[From ws12/15 p. 18 for February 15-21]
“May the words of my mouth…be pleasing to you, O Jehovah.” – Ps 19:14
The purpose of these reviews is to check the published teachings of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses against what is written in God’s word. Like the ancient Beroeans in Acts 17:11, we want to carefully examine these things in the Scriptures to see if they are so.
I am happy to say that I find nothing inconsistent with Scripture in this week’s study. I think we have something to learn from it. That may upset some.
As a result of a recent discussion on DiscussTheTruth.com, I found that some seemed to be arguing against my position because it paralleled a teaching of the Organization. This surprised me initially because neither I nor anyone else had made mention of the JW view at all up to that point. Yet, it seemed that the argument was being rejected because it was tainted by association.
My position is that truth is truth, regardless of where it comes from. Truth and falsehood are each revealed using the Scriptures, never by association. As we free ourselves from our enslavement to men and their doctrines, we do not want to go too far in the opposite direction and “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
With this ideal in view, I will take this week’s Watchtower study article to heart, for I know that I have often failed to rein in my tongue when provoked.
Making Use of the Counsel as Freed Christians
For many of those who are awakening, you find yourselves confronted with a “new old” situation. “Old”, because you have already spent many years speaking to family and friends from your former faith—be it Catholic, Baptist, or whatever—and know how challenging it can be to cut through religious prejudice and reach the heart. You also know that as hard as you try, you cannot reach everyone. You have honed your skills through trial and error and know how and when to speak and when not to. You have also learned how to season your words with graciousness.
On the other hand, many of us—myself included—are not in this category. Having been “raised in the truth,” I never had to awaken from a former faith; never had to deal with a large family from which I was now separated religiously; never had to figure out when to speak up and when to remain silent, nor how to broach a delicate subject so as to win over the heart; never had to deal with the frustration of a stiff-necked rejection of plain truth; never had to handle character attacks; never knew the insidious and hidden nature of gossip-driven character assassination.
The “old” situation has now become the “new” one as we are again separating from a spiritual family that is perplexed at our departure. We must again learn how to speak with graciousness so as to win over some, but also with boldness at times so as to stand for what is right and rebuke wrongdoers and naysayers.
The principle Peter brings to light at 1 Peter 4:4 applies:
“For the time that has passed by is sufficient for YOU to have worked out the will of the nations when YOU proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries. 4 Because YOU do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of YOU.” (1Pe 4:3, 4)
At first blush, that might not seem to fit our situation. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not known for “loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries.” But to understand Peter’s words, we have to think of the times and of the audience he was addressing. Was he saying that all the gentile (non-Jewish) Christians were formerly wild, lustful, drunkards? That makes no sense. A review of the book of Acts with its account of the many gentiles who accepted Jesus shows this was not the case.
So what is Peter alluding to?
He is referring to their former religion. For instance, a pagan worshipper would take his sacrifice to the temple, where the priest would butcher the animal and take a portion for himself. He’d make an offering of some of the meat, and keep or sell the rest. (That was one way in which they were financed, and the reason for Paul’s provision at 1Co 10:25.) The worshipper would then feast on his portion of the offering, often with his friends. They’d drink and revel and get drunk. They’d worship idols. With inhibitions lowered by the consumption of alcohol, they might retire to another section of the temple where the temple prostitutes, male and female, plied their wares.
This is what Peter is referring to. He’s saying that the people with whom those Christians used to worship were now puzzled by the former companion’s abandonment of such practices. Unable to explain it, they began to speak abusively of such ones. While Jehovah’s Witnesses do not worship as pagans once did, the principle still applies. Puzzled by your withdrawal and unable to explain it, they will speak abusively of you.
Given the fine counsel about proper Christian use of the tongue in this week’s study article, is such a response acceptable? Of course not, but it is understandable and ultimately very revealing of a widespread organizational attitude.
Why They Speak Abusively
Allow me to give you two different accounts of former publishers who have left the JW flock to illustrate why Peter’s words still apply.
My sister was on her own in the congregation for years. Married to an unbeliever (from the Witness perspective) she was never included in any congregation social function. She got little to no support. Why? Because she wasn’t sufficiently active in the preaching work. She was viewed as a weak one, a witness on the periphery of the Organization. Thus, when she stopped attending altogether, no one batted an eye. No elders came to visit, or even to call to give her a few encouraging words by phone. The only call she got was for her time. (She continued to preach informally.) However, when she finally stopped reporting time, even that call ceased. It seemed they had expected her to leave at some point and so when it happened, it just confirmed their view.
On the other hand, another couple we are very close to recently stopped going to meetings. They were both active in the congregation. The wife had served as a pioneer for over a decade and continued to be active in the mid-week preaching work. Both were regular weekend preachers as well. They fell into the JW category of being “one of us.” So a sudden stop in meeting attendance did not go unnoticed. Suddenly witnesses who had had little to do with them, wanted to meet. All wanted to know why they had stopped attending. Knowing the character of those who were calling, the couple was very cautious about what they said, replying that it was a personal decision. They were still willing to associate, but not for the purpose of answering questions.
Now a loving Organization impelled by the principle of the lost sheep Jesus gave us at Mt 18:12-14 would waste no time in paying them a kindly visit to see what could be done to help. This did not happen. What did happen was that the husband got a call with two elders on the phone line (to provide for the two-witness rule in case the husband said anything incriminating) demanding a meeting. When the husband declined, the tone became even more aggressive and he was asked how he felt about the Organization. When he declined to be specific, the elder referred to things he had been told which the couple allegedly did—things which turned out to be totally false and which were based on rumor. When the brother asked who had started this rumor the elder declined to say on the grounds that he had to protect the confidentiality of the informant.
I write this not because it is news to you. In fact, most of us have experienced similar circumstances firsthand. I write it to point out that Peter’s admonition is alive and well and living in the 21st Century.
Here’s part of the reason why they act this way: In my sister’s case, her departure was expected. They had already pigeon-holed her, which was why they made little effort to include her socially.
However, in the case of the couple, they were a respected part of the congregation, part of the core group. Their abrupt departure was an unspoken condemnation. Did they depart because there was something wrong with the local congregation? Did they depart because the elders were acting badly? Did they depart because they viewed the Organization itself as flawed? Questions would be raised in the minds of others. Though the couple said nothing, their action was an implicit condemnation.
The only way to exonerate the elders, the local congregation, and the Organization was to discredit the couple. They had to be pigeon-holed; placed in a category that could easily be dismissed. They needed to be viewed as malcontents, or trouble makers, or best, apostates!
“Because YOU do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of YOU.” (1Pe 4:4)
Substitute an appropriate word or phrase for “debauchery” and you will see that the principle still applies with the JW community.
Applying the Article’s Counsel
Actually, it is not the article’s counsel, so much as the Bible’s counsel that it highlights which we should apply. Let us not return abuse for abuse. Yes, we must speak the truth—calmly, peaceably, at times boldly, but never abusively.
We are all withdrawing from the Organization. Some have made a clean and abrupt break. Some have been disfellowshipped for their faithfulness to the truth of God’s word. Some have disassociated themselves (disfellowshipping by another name) because their conscience impelled them to do so. Others have withdrawn quietly so as not to lose contact with family and friends, reasoning that they can still help them in some way. Some continue to associate to some degree, but are withdrawing spiritually. Each makes his or her determination on how best to proceed through this process.
However, we are still under the mandate to make disciples and to preach the good news. (Mt 28:18-19) As the article’s opening paragraph illustrates by using James 3:5, our tongue can set a whole woodland ablaze. We only want to use the tongue destructively if we are destroying falsehood. However, the concept of collateral damage and acceptable losses is not a Scriptural one, so when we destroy falsehood, let us not misuse the tongue and destroy souls. We do not want to stumble anyone. Rather, we want to find the words that will reach the heart and help others to wake up to the truth we have recently discovered.
So have a careful read of this week’s Watchtower and extract from it the good and see how you can make use of it in seasoning your own words with salt. I know I shall.