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English Speaking Protestantism

Jehovah's Witnesses

Doctrines There are similarities with the Arians of the early church and the Adventist churches. The Witnesses are divided into two classes, the 144,000 "anointed ones" or "inner witnesses", and the more ordinary, "other sheep". They believe in conditional immortality, that the soul cannot exist apart from a body, meaning that humanity faces absolute death, save for the chance of escape offered by the ransom of Christ's death. The Witnesses, denying the trinity, view Christ as the first and highest created being, who was resurrected not bodily, but spiritually. In 1918 a period of Judgement began in which Christ is reigning in a spiritual sense in preparation for the Battle of Armageddon. He is assisted by anointed ones who have been resurrected in angelic bodies.
The world is currently under Satan's control through servants who lead the established churches, national governments and big business. At the Battle of Armageddon the hosts of Jehovah, including the spiritual anointed ones and those other sheep who are alive at the time, will overthrow Satan and his supporters and all the rest of humanity will die in the chaos. At this point everyone who died before Armageddon will be physically resurrected and will live in a paradise Earth under the rule of the "other sheep" for a thousand years until the final Judgement. Then all those who have proved worthy will be given physical immortality for eternity and all others will be annihilated.
Essential precepts for Witnesses are a faith in the ransom Christ paid by his death, baptism by immersion and a duty to witness Jehovah's message to outsiders as much as possible. Only those who have the inner witness are allowed to attend the annual Lord's Supper.

History The founder of the movement was Charles Russell (1852-1916), who was a Congregationalist from Pennsylvania troubled by spiritual doubts. Hearing an Adventist preacher Russell found a renewed faith. He and a small group of fellow Christians started a prayer group in 1872 to discuss the coming of Christ. This led Russell to design his own millennial scheme and start publishing a magazine. By 1884 Russell had enough followers to form the Zion's Watch Tower Society. Russell began to rapidly issue publications and trained his followers to spread the word. He at first identified 1914 as the date of the Second Coming. When this date passed Russell concluded that 1914 marked the arrival of Christ on Earth "in spirit", and that the final phase was not long off. Russell died in 1916 leaving a small following of 15,000.
Joseph Rutherford now became leader and modified the society's doctrines to his own designs, adopted the slogan "Millions now living will never die," and the name Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931. On Rutherford's death in 1942 a board of directors took control. It was at this point the Witnesses began to expand rapidly, supported by a flood of publications, increasing from about 100,000 in 1942 to about one million in 1960. Throughout the changes of leadership the group remained extremely authoritarian and socially conservative, and members continue to be encouraged to distance themselves from outsiders, except when witnessing. Due to its sectarian character they have attracted controversy in the West and members have faced serious persecution by authoritarian regimes elsewhere in the world.

Symbols The Witnesses' symbols tend towards austerity. Their belief in the worldly dominance of Satan leads them to refuse to salute the flag, hold political office, register for the army, or to receive blood transfusions. The Witnesses' translation (generally ill-regarded) of the scriptures replaces the cross with a stake, rejecting the central symbol of Christianity for an unique alternative.

Adherents Has about 5 million members world-wide, 125,000 in the UK, and 914,079 in the USA (Whitaker, 1995, 425; World Almanac, 1995, 729).

Main Centre
 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn NY 11201, USA