[From ws4/17 p. 23 – June 19-25]
“I will declare the name of Jehovah…, a God of faithfulness who is never unjust.”—De 32:3, 4.
This week’s Watchtower study proceeds very nicely until we reach paragraph 10. In paragraph 1 to 9 we are treated to an analysis of the justice of Jehovah God, using the murder of Naboth and family as a test case. By human standards, it may seem unjust that Jehovah pardoned Ahab after he humbled himself excessively. Nevertheless, our faith tells us that Jehovah can never act unjustly. We are also reassured by the fact that Naboth and his family will return in the resurrection completely exonerated in the eyes of all. Should Ahab also return, he will carry the shame of what he did, known to everyone he will meet, for a very long time.
There can be no question that any judicial decision of God is beyond dispute. We may not understand all the nuances and factors that led to the decision, and it may even seem unjust when seen with the limited vision that we as imperfect humans possess. Nevertheless, our faith in the goodness and righteousness of God is all we really need to accept his decisions as correct.
Having got the worldwide audience of Jehovah’s Witnesses to accept this premise, the writer of the article engages in a common technique known as “bait and switch”. We have accepted the truth that Jehovah is just and that the wisdom of his judicial decisions if often beyond our comprehension. This is the bait. Now the switch as it appears in paragraph 10:
How will you respond if the elders make a decision that you do not understand or perhaps do not agree with? For example, what will you do if you or someone you love loses a cherished privilege of service? What if your marriage mate, your son or daughter, or your close friend is disfellowshipped and you do not agree with the decision? What if you believe that mercy was mistakenly extended to a wrongdoer? Such situations can test our faith in Jehovah and in his organizational arrangement. How will humility protect you if you face such a test? Consider two ways. – par. 10
Jehovah is switched out of the equation and the organization, and even the local elders, are switched in. This effectively puts them on a par with God in judicial matters.
Not to make fun, but rather to highlight just how outrageous this position is, let’s apply it as if it were enshrined in Scripture. Perhaps it would go like this:
“O the depth of the elders’ riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable their judgments are and beyond tracing out their ways are!” (Ro 11:33)
Ridiculous, isn’t it? Yet that is the thought the article promotes when it exhorts us to ‘humbly…acknowledge that we do not have all the facts’; “to recognize our limitations, and adjust our view of the matter”; “to be submissive and patient as we wait on Jehovah to correct any true injustice.” – par 11.
The idea is that we cannot know all the facts, and that we should not speak up even if we do. It is true that we often do not know all the facts, but why is that? Is it not because all judicial cases are handled in secret? The accused isn’t even allowed to bring in a supporter. No observers are allowed. In ancient Israel, judicial cases were handled in public, at the city gates. In Christian times, Jesus told us that judicial cases that reached the congregation level were to be handled by the whole congregation.
There is absolutely no scriptural basis for a behind-closed-doors meeting where the accused stands alone before his judges and is denied any support from family and friends. (See here for a full discussion.)
I’m sorry. Actually, there is. It’s the trial of Jesus by the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin.
But things are supposed to be different in the Christian Congregation. Jesus said:
“If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” (Mt 18:17)
To say that this really means “only three elders” is to insert meaning that is not there. To say that this only refers to sins of a personal nature, is also to insert meaning that is just not there.
The irony to this line of reasoning—that we should not question the decisions of the elders because we do not question Jehovah—is evident when we consider the first article in this series. It opens with the words of Abraham when he was questioning Jehovah’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham negotiated the salvation of the cities should there be just fifty righteous men found in them. Having got that agreement, he continued to negotiate until he reached the number of ten righteous men. As it turned out, not even ten could be found, but Jehovah did not rebuke him for questioning. There are other cases in the Bible where God has shown a similar tolerance, yet when it comes to the men in authority within the organization, we are expected to show quiet acceptance and passive submissiveness.
If they allowed the congregation full involvement in the judicial decisions affecting it as per Jesus’ instrucions, they would not have to publish articles like this nor would they have to worry about people rebelling against them. Of course, that would mean relinquishing much of their power and authority.
A Case of Hypocrisy and Be Forgiving
As we consider these two subheadings together, we do well to ponder what is behind them. What is the concern here?
Paragraphs 12 thru 14 speak of Peter’s esteemed position in the first century congregation. He “had the privilege of sharing the good news with Cornelius”. He “was very helpful to the first-century governing body in making a decision.” While understating his role (Peter was effectively the leader of the apostles chosen directly by Jesus Christ) the point is that Peter was esteemed and respected by all and had privileges in the congregation—a term not found in Christian Scripture, but ubiquitous in the publications of JW.org.
After relating the hypocrisy Peter displayed at Galatians 2:11-14, the first subtitle concludes with the question: “Would Peter lose precious privileges because of his mistake?” The reasoning continues under the next subtitle “Be Forgiving” with the assurance that “there is no indication in the Scriptures that he lost his privileges.”
The main concern expressed in these paragraphs seems to be for the potential loss of “precious privileges” should someone in authority err or act hypocritically.
The reasoning continues:
“Members of the congregation thus had an opportunity to imitate Jesus and his Father by extending forgiveness. It is to be hoped that no one allowed himself to be stumbled by an imperfect man’s mistake.” – par. 17
Yes, let us hope that the old ‘millstone round the neck’ doesn’t come into play. (Mt 18:6)
The point being made here is that when the elders, or even the Governing Body, make mistakes that cause us hurt, we have “an opportunity to imitate Jesus…by extending forgiveness”.
Fine, let’s do that. Jesus said:
“Pay attention to yourselves. If your brother commits a sin give him a rebuke, and if he repents forgive him.” (Lu 17:3)
First of all, we are not supposed to rebuke the elders nor the Governing Body when they commit a sin or, as we like to say in the publications. “make a mistake due to human imperfection.” Second, we are to forgive when there is repentance. Forgiving an unrepentant sinner is merely enabling him to continue sinning. We’re effectively turning a blind eye to sin and error.
Paragraph 18 concludes with these words:
“If a brother who sins against you continues to serve as an elder or even receives additional privileges, will you rejoice with him? Your willingness to forgive may well reflect Jehovah’s view of justice.” – par. 18
And we are back to the all-important “privileges” yet again.
One can’t help but wonder what is behind these last two subheadings. Is it only about the local elders? Have we seen a case of hypocrisy at the highest levels of the Organization within recent years? With the internet being what it is, past sins do not go away. Peter’s hypocrisy was confined to one incident in a single congregation, but the hypocrisy of the Governing Body in authorizing the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York to join the United Nations as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) member went on for ten years from 1992 – 2001. Was there repentance when this hypocrisy was exposed? Some would argue that there could have been because we cannot know what went on behind closed doors. However, in this case we can be confident in knowing that there was no repentance. How? By examining the written evidence.
The Organization tried to excuse their actions and say that the rules for joining allowed them to do so at the time in 1991 when they first submitted their signed application. However, at some point after that the qualifications for membership changed, making it unacceptable for them to continue as members; and upon learning of the rule change, they withdrew.
None of that is really true as the evidence from the UN demonstrates, but for the matter at hand, it is irrelevant. What is relevant is their position that they did no wrong. One does not repent for wrongdoing if there is no wrongdoing. To this day, they have never acknowledged any wrongdoing, so in their minds there can be no basis for repenting. They didn’t do anything wrong.
Therefore, applying Luke 17:3, do we have a scriptural basis to forgive them?
Their main concern seems to be the potential for loss of “precious privileges”. (par. 16) They are not the first religious leaders to be concerned about that. (John 11:48) This overweening concern that exists in the organization for keeping one’s privileges is most telling. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Mt 12:34)