[From ws2/16 p. 21 for April 18-24]
“May Jehovah be between you and me and between your offspring and my offspring forever.”—1Sa 20:42
Over the past few months we have seen increasing calls for loyalty among Jehovah’s Witnesses. The series of Watchtower articles for April 18-24 “Prove Yourself Loyal to Jehovah” and April 25-May 1 “Learn From Jehovah’s Loyal Servants” are a preview of some of the themes we can all expect to see driven home at the summer 2016 Regional Convention, “Remain Loyal to Jehovah”. These articles and the convention program seem to be an attempt to address a serious concern that the Governing Body has regarding the loyalty of its members.
This raises a key question: Is the Governing Body concerned with Jehovah’s Witnesses’ loyalty to God and Christ? Or rather, are they primarily concerned with loyalty to the Organization—which really means loyalty to the men in charge behind the scenes? (Mark 12:29-31; Romans 8:35-39)
As we consider the contents of these articles, let us carefully examine the scriptural and historical context of each point so that we can be prepared to answer that crucial question.
Witnesses are exhorted to imitate David and Jonathan to maintain their loyalty to fellow believers as well as to Jehovah. (1Th 2:10-11; Re 4:11) How does the Governing Body set the example in this aspect of the Christian personality?
The context of 1 Thessalonians 2:10-11 depicts Paul’s fine example in showing loyalty to the sheep in his care. The apostle Paul makes the point in verse 9 that “We were working night and day, so that we would not put an expensive burden on any one of you.” Indeed as he visited the various congregations Paul worked hard in a secular trade to avoid putting a financial burden on the brothers. (Ac 18:3; 20:34; 2Co 11:9; 2Th 3:8, 10) There is no record in the Bible from Jesus on down to the lowliest evangelizer for regular solicitation of funds. No one asked for money to purchase land, or to build luxurious headquarters.
Since loyalty is the theme, one must also ask about the example set by the Governing Body as regards loyalty to those fellow believers with a life-long record of loyal service.
A close friend of ours was recently part of the large cutbacks at Bethel. Over the last few weeks, as he was preparing to leave, he noticed that new young workers were still being brought in and were moving into the recently vacated rooms of those who had been let go despite having spent decades serving at the branch. While this move makes sound fiscal sense from the view point of a corporation’s bottom line, it does not demonstrate Christian loyalty, nor the love which is to identify Jesus’ true disciples.
In addition, where is the Christian love and loyalty that should be there for the thousands of Special Pioneers, many of whom have no savings to speak of and are at an age where they cannot find gainful employment? “Jehovah will provide” is what the Governing Body is saying, but is this not exactly the attitude that James is telling us to avoid at James 2:15-16?
Their lips speak of loyalty but their actions are far removed from their teaching. (Mt 15:8)
We will now examine the four areas where Witnesses are told to maintain their loyalty:
- When someone in authority seems unworthy of respect
- When there is a conflict of loyalties
- When we are misunderstood or misjudged
- When loyalty and personal interests clash
The Israelites “faced the challenge of being loyal to God while the king, who sat on “Jehovah’s throne,” followed a wayward course.” It is interesting to note that the concept of having human leaders and a hierarchical organization was something displeasing to Jehovah, even in ancient times. The verses at 1 Samuel 8:7-8 tell us that when the Israelites clamored for a human king, it was Jehovah “whom they [had] rejected as their king.” Could the same be said of those today who look to human leaders who put themselves in God’s place? In view of the foregoing, let us consider the track record of those kings and the wonderful new arrangement that is available in our day.
Paragraph 5 states that, by God’s allowing wicked King Saul to remain in power despite his apostate course, His people’s loyalty was tested.[i] But loyalty to whom? It is important to keep in mind that while God did often permit wicked rulers to remain in power for a time, (1) he never expected the members of his “organization” (Israel) to be blindly obedient to those wayward leaders when they taught doctrine (Baal worship) or required actions contrary to Jehovah’s clearly defined standards. (Romans 11:4) (2) Jehovah has always performed cleansing by destroying and putting an end to apostate organizations.
The results of the wayward course of God’s organization in Israel and the wonderful new arrangement available for Christians are discussed in Hebrew 8:7-13. The deficiencies of that earthly organization led Jehovah to replace it, not with a new earthly organization, but with an entirely new type of arrangement, a spiritual one. In this New Covenant arrangement, Christians no longer rely on human leaders to tell them to ‘Know Jehovah!’ but can enjoy a wonderful and direct personal relationship with their Creator, Jehovah, and their Mediator, Christ Jesus. (Heb 8:7-13)
Paragraphs 8 and 9
It is worth noting that the view published in this article regarding human governments being the higher powers was considered an apostate viewpoint for more than 33 years. (w29 6/1 p.164; w62 11/15 p.685) This is just one of dozens of examples of doctrinal and procedural ‘flip-flops’ that are characteristic of the Organization’s past. Prior to 1929 and as early as 1886 C.T. Russell recognized (along with almost all other churches and Bible scholars) that the higher powers of Romans 13 referred to human governments (Millennial Dawn Vol. 1 p.230). This view was changed in 1929 and then changed back in 1962. This raises the following questions: If God’s spirit directed a correction in his organization, would he later cause us to return back to the previous understanding? When has Jehovah required complete uniformity among his followers at all costs—even in error? (Uniformity is not the same thing as Christian unity.) What Scriptural precedent is there for God to provide false or misleading information to his followers while they wait for years until truth is revealed—or as in this example, re-revealed? (Num 23:19)
Paragraph 9 also alludes to the Watchtower’s policy that strongly discourages Jehovah’s Witnesses from attending funerals and weddings in churches. (w02 5/15 p. 28) While it is admirable that there is no official hard-line stance on this issue, it is yet another case of the Watchtower going ‘beyond the things that are written’ and imposing their conscience upon fellow believers on matters where no clear scriptural principle is involved. (1 Cor 4:6). Are these really questions of loyalty?
The apostle Paul wrote that we should “not pass judgment on differing opinions” (Ro 14:1) and reminds us: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.” (Ro 14:4)
Did you notice the subtle bait-and-switch the Watchtower writer employs in this paragraph? First, we are warned that loyalty to other pursuits or interests may ‘choke out loyalty to God,’ but then we find out what the Governing Body is really concerned with. It was not that the young chess player found that his hobby was crowding out his love of Jehovah or his spirituality, but rather his “Kingdom service”; that is, the service to the Organization that can be recorded, tallied and statistically analyzed. Here, as in many publications, the terms “Jehovah” and “the Organization” are used almost interchangeably. Yet the Bible never speaks of loyalty to an Organization as something to be desired.
Witnesses are overtly instilled with the phobia that ‘leaving the organization means abandoning God and losing salvation’. Programming members with phobias about leaving the group is a common emotional manipulation technique used in high-control groups. Steven Hassan, a researcher in this area, has developed ‘the BITE Model’ to describe the methods these groups use to keep members’ unquestioning loyalty to the group and its leaders. Controlling the Behaviour, Information, Thoughts and Emotions (BITE) that members are allowed to experience provides a powerful arsenal to keep the mind locked into a set way of thinking. Future articles will discuss how this model applies to the Watchtower in greater detail.
If you have ever tried to discuss controversial doctrinal and procedural issues with an active Jehovah’s Witness, you were most likely asked this familiar question: ‘But WHERE else shall we go away to? There is no other organization like this one.’ What these Witnesses neglect to realize is that the real question posed by the faithful apostles to Jesus was: ‘Lord, WHOM shall we go away to?’ (John 6:68). Like his disciples, we can remain loyal to Christ and his Father without the meddling influence of human religious leaders.
After considering how Saul, Jehovah’s anointed one, humiliated his son for his friendship with David, paragraph 15 begins: “In congregations of Jehovah’s people today, it is very unlikely that we would be treated unjustly.” It is so easy to say this and for those who wish to ‘see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil’, it is possible to believe this is true, but it is not. If it were, there would be no basis for the growing child abuse scandal that is threatening the name that Jehovah’s Witnesses have built for themselves in the world.
While the Governing Body is more than willing to use examples that enforce its presumed authority, such as the account of Moses and Korah (Num 16), it understandably distances itself from applying Bible accounts where the power and authority of ‘Jehovah’s anointed’ was horribly abused, as in the case of King Saul, and, in fact, the majority of Israel’s kings. The policies that have led to the mishandling of thousands of child abuse cases as well as countless poorly handled judicial cases resulting in unnecessary spiritual hardship for Jehovah’s Witnesses are the result of policies and procedures have been institutionalized among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Documents such as the Shepherd the Flock elder manual, the Guidelines for Branch Office Service Desks and various branch correspondence that came to light as a result of the Australian Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse show the extent of the issue. These are good examples of information control (the ‘I’ in Steve Hassan’s BITE Model) common in high control groups. Members at lower levels are not privy to information that can have a profound impact on their life. Indeed, what is the scriptural or legal precedent for a secret leader’s manual?
These paragraphs contain fine spiritual food and advice for business matters and marriage. We do well to ‘imitate Jonathan’s unselfish spirit if we bear in mind that a person acceptable to Jehovah “does not go back on his promise, even when it is bad for him.” (Ps 15:4)
We have considered four major areas in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to display loyalty. Let us briefly review these points and how we can apply them.
When someone in authority seems unworthy of respect.
We should be careful to use a scriptural standard against which to judge those who are worthy of respect. Jehovah has never expected his servants to give unquestioning loyalty to men or a physical organization when their Bible trained conscience informs them that they were being led astray.
When there is a conflict of loyalties.
We should carefully examine the object of the loyalty that is demanded of us. (2 Thess 2:4,11,12) Does a decision or issue conflict with loyalty to Jehovah, or only to a man-made edict or human organization?
When we are misunderstood or misjudged.
As Christians we should continually endeavor to ‘put up with one another in love’ (Eph 4:2). What should we do if a human organization presumptuously acts in God’s name and does something that brings reproach upon Jehovah? We should never blame Jehovah for the failings of imperfect men. We should keep our confidence where it rightly belongs (James 1:13; Prov 18:10)
When Loyalty and personal interests clash.
Christians do well to heed the advice found in Ps 15:4 to hold to our word even when circumstances make it difficult for us.
As we continue to endure the trials that we experience in these last days, let us ensure that we give our loyalty to the right persons. “Even if every man be found a liar,”Jehovah and his Son will never let us down (Rom 3:4). As Paul puts it so beautifully:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
[i] While the article is carefully worded to avoid stating that God uses adverse conditions among his people to test and sift, the idea is quite common among Jehovah’s Witnesses and some will no doubt feel it is implied by paragraph 5. By design or not, the idea that when all goes well it’s because Jehovah is blessing his people but, on the other hand, Jehovah allows problems among his people in order to strengthen their faith through testing and sifting, constitutes a “heads I win, tails you lose” declaration on the part of those interested in preserving the authority structure.