Crisis of Authority?
Watchtower President Franz, Dead at 99
Frederick W. Franz, fourth President of the Watchtower Bible
and Tract Society, died at the age of 99 on Tuesday,
December 22nd, 1992. Franz was ordained a Jehovah’s Witness
minister in 1913 – three years before the death of
Watchtower founder, Charles Taze Russell. Franz was known
as the primary theologian of the Watchtower Society. Before
becoming President he held the Vice Presidency of the
While Franz was Vice President, the Watchtower published its
own version of the Bible, The New World Translation. He was
the closest the Watchtower had to a Greek or Hebrew scholar
on the New World Translation Committee that produced the
Watchtower’s Bible, the New World Translation.
Though the committee sought to keep their names anonymous,
former Watchtower headquarters staff have identified the
principle members as Nathan Knorr (third Watchtower
President), Fred Franz, George Gangas, and A.D. Schroeder
(Crisis of Conscience, p.50, n.15). However, according to
former Jehovah’s Witness, M. James Penton, “to all intents
and purposes the New World Translation is the work of one
man Frederick Franz” (Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of
Jehovah’s Witnesses, p.174).
The Society’s Vice President, Milton G. Henschel, has been
named as Franz’ successor. Chosen by an eight member Board
of Directors, Henschel, age 72, will probably preside over
the Society during the time when some form of transition is
made from rule by the Anointed Remnant or Heavenly Class, to
rule by the Great Crowd or Earthly Class.
The death of Franz also highlights the question of when
“this generation” of Matthew 24:34 will end. The Watchtower
teaches that the generation that saw the events of 1914 wil
not pass away before Armageddon occurs, and the earthly
kingdom is established. This prophecy is repeated in every
Awake! magazine. Every year that passes and every member of
the Governimg Body who dies makes their problem more acute.
Franz’ death highlights one of the more interesting
potential developments in the society relating to the issue
of authority. A major change in leadership structure may be
in the works. Currently Jehovah’s Witnesses teach a two
class system of believers: the Anointed Class (144,000) and
the Great Crowd (originally called the Jonadab class). The
vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses fall in the Great Crowd
class, which is also called the “other sheep.”
They have traditionally been excluded from upper-level
leadership and decision making because the Watchtower
teaches that those of the Great Crowd have no hope of
heaven, but instead have an earthly hope. Their goal is to
survive Armageddon and live forever on a paradise earth.
More importantly, they are also taught that they are not
annointed with the Holy Spirit nor does God communicate
directly with them.
The Watchtower insists that only the Annointed are “born
again” and that technically Jesus is mediator only for that
small group. They teach that the Great Crowd cannot look to
Jesus as their mediator (Watchtower, 1 April, 1979, p.31).
Instead, the average Jehovah’s Witness believes that they
must “come to Jehovah’s organization for salvation”
(Watchtower, 15 April 1981, p.21).
“Jehovah’s organization,” the Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society is controlled by the Governing Body made up of a
handfull of members of this Annointed Class. Members of the
Annointed Class do have the Holy Spirit and God directly
communicates through them to lead his organization today.
These Annointed ones are supposedly commissioned by Jehovah
to dispense “spiritual nourishment at the right time”
according to their interpretation of Matthew 24:45
(Watchtower, 1 December 1981,p.27). Thus all authority
flows from the Anointed class — more specifically the
Governing Body — down to the Great Crowd.
Anointed are Aged
A problem with this theory unfolds in the parallel
Watchtower teaching that the entire number of Anointed from
the first century until 1935 was to be only 144,000. They
teach that in 1935 this number was completed and no new
members of the 144,000 can be added. Thus, the pool from
which the Society can choose new Governing Body members is
quickly drying up.
Franz’s death at age 99 underscores the fact that the
Governing Body itself is aged and feeble. Simple math
reveals that a very young, 15 year-old Jehovah’s Witness in
1935 is now 73 years old. The Society keeps a careful count
of living Anointed members. At their annual memorial meal
(Lord’s Supper) they count those who partake of the bread
and wine. (Only Anointed ones can partake while the rest
simply pass the elements without eating or drinking).
In 1991 the society reported over ten million in attendance
at the memorial meal — but only 8,850 partook of the
memorial meal (Watchtower, 1 January 1992, p.13). That
means that less than 9,000 of the 144,000 are still alive
and these are quite elderly and are steadily dwindling. In
a 1989 edition of the Watchman Expositor, David Henke
reported that steps were apparently already underway to
slowly replace aged Anointed with younger members of the
Great Crowd (Vol.6, No. 9, p.1). Henke pointed out that in
the September 1989 Watchtower, three separate articles
indicated that nonanointed ones will be given new
responsibilities previously reserved only for the Anointed.
Great Crowd in Governing Body?
The Society has already taken a major step in that
direction. In a recent newsletter, Comments from the
Friends, former Jehovah’s Witness, David Reed, pointed out
that men of the “great crowd” have now been invited to sit
on Governing Body Committees (Summer 1992, pp.14-15). The
Watchtower stated: “Therefore it has been decided to invite
several helpers, mainly from among the great crowd, to share
in the meetings of each of the Governing Body Committees,
that is, the Personnel, Publishing, Service, Teaching, and
Writing Committees” (Watchtower 15 April 1992, p.31).
Reed explained that these new helpers will probably serve a
very limited role at first but noted the reason for the
change is obvious. He explained that of the 8,850
remaining Anointed, over half are women and therefore
ineligible and of the remaining men, most are in their late
seventies or older. Reed summarized the Watchtower’s
dilemma stating: “The organization faces turning over
leadership to men who are eligible but incompetent, or else
changing the rules of eligibility to permit competent
younger men to assume control” (Ibid).
The Watchtower teaches that God’s sole “channel of
communication” today comes from the class known as the
“faithful and discreet slave” (KJV “faithful and wise
servant” Matt. 24:45-47) who “provide spiritual nourishment
at the right time for all his followers” (Watchtower, 1
December 1981, p.27).
They also insist that this channel or, “faithful and
discreet slave’ is to be made up of spirit-anointed ones”
and that “unless we are in touch with this channel of
communication that God is using, we will not progress along
the road to life, no matter how much Bible reading we do”
(Ibid, see also Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pp. 805-
06). The reasoning is that the other sheep are not anointed
with the Holy Spirit and therefore cannot fully come to
truth by themselves through prayer or Bible reading. They
must rely on this sole channel made up of individual
“slaves” lead by the Holy Spirit and positioned in the
“discreet-slave body” (Watchtower, 1 February 1952, p.79).
Now the Watchtower must begin a slow transition away from
this fundamental doctrine and begin conditioning their
followers to accept non-anointed “other sheep” as that
channel of communication. Franz’ death is symbolic of a
growing crisis of authority.
The clock is beginning to run out on another Watchtower
doctrine. The generation of 1914 and the 1935 “anointed
class” is quickly coming to an end. As it does, the aged
leadership of the Watchtower must struggle to change their
authority structure to a new system while simultaneously
inventing some new logic and juggling a new collection of
Bible verses to justify this change.
It is hoped that this ongoing change may spark re-evaluation
on the part of rank-and-file Jehovah’s Witnesses. Perhaps
many will re-think the Governing Body’s claim to authority
as well as the Jehovah’s Witness doctrine supported by these
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