HISTORY OF THE BIBLE STUDENT MOVEMENT
The Bible Student Movement had its origins in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, USA, during the period 1870–1875, when a small group began meeting to study the bible compelled by the belief that errors had crept into the doctrines of the churches over many centuries. They started to search the scriptures for the true meaning of the Word of God. These studies led them to discover more about the true depth of the love of God–that God’s promise to Abraham, that in his seed ALL the families of the earth shall be blessed, will indeed be fulfilled even though millions have died without yet receiving that blessing.
The years which followed were a time of continued growth in knowledge and understanding of the various features of God’s plan of salvation. Charles Taze Russell, a young Pittsburgh businessman, became the outstanding leader of this movement, and in 1876 he closed down his business activities and devoted his time and small fortune to travelling, preaching and writing. His first published pamphlet was “The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return” (1877) and in 1879 he began publication of the magazine “Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence”. (The word “Zion’s” was later omitted.)
Other books such as “Food for Thinking Christians” and “Tabernacle Teachings” were published in 1881, and then between 1886 and 1903 the six volumes of “Millennial Dawn”, later retitled “Studies in the Scriptures”, as well as “Tabernacle Shadows”, “What Say the Scriptures about Hell?” and numerous tracts. His writings were translated into more than 35 languages and his weekly sermons were at one time being published in more than 2000 newspapers.
The movement grew until at the time of his death, Brother Russell (as he was known) was pastor of more than 1200 congregations of Bible students in various parts of the world.
HISTORY OF THE BIBLE STUDENTS IN AUSTRALIA
AUSTRALIAN BRANCH OFFICE
Late in 1903, plans were put in hand to establish a branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Australia, with Brother E. C. Henninges to be the Branch Manager. By mid–1904, the branch office had been set up at 32 Johnston St., Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne, and Bro. Henninges reported to Bro. Russell that the work was opening up. In 1907 property in George Street, East Melbourne, was acquired and continued as local headquarters. Unfortunately, not very long after this a difference arose between Brother Henninges and Brother Russell over teachings related to the Covenants and the Atonement, and it ultimately became necessary for a new Branch Manager to be appointed. Brother R E B Nicholson took over as Branch Manager in Australia in 1909. The Brethren that accepted Brother Russell’s teaching on the covenants and atonement became known as Berean Bible Students, a name many still use today.
DEATH OF BROTHER RUSSELL
Together with brethren around the world, Bible Students in Australia were stunned and saddened by the death on 31 October 1916 of Brother Russell, one whom they had all come to love and respect as a faithful brother in Christ and pastor. To quote Brother Nicholson, Australian Branch Manager of the W.T. Society: “For over a quarter of a century I have loved him, not only for his work’s sake but for his beautiful character.” Many around the world shared these sentiments.
Worldwide there was much discussion whether the work as previously carried on under Brother Russell’s leadership could or should be continued. After deciding to continue the work the challenge of how to achieve this must have greatly exercised the minds of faithful brethren, particularly following the change in direction and spirit of the Watch Tower Society and the inevitable division that occurred. In the U.S.A. a Committee was set up to consider the future nature and direction of ministry to the Lord’s people and out of this the Pastoral Bible Institute was established in 1918. By March 1918, the Bible Students Tract Society had been organised in Australia and the first edition of “Peoples Paper” came out bearing that date.
THE BEREAN BIBLE INSTITUTE
“The Bible Students Tract Society with the object to carry on the service of truth along the lines instituted by Pastor Russell–to preserve a centre of interest for all who desire to co-operate in the work and thus to comfort and sustain the Lord’s people in the particular trials of this day; also to supply Scripture Studies, Bible aids, and such other literature as may be helpful. Step by step the way opened up, and the support seemed to indicate that it was the Lord’s will that the Society be formed.”
Later in 1918 or early in 1919, the Berean Bible Institute (BBI) was set up for the purpose of publishing certain books on Bible topics locally. The first such book was titled “Foregleams of the Golden Age,” a hard cover volume of selected studies on Bible themes. After 1924, the activities of the BSTS and the BBI were merged under the name of the Berean Bible Institute Inc. The BBI continues to publish the “Peoples Paper,” and make numerous other booklets available to those searching for a greater understanding of the Bible. Br R.E.B Nicholson left for overseas in 1929, he later returned to Western Australia, but never resumed duties in the BBI. Br Ern Martin took over the running of the Berean Bible Institute in 1929, diligently continued the work until shortly before his death 28th June 1988. Since then the Berean Bible Institute Inc has been ran by a committee of volunteers, who have carried out the work of disseminating the Bible truths as set out in the “Divine Plan of the Ages”.
The BBI works together with the Pastoral Bible Institute (USA), the Bible Fellowship Union (UK) and the Dawn Bible Students Association (USA) to further the spread of God’s word.