The theme of this year’s regional convention program is “Imitate Jesus!”
Is this a precursor of things to come? Are we about to return Jesus to his proper place of importance in the Christian faith? Before we get carried away on a wave of hopeful euphoria at the possibility of a JW renaissance, let us pause and give sober consideration to the words of Proverbs 14:15:
“The naïve person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.”
Perhaps Paul had that thought in mind when he described our namesakes, the Beroeans, this way:
“for they received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Let us therefore receive the spoken word eagerly, all the while carefully examining the Scriptures for verification. Let us ponder each step.
The Convention Theme
We will begin with the convention theme itself. Perhaps a good place to start would be with the numbers. After all, the Organization loves its statistics. Let’s count the number of times:
- “Jesus” occurs in The Watchtower from 1950 to 2014: 93,391
- “Jehovah” occurs in The Watchtower from 1950 to 2014: 169,490
- “Jesus” appears in the NWT, Christian Scriptures: 2457
- “Jehovah” appears in the NWT, Christian Scriptures: 237
- “Jehovah” appears in manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures: 0
It is obvious there is a trend here. Even accepting the premise that the Governing Body is justified in its presumption of inserting the divine name into the Christian Scriptures, occurrences of Jesus’ name still outnumber God’s 10 to 1. Since the convention theme is all about imitation, why doesn’t the Governing Body imitate the inspired Christian writers and give more emphasis to Jesus in the publications?
What do the numbers tell us about the choice of the convention theme?
- Number of times the word “imitate” is used in the Christian Scriptures: 12
- Number of times the word “follow” is used in the Christian Scriptures: 145
Those are raw numbers using the NWT as a source. The ratio between the two numbers certainly makes one think: A 12 to 1 ratio. Why is our convention theme not “Follow Jesus!”? Why are we focusing on imitation rather than following?
The mystery deepens when we look at how “imitate” is used in comparison with “follow” in the Christian Scriptures. First century Christians were never directly told to imitate Jesus—only by extension, and even then, only twice. They were told to:
- imitate Paul. (1Co 4:16; Phil. 3:17)
- imitate Paul as he imitates Jesus. (1Co 11:1)
- imitate of God. (Eph. 5:1)
- imitate Paul, Silvanus, Timothy and the Lord. (1Th 1:6; 2Th 3:7, 9)
- imitate the congregations of God. (1Th 1:8)
- imitate faithful ones. (He 6:12)
- imitate the faith of those taking the lead. (He 13:7)
- imitate what is good. (3 John 11)
By contrast the number of scriptures that directly instruct us to follow Jesus are too numerous to list here. A few examples will serve to make the point:
Now after these things he went out and beheld a tax collector named Leʹvi sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: “Be my follower.” 28 And leaving everything behind he rose up and went following him.
“And whoever does not accept his torture stake and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:38)
“Jesus said to them: “Truly I say to YOU, In the re-creation, when the Son of man sits down upon his glorious throne, YOU who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mt 19:28)
Not once does Jesus tell someone, “Be my imitator.” Of course, we want to imitate Jesus, but it is possible to imitate someone without following him. You can imitate someone without obeying them. Indeed, you can imitate someone while following your own path.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are told to imitate Jesus, to be like him. However, they are told to be obedient to and follow the Governing Body.
Jesus will not tolerate those who follow men. Our reward in the heavens is tied directly to our willingness to follow the Lord. We are required to take up his torture stake so as to live and die as he did. (Phil. 3:10)
Why is an entire convention dedicated to getting Jehovah’s Witnesses to imitate Jesus, rather than to following him?
The main drama provides the clue. It is a video presentation enacted as a stage play and split into two parts. You can see the Friday presentation here at the 1:53:19 minute mark, and the second half on Sunday here at the 32:04 minute mark. The drama is titled “For a Certainty God Made Him Lord and Christ” and is narrated by a fictional character named Meseper who was a shepherd boy when the angels revealed the birth of Jesus. He explains that he later became one of Jesus followers, and an overseer in the Christian congregation in Jerusalem. His next words lay out the premise for the entire drama:
“You may think that after seeing with my own eyes a multitude of angels announcing the birth of Jesus, my faith would be rock-solid. The reality? Over the past 40 years I have had to strengthen my faith constantly, by reminding myself of the reasons why I believe. How do I know that Jesus is the Messiah? How do I know that Christians have the truth? Jehovah does not want worship that is based on blind belief or credulity.
You too can benefit by asking yourself, ‘How do I know that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the truth?’”
Notice how the narrator equates doubting that Jesus is the Messiah with doubting that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the truth? This sets us up for the logical conclusion that if we can again convince ourselves that Jesus is the Son of God, we must also believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses do have the truth.
The irony is that just before Meseper makes this link, he cautions his audience with these words: “Jehovah does not want worship that is based on blind belief or credulity.”
With that in mind, let us consider Meseper’s logic in explaining to us how it was the apostle Peter came to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. At the close of the drama, Meseper says, “It was Peter’s spirituality, his friendship with Jehovah that revealed that Jesus was the Messiah to him.”
This would be one of those moments where, had I been seated in the audience, I would have had to fight the urge to stand up, spread my arms, and shout, “WHAT! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”
Where does the Bible speak about Peter’s friendship with God? Where is any Christian referred to as God’s friend? Jesus was teaching Peter and all his disciples to accept adoption as sons of God. That adoption began at Pentecost. He never spoke about being just friends with the Almighty.
When Peter confessed the Christ at Mt. 16:17, Jesus told him why he knew this. He said, “flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in the heavens did.” We’re putting words in Jesus’ mouth. Jesus never said, “It’s your spirituality that revealed this to you, Peter. And also your friendship with the Father.”
Why use such an odd turn of phrase and ignore what the Bible actually says? Could it be that the target audience are the many of the rank and file who after 100 years of failed prophecies are finally starting to doubt? These are the ones who are told they are not sons of God but only friends. These are the ones who are told to work on their spirituality by preparing for and attending all meetings, going out in the door-to-door and cart ministry, and by studying the JW.ORG publications in their family study.
Jehovah’s Witnesses view the Organization as their mother.
I have learned to view Jehovah as my Father and his organization as my Mother. (w95 11/1 p. 25)
When the “great crowd” appeal to their “mother” organization for help, this is given instantly and in good measure. (w86 12/15 p. 23 par. 11)
A son is subject to his parents. Jesus is the son. Jehovah is the Father. But if we make the Organization the mother, then…? You see where this takes us? Jesus becomes the child of the mother organization, the heavenly one and its earthly extension. It is now understandable how it is that the organization demands unconditional obedience from us and why the convention is about imitating Jesus and not following him. Jesus was loyal and obedient to his parental Father. In imitation of him, we are expected to be loyal to our parental mother, JW.ORG.
Jesus followed the Father.
“I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the Father taught me I speak these things.” (John 8:28)
Likewise, Mother wants us to do nothing of our own initiative but just as She taught us, she wants us to speak these things.
Let us not be naïve persons who believe every word, but shrewd ones, loyal to our Lord, who ponder each step. (Pr. 14:15)
A Tangential Thought
The resurrection of Lazarus is one of the most touching and faith-inspiring accounts in all of Scripture. Its theatrical representation deserves our best efforts.
Check out the resurrection of Lazarus at the 52 minute mark of the second half of the drama. Now compare it with what the Mormons[i] have done when covering the same event.
Now ask yourself which one is a more faithful representation of what actually happened? Which most closely adheres to the inspired Word of God? Which one is more inspiring, more moving? Which one builds the most faith in Jesus as the Son of God?
Some might accuse me of being picky, claiming that the Mormons have the money to spend on high production values, while we poor Witnesses are only doing the best we can with the resources at hand. Perhaps at one time that argument would have been valid, but no more. While our drama might have cost one or two hundred thousand to produce at a level matching what the Mormons have done, it is nothing compared to the money we spend on real estate. We just bought a 57-million dollar housing development so that we’d have a place to house construction workers building our resort-like headquarters in Warwick. What does that have to do with preaching the good news of the Christ?
We speak volumes about the importance of the preaching work. Yet when we have an opportunity to really put our money where our mouth is to produce a video that epitomizes the hope of the Good News, this is the best we can do.
[i] While I do not subscribe to the Mormon interpretation of Christians, I have to acknowledge in honesty that the videos they’ve produced and made available on their web site are very beautifully done and are more faithful to the inspired accounts than anything else I’ve seen. Additionally, each video is accompanied by the Bible text from which it is drawn so the viewer can verify the events depicted against the actual Scriptural account.
There is a marked difference between the JW Convention video of the resurrection of Jesus and the Mormon one. The Mormons are giving an historical portrayal of the account (using old English probably from the KJV) The JW one is drawing lessons from the account that we can learn from, hence the narrator. Their purposes are different
Well all of you must be careful not to see Jehovah’s anger. It the organization is not trying, then you need to see what churches are doing to people especially here in Africa. Please do not allow yourself to be used by the devil.
This is similar to the argument used by some at the Australian Royal Commission on Child Abuse. Being better than the other guy does not ensure God’s blessing. It’s not a contest of the lesser of evils.
The royal commission showed that the WT has been producing material for a long time to educate people on the dangers of child abuse. The JWs policies is to do things according to what the Bible says. For them the Bible is above the the laws of the land. But they comply where the laws do not contradict or go against Biblical directives. The two witness rule is only for taking congregational action not for taking legal action. It has been up to parents or guardians to take legal action. It seems many parents have not wanted to report such… Read more »
I notice the Parable of the “faithful & discreet slave” is not discussed in the Convention’s new release, Jesus – the Way the Truth & the Life
Brother Meleti , you are right in the first part of the Drama why did the main Character as Do Jehovah Witnesses have the. Truth… So we were called that. Name over some thousands of years ago, and. Not in the. 1930’s …..So I assume Jesus stated this before… Wait he did not.
Oh my gosh I was going to say the same thing. I have the Mormon DVD about the Bible videos and they did a phenomenal job. I would think that I was really in the Bible times when I watch those videos. I agree that they do not say in the Scriptures that we are God’s friends. We are his children. Isn’t it true that these conventions are just money makers and not really for spiritual up building? Everyone I know is bored to death with the conventions. I also go to the Bible Student Conventions and they are awesome.
For those in the NOT know I live in Africa and am currently at the Moses Mabhida Stadium These conventions are not money making exercises The rental of the stadium is approx R 3 million for 3 days They were willing to pay that even though they would not have covered it ever with there donations as 70 percent are poor black people who already pay a huge amount for taxis, busses and accords toon here. We are happy to have them here They a clean Quiet and well behaved not one incident of violence or damage which we face… Read more »
i appreciate your comments and they may be valid also. I can’t comment on GB/F&DS motives or intentions, im sure there genuine. Do they have their finger on the pulse, as it were. Im assuming they do, via the Branches and C.O’s, and probably presented in the parts at the convention.The theme does have a scriptural base even as Meleti put it by extension..After the Greatest Man Book..going back some 20 years now,They did release Come be my Follower publication in 2007. Which was quite a good look at Our Lord. Would it be better to discuss and learn in… Read more »
Anonymous he is was 2007 DC “Follow the Christ” however good point made by Meleti this was before the GB announcement that they have been appointed (themselves) as “been appointed as the FDS.
Good article, and I think this will have the JW thanking the GB for giving them an assembly around Christ.
I had a look at the downloaded assembly program and didn’t find a theme that was any different from the usual good example stuff, no revelations Ime afraid,I wonder how much more Jesus can tolerate?
I like your posts, I don’t always agree with them, and just would like to bring to your attention that in 2007 DC the theme was Follow the Christ..
Thank you. And yes, you are quite right. It shows that they do understand the principle. Given the more than one hundred times Jesus and the Christian writers tell us to “follow the Christ”, I’m sure it wouldn’t have hurt us eight years later to have repeated the theme. Perhaps “Continue to Follow the Christ”, or “Following Our Lord Jesus”, or some such thing.
Always follow the Christ
How about “Come to the Christ”. Unlikely I think. All who would be Christians in obedience to Jesus command must “come” to him. What is meant in “coming” to Christ Jesus. The Greek word translated “come” is Erchomai and Thayer in his Greek/English lexicon comments with reference to its use in John 5:40; 6:35,37,44,45,65 “to commit oneself to the instruction of Jesus (which Jehovah’s Witnesses do) and enter into fellowship with him which Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot do as they are forbidden to communicate with him, consequently not truly “knowing” him, John 17:3. So in effect Jehovah’s Witnesses are similar to… Read more »
anonymous. At that convention in 2007. Was it stressed that we are literally to follow Christ? I doubt it and I wonder at the way they can say the “right” thing by using such a header as this, but when it comes to the actual bulk of the convention; the message will not be about the need to literally follow Christ. At least, not in the sense that is taught in the bible and with the backing that his Father gave. No. Instead, they have employed a very clever method of handling those concerned at the lack of honour and… Read more »
“It was Peter’s spirituality, his friendship with Jehovah that revealed that Jesus was the Messiah to him.” Let me compare this with Jesus’ own words: (John 21:15-17) . . .When, now, they had breakfasted, Jesus said to Simon Peter: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him: “Yes, Lord, you know I have affection for you.” He said to him: “Feed my lambs.” Again he said to him, a second time: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him: “Yes, Lord, you know I have affection for you.” He said to… Read more »
For example, who of you wanting to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, he might lay its foundation but not be able to finish it, and all the onlookers would start to ridicule him, 30 saying: ‘This man started to build but was not able to finish. Luke 14 : 28-30. I remember this last week in the theocratic ministry school they talked about this subject and money. I was like Right! But of course it does pertain to the Organization, Of Course… Read more »
“‘You must not shave* the hair on the side of your head* or disfigure the edges of your beard.
And now they really frown on Beards… But Jesus and many others had one. Go Figure
Thanks Meleti for elucidation, the society is teaching us to be disciples of mother, when in reality we need to be disciples of Jesus. – John 1:43 As yourself, I try not to be calumniatory over minor infractions as in the quality of lets say YouTube video production, it was interesting though to allegorize what the Mormon Church produced compared to what the Society dished up as a visual banquet, the expression “chalk & cheese” came to mind. I think it only fair the Society be open to criticism with its simulation of such an important event; the resurrection of… Read more »
One must forget the GQ haircuts Jesus and the apostles sported.
Finally a convention we get to focus on Jesus. I love it. Of course was many things very off about these three days. I will explain. 1. The new book Jesus The. way. And the truth. Oh yeah it is a nice book. But REALLY IT IS a remake of the Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. Yeah almost 99 percent of the photos are the same with some enhancements. Please check it for your self. Amazing. 2. No overlapping or any of the sorts for This Generation Quote. 3. The. Video of Sophia wanting to buy a ice cream but… Read more »
It is not a surprise that the contents of the convention is not really about the exalted position of Jesus but about Jesus being the perfect Son, loyal, giving and obedient. Hence to imitate and not follow. Although even if it would be called Follow Jesus, it would still be about His loyalty and obedience to His Father. I am sure most JW will leave the convention saying they have learned a lot about Jesus. If they’d be asked what exactly was it they learned that would draw them closer to Him (as a way to come closer to the… Read more »
Motivating children to get baptized at a young age encourages them, and their parents, to be competitive.
Shunning is spiritual, psychological and emotional abuse.
“Why is an entire convention dedicated to getting Jehovah’s Witnesses to imitate Jesus, rather than to following him?” Well JW’s have done the following Jesus conventions. Remember the “Follow The Christ” conventions some years ago. That however did not reverse the trend to reduce the position of Jesus and elevate the position of the governing body. I am fairly sure the necessity of being “born again” (John 3:3-7) for all Christians will not be discussed at this summer conventions. Sadly 99.9% of those JW’s presenting the Watchtower magazine “Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom” will not by definition be able either to “see”… Read more »
A man named Perimeno has a very insightful web page discussing the issue of being born again. It is at http://perimeno.ca/BornAgain.htm
While I don’t agree with everything Perimeno says, I have to admit he makes a lot of sense in this presentation. You may find it of benefit.
Beg God for understanding EVERY time we study or read His word. Never accept or believe any teaching that is not backed up by the Bible.
Skye, was that a general admonition, or was there something about this Perimeno you specifically don’t approve of? As I say, I don’t agree with everything he says, but I thought his article had some useful insights. His focus on the fact that Nicodemus ‘should have known’ what Jesus was referring to, and what it was that Nicodemus as a Pharisee possibly COULD know, was an interesting approach.
the theme is “imitate jesus”, because the last jesus convention was called “FOLLOW the christ” (2007 or 2008). so it’s just about doubling words…
The “Follow the Christ” convention was before they assumed the mantle of power as the Faithful and Discreet Slave. Relegating Jesus to the role of perfect exemplar and JW role model has been going on for some time, but it took on new impetus in 2012. Now if they’d named this convention, “Christ, Our King” or “Continue Following Our Lord Jesus”, we might have some hope. But alas…