[this post was contributed by Alex Rover]
Since January 1st, 2009, within the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the term presiding overseer” has been discontinued and replaced with Coordinator of the Body of Elders.
The reason provided in the letter to the Body of Elders was that the term “presiding” may convey the thought that one overseer holds more authority than the rest do.
“Hence, no elder is above the others in the body, and none of them should try to dominate the others.” – BOE letter
The definition of presiding is, after all “being in a position of authority in a meeting or gathering”. Most elders welcomed this change, but in some cases the true feelings cannot be hidden.
Recently I observed how the wife of a certain elder became very upset once they stripped her husband from the privilege of being coordinator. She stopped talking to the wife of the new coordinator and the family soon after left the congregation.
Should the governing body apply their own counsel, they would strip themselves from their title as well (Compare Matthew 7:3-5). Synonyms of governing include “ruling” and “presiding over”. The fact they are understanding this term is scripturally wrong for others but continue to apply it to themselves is revealing a fondness of pre-eminence.
We are taken back in time to the third letter of John, and examine the account of Diotrephes:
But the one who is fond of being the pre-eminent one among them, Diotrephes, is not accepting us. On this account, if I should come, I shall bring to remembrance his works which he has been constantly doing [A], prating against us with pernicious words [B], and not being content with these things, neither does he himself accept the brethren [C]; and those who after mature consideration desire to do so, he prevents [D], and out of the assembly he throws them [E]. – 3 Jo 1:9-10 WUEST
[a] I shall bring to remembrance his works
I have myself wondered about this in the past, when we find condemning articles about the governing body on this site, if this was something appropriate for Christians to do. For an example, see Qualifications to Become God’s Channel of Communication by Apollos.
Here we find the apostle John bringing to attention the works of Diotrephes. When faced with brothers who are fond of being the pre-eminent, the apostle John responded by demonstrating the facts surrounding them.
The truth is that we don’t hate. We simply bring to attention their works, so that we may free others from bondage of man and enter the freedom that is in Christ. So let’s examine some works of Diotrephes and see if there are any parallels with the works of the Governing Body today.
[b] Prating against us with pernicious words
In what context did Diotrephes speak foolishly of John the apostle, a true brother of Christ?
A list of synonyms for pernicious reveals how the governing body, after elevating themselves over the association, have spoken of those who bring to remembrance their works: harmful, damaging, destructive, injurious, hurtful, dangerous, adverse, unhealthy, bad, evil, wicked, poisonous, corrupting.
Christ’s faithful brothers were not impressed or shaken by Diotrephes’ foolish talk. Neither should we be shaken when we are name called and insulted on the sole ground of bringing to remembrance the works of the governing body.
If one thing is very clear from the links in the list above, is that in just the last decade, the governing body has been especially hard at work to fill nearly every synonym I could find in the dictionary and apply it to those who challenge them with Scripture.
[c] Neither does he himself accept the brethren
Those who disassociate themselves from the organization are to be shunned just as much as someone disfellowshipped for morally unclean conduct. Often, members disassociate themselves because they are unwilling to pledge obedience and loyalty to the modern governing body.
We do well to remind ourselves that that many of these disassociated ones simply chose to follow Scripture rather than man to have a clean conscience before the Father!
It is abundantly clear that the governing body, as did Diotrephes, do not accept these brothers.
[d] He prevents
Not content with personally avoiding contact with those who disagree, the governing body does everything in their power to prevent others to associate with the brothers.
Loyalty to the modern day governing body is equated with loyalty to Jehovah himself! “Such loyalty makes Jehovah’s heart glad.” – WT 11 2/15 p17. We would do well to examine paragraphs 15-18 in this 2011 Watchtower, for it clearly deals with disassociated ones.
In the May 1st, 2000 watchtower under the article “Firmly Uphold Godly Teaching”, we find the following sentence: “The apostle John directed Christians not to accept apostates in their homes.” And further in paragraph 10 it’s stated: “Avoiding all contact with these opponents will protect us from their corrupt thinking. Exposing ourselves to apostate teachings through the various means of modern communication is just as harmful as receiving the apostate himself into our homes. Never should we allow curiosity to lure us into such a calamitous course!”
But it goes one step further than that. Many of our readers have used their mature powers of reason and determined after much consideration that we are also brothers of Christ. They cannot see how the pernicious words used against us are true.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not just told they should be aware of independent thinking and independent Bible reading. They are not just told they should shun those who voice concern over the pre-eminent ones. They are in fact, prevented from association! How so?
[e] Out of the assembly he throws them
The manual for Elders “Shepherd the Flock”, chapter 10, point 6 (page 116) handles the matter of undue association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives not part of the household. Judicial action is warranted by elders against the offender in case there is persistent spiritual association or open criticism of the disfellowshipping decision.
To be clear, we accept there is a place for personal shunning in the Scriptures with those who are persistent wrongdoers. There is a place for personal shunning of those who reject Christ or display by their actions and moral conduct that they are unworthy of our association.
There is every reason to be cautious in our association. But what we are dealing with here, is involuntary disassociation or throwing out of the assembly on the basis of rejecting human authority above that of the Christ.
That this practice is wrong, is something every honest-hearted brother can agree with. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites. Is it hypocritical you discontinue the term “presiding overseer” for elders, but continue to elevate yourself as “presiding” or “governing” over the body of Christ?
Dear members of the governing body, you cannot call yourself a body apart from the body of Christ. In Christ’s body there is only one head and that is Christ himself. Call yourself slaves of Christ. Stop calling yourself Faithful and let the Master declare you faithful. (Compare also Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 23:8-10, 1 Peter 2:5, Hebrews 3:1, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11,Genesis 12:10-20)
When we meditate over the parable of the king and forgiveness of debt in Matthew 18:21-35, it becomes clear that those who don’t appreciate the Lords forgiveness and mistreat their fellow slaves will have their share taken from them.
There is no place for Diotrephes in the kingdom of heaven, and neither is there place in the body of Christ for the spirit of pre-eminence.
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. – Col 1:18 ESV
We do not repay evil with evil. It should be sufficient that our sister or brother confesses Christ and produces fruits of the spirit. Truly, by our works we judge ourselves publically.
Let’s follow John’s example and not tremble in fear before man, courageously speaking truth while keeping our hearts full of love knowing that Christ died for all man.