I am trying to gain a better understanding of what JW's believe. I was raised Catholic, so many of my questions come off as comparisons with the Catholic Church. With that said, I would like to know if JW's would agree or disagree that the below statement is descriptive of the JW organization. Feel free to replace "Church" with "Organization".
"The Church which our Lord established is continuous from Him to the present day and will be continuous until the end of the world. This means, first of all, that the body of the Church, the organisation, has lived every day during the past nineteen centuries and will continue to live every day until the end of the world. It means, furthermore, that the soul of the Church, her doctrines, her ideals, her means of grace, and her supernatural protection, have remained constant, that they have not changed and never will change."
Basically, what I am asking is does the JW organization claim to have continuously existed since the 1st century?
Please forgive me for taking longer than usual in responding. I will do my best to answer your question, but I would also recommend asking Abdijah or Brenton Hepburn this same question. You will get a fair answer from them from the JW perspective.
Your quote is the doctrine of continuity of the Catholic Church, stating that Jesus Christ began the church and that it has kept the same doctrines of the original apostles with an unbroken chain from Jesus' day to modern times. There was a Catholic Bishop, Reverend Hunt, who wrote a comprehensive thesis on this subject in 1959 in response to the Mormon assertion that apostasy occurred in the early days of the church, and that the true doctrines were not revived until the 19th century. It is a pretty comprehensive read if you are interested in that.
Do JW's believe that apostasy occurred in the Catholic church early on? Yes. All of the doctrines on which they disagree with mainstream Christianity can usually be pinpointed on the derivations they say occurred through this apostasy.
Do JW's believe that their organization had a continuous link from Jesus to modern times? For many decades the Watchtower taught that Jesus established the Faithful and Discreet Slave class in 33 A.D., to care spiritually for his people. This Slave was said to include all of the 144,000, and to have continued uninterrupted since Jesus death, and to continue until the time of his return. Since 1919, Jesus identified the slave as operating in its cleansed, awaken format as the Watchtower Society. Here are some quotes from their literature.
"Over a period of more than 1,960 years, that work of education has continued, preparing a little flock made up of people from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation" to serve with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom." Yearbook 1996 p.3
"In this regard, the book God's Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached stated: "As to just how the 'faithful and discreet slave' class existed and served down through the centuries after the death of the apostles of the Master Jesus Christ, we do not have a distinct historical picture. Apparently one generation of the 'slave' class fed the next succeeding generation thereof. (2 Timothy 2:2)" Watchtower 1995 May 15 p.16
"Jehovah's Witnesses believe that this parable pertains to the one true congregation of Jesus Christ's anointed followers. Beginning with Pentecost, 33 C.E., and continuing through the 19 centuries since then, this slavelike congregation has been feeding its members spiritually, doing so faithfully and discreetly . the one approved channel representing God's kingdom on earth in the "time of the end."" Watchtower 1981 Mar 1 p.24
"That "slave," according to Jesus' description, would be on hand when the Lord departed for heaven and would still be alive at the time of Christ's return. Such a description could not possibly fit an individual human. But it does fit Christ's faithful anointed congregation viewed as a whole." United in Worship of the Only True God p.119
"We understand that this heavenly calling continued down through the centuries, though during the so-called Dark Ages, there may have been times when the number of anointed ones were very few." Watchtower 1996 Aug 15 p. 31
"Down through the years the slavelike congregation has been feeding its true members faithfully and discreetly. From Pentecost, A.D. 33, up to this very present hour this has been lovingly and carefully performed. Regularly and progressively such a great crowd are receiving their spiritual food through the columns of the eighty-one-year-old instrument in the hands of the "slave" class, The Watchtower, the religious magazine with the largest circulation in the world. Surely Jehovah and Jesus Christ have supplied no hasty, expedient form of leadership for the great crowd of true worshipers. Yes, beyond doubt the old but awake "faithful and discreet slave" stands today as a wonder watchman to the peoples of the nations. Just as their Master, Jesus Christ, stood for the rise and fall of many in Israel in the first century of the Christian Era, so now before the whole world the anointed witnesses stand as a guide to survival for a minority of mankind but prove to be an occasion for stumbling into Armageddon destruction for the rest.-Luke 2:34." Watchtower 1960 Jul 15 p. 435
I have not seen anything in writing to suggest that they no longer believe in the continuity of the faithful and discreet slave. I would imagine that they still hold to that since the FDS existed in 1996 (the most recent article above) and still continues to this day, although modified to be only the Governing Body.
I hope I have been able to help answer your question. Please follow-up if you need.
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QUESTION: Thank you for responding. I know that Catholicism has a historical list of leaders demonstrating a continued line. Do JW's have a continual historical list of people demonstrating their claim? Also, I do they make the same continual claim about their doctrines, and if so, does a list exist?
I did not receive your question in my e-mail and just saw it when I logged in to answer another question. Please forgive my tardiness. To my knowledge, there is no lineage documented within the JW ranks. I have posed that question before to them and never received a reply. Regarding their doctrines, most of them can be found historically by someone who published a disagreement with the Catholic Church. However, it wasn't until the late 1800's that the Bible Students came together and decided to officially adopt specific doctrines, most of which still exist today. Some have changed, such as the worship of Jesus, as recently as the 1950's.
I hope I was able to help.