[From ws3/16 p. 3 for May 2-8]
“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?”—Luke 14:28
In the title, “young ones” is the phrase the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses prefers to use instead of children or preteens. The title could accurately be reworded “Children, Are You Ready to Get Baptized”. Of late, the Governing Body has been promoting the idea that the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses should get baptized.
Before we get into this article’s subject matter, we do well to review what the Bible actually teaches us about baptism. From the Hebrew Scriptures, there is nothing. Baptism wasn’t part of the Israelite system of worship. It was only introduced as a requirement in the Christian Scriptures.
Before Jesus, John the Baptist baptized. However, his baptism was to pave the way for the Messiah, and was only in symbol of repentance from sin. (Ac 13:24)
Nowhere in the Bible do we see baptism as some sort of graduation ceremony granted following a long course of instruction and after passing a test in the form of a qualifying questionnaire. All that was required was belief in and acceptance of Christ. (Ac 8:12-13; Ac 8:34-39; Ac 9:17-19; Ac 10:44-48; Ac 16:27-34)
Baptism follows repentance, but doesn’t require a period of time to elapse while we prove to ourselves and to God what we have desisted from all sin. In fact, it is done in recognition that we cannot free ourselves from sin. Rather, it is seen as a necessary step so that God has the basis to forgive us of our sins. (1Pe 3:20-21)
The Scriptures say nothing about making a vow or solemn promise to God as a prerequisite to baptism, nor is baptism presented as a public symbol that such a vow has been made in private.
Jesus, whose footsteps we are to follow closely, was baptized and “began his ministry” when he was “about thirty years old”. (1 Pe 2:21; Luke 3:23.) While in the case of Cornelius “all who heard the message” were baptized, as was ‘all the household’ of the jailer in Macedonia, no child is specifically shown to be baptized. (Acts 10:44, 48; 16:33.)
This is, in a nutshell, what the Bible teaches Christians about baptism. Let us bear all that in mind as we examine what the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses would have us and our children believe is required for baptism.
The article opens and concludes with the real-life example of a 12-year-old named Christopher. The success he has experienced in serving the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is used to encourage other children to do the same.
“God’s Word indicates that the steps of dedication and baptism are the start of a life during which Christians will experience blessings from Jehovah but also opposition from Satan. (Prov. 10:22; 1 Pet. 5:8)” – Par. 2
If you remove the words “dedication and”, the sentence is true. The writer of the article expects the reader to accept that there is a Scriptural basis for dedication without having to provide the proof. As Jesus said, “Let the reader use discernment.” (Mt 24:15)
The paragraph directs us to read Luke 14:27-30, because we have to count the cost of discipleship, i.e., baptism. However, carrying the torture stake of Christ is something required of those who are baptized with Holy Spirit. JW doctrine says that the Other Sheep are not baptized with holy spirit, because this would mean they are anointed. So why is this Scripture being used since it doesn’t support the idea of dedication among the Other Sheep?
“It is a great privilege to get baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” – Par. 3
This paragraph quotes Matthew 28:19-20 as proof, yet this Scripture speaks of being baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nothing is said about being baptized as a Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet, the Governing Body added this requirement back in the 1980s, requiring those getting baptized to do so in the name of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is viewed as a privilege. The Bible never presents baptism as a privilege, but as a requirement.
To be sure, baptism opens the door to congregation “privileges” such as pioneering and even passing the microphone around. Such privileges serve as a carrot to lead horse-like new ones to baptismal water, so to speak.
“…baptism is an important and appropriate step for a young person who has manifested considerable maturity and has made a dedication to Jehovah.—Prov. 20:7.”
That is quite a statement, isn’t it? And as proof, they offer Proverbs 20:7 which says:
“The righteous one is walking in his integrity. Happy are his children who come after him.” (Pr 20:7)
If you can explain to me how this text supports the point being made in the article, please share it with me, as I’m baffled as to the relevance of this reference. And considering Jesus’ example and the fact that, for JWs, baptism is irrevocable and means accountability to the congregation judicial apparatus, it is a fair question whether baptism is appropriate for minors at all.
What’s Wrong with Dedication?
If at this stage you are saying, “But what’s your problem with being dedicated to Jehovah? Aren’t Christians supposed to dedicate their lives to God?”
Those are good questions based on an apparently logical assumption. But we must remember that what we think is right and necessary isn’t always what Jehovah knows is right and necessary. Recognizing that is the start of true submission to the will of God.
While the idea of dedication to God seems good and right, and making it a requirement before getting baptized might even seem logical, it is arrogance on the part of men to make it a requirement if it is not found in the Bible.
Paragraph 5 to 9
There is fine counsel in these paragraphs as long as the reader realizes that the will of Jehovah is not defined by an organization run by men, but by the Word of God, and that we should not apply the interpretation of men as if it were the Word of Jehovah.
“…baptism symbolizes that you made a solemn promise to Jehovah himself.” – Par. 10
Neither of the two Scriptures found in this paragraph proves this. Not even close. Moreover, this statement contradicts what is plainly stated by Peter about the significance of baptism. He says that it is the “request made to God for a clean conscience.” Neither he nor any other Bible writer says that it is a symbol of a solemn premise or vow made to God. In fact, there is nothing in the Christian Scriptures where the Father requires us to make a promise to him. (1Pe 3:20-21)
Is It Wrong to Preach Dedication Before Baptism?
Within the framework of Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching, the requirement to dedicate oneself to God makes sense. To JWs, Jehovah is the universal sovereign and the theme of the Bible is the vindication of that sovereignty. As we’ve seen here, the vindication of God’s sovereignty is not a Bible theme and the word “sovereignty” doesn’t even appear in the NWT Bible. The reason why the Governing Body continues to promote this teaching is explored here.
By imposing this requirement, the Organization reinforces the subservient role of the Other Sheep as God’s friends, but not his children. How so? Consider this: Should a young child always obey a loving parent, especially one who is a faithful servant of God? If you answer, Yes, then would you also expect that child to be dedicated to the Father? Would a loving father require that his children all swear allegiance to him? Would he require them to promise self-sacrificing dedication to his will? Is that what Jehovah expects from his universal family? Are angels all required to make a vow of dedication or allegiance to God? That may work in the “Sovereign with Subjects” scheme of government the Organization teaches, but in the “Father with Children” relationship God is seeking to restore, it doesn’t fit. What fits is obedience motivated by love, not the obligation to keep a promise.
Some may still counter that there is nothing wrong, nothing unscriptural, about requiring all Christians to make a vow, or as paragraph 10 puts it, “a solemn promise” to God.
Actually, that is not really true.
“Again YOU heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You must not swear without performing, but you must pay your vows to Jehovah.’ 34 However, I say to YOU: Do not swear at all, neither by heaven, because it is God’s throne; 35 nor by earth, because it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor by your head must you swear, because you cannot turn one hair white or black. 37 Just let YOUR word Yes mean Yes, YOUR No, No; for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one.” (Mt 5:33-37)
Here we have an explicit command from Jesus not to swear, not to make vows or solemn promises. He says that making such vows comes from the wicked one. Is there somewhere in Scripture that Jesus introduces an exception to this rule? Somewhere that he says that the one vow or solemn promise that God requires of us is a vow of dedication to him? If not, then when a human religious authority tells us we have to do this, we should take Jesus at his word and admit that such a requirement comes “from the wicked one.”
Imposing this requirement is a recipe for guilt.
Say a father says to his young child, “Son, I want you to promise me you will never lie to me.” What child would not make that promise with the full intention of keeping it? Then come the teen years and inevitably the child lies to the father to cover up some wrongdoing. Now he’s burdened with not only the guilt from the lie, but that of the broken promise. Once a promise has been broken, it can never be unbroken.
Once broken, a promise is void.
So if we tie baptism to a solemn vow made to God, then fail to keep our dedication—even once—the promise is broken. Would that not render the baptism that symbolizes the promise null and void? Which matters more, the symbol or the thing it symbolizes?
This unscriptural teaching undermines the whole purpose of baptism which is “the request made to God for a clean conscience.” (1Pe 3:20-21) Jehovah knows we will fail him from time to time because “the flesh is weak”. He would not set us up for failure by requiring of us a promise that he knows we cannot keep.
Baptism is a public declaration that we have sided with Jesus, that we acknowledge him before men.
“Everyone, then, who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father who is in the heavens.” (Mt 10:32)
If we do that, then when we inevitably stumble, our baptism provides us with the basis to ask for forgiveness and have confidence it will be granted. Knowing we are forgiven gives us a clean conscience. We can move ahead free from guilt, in the joy of knowing our Father still loves us.
What is behind this often repeated push for dedication prior to baptism?
Paragraph 16 uses Matthew 22:35-37 to show that our love for God must be wholehearted and whole-souled. Then paragraph 17 implies that Jehovah’s love is not free, but is a debt—something to be repaid.
“We owe Jehovah God and Jesus Christ…” (Par. 17)
Paragraph 18 then gets us to believing that this debt can be repaid by dedicated service to do God’s will.
“Do you appreciate what Jehovah has done for you? Then it would be fitting to dedicate your life to Jehovah and get baptized….Dedicating yourself to Jehovah and getting baptized do not make your life worse. On the contrary, serving Jehovah will make your life better. “ (Par. 18)
The effect of this subtle shift from love to service is that Witnesses commonly use the phrase, “whole-souled service to God”. Such a phrase does not appear in the Bible, and most Witnesses who utter it have Matthew 22:35-37 in mind, even though that Scripture speaks of love not service.
To witnesses, we show love to God by serving him.
To Whom Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Making a Dedication Vow?
The vow that the Watchtower is telling our children to make is a solemn promise to Jehovah to do his will. What is his will? Who defines his will?
Countless Witnesses have come home from a Regional Convention (formerly “District Convention”) wracked with guilt. They’ve heard accounts of single moms with two children who in spite of everything found the means to regular pioneer. They feel that they have not lived up to their dedication to God, their promise to give him “whole-souled service“, because they are not regular pioneers. Yet nowhere in the Bible is there a requirement to regular pioneer or to devote an arbitrary number of hours in the preaching work every month. This is not God’s will. This is the will of men, but we are made to believe it is what Jehovah wants and because we cannot give it, we are made to feel like we are breaking a promise made to God. Our Christian joy and freedom is converted into guilt and slavery to men.
As evidence of this shift in focus, consider these sidebar quotes and illustration captions from the April 1, 2006 Watchtower article, “Go and Make Disciples, Baptizing Them”.
The first lists the two questions you will be required to answer before all onlookers.
1) “On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?”
So you are required to have made the vow which Jesus forbids.
2) “Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?”
So instead of being baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are being baptized in the name of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Picture on page 23]
“Dedication is a solemn promise made to Jehovah in prayer”
[Picture on page 25]
“Our preaching work demonstrates our dedication to God”
So preaching as directed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, which involves placing the literature and showing the videos that promote the teachings of the organization, is shown as the way to fulfill our solemn promise of dedication to God.
Perhaps it’s time for us all to take a hard look at the words of Song 62 from our Song Book:
To Whom Do We Belong?
To whom do you belong?
Which god do you now obey?
Your master is he to whom you bow.
He is your god; you serve him now.
You cannot serve two gods;
Both masters can never share
The love of your heart in its ev’ry part.
To neither you would be fair.