We will discuss here two subjects (disillusionment and responsibility). Because it is the ‘easiest’ thing for Jehovah’s Witnesses to talk about disillusionment with the year 1975, so we will quote words from official publications of The Watchtower Society. Also the problem of responsibility for delusion or ‘inappropriate’ hopes for that year will be presented from literature of the same kind:
The year 1975 came and passed, and nothing has happened. Here are ‘traces’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ disillusionment that the promised Kingdom of God did not come:
The mid-nineteen seventies have seen the completion of six thousand years of human history. In connection with this, many sincere servants of Jehovah had great expectations as to the nearness of the “great tribulation” mentioned at Matthew 24:21, 22, and the final phase of Jehovah’s day. (The Watchtower August 1,1976, p. 476);
We were expecting that 6,000 years of man’s existence would be reached in 1975. Would this date bring us to the start of Christ’s Millennial Reign? That possibility intrigued us. Now we can look back on that year and appreciate that the words of Jesus at Matthew 24:36 do not allow us to fix a date for the end. He stated: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (The Watchtower February 15, 1984, p. 25);
This system of things is into its 72nd year since the crucial date of 1914. Satan’s world has lasted longer than many expected. In fact, some faithful Christians who expected to see Armageddon and the beginning of the new system of things in their lifetime have died. (The Watchtower July 1, 1986, pp. 19-20);
More recently, many Witnesses conjectured that events associated with the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Reign might start to take place in 1975. Their anticipation was based on the understanding that the seventh millennium of human history would begin then. These erroneous views did not mean that God’s promises were wrong, that he had made a mistake. By no means! The mistakes or misconceptions, as in the case of first-century Christians, were due to a failure to heed Jesus’ caution, ‘You do not know the time.’ The wrong conclusions were due, not to malice or to unfaithfulness to Christ, but to a fervent desire to realize the fulfillment of God’s promises in their own time. (Awake! June 22, 1995, p. 9);
[Mexico] There were strong expectations concerning the year 1975 and what it might mean in the fulfillment of Jehovah’s purpose. Some set their hearts on that date as the time when the old system would be destroyed and God’s new world would be established. When those expectations were not realized, there were some who ceased serving God. A number became apostates. But the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses were motivated by love for Jehovah. They knew that God’s Word would never fail. (1995 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 227);
The Witnesses had long shared the belief that the Thousand Year Reign of Christ would follow after 6,000 years of human history. (Jehovah’s Witnesses - Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom 1993, p. 104);
Again, in 1975, there was disappointment when expectations regarding the start of the Millennium failed to materialize. As a result, some withdrew from the organization. Others, because they sought to subvert the faith of associates, were disfellowshipped. No doubt, disappointment over the date was a factor, but in some instances the roots went deeper. Some individuals also argued against the need to participate in the house-to-house ministry. Certain ones did not simply choose to go their own way; they became aggressive in opposing the organization with which they had been associated, and they made use of the public press and television to air their views. Nevertheless, the number who defected was relatively small. (Jehovah’s Witnesses - Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom 1993, p. 633);
[Philippines] As the work moved ahead rapidly, the number of publishers continued to increase, surpassing 77,000 by 1975. (...) However, there were many who stopped serving Jehovah when the present system of things did not end in 1975. By 1979, the number of publishers had fallen below 59,000. Cornelio Cańete, who was serving as a circuit overseer in the mid-1970’s, said: “Some got baptized because of 1975 and stayed for a few years. After 1975, they left the truth.” (2003 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 162).
Surely, expectation for the year 1975 and unfulfilled hopes resulted in formation of an apostate group in Mozambique, as The Watchtower Society documented it in one of its publications (see 1996 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 158-159; compare Appendix 1 of the present book).
We will not present the concrete statistics showing how many people left The Watchtower Society after 1975. It was noticed by R. Franz and every interested person can consult his work (Crisis of Conscience R. Franz, 2004, pp. 247, 252). But we will notice how the number of baptism among Jehovah’s Witnesses declined right after 1975.
Such remarkable number of baptized people from 1974 and 1975 (297,872 and 295,073), which gave 13,5% and 9,7% growth (The Watchtower January 1, 1975, p. 18 [see also pp. 24-27]; The Watchtower January 1, 1976, p. 19 [see also pp. 20-23]) was repeated only in 1990 (301,518 – 6,1% growth), but then there were two times more Witnesses involved in reaching new converts (The Watchtower January 1, 1991, p. 17 [see also pp. 18-21]).
In 1978 there were only 95,052 people baptized, which gave minus growth or decline -1,4%, because more publishers left than joined the organization (The Watchtower January 1, 1979, p. 16 [see also pp. 18-21]). But in 1966, when 1975 campaign was started, only 58,904 people were baptized (2,4% growth) – The Watchtower January 1, 1967, p. 21 [see also pp. 24-27].
When neither Armageddon nor happy millennium did not come in 1975, The Watchtower Society tried to reprimand its publishers that they deluded themselves into extravagant hopes and came to wrong conclusions. Notice, how such ‘invectives’ appeared after the year 1975:
Did Jesus mean that we should adjust our financial and secular affairs so that our resources would just carry us to a certain date that we might think marks the end? If our house is suffering serious deterioration, should we let it go, on the assumption that we would need it only a few months longer? Or, if someone in the family possibly needs special medical care, should we say, ‘Well, we’ll put it off because the time is so near for this system of things to go’? This is not the kind of thinking that Jesus advised. (...) But it is not advisable for us to set our sights on a certain date, neglecting everyday things we would ordinarily care for as Christians, such as things that we and our families really need. (...) If anyone has been disappointed through not following this line of thought, he should now concentrate on adjusting his viewpoint, seeing that it was not the word of God that failed or deceived him and brought disappointment, but that his own understanding was based on wrong premises. (The Watchtower July 15, 1976, pp. 440-441);
This does not mean plunging into the pioneer work without making adequate preparation. It does not mean putting aside just enough funds to get through to some date in the mid-1970’s. (The Watchtower March 15, 1975, p. 188).
Interestingly, as late as in March 1975 The Watchtower Society started to rebuke its publishers who relied on their savings allowing them to survive only to the mid-seventies of the twentieth century.
Such individual case of savings enough to live till 1975 was mentioned in one of the publications:
At our district convention in 1957 in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., there was a talk on serving where the need for Kingdom proclaimers was greater. (...) In 1959 we sold our house, loaded up our belongings, and drove to Montreal, Canada. (...) Finally, we arrived in Mombasa, Kenya (...) In 1975, when our funds were depleted, we were sad to leave the friends we had come to love so dearly. (Awake! March 8, 2008, pp. 13-14).
It seems that the above remarks of The Watchtower Society were at least ‘a bit’ different than its past remarks. Here is one of the earlier thoughts:
Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end. - 1 John 2:17. (Kingdom Ministry No. 5, 1974 p. 3).
For other such statements, see the chapter „Preaching Ministry and 1975”.
Here are further statements of The Watchtower Society, in which it shifted its responsibility for the year 1975 on to publishers:
Are we serving Jehovah God because we love him, trust him and have full confidence in what he says? Or are we ‘becoming weary in well-doing,’ looking for a certain date primarily as bringing a relief to ourselves, with little concern for the lives of other people? (...) It may be that some who have been serving God have planned their lives according to a mistaken view of just what was to happen on a certain date or in a certain year. They may have, for this reason, put off or neglected things that they otherwise would have cared for. But they have missed the point of the Bible’s warnings concerning the end of this system of things, thinking that Bible chronology reveals the specific date. What do Jesus’ own words show concerning the proper attitude as to the end - to look for a date, or what? (The Watchtower July 15, 1976, p. 440);
However, say that you are one who counted heavily on a date, and, commendably, set your attention more strictly on the urgency of the times and the need of the people to hear. And say you now, temporarily, feel somewhat disappointed; are you really the loser? Are you really hurt? We believe you can say that you have gained and profited by taking this conscientious course. Also, you have been enabled to get a really mature, more reasonable viewpoint. (The Watchtower July 15, 1976, p. 441);
These clear statements of Jesus indicate that God’s servants will never be given the date of Christ’s “coming” for judgment until it actually takes place. In fact, it will come at what appears to them an ‘unlikely’ time. (The Watchtower July 15, 1976, p. 441).
Let us devote one sentence on famine, about which The Watchtower Society wrote so much before the year 1975. Afterwards it claimed:
Note, though, what Jesus actually warned about. His words do not indicate that, as the “great tribulation” draws close, the world situation will get to be such that everybody, everywhere, will be in a state of near starvation. (The Watchtower July 15, 1976, p. 441).
The following are two passages on chronology, from the same article:
The chronology in the Bible is not there without good purpose. That chronology indicates that we are at the close of six thousand years of human history. While not revealing when God’s day of adverse judgment upon this wicked system of things will begin, this chronological fact does add one more reason to the many, many other reasons we already have for being confident that the remaining time is very short. (The Watchtower July 15, 1976, p. 443);
We have heard his “word” that the generation living in this “time of the end” will be the generation that will experience the “great tribulation.” (Matt. 24:34) We have heard his word of promise that we can enter into his “rest” now, by faith, and that a great crowd of his servants will survive that tribulation to enter into the new order that follows. (The Watchtower July 15, 1976, p. 439).
As we see, although The Watchtower Society ‘corrected’ thinking of publishers in sphere of chronology and made them believe that they misunderstood its intention, it nevertheless recalled them the teaching of generation 1914.
However, after a few years, when surely many people could not accept such assessment, Jehovah’s Witnesses organization wrote a ‘disclaimer’ of its former statements and took a part of responsibility for the year 1975 on itself:
In modern times such eagerness, commendable in itself, has led to attempts at setting dates for the desired liberation from the suffering and troubles that are the lot of persons throughout the earth. With the appearance of the book Life Everlasting - in Freedom of the Sons of God, and its comments as to how appropriate it would be for the millennial reign of Christ to parallel the seventh millennium of man’s existence, considerable expectation was aroused regarding the year 1975. There were statements made then, and thereafter, stressing that this was only a possibility. Unfortunately, however, along with such cautionary information, there were other statements published that implied that such realization of hopes by that year was more of a probability than a mere possibility. It is to be regretted that these latter statements apparently overshadowed the cautionary ones and contributed to a buildup of the expectation already initiated. In its issue of July 15, 1976, The Watchtower, commenting on the inadvisability of setting our sights on a certain date, stated: “If anyone has been disappointed through not following this line of thought, he should now concentrate on adjusting his viewpoint, seeing that it was not the word of God that failed or deceived him and brought disappointment, but that his own understanding was based on wrong premises.” In saying “anyone,” The Watchtower included all disappointed ones of Jehovah’s Witnesses, hence including persons having to do with the publication of the information that contributed to the buildup of hopes centered on that date. Nevertheless, there is no reason for us to be shaken in faith in God’s promises. Rather, as a consequence, we are all moved to make a closer examination of the Scriptures regarding this matter of a day of judgment. In doing so, we find that the important thing is not the date. (The Watchtower March 15, 1980, pp. 17-18).
Under the content three questions were asked:
5. (a) How did strong expectation develop regarding the year 1975? (b) Why did cautionary statements published not accomplish a curbing of such concern over a date?
6. Did the information in the July 15, 1976, Watchtower endeavor to lay the responsibility for such expectation solely or primarily on its readers? Explain.
However, The Watchtower Society was quickly back on its feet and it compensated the loss of publishers with a new recruitment:
Loyal Witnesses moved forward vigorously into the 1980’s! Likely the presence of a small number of apostates had contributed to the slowing down of Jehovah’s work during the last half of the 1970’s - when the average yearly increase in the active ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses fell to less than 1 percent. However, the annual increase in the last five years has averaged more than 6 percent. Kingdom publishers reached a worldwide peak of 3,024,131 in 1985, compared with 2,179,256 in 1975. Jehovah continues to 'speed up’ his work! (The Watchtower December 15, 1986, p. 20).
The organization presented to new Jehovah’s Witnesses an old catchword, known in the twenties, when it was promised that “millions now living will never die” (see a booklet with the same title, published in 1920 as Millions Now Living Will Never Die!). Now, when almost all old publishers forgot the ‘slogan’, it was taught again:
Millions Now Alive Will Never Die Off Our Earth (The Watchtower October 1, 1983, p. 8);
Like Noah, we are entrusted with a lifesaving work but this time looking to the salvation of ‘millions now living who may never die.’ (The Watchtower January 1, 1986, pp. 15, 18);
Millions Now Living Will Never Die. This is no wild assertion. There are sound reasons to believe it. (Awake! May 22, 1989, p. 32).
Later, there was an emphasized recalling of the teaching on generation 1914, abandoned by the Society only in November 1995:
And if the wicked system of this world survived until the turn of the century, which is highly improbable in view of world trends and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, there would still be survivors of the World War I generation. However, the fact that their number is dwindling is one more indication that “the conclusion of the system of things” is moving fast toward its end. (The Watchtower October 15, 1980, p. 31);
And Jesus has told us to rejoice at seeing the dark storm clouds of Armageddon gathering since that time. He has told us that the “generation” of 1914 - the year that the sign began to be fulfilled - ”will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matthew 24:34) Some of that “generation” could survive until the end of the century. But there are many indications that “the end” is much closer than that! (The Watchtower March 1, 1984, pp. 18-19);
The apostle Paul was spearheading the Christian missionary activity. He was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our 20th century. (The Watchtower January 1, 1989, p. 12 [in later reprints of the same Watchtower the last words were changed: He was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our day.]);
Jesus said: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things [including the end of this system] occur.” (Matthew 24:34, 14) Which generation did Jesus mean? He meant the generation of people who were living in 1914. Those persons yet remaining of that generation are now very old. However, some of them will still be alive to see the end of this wicked system. So of this we can be certain: Shortly now there will be a sudden end to all wickedness and wicked people at Armageddon. (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth 1989, p. 154);
Before the last members of the generation that was alive in 1914 will have passed off the scene, all the things foretold will occur, including the “great tribulation” in which the present wicked world will end - Matt. 24:21, 22, 34. (Reasoning From the Scriptures 1989 p. 97 [in Polish edition of 2001, pp. 72-73, the sentence was changed!]);
This time of the end is, however, to be a relatively short period - stretching over one generation. (Luke 21:31, 32) The fact that we are now 80 years beyond 1914 indicates that we can soon expect the deliverance that God’s Kingdom will bring. (Awake! November 8, 1994, p. 10).
After the rejection of the generation 1914 doctrine in November 1995, The Watchtower Society tried to shift the responsibility for the failed prophecy of the end on to rank and file publishers, as it was in case of 1975. It was presented this way:
Eager to see the end of this evil system, Jehovah’s people have at times speculated about the time when the “great tribulation” would break out, even tying this to calculations of what is the lifetime of a generation since 1914. However, we “bring a heart of wisdom in,” not by speculating about how many years or days make up a generation, but by thinking about how we “count our days” in bringing joyful praise to Jehovah (Psalm 90:12). (The Watchtower November 1, 1995, p. 17).
We recalled the change of generation 1914 doctrine in the chapter “Generation 1914 and 1975”. There we outlined the present interpretation concerning “this generation”.
We think that after presenting such a rich data we should not directly pronounce if The Watchtower Society determined the year 1975 as the time for Armageddon. Every person can come to his or her own satisfactory conclusions from the above material. We encourage all interested people to read all the involved literature, listed at the beginning of this work.
Let us add that the book Life Everlasting - In Freedom of the Sons of God is discussed in the separate article “Life Everlasting - In Freedom of the Sons of God and 1975” (see Appendix 1).