[From ws11/17 p. 8 – January 1-7]

“Jehovah is redeeming the life of his servants; none of those taking refuge in him will be found guilty.”​—Ps 34:11

According to the box at the end of this article, the arrangement of cities of refuge that were provided under the Mosaic law provide ‘lessons that Christians can learn from.’  If so, then why are these lessons not laid out in the Christian Scriptures? It is understandable that some arrangement had to be made in the nation of Israel to handle cases of manslaughter.  Any nation needs law and a judicial and penal system.  However, the Christian congregation was and is something new, something radically different.  It is not a nation.  Through it, Jehovah was making provision for a return to the family structure instituted in the beginning.  So any attempt to turn it back into a nation is going against the purpose of God.

In the interim, as we move toward the perfect state under Jesus Christ, Christians live under the rule of secular nations. Therefore, when a crime like rape or murder or manslaughter is committed, the superior authorities are considered to be God’s ministers placed in their positions to keep the peace and enforce the law. Christians are commanded by God to submit to the superior authorities, recognizing this is an arrangement our Father has put into place until such time as He replaces it. (Romans 13:1-7)

So there is no evidence in the Bible that the ancient Israelite cities of refuge constitute “lessons Christians can learn from.” (See box below)

Given that, why is this article and the next one making use of them? Why is the organization going back 1,500 years before the arrival of Christ for lessons Christians can supposedly learn from?  That is really the question that needs to be answered.  Another question that we should bear in mind as we consider this article is whether these “lessons” are really just antitypes by another name.

He must…present his case in the hearing of the elders

In paragraph 6 we learn that a manslayer had to “’present his case in the hearing of the elders’ at the gate of the city of refuge to which he had fled.”  As stated above, this makes sense because Israel was a nation and therefore needed a means to handle crime committed within its borders. This is the same for any nation on earth today. When a crime is committed, the evidence has to be presented before judges so that a ruling can be made. If the crime is committed in the Christian congregation—for example the crime of child sexual abuse—we must present the wrongdoer to the superior authorities in accordance with the command of God at Romans 13:1-7. However, this is not the point that is being made in the article.

Confusing crime with sin, paragraph 8 says: “Today, a Christian guilty of serious sin needs to seek the help of congregation elders to recover.”  So while the title of this article is about taking refuge in Jehovah, the real message is taking refuge within the organizational arrangement.

There is so much wrong with paragraph 8 that it is going to take a little time to weed through it.  Bear with me.

Let’s begin with the fact that they are taking the scriptural arrangement under the nation of Israel wherein a criminal was required to present his case in the hearing of the elders at the city gate and saying that this ancient arrangement corresponds to the modern congregation wherein a noncriminal, such as a drunkard, smoker, or fornicator, needs to present his case before the elders of the congregation.

If you need to present yourself before the elders after having committed a serious sin because in ancient Israel the fugitive needed to do that, then this is more than a lesson. What we have here is a type and an anti-type. They are getting around their own rule not to make up types and antitypes by relabeling them as “lessons”.

That’s the first problem. The second problem is that they are only taking the parts of the type that are convenient for them, and ignoring the other parts which do not serve their purpose. For example, where were the elders in ancient Israel? They were in public, at the city gate. The case was heard publicly within the full view and hearing of any passersby. There is no correspondence—no “lesson”—in the modern day, because they want to try the sinner in secret, far from the view of any observer.

However, the most serious problem with this new anti-typical application (let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?) is that it is unscriptural.  True, they quote a scripture in an effort to give the impression that this arrangement is based on the Bible. Nevertheless, do they reason on that Scripture? They do not; but we will.

“Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the elders of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, applying oil to him in the name of Jehovah. 15 And the prayer of faith will make the sick one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. A righteous man’s supplication has a powerful effect.” (Jas 5:14-16 NWT)

Since the New World translation wrongly inserts Jehovah into this passage, we’ll look at a parallel rendition from the Berean Study Bible to present a balanced understanding.

“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick. The Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail.” (Jas 5:14-16 BSB)

Now in reading this passage, why is the individual told to call the elders? Is it because he has committed a serious sin? No, he’s sick and needs to get better.  If we were to reword this as we’d say it today, it might go like this: “If you’re sick, get the elders to pray over you, and because of their faith, the Lord Jesus will make you well. Oh and by the way, if you’ve committed any sins, they will also be forgiven you.”

Verse 16 talks about confessing sins “to each other”.  This is not a one-way process. We’re not talking publisher to elder, laity to clergy.  Additionally, is any mention whatsoever made of judgment?  John is talking about being healed and being forgiven. The forgiveness and the healing both come from the Lord. There is not the slightest indication that he is talking about some kind of judicial process involving men judging the repentant or non-repentant attitude of the sinner and then extending or withholding forgiveness.

Now bear this in mind: This is the best Scripture that the organization can come up with to support its judicial arrangement requiring all sinners to report to the elders. It gives us pause for thought, doesn’t it?

Inserting oneself between God and men

What is wrong with this JW judicial process?  That can best be illustrated by the example presented in paragraph 9.

Many of God’s servants have discovered the relief that comes from seeking and receiving help from the elders. A brother named Daniel, for example, committed a serious sin, but for several months he hesitated to approach the elders. “After so much time had gone by,” he admits, “I thought that there wasn’t anything the elders could do for me anymore. Still, I was always looking over my shoulder, waiting for the consequences of my actions. And when I prayed to Jehovah, I felt that I had to preface everything with an apology for what I had done.” Finally, Daniel sought the help of the elders. Looking back, he says: “Sure, I was scared to approach them. But afterward, it seemed as if someone had lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Now, I feel that I can approach Jehovah without anything being in the way.” Today, Daniel has a clean conscience, and he was recently appointed as a ministerial servant. – par. 9

Daniel sinned against Jehovah, not the elders. Nevertheless, praying for forgiveness from Jehovah was not enough. He needed to get the forgiveness of the elders. The forgiveness of men was more important to him than the forgiveness of God. I’ve experienced this myself. I had a single brother confess fornication that was committed five years in the past.  On another occasion, I had a 70-year-old brother come to me after an elders school in which pornography was discussed because 20 years in the past he had viewed Playboy magazines.  He’d prayed for God’s forgiveness and stopped this activity but still, after two decades, he couldn’t feel truly forgiven unless he heard a man pronounce him free and clear.  Incredible!

These examples together with that of Daniel from this article indicate that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have a real relationship with Jehovah God as a loving Father. We cannot entirely blame Daniel, or these other brothers, for this attitude because this is how we are taught. We are trained to believe that between us and God there is this middle management layer made up of the elders, the circuit overseer, the branch and finally the Governing Body. We’ve even had charts to illustrate it graphically in the magazines.

If you want Jehovah to forgive you, you have to go through the elders. The Bible says that the only way to the Father is through Jesus, but not for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We can see now the effectiveness of their campaign to convince all Jehovah’s Witnesses that they are not the children of God, but only his friends. In a real family, if one of the children has sinned against the father and wishes the father’s forgiveness, he doesn’t go to one of his brothers and ask the brother for forgiveness. No, he goes directly to the father, recognizing that only the father can forgive him. However, if a friend of the family sins against the head of that family, he might go to one of the children recognizing that he has a special relationship with the family head and ask him to intercede on his behalf before the father, because the outsider—the friend—fears the father in a way that the son does not. This is similar to the type of fear Daniel expresses. He says he was “always looking over his shoulder”, and that he “was scared”.

How are we to take refuge in Jehovah when we are denied the very relationship that makes that possible?

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Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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