[From ws5/16 p. 8 for July 4-10]
“Go,…and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them…, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Mt 28:19, 20.
There was a time, many years ago, when we did not boast about ourselves, when we tried to appeal to the intellect. (This was after the days of Judge Rutherford.) We’d explain what the Bible taught about true religion and then ask the reader to identify who, among all the religions out there, were fulfilling these requirements. That changed some years ago. I can’t recall when it was exactly that we stopped trusting the reader to figure it out and started supplying the answer ourselves. It came across as boastful, but at the time it seemed fairly minor.
True, there can be valid reasons for some boasting. Paul told the Corinthians, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1Co 1:31 ESV) However, the Christian must be very careful, for boasting often identifies a proud and deceitful heart.
“Here I am against the prophets of false dreams,” is the utterance of Jehovah, “who relate them and cause my people to wander about because of their falsehoods and because of their boasting.” (Je 23:32)
One thing seems to be clear about boasting: We should never boast about the work we have been assigned to do, especially the preaching of the good news.
“If, now, I am declaring the good news, it is no reason for me to boast, for necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news!” (1Co 9:16)
Having said that, this article seems to have pushed the upper limits of our recent tendency toward self-aggrandisement.
For example, in the first paragraph, the reader is asked if it is presumptuous for Jehovah’s Witnesses to claim that they are the only ones doing the work of preaching the good news to all the inhabited earth before the end comes. Then, in the next two paragraphs, the command at Matthew 28:19, 20 is broken down into four component parts to see how JWs fare in fulfilling it.
- Make disciples
- Teach them
- Baptize them
From this point forward, the writer denigrates all other religions for failing to meet these four requirements, then openly boasts about how well Jehovah’s Witnesses are doing on each point.
For instance, much is made of the belief held by Jehovah’s Witnesses that other Christian religions do not “go” out to preach, but passively wait for disciples to come to them. This is simply not the case and it is laughingly easy to disprove.
For instance, few Witnesses ever stop to ask themselves how 2.5 billion people on earth today got to be Christian. Did these all approach ministers who were passively waiting?
To show how fallacious this reasoning is, we need go no further than the origins of the JW faith. Few witnesses today know that their faith is rooted in Adventism. It was Adventist Minister Nelson Barbour with whom C.T. Russell first collaborated in publishing the good news. (At that time the current “other sheep” doctrine did not exist.) The 7th Day Adventists—one offshoot of Adventism—began 150 years ago in 1863, or about 15 years before C.T. Russell began to publish. Today, that church claims 18 million members and has missionaries in 200 lands. How is it that they have surpassed Jehovah’s Witnesses in numbers if their evangelizing is restricted, as the Watchtower article claims, to “personal testimonies, church services, or programs broadcast through the media—whether by means of television or on the Internet”? – Par 2.
Paragraph 4 subtly introduces an idea foreign to the Bible account.
“Was Jesus referring only to the individual efforts of his followers, or was he alluding to an organized campaign to preach the good news? Since one individual would not be able to go to “all the nations,” this work would require the organized efforts of many.” – Par. 4
“Organized campaign” and “organized efforts” are phrases meant to lead us to the conclusion that this work can only be done by an organization. Yet, the words “organize”, “organizes”, “organized”, and “organization” never appear in the Christian Scriptures! Not once!! If organization is so critical, would not the Lord have told us about it? Would he not have made clear this part of his instructions to his disciples? Would not accounts of the first century congregation include many, or at least some, references to it?
It is true that one person cannot preach to all the inhabited earth, but many can, and they can do so without the need for some overriding organization run with human oversight and direction. How do we know? Because Bible history tells us so. There was no organization in the first century. For example, when Paul and Barnabas went on their famous missionary trips, who sent them? The Apostles and older men in Jerusalem? A centralized first century governing body? No. God’s spirit moved the wealthy gentile congregation in Antioch to sponsor their tours.
Since there is no evidence in Scripture of large scale (or even small scale) organized preaching activity centrally governed from Jerusalem, the article attempts to conjure up proof from an illustration.[i]
“(Read Matthew 4:18-22.) The type of fishing he referred to here was not that of a lone fisherman using a line and a lure, sitting idly while waiting for the fish to bite. Rather, it involved the use of fishing nets—a labor-intensive activity that at times required the coordinated efforts of many.—Luke 5:1-11.” – Par. 4
Apparently, a small crew on a fishing vessel is evidence that a worldwide preaching work cannot be done without centralized organization. However, the Bible evidence from the first century is that all the evangelizing was done by individuals or small “crews” of a few zealous Christians. What did this accomplish? According to Paul, the good news got to be “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” – Col 1:23.
It seems the holy spirit and the leadership of the Christ are all that is needed to accomplish the will of God.
Understanding the Kingdom and the Message
Under the subheading, “What Should Be the Message”, some very strong assertions are made.
“Jesus preached “the good news of the Kingdom,” and he expects his disciples to do the same. What group of people are preaching that message in “all the nations”? The answer is obvious—only Jehovah’s Witnesses.” – Par. 6
“The clergy of Christendom are not preaching God’s Kingdom. If they do speak about the Kingdom, many refer to it as a feeling or a condition in the heart of a Christian…. What is the good news of the kingdom?…They seem to have no idea of what Jesus will accomplish as earth’s new Ruler.” – Par. 7
So it is obvious that only Jehovah’s Witnesses understand and preach the real good news of the kingdom. The churches in the rest of Christendom have no idea what the kingdom is all about.
What proud assertions! What boastful assertions! What false assertions!
It is ridiculously easy to prove that this is false. Why, you wouldn’t even have to leave your seat in the Kingdom hall to prove it. Just Google “What is the kingdom of God?” and on the very first page of results, you will find ample evidence that other Christian religions understand the kingdom much as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, as a real government over the earth ruled by Jesus Christ as king.
It would seem that the writer is depending on his readers not to check up on him. Sadly, he is probably right for the most part.
What about the other assertion, that only Jehovah’s Witnesses are preaching the good news to all the inhabited earth?
If you read through the four gospels, you will find the message of the good news of the kingdom which Jesus preached. What Witnesses declare as good news is a hope for all Christians to live forever on a paradise earth as non-spirit-anointed friends of God. What Jesus preached is a hope for all Christians to become spirit anointed adopted children of God and reign with him in the kingdom of the heavens.
These are two very different messages! You will not find Jesus telling people that if they put faith in him, they won’t be anointed with spirit, won’t be adopted as God’s children, won’t enter the new covenant, won’t be his brothers, won’t have him as mediator, won’t see God, and won’t inherit the kingdom of the heavens. Quite the opposite. He assures his disciples of all these things being theirs. – John 1:12; Re 1:6; Mt 25:40; Mt 5:5; Mt 5:8; Mt 5:10
It is true that the family of mankind will be restored to perfect life on earth eventually, but that is not the message of the good news. The good news concerns the children of God by whom this reconciliation with God will be accomplished. We have to wait for the good news of the kingdom to be fulfilled, before we can move on to the second event, the reconciliation of Mankind. That is why Paul said:
“. . .For the eager expectation of the creation is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will but through him that subjected it, on the basis of hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 For we know that all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now. 23 Not only that, but we ourselves also who have the firstfruits, namely, the spirit, yes, we ourselves groan within ourselves, while we are earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom. 24 For we were saved in [this] hope; . . .” (Ro 8:19-24)
This short passage encapsulates the essential message of the good news. Creation is waiting for the revealing of God’s adopted children! That has to happen first so that the groaning (suffering) of creation can end. The sons of God are Christians like Paul, and these ones are in turn waiting for their adoption to occur, the release from their bodies. This is our hope and we are saved in it. This happens when our number is complete. (Re 6:11) We get the spirit as a first fruit, but that spirit will be given to the creation, to Mankind, only after the the sons of God are revealed.
Jesus did not call Christians to two hopes, but to the one—the one to which Paul here refers. (Eph 4:4) This is the good news, not what Jehovah’s Witnesses preach to the public as they go door to door. Essentially, as they have gone from house to house for the past 80 years telling people that it’s too late to be part of the kingdom of the heavens. That door is closed. Now what’s on the table is the hope of living in a paradise earth.
“We also know that since the general call of the heavenly class ended, millions have become true Christians.” (w95 4/15 p. 31)
Thus the Governing Body have acted like the Pharisees of old to whom Jesus said:
“13 “Woe to YOU, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because YOU shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for YOU yourselves do not go in, neither do YOU permit those on their way in to go in.” (Mt 23:13)
While there will be a time when millions will be resurrected and have the opportunity to accept Christ and become reconciled with God as part of his earthly human family, that time is not yet. We could call that phase two of the process which Jehovah has set up. In phase one, Jesus came to gather the children of God. Phase two takes place when the kingdom of the heavens is set up and the chosen are taken to meet Jesus in the air. (1Th 4:17)
However, perhaps because Witnesses believe the kingdom has already been set up back in 1914, they have pushed ahead and are already working for phase two. They have not remained in the teaching of Christ. (2 John 9)
Since Jehovah’s Witnesses do not preach the good news according to the message of Christ, it follows that the “obvious” statement of paragraph 6 is patently false.
This is not a new situation for the Christian congregation. It has happened before. We’ve been warned about it:
“For as it is, if someone comes and preaches a Jesus other than the one we preached, or you receive a spirit other than what you received, or good news other than what you accepted, you easily put up with him.” (2Co 11:4)
“I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from the One who called you with Christ’s undeserved kindness to another sort of good news. 7 Not that there is another good news; but there are certain ones who are causing you trouble and wanting to distort the good news about the Christ. 8 However, even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond the good news we declared to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, I now say again, Whoever is declaring to you as good news something beyond what you accepted, let him be accursed.” (Ga 1:6-9)
Our Motive in Preaching the Good News
The next subheading is: “What Should Be Our Motive for Doing the Work?”
“What should be the motive for doing the preaching work? It should not be to collect money and construct elaborate buildings (A)….Despite this clear direction, most churches are sidetracked by collecting money or by making efforts to survive financially (B)…. They have to support a paid clergy, as well as a multitude of other employees. (C) In many cases, the leaders of Christendom have amassed great wealth.” (D) – Par. 8
The reader is led to believe that all these are things which other churches do, but from which Witnesses are free and clean.
A. A few years ago, the organization required all congregations to make a monthly “voluntary” pledge of financial support to the organization by resolution. It also required all congregations with savings to send them into the local branch. The rent charged for the use of assembly halls doubled seemingly overnight. A special, historic plea for additional funds was made through the monthly broadcast of tv.jw.org last year.
B. In 2015, the organization cut its worldwide workforce by 25% and cancelled most construction projects in an effort to survive financially.
C. The organization has a workforce of thousands of bethel workers and staff as well as special pioneers and travelling overseers who are all completely supported financially.
D. In the past few years, the organization has acquired ownership of all congregation properties that were formerly owned by the local congregation. It now sells those it wishes and pockets the money. There is evidence of vast assets: cash, hedge fund investments, and extensive real estate holdings.
This isn’t faultfinding, but rather using the organization’s own brush to paint with when looking at them.
“What is the record of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding collections? Their work is supported by voluntary donations. (2 Cor. 9:7) No collections are taken at their Kingdom Halls or conventions.” – Par. 9
While it is technically true that a collection plate is not passed, the manner in which money is now collected makes this a distinction without a difference. As noted in point A above, all congregations are “asked” to make a resolution asking the local members to promise to contribute a fixed amount every month. This amounts to a monthly pledge, something we also condemned in the past, but now practice by changing the name from “pledge” to “voluntary resolution”.
To pressure members of a congregation in a gentle way to contribute by resorting to devices without Scriptural precedent or support, such as passing a collection plate in front of them or operating bingo games, holding church suppers, bazaars and rummage sales or soliciting pledges, is to admit a weakness. There is something wrong. There is a lack. A lack of what? A lack of appreciation. No such coaxing or pressuring devices are needed where there is genuine appreciation. Could this lack of appreciation be related to the kind of spiritual food offered to the people in these churches? (w65 5/1 p. 278) [Boldface added]
If a congregation does not have such a resolution on the books, the Circuit Overseer will want to know why during his visit. Likewise, if they do not forward any excess funds they have in the bank to the branch, they will have some explaining to do. (We must remember that the Circuit Overseer has now been given the power to delete elders.) Additionally, in the past couple of years, circuit assembly attendees have been shocked by rental bills that seem to have doubled or tripled. Some report bills of more than $20,000 for a single day assembly. When they fail to meet this amount—imposed arbitrarily by the circuit assembly committee under direction from the local branch—a letter goes out to all congregations in the circuit informing them of their “privilege” to make up the difference. This is also what they define as “voluntary donations.”
Playing with the Numbers
In the “Fun with Numbers” category, we have this statement:
“Yet, last year alone, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent 1.93 billion hours in preaching the good news and conducting free of charge over nine million Bible studies each month.” – Par. 9
If you look in the past when the annual growth rate was something to boast about, the number of bible studies never surpassed the number of publishers. For example, in 1961, the percentage increase was an impressive 6% compared to the paltry 1.5% of last year. However, even with that increase, the number of Bible studies was lower than the number of publishers as was traditionally the case: 646,000 for 851,000 publishers, or 0.76 studies per publisher. However, this year with an increase only 1/4 that of 1961, we report 9,708,000 Bible studies for 8,220,000 publishers, or 1.18 studies per publisher. Something doesn’t quite add up.
The reason for this baffling discrepancy is that some years ago the Governing Body redefined what a Bible study consists of. Once, it referred to an actual hour-long study ideally covering a chapter in one of our publications, like the Truth that Leads to Everlasting Life book. Now, any regular return visit in which a single verse of the Bible is mentioned qualifies as a Bible study. These are called door-step studies, but are counted the same as regular Bible Studies. Most householders have no idea they are participating in a Bible study. So while the publisher continues to count such visits as return visits, they do double duty by also being counted as Bible studies. This artificially inflates the numbers and gives a false impression that we are progressing.
All this is intended to shore up belief that God is blessing this work with continued growth.
As paragraph 9 states, most witnesses do this work willingly out of a sense of love of neighbor and of God. That is a laudable motivation. It is just too bad that such good intentions are wasted in making disciples not of Christ, but of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
After continuing to run down other churches for not evangelizing as Witnesses do, the article makes this self-laudatory statement:
“What has been the record of Jehovah’s Witnesses? They are the only ones who preach that Jesus has been ruling as King since 1914.” – Par. 12
So their claim to fame is that they have consistently preached a doctrine which we know to be false.. (For details on 1914, see: “1914—What’s the Problem?”)
The self-aggrandisement continues in paragraph 14 where we are given the impression that the only preachers in other Christian religions are their ministers and priests, while every Witness, by contrast, is an active preacher. One has to wonder then why other religions are growing faster than Witnesses are? How is the good news being preached by them? For example, consider this excerpt from an article in the NY Times:
“With 140 million inhabitants, Brazil is the world’s most populous Catholic nation. Yet the number of evangelical communicants here has almost doubled to about 12 million since 1980, while another 12 or 13 million people regularly attend evangelical services.”
This could only be achieved if church members are active evangelizers. They may not go door-to-door, but perhaps there’s a message for Witnesses in that. Considering that 1.93 billion hours were spent last year, mostly in the door-to-door work with only 260,000 baptized (many of whom were the children of Witnesses) it would seem that we have to spend 7,400 hours to produce a single convert. That’s over 3½ work-years! Maybe the organization should learn from the competition and switch methods. After all, there is no real evidence that first century Christians went knocking from door to door.
Paragraph 15 talks about all the translating we do. It is remarkable what people motivated by real zeal and a genuine love for God can accomplish. Consider, for instance, the work of Bible translators whose zeal dwarfs the translation efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The JWs speak of translating into 700 languages, but often these are tracts and small magazines. Whereas, the Bible has been translated and printed in whole or part into over 2,300 languages.
Nevertheless, there is another element to consider in all this self-congratulatory back-slapping. Paragraph 15 says, “we stand out as unique with regard to the work we do in translating and publishing Bible literature….What other group of ministers is doing a similar work?” While it may be true (though unconfirmed) that no other group translates its own literature into so many languages, of what value is that in God’s eyes if what is being translated leads people away from the real good news by teaching false doctrine?
Beating the Same Drum
Wanting to make sure we are getting the message, once again we are asked:
“What other religious group has continued to preach the good news during these momentous last days?” – Par. 16
It would appear that Witnesses truly believe they alone are preaching the good news of the kingdom. A simple Google search on the topic will prove this to be utterly false. The rest of the paragraph shows that when Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about preaching the good news, what they really mean is going from door to door. To JWs if you don’t go from door to door, you are not preaching the good news. It doesn’t matter what other methods you use or even if such methods are more effective; to JWs, unless you go from door to door, you’ve dropped the ball. This is a major badge of honor in their figurative lapel. “We go from door to door, from house to house.”
Having apparently not driven home their point sufficiently, the study concludes with this:
“So who really are preaching the good news of the Kingdom today? With full confidence, we can say: “Jehovah’s Witnesses!” Why can we be so confident? Because we are preaching the right message, the good news of the Kingdom [misleading people from the real hope of being with Christ in his kingdom]. By going to the people, we are also using the correct methods [this being the door to door work, the only approved method]. Our preaching work is being done with the right motive—love, not financial gain [the enormous wealth of the organization is just a happy side effect.]. Our work has the greatest scope, reaching out to people of all nations and language [because all other Christian faiths are sitting at home with folded hands].” – Par. 17
I’m sure for many, this study will be excruciating to sit through as they bridle their mouths for the whole hour.
[i] It is a common tactic to use an illustration as proof by those lacking the real thing, but the critical thinker is not fooled. We know that the purpose of an illustration is to help explain a truth once the truth has been established by hard evidence. Only then can the illustration serve a purpose.