[From ws4/16 p. 18 for June 13-19]
“They continued devoting themselves…to associating together.”—Acts 2:42
Paragraph 3 states: “Immediately after the Christian congregation was formed, followers of Jesus began “devoting themselves . . . to associating together.” (Acts 2:42) You likely share their desire to attend congregation meetings regularly.”
Hold on just a minute. Acts 2:42 isn’t talking about regular attendance at scheduled weekly congregation meetings. Let’s read the whole verse, shall we?
“And they continued devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to associating together, to the taking of meals, and to prayers.” (Ac 2:42)
“The taking of meals”? Perhaps the third paragraph should close with this sentence. ‘You likely share their desire to attend congregation meetings and congregation meals regularly.’
The context will help put things into perspective. It was Pentecost, the start of the last days. Peter had just given a stirring speech that moved three thousand to repent and be baptized.
“All those who became believers were together and had everything in common, 45 and they were selling their possessions and properties and distributing the proceeds to all, according to what each one needed. 46 And day after day they were in constant attendance in the temple with a united purpose, and they took their meals in different homes and shared their food with great rejoicing and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and finding favor with all the people. At the same time Jehovah continued to add to them daily those being saved.” (Ac 2:44-47)
Does this sound like regular congregation meetings?
Please don’t misunderstand. No one is saying that it’s wrong for a congregation to meet together nor is it wrong to schedule such meetings. But if we are looking for a scriptural reason to justify our scheduled congregation meetings two times every week—or to justify the schedule during the latter half of the twentieth century of meeting together three times a week—then why not use a Scripture that actually shows the first century Christians doing just that?
The answer is simple. There isn’t one.
The Bible does speak of congregations meeting in the homes of certain ones, and we can assume that this was done on some sort of regular basis. Perhaps they also continued the practice of the taking of meals at such times. After all, the Bible speaks of love feasts. (Ro 6:5; 1Co 16:19; Co 4:15; Phil 1:2; Jude 1:12)
One has to wonder why this practice hasn’t been continued. After all, it would save millions, even billions, of dollars in real estate purchases. It would also contribute to a much more personal relationship between all congregation members. Smaller, more intimate groups would mean little risk of anyone spiritually weak, or materially in need, going unnoticed or slipping through the cracks. Why are we following the pattern of meeting in large halls that was set by apostate Christendom? We may call them “Kingdom halls”, but that’s just sticking a difference label on the same old package. Let’s face it, they’re churches.
The Medium Is the Message
Paragraph 4 opens with the heading: “Meetings educate us”.
So true, but in what way? Schools also educate us, but while we are learning math, geography, and grammar, we are also learning evolution.
Large meetings where everyone sits in rows, facing front, with no opportunity to speak with one another nor to question anything that is being taught, are an excellent means to control the message. This is further achieved by having a rigidly controlled structure. Public talks must be based on approved outlines. Watchtower studies are a fixed Q&A format, where all the answers are to come directly from the paragraphs. The weekly Christian Life and Ministry meeting or CLAM meeting is completely controlled by an outline posted on JW.org. Even the occasional Local Needs part isn’t local at all, but a script that is prepared centrally. This makes the last sentence of paragraph 4 tragically laughable.
“For instance, think of the spiritual gems you discover each week as you prepare for and listen to highlights from the Bible reading!”
When the Bible highlights were first introduced, we could indeed discover spiritual gems from the weekly assigned reading and share them with others through our comments, but apparently that introduced a dangerous gap in content control. Now, we must answer specific, prepared questions. There is no room for originality, for delving into the meat of the Bible message. No, the message is firmly locked down by control central. This reminded me of a book written back in the 1960s.
“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.
No witness would deny that if you went to a Catholic Church, a Mormon Temple, a Jewish Synagogue or a Moslem Mosque, that the message heard would be tailored to ensure the loyalty of all listeners. In organized religion, the medium affects the message. Actually, the medium is the message.
This is so much the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses that if one of their congregation were to give a comment that shared the Bible message even if it contradicted what the medium said, he or she would be disciplined.
What About Fellowship?
We don’t only associate with one another to learn, but also to encourage.
Paragraph 6 says: “And when we converse with our brothers and sisters before and after the meetings, we feel a sense of belonging and enjoy true refreshment.”
Actually, this is often not the case. I’ve been in many congregations on three continents over the past 50+ years and a common complaint is that some feel left out because of the formation of numerous cliques. The sad fact is that one only has a few minutes before and after a meeting to build on this “sense of belonging”. When we had book studies, we could hang around for some time afterward and often did. We’d build real friendships that way. And the older men and women could give their undivided attention to those present, free of administrative interruptions.
Not anymore. Book studies have ended, possibly because they also created a loophole in the centralized control structure.
In paragraph 8, we read Hebrews 10:24-25. The latest edition of the NWT uses the rendering “not forsaking our meeting together”, whereas the previous edition rendered it as “not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together”. A subtle difference to be sure, but if one wants to encourage, not free Christian assembly, but “our” highly structured meeting environment, it makes sense to use the word “meeting”.
True Christians Need to Associate
If you suggested to a Witness that he should go to a Catholic mass or a Baptist service, he would recoil in horror. Why? Because that would mean association with false religion. However, as any regular reader of this forum, or its sister forums, will know, there are a number of teachings unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses which are also not based on the Bible. Does the same logic apply?
Some feel it does, while others continue to associate. The parable of the wheat and weeds indicates that among those who chose to gather together in any organized religion, there will be both wheat (true Christians) and weeds (false Christians).
There are a number of our readers and commenters who continue to associate regularly with their local congregation, though they work hard to sift through the instruction. They realize it is their responsibility to decide what to accept or reject.
“That being the case, every public instructor, when taught respecting the kingdom of the heavens, is like a man, a householder, who brings out of his treasure store things new and old.” (Mt 13:52)
On the other hand, there are many who have ceased attending all meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses because they find that listening to the many things taught which are untrue causes them too much internal conflict.
I fall into the latter category, but have found a way to still associate with my brothers and sisters in Christ by means of weekly online gatherings. Nothing fancy, just an hour spent reading the Bible and interchanging thoughts. One doesn’t need a big group either. Remember, Jesus said “For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.”” (Mt 18:20)