History of the
A BRIEF HISTORY
NEW ALBANY- LOUISVILLE ECCLESIA
(CONGREGATION OR CHURCH)
BIBLE STUDENT MOVEMENT
It is important to understand that reporting this brief
history is vastly different from recording the history
of one of the denominations. Indeed, one of the
dearly-held positions of this diverse group of
Christians is that denominationalism has been a
detriment to Christianity. The "BIBLE STUDENT MOVEMENT"
is, therefore, a term of convenience to describe a
phenomenon of Biblical interpretation and fellowship
which, while it grew primarily from the ministry of one
outstanding Christian, has never been shackled by
creedal fences or by attempts to bind the intellect or
the conscience of the individual Christian.
As with any such movement, unfortunately, there have
been over the decades deviations from this position of
liberty in Christ which have resulted in groups which
have, for all practical purposes, become denominational
in practice (although they might not admit to this).
Perhaps it is imperative, therefore, at the outset to
say that one of the fundamental Scriptural
understandings from the earliest hours of the Bible
student movement is that EACH CONGREGATION IS COMPLETELY
AUTONOMOUS and that on earth THERE EXISTS NO HIGHER BODY
OF AUTHORITY than the local congregation of Christians.
When we summarize the history of the New Albany
Ecclesia, we will do so in relation to this Bible
student movement which gave it its birth and with which
it continues to have affiliation; but it must never be
forgotten that the New Albany-Louisville Ecclesia owes
allegiance to none save God, Jesus, and their Holy Word
along with the obvious Scriptural responsibility of
cooperation with like-minded Christians everywhere.
It is clear to all who have a working familiarity with
the Bible and with religious history that God has used
various men at various times to be messengers to His
people. Before Christ we refer to these as prophets and
judges. Since Christ we have Apostles and "angels"
(which means "messengers." See, for example, Matthew
13:39, 41, 49; I Corinthians 11:10; Revelation 1:20;
It is common for some unthinking Christians to make
casual, perhaps thoughtless statements like, "Youíre
following a man!" But the great Apostle Paul makes it
clear that following the good examples and teachings of
those who faithfully follow Christ is most appropriate.
(I Thessalonians 3:7-9; II Timothy 2:2) Not having
followed Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, or others spelled
disaster for many in Israel. Likewise, after Jesus,
failure to heed such teachers as Arius, Waldo, Wycliffe,
etc., doomed many Christians to being held captive by
the errors of the Dark Ages. Bible students know and
respect that God uses human teachers; but we also know
that no oneís teaching is secure or is of value if it is
not substantiated by the testimony of the Bible. The
Bible is our sole authority -- but it is not always
clear on the surface.
We are also aware that Satan will do all in his power to
discredit those who preach the truths which threaten his
errors. Because of this, the finest servants of God
throughout the ages have been objects of ridicule and
hatred from others. Lies and misrepresentations
regarding Godís most faithful servants are common. Who
among us cannot recall how Jesus, himself, had to endure
the contradiction of sinners constantly? Who cannot
recall how he was ridiculed because of the circumstances
of his birth, the reputation of the town in which he
lived, the fact that he was only "a carpenterís son,Ē
the absurd charges that he was breaking Godís law, etc.,
etc.? The prophets also endured these things. Men like
Arius, Waldo, and Wycliffe, and hundreds of others have
likewise suffered these misrepresentations. But wise
Christians have heard the timely messages of these men
of God and have ignored the evil speaking about them;
and they have been greatly blessed as a result.
Such is the case with the messenger who stands at the
forefront of the 19th Century Bible student movement,
Charles Taze Russell. His detractors cannot successfully
counter the beauties, the rationality, and the
Scripturalness of his message. Consequently they do to
him as was done to the prophets of old, and they
attribute to him teachings and followers which he would
never claim. The wise will ignore the detractions but
revel in the truths!
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE BIBLE STUDENT MOVEMENT
The Bible student movement, sometimes affectionately
called "the Truth movement," began due to a sincere
young Christianís struggles to find answers to the
questions which had perplexed generations of Christians.
His name was Charles Russell. He went from being an
avid, enthusiastic Sunday School worker in his early
teens, through a period of skepticism in his later
teens, to becoming an earnest, convinced student of the
Bible by the time he was twenty. In his mature years he
was affectionately known world-wide as Pastor Russell,
and his writings were among the best-known and
best-circulated in world history.
The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia (Second
Edition) summarizes his life in these few words:
Russell, Charles Taze, (1852-1916).
Known as Pastor Russell, Religious leader, the
founder of what is commonly called the Bible Student
Movement, born in Pittsburgh, PA. As a
Congregationalist, he struggled with the concept of
eternal torment, his subsequent Bible studies leading
him to conclude that the Biblical hell is oblivion, that
the Millennium began in 1874, and that a period of
social and political upheaval would lead to a peaceable
kingdom on Earth. After his death, many followers
abandoned his Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society
(1879), which under the leadership of Joseph Rutherford
moved in other directions and ultimately became known as
Jehovahís Witnesses (1931).
* * * * *
Note that Pastor Russell had formed a service
organization, The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
It cannot be over-emphasized that the purposes of this
society at that time were only to provide a source of
helpful literature, to provide a clearing-house for the
exchange of ideas and the arrangement of conventions for
mutual fellowship and edification, and to provide a
center from which world-wide witness activities could be
launched. The Society was not, and was never at that
time considered, as a headquarters or central authority
for the Bible student congregations. As the Cambridge
entry points out, however, this all changed after Pastor
Russellís death, and the current Society of the same
name (as well as the group known as Jehovahís Witnesses)
has virtually no similarity to, nor philosophical
connection with, the Society of Pastor Russellís day.
Claims of the Witnesses and of various historical
entries notwithstanding, Charles Russell is NOT the
founder of Jehovahís Witnesses NOR of the practices and
concepts of the current Watch Tower Bible and Tract
Society. Those who know his works and principles know
that he would be appalled to be connected with such
As the wonderful, God-honoring, reason-pleasing,
Scripturally-based messages began to be distributed by
Pastor Russell, congregations of independent Christians
began springing up throughout the United States and
overseas. These Christians became avid students of the
Bible and became extremely and willingly evangelistic
about the beautiful truths they were discovering and
proving. It was during this time (in the 1880ís) that
the New Albany Ecclesia came into being. It has remained
until this day in the spirit in which it was formedóan
independent, voluntary association of Christians who
search the Scriptures to ascertain that God is, indeed,
far better than most of Christianity had ever realized.
BIBLE STUDENT MOVEMENT CONCEPTS
The Scriptural positions of early Bible students
(reviving early Christian concepts) can be briefly
summarized under several headings:
1. AUTHORITY & CONSCIENCE. Regardless of the
teachers involved, a Christian must accept only such
teachings as have the force of Scripture behind them.
The Bible is a Christianís only authority. The
individualís conscience based on his understanding of
Godís Word is the primary factor in his relationship to
God. Being true to oneís conscience is imperative.
2. ORGANIZATION. Though the individual
relationship to God is holy and is the basis of each
Christianís spiritual life, the Bible clearly defines a
community of Christians. This community (or
congregation, or church, or ecclesia) functions locally
as a representative of the entire body of Christ and, as
such, is the highest earthly group to exercise
Scriptural authority. There are no earthly organizations
or individuals which can rightly exercise any authority
over the ecclesia.
The ecclesia was conceived by God so that Christians
could realize and practice their responsibilities as a
body in addition to their responsibilities as
individuals before God.
The ecclesia consists (without membership rolls or fund
solicitations) of those individuals who have made total,
unreserved commitments or consecrations to do Godís
will. These individuals choose their ministers or
spiritual leaders (elders or bishops) from among
themselves according to Scriptural standards. They also
appoint (again according to Biblical dictate) from among
themselves servants (deacons) to care for the more
mundane affairs of the congregation.
3. LARGER AFFILIATIONS. While no higher AUTHORITY
exists over the local congregation, opportunities exist
for various congregations to gather occasionally for
sharing and learning. These conventions of Bible
students have been a tradition in the movement since its
inception. On a slightly more formal level, ecclesias
have from time to time formed or worked with what can be
called service organizations. These function primarily
as voluntarily-supported centers which can print needed
materials, produce television or radio broadcasts, etc.,
4. STUDY. The study of the Bible, both for
character development and to understand Godís plan and
purposes, is the primary function of the congregation.
Various kinds of meetings are used to accomplish these
ends. Testimony meetings help the Christian share his
experiences for the benefit of others as well as for
public acknowledgement of gratitude. Study sessions
allow group evaluation of Biblical passages and topics.
Discourses allow the elders opportunities to present
various Biblical topics in studied detail.
As a rule, Bible student ecclesias study using various
approaches and helps. These include translations,
concordances, lexicons, histories, etc. The set of
volumes known collectively as STUDIES IN THE
SCRIPTURES by C.T. Russell frequently form the
launching point for Scriptural discussion and
examination; but studies into all kinds of Biblical
topics are undertaken independent of any pre-prepared
examinations or commentaries.
Traditionally, Bible students have found that five means
of investigation combine to give a complete and accurate
look at most Biblical questions:
a. CONTEXTS. All Scripture is part of a larger
context and must be considered in that light.
b. DISPENSATIONS. Some statements of Scripture
apply only to certain time periods and will seem
contradictory if not applied in the proper time setting.
c. TOPICS. It is frequently most revealing to
study the Bible one topic at a time (as opposed to one
book or chapter at a time). Thus, for example, looking
at all the Biblical entries about immortality gives a
far more accurate picture of this subject than could be
had without such an exhaustive and specialized approach.
d. TYPES. The Bible frequently makes pictures by
having actual events represent more important things to
come. Thus, for example, the Passover Lamb of the Jewish
exodus pictures Jesus as the Lamb of God. Without
understanding the use of Biblical types, much
understanding is lost, and much possible
e. SYMBOLISMS. The Bible is not a literal book in
many instances. Using the Bible to interpret its own
symbolisms is an imperative part of understanding its
teachings in an accurate and reasonable way.
5. CONCLUSIONS. It is always difficult to
summarize in a few words the substance of someoneís
beliefs. Following, however, is a brief (and incomplete)
attempt to explain doctrinal and prophetic positions
held to be true by most Bible student ecclesias:
1. Mankind was created perfect and subjected to a test
2. The sin of disobedience by Adam plunged the race into
the condemnation of dying and death.
3. Godís foresight, mercy, justice, and love provided
for an ultimate deliverance for the race from this
condemnation by the sending of His Son to die to take
Adamís place in death, thus ultimately releasing Adam
and his descendants from the penalty.
4. God purposed to allow evil to exist until enough men
had been born to fill the earth. This evil would exist
until the time for Adamís and the raceís restitution.
(Acts 3:19-21) This way mankind, experienced in evil,
will gladly choose obedience and life when it is offered
to them in the Millennial Age. Meanwhile, since Christ,
God has been calling out a group of faithful people who
will function with their Lord Jesus as blessers for the
race of mankind during that Millennial Age. Thus,
mankind (except for the church) is not now under
(The doctrine summarized thus far eliminates a number of
Dark-Age errors which have dominated Christianity for
centuries. Man dies. He has no immortal soul. He relies
on a RESURRECTION as the hope out of his difficulty.
Death is thus a sleep from which there will be an
awakening. The God-dishonoring theories like eternal
torment are thus eliminated. If we are dead when we die,
we experience neither torment nor joy. The majority of
the race will be later raised to enjoy what Adam lostóperfect
life on a perfect earth forever.)
To continue the doctrinal summary:
5. Scripturally, there are TWO SALVATIONS. The promise
to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) was that his seed would bless
all of the families of the earth. Paul (Galatians 3:7-9,
29) shows that the "seed" would be Jesusí followers who
would experience a resurrection like that of Jesus. They
will go to heaven for the purpose of blessing all the
families of the earth who will experience a resurrection
for life on a perfected earth. Most of Christianity has
lost sight of this other half of the Gospel.
6. Those among men who are awakened on earth during the
Millennial Age but who refuse to obey and reach
perfection will be cut off (Acts 3:23) in what the
Revelation calls the "second death"
the death from which there will be no awakening. Thus,
by the end of Christís kingdom (I Corinthians 15:24-28),
Godís will will be done in earth as in heaven. (Matthew
7. While Jesus is "the express image of the Fatherís
person" (Hebrews 1:3), he and his Father are separate
8. The Holy Spirit is not a being, but rather the
influence which emanates from both the Father and the
9. Angels are created spirit beings.
10. The devil and demons are angels which have fallen
from favor. They will ultimately be destroyed.
1. Prophecy is given so that those with whom God is
dealing at any given time will understand what God IS
doing and INTENDS to do.
2. Prophecy is meant to be clear only to patient and
faithful followers and is, thus, written in highly
symbolic language. It is not meant for purposes of
sensationalism, fear, etc.
3. The nation of Israel, long dormant in Godís plan, is
now fulfilling many prophecies relative to itself and
its land in preparation for the visible establishment of
Christís kingdom on earth.
4. We live in a day when the church will soon be
complete and be with her Lord in the spiritual realm.
Thus, many prophecies relative to the churchís final
earthly experiences are currently being fulfilled.
5. Likewise, because the old way of doing things among
men with all of its corruption, pain, fear, and disease
is about to end, many prophecies concerning the end of
earthly institutions and practices are seeing their
6. Prophecies concerning the return of Jesus and his
secret maneuvering of earthís affairs preparatory to his
peaceable kingdom have been seeing their fulfilment for
more than a century.
1. The Bible is replete with references to time, both
literal and symbolic.
2. Mankind has been on earth for a little more than six
3. The Bible furnishes a detailed time scheme, past,
present, and future, so that documenting when God has or
will do certain things need not be speculative.
THE BIBLE STUDENT MOVEMENT SINCE 1916
It is sad to report that when Pastor Russell died in
1916, the failures of human nature and the promptings of
Satanic influences quickly resulted in the Watch Tower
Societyís becoming dictatorial. It is also unfortunate
that fidelity to the memory of that for which the
Society had previously stood resulted in many ecclesiasí
not only maintaining an association with the Watch
Tower, but also succumbing to its dictates.
Before too many years, the Society became supreme over
the local congregations; the doctrines were altered; the
hope of a heavenly reward was replaced by a hope of an
earthly resurrection; attitudes changed, and Joseph
Rutherford dubbed the whole new arrangement "Jehovahís
Witnesses" (1931). The rest is amazing and sad history.
However, many individuals and a few congregations, the
New Albany Ecclesia among them, severed their fellowship
with the Watch Tower and continued to love and practice
the liberty in Christ and the truths they had come to
cherish. For many years these individuals and ecclesias
not knowing that others like them yet existed. But with
time, they discovered each other. Some founded new
service organizations to promote the witnessing work.
Some preferred to shy away from the possibility of a
repeat of the horrible Watch Tower failure. Some,
unfortunately, eventually strayed into newly formed
little denominations, locked in by fears which were born
out of their experiences after Pastor Russellís death.
Today, however, there remains a cooperative network of
these old-time, independent, Bible student congregations
all over the world. They still rejoice in the truths and
liberties which gave the movement its birth. The New
Albany-Louisville Ecclesia is one of these with the hope
of faithfulness until the Lord shuts the door and begins
to bring "peace on earth, good will toward men."
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