The lawyer, Joseph Franklin Rutherford who promoted himself as Judge Rutherford, was the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Some believe Charles Taze Russell was the founder but this is an inaccurate historical gloss.
During C.T. Russell's life, the International Bible Students Association published the magazine, The Watch Tower, six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, Tabernacle Shadows, and The Photodrama of Creation. It was a loosely organized group of Bible students. The role of the International Bible Students Association was to publish Bible study materials and to promote fellowship between the independent groups.
It was never an established denomination with a body of directors who decided approved doctrines and policies. The leaders or elders were never vetted and authorized to lead the independent groups. There were no membership roles, no required statement of faith, no tithing, no central directing body, no disfellowshipping, etc. Each Bible study group was independent, elected their own elders and deacons, studied Bible topics of their own choosing, and gladly preached the Gospel as each had opportunity.
When Russell died in 1916, Rutherford took over the International Bible Students Association and began to establish an organized denomination. He began to exert rigid control over the independent study groups throughout the country. He had the audacity to call The Watch Tower the only approved channel of God. He established statements of faith and changed prophetic interpretations. He required church membership roles, demanded everyone study the exact same materials every Sunday, mandated hours of service, created a hierarchy of approved clergy, forbade blood transfusions, demanded doctrinal conformity with the punishment of disfellowship for any doctrinal deviations, and finally took the name Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931. They do not study materials written by C.T. Russell. ?In fact, even reading those books is grounds for disfellowship.
Today there are still small, Bible student groups who do use the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures as helpful keys to understanding the Bible. They are used as aids to Bible study but are not recognized as inspired and are not equal to God's Holy Scriptures. We are not associated with the Jehovah's Witnesses.
We follow the organizational principles/examples of the early church. We have no training programs to formalize and approve clergy. Each group elects elders and deacons according to the qualifications in Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-13. The groups never take collections, build no church buildings, have no central governing body, have no disfellowshipping trials for doctrinal disagreements, require no statements of faith, and have no membership roles – just like the early church in the New Testament.
Additionally, we believe there are spirit-begotten, consecrated Christians in other Christian churches, We give a warm "Welcome to all believers in the ransom, and to those who love God and our Lord Jesus Christ."
We offer a free booklet detailing the roots of the Bible Student movement all the way back to the Reformation, where many Biblical doctrines began to be understood. This is an enlightening presentation to anyone interested in the growth and development of Bible Student beliefs.
Download the free PDF: "The Herald of Christ's Kingdom – History Issue"