The 2014 memorial is almost upon us. A number of Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to the realization that it is a requirement for all Christians to partake of the memorial emblems in obedience to Jesus’ command which Paul restates at 1 Corinthians 11:25, 26. Many will do so privately, while others have chosen to partake at the congregation memorial. These latter ones will likely do so with a significant degree of trepidation given that our current teaching implies that anyone partaking has A) either been chosen directly by God, or B) is acting presumptuously, or C) has a screw loose. I fear that most observers will assume either B or C, though I can’t say that A is any better. Few, if any, will assume that the brother or sister in question is partaking simply as an act of obedience.
Partaking of the emblems is an act of submission, not pride; of obedience, not presumptuousness; of accurate knowledge, not self-delusion.
In the days that follow, these faithful ones are likely going to be confronted with enquires—some, just curious; others intrusive; and still others, probing. In the current climate inside the Organization, the safe response is to hold one’s tongue and simply state that the decision was a deeply personal one. Period! However, while exercising due caution, there will likely be opportunities to help some sincere but misguided ones to a better understanding of what the Bible really teaches on this subject. To that end, may I present a wholly fictitious, but I hope realistic, scenario of what some will have to go through.
[What follows is a collaboration between myself and Apollos]
It was the evening of April 17, 2014 at the close of the Service meeting. Brother Stewart, the coordinator of the body of elders had called for a brief elders meeting. The eight brothers making up the local body headed into the conference room shortly after the meetings close. Their wives were prepared for a possible late shift, knowing the meaning of “brief” in this context.
Farouk Christen was among the last to enter. At 35, he was the youngest member of the body, having served for only three years. The son of a Danish father and an Egyptian mother, he caused them great pain when he became baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witness at age 18 and shortly thereafter began to pioneer.
The reason for the unscheduled meeting had not been officially unannounced, but Farouk had a pretty good idea of what was going to unfold. Just three days earlier, he had swallowed his fear and partaken of the bread and wine at the memorial. The look of stunned perplexity on Godric Boday’s face was still fresh in his mind. Godric had been one of the elders serving the emblems, and was his closest friend on the body. He could also recall the stifled gasps and whispered remarks from the seats across the aisle and from behind him. Having inherited his father’s fair skin, he was sure that the flush on his face betrayed his inner feelings to everyone. Ironically he was doing one of the most natural things any Christian should do, and yet he felt like an outlaw.
His thoughts were interrupted by the words “Let’s open with prayer.” The COBE bowed his head, said a brief prayer, then slowly scanned the faces of those present, avoiding direct eye contact with Farouk. After a pause, he looked directly at the young elder. “You know we all love you, brother Christen?” Not waiting for an answer, he continued, “There have been a number of concerns expressed by different ones about what happened at the memorial. Would you care to comment on that?”
Fred always used first names at these meetings. Farouk understood that this present deviation did not bode well. He cleared his throat, then after offering a brief silent prayer of his own, he answered. “I’m assuming you’re referring to the fact that I partook of the emblems?”
“Of course,” said Fred curtly, “Why didn’t you tell us you were going to do that? You left us totally unprepared.”
There were nods and murmurs of agreement from several others around the table.
“May I first ask you a question, brother Stewart?” asked Farouk.
Fred gave the slightest of nods, so Farouk continued, “Am I to understand that you’ve called this meeting because you’re upset I didn’t give you brothers a heads-up about what I was going to do? Is that the only issue here?”
“You should have told us first that you were going to do that!” Brother Carney interjected, and would have continued had not Fred raised a controlling hand.
“Brothers, I’m sorry,” Farouk said. “I apologize if you feel offended because you feel excluded from this decision. But you must understand that it is a deeply personal one…one which I arrived at after a lot of praying and soul searching.”
This fired Brother Carney up again. “But what made you do it? You don’t think you’re one of the anointed, do you?”
Farouk had been a ministerial servant when Harold Carney was appointed. He remembered his surprise at the announcement that the bombastic Carney was to serve as an elder. He’d hoped that his reservations were unfounded, that Harold had matured and come to a point where he could control his tongue. For a time that seemed to be the case, but lately the old fires of self-importance were burning again.
Stifling any desire to put Harold in his place, he quietly said, “Brother Carney, I really don’t think that is an appropriate question, do you?”
“Why not?” Harold responded, evidently astounded at this challenge to his righteous indignation.
“Brother Carney, please,” Fred Stewart said, trying to assume a calming voice. Turning to look at Farouk he explained, “The brothers are just perplexed because, well, you’re so young comparatively.”
Fred Stewart was a large man who wore a kindly face. However Farouk had seen another side to him over the years – the autocratic Fred, making decisions for the body with little regard for protocol. Most were simply afraid to stand up to him. Not only was he the third generation of his family to be “in the truth”, but he had also served as an elder for almost four decades and was well connected. Nevertheless, while Farouk honored him as a brother, he was not intimidated as the others were. As a result he had locked horns with Fred on more than one occasion when it was clear that a scriptural principle was being compromised or ignored.
His answer, when it came was measured. “My brothers, if you feel I have done something wrong then please show me from the Bible where I have erred so that I can correct myself.”
Mario Gomez, a quiet brother who rarely spoke up at the meetings, uncharacteristically asked, “Brother Christen, do you really feel you are one of the anointed?”
Farouk attempted an expression of surprise, even though this question had been inevitable. “Mario, do you realize what you’re asking me? That is, what you’re implying?”
Harold interjected, “Nowadays a lot of brothers seem to be taking the emblems; brothers who really shouldn’t be…”
Farouk raised his hand to interrupt. “Please Harold, I would like to finish talking with Mario.” Turning to Mario, he continued, “You ask if I really feel I’m one of the anointed. We are taught in the publications that one should only partake if God calls you. Do you believe that?”
“Of course,” Mario replied, sure of himself.
“Very well, then either God called me or he didn’t. If he did, then who are you to judge me? I’ve always respected you, Mario, so to have you question my integrity hurts me deeply.”
This prompted Harold to clear his throat noisily. He was sitting with his arms crossed and was noticeably turning a deeper shade of red. Farouk decided this would be a good point to prompt some direct responses. Looking at Harold directly he said, “Perhaps you think I am delusional.” A slight shake of the head from Harold. “Or perhaps you think I am acting presumptuously?” Harold raised his eyebrows, and gave a look that spoke volumes.
Throughout this exchange, Farouk had been leaning forward, elbows on the conference table, speaking earnestly. Now he leaned back, slowly looked around the table trying to catch everyone’s eye, then he said, “My brothers, if I am delusional then I would by definition have no way of knowing it. Isn’t that true? So I would be partaking because I really believed I should. And if I am acting presumptuously, then I would also be partaking because I really believed I should. And if I’m partaking for the scriptural reason, then I partake because I really believe I should. As I said before, this is a very personal decision. It is between myself and my God. Is it really appropriate to grill a person on this matter?”
“No one is grilling you,” said Fred Stewart, trying to assume a reassuring tone.
“Really? Because it sure feels that way.”
Before Fred could say more, Harold leaned forward, his face now fully flushed with barely repressed anger. “You want us to believe that Jehovah selected you out of all the brothers in the circuit, even ones who pioneered all their lives and are twice your age?”
Farouk looked towards Fred, who in turn asked Harold to sit back and calm down. Harold did sit back, but his demeanour was anything but calm. He crossed his arms once more and let out another disgusted grunt.
Farouk said imploringly, “Brother Carney, you may believe whatever you wish. I’m not asking you to believe anything. However, since you brought it up, there are two possibilities. One, that Jehovah, as you say, chose me. In that case it would be wrong for anyone to be critical of God’s decision. Two, Jehovah didn’t choose me and I am acting presumptuously. In that case, Jehovah is my judge. “
Like a dog with a bone, Harold could not leave it alone. “So which is it?”
Farouk looked around again before answering. “What I’m about to say, I say with all due respect to you and to all the brothers here. This was a personal decision. It is really no one else’s business. I consider it a private matter and I do not wish to speak of it further.”
Again, the usually quiet Mario spoke up. “Brother Christen, I would like to know very much what you think about the Governing Body’s position on partaking.” It’s like he’s been coached, Farouk thought.
“Mario, don’t you see how impertinent that question is?”
“I don’t think it’s impertinent it all, and I think we all deserve an answer to it.” His tone was kind but firm.
“What I’m saying is that it is inappropriate for you to even ask such a question of a fellow elder.”
Fred Stewart then said, “I think it’s a valid question, Farouk.”
“Brothers, Jehovah spoke with Adam and Eve every day and not once did he question their loyalty and obedience. It was only when they gave visible signs of wrongdoing by hiding from him that he asked them if they had eaten the forbidden fruit. We imitate our God Jehovah by not asking probing questions unless there is just cause to do so. Have I given you brothers just cause to doubt my loyalty?”
“So you’re refusing to answer.”
“Brothers, you have known me for almost 9 years. In all that time, have I ever given you cause for concern? Have I ever shown myself to be disloyal to Jehovah, or Jesus, or any of the teachings in the Bible? You know me. So why are you asking me these questions?” Farouk asked with finality.
“Why are you being evasive? Why won’t you answer?” The COBE said insistently.
“Simply put, because I feel that answering would grant you the right to ask a question which is inappropriate. My brothers, I firmly believe that it introduces a spirit which has no place in our meetings.”
Sam Waters, a kindly old brother of 73 spoke up now. “Brother Christen, we only ask you these questions because we love you and care for you. We only want what is best for you.“
Farouk smiled warmly at the older men and replied, “Sam, I have the greatest respect for you. You know that. But in this well-meaning expression of yours, you are wrong. The Bible says that “love does not behave indecently. It does not become provoked.” He threw a glance at Harold Carney as he said this, then back at Sam. “It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things…” I’m asking you all now to show love to me by “believing and hoping all things”. Do not doubt my loyalty if I’ve given you no cause to do so.”
He now looked at all the brothers present and said, “Brothers, if you truly love me, you will accept me for what I am. If you truly love me, you will respect my decision as a deeply personal one and leave it at that. Please do not take any offense at what I am about to say. I will not discuss this matter further within this body. It is personal. I ask you to respect that.”
There was a heavy sigh from the far end of the table. Fred Stewart said, “Then I guess that ends this meeting. Brother Waters would you like to close with prayer?” Harold Carney looked as if he was about to say something, but Fred gave him a slight shake of the head, and he turned away disgruntled.
The following Saturday, Farouk and his friend, Godric Boday, were together out in field service. At midmorning they took a coffee break in a small café they both enjoyed. Sitting there with coffees and pastries, Farouk said, “I was a little surprised at the elders meeting on Thursday that you didn’t say anything.”
Godric looked a little sheepish. It was obvious that he had been thinking this over. “I’m truly sorry about that. I just didn’t know what to say. I mean…I mean…I really didn’t know what to say.”
“Were you surprised?”
“Surprised? That would be quite an understatement.”
“Sorry Godric. You’re a good friend, but I felt it best to play my cards close to the chest on this one. I wanted to tell you ahead of time, but I came to the difficult conclusion that it might be best not to.“
Godric stared into his coffee which he was cradling in his hands, and said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question? I mean, you don’t have to answer if you’re not comfortable with it.”
Farouk smiled, “Ask away.”
“How did you know you weren’t one of the other sheep anymore?”
Farouk took a long, deep breath, let it out slowly, then said, “I know you well, and I trust you as one of my closest friends. Even so, I have to ask this: Can I assume anything and everything we talk about now stays between us?”
Godric looked a little surprised, but answered without hesitation, “Absolutely. You should never have any doubt.”
Farouk reached down into his service bag, pulled out his Bible, placed it on the table and slid it over to Godric. “Have a look at John 10:16 and tell me where it says that the other sheep have an earthly hope.”
Godric read silently, looked up and said, ”It doesn’t.”
Farouk pointed at the Bible with his finger and said, “Read the whole chapter and tell me where it says anything about an anointed class and an earthly class. Take your time.”
After a couple of minutes, Godric looked up with a puzzled expression and said, “Maybe it says it in some other part of the Bible.”
Farouk shook his head. “Trust me on this one. That’s the only place in the Bible where the phrase ‘other sheep’ is even mentioned.”
His disbelief showing, Godric asked, “What about in Revelation where it talks about a great crowd of other sheep?”
“It talks about a ‘great crowd’, but not a ‘great crowd of other sheep’. That phrase does not appear anywhere in the Bible. You’ll find it in the magazines, of course; all over the place, but not the Bible. When you get home, do a search in the Watchtower Library. You’ll find it’s simply not there.”
“I don’t get it,” Godric said.
“Look at verse 19. Who is Jesus talking to?”
Godric looked back at the Bible briefly. “The Jews.”
“Right. So when Jesus said, ‘I have other sheep, which are not of this fold’, who would the Jews have understood he was referring to when he spoke of ‘this fold’?”
“We’ve always been told that he was referring to the anointed.” Godric seemed for the first time to be grasping the ramifications.
“That is what we are taught, quite true. However, when Jesus said those words there were no anointed as of yet. Up to that point, he had not mentioned anything about an anointed class, even to his closest disciples. And the Jews to whom he was speaking would never have understood that. Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. The Bible actually uses that phrase. Later, there would be other sheep added that were not of the fold of Israel.“
With dawning comprehension Godric quickly said, “You mean the Gentiles? But …” Then he trailed off, clearly caught between two opposing thoughts.
“Right! Doesn’t it make more sense that he was talking about the other sheep being the Gentiles who would later be added to the existing fold, the Jews, and become one flock under one Shepherd with one hope? Viewed this way, there is perfect harmony with other scriptures—especially the way things unfolded as recorded in Acts. Viewed the other way, the scripture is out of context and isolated.”
“You’re not suggesting that we all go to heaven, are you?”
Farouk could see that his friend was not ready to accept such a leap. He raised his hand and said, “I’m not saying anything of the kind. Whether we go to heaven or stay on earth is not for us to decide. We have linked the taking of the emblems with that eventuality. However, taking the emblems guarantees nothing. Here, have a look at 1 Corinthians 11:25, 26.”
Godric read the verses. When he finished, Farouk said, “Notice, he says ‘keep doing this in remembrance of me’; then he adds, ‘whenever you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he comes.’ So it seems the purpose is to proclaim the death of the Lord. And it seems that it is not optional. If Jesus Christ tells us to keep doing something, who are we to say, ‘Sorry Lord, but your command doesn’t apply to me. I have an exemption. I don’t have to obey.’?”
Godric was shaking his head, struggling with the concept. “But doesn’t that only apply to the anointed?”
Farouk answered, “We are told that there is a small class of anointed ones to whom that applies. We are also told that a much larger class of non-anointed ones should not obey the command. However, have you ever tried to prove that to anyone from the Bible? I mean, seriously looked into the Bible and tried to find proof that there is a whole group of Christians, millions upon millions, who are completely exempt from obeying this command. I’ve tried, and I can’t find it any place.“
Godric sat back and mulled this over for a while, munching on his pastry. He was deep in thought, and failed to notice the plentiful crumbs falling onto his shirt and tie. When he finished, he looked back at his friend and was about to speak when Farouk pointed at his shirt front. Godric looked down with a little embarrassment when he saw the mess.
Brushing the crumbs away, he seemed to settle on a new thought. “What about the 144,000? We can’t all go to heaven,” he said confidently.
“It really doesn’t change anything. I’m talking about obeying the command to partake, not purchasing a ticket to heaven, if you get my drift? Besides, how do we know that the number is literal? If we accept that it is literal, then we have to accept that the 12 groups of 12,000 is also literal. That means that the tribes from which the 12,000 are taken are also literal. And yet, there was no tribe of Joseph ever. My point is that if Jesus had wanted to exclude a major group of Christians from partaking he would’ve made it clear and laid down that rule. Disobeying Jesus Christ can be a life-and-death choice. He wouldn’t put us in a position to make such a choice based on the interpretations of imperfect human beings regarding symbolic visions. That just doesn’t fit with the care that we know he has for us. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Godric thought hard for a few seconds. He took a long sip of his coffee, reached absentmindedly for his pastry, then paused when he realized he’d already finished it. He withdrew his hand. ”Wait a minute. Doesn’t Romans tell us that the spirit gives testimony that someone is anointed?”
Farouk reached across the table for the Bible and opened it. “You’re referring to Romans 8:16.” After finding the verse, he spun the Bible around so the Godric could see it. Pointing to the verse he said, “Notice that the verse says that the spirit bears witness that we are God’s children, not that we are anointed. Do you consider yourself one of God’s children, Godric?”
“Of course, but not in the same sense as the anointed.”
Farouk nodded acceptance of this, then continued, “Does this verse say anything about a particular kind of child?“
“What exactly do you mean?”
“Well, perhaps in context we could expect the rest of the chapter to shed some light on the understanding that there are two types of sons and two hopes. We’ve got some time. Why not look for it yourself?” Farouk asked as he reached for his yet untouched pastry.
Godric turned back to the Bible and started to read. When he was done he looked up and said nothing. Farouk took that as his cue. “So, according to Paul either one is of the flesh with death in view or of the spirit with eternal life in view. Verse 14 says that ‘all who are led by God’s spirit are God’s sons.’ You’ve already admitted to believing you are one of God’s sons. That’s because the Holy Spirit in you causes you to believe that. Without that, according to Romans chapter 8, all you would have to look forward to is death.”
Godric said nothing, so Farouk continued. ”Let me ask you this. Is Jesus your mediator?”
“So, you believe you are one of God’s sons and you believe that Jesus is your mediator.”
“Do you realize that what you believe runs contrary to what we are being taught in the publications?” Farouk asked.
Not for the first time this day, Godric looked genuinely shocked, “What are you talking about?”
“I’m being completely serious, Godric. We are taught that the anointed have Jesus as their mediator, but that he is not the mediator for the other sheep—based on our teaching that the other sheep are class of Christian with an earthly hope. In addition, we are taught that the other sheep are not God’s sons. You must remember that we just had a Watchtower article on that very subject, and there yet another one coming up as the last study in the February issue? We keep teaching that the other sheep are only God’s friends.”
“Will there be anything else, gentlemen?” They hadn’t noticed their waitress approach.
“Let me get this,” Farouk said, pulling out a $10 bill and handing it to the waitress. “Keep the change.”
After she left, he continued, “I know this is a lot to think about. Do the research. Find out what the Bible actually says. See if you can find anything in the Christian Greek Scriptures that talks about an entire class of Christian that has an earthly hope and does not go to heaven, and most important of all, is exempt from obeying Jesus’ command of partaking of the emblems.”
The two friends stood, gathered their belongings and headed for the door. As they were walking back to the car, Farouk put his hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “The reason I took the emblems—the reason I couldn’t give at elders meeting—was that I believed I had to obey the command of Jesus Christ. That’s it. Plain and simple. No mysterious revelation from God in the night that I was called to heaven. I just came to see in the Bible that a command has been given to all Christians; one that leaves us no option but to obey. Think about it and pray about it. If you want to talk more, you know you can always approach me. But again, don’t share this with anyone else because it would be very upsetting to a lot of our brothers and sisters. And it wouldn’t turn out well for either of us either.”
Godric nodded his agreement. “Yes, I can see why that would be.”
Farouk’s heart was in a turmoil. Had he just lost a friend or gained a stronger one? Only time would tell. Clearly, it would take Godric some time to process all this new information.
As he had done many times before, Farouk thought, How strange that all of this should be occurring within the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.