[From ws17/11 p. 20 – January 15-21]

“Look out that no one takes you captive by means of the philosophy and empty deception . . . of the world.”​—Col 2:8

[Occurrences: Jehovah=11; Jesus=2]

If you’re lazy or just too busy, as many JWs are, you might just go with what’s written in the article and not look up the full reference of the theme text. If so, you’d miss out on the fact that it includes the key phrases “according to human tradition” as well as “and not according to the Christ.”

“Look out that no one takes you captive by means of the philosophy and empty deception according to human tradition, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ;” (Col 2:8)

Going by the title, the writer wants us to think that the philosophy and empty deception we are to avoid originate only from the world, and in a sense it does.  However, to a Witness, the world is everything outside of the Organization; but Paul warns Christians against things originating from “human tradition”.  He does not limit this to external traditions, so we must conclude that traditions from within the Christian congregation may also mislead us.  Additionally and of greater importance, Paul not only warns us away from something, but points us to something else that safeguards us.  Notice that he does not say:

 “Look out that no one takes you captive by means of the philosophy and empty deception according to human tradition, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to the Organization;”

Granted, the word “organization” does not appear in Holy Scripture, but he could have also said, “according to the congregation” or “according to us”—meaning himself and the other apostles; but no, he points only to the Christ.

Let us bear that in mind as we continue our review of this Watchtower article.  We’ll try a slightly different tack this time.  The focus of this article is outward, applying all its points to counter the worldly thinking that lies outside of the Organization, but does it? We will attempt to turn the light inward.

Do We Need to Believe in God?

Under this subtitle, paragraph 5 states:

For example, they may respect and love their parents. But how well-founded are the moral standards of someone who refuses to acknowledge our loving Creator as the One who sets the standards of right and wrong? (Isa. 33:22) Many thinking people today will admit that the deplorable conditions on earth confirm that man needs God’s help. (Read Jeremiah 10:23.) So we should not be tempted to think that someone could fully determine what is good without believing in God and adhering to his standards.​—Ps. 146:3.

To which god is the paragraph referring?  Based on the final reference to Psalm 146:3, it would be the one true God, Jehovah.

“Do not put your trust in princes Nor in a son of man, who cannot bring salvation.” (Ps 146:3)

However, we do not want to be taken captive by ‘philosophies and empty deceptions originating from human traditions.’  Paul warned the Thessalonians about a man (or group of men) who sat in the place of the true God and was “publicly showing himself to be a god.” (2 Th 2:4)  How could this be?  How could a man be like a god?  Well, is it not the case that a Christian only gives absolute obedience to God?  To all other authorities, he gives only relative obedience. (Acts 5:29)  However, should a group of Christians, like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Catholics, give absolute obedience to a man or a group of men, are they not treating them like God himself?  If they are willing to make life-and-death choices based on what men tell them to do, are they not “trusting in princes” and relying on them for salvation?

Catholics and those of other religious faiths were told to kill or be killed in wars against their Christian brothers, and they obeyed the commands of men.  To cite only one example, Witnesses were told it was immoral to accept an organ transplant even though their life depended on it.  In each case, men co-opted a Christian’s rightful use of his or her own conscience.

Speaking of princes, the Governing Body applies this passage of Isaiah to the elders of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (See w14 6/15 p. 16 par. 19)

“Look! A king will reign for righteousness, And princes will rule for justice.  2 And each one will be like a hiding place from the wind, A place of concealment from the rainstorm, Like streams of water in a waterless land, Like the shadow of a massive crag in a parched land.” (Isa 32:1, 2)

These princes would include all elders at all levels including the members of the Governing Body on earth.  They also make the claim that our salvation depends on how we treat such ones.

The other sheep should never forget that their salvation depends on their active support of Christ’s anointed “brothers” still on earth. (w12 3/15 p. 20 par. 2)

So the Bible explicitly tells us not to trust princes because they cannot provide us with salvation.  The Governing Body calls themselves and all the elders princes, and then tells us that our salvation depends on obeying them.  Hmm?

Do We Need Religion?

By religion, the writer means “organized religion”.  By this we come to understand that to be happy and worship God as he approves, we have to be organized and have some form of human authority calling the shots.

No wonder an increasing number of people feel that they can be happy without religion! Such individuals may say, “I am interested in spiritual matters, but I do not get involved in organized religion.” – par. 6

“An individual can be happy without false religion, but a person cannot be truly happy unless he has a relationship with Jehovah, who is described as “the happy God.” – par. 7.

If they are trying to show that a person can only be happy by being part of an organized religion, they have failed to do it with this reasoning.  Does one have to be a member of some Christian denomination with its ecclesiastical hierarchy of authority to be happy, and to have a relationship with God?  Does Jehovah require us to hold a membership card before we can approach him?  If so, the reasoning under this subtitle fails to make that case.

Children are naturally drawn to their siblings.  So the children of God are naturally drawn to each other, but does that require an organization?  If so, then why does the Bible not speak of such a thing?

Do We Need Moral Standards?

Of course we do.  That’s what the whole issue was about in Eden: God’s moral standards or Man’s.  But what happens when men try to pass their moral standards off as God’s? Isn’t that what Paul is talking about to his Colossian brothers?

“Carefully concealed in him are all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge. 4 I am saying this so that no one may delude you with persuasive arguments.” (Col 2:3, 4)

The defense against the “persuasive arguments” of men are the “treasures of wisdom and of knowledge” found in the Christ.  To assume that we have to go to other men to get these treasures is ludicrous.  We would be merely exchanging one source of persuasive arguments for another.

Let us illustrate this with those enemies of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees.  They imposed many “moral standards” on men that allegedly came from the Law of Moses, but in reality were based on “human traditions”.  As such, they squeezed love out in favor of an artificial and superfluous righteousness based on visible works.  Have Jehovah’s Witnesses fallen prey to the leaven of the Pharisees?  Indeed.  Let us take one example of silliness that puts rules in the place of love.  Many witnesses have been branded as rebellious or unspiritual because they chose to sport a beard.  There is no Bible prohibition against a beard.  This is really just a tradition of the Organization, yet it is given the force of a moral code.  Rather than let love rule, the Organization puts emphasis on conveying a standard of appearance intended to brand its followers much like the “scripture carrying cases” the Pharisees proudly displayed on their foreheads. (Mt 23:5) Those who grow a beard in any case, lose their privileges and are silently judged by others as spiritually weak.  Pressure is brought to bear on them to shave off the beard for fear they might stumble someone.  Stumbling someone means causing them to lose their faith in God.  How silly an argument, yet one that is universally made.  Truly, the shadow of the Pharisee looms large over the shoulder of many an elder.

Should We Pursue a Secular Career?

Notice the use of the designator, “secular”.  This is well chosen, because a career in the Organization is something that is promoted.

“Pursuing a career is the key to happiness.” Many people urge us to pursue a secular career as our goal in life. Such a career may promise status, authority, and wealth. – par. 11

Remember that the craving to control others and the longing to be admired are the desires that enticed Satan, but he is angry, not happy. – par. 12

Bear the foregoing in mind as you consider this:

When we focus first on serving Jehovah and teaching others his Word, we experience incomparable joy. The apostle Paul, for one, had that experience. Earlier in life, he had pursued a promising career in Judaism, but he found true happiness when he became a disciple-maker and witnessed how people responded to God’s message and how it changed their life. – par. 13

Paul gave up a career in Judaism which would have allowed him to preach about Jehovah, but according to the tradition of men.  So he could have chosen a career supporting an organization that claimed Jehovah as its God.  Instead, he chose one that focused on bearing witness to the Lord Jesus.  If he had chosen the career serving the Organization of Judaism, he would have had status, authority, and wealth.  Most careers in the world don’t give the individual status, authority, and wealth.  Sure a nurse, lawyer, or architect have some status, and may have some people working under them, and they may eventually acquire a comfortable lifestyle, but if you really want status, and authority—if you are “craving to control others”—your best bet is a career in religion.  In less time than it takes to become a successful lawyer or doctor, you can rise to the position of priest, bishop, or elder, or circuit overseer, even Governing Body member.  Then you can exercise control over the lives of hundreds, thousands, even millions of people.

Of course, Paul could have had a similar level of power over others had he remained a Pharisee—at least until Jehovah destroyed the Jerusalem and Judah in 70 C.E.  Instead, he chose the following path:

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Col 2:6-10 ESV)

If you decide to pursue a career “in the world”, there is nothing stopping you from being “rooted and built up in” Jesus.  Nothing keeping you from being “filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”  After all, whether you wash windows for a living or practice the law, you still have to work; but what is stopping you from serving the Christ while you do it.

Can We Solve Mankind’s Problems?

We cannot, as these paragraphs show. How regrettable it is, however, that given the opportunity to show who can and will solve these problems, the writer, in paragraph 16, puts all the emphasis on Jehovah and not on his Son.  Jesus is the means by which God has determined to fix the world, but we continue virtually ignore him.

“Know How You Should Answer”

If you hear a worldly idea that seems to challenge your faith, research what God’s Word says on the subject and discuss the matter with an experienced fellow believer. Consider why the idea may sound appealing, why such thinking is faulty, and how you can refute it. Indeed, all of us can protect ourselves against worldly thinking by following the admonition that Paul gave to the congregation in Colossae: “Go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside . . . Know how you should answer each person.”​—Col. 4:5, 6. – par. 17

How sad that Jehovah’s Witnesses fail to apply the counsel given under this subtitle when confronted with really challenging questions that reveal the failings of the teachings of the Organization. They may be fine with this if the idea is worldly, but if it is scriptural, they run for the hills.  Rare is the witness that will sit down and research questions that challenge their faith in the Organization.  It is sad, but understandable. Engaging in a discussion may force them to confront truths they are not yet willing to accept.  Fear, not love, is the motivator.

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Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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