[From ws6/16 p. 11 for August 8-14]
“Look! As the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”—Jer 18:6
We always want to get a balanced understanding of Bible counsel, without the subtle (or at times, not so subtle) coloration that comes from preconceptions and the ideas of men. When reading and studying The Watchtower, this coloring of understanding comes up more than one might think.
For example, in this week’s study we come upon the example of an elder who allowed pride to harden his heart. In paragraphs 4 and 5 we learn that this elder, Jim, disagreed with his body of elders about some unspecified decision and left the meeting after telling them they were unloving. Six months later, he moved to another congregation and was not reappointed. This caused him to leave the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses for 10 years. He says that he “could not stop focusing on how the others seemed to be wrong.” We are left to assume he is not just referring to the elders meeting in question but also to the reasons he was not reappointed.
For those not aware of how the system works, an elder who moves to another congregation will normally be reappointed right away assuming that he has a favorable recommendation from the former body of elders and that the body of elders in the new congregation also agrees. Presumably, the body of elders in his former congregation did not give Jim their endorsement. While not stated, the fact that no defense of the former body is given in the article and based on long experience of how these things work, it is a safe assumption that they were unhappy with Jim because he didn’t respect their authority. It’s hard to remove an elder just because he disagrees, especially if he has the weight of Scripture on his side. However, if he moves, it’s a piece of cake.
The method used in the organization to accomplish this is one I experienced numerous times as a COBE.[i] The letter of introduction contains praise for the man and his family, but one or two sentences are inserted to cast the tiniest doubt on his character. For example, “John is a fine brother and really cares for the flock. There are a few points we feel he can work on to improve further, but we are sure you brothers will be able to give him the needed assistance.”
The new COBE will recognize this as code for “call us and we’ll tell you all about him.” Thus, whatever needs to be said, will be said over the phone, and all with no comebacks, because nothing is put in writing. The elder or ministerial servant moving into the new congregation will never be shown his letter of recommendation, nor will the particulars of the telephone conversation be shared with him.
I used to find this arrangement deplorable, and would tell the COBE of the former congregation to put his concerns in writing. Without exception, they were distinctly unhappy with me for requiring this. I wasn’t playing ball. Some never wrote, but others proved to have so much pent up rancor for the departing individual that they took the plunge and put their remarks on paper. On several notable occasions with separate bodies, multiple letters were involved which contradicted things written previously. So it was easy to prove that lies were involved and that there was a hateful intent. However, not once was this proof used by the circuit overseer to remove, or even rebuke, the offending elders. They were bullet proof, and often, despite the evidence, the appointment was unduly delayed.
Whether or not this is what happened with Jim, we cannot know. All we know is what he tells us:
“I regret that I allowed pride to blind me to the more important things and cause me to obsess over other people’s faults.” – Par. 12
The point being made in the article is that regardless of the faults of the elders, Jim was really to blame because he let pride influence him.
Returning to paragraph 5, we are asked certain questions to help us learn from Jim’s experience:
“Have you ever been hurt by a fellow Christian or by the loss of certain privileges? If so, how did you respond? Did pride come into play? Or was your main concern that of making peace with your brother and remaining loyal to Jehovah?” – Par. 5
How are we to apply the two highlighted phrases in situations such as Jim faced?
Let’s deal with the first. Should our main concern be “making peace with our brother”? Granted, we should never let pride influence our decisions. Pride is an enemy of peaceful relations. We should always strive to make peace with our brothers. But to what extent? The Bible says: to the extent that it depends on us and is possible. (Ro 12:18)
Seeking peace is scriptural, but appeasement is not. Appeasement often masquerades as peace, but is the way of the coward. How can we distinguish between the two? Perhaps an analogy our Lord gave us may help. On one occasion when he referred to himself as “the good shepherd”, he also spoke of a hired man:
“The hired man, who is not a shepherd and to whom the sheep do not belong, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and flees—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them— 13 because he is a hired man and does not care for the sheep.” (Joh 10:12-13)
I have seen wolves enter into the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and have also seen how rarely the other elders imitate the Good Shepherd and stand their ground against such a man. They act as hired men with no real vested interest in the sheep other than to collect their wage—the status of being elders. Not all elders are like that, but over 50 years and in three countries, I have seen that the majority are. When a bully enters and does not treat the flock with kindness, these ones seek appeasement, cloaked as “maintaining peace and unity”. The congregation suffers.
The second main concern that paragraph 5 speaks of is ‘remaining loyal to Jehovah’. While the article says this, is that what it means? To the mind of a Witness, the Governing Body is the faithful slave, and the faithful slave is God’s only means of revealing the Bible to us. They would have us believe that without them, it would be impossible for us to understand the Bible and have a relationship with God.
“All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the “greatly diversified wisdom of God” can become known only through Jehovah’s channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave.” (Watchtower; Oct. 1, 1994; p. 8)
“It is vital that we recognize the faithful slave. Our spiritual health and our relationship with God depend on this channel.” (w13 7/15 p. 20 par. 2)
With that in mind, we can discern that “loyalty to Jehovah” means loyalty to the Governing Body; but not just any degree of loyalty. This is absolute loyalty.
Jehovah does not contradict himself. He does not confuse us with conflicting direction. He has never told us in his Word the Bible to give blind loyalty to men. He has told us to beware of trusting in men, particularly with regards to the issue of salvation.
“Do not put YOUR trust in nobles, Nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs.” (Ps 146:3 NWT Reference Bible)
“Do not put your trust in princes Nor in a son of man, who cannot bring salvation.” (Ps 146:3) NWT 2013 Edition
A prince is one who rules or governs in the absence of the King.
So elders in particular can take from all this that we should always love God’s law, which at times might require an elder who is a true Christian to take a dissenting position from the rest of the Body of Elders. Does that coincide with the underlying message of paragraph 5 as per its closing questions?
No, the underlying message of paragraph 5 is to support the authority of the body of elders, go with the flow, and if something is wrong, Jehovah will fix it in his due time.
This attitude—that Jehovah will fix things—actually reveals how little real faith exists within the clergy class of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Faith is the assured expectation of things not yet beheld, and is based on one’s knowledge of the character of God.
Jesus alludes to this in the parable of the minas. The unfaithful slave that hid the mina knew the character of Jesus, but didn’t put faith in that, believing there would be a positive outcome for him despite his laziness. Jesus condemned him saying:
‘Out of your own mouth I judge you, wicked slave. You knew, did you, that I am a harsh man, taking up what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Hence why is it you did not put my silver money in a bank? Then on my arrival I would have collected it with interest.’
24 “With that he said to those standing by, ‘Take the miʹna from him and give it to him that has the ten miʹnas.’ 25 But they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten miʹnas!’— 26 ‘I say to YOU, To everyone that has, more will be given; but from the one that does not have, even what he has will be taken away. (Luke 19:22-26)
To go along with the decision of the elders or any man in authority placed above them when we know that doing so puts us in conflict with God’s law is appeasement. It is cowardly and demonstrates a lack of loyalty for Jehovah. Salving our conscience with the idea that “Jehovah will take care of things in his own good time” ignores the fact that one of the things he “takes care of” are those who had the power to do something and did nothing. (Luke 12:47)
Molded by the Congregation?
Paragraph 11 says that Jehovah uses the congregation to mold us. It provides no scriptural support for this assertion. I personally can’t think of any. True, individual Christians can be used by God to help us to make needed changes. The local congregation—acting as individuals—can also influence us because they know us. But when paragraph 11 speaks of the congregation, it really means the Organization. An organization has no soul. It does not see what is in our heart. It only does the will of those at the helm. So yes, it can mold us, but is Jehovah using it to that end? The Catholic Church molds Catholics; the Baptist church molds Baptists; the Church of Latter Day Saints molds Mormons; and the church of JW.org molds Jehovah’s Witness. But is the mold from God or from men?
An example of how the Organization can mold us into a shape Jehovah might find detestable can be found in paragraph 15:
“Despite a Christian upbringing, however, some children later leave the truth or are disfellowshipped, causing the family heartache. “When my brother was disfellowshipped,” said a Christian sister in South Africa, “it was as if he had died. It was heartbreaking!” How did she and her parents respond? They followed the direction found in God’s Word. (Read 1 Corinthians 5:11, 13) “We resolved to apply the Bible,” said the parents, “recognizing that doing things God’s way would result in the best outcome. We viewed disfellowshipping as divine discipline and were convinced that Jehovah disciplines out of love and to the proper degree. So we kept our contact with our son to absolutely necessary family business.” – Par. 15
It is troubling that the idea that “some children later leave the truth” is seamlessly woven into this scriptural application of 1 Corinthians 5:11, 13. Paul is not speaking of those who leave, but of a brother who was sinning in a way that even the pagan world of that time found shocking. Would some get the idea that those who have fallen away are now to be treated in the same way as disfellowshipped ones? This does seem to be a new direction that the Organization is moving based on this year’s regional convention. This direction was given in the part, “Shunning Unrepentant Sinners”.
“Loyal Christians would not associate with “anyone called a brother” who is practicing serious sin
This is true even if no congregation action has been taken, as may be the case with an inactive one (w85 7/15 19 14)”
It would seem that an inactive one—officially no longer a member of the congregation—is still considered a “brother” when it comes to personal conduct. There appears to be no way of escaping the clutches of this Organization. The paradox is that for parents with non-Witness (unbaptized) children who may be living an immoral lifestyle, there is no official restriction on their association.
This paragraph does allow for some contact, but what is read is never as powerful as what is seen. If their child is disfellowshipped will the parents remember this paragraph or will they recall to mind what they witnessed in this video? Here a mother is held up as an example for not even taking a phone call from her daughter, who, for all she knew, could have been in dire need of assistance.
On the surface the reasoning in this paragraph might appear to be in line with what the Bible says at 1 Corinthians 5:11, 13, but the Organization has a long history of cherry picking verses that support their particular theology, while ignoring others that would contradict it.
The man Paul refers to wasn’t disfellowshipped in a secret session before three elders. It was the individual choice of each congregation member. Not all did, but the majority were obedient.
“This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man,” (2Co 2:6)
Now when it came time to “reinstate” such a gross sinner, did the congregation have to wait for the approval of a committee of three? Paul’s letter was directed to all, and it was up to the individual to forgive. The reason that we don’t do it the scriptural way is that the Scriptures take the power out of the hands of the congregation leaders and put it into the hands of the individual. If we did what the Bible says to do, the leadership could not use disfellowshipping as a weapon to control the flock.
You will notice that the mother quoted in paragraph 15 says, “we…were convinced that Jehovah disciplines…to the proper degree.” This is intended to justify a reinstatement period that can last for years despite no repetition of the sin and multiple requests for reinstatement. I personally know of two that lasted a decade, and others that went past three years. Where in the Bible is there any support for such a penal system in the name of God?
“For ‘the name of God is being blasphemed among the nations because of you,’ just as it is written.” (Ro 2:24)
That is why they give lip service to the fact that Paul’s exhortation to welcome the man back into the congregation occurred only months after he told the Corinthians to have nothing more to do with him. Such short periods of discipline do not serve as a weapon of enforcement and control. Thus, the Organization imposes longer terms.
“The committee should be careful to allow sufficient time, perhaps many months, a year, or even longer, for the disfellowshipped person to prove that his profession of repentance is genuine.” (ks p. 119 par. 3)
Again, this is reinforced by the powerful tool of video. At this year’s convention, a sister who was no longer sinning had to wait a year to get reinstated. What a contrast with the inspired direction Paul gave the Corinthians.
The reason for this policy is explained in the Elders Manual euphemistically titled, Shepherd the Flock of God.
“Quickly reinstating such a person may embolden others to commit serious sin, as they may feel that little or no discipline will be administered.” (ks p. 119 par. 3)
So we do not expect Christians to cease sinning out of love of God and recognition that our sin saddens our Father. No, we expect them to obey based on the world’s standard for controlling the populace—fear of retribution.
God governs based on love. The devil governs based on fear and/or enticement, the carrot-and-stick approach. What a shame that we don’t put faith in God’s way of ruling.
The final gem of unscriptural propaganda is introduced in the article’s closing sentence:
“What is more, Jehovah will continue to mold us by means of his Word, spirit, and organization so that one day we will be able to stand before him as perfect “children of God.””—Rom. 8:21.
Yes, Jehovah and Jesus mold us by the Word and the spirit…but by the Organization? Since the word “organization” doesn’t even appear in the Bible, it would be prudent to discount it. Especially given how Romans 8:21 is misapplied here. The Organization teaches us that we—the other sheep—can only be children of God at the end of the thousand years, while Romans 8:21 speaks of the children of God as the Christians through whom creation (all the unrighteous who are resurrected) is set free. So the Bible calls Christians “children of God”, while the Organization would have us believe they are not, but only friends.
Still within Romans, we find this counsel from Paul:
“And stop being molded by this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, so that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Ro 12:2)
The Organization has adopted a judicial system that has much more in common with the penal systems of Satan’s world than anything that we can find in the Bible. Will you allow men to mold you? Will you allow men to tell you right from wrong? Or will you obey your heavenly Father and “prove to yourself the good and acceptable and perfect will of God”?
To put this in the light of this article’s theme, God would like to mold us into his children, but the Organization would cast us in the mold of his friends.
Whom will you allow to mold you?
[i] Coordinator of the Body of Elders; formerly, the Presiding Overseer.