can truly be read as a prophecy rather than a parable. While I continue to try to maintain an open mind on the matter, my honest conclusion to date is that there is no evidence that this claim to authority beginning in 1919 is anything more than a human invention.
There is another way we can examine this teaching. If such an appointment had been made by Jesus Christ in that year then it would undeniably be very special indeed. In fact it would arguably be the most important theocratic appointment made in modern day history.
It is fully acknowledged that God uses imperfect humans to fulfil his will. At the same time we also recognize that the Bible outlines certain qualifications for those who are to take the spiritual lead in the Christian congregation. These were established in the first century under inspiration, and they have never changed. They are still used by bodies of elders to determine the fitness of a brother to serve in the congregation at a local level.
If these qualifications mark the minimum requirements to appoint someone with responsibility pertaining to a single congregation, would it not be reasonable to assume that the same qualifications would need to be met if any individual(s) were to receive an appointment over the entire worldwide Christian congregation? In addition, while the appointments made at a local level might be subject to the error of the local elder body (intervention of the holy spirit notwithstanding), if an appointment were to be made by Jesus Christ from heaven then we ought to be confident that no such error of judgement would take place. In fact this is a point that has frequently been impressed upon us in our publications in order to assure us that the appointee(s) warrant our unquestioning loyalty.
The undeniable repercussion of the new GB teaching is that the first appointed “Faithful and Discreet Slave” according to the doctrine would have had to have been an individual – J.F. Rutherford. He was firmly and independently at the helm of the organization, having disposed of any dissenting voices in the two years prior. He was directing all of the activity of the International Bible Student movement, and the “spiritual food” being dispensed was mostly from his pen, or selected by him. Although Rutherford had already received his corporate presidential appointment in 1917, it would not be until 1919 that we are asked to believe that he received his special appointment by Jesus Christ.
The qualifications necessary to consider the appointment of an elder in any congregation are listed in two primary scriptural passages – 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
In an objective way is it possible in hindsight to see how Rutherford measured up to the qualifications required for an overseer?
In the following sections I will review many of the primary qualifications listed in the two letters, matching them up under one title where it seems appropriate. In each case I will try to present what we know about J.F. Rutherford in an unbiased way. Much of the information comes from our own publications, and I have avoided any information that cannot be found as a matter of public record.
1. The man should be “irreprehensible” and “free from accusation”.
The plain truth is that Rutherford’s presidency was marred by accusation, not only leading up to 1919, but virtually throughout the entire three decade reign. Up to 1919 Rutherford had acted contrary to the last will and testament of C.T. Russell, and would continue to do so until he had established absolute authority. Some of the details are available in Meleti’s article on the July 15th WT – Look I am With You All the Days. For those who are not familiar with the events, and would like more verifiable evidence, it is a simple matter to find the “Harvest Siftings” document online, and follow the paper trail through to the subsequent responses of the ousted directors.
Without even taking sides on the issue (which is difficult to avoid if you read all the documentation) we certainly cannot say that Rutherford was “free of accusation” at this time.
Later there would emerge further accusations against Rutherford from those inside the Bethel family such as Olin Moyle and Walter Salter (see Let Us Not Revile or Judge). These included accusations of reviling and misuse of alcohol. Of course it is acknowledged that these accusations came some time after the supposed 1919 appointment date.
2. “A husband of one wife”; “A man presiding over his own household in a fine manner”.
Rutherford was technically a husband of one wife, unlike his predecessor Russell who experienced an acrimonious divorce. However, by all accounts Rutherford and his wife separated soon after he took up the presidency. Whether this was before or after 1919 I cannot tell for sure. Nevertheless it seems reasonable that, if this was the approximate timing, then Jesus in heaven must have been able to see the writing on the wall. It is noteworthy that the publications had little to say about marriage and families during Rutherford’s entire presidency.
3. “Having believing children who are not accused of debauchery or rebelliousness”
According to Ray Franz in Crisis of Conscience “[Rutherford’s] one son on reaching adulthood had shown no interest in the religion of his father.”
4. “Not self-willed”
Other translations read “not arrogant” or “not proud”. I think the kindest way to express this one is that there does not seem to be a single recorded person – supporter of Rutherford or otherwise – who would dispute that he was self-willed. He had a track record of expelling anyone from the legal corporation, or from Bethel, who encroached on his authority.
His first significant publishing act was to release The Finished Mystery – an action that caused dissension and concern at Bethel because of the unilateral way in which he handled the matter. Russell’s will dictated that any such publishing take place under the approval of the Editorial Committee, but Rutherford went it alone. This to me is an early example of the self-will that set the tone for his entire presidency. Eventually he got rid of the Editorial Committee altogether thus obtaining free-rein to publish his own ideas as he pleased.
5. “Not prone to wrath”; “Not quarrelsome”; “Not quick tempered”; “Not violent”
Rutherford is recorded as having angry outbursts, both towards those inside the organization and out.
Here are a couple of extracts from a letter written by Bethelite Olin Moyle, but there is much more of the same therein:
Shortly after coming to Bethel we were shocked to witness the spectacle of our brethren receiving what is designated as a “trimming” from you. The first, if memory serves me correct, was a tongue lashing given to C. J. Woodworth. Woodworth in a personal letter to you stated something to the effect that it would be serving the devil to continue using our present day calendar. For that he was humiliated, called a jackass, and given a public lambasting. Others have been similarly treated. McCaughey, McCormick, Knorr, Prosser, Price, Van Sipma, Ness and others have been similarly scolded. They have been publicly called to account, condemned, and reprimanded without any previous notice. This summer some of the most unfair public reproaches have been given. J. Y. McCauley asked a question which carried with it a criticism of the present method of Watch Tower study. For that he was severely reprimanded. Your action constituted a violation of the principle for which we are fighting, towit, freedom of speech. It was the action of a boss and not that of a fellow servant.
The brethren at Bethel have thoroughly demonstrated their loyalty and devotion to the Lord, and do not need to be berated for wrong doing. A suggestion or a kindly admonition from you would be more than sufficient to check any wrongful action, and would eliminate resentment and induce greater happiness and comfort for the whole family. You have stated many times that there are no bosses in the Lord’s organization but the undeniable fact cannot be evaded that your actions in scolding and upbraiding these boys are the actions of a boss. It makes one sick at heart and disgusted to listen to them. If you will cease smiting your fellow servants Bethel will be a happier place and the Kingdom work will prosper accordingly.
I have heard some suggest that his forceful nature was just what the organization needed at the time. However God’s Word clearly tells us “But a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil” (2 Tim 2:24)
6. “Moderate in habits”; “Not a drunkard”
As noted above there were certainly questions asked over Rutherford’s relationship with alcohol. Were the questions justified? I’ve never seen any conclusive proof of that, although allegations were certainly made in writing by W.F Salter who worked at the branch until 1937, and similarly by Olin Moyle in 1938. Moyle protested Rutherford’s allowing the “glorification of alcohol” at Bethel.
We can also consider the public stance that Rutherford took against the US government over prohibition (see the lead article in the November 1st, 1924 Watchtower). At its heart the article probably reflects more on his relationship with “the superior authorities” than anything, but why choose the subject of alcohol prohibition over which to criticize the government? It does seem to add some fuel to the fire of those who accused Rutherford of lack of moderation in this regard. It’s a somewhat odd and contradictory article, but the key to understanding the motivation to publish it is to note that Rutherford had already publicly stated that “prohibition is a scheme of the devil”. Understandably some of the brethren made “strenuous protests against this statement”. The article appears to be Rutherford’s attempt to dig himself out of a hole that he had created. Hence he tries to find a way to condemn both alcohol and prohibition at the same time. It doesn’t really wash.
7. “Not a Lover of Money”
While none of us can know Rutherford’s heart attitude to money, he certainly wasn’t shy of the many perks that came with his presidency. Whilst the world headed into a depression and many had nothing, Rutherford enjoyed the use of the ten-room Spanish style mansion purpose built in San Diego, along with another residence on Staten Island and his large residences at Bethel itself. He was also criticized for the use of two chauffeur driven Cadillacs.
All of this is of course, after the claimed appointment date, so make of it what you will.
8. “Holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching”
This is perhaps one of the most critical points. Did Jesus make an appointment of someone who would feed his sheep with established Christian truth, or a steady stream of new doctrine?
One way to consider how firmly Rutherford held to the faithful word is to divide his teachings into those that can now be tested in hindsight, and those which still remain to be seen. Jehovah’s Witnesses today are of course saddled with many of the latter as part of their core doctrine.
It is not possible here to examine the full range of his unique teachings. But I will make a general, and somewhat bold, statement. Of those things that Rutherford taught, that we are already in a position to establish as being true or false, they have all proved false. These include such things as the return of the “ancient worthies” in 1925, the “millions now living will never die” prediction, all of the strange teachings in “The Finished Mystery” book that he supported and may have authored in part, 1799 A.D. declared as “the beginning of the time of the end”, an assertion in 1931 that “Armageddon is at hand and certain to fall upon Christendom and that within an early date”, the 1938 injunction that “there is no reasonable or scriptural injunction to bring children into the world immediately before Armageddon, where we now are”, and so on.
There is also the art of teaching from door to door. This is certainly considered in large part to determine an appointment of a Christian overseer in the congregation. In this regard it is noteworthy that there is no evidence that Rutherford ever engaged in the door to door preaching.
Rutherford himself commented on this in The Messenger, August 3, 1928 p. 5:
“Frequently some elder says: ‘The president of the Society does not go from house to house selling books. Why should I?’ … When I have [… lists his presidential responsibilities … ] I have not had very much time to go from door to door.”
According to our present doctrine J.F. Rutherford was appointed as the first Faithful and Discreet Slave in 1919. Is it reasonable to expect that Jesus Christ would apply a lower set of standards to such an appointment than that which is to be applied to Christian elders?
The one who feeds the sheep is a shepherd. If Matt 24:45 truly was a 20th century prophecy, and Jesus had raised up a new earthly shepherd to feed all his people, then surely we would expect that one to set the example for all Christian shepherds.
Is it wrong to evaluate the life course of J.F. Rutherford in order to examine the likelihood that he was who he is claimed to be?
Note this from the February 1994 Kingdom Ministry p. 6:
How Beneficial to Recount What Jehovah Has Done!
The Proclaimers book contains a record of your spiritual heritage. You ought to know it well … And as you review our modern-day history, observe the spiritual qualities of those who were used by God, how they demonstrated that the doing of God’s will was the most important thing in their lives, and how they reacted to situations-some of them very difficult-that God permitted.-Heb. 13:7.
The fact is that much of Rutherford’s history is available to us. The publications that he wrote and/or approved are available to us. First hand reports of his life are documented.
While there is also no doubt much biased information and speculation about him, we can use credible sources to do exactly what the KM says we should do – examine his spiritual qualities – just as any man would be examined today to assess his fitness to serve as a shepherd over a few.
Furthermore the measuring stick as to what constitutes appropriate “spiritual qualities” are not those established by any human, but by God himself.
None of this negates the common acknowledgement that any appointment of men is necessarily an appointment of imperfect men. Are there reasons why Jesus might make an appointment out of line with the general standards for Christian elders? Perhaps. I will leave that for the reader to think on, and perhaps share your thoughts in the comments area.
In the meantime I can only give you a personal conclusion from all of this. We have to layer this line of reason onto the other layers of evidence as to whether 1919 was the “Year of the Slave”. So far we have found none. It is simply an assertion that has been made based upon speculation and questionable Bible chronology. I have grown increasingly aware that many Witnesses fully acknowledge that the 1914-1919 foundation is built on sand, and yet still prefer to believe in the appointment of the Slave at that time. What exactly is it that remains for those ones to build their faith in such an appointment? If it is by contemplating how the conduct of the one taking the lead turned out (Heb 13:7), then I dare say it is worth taking another look.
This was by far one of the more difficult articles I have written. Even up to publishing it, I have been praying for guidance as to whether it is something that ought to be addressed publicly.
I ask you to kindly consider this in your comments. If the article were to generate a judgmental group mindset then I would be inclined to remove it. Please try to keep any comments you make as objective as possible. If you have any comments directly about the activities and personality of J.F. Rutherford then feel free to use them, but only if supported with credible references as I have tried to do. I personally do not want to see this turned into an “ad hominem” attack, and trust that you will respect that in any comments you make.
Thank you for your understanding.