In the July, 2017 broadcast on tv.jw.org, the organization appears to be defending itself against attacks made by internet sites. For example, they now feel the need to try to prove there is a scriptural basis for calling themselves “The Organization”. They also seem to be attempting to plug the hole made by their constant emphasis on Jehovah to the virtual exclusion of Jesus. In addition, they are trying to explain in a positive light why kingdom halls are only rarely being built in most countries, and why there is a sell-off of existing halls—although they never actually come right out and acknowledge the sell-off or the lack of new construction. This is essentially a video intended to make Witnesses feel good about the Organization by attempting to show how Jehovah is blessing the work.
Admittedly, it is well done and it is a challenge to resist the powerful influence such carefully crafted propaganda can have on one’s mind. Nevertheless, we remember the inspired warning:
“The first to state his case seems right,
Until the other party comes and cross-examines him.”
(Pr 18:17 NWT)
So let us do a little cross-examination of the July 2017 broadcast entitled: “Organized to Do God’s Will”.
Governing Body member Anthony Morris III starts off by attacking those who say that one does not need to belong to an organization to have a personal relationship with God. Now, before getting into that, we should recall that Jesus tells us that he alone is the means through whom we can have a personal relationship with the Father.
“Jesus said to him: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If YOU men had known me, YOU would have known my Father also; from this moment on YOU know him and have seen him.”” (John 14:6, 7 NWT)
That would seem pretty clear, but Anthony Morris III would have you believe that somewhere between you and the Father goes “The Organization”. Of course, this is a difficult case to make given that there is no mention whatsoever of “organization” anywhere in the Bible—neither in the Hebrew nor the Greek Scriptures.
To plug this annoying little hole, Morris says that the Bible does support the idea of an organization, citing “for example, 1 Peter 2:17.” (The “for example” is a nice touch as it implies that this text is but one of many.)
In the NWT, this verse reads: “…have love for the whole association of brothers…” Building on this he says, “one dictionary definition for ‘association’ is, ‘an organization of persons having a common interest.’”
Morris is failing to mention one crucial fact: The word “association” does not appear in the original Greek text. The word translated in the NWT with the phrase “whole association of brothers” is adelphotés which means “brotherhood”. Peter is telling us to love the brotherhood. To be fair, this word has been translated in a variety of ways as can be seen here, but never as “association” nor any other word that makes one think of an organization. So Morris the Third’s link between adelphotés and “organization” depends on an erroneous translation. Given that they have a vested interest in our accepting this rendering, we cannot be blamed for wondering if it is the product of bias.
Continuing to look for evidence of a first century organization, he next reads Acts 15:2:
“But after quite a bit of dissension and disputing by Paul and Barʹna·bas with them, it was arranged for Paul, Barʹna·bas, and some of the others to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem regarding this issue.” (Acts 15:2 NWT)
“Sounds like an organization to me,” is Anthony’s pat response to this verse. Well, that’s his opinion, but honestly, do you see “organization” writ large over this verse?
Let us remember that the whole reason for this dispute arose because “some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: ‘Unless you get circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” (Acts 15:1 NWT) The problem was started by members of the Jerusalem congregation, so they had to go to Jerusalem to settle matters.
True, Jerusalem was where the Christian congregation started and the apostles were still there at that time, but is there anything in these verses to support the idea that Jerusalem served as the headquarters for an organization that was directing the worldwide preaching work in the first century? In fact, in the whole of Acts of the Apostles which covers the first three decades of the preaching work in the first century, is there evidence of a Governing Body? One cannot read a copy of The Watchtower these days without coming across some mention of the Governing Body. Would we not expect a similar preponderance of references in Acts as well as the letters written to the Congregations during that time. If not by using the term “governing body”, then at least some references to the “the apostles and older men in Jerusalem” directing the work or approving missionary trips and the like?
Later in this broadcast, Anthony Morris III explains how the Cart Witnessing was first tested in France “with Governing Body approval”. It seems we cannot try a different preaching method unless we first get the “all-clear” from the Governing Body. Would we not expect to read Luke explain how he, Paul, Barnabas and others “stepped over to Macedonia” because they’d got governing body approval from the apostles and older men in Jerusalem (Acts 16:9); or how they had initiated their three missionary journeys because they’d been commissioned by the governing body (Acts 13:1-5); or how the disciples were first informed by the governing body that they would now be known as “Christians” (Acts 11:26)?
This isn’t to say that Christians shouldn’t associate together. The whole of the Christian brotherhood is likened to a human body. It is also compared to a temple. However, both the body and temple analogies involve Christ or God. (See for yourself by reading 1 Corinthians 3:16; 12:12-31.) There is no place in either analogy to insert a human governing body, nor is the idea of an organization conveyed in either illustration. The idea of humans ruling over the congregation is anathema to the whole concept of Christianity. ‘Our leader is one, the Christ.’ (Mt 23:10) Wasn’t the idea of humans ruling other humans what came from Adam’s rebellion?
As you listen to the broadcast, notice how often Anthony Morris III refers to “the organization” instead of using the more appropriate Bible term, “congregation”. Around the 5:20-minute mark, Morris says that unlike other organizations, “Ours is theocratic. That means it is ruled by Jehovah as head over all. Isaiah 33:22 says, ‘He is our judge, lawgiver and king.’” Morris has to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures to a time before Jehovah appointed Jesus as our judge, lawgiver and king to get this reference. Why return to the old when we have the new? Why not quote from the Christian Scriptures to teach the current theocratic arrangement? It doesn’t look good when the instructor doesn’t appear to know his subject. For instance, Jehovah is not our Judge. Instead, he has appointed Jesus to that role as John 5:22 indicates.
Perhaps to answer the frequent accusations that JWs are marginalizing Jesus’ role, Anthony Morris III next quotes Ephesians 1:22, and compares Jesus to the CEO of a company. This is unusual since Jesus is usually overlooked in discussions of this nature. For instance, he was completely removed from the Organization’s authority flow chart printed in the April 15, 2013 issue of The Watchtower (p. 29).
Perhaps they are trying to correct that oversight. If so, a revised flow chart would be nice.
Nevertheless, even here, the Governing Body does not appear to know its Bible. Morris does not seem to want to give Jesus his full due. He continues to call Jehovah the King who directs the angels, while Jesus is only the head of the earthly organization. What about these texts?
“Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth.” (Mt 28:18)
“And let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.” (He 1:6) Or as virtually every other Bible translation puts it, “worship him”.
This hardly sounds like an individual whose authority is limited to the Christian congregation.
Moving on, we find that a portion of the video is devoted to explaining how the LDC (Local Design Office) works. We were told back in the May 2015 broadcast by Governing Body member Stephen Lett that money was urgently needed for the “1600 new Kingdom halls or major renovations…right now” and that “worldwide we are in need of more than 14,000 places of worship”.
Now, two years later, we hear little about Kingdom hall construction. What has happened is that new administrative departments (what Bethel calls “desks”) have been established with the goal of selling Kingdom hall properties. As the video explains, existing halls have been underutilized, so congregations are being merged to form fewer, but larger groups. This makes sense economically, since this frees up properties for sale, and the funds can then be sent back to headquarters; a fact made possible by the 2012 decision to cancel all Kingdom hall loans in exchange for assuming centralized ownership of all Kingdom hall properties.[i] The problem is that this is purportedly not an economic organization, but a spiritual one. At least that is what we are led to believe. So what matters—or what should matter—are the needs of the flock. We were told that the Book Study arrangement was cancelled because of rising gas prices and the hardship imposed by forcing people to travel long distances to get to the meetings. Does that reasoning no longer apply? Selling a Kingdom hall that is conveniently located and thus causing an entire congregation to travel a much greater distance to get to another hall hardly seems to be putting the interests of the brothers in first place. We never had problems funding hall construction in the 20th century, so what has changed?
What seems a more plausible reason for all this restructuring is that the Organization is running low on funds. They recently had to let go a quarter of all staff worldwide. This included the majority of special pioneers, who can preach in areas that are isolated. These are the true pioneers who go to open up new territories and establish new congregations. If the end is close and the most important work is the preaching of the good news to all the inhabited earth before the end comes, then why shrink the ranks of the foremost evangelizers? Also, why make it harder for new converts to get to meetings by having few locations requiring more travel time?
What is more likely is that the organization is trying to paint a pretty picture to cover an unpleasant reality (for them). The work is slowing down and indeed the growth which has always been seen as a sign of God’s blessing is turning negative. Our numbers are shrinking and our funding is shrinking.
Evidence of this tactic to only show the good and draw from any positive story evidence of God’s blessing can be seen from the account of the building of the branch office in Haiti (about the 41-minute mark). The plans called for more structural reinforcing than the outside contractor considered necessary, and he tried to get the building committee to change the plans and save money. They did not, and so when the earthquake hit, it was seen as a blessing from Jehovah that they did not give in to outside influence. Anthony Morris III actually says that this account sent chills up his spine. It is conveyed as Jehovah taking a hand in the worldwide construction work. However, the plans were worked out, not by holy spirit, but based on structural engineering standards for building in earthquake prone areas. The brothers wisely stuck to the standards that worldly scientists, engineers and architects have developed after years of research, testing, and building on past experience.
Still, if we are to take this decision not to compromise our building codes as direct intervention by Jehovah, then it would appear his interest stops at the branch building level and doesn’t get down to the level of Kingdom hall construction. What else are we to conclude when we read about a disaster like the destruction of the Tacioban Kingdom hall in the Phillipines that was wiped out by a tidal surge, killing 22 Jehovah’s Witnesses? If Jehovah stepped in to prevent the Haitian branch from destruction in the earthquake, why didn’t He direct the Filipino brothers to build a stronger structure? Now, there is a spine-chilling account!
The Organization’s emphasis on places of worship goes back to the old mentality during the time of Israelite nationhood. The Governing Body wants a return to that nationhood, but dressed in the cloak of Christianity. They are missing the truth that the legitimacy of any group of Christians is established, not by places of worship, nor by success in construction endeavors, but by what is in the heart. Jesus foretold that places of worship are no longer signs of God’s approval. When the Samaritan woman claimed her legitimacy as a worshiper of God by the fact she worshiped in the mountain where Jacob’s well was, contrasting this with the legitimacy claimed by the Jews who worshiped in the Temple, Jesus set her straight:
“Jesus said to her: “Believe me, woman, The hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will YOU people worship the Father. 22 YOU worship what YOU do not know; we worship what we know, because salvation originates with the Jews. 23 Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”” (John 4:21-24)
If the Governing Body wants true legitimacy for Jehovah’s Witnesses, they must start by removing all the false doctrine which has dominated the religion since the days of Rutherford, and start teaching truth by spirit. Personally, I see little chance of that ever happening and I’m normally a glass-half-full kind of guy.
[i] It should be noted that historically, a hall, its property and assets were all owned by the local congregation, not the Organization. While the cancellation of existing loans was seen as a charitable action, the reality is that it opened the way for the organization to assume legal ownership of all properties around the world. Actually, the loans were not cancelled, but were relabeled. Congregations holding a loan were directed to make a “voluntary monthly donation” for at least as much as the amount of the cancelled loan. Additionally, all congregations with halls fully paid off were directed to make similar monthly donations passed by resolution.