[From ws3/17 p. 8 May 1-7]
“To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever.” — Re 5:13.
If some of my JW brethren are having qualms about the amount of attention—even adulation—that the Governing Body is garnering these days, they will likely use this article to quell those concerns reasoning that it is others who are giving them undue honor which they themselves in all humility eschew.
Admittedly, there is little to fault in this week’s Watchtower study article. Judge for yourself however as to whether there is a significant gap between what is said and what is done. When speaking of the religious leaders of his day, Jesus advised his listeners to use reason, cautioning:
“Therefore, all the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but they do not practice what they say.” (Mt 23:3)
By this article, the Governing Body “says”, but does it practice what it says? For instance, the article makes reference to showing honor to Jehovah and Jesus. This is, without doubt, something we should practice. But do we?
In the recent video on JW Broadcasting which covered the trial in Russia where Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned by the government as extremist, much attention is given to the Governing Body, but where is the honor that should be rendered to Jesus as the true head of the congregation? Likewise, the article “says” what we should do with regard to showing honor to the secular governments of this world, the “superior authorities” of Romans 13:1-7. However, what do we actually practice? Our decades-long record is one of concealing child abusers from the authorities. When those authorities ask us to change unscriptural policies which have proven harmful to abuse victims, we do not show them the honor as “God’s minister” which Romans calls for.
In paragraph 9, we are told that showing honor to humans is not without its limitation. While citing 1 Peter 2:13-17, the article shows that obedience to and honor of men is conditional, even quoting Acts 5:29 (unattributed) by saying that “we must obey God as ruler rather than men”. (It should be noted that in the mind of most Jehovah’s Witnesses this principle does not apply to the Governing Body.)
According to paragraph 11, there is one group of humans who do not deserve special honor.
“However, Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from treating religious leaders as ones who merit extraordinary honor, even though those leaders may expect it. False religion misrepresents God and distorts the teachings of his Word. Thus, we show religious leaders regard as fellow humans, but we do not show them special honor. We recall that Jesus denounced such men of his day as hypocrites and blind guides.”
So giving men the honor that Hebrews 13:7, 17 calls for, depends on whether or not they are teaching truth and whether or not they are acting hypocritically. Of course, a non-Witness reading this Watchtower article will likely experience an understandable degree of confusion at this. He might well ask, “But don’t you also have religious leaders in your faith?” Yes, but of course, this counsel is not directed at them, because the assumption is that our religious leaders teach the truth and do not act hypocritically. If we find that they do, then of course this Bible-based principle would apply. So when paragraph 18 speaks about honoring congregation elders—and by extension, circuit overseers, branch committee members, and members of the Governing Body—we can and should apply the principle that this obedience and honor is conditional on their conduct. After all, that is what the context of Hebrews 13 indicates.
“Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out, imitate their faith.” (Heb 13:7)
“Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over you as those who will render an account, so that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you. 18 Keep praying for us, for we trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” (Heb 13:17, 18)
You will notice that in each of these two exhortations, the honor and obedience given is tied to the conduct of the one taking the lead. It is not unconditional. Just as paragraph 11 explains, we do not give special honor to those whose conduct is hypocritical and who teach us false things.
For example, if your religious leaders tell you to avoid friendship with the world while themselves joining a worldly political organization, you should, as Jesus said, do what they say, but not what they practice.[i] If your religious leaders tell you to love and care for the little ones in the congregation in line with John 13:35, such as those who have suffered repeated child sexual abuse, you would do what they say, would you not? However, if they turn around and now tell you to shun these same abuse victims because these little ones refuse to give these religious leaders the honor they’ve come to expect, would you obey? (Lu 17:1, 2)[ii]
Of course, hypocrisy and false teachings are bedfellows. If we see the one, we should expect the other. It will be there. Thus, if we find our religious leaders are teaching us falsehoods, we should apply the counsel from this article and not accord them the extraordinary or special honor that they have come to expect.
Food for Thought
To Obey or Not to Obey
We do well to realize that the word translated “obey” and “obedience” in Hebrews 13:7, 17 is not the same word that is translated “obey” in Acts 5:29. In the case of the latter, the word is peitharcheó which implies unconditional and unquestioning obedience such as one gives to Almighty God. However, in Hebrews 13:17, the word is peithó which means “to be persuaded”, and thus is conditional. (For more information, see To Obey or not to Obey—that is the Question.)
Gifts in Men or Gifts to Men?
Paragraph 13 quotes the NWT rendering of Ephesians 4:8 to show that we should honor the elders because they are Jehovah’s gift to the congregation. However, if you consider the parallel renderings of two dozen translations, you will see that the NWT is unique in its translation. All others offer up some version of ‘gifts to/unto men/people’. The context indicates that Christ has given various and different gifts to his people, both men and women. Notice what is recorded just three verses on from verse 8:
“And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, 12 with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, to build up the body of the Christ, 13 until we all attain to the oneness of the faith and of the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to being a full-grown man, attaining the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ. 14 So we should no longer be children, tossed about as by waves and carried here and there by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in deceptive schemes. 15 But speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ. 16 From him all the body is harmoniously joined together and made to cooperate through every joint that gives what is needed. When each respective member functions properly, this contributes to the growth of the body as it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:11-16)
From this it is pretty clear that verse 8 isn’t talking about a divinely provided clergy class, but rather that Christ has provided different gifts in the various members of the body or congregation for the building up of the whole.
An Unsettling Parallel
I would like to draw your attention to a video that was recently forwarded to me. It involves the Iglesia ni Christ which is a Philippine-based Christian church founded in 1914. Depending on the source, the number of adherents worldwide varies between 4 and 9 million. Like Witnesses, they do not believe in the Trinity; they accept that God has a personal name, though they seem to prefer Yahweh; and they teach that Jesus is a created being. Again, like JWs, they evangelize, build churches and assembly halls, and hold large conventions. They call for dedication and unity, just like Witnesses, and their leader is called the ‘guardian of their faith’ which is similar to the teaching, expressed by Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson that they are a group of men who are the “Guardians of our doctrines”.[iii]
I found the video unsettling on two levels. First, it is a chilling demonstration of how millions can give blind devotion to the will of a man. This is nothing new, of course, and such blind devotion is not restricted to the religious arena. Nonetheless, Mankind’s propensity to surrender free will to the will of one man or a small cabal of leaders is very frightening.
The second unsettling aspect of this video is that it seems, to me at least, to be very close to what we are seeing today in the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Scant to no mention is made of Jesus and all the attention and devotion is focused on a man, or a group of men.
It seemed appropriate to release this at this time because it demonstrates quite graphically what happens when we honor men inappropriately.
[i] From 1992 to 2001, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York under the spiritual direction of the Governing Body became a Non-Governmental Organization member (NGO) of the United Nations.
[ii] When questions before the latest inquiry by the Australia Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the officials representing the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to discuss a change to the policy of disfellowshipping (or disassociating) any abuse victim who resigned from the congregation out of resentment for the poor handling of their case.