[From ws15/06 p. 24 for August 10-16]
“Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify
your hearts, you indecisive ones.” (Jas 4:8)
Since the decade following the failed expectations surrounding the year 1975, the Organization has focused almost all its attention on Christian conduct and obedience. So articles such as this one, which discusses ways for Jehovah’s Witnesses to remain chaste and stay free of sexual immorality, are commonplace.
Most of the counsel is sound, but it is up to the reader to take from it that which most applies to his or her personal circumstances. However, a word of caution is called for regarding the counsel under the subtitle “Call the Elders”.
Paragraph 15 states: “…courageously placing ourselves under the kindly scrutiny of a mature Christian may prevent us from rationalizing any wrong desires.”
While this paragraph does not specifically name elders as the “mature Christians” in question, the next paragraph opens with the words: “Christian elders are especially qualified to help us. (Read [biblegateway passage=”James 5:13-15″])”
It then tells us to read from James, which says:
“Is there anyone suffering hardship among you? Let him carry on prayer. Is there anyone in good spirits? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the elders of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, applying oil to him in the name of Jehovah. 15 And the prayer of faith will make the sick one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (Jas 5:13-15)
If you, as a Jehovah’s Witness, are reading these 2 paragraphs and do not think deeply on what the verses in James actually say, what would you conclude you should do if you are having trouble dealing with wrong sexual desires?
Would you not conclude that you should put yourself under the “kindly scrutiny” of an elder?
What exactly does scrutiny entail? Dictionary.com gives the following:
- a searching examination or investigation; minute inquiry.
- surveillance; close and continuous watching or guarding.
- a close and searching look.
Is there anything in the book of James – indeed is there anything in all of the Christian Scriptures – that instructs us to subject ourselves to the investigation, minute inquiry, surveillance, or close and continuous watching and guarding of another Christian?
The above reference to James is often used to support the idea that we should confess all major sins to the elders. Indeed, it is pretty much the only Scripture employed for this purpose because it’s the only one that can be twisted to support this erroneous interpretation. The Catholics have used it for this purpose since they instituted the confessional, and likely even before that. Many modern Christian sects and denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, use it for the same reason.
However, even a cursory reading reveals that James was not directing us to confess our sins to men. God grants forgiveness, and men should not be in the equation. In fact, the forgiveness of sins is incidental and comes as a consequence of the prayer of the righteous man to heal the sick, not the sinner. The forgiveness of sins comes as an incidental result to that prayer of healing.
The idea that we need to tell elders the intimate details of any sins we commit is a creation of the religious leaders; a controlling mechanism employed by the Catholic church and the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses—amongst others. It is all about the domination of men over their fellows. It actually distances us from our forgiving heavenly father.
Think of it this way: if you have committed some sin or wrong toward your earthly father, would you go to your older brother and confess it? Would you need your older brother to judge you and determine your worthiness before your father? How ridiculous that must sound! And yet, that is what we practice in religion after religion claiming to be Christian.
There is another warning to keep in mind. The elders are not appointed by Holy Spirit but by men; specifically, the circuit overseer. It is true that the local elders are supposed to recommend a brother for appointment, presumably based on the requirements laid out in the Bible at 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. But in the end, the final decision is entirely in the hands of the circuit overseer and the brothers in the remote service desk at the branch office. If one confesses to an elder because of his appointment or position, one is putting trust in the office rather than the man. So if you’re having trouble dealing with wrong desires, seek out a mature and trusted friend regardless of his official office or lack thereof. For if you confess matters to the wrong person, things may actually end up worse for you. This is a sad reality.
An Observation from the August Broadcast
Around the 8:30 minute mark of the August broadcast, Samuel Herd speaks about how to give commendation to another, using the example of a speaker who has an irritating mannerism. In showing how we can commend a speaker even in circumstances where we are annoyed by some overused phrase like, “Do you know what I mean?” he states the following:
“Of course, if you are an elder or the theocratic ministry school overseer you might bring the overused phrase to his attention, but after sincere commendation.”
By this, he is unwittingly demonstrating the class distinctions that exist in the organization. Obviously, no sister should think to offer counsel to a speaker about such a flaw in his teaching technique. Indeed not even a capable brother, a ministerial servant for example, should dare to counsel an elder.
There is precedent for such an understanding in the Bible, but it is found with the camp of the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Admittedly, not the kind of company we would wish to be identified with.
“In answer they said to him: “You were altogether born in sin, and yet are you teaching us?” And they threw him out!” (Joh 9:34)
Jesus never reflected such a haughty attitude.
When a Grecian woman reasoned with the Lord to get him to change his mind, he did not rebuke her for being presumptuous, or for forgetting her place. Instead, he recognized her faith and blessed her for it.
“The woman was a Grecian, a Sy·ro·phoe·niʹcian nationally; and she kept asking him to expel the demon from her daughter. 27 But he began by saying to her: “First let the children be satisfied, for it is not right to take the bread of the children and throw it to the little dogs.” 28 In reply, however, she said to him: “Yes, sir, and yet the little dogs underneath the table eat of the crumbs of the little children.” 29 At that he said to her: “Because of saying this, go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”” (Mr 7:26-29)
There are many fine elders to be sure. There are even more with whom one should never trust intimate details of ones proclivities. Many are affected by the pervasive attitude in the modern organization that elevates elders above the rest of the flock. For this reason following the counsel from paragraph 16 of this week’s study without carefully considering the character and spirituality of the man is ill-advised.
Regarding sisters correcting brothers, there is a biblical precedent found at Acts 18:24-26. Here, Apollos was teaching, but not quite correctly, teaching only the baptism of John, so Priscilla and Aquila BOTH “explained the way of God more accurately to him.” A sister was involved in correcting a brother.
Good comment billy also what can be a good aid is knowledge and meditation as explained by the proverbs . If we become wise by pondering on the consequences the that in itself can be a great help . However it seems most if not all have a tendency to be drawn on particular aspects of wrongdoing that we find particulary difficult to deal with . We may start to rationalise and decieve ourselves . Its possible we may have a genetic or even psycholigical factor . We may need some serious help and understanding then . From what ive… Read more »
Re: “We Can Remain Chaste” without reading the article I would answer that by saying The more one develops respect and love for oneself and others the less likely we will be to commit a wrongdoing against our selves or others.
I’ve had a number of dealings with elders in the past and they were far from being understanding or supportive. I learned not to approach them again for anything. And what that has done for me is make me a much stronger christian because I take full responsibility for myself and my life
James was making the same point as Jesus when he linked physical illness with sin, ultimately its our state of Adamic sin that brings about illness and death. Compare Matt 9: 1-8; Rom 5:12
In no why was James instituting a Catholic type confessional arrangement that empowers men to forgive the sins of their fellow workers. Also remember some 1st century Christian received the gift of healing as passed on by the holy spirit, but this gift is no longer available. 1 Co 13
I was tinking about these types of articles about remaining chaste . In actual fact in the organisation and in the long run it doesnt seem to make much difference at all wether we are or not chaste . All that really matters is that we are willing to subject ourselves to the dictates of the religion via the elders after what they percieve to be wrongdoing . Isnt it true that even if one is disfellowshipped . Lets say for adultery if we are willing to subject ourselves turning up at meetings and being shunned . Then in time… Read more »
“The elders are not appointed by holy spirit ….” No indeed, and neither are the Governing Body.
The GB would do well to forthrightly explain just exactly HOW they get appointed, and by WHOM. Dancing around the question can’t change the fact that they were voted into office by men. And who appointed THOSE men? Other men. Who apointed Charles Taze Russell? Who appointed Rutherford? The truth is, it’s more like Rutherford appointed himself in a palace coup than anything else.
One brother made a commit a few weeks back for the watchtower magazine, and he said we have to follow the elders and the governing body and what they say no matter the changes because they are appointed by holy spirit, I almost jumped out of my chair and said What!!!!!!
It was a moment I will never forget, and yeah this appointment by holy spirit for the elders is really getting the spotlight in the Australia Rc courtroom going on, yeah and they don’t mention that the Overseer appoints the men, wow
Great write up, missed these and can’t wait for next week watchtower, stuff gets awesome. And also great new site 🙂
Disfellowshipp or Not, that is the question? Wel as a JW, when someone commits a “serious sin”, they face 3 types of punishment: Private reproof (when one is deemed repentant and it was a sin that either no one, or very, VERY few, knew about), public reproof (when more people know about the sin, it’s announced from the stage to the entire congregation) and disfellowshipping (when one is deemed unrepentant, and the shunning starts. This is always announced.) The nature of the “sin” is never announced,-“this is to inform the congregation that so-and-so is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”.… Read more »
Like others though the problem i have is the societies application of james 5 v 13 to 15 . The whole idea of going to the elders is for them to pray for physical relief of sickness and for forgiveness of sins . It mentions nothing about forming judicial committees to judge repentance . For goodness sake i know some young people have been put off for good by these secret hearings who claim as teenagers were subject to a barrage of personal and intimate questions by 3 older men in secret . One young woman whos family have shunned… Read more »
I had a good friend, a mature sister, once tell me that if the elders are going to be princes in the new world like the Society says, she doesn’t want to be there.
My son said the same after hearing this at a convention. He had a terrible experience when he was a teenager do to interigation about what some older friends did or not … One of the men had to be restrained by the other one …
I cant say i disagree with the counsel in the article for the most part its good . I think where there is a massive problem though the counsel to be holy is for christians who are led by gods spirit . Galatians 5 v 16 to 18 and i do feel that unless a person has gods spirit then its extemely difficult to break free from the natural tendency to follow the flesh . The brothers even by thier own admission are not led individually by the spirit in thier lives but led by what they percieve as gods… Read more »
You make a valid point, Kev. I concur.
Sorry what on earth am i talking about its the prodigal son not the good samaritan .DOH,
Forgiving and Gaining our Brother-A primary obligation before God Confessing and repenting is an act between individual Christians, one with another, and God. Below are the basic procedures Jesus set forth in order that his disciples may not overstep themselves and sin against the Father who has freely forgiven our own sins known only to Him. (Matthew 5:23, 24) “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and… Read more »
Nicely put. Just for the record, since I resigned as an elder, I’ve had more grievances thrown my way by others than I ever got before, some even admitting that our organization has become quite Catholic.
My husband has had the same experience.
So have I. Ex-elders can be especially helpful to brothers who are in danger of unjust treatment. My knowledge (and possession) of the elder handbook has helped a few to get fairer treatment, just because they knew their rights. Sometimes I feel like Mister Incredible (without the super powers, unfortunately) when he helped insurance claimants navigate the system.
“The routine appointment and deletion of elders in JW Congregations is now handled independently by the circuit overseer. Announcements of the appointments are made at the first meeting following his visit. This is not out of line with Titus 1:5 and the authority given to Timothy by the apostle Paul. Nevertheless, it does return to a self-electing system used in the 1930s and abandoned with much fanfare as a “theocratic refinement.” How does holy spirit function in this regard? Evidently very little, given the politics of men recommending men. It used to be that the spiritual direction from the “faithful… Read more »
I used to joke about the guy at the service desk rubber-stamping a bunch of appointments so as to get to lunch on time. Looks like I may not have been joking as much as I thought I was.
It is notable that no where in the passage of James does it say to confess sins to the elders, or for that matter to any man whatsoever. It directs persons who are “sick” to go to them. The prayers of the elders said in faith were supposed to help the ailing one get better. When we view this from the context of the first century, in which gifts of the spirit were manifest, there is no reason not to believe this was intended literally. It was admonition for those literally sick, not “sick” with guilt over sins they failed… Read more »
I agree completely with your comments. I could never buy into the idea that James was speaking of a “spiritual sickness.” To me it was very plainly speaking of literal sickness. It’s funny how we (JWs) dance around these things to try to prove our point, isn’t it?
It’s become clear to me over the last year that there are quite a few things that we (JWs) dance around, as you so rightly put it Dorcas. I had a conversation with a friend recently on a scriptural point and the mental gymnastics he went through to try to prove the official point wore me out, let alone him. ?
(James 5:16) Therefore, openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. If what James really meant was “confess your sins to the elders”, this is a strangely roundabout way to say it. It may be that James had in mind sins that we commit against one another, but in any case I can see a benefit to confessing serious sins to a trusted brother for two reasons: 1) it seems to have therapeutic value and 2) as a deterrent to the practice of sin since it would be far too… Read more »
I agree with all your comments. There are some elders that seem to relish hunting down and punishing ‘sinners’. I wouldn’t go to them for help if I had a problem. I wouldn’t go to them for help, period. On your point about the August broadcast, I wonder who corrects the elders , CO’s, or dare I say it, the GB? 😉 At our convention we had talks from a GB member who had a mannerism of preceding almost every sentence with the same two words. I managed to phase it out of my head for the most part but… Read more »
A friend was just making that same comment to me that a fellow Elder in his congregation were he once served , was known to disfellowshipp first and ask questions later or as you put it, he relished in”punishing sinners”