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JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES, Christian sect, founded in 1872 in Pittsburgh, Pa., by the American clergyman Charles Taze Russell, with congregations in more than 90 countries. Members of the sect originally were known by the popular name of Russellites. The legal governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, incorporated in 1884. European members belong to the affiliated International Bible Students Association, incorporated in London in 1914. International headquarters is in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Members of the sect believe in the second coming of Christ; they regard themselves as practitioners of primitive Christianity and consider each Witness a minister. The sect stresses Bible study and absolute obedience to biblical precepts. Its teachings are spread primarily by members who preach from door to door and distribute literature to passersby on street corners. Bible study classes frequently are conducted in private homes. The meeting places of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called Kingdom Halls.

Witnesses acknowledge allegiance solely to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. They refuse consequently to salute any flag, vote, perform military service, or otherwise signify allegiance to any government. This policy has brought them into conflict with governmental authorities in many countries, including the U.S.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Christ began his invisible reign as king in 1914. They believe that soon the forces of good, led by Christ, will defeat the forces of evil, led by Satan, at the battle of Armageddon. Thereafter Christ will rule the earth for a thousand years. During this millennium the dead will rise again, and all people will have a second opportunity to achieve salvation. At the end of the millennium Satan will return to earth, and he and those who support him will finally be destroyed. A perfect humankind will then enjoy eternal life on earth.

The sect maintains an extensive publishing program, issuing books and pamphlets in many languages. Its main periodical, The Watchtower, is printed in more than 100 languages. In the late 1980s the world membership of active adherents numbered about 3.8 million; in the U.S., where Jehovah’s Witnesses are most numerous, active members totaled more than 800,000.

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Jehovah's Witness, a member of a Christian sect believing in the imminent end of time and the elevation of 144,000 'elect of Jehovah' to be with God in a Messianic kingdom. They deny most of the fundamental Christian doctrines and refuse to acknowledge the claims of the state when these conflict with the sect's principles. It was founded by Charles Russell in 1878 in Pittsburgh, USA, together with his magazine The Watchtower, which is still published and acts as the sect's focal point. There are about 2 million members, mainly in English-speaking countries.

Excerpted from The Oxford Interactive Encyclopedia

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Jehovah's Witnesses are a society of Christians who promote home study of the Bible, which they hold to be the complete Word of God. They believe that God's kingdom is an actual government now ruling in heaven that will soon restore the earth to its original paradisaic condition. They expect an early end to the present world system in a "great tribulation" from God that will rid the earth of wickedness and suffering. Following Armageddon will come a millennial reign over the earth by Jesus. The gaining of eternal life depends on complete obedience to Jehovah God and faith in the provision of Jesus Christ's ransom sacrifice. The Witnesses encourage adherence to the Bible's moral standards. Because of their neutrality as to affairs of secular government, their refusal to salute any flag, and their rejection of the practise of blood transfusion (which they believe is forbidden by the Bible), the Witnesses have been the subject of controversy.

The activities of Jehovah's Witnesses are coordinated by a governing body at international headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. In the more than 66,000 congregations worldwide, elders, male members meeting certain scriptural qualifications, preside as a body. Instruction and training are provided for all at five meetings a week, held primarily in "Kingdom Halls." The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., are the legal agencies of Jehovah's Witnesses. They print and distribute the Bible. Their principal periodical, The Watchtower, has a circulation of 15,570,000 copies in more than 100 languages.

The Witnesses acknowledge Jehovah God as their founder. The modern movement was organised in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell. By 1990, Jehovah's Witnesses numbered 4.2 million in more than 200 lands.

F. W. Franz

Bibliography: Bergman, Jerry, Jehovah's Witnesses and Kindred Groups (1984); Penton, M. James, Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses (1988); Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses (annual).

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