[From ws2/17 p. 23 April 24-30]
“Remember those who are taking the lead among you.”—He 13:7.
We know that the Bible does not contradict itself. We know that Jesus Christ would not give us conflicting instructions that would lead to confusion and uncertainty. With that in mind, let us take the theme text from this week’s Watchtower study and compare it with Jesus’ words to his disciples found that Matthew 23:10. There he tells us: “Neither be called leaders, for your leader is one, the Christ.” From this very plain and clearly stated commandment, we can deduce that taking the lead is not the same thing as being a leader. For example, if you and a group of friends are on an excursion together out in the wilds, you run the risk of getting lost unless you have someone in your party who is familiar with the terrain. Such a person can act as your guide, walking in front of you to show you the way. This person is taking the lead, yet you wouldn’t refer to him or her as your leader.
When Jesus told us not to be called leaders, he was contrasting human leaders with himself. Our one leader is the Christ. As our leader, Jesus has the right to tell us what to do in any and all aspects of life. He can make up new rules and laws if he wishes. In fact, there are several new laws and commandments from our Lord Jesus to be found in the Christian Scriptures. (For example, John 13:34.) If we begin to call other humans our leaders, we surrender to them the authority that belongs only to the Christ. Since the foundation of the Christian congregation, men have done this very thing. They have surrendered their will to human leaders who have told them, for instance, that it is right and just to go forth in the service of the king of the country and kill their Christian brothers in wartime. Christians have thus incurred great bloodguilt because they failed to obey the command of our Lord and fell into the trap of accepting human leaders as if they were God’s channel, speaking for God himself.
What then does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says that we should “remember those who are taking the lead among [us]”? He obviously does not mean to accept such ones as our leaders since that would be a direct contradiction of the clearly stated command of Jesus Christ at Matthew 23:10. We can understand the meaning of his words by reading the context.
“Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (Heb 13:7, 8)
The writer immediately follows his exhortation with a reminder to all that Jesus never changes. Therefore, those taking the lead among us, who speak the word of God to us, must not deviate from the word that Jesus transmitted, nor the conduct that he exemplified. That is why the writer tells us not to obey these men unconditionally, giving no consideration to their past actions and failures. Rather, he tells us to pay attention to or “contemplate” how their conduct turns out. He is telling us to pay attention to their fruits. This is in keeping with one of the two key ways in which a Christian can identify truth from falsehood in any people claiming to be followers of Christ. The first is found at John 13:34 but the second has to do with the bearing of fruit. Jesus told us:
“Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.” (Mt 7:20)
Therefore, any obedience we were render to those taking the lead among us must be conditional, correct? Our obedience to our leader, Jesus Christ, is unconditional. However, those taking the lead among us, must continually prove themselves to be from the Christ by not deviating from his word nor the path that he followed.
With that in mind, let us begin a review of this week’s Watchtower study.
But who would direct them and organize the worldwide preaching work? The apostles knew that Jehovah had used men to lead the Israelites in the past. So they may have wondered whether Jehovah would now choose a new leader. – par. 2
A number of assumptions are made here which have no basis in Scripture. There is no reason to believe that the disciples were expecting Jehovah to choose a new leader. They knew Jesus was alive, and he had just told him that he would be with them all the days until the conclusion of the system of things. (Mt 28:20) Indeed, Jesus continued to communicate with his faithful disciples through visions, dreams, direct dialogue, and angelic intervention. They also knew that they were not to call anyone leader, because Jesus told them not to. It is true that Jehovah had used men such as Moses to lead the Israelites in the past, but now he had a son – the greater Moses – to lead his people. Why would he choose an imperfect man or group of men with such an impeccable leader as the Son of Man already in place?
The paragraph also presumes that a worldwide preaching work cannot be accomplished unless there is a man or group of men assigned to direct and organize. This is a common belief among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even if we accept this is true, i.e. that such a work can only be accomplished through organization, why would we assume a man or group of men could do a better job than Jesus Christ?
The reasoning of this paragraph is designed to lead us down a certain path to a particular conclusion. Let us not follow it, but rather let us think critically about every assumption that is about to be made and evaluate each to see if it is valid or just the self-serving, meretricious reasoning of men with an agenda.
Jesus had chosen the apostles and trained them for a very important role among God’s people. What was that role, and how did Jehovah and Jesus prepare them for it? What similar arrangement exists today? And how can we “remember those who are taking the lead” among us, especially “the faithful and discreet slave”? – par. 3
It is true that Jesus had selected the 12 apostles with a very important role in mind. We learn from the Revelation to John that the apostles serve as foundation stones for the New Jerusalem. (Re 21:14) However, the article tries to insinuate a false idea into our minds that something similar exists today. It doesn’t even ask if such an arrangement might exist today. It just assumes that it does, and the only question is what form it takes. The reader therefore is led to believe that a role of equal importance to that of the apostles, the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem chosen directly by Jesus himself, continues to exist in our day. There is no evidence for this.
Heaping assumption upon assumption, the article then links this new role to the faithful and discreet slave. Since 2012, the millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world have been repeatedly reminded that the faithful and discreet slave is the Governing Body. Thus, in two short sentences, the Governing Body has built for itself an equivalency with the 12 apostles of Jesus’ day.
Jesus Leads the Governing Body
Here is a phrase you won’t find in the Bible. In fact, “Governing Body” is a term found nowhere in Scripture. It is, however, found 41 times in this article alone in both paragraph text and study questions. Contrast that with the importance given the word “apostles” in the Christian Scriptures. A simple count shows that it occurs 63 times within the entire scope of the Holy Bible. This one article’s emphasis on “Governing Body” demonstrates an importance to this group which far and away outstrips that given by Scripture to Jesus’ own apostles. Apparently, the men of the Governing Body really want us to believe they have been chosen by Jesus to be our leaders.
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mt 12:34)
There is no doubt that the apostles took the lead in the early Christian congregation. However, does that mean that Jehovah chose them as the new leaders of the Christian congregation? Did they consider themselves leaders? Additionally, do any of the things they accomplished imply that another group of men similar to the apostles exist today? Do we have some sort of apostolic succession at work here? This article would have us believe, based on what paragraph 3 says, that there is indeed such an arrangement in existence today. This arrangement involves the appointment of the Governing Body by Jesus to the role of faithful and discreet slave. The irony in this is that this same Governing Body claiming a parallel equivalency with the first century apostles has recently taught that the apostles were not part of the faithful and discreet slave.
In attempting to establish a basis for this first century/modern-day equivalency a number of misleading statements are made. We will highlight these as we continue.
And they sent experienced Christians to preach in new territories. (Acts 8:14, 15) – par. 4
Actually, the preaching was already taking place in this new territory of Samaria. The apostles—not the governing body—sent Peter so that the Holy Spirit could be imparted to these new Christians. By this one statement, the article implies that the preaching work was organized by the apostles and older men in Jerusalem; that the missionary work that was carried out in the first century was all done under their oversight. This is simply not true. The three missionary tours that Paul undertook had nothing to do with the older men in Jerusalem. It was the Gentile Christian congregation in Antioch that commissioned and funded Paul and his fellow missionary companions on those journeys. When he completed each one, he returned to Antioch—not Jerusalem—to report. This is an inconvenient fact which the Governing Body chooses to ignore, hoping that 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t do the research themselves. In this, sadly, they are likely right.
Later, other anointed elders joined the apostles in taking the lead in the congregation. As a governing body, they gave direction to all the congregations.—Acts 15:2. – par. 4
The Christian congregation in Jerusalem was the oldest of all the congregations. It also had the weight of the apostles to add to its gravitas. When certain men from Jerusalem caused a commotion by preaching their own interpretation to the gentiles, it fell to the original congregation—the congregation from which these men claimed their authority—to put things right. This is the incident that is being referred to by the reference to Acts 15:2. In other words, men from the congregation in Jerusalem caused the disruption, and to resolve it Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem. From this one incident, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is now claiming that there was an equivalent governing body in the first century that directed all the congregations and organized all the work throughout the ancient world. There is simply no evidence to support this claim. In fact, the clear evidence in the Bible points elsewhere as we will see.
Consider now the three questions for paragraphs 5 and 6.
5, 6. (a) How did holy spirit empower the governing body? (See opening picture.) (b) How did the angels help the governing body? (c) How did God’s Word guide the governing body?
Since the term “governing body” does not appear in the Holy Scriptures, how is it possible to find Bible proof so as to correctly answer these three questions?
Supposedly, John 16:13 answers the first. However when we read that Scripture we find that Jesus is addressing all his disciples. No mention is made of a governing body. Essentially, they have taken “all of Jesus’ disciples” and substituted “governing body”. Next, they return to Acts chapter 15. It is true that the older men, apostles, and the entire congregation in Jerusalem were involved in the decision on circumcision. It is also true that the older men, apostles, and the entire congregation decided to send out letters to the gentile congregations.
“On arriving in Jerusalem, they were kindly received by the congregation and the apostles and the elders, and they related the many things God had done by means of them.” (Ac 15:4)
“Then the apostles and the elders, together with the whole congregation, decided to send chosen men from among them to Antioch, along with Paul and Barʹna·bas; they sent Judas who was called Barʹsab·bas and Silas, who were leading men among the brothers.” (Ac 15:22)
Was the entire congregation in Jerusalem, a governing body? We can hardly extrapolate from this single incident that the entire congregation of Jerusalem acted as a governing body directing the work throughout the first century. In fact, evidence of how the work was directed is to be found throughout the book of Acts. It indicates that no governing body of any type existed. Instead, we see clear evidence that direct divine intervention under the leadership of Jesus Christ was how the work was organized and directed. Paul, for example, was chosen directly by Jesus Christ and was not told to go to Jerusalem for instruction, but instead went to Damascus.
The second question is supposedly answered by this statement:
Second, angels helped the governing body. For example, an angel told Cornelius to find the apostle Peter. – par. 6
There is nothing in this account to support this statement. Not only was a governing body not involved in this process, not even the apostles and older men were involved. The angel did not speak to the apostles and older men, but instead spoke to an uncircumcised unbaptized Gentile. Next, Jesus gave Peter a vision. Not the entire body of older men in the Jerusalem congregation, but only one man, Peter. It appears that the writer of this article believes that simply substituting the term “governing body” wherever he pleases will be enough to prove his point.
The unsubstantiated assumptions continue with:
From this, we can see that angels actively supported the preaching work that the governing body was directing. (Acts 5:19, 20) – par. 6
There is no evidence that there was a governing body doing any direction at all. What Acts 5:19, 20 speaks of are the apostles. Yes, there is evidence that the Angels actively supported the preaching work of the apostles. However, to make the leap that these ones formed a governing body that directed the worldwide work is to go way beyond the evidence in Scripture.
If we were to rewrite the third question, removing “governing body” and replacing it with “Christians” or “disciples”, it would make sense and be entirely scriptural. The purpose of the writer is to replace the idea that Christians can be guided directly by holy spirit—an idea wholly supported by Scripture—with the idea that only through the leadership of men can Christians understand the Bible.
Paragraph 7 makes a token effort to attribute leadership to Jesus Christ. However, the effect of the previous paragraphs and those to come will leave the reader in no doubt that Jesus’ leadership is now only expressed through the Governing Body. Unwittingly, the paragraph makes a point that disproves their claim of a first century governing body.
And instead of naming themselves after an apostle, “the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.” (Acts 11:26) – par. 7
And where exactly was this divine providence experienced? Surely if there was a governing body through which the Holy Spirit worked, such direction would come through them, would it not? Yet when we read Acts 11:26 we find that the Gentile Christian congregation in Antioch was the place the Holy Spirit acted in naming the disciples, Christians. Why would it undermine the authority of the governing body this way, unless there actually was no governing body to speak of?
“This Is Not Man’s Work”
How do we know that this is not man’s work? What criteria do we have to determine whether we are following men or the Christ?
Paragraph 8 makes the claim that Charles Taze Russell was doing the work of Jesus Christ and not men because he taught the truth. While it is true that he freed many from false teachings such as the Trinity and the immortality of the human soul and Hellfire, he was not alone in doing this. In fact, the Adventist movement of the 19th century of which he was part was known for rejecting these teachings. Together with true teachings, brother Russell got his understanding of 1914 and Christ’s invisible return from an Adventist preacher by the name of Nelson Barbour. The irony is that in this paragraph, while extolling Russell’s role in bringing truth to the people, the two doctrines that are featured are both false. There is no scriptural evidence that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914, nor that that was the year marked as the end of the Gentile Times.
As to the statement made in paragraph 9 that “Brother Russell did not want any special attention from people”, while it is not our purpose here to disparage individuals, we have to address an allegation like this if we feel it is false. It may well be that brother Russell started out with great humility, but some of his written words in later years indicate a change in his view.
“Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the SCRIPTURE STUDIES with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.” (The Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, 1910, page 4685 par. 4)
It should be noted that virtually every conclusion drawn by Brother Russell in his Scripture Studies has since been discredited by the organization that grew out of that work.
The foregoing extract from the 1910 Watchtower shows an attitude which is alive and well today. Witnesses are expected to accept any teaching in the publications with the same confidence that they show in God’s word. At a circuit assembly a few years back the talk outline contained these words: “To ‘think in agreement,’ we cannot harbor ideas contrary to God’s Word or our publications.” (See Oneness of Mind.)
The unsupported allegations of the article continue with this gem:
In 1919, three years after Brother Russell’s death, Jesus appointed “the faithful and discreet slave.” For what purpose? – par. 10
Where is the evidence of this? Certainly not in the Bible, or they would have provided it long ago. In the historical record? Are we to believe that Jesus chose J.F.Rutherford to be his faithful and discreet slave at a time when he was actively teaching people that the end would come in 1925? Jesus said that it does not belong to us to know such things (Acts 1:6, 7) so preaching an end-time calculation hardly demonstrates faithfulness. The embarrassment that resulted when his prediction failed demonstrates a monumental lack of discretion. Faithful and discreet? By what measure?
The July 15, 2013, issue of The Watchtower explained that “the faithful and discreet slave” is a small group of anointed brothers who make up the Governing Body. – par 10
While it is true that the aforementioned Watchtower article did explain this, it did not provide any scriptural evidence to support the explanation. (See Who Really Is the Faithful and Discreet Slave?)
“Who Really Is the Faithful and Discreet Slave?”
“The Governing Body is neither inspired nor perfect. It can make mistakes when explaining the Bible or directing the organization. Jesus did not tell us that his faithful slave would produce perfect spiritual food.” – par 12
In the 2012 annual meeting, David Splane introduced the idea of the governing body being similar to waiters who carry the food from the kitchen to the table. In the July 15, 2013 Watchtower on the subject, Jesus’ feeding the thousands by miraculously providing fish and bread which was distributed by his disciples was used as an example of what the Governing Body does. Therefore, the food comes from Jesus, not from the Governing Body. Yet Jesus does not produce imperfect spiritual food. When we ask for bread, he does not hand us a stone; when we ask for fish, he does not hand us the serpent. (Mt 7:10) When the Governing Body hands us imperfect food, they are acting on their own and under the direction of neither Jesus Christ nor Jehovah God. That fact is incontestable. How then are we to distinguish them from any other ecclesiastical authority in any of the other religions of Christendom? They all do the same thing. Do they not all teach some truth? Do they not all teach some falsehood?
The Governing Body is trying to minimize the many mistakes they have made. They’re trying to get us to think that such things don’t matter. That they are just the result of human imperfection; that these are just examples of people trying to do their best and falling short. Is that really the case? Or is something else happening?
In an effort to prove that the Governing Body is in fact the divinely appointed faithful and discreet slave, the article suggests three “proofs”.
1 – Holy Spirit helps the Governing Body
The holy spirit has helped the Governing Body to understand Bible truths that were not understood before. For example, consider the list of beliefs clarified that was mentioned earlier. No human could have understood and explained these “deep things of God” on his own! (Read 1 Corinthians 2:10.) The Governing Body feels as did the apostle Paul, who wrote: “These things we also speak, not with words taught by human wisdom, but with those taught by the spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:13) After hundreds of years of false teachings and no clear direction, why has there been such an increase of Bible understanding since 1919? The reason can only be that God has been helping with his holy spirit! – par. 13
If you believe the foregoing to be true, please consider this. Every belief we’ve “clarified” concerning 1914 and 1919 means that the former belief was false. That would be acceptable if the current understanding were true, but alas, the 1914 invisible presence of Christ and the 1919 appointment of the “Governing Body” (actually J.F. Rutherford) as the faithful and discreet slave continue to be false doctrines which we’ve shown have no scriptural basis in repeated articles.[i] Likewise, the doctrine of the generation, which gave rise to 1914 as the start of the great tribulation as well as the failed prognostications surrounding 1925 and 1975, continues to be taught. Its latest incarnation has Witnesses believing the end will come in the next 8 to 10 years, certainly by 2025.[ii] Further, the doctrine of the “other sheep” has perverted the message of the good news for over 80 years (Gal 1:8, 9) and there is no indication that they will ever recognize and correct this false teaching.[iii] There are many other examples of false doctrines such as the unscriptural JW judicial system, the teaching of dedication before baptism, and the prohibition against the medical use of blood, to name only a few. These add to the mountain of evidence showing that the holy spirit is not leading the Governing Body.
If you doubt this, then consider this: Was it the holy spirit that led the Governing Body to affiliate itself with the United Nations, the hated ‘Image of the Wild Beast’ of Revelation, and continue its adulterous relationship for 10 years from 1992 to 2001 when they were caught red-handed and exposed by a UK newspaper article? (For details, see here.) Surely, God didn’t direct them with holy spirit to cheat on their husbandly owner, his Son, Jesus Christ?
There is evidence of spirit influence in all this, to be sure, but it is not holy. (1Co 2:12; Eph 2:2)
2 – Angels help the Governing Body
This old saw just won’t cut it anymore. This is anecdotal evidence, which is to say no evidence at all; for if we accept it as evidence, then we must accept that the governing bodies of Mormons and Adventists are also guided by holy spirit, for such claims of angelic intervention and worldwide growth are promoted in their religions as well. There is a reason Jesus never used growth and personal testimonies as evidence by which to identify his followers. He only pointed to love and good fruits as reliable identifying marks.
3 – God’s Word guides the Governing Body
An example of what is meant by this is provided in the article which refers to the 1973 interpretation of Scripture that allowed Jehovah’s Witnesses to disfellowship smokers. Then this conclusion is drawn:
It said that this strict standard does not come from humans but comes “from God, who expresses himself through his written Word.” No other religious organization has been willing to rely so completely on God’s Word even when doing so may be very difficult for some of its members. – par 15
Really!? What about the Mormons to take only one example? They not only prohibit smoking, but go further and prohibit the drinking of caffeinated beverages. So if we are talking about “strict standards” as evidence that God is expressing himself through his written words, even when it makes life difficult for some of a religion’s members, I guess the Mormon’s have us beat. If we accept that the Mormon injunction against coffee and tea is the result, not of God’s word guiding them, but of the interpretation of men, then how can we argue that our strict standard that would shun a man for smoking is not likewise from men and not God?
When the Governing Body commands that those who disobey their interpretation of things be judged in secret with no observers allowed, are they being “guided by God’s Word”? If so, then please provide the scriptures. When the Governing Body claims that taking a blood transfusion is a sin, but taking hemoglobin which constitutes 96% of whole blood is not a sin, but a matter of conscience, are they “guided by God’s Word”? Again, if so, then where are the scriptures? When the Governing Body commands us under penalty of disfellowshipping to shun a victim of child abuse because he or she has chosen to renounce the Organization which failed to stand up for him/her, please brothers, show us how this is guidance from God’s Word.
“Remember Those Who Are Taking the Lead”
The concluding four paragraphs of this study are intended to get Jehovah’s Witnesses to loyally do whatever they are told to do by the Governing Body and its lieutenants, the circuit overseers and local elders. Doing this, we are told, is how we follow the lead of Jesus Christ.
Let us remember that the writer of Hebrews said that when we “remember those taking the lead” we are to do so by ‘contemplating their conduct’ and then by ‘imitating their faith’. Looking back over just the past 25 years, we have learned that the Governing Body has shown a lack of faith in Jesus as leader by allying the Organization with Jesus’ enemy, the Wild Beast, through membership with its image, the United Nations. (Re 19:19; 20:4) The hypocrisy of such an action, repeated yearly for a full decade until they were caught, is self-evident. Their conduct upon discovery of this sin demonstrates a complete unwillingness to recognize wrongdoing and repent. Hypocrisy and self-justification hardly qualify as evidence of the faith that Hebrews exhorts us to imitate.
Further, we’ve recently come to learn that in thousands of cases worldwide, the branches have failed to direct the local elders to report all cases of the crime of child sexual abuse to the authorities for the protection of the little ones both inside and outside of the congregation. We’ve learned that this de facto policy is part of an oral law coming from the Governing Body which it continues to defend.[iv] Jesus, at Hebrews 17:8 says, hasn’t changed. He would never approve of shunning the most vulnerable among us, as the organization has done, just because they have chosen to reject, not the brothers, but the authority figures that have added to their emotional abuse by implementing harsh and uncaring policies.
The Governing Body presumes to take the lead. They presume to do so in the name of Jesus Christ and Jehovah God. They now require us to obey their every directive, making themselves into leaders in the fullest sense; the sense that Jesus warned us against at Matthew 23:10.
They love to quote Proverbs 4:18 to explain away their many prophetic failures, but they fail to keep reading. The next verse says:
“The way of the wicked is like the darkness; They do not know what makes them stumble.” (Pr 4:19)
If we follow someone who walks in darkness and can’t even see the things that are causing him to stumble, then we will stumble as well. We become the blind who are led by the blind.
“. . .Then the disciples came and said to him: “Do you know that the Pharisees were stumbled at hearing what you said?” 13 In reply he said: “Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. 14 Let them be. Blind guides is what they are. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”” (Mt 15:12-14)
This article is a blatant attempt to lead millions of Christians away from the Christ and into servitude to men. It is time for us to wake up and help others to wake up before it is too late.
[iv] Evidence of the resistance of the Organization to make changes that would better protect the most vulnerable members of the flock can be seen in its testimony before the Australia Royal Commission on March 10, 2017.