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Apocalypse Delayed

Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses, Third Edition

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 584
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    Apocalypse Delayed
    Book Description:

    Since 1876, Jehovah's Witnesses have believed that they are living in the last days of the present world. Charles T. Russell, their founder, advised his followers that members of Christ's church would be raptured in 1878, and by 1914 Christ would destroy the nations and establish his kingdom on earth. The first prophecy was not fulfilled, but the outbreak of the First World War lent some credibility to the second. Ever since that time, Jehovah's Witnesses have been predicting that the world would end "shortly." Their numbers have grown to many millions in over two hundred countries. They distribute a billion pieces of literature annually, and continue to anticipate the end of the world.

    For almost thirty years, M. James Penton'sApocalypse Delayedhas been the definitive scholarly study of this religious movement. As a former member of the sect, Penton offers a comprehensive overview of the Jehovah's Witnesses. His book is divided into three parts, each presenting the Witnesses' story in a different context: historical, doctrinal, and sociological. Some of the issues he discusses are known to the general public, such as the sect's opposition to military service and blood transfusions. Others involve internal controversies, including political control of the organization and the handling of dissent within the ranks.

    Thoroughly revised, the third edition of Penton's classic text includes substantial new information on the sources of Russell's theology and on the church's early leaders, as well as coverage of important developments within the sect since the second edition was published fifteen years ago.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6960-4
    Subjects: History, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xix)
    M. James Penton
  5. 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 Thomas O’Dae and Bryan Wilson. Rather, Jehovah’s Witnesses have become an “established sect,”² but one which, although routinized, is still hostile...


    • Chapter One The Doctrinal Background of a New American Religious Movement
      (pp. 13-33)

      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 American heirs of Adventism, the prophetic movements within nineteenth-century British and American Evangelicalism, 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 are unique...

    • Chapter Two Charles Russell and the Bible Student Movement
      (pp. 34-68)

      The year 1879 was an important one in the life of Charles Russell. On 14 March,The Pittsburgh Commercial Gazettereported in its back pages that he had married Maria Frances Ackley, an attractive young woman two years his senior, in a ceremony in her home that was solemnized by Elder John Paton. The new Mrs Russell had been educated at the Pittsburgh High School and the Curry Normal School, evidently in preparation to become a teacher.¹ Over the next sixteen years, she would prove to be an able and intelligent helpmate to Russell. As well, on 1 July, Russell...

    • Chapter Three The Creation of a Theocracy
      (pp. 69-103)

      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...

    • Chapter Four The Era of Global Expansion
      (pp. 104-129)

      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 not experienced by any religion in America since the nineteenth-century persecution of the Mormons.

      As already indicated, the judge had believed...

    • Chapter Five Prophetic Failure and Reaction
      (pp. 130-162)

      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 Six From Dynamic Growth to Organizational Stagnation
      (pp. 163-199)

      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,¹ by 2012 there had been an increase to 7,782,346 publishers and 19,013,343 Memorial attendees.²

      Taken alone, these data indicate that Jehovah’s Witnesses remain a dynamic religious movement with a bright future. The Watchtower Society asserts that Jehovah has blessed the Witnesses’ world-wide preaching work, pointing to the organization’s...

    • Chapter Seven Relations with the World
      (pp. 200-230)

      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. 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. It...


    • Chapter Eight Bases of Doctrinal Authority
      (pp. 233-261)

      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 Nine Major Doctrines
      (pp. 262-288)

      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 radical changes, in the main there is an underlying consistence to them. Thus, what is said here has beengenerallytrue during the last 134 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...


    • Chapter Ten Organizational Structure
      (pp. 291-341)

      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 James Beckford has recognized, what the Watchtower Society calls “theocratic government” as directed by the Governing Body, “has welded the Witnesses into a more self-consciously unified and more determinedly united religious group than any other sect, denomination or church.”¹ 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 often more important than the formal.

      Up till...

    • Chapter Eleven The Witness Community
      (pp. 342-396)

      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 American Christian sects to have become a worldwide movement.

      As Reginald Bibby and Merlin Brinkerhoff state so accurately, “it has...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 397-400)

    What does the future hold for Jehovah’s Witnesses? It is difficult to believe that they will change dramatically in the short term, although stranger things have happened. As has been stressed, they are governed by a centrally dominated hierarchy that is committed to the traditional policies of the movement. If the past is any indication, the direction taken by their Governing Body will continue to be very conservative and will resist any development that does not promote the traditional teachings, methods, and policies now in force. What has been done and published in the past few years gives no basis...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 401-474)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 475-508)
  12. Index
    (pp. 509-547)