[From ws3/17 p. 18 May 15-21]
“O Jehovah, remember, please, how I have walked before you faithfully and with a complete heart.”—2 Kings 20:3.
This particular Watchtower study uses four kingly examples from the days of ancient Israel to instruct Jehovah’s Witnesses about serving God with a complete heart. There is, of course, nothing wrong with using examples of faithful men recorded in the Prechristian Scriptures (PS) as object lessons to guide us today. It must be noted however that in the publications of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, there is a clear overemphasis on such examples. It has been observed that we are a Judeo-Christian religion with heavy emphasis on the “Judeo” aspect of Christianity. Is that a problem?
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not use the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” which are commonly used in the churches of Christendom. The reason for this is explained in Appendix 7E (p. 1585) of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures – Reference Bible. Whether you accept this reasoning or believe it doesn’t measure up to scholarly review, it should be recognized that one of the reasons for avoiding these two terms is the desire of JW.org to continually distance itself from the rest of Christendom. (In fact, though a Christian denomination, Witnesses do not consider themselves as part of Christendom.) All that being the case, there is still more to it than what we see on the surface. Appendix 7E argues that it would be more accurate to substitute “covenant” for “testament”, yet the Organization rejects the terms “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant” as well. Why?
The argument is made that the Bible is a single work and so such divisions have “no valid basis”.
Therefore, there is no valid basis for the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures to be called “The Old Testament” and for the Christian Greek Scriptures to be called “The New Testament.” Jesus Christ himself referred to the collection of sacred writings as “the Scriptures.” (Mt 21:42; Mr 14:49; Joh 5:39) The apostle Paul referred to them as “the holy Scriptures,” “the Scriptures” and “the holy writings.”
(Rbi8 p. 1585 7E The Expressions “The Old Testament” and “The New Testament”)
However, the astute Bible student will notice that in making this proclamation, Appendix 7E still engages in dividing the Bible into two sections: The “Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures” and the “Christian Greek Scriptures”, thus unwittingly undermining their argument. Why divide them up based on the language in which they were written? What is gained by that? Why balk at using “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant”? Surely the latter would provide the desired distancing from mainstream Christianity while adding more meaning than can be found from his simple language-based designation?
Could it be that use of either “testament” or “covenant”, particularly with the adjectives “old” and “new” attached, creates a doctrinal difficulty for JW.org? Witnesses teach that Christians (with the exception of a tiny, tiny minority) are not in any kind of covenant. Emphasizing an old covenant between Jehovah and the Jews that was replaced by a new covenant between Jehovah and both Jews and Gentiles (i.e. Christians) does not suit an organization teaching people that God has made no covenant with them at all.[i] The Organization simply doesn’t want Witnesses dwelling on the Bible message of old and new covenants, because Witness teaching has all of that applying to a tiny group of 144,000 individuals, leaving the rank and file of JW.org outside. Dwelling on the new covenant also leads the Christian to dwell on his or her special relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Referring to the two divisions of Scripture by the language in which each was written avoids such questions. The organization encourages its flock to think of Jehovah all the time to the virtual exclusion of Jesus Christ. By trying to blur the division between Prechristian Scriptures (PS) and Christian Scriptures (CS), it becomes easier to push Jesus to one side and focus on obedience and servitude only to Jehovah. It is by their use of Jehovah’s name that Witnesses strive to differentiate themselves from the rest of Christendom.
While focusing on the life experiences of four Israelite kings can be a positive means of drawing parallels from which Christians can benefit, we want to ensure that we continually introduce Jesus into the discussion since that is one of the key purposes for God’s inspiring of the Christian Scriptures. This article is titled “Serving Jehovah with a complete heart”. That is all well and good. However, when you slave for someone, you serve them, do you not? Observe how slave is used in the CS whenever the word is attributed to the one for whom one slaves.
“Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ…” (Ro 1:1)
“Slave for the Lord.” (Ro 12:11)
“…he that was called when a freeman is a slave of Christ.” (1Co 7:21)
“If I were yet pleasing men, I would not be Christ’s slave.” (Gal. 1:10)
“…for I am carrying on my body the brand marks [of a slave] of Jesus.” (Gal 6:17)
“SLAVE for the Master, Christ.” (Col 3:24)
“…Tychicus, [my] beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow slave in [the] Lord.” (Col 4:7)
“Epaphras, who is from among you, a slave of Christ Jesus…” (Col 4:12)
“…how you turned to God from [YOUR] idols to slave for a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from the Heavens…namely, Jesus…” (1Th 1:9)
“But a slave of the Lord…” (2Ti 2:24)
“Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (Titus 1:1)
“James, a slave of God and of [the] Lord Jesus Christ…” (James 1:1)
“Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ…” (2Pe 1:1)
“Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ…” (Jude 1:1)
“A revelation by Jesus Christ…to his slave John…” (Re 1:1)
“And they were singing the song of Moses the slave of God and the song of the Lamb…” (Re 15:3)
You will notice on the rare occasions when the Christian is said to slave for God, Jesus is still mentioned. So an article stressing repeatedly how we can serve (slave for) Jehovah God that makes no mention whatsoever of also slaving for or serving Jesus is completely out of harmony with the message for Christians as expressed in the CS.
Could it be that by drawing parallels with the ancient nation of Israel, their is another agenda at work?
The Jews obeyed and served Jehovah through earthly representatives. They obeyed and served Jehovah by listening to and obeying Moses. They obeyed and served listening to their earthly kings. Likewise, Christians obey and serve Jehovah through a man, but that man is the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 17:31; Romans 1:1-7) True Christianity takes human leaders like Moses, Joshua, and the Kings of Israel out of the equation. If men wish to rule over other men, one method is to minimize Jesus’ role. The Catholic Church achieved this by making the Pope into the Vicar of Christ. I vicar is the man who fills in for the priest when absent. He is the substitute for the priest. (This is, incidentally, where we get the word “vicarious” from.) So the Pope can make a law, such as the prohibition on the use of contraceptives, and it carries all the weight of authority as if Jesus himself were present making that law.
The method that the current leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses have chosen is to focus on the Israelite model in which Jesus does not appear. The men taking the lead in the organization can then insert themselves in a similar position to men like Moses or the Kings of Israel. This has been every bit as effective as the Catholic model. To illustrate just how effective this has been, I will relate an incident from my own life. (I know that anedotes are not evidence, but I feel that what I’m about to relate is common enough that many out there reading this will concur and can add their own testimony.)
Recently in a discussion with some old friends in which I was able to expose some of the organization’s false teachings as well as their hypocritical membership in the United Nations, the husband of the couple, who had been quiet up to that point, piped in and said dismissively, “Well, I love Jehovah!” This was intended to end the discussion in his mind. What he really meant, and what became very evident as we continued chatting, was that to him Jehovah and the organization were equivalent. One could not love one without loving the other. This was not the first time I’ve been exposed to this type of reasoning.
The point is that by focusing continually on the Israelite model, with some human representative serving as a channel between Jehovah God and men, the leaders of the Organization have very effectively placed themselves in that same position in the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This has been done so efficiently that they were able to publish a chart of the management structure of the organization in which Jesus Christ did not figure at all. What is even more astonishing is that this was done without causing so much as a ripple in the minds of millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They simply failed to notice that Jesus had been excised!
And so we come to today’s study in which we are going to review the example of four Israelite kings. Again, there is nothing wrong with the idea of serving Jehovah with a complete heart. However, it is impossible to do that in the Christian congregation if we replace Jesus Christ with men. The inclusion of Jesus is so vital to our salvation that it should be mentioned repeatedly, yet in this article the name of Jesus only appears twice in passing, but never as the one we should serve and obey.
Beating the Same Drum
“…there may be a situation in which you can imitate Asa’s zeal. For example, what if a member of your family or a close friend sins, is unrepentant, and has to be disfellowshipped? Would you take decisive action by ceasing to associate with that person? What would your heart move you to do?” – par. 7
Indeed, what would your heart tell you to do in the case of a disfellowshipped friend or relative? If your long-lost disfellowshipped daughter called you on the phone—as was depicted in the drama at last year’s Regional Convention—would you decline even to answer? She might be calling to repent, or because of some emergency in which she is in dire need of help. What would your heart move you to do? Would a heart that is complete with Jehovah be cold and uncaring? Would it put loyalty to the dictates of an organization run by men above the law of love? Would you be guided by men’s rules, or by the principle expressed in the “golden rule”? (Gal 5:14, 15) If you were the disfellowshipped one, how would you like to be treated?
This raises yet another question: Why is strict adherence to the Watchtower code regarding how to treat disfellowshipped ones so vital that it has to be repeated over and over in the publications? Why does the organization misapply 2 John 8, 9 to cover all sins, when it was clearly intended to deal only with those who actively opposed to the teaching of Christ? Does serving Jehovah with a complete heart clearly require us to be hardhearted toward those who are suffering and who need our mercy? Is the continual harping on this message an indication that the leadership of the Organization is feeling threatened?
The Proper View of Spiritual Activities
Like Asa, you can show that you have a complete heart by fully relying on God when you are faced with opposition, even some that may seem insurmountable….colleagues at work may taunt you for taking days off for spiritual activities or for not often working overtime. – par. 8
Of course, “taking days off [work] for spiritual activities” seems like a laudable course of action in the correct circumstances. It does mean self-sacrifice, but Paul gave up many things, considering them all just a lot of garbage that he might gain Christ. (Phil. 3:8) Is ‘gaining the Christ’ the type of ‘spiritual activity’ to which this paragraph is pointing? Alas, having been one of those faithful Witnesses that devoted a huge portion of his adult life to such “spiritual activities”, I can safely say that it is not. Paul wanted to “gain Christ”, but I was taught that I couldn’t do that. I was not anointed. I couldn’t even aspire to being called a brother of Christ and a child of God. The best I could hope for was ‘good friend’.
Let’s look at it this way: If a Baptist or Mormon were to use that same argument, would a Jehovah’s Witness consider it valid? We know the answer to be “no” simply because Witnesses consider all other religions to be false, so they cannot have valid “spiritual activities”. After all, true worshippers worship the Father in both spirit and truth, so the one goes hand-in-hand with the other. (John 4:23)
After years of study, I’ve come to the realization that virtually every doctrine unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses has no foundation in Scripture. So I look back on my life of self-sacrifice dedicated to advancing JW “spiritual activities” as largely a waste of time in the service of men. Nevertheless, what I did gain from it was a life devoted to knowing God and Christ better—a life devoted to the study of the Scriptures. (John 17:3) I would not be where I am now had it not been for that, so I do not regret the waste of time insomuch as it gave me the foundation upon which to build a faith in Jesus Christ as a child of God with the hope of ruling with him in the kingdom of the Heavens. That is something worth striving for. So I completely concur with the Apostle Paul. It is all garbage if only I can gain Christ. I’m sure many of us feel the same.
One of the spiritual activities we are expected to engage in is referred to in paragraph 9.
God’s servants go beyond simply thinking about themselves. Asa promoted true worship. We likewise help others “to search for Jehovah.” How pleased Jehovah must be when he sees that we speak to our neighbors and others about him, doing so out of genuine love for him and genuine interest in the everlasting welfare of people! – par. 9
Again, no mention of Jesus at all. All the focus is placed on Jehovah to the exclusion of the one He told us—in his own voice, no less!—to listen to. (Mt 3:17; 17:5; 2Pe 1:17)
Using Hezekiah’s removal of idolatrous false worship from the kingdom, the writer tries to find a modern-day parallel in avoiding the idolizing of men.
“Clearly, we do not want to imitate those in the world who, using social media, treat humans as if they were idols….We can ask ourselves, ‘Do I avoid idolizing humans…?” – par. 17
Twenty years ago, most of us would have had no trouble with this sentiment. However, now we may detect a note of hypocrisy in it. Are they ‘saying’, but not ‘doing’? Brothers have come to idolize members of the Governing Body, in no small part because of the prominence such ones are given on the JW broadcasts and on the super large video screens at Regional and International Conventions. There was a time when the average Jehovah’s Witness could not have named more than one or two members of the Governing Body, but now, that has all changed. Try asking a brother or sister to name them all. After they have done this, ask them to name all the apostles. ‘Nuf said?
Deflecting Us from the Message
Reading God’s word every day is a worthwhile practice. Thus, the counsel in paragraph 19 seems sound.
Also, remember that the reading of the Scriptures touched Josiah’s heart and moved him to take action. Your reading of the Word of God may move you to take action that will increase your happiness and strengthen your friendship with God as well as spur you on to help others to search for God. (Read 2 Chronicles 34:18, 19.) – par. 17
However, the counsel is tainted by the underlying message. You study to “strengthen your friendship with God”. To this end, the “read” scripture is taken from the PS not the CS. Better are Paul’s words to Timothy about reading God’s word: 2 Timothy 3:14-17. However, that focuses on “faith in connection with Christ Jesus”, not Jehovah God and of course Timothy isn’t called a friend of God. The hope Timothy had is not the hope that the Organization wants us to have.
So while criticizing this apparently innocent counsel to read regularly God’s word may seem to the casual reader as being a tad picayune, the experienced researcher is aware how, by such subtle innuendo, one can have one’s mind start thinking down the wrong path.
Next week, the study theme continues by examining the mistakes these four kings made, so as to learn from their example.
[i] Regular readers of these articles may have noticed that recently I have come to prefer of the terms “Prechristian Scriptures” and “Christian Scriptures”. The reason for this is that the old and new covenants, while of great importance, do not encompass all of Scripture. The old covenant did not come into being until humans had walked the earth for well over 2000 years. Therefore, for the sake of clarity, dividing the two sections of the Bible based on the advent of Christianity seems a better choice. This is, of course, a preference and should not be taken by anyone as a rule. Depending on the audience to whom one is speaking, Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) may be more appropriate.