WHO ARE THE NEW ALBANY-LOUISVILLE BIBLE STUDENTS?
The New Albany-Louisville Bible Students Ecclesia is a voluntary association of Christians dedicated to the reverent study, the personal application, and the earnest proclamation of Scriptural truth. “The liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” is recognized and enjoyed: all stand before God on an individual basis, needing no denomination or sect for the unity of the spirit.
Our Ecclesia (Church/Congregation) has existed as a purely autonomous group since 1883. It grew from a desire to study the Scriptures topically — that is, one subject at a time. The Bible is our only standard. Our teachers are elected from our midst as suggested in the writings of the Apostle Paul.
The Bible contains a core of foundation truths which have given stability to our Biblical understanding and to our daily lives. To us the Scriptures clearly teach:
That Jesus Christ, as the “Word” of God, left the heavenly realm, became a perfect man, died a ransom for all (I Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9), was exalted to Divine power at the right hand of the Father, and will, during his second advent, restore all men to Edenic perfection. (Acts 3:20, 21)
That the Church is specially selected of God (I Peter 2:9; John 6:44), must sacrifice its humanity (Romans 12:1, 2; II Timothy 2:11, 12), will attain the Divine nature as its destiny (II Peter 1:3; I John 3:1,2), and will, as the promised “seed of Abraham,” be the active agents in restoring fallen humanity — blessing all the families of the earth. (Galatians 3:8, 29; I Corinthians 6:2; Romans 8:19-21; Genesis 22:15-18)
That there are to be two salvations. (I Tim. 4:10) First, the Church is called to spiritual glory. Then, secondly, the remainder of mankind will be restored to perfect manhood on the earth. (Acts 15:14-17; Hebrews 2:6-9; I John 2:2) All who then refuse the righteousness of God will cease to exist forever, dying the “second death.” (Acts 3:22, 23; Revelation 20:14, 15)
That the Millennium is the 1,000-year judgment day during which men will be restored and judged by Jesus and His Church, that, whosoever will, may attain eternal life. (Revelation 22:17; 20:6; Acts 17:31; I Corinthians 6:2; II Peter 3:8)
That Israel is now restored to its homeland in fulfillment of prophecy (Jeremiah 16:14-18; Amos 9:14, 15) and will, under the New Covenant, become the earthly source of blessings during God’s Kingdom on earth. (Isaiah 2:2-5; Zechariah 8:20-23; Jeremiah 31:31-34)
That the Bible is an accurate time-keeping instrument which informs us in all certainty of our location on the stream of prophetic time, showing that we are in the “harvest” of the Christian age, on the very threshold of the peaceable kingdom. (Matthew 13:30, 39; 24:32-35)
Allowing the Bible to interpret itself, we intend to proclaim the truth as revealed in the Word of God without regard to creeds, traditions, or personal preferences. We welcome correspondence from you, and always hope to encourage personal, thoughtful, Bible study.
The New Albany-Louisville Bible Students Ecclesia
History of the Bible Students
A BRIEF HISTORY of the 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-Louisville 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; 21:17.)
It is common for some unthinking Christians to make casual, perhaps thoughtless, statements like, “You’re 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 one’s 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 (Jesus included) have been objects of ridicule and hatred from others. Lies and misrepresentations regarding God’s most faithful servants are common. Who among us cannot recall how Jesus 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 carpenter’s son,” the absurd charges that he was breaking God’s 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 Christian’s 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 Jehovah’s Witnesses (1931).
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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, a headquarters or central authority for the Bible student congregations. As the Cambridge entry points out, however, this all changed after Pastor Russell’s death, and the current Society of the same name (as well as the group known as Jehovah’s Witnesses) has virtually no similarity to, nor philosophical connection with, the Society of Pastor Russell’s day. Claims of the Witnesses and of various historical entries notwithstanding, Charles Russell is NOT the founder of Jehovah’s 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 things.
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 early 1880’s) that the New Albany Ecclesia came into being. It has remained until this day in the spirit in which it was formed — an 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 Christian’s only authority. The individual’s conscience, based on his understanding of God’s Word, is the primary factor in his relationship to God. Being true to ones conscience is imperative.
2. ORGANIZATION. Though the individual relationship to God is holy and is the basis of each Christian’s 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 God’s 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., etc.
4. STUDY. The study of the Bible, both for character development and to understand God’s 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 misinterpretation results.
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 someone’s 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 of obedience.
2. The sin of disobedience by Adam plunged the race into the condemnation of dying and death.
3. God’s 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 Adam’s 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 Adam’s and the race’s 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 judgment.
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(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 lost — perfect life on a perfect earth forever.)
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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 Jesus’ 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 Christ’s kingdom (I Corinthians 15:24-28), God’s will will be done in earth as in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)
7. While Jesus is “the express image of the Father’s person” (Hebrews 1:3), he and his Father are separate beings.
8. The Holy Spirit is not a being, but rather the influence which emanates from both the Father and the Son.
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 God’s plan, is now fulfilling many prophecies relative to itself and its land in preparation for the visible establishment of Christ’s 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 Church’s 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 fulfillment.
6. Prophecies concerning the return of Jesus and his secret maneuvering of earth’s affairs preparatory to his peaceable kingdom have been seeing their fulfillment 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 millennia.
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.
While doctrine and prophecy are wonderful things which allow us to know and to appreciate God’s mind and character, the primary objective for Christian disciples is to develop and perfect characters which emulate their Lord Jesus. No one will be successful in becoming a part of the Body of Christ without attaining a character-likeness to Jesus.
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 Society’s becoming dictatorial. It is also unfortunate that fidelity to the memory of that for which the Society had previously stood, resulted in many ecclesias’ 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 suppressed and replaced by a hope of an earthly resurrection; attitudes changed, and Joseph Rutherford dubbed the whole new arrangement “Jehovah’s Witnesses” (1931). The rest is an amazing and sad history.
However, many individuals and a few congregations, the New Albany Ecclesia among them, quickly 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 were isolated — often 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 Russell’s 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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