[From ws11/16 p. 26 January 23-29]
“Get out of her, my people.” – Re 18:4
What does it mean to break free from false religion? The answer, according to this week’s Watchtower study is:
In the decades leading up to World War I, Charles Taze Russell and his associates realized that the organizations of Christendom were not teaching Bible truth. Accordingly, they resolved to have nothing to do with false religion as they understood it. – par. 2a
Modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses embrace the sentiments of Charles Taze Russell and his associates. They would agree with the rest of what is said in paragraph 2.
As early as November of 1879, Zion’s Watch Tower straightforwardly set out their Scriptural position by stating: “Every church claiming to be a chaste virgin espoused to Christ, but in reality united to and supported by the world (beast) we must condemn as being in scripture language a harlot church,” a reference to Babylon the Great.—Read Revelation 17:1, 2. – par. 2b
In short, Witnesses agree that true Christians must get out of any religion that does not teach Bible truth. Additionally, they acknowledge that such religions are identified as part of Babylon the Great not only because they teach falsehoods, but because they are affiliated with or lend support to the kings of the earth, as evinced by the reference in this paragraph to Revelation 17:1, 2.
For example, the Watchtower has condemned the Catholic Church as part of Babylon the Great because of her affiliation with and support of the United Nations. Witnesses consider the UN to be the image of the wild beast described at Revelation 13:14. (w01 11/15 p. 19 par. 14)
In condemnation of the Catholic Church specifically and Christendom in general, the Watchtower said:
Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses warn that a flood of executional armies will soon sweep over Christendom.…If Christendom had sought peace with Jehovah’s King, Jesus Christ, then she would have avoided the coming flash flood.…However, she has not done so. Instead, in her quest for peace and security, she insinuates herself into the favor of the political leaders of the nations—this despite the Bible’s warning that friendship with the world is enmity with God. (James 4:4) Moreover, in 1919 she strongly advocated the League of Nations as man’s best hope for peace. Since 1945 she has put her hope in the United Nations. (Compare Revelation 17:3, 11.) How extensive is her involvement with this organization? …A recent book gives an idea when it states: “No less than twenty-four Catholic organizations are represented at the UN. (w91 6/1 p. 17 pars. 9-11 Their Refuge—A Lie!)
The shocking irony of this condemnation is that only one year later, in 1992, the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society became a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) member of the United Nations, just like the aforementioned twenty-four Catholic NGOs. It remained a member for 10 years, renewing its membership on a yearly basis as required by UN policies, and only renounced membership when a UK newspaper article exposed its relationship with the United Nations to the world at large.[i]
If we are to accept the condemnation expressed in paragraph 2 of this week’s study—and we do accept it—then we must also accept that JW.org is tarred with the same brush. It is part of false religion. It has sat atop the wild beast with the rest of Christendom by becoming a certified member of the UN for a full decade. These are facts and as unpalatable as this may be to dyed-in-the-wool Jehovah’s Witnesses—as it was to me initially—there is no getting around them. The criteria for such a judgment is not ours, but has been established by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The principle Jesus gave us applies:
“for with what judgment YOU are judging, YOU will be judged; and with the measure that YOU are measuring out, they will measure out to YOU.” (Mt 7:2)
Woe to you…Hypocrites!
Some may suggest that our 10-year membership in the UN was a mistake which has been corrected. They would say that more is required before we can be justifiably accused of being part of Babylon the Great. They would state that the main criteria for being a “harlot church” is the teaching of falsehood, or as Gerrit Losch called it in the November Broadcast, “religious lies”.[ii]
Is JW.org part of the Christendom it condemns so often because it also teaches “religious lies”?
A thoughtful consideration of this week’s Watchtower study will help us to answer that question.
Jesus repeatedly referred to the Jewish leaders of his day as “hypocrites”. Nowadays, influenced by the dominant mentality of ‘political correctness’, we may find those words too strong, but we shouldn’t, because to do so would be to water down the force of the truth. In reality, Jesus spoke accurately and with a view to saving others from the corrupting leaven of those men. (Mt 16:6-12) Should we not imitate his example today?
In paragraph 3 of this week’s study, we’re asked to refer to the article’s opening illustration depicting a woman in the 18th century standing up before her congregation, reading a letter renouncing her membership. To use terms which are familiar to Jehovah’s Witnesses, this woman was publicly disassociating herself from her congregation. Why? Because it taught falsehoods and was affiliated with the beasts (kings) of the world—in line with the reasoning of Russell expressed in paragraph 2.
The courage of this woman, and others like her, is considered praiseworthy by the writer of this WT article. Additionally, the article condemns the religious organizations of that day with the following words:
In another era, such a bold move would have cost them dearly. But in many countries in the late 1800’s, the church was beginning to lose the backing of the State. Without fear of reprisals in such countries, citizens were free to discuss religious matters and to disagree openly with the established churches. – par. 3
Let us attempt to re-imagine this picture. Bring it forward 120 years. The woman is now dressed in 21st-century apparel, and the minister is dressed in a suit and no longer has a beard. Now make him an elder in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We can imagine the sister as one of the publishers, perhaps even a pioneer. She stands up and renounces her membership in the congregation.
Would she even be allowed to do so? As a disassociated one, would she now be free to openly discuss religious matters with other members in the congregation? Could she renounce her membership without fear of any reprisals?
If you are not a Jehovah’s Witness, you might assume so, given the religious climate of freedom within Christendom. However, you’d be sorely mistaken. Unlike other Christian religions, JWs harken back to the mentality prevalent prior to the 18th century; the very attitude they’ve just condemned. While the laws of civilized countries do not permit burning at the stake or imprisonment as was the case in the past, they do support, for the time being at least, the punishment of shunning. Our sister would experience severe reprisals in the form of disfellowshipping—a practice worse than the current practice of Catholic excommunication. She would be cut off from all JW family and friends, and those who would try to resume association with her would be intimidated by threats of their own disfellowshipping.
Does it not seem hypocritical to condemn the churches of the past for doing the very thing that Jehovah’s Witnesses widely practice today?
Is hypocrisy a mark of true religion?
The Love of the Truth
The principal criterion used to determine whether or not an organization is part of Babylon the Great is a love of truth. A love of truth causes one to reject falsehood when found. If one rejects the love of the truth, one cannot be saved. Instead, one is considered to be lawless.
But the lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents 10 and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved. 11 So that is why God lets an operation of error go to them, that they may get to believing the lie, 12 in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness. (2Th 2:9-12)
Therefore, let us examine this week’s study as an object lesson, a means to determine whether or not love of truth can be found in those crafting the teachings of JW.org.
While Christians eschew involvement in the politics of this world, truth lovers cannot help but be appalled at the beating truth is taking in the public arena of late. (John 18:36) For instance, today we have learned that in response to the false claim by President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer that “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period”, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway stated Spicer wasn’t lying, but merely stating “alternate facts”.
Coined phrases like “alternate facts”, “present truth”, and “new truth” are just ways of masking falsehoods and lies. Truth is timeless and facts are facts. Those who suggest otherwise are trying to sell you something. They seek to redefine reality and get you to believe in the lie. Our Father has warned us about this, but we will suffer if we do not listen.
“That is why God lets a deluding influence mislead them so that they may come to believe the lie, 12 in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2Th 2:11, 12)
Have those claiming to feed us as the appointed slave been guilty of re-crafting reality? Let us review paragraph 5 before we attempt to answer that question.
In years gone by, we believed that Jehovah became displeased with his people because they did not have a zealous share in the preaching work during World War I. We concluded that for this reason, Jehovah allowed Babylon the Great to take them captive for a short time. However, faithful brothers and sisters who served God during the 1914-1918 period later made it clear that as a whole the Lord’s people did everything they could to keep the preaching work going. There is strong evidence to support this testimony. A more accurate understanding of our theocratic history has led to a clearer comprehension of certain events recorded in the Bible. – par. 5
“In years gone by, we believed…” Does this not lead you to believe that this is an old belief, not something current? Does it not conjure up the idea of something that happened in the distant past, not something for which we today are responsible? The fact is that until this article was published, as recent as last year, this is what we believed and were taught. This is not “in years gone by”, but very recent.
The next statement is intended to make us think that the Governing Body is responding to recently discovered evidence.
“However, faithful brothers and sisters who served God during the 1914-1918 period later made it clear…” Later?! How much later? Anyone alive and of an age to remember what went on in the Organization during World War I died a long time ago. Fred Franz was one of the last to go, and he died 25 years ago. So when exactly is this “later”? It would have to be back in the 1980s at the latest, so why are we hearing about this only now?
This is not the worst of it. Fred Franz, who was baptised before the war, became the principle architect of all Watchtower doctrine following the death of Rutherford in 1942. This particular doctrine goes back to at least 1951, and quite possibly earlier.[iii]
During the years of the first world war, 1914 to 1918, the remnant of spiritual Israel came under Jehovah’s displeasure. His kingdom by his Christ had been born in the heavens in 1914, at the end of the “appointed times of the nations” that year; but, under the great stress of persecution, oppression and international opposition during those war years reaching a climax in 1918, God’s anointed witnesses failed and their organization experienced a breakup and they came under captivity to the world system of modern Babylon. (w51 5/15 p. 303 par. 11)
Consider the importance of the timing! Fred Franz and other associates at headquarters, who had firsthand knowledge of what actually transpired during the war years, crafted a doctrine which they knew was based on—as Kellyanne Conway infamously put it—“alternate facts”. They knew firsthand what went on during those years, but chose to craft a different account of the facts, an alternate reality. Why?
Let us reword paragraph 5 to accurately reflect the reality, not the crafted version this WT article would have us believe in.
Until last year, the Governing Body taught through the publications that Jehovah was displeased with the Bible Students under Russell and Rutherford because they did not have a zealous share in the preaching work during World War I. We concluded that for this reason, Jehovah allowed Babylon the Great to take them captive for a short time. However, faithful brothers and sisters who served God during 1914-1918 told us a long time ago that this was wrong, but the Governing Body then and now chose to ignore their testimony and the facts available to us from historical documents in our Bethel library.
Again, Why? The answer is revealed by an analysis of paragraph 14 from this study.
Malachi 3:1-3 describes the time—from 1914 to early 1919—when the anointed “sons of Levi” would undergo a period of refinement. (Read.) During that time, Jehovah God, “the true Lord,” accompanied by Jesus Christ, “the messenger of the covenant,” came to the spiritual temple to inspect those serving there. After receiving needed discipline, Jehovah’s cleansed people were ready to take up a further assignment of service. In 1919, a “faithful and discreet slave” was appointed to provide spiritual food to the household of faith. (Matt. 24:45) God’s people were now free of the influence of Babylon the Great. – par. 14
The question for this paragraph is: “Describe from the Scriptures what took place from 1914 to 1919.” According to the paragraph, Malachi 3:1-3 was fulfilled, but according to the Scriptures that prophecy was fulfilled in the first century not the twentieth. (See Matthew 11:7-14)
However, the leadership of the Bible Students needed to establish its legitimacy from Scripture. To do so, they sought a secondary fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-3, an antitypical fulfillment which is not found in Scripture. (Such antitypical fulfillments have now been disavowed by the Governing Body.[iv]) To make that fulfillment seem to fit, they had to find a way for the messenger of the covenant to be seen to inspect the congregation from 1914 to 1919, because in 1919 they wanted to claim his approval. A zealous congregation didn’t seem to fit. They had to be captive to Babylon, so they rewrote history and corrupted the fine record of zealous service of thousands of faithful Christians.
Imagine slandering thousands of your brothers and sisters this way. Imagine publicly declaring that Jehovah God was displeased with those faithful men and women when you knew firsthand that the evidence showed otherwise. Imagine proclaiming what God’s judgment upon them was, as if you were His spokesman and knew His mind and His decrees.
And to what end? So that a handful of men who were released from an Atlanta penitentiary in 1919 could command the reins of Christ’s flock?
One wonders why we’ve needed two articles to downgrade the severity of unfaithfulness from ‘drawing the displeasure of God’ to ‘requiring a wee bit of discipline’. Be that as it may, in paragraph 9, we chastise “some brothers [for purchasing] bonds to provide financial assistance to the war effort”, but disingenuously fail to mention they were given the green light by Rutherford and associates to do so. (See Apocalypse Delayed, p. 147)
Breaking Free from False Religion
Is it necessary to imitate the example depicted in the opening illustration to “get out of her”? Witnesses believe so, but they believe this is accomplished by joining JW.org. However, if she also teaches falsehoods and has shown affiliation with the image of the wild beast, then what other organization do we flee to?
A careful reading of Revelation 18:4 indicates that God’s people are in Babylon the Great at the time she is about to receive payment for her sins. It also shows that the only action required is one of exiting. Nothing is said about going anywhere, about fleeing to another place or organization. Like the Christians in the first century, when Cestius Gallus surrounded Jerusalem in 66 C.E. all they knew was that they had to flee “to the mountains”. The exact destination was left up to them. (Luke 21:20, 21)
The Bible indicates that true, wheat-like Christians will be growing among false weed-like Christians right up to the end. That means they will be in Babylon the Great in some sense right up to the harvest. (Mt 13:24-30; 36-43)
It is likely that our ideas about ‘getting out of false religion’ are influenced by thinking implanted in our minds by the publications of JW.org. That should no longer be allowed to influence us. Instead, each of us should examine Scripture ourselves, guided by holy spirit, to determine how best to serve God in our current circumstances. Any decision should come from our own conscientious determination of God’s will for us individually.
[ii] “Then there are religious lies. If Satan is called the father of the lie, then Babylon the great, the global empire of false religion, can be called the mother of the lie. Individual false religions could be called daughters of the lie.” – Gerrit Losch, November Broadcast on tv.jw.org. Also see, What is a Lie.
[iii] It is very possible that earlier references are to be found outside of the WT Library program which has a database that excludes publications prior to 1950.