In the first part of the series, we saw that to protect ourselves from the folly of organized religion, we must maintain a climate of Christian freedom by guarding ourselves against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is the corrupting influence of human leadership. Our leader is one, the Christ. We, on the other hand, are all brothers and sisters.
He is also our teacher, meaning that while we can teach, we teach his words and his thoughts, never our own.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate and theorize about the meaning of verses which are difficult to understand, but let us always acknowledge it for what it is, human speculation not Biblical fact. We want to beware of teachers who treat their personal interpretations as the word of God. We have all seen the type. They will promote an idea with great vigor, using any and every logical fallacy to defend it against all attack, never willing to consider another point of view, or acknowledge that perhaps they are wrong. Such ones can be very convincing and their zeal and conviction can be persuasive. That is why we must look beyond their words and see their works. Are the qualities they manifest those that the spirit produces? (Gal. 5:22, 23) We are looking for both spirit and truth in those who would teach us. The two go hand-in-hand. So when we have difficulty identifying the truth of an argument, it helps greatly to look for the spirit behind it.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to distinguish truthful teachers from the false ones if we look only at their words. Thus we have to look beyond their words to their works.
“They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.” (Tit 1:16)
“Be on the watch for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. 16 By their fruits you will recognize them…” (Mt 7:15, 16)
Let us never become like the Corinthians to whom Paul wrote:
“In fact, you put up with whoever enslaves you, whoever devours your possessions, whoever grabs what you have, whoever exalts himself over you, and whoever strikes you in the face.” (2Co 11:20)
It is easy to blame the false prophets for all our woes, but we should also look to ourselves. We have been warned by our Lord. If one is warned of the trap and yet ignores the warning and steps right into it, who really is to blame? False teachers only have the power that we grant them. Indeed, their power comes from our willingness to obey men rather than Christ.
There are early warning signs that we can use to protect ourselves from those who would try to again enslave us to men.
Beware of Those Who Speak of Their Own Originality
I was recently reading a book in which the author made many good Scriptural points. I learned a lot in a short time and was able to verify what he said by using the Scriptures to double-check his reasoning. However, there were things in the book I knew were wrong. He displayed a fondness for numerology and placed great significance in numerical coincidences that were not revealed in God’s word. While admitting that it was speculation in the opening paragraph, the rest of the article left little doubt that he considered his findings to be credible and in all likelihood, factual. The subject was harmless enough, but having been raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and having had my life course altered based on the speculative numerology of my religion, I now have an almost instinctive aversion to any attempts at “decoding Bible prophecy” using numbers and other speculative means.
“Why did you put up with it for so long”, you might ask me?
When we find someone we trust whose reasoning seems sound and whose conclusions we are able to confirm using the Scriptures, we naturally feel at ease. We may let down our guard, get lazy, stop checking. Then reasoning which is not so sound and conclusions which cannot be confirmed in Scripture are introduced, and we swallow them trustingly and willingly. We have forgotten that what made the Beroeans so noble-minded wasn’t simply that they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if Paul’s teachings were true, but that they did this every day. In other words, they never stopped checking.
“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they accepted the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Ac 17:11)
I came to trust those teaching me. I did question new teachings, but the basics that I’d been raised on were part of the bedrock of my faith and as such were never questioned. It was only when they radically changed one of those bedrock teachings—the generation of Matthew 24:34—that I began to question them all. Still, it took years, for such is the power of mental inertia.
I am not alone in this experience. I know that many of you are also on the same path—some behind, and some ahead—but all on the same journey. We have learned the full meaning of the words: “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, who cannot bring salvation.” (Ps 146:3) In matters of salvation, we will no longer put our trust in the son of earthling man. That is the commandment of God, and we ignore it at our eternal peril. That may sound overly dramatic to some, but we know from experience and by faith that it is not.
In John 7:17, 18 we have a valuable tool to help us to avoid being misled.
“If anyone desires to do His will, he will know concerning the teaching whether it is from God or I speak of my own originality. 18 He that speaks of his own originality is seeking his own glory; but he that seeks the glory of him that sent him, this one is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” (Joh 7:17, 18)
Eisegesis is the tool used by those who speak of their own originality. C. T. Russell helped many people free themselves from false teaching. He was praised for turning the hose on Hellfire, and he helped many Christians free themselves from the dread of eternal torment which the churches were using to control and fleece their flocks. He worked hard to spread many Bible truths, but he failed to resist the temptation to speak of his own originality. He succumbed to the desire to figure out what was not his to know—the time of the end. (Acts 1:6,7)
Eventually, this led him into pyramidology and Egyptology, all in support of his 1914 calculation. The Divine plan of the Ages actually displayed the Egyptian god symbol of Winged Horus.
The fascination with the calculation of the ages and the use of pyramids—particularly the Great Pyramid of Giza—endured into the Rutherford years. The following graphic was taken from the seven volume set named Studies in the Scriptures, showing how prominently pyramidology figured into the Scriptural interpretation which C. T. Russell espoused.
Let us not speak ill of the man, for Jesus knows the heart. He may have been very sincere in his understanding. The real danger for any who would obey the command to make disciples for Christ is that they could end up making disciples for themselves. This is possible because “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9 KJV)
In all likelihood, very few start out willfully determined to deceive. What happens is that their own heart deceives them. We must first delude ourselves before we can start to delude others. This does not excuse us of sin, but that is something God determines.
There is evidence of a change in the attitude Russell had from the beginning. He wrote the following just six years prior to his death, four years prior to 1914 when he expected Jesus to manifest himself at the start of the Great Tribulation.
“Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the SCRIPTURE STUDIES with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.” (The Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, 1910, page 4685 par. 4)
When Russell first published Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence in 1879, it started with a run of only 6,000 copies. His early writings do not indicate that he felt his words should be put on a par with the Holy Bible. Yet, 31 years later, Russell’s attitude had changed. Now he taught his readers that it was not possible to understand the Bible unless they relied on his published words. In fact, by what we see above, he felt it was possible to understand the Bible using only his writings.
The Organization that grew out of his work is led by a Governing Body of men who have apparently followed in the footsteps of their founder.
“All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the ‘greatly diversified wisdom of God’ can become known only through Jehovah’s channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave.” (Watchtower; Oct. 1, 1994; p. 8)
To “think in agreement,” we cannot harbor ideas contrary to…our publications (Circuit Assembly talk outline, CA-tk13-E No. 8 1/12)
In the 31 years counting from the first issue of The Watchtower, its circulation grew from 6,000 to around 30,000 copies. (See Annual Report, w1910, page 4727) But technology changes everything. In four short years, Beroean Pickets readership has grown from a handful (literally) to almost 33,000 last year. Rather than the 6,000 issues Russell printed, our page views were approaching a quarter of a million in our fourth year. The figures double when one factors in the readership and view rate of our sister site, Discuss the Truth.[i]
The purpose of this is not to blow our own horn. Other sites, particularly those openly scornful of the Governing Body and/or Jehovah’s Witnesses garner more visitors and hits. And then there are the millions of hits that JW.ORG gets every month. So no, we are not boasting and we do recognize the danger of viewing statistical growth as evidence of God’s blessing. The reason for mentioning these numbers is that it should give us pause for sober reflection, because we few who started this site and now propose to expand into other languages and a new non-denominational site for the preaching of the good news, do so fully mindful of the potential for it all to go wrong. We consider that this site belongs to the community which has been built up around it. We consider that many of you share our desire to both expand our understanding of Scripture and to make the good news known far and wide. Therefore, we must all guard against the deceitful human heart.
How can we avoid the hubris that leads a mere human to think his words are on par with God’s?
One way is to never stop listening to others. Years ago, a friend jokingly said that the one thing you’ll never see in a Bethel home is a suggestion box. Not so here. Your comments are our suggestion box and we listen.
This doesn’t mean that every idea is acceptable. We do not want to go from an ultra-controlling environment that disallows any Scriptural understanding that disagrees with that of a Centralized leadership to one of a free-for-all of ideas and opinions. Both extremes are dangerous. We look for the path of moderation. The way to worship in both spirit and truth. (John 4:23, 24)
We can keep to that middle ground by applying the principle quoted above from John 7:18.
Disfellowshipping – Not for Us
Looking back over the past four years, I can see in myself a progression and, I hope, some positive growth. This is not self-praise, for this same growth is a natural consequence of the journey we are all on. Pride hinders this growth, while humility accelerates it. I confess that I was held back for a time by the prideful bias of my JW upbringing.
When we started the site, one of our concerns—again under the influence of a JW mindset—was how to protect ourselves from apostate thinking. I do not mean the distorted view that the Organization has of apostasy, but real apostasy as defined by John in 2 John 9-11. Applying the JW disfellowshipping policy to those verses caused me to wonder how I could protect the forum members from those intent on misleading others with personal ideas and agendas. I didn’t want to be arbitrary nor act as some self-appointed censor. On the other hand, a moderator must moderate, meaning his job is to keep the peace and preserve an ambiance that is conducive to mutual respect and individual freedom.
I did not always handle these duties well initially, but two things happened to help me. First was a better understanding of the Scriptural view of how to keep the congregation clean from corruption. I came to see the many unscriptural elements in the Judicial Process as practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I realized that disfellowshipping is a man-made policy controlled by an ecclesiastical leadership. This is not what the Bible teaches. It teaches a drawing away or disassociation from the sinner based on personal experience. In other words, each individual must determine for himself or herself whom he chooses to associate with. It is not something that others enforce or impose.
The second, which went hand-in-hand with the first, was the experience of seeing how a real congregation—even a virtual one like ours—deals with these matters under the umbrella of God’s holy spirit. I came to see that by and large a congregation polices itself. The members act as if with one mind when an intruder comes in. (Mt 7:15) Most of us are not little sheep, but war-weary spiritual soldiers with a lot of experience dealing with wolves, thieves and plunderers. (John 10:1) I have seen how the spirit guiding us creates an atmosphere which repels those who would teach of their own originality. Often these depart without any need for draconian measures. They sense they are no longer welcome. Therefore, when we encounter the “ministers of righteousness” Paul spoke of at 2 Corinthians 6:4, we have but to follow the advice of James:
“Subject yourselves, therefore, to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from YOU.” (Jas 4:7)
This isn’t to say that in extreme cases the moderator will not act, for there may be times when there is no other method for preserving the peace of our meeting place. (If a man were to enter a physical meeting place and shout and scream and act abusively, no one would consider it unfair censorship that the individual be escorted out.) But I have seen that we rarely have to make the determination. We only have to wait to perceive the will of the congregation; for that is what we are, a congregation. The word in Greek means those who are called out from the world. (See Strong’s: ekklésia) Is that not what we are, most literally? For we comprise a congregation that is truly world spanning and which, with our Father’s blessing, will soon embrace multiple language groups.
So let us, at this early stage, abandon any notion of an official disfellowshipping policy implemented by any form of leadership. Our leader is one, the Christ, while we are all brothers. We can act in unison as did the Corinthian congregation to rebuke any wrongdoers to avoid contamination, but we will do so in a way that is loving so that none may be lost to the sadness of the world. (2 Cor. 2:5-8)
What If We Misbehave
The leaven of the Pharisees is the contaminating influence of a corrupted leadership. Many Christian sects began with the best of intentions, but slowly descended into rigid, rule-oriented orthodoxies. It may interest you to know that Hasidic Jews began as an all-embracing branch of Judaism given to copying the loving-kindness of Christianity. (Hasidic means “loving-kindness”.) It is now one of the more rigid forms of Judaism.
This seems to be the way of organized religion. There is nothing wrong with a little order, but Organization means leadership, and it always seems to end up with human leaders supposedly acting in God’s name. Men dominate men to their injury. (Eccl. 8:9) We don’t want that here.
I can give you all the promises in the world that this will not happen to us, but only God and Christ can make promises that never fail. Therefore, it will be up to you to keep us in check. This is why the commenting feature will continue. If the day should ever come when we stop listening and begin to seek our own glory, then you must vote with your feet as many of you have already done with the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Let Paul’s words to the Romans be our motto: “Let God be found true, though every man be a liar.” (Ro 3:4)
[i] (Visitors are counted based on distinct IP addresses, so the actual figure will be lower because people log in anonymously from different IP addresses. People will also view a page more than once.)