The Berean Bible Students in Brazil
We are a religious group historically associated with the Bible Students Movement founded by Charles Taze Russell in the mid-1870s. Doctrinally-wise, however, we have a more flexible approach than simply accepting as “truth” everything that Bro. Russell taught. In that, we are similar to the Free Bible Students. We chose the term “Bereans” because it reflects the “nobler” frame of mind of the first-century Berean Christians, who were willing to first evaluate, in the light of the Bible, all doctrines, before accepting anything as truth.
Pastor Charles Taze Russell
We greatly cherish our beloved Brother Russell, but we do not see him as a final and absolute authority in all doctrinal matters. Russell (like many other sincere Bible expositors) certainly had a special blessing from God, a heart of gold and courage to defend the Truth. But Russell was neither inspired nor infallible. Russell himself did not see himself this way:
“Some of the dear brethren seem to find as much about Brother Russell in the Bible as they find about the Lord Jesus, and I think that is a great mistake. I do not find it there. Some of them say that I am blinded on that subject, that they all can see better than I can. Perhaps they can, I do not know, but I think, dear friends, that there is a danger in that direction, and I would like to put you all on guard. I think it is the Lord's will that we should recognize every agency God uses, but we are not to recognize any agency of God as being in any competition whatever with the Lord or with his divine arrangement. He is the fountain of blessing, he only is most to be praised. I think that is the right sentiment. I believe you all agree with that. And yet I think there is a danger of some dear friends preaching Brother Russell. Brother Russell would like for you not to do so. He thinks it would not be to the glory of God. Let me repeat, then, dear friends, that in my opinion we have so much of the Gospel of God, so much of his plan to study, so many opportunities of showing forth his praises, that we should employ all our time in that way. My advice, therefore, is that we give very little attention to anything outside of that. The Scriptures do indeed say that we may render honor to him to whom honor is due, and that is applicable to anybody and everybody; as, for instance, we look back and we see Martin Luther, and he did a grand work, and we thank God for him; and we might say the same of John Wesley, and very truthfully; I am glad in God's providence he lived, and that he was a faithful man. And there were others of the Lord's people in the past. Let us be glad and rejoice in every one, and be thankful to God he has used various agencies in helping us, and in helping others, and in bringing forward his great cause; but let us not go into anything that would be at all like man-worship, for I am sure that would be displeasing to the Lord and injurious to ourselves. I remind you again of the Scripture in Revelations where the Church is pictured, which we called attention to, I believe, thirty years ago. John, the Revelator, who was seeing these things, fell down to worship the angel who showed them to him, and the angel said, “See thou do it not; worship God; I am thy fellow-servant.” And so, dear friends, if our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Lord have used Brother Russell in any measure he is very glad and very thankful to be used. And if the Lord is pleased to use him any more, he will be glad to be used down to the last breath, but he does not want any worship, he does not want any undue adoration, he does not want any praise. He is glad to have the love of all those who are brethren of the Lord and to be considered a fellow-servant with all, striving to bring to pass all the glorious things that God has promised, striving to tell the good tidings of great joy to as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.”—1910 Convention Report Sermons, pg. 125
Pastor Charles Taze Russell
Unfortunately, putting the leader, or leaders, of a given religious movement on a pedestal is quite common in the history of Religious Movements. Over time, their teachings become dogmas, and because of this, any further understanding of truths, any enlightenment coming from more historical data or even by virtue of the time in which we are living, are outright rejected. As Berean Bible Students, we seek to avoid this, while we continue to defend the explanations that are clearly correct.
How Are Truths Discovered In Our Days?
This is a topic worth considering. Of course, and above all, the Lord Jesus is “the Truth”. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) The Lord Jesus certainly taught truths, planted truths in people's hearts. However , he predicted that there would be a great apostasy, where tares (false Christians, with false teachings) would be sown in the midst of wheat (true Christians, with true teachings). And he said that both would grow together until the last days. (Matt. 13:24-46) The Bible also indicates that true Christians would love the truth, would seek it as if they were seeking hidden treasures. (Proverbs 2:3-5)
In fact, in these last days, many truths that had been obscured for centuries have been rediscovered and today are shining as bright as the sun. But has the Lord God somehow given to some people a special understanding today? Has he supernaturally “guided” them to certain understandings? It would appear that that is what most “traditional” Bible Students think about Brother Russell. They believe that he is the “faithful and wise slave” of Matthew 24:45 and only he is supposed to provide “meat in due time” to the Household of Faith. They think that God somehow guided him to certain understandings. (Incidentally, Jehovah's Witnesses say the same thing about their Governing Body; the Adventists, about Ellen White, the Mormons, about Joseph Smith, etc.) That kind of thinking on the part of the “traditional” Bible Students is, in our view, what prevents more truth to be understood.
On the other hand, there are texts in the Bible that seem to indicate that God gives this kind of understanding: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” (John 16:13) But as with everything in the Bible, we need to ask ourselves, “When was this fulfilled?” And also: “Is there any indication that it would be like this in our days too?” We know that some workings of the Spirit applied only to the First Century. As an example, let's look at the following text:
“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”—Mark 16:17, 18
Aside from the question of whether the text is spurious (illegitimate) or not, the general consensus among the Bible Students is that cures, as well as speaking in tongues and prophesying, would cease. The basis for this understanding is in 1 Corinthians 13:8, that reads, “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” All Bible Students correctly understand that some of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit would cease with the death of the last apostle. The question that we, Berean Bible Students, ask is this: Would not that be the case with any God-given knowledge as well? Would not 1 Corinthians 13:8 prove that that kind of special “knowledge” would also cease? We would like to suggest that as a possibility.
The parable of the faithful slave, recorded in Luke 12, seems to support this. Let us read:
“Who, then,” replied the Lord, “is the faithful and intelligent steward whom his Master will put in charge of His household to serve out their rations at the proper times? Blessed is that servant whom his Master when He comes shall find so doing. I tell you truly that He will put him in authority over all His possessions. But if that servant should say in his heart, ‘My Master is a long time in coming,’ and should begin to beat the menservants and the maids, and to eat and drink, drinking even to excess; that servant's Master will come on a day when he is not expecting Him and at an hour that he knows not of, and will punish him severely, and make him share the lot of the unfaithful. And that servant who has been told his Master's will and yet made no preparation and did not obey His will, will receive many lashes. But he who had not been told it and yet did what deserved the scourge, will receive but few lashes. To whomsoever much has been given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been entrusted, of him a larger amount will be demanded.” (Luke 12:42-48, Weymouth)
Please, carefully examine the parable. Think: If it is God who gives understanding (“knowledge”), how could the slave not understand? How could God punish someone for not having understood something that God himself did not give in the first place? The most logical conclusion is that God does not give special understanding to anyone these days. That is why he seeks to reward those who strive to understand His will and “made preparations” for the coming of the Master.
This does not mean that the Holy Spirit does not work in and through the members of the Church in our days; we believe that the Spirit of God is indeed active in the Church, and in various ways, as in our growth in grace, our development of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23), and especially — and possibly supernaturally — in using His Divine Providence to overrule, according to His will, some events of our life.
Thus, most of us, Berean Bible Students in Brazil, believe that the understanding of truths in our day and age can be obtained only through a thorough and impartial searching of the Word of God. There are no “new revelations”, no “flashes of new light” from God. The only way that God “leads us into truth” in our days is by leading us into Christ, who is “the Truth and the way”. Also, all the “truth” that we need is already in the Bible. So we must let the Bible interpret itself. When we shed light on one part of the Bible with another part of it, many misunderstandings can be clarified.
When we understand that God allows us to strive to understand the Bible the best way we can, instead of “guiding” us to a particular understanding, it protects us from the danger of “Messianism,” that is, of thinking that we or any other person or leader have been especially chosen by God for some important work or understanding of truths. It also explains the contradictions and plurality of understandings of the various Christian groups, and even the multiple explanations within the very group to which we belong. It also has a humbling effect, for our understanding of a particular subject may be incomplete or even dead wrong. On the other hand, we do not want to think that everything is relative or that there are no truths; we just believe that truths are no longer “revealed” in our days.
How Do The Berean Bible Students In Brazil Differ From The “Traditional” Bible Students?
The Bereans of the past first evaluated each teaching in the light of the Bible before accepting them as “truth”. They were called more “noble” because of their mentality. (Acts 17:11) We try to do the same. Thus, certain writings of Pastor Russell, such as on Chronology and the Great Pyramid of Giza, have been rejected in part or completely by our brethren, when they are convinced that these teachings are wrong. Every and each individual has the freedom to decide what he/she will “hold fast to which is good”. (1 Thes. 5:21)
Most of us do not agree that Charles Taze Russell is the “faithful and wise slave” of Matthew 24:45. We believe that “the slave” are all Spirit-begotten Christians throughout the Evangelical Age. Also, Bro. Russell is unlikely to be the “Laodicean Messenger,” for there are other more plausible explanations for the angels, or messengers, sent to the seven ecclesias (congregations) of Revelation. However, we do not want to be dogmatic. For this reason, and because we consider ourselves “Bereans” with a nobler mentality, we respect opinions on the contrary. And because we cherish the true freedom of Christ, we consider as brothers and sisters in Christ those of other groups who think these teachings (regarding Russell) have some biblical significance. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)
We are free to express different opinions in “non-salvific” doctrines, but that does not mean that we automatically reject all Brother Russell’s teachings, or that we are willing to consider contrary opinions about the fundamental Truths that there is no Trinity, Hell Fire, immortal soul , etc.
We are free from what we view as doctrinal errors, but we still are slaves of God, of Christ and of our brothers. We defend, as all Bible Students around the world do, the highest standards of biblical morality. We should never confuse our freedom in Christ with “liberty” to do the works of the flesh.
As good students, we want to understand and “put to test” the current teachings among the various Bible Students groups, but we do not want to impose our opinion on anyone in these matters. Above all, we want to understand and study the Holy Bible, the only inerrant and ultimate source of Truth. In all things, we want to be like the Bereans:
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” — Acts 17:11 , KJV