[From ws1/18 p. 7 – February 26-March 4]
“Those hoping in Jehovah will regain power.” Isaiah 40:31
The first paragraph lays out the problems many Witnesses are now facing:
- Coping with serious illness.
- Elderly caring for elderly relatives.
- Struggling to provide basic necessities for their families.
- Often several of these problems at once.
So what have many witnesses done to cope with these and other pressures? The second paragraph enlightens us and effectively gives us the reason for this article.
“Sadly, some of God’s people in our day have concluded that the best way to cope with the pressures of life is to ‘take a break from the truth’, as they say, as if our Christian activities were a burden rather than a blessing. So they stop reading God’s Word, attending congregation meetings, and engaging in the field ministry – just as Satan hopes they will do.”
Reading between the lines, there we have it in a nutshell. Many are giving up and so the organization needs to guilt-trip us into continuing, ‘not tiring out’. But before we continue reviewing the rest of the article let us take a few moments to review the situation presented to us here.
What about the problems highlighted?
Without making light of the situation any one of us may currently be enduring, we should bear in mind that, according to Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun”. For instance, serious illness has afflicted mankind since Adam and Eve sinned. Their sin is the reason that throughout time, elderly ones have had to care for even more elderly ones. And has there ever been a time in history when the majority of people were not struggling to provide the basic necessities for their families?
So this begs the question, why in the 21st century when many countries have state hospitals, state care for elderly, the poor and the unemployed, have “some of God’s people in our day… concluded that the best way to cope with the pressures of life is to ‘take a break from the truth’ “?
Could it possibly be due to a recurrence of the situation Jesus highlighted in Luke 11:46 where he said “Woe also to you who are versed in the Law, because you load men with loads hard to be borne, but you yourselves do not touch the loads with one of your fingers!” Could it be that too heavy a load has been put upon Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Let us briefly examine this subject. What loads have been placed upon Witnesses during the 20th and 21st Centuries?
- At the current time there are many elderly ones who have no children to care for them, because they were told that it would be very unwise to have children given that Armageddon was just round the corner.[i] For many, the constant expectation that the end was only a few years away, caused them to put off having children until it was too late.
- Witnesses also have one of the lowest retention rates for children brought up in a religion.[ii] What could be factors in this statistic? For at least the last 50 years there has been pressure for young witnesses not to get further education and therefore many have not been able to get a job that pays sufficient to support a family. When I was a teenager, so many of my fellow teenage witnesses left school as soon as they were legally able to do so, without qualifications and skills to be employable, feeling obliged to engage in pioneer service. Today, little has changed. When recessions hit as they do regularly, the low-paying menial service jobs are often the first to go. When jobs are scarce, will the employer go for the uneducated worker if he has many educated ones vying for the same job?
- Add to this the financial burdens the organization puts on Witnesses. Contributions are ‘requested’ for:
- Paying for the Circuit Overseers accommodation, living expenses and car. (Car replaced at least every 3 years)
- Paying for the Circuit Assembly Halls rentals (an amount that seems in excess of what is required for maintenance)
- Paying for Missionaries to return home every four years.
- Paying for the literature given away for free due to the donation arrangement..
- Paying for the Kingdom Hall and its maintenance.
- Supporting the Regional Assemblies.
- Kingdom Hall building program in other countries.
- Large Bethel building projects such as Warwick (USA) and Chelmsford (UK)
- Supporting large Bethel families in many countries.
Adding to this burden are the requirements to attend and prepare for two congregation meetings a week, special activity months like the circuit overseer visits when all are “encouraged” to auxiliary pioneer, as well as every weekend being tied up with field service, hall cleaning, and other special activities in support of the organization.
In what way has the organization lightened the load upon publishers in compliance with Jesus’ promise? In paragraph 6 we are reminded that Jesus said his yoke would be light. Paul in Hebrews 10:24-25 encouraged us “not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together”, but he didn’t prescribe how it should be done. Acts 10:42 also indicates the early Christians were to preach to the people and give a thorough witness, but the manner was not specified. Yet the organization persists in making rules about how things should be done; things which Jesus left up to the conscience and circumstances of the individual Christian and the local congregation.
The fanaticism the organization engenders as a result of these policies actually contributes to illness. For example, as I write this (end of January 2018) the UK is in the midst of the worst flu epidemic in seven years. However, brothers and sisters still be obliged to attend meetings when they should be in bed recovering. In the process, they unlovingly share their illness with the whole congregation as they cough and sneeze in an enclosed meeting hall. Yet this is despite having the option of listening to the meetings on the telephone. Why? Because the importance of being at every meeting is drummed into them far, far more than showing love and consideration for their fellow witnesses whom they may infect. The ‘not forsaking’ i.e. choosing to avoid associating, has been turned into a ‘don’t miss attending a single meeting, your eternal life depends on it’.
Finally the paragraph states “At times, we may feel exhausted when we leave home to attend a congregation meeting or to engage in the field ministry. But how do we feel when we return? Refreshed—and better prepared to deal with life’s trials.” Speaking personally the only way I felt refreshed was when I fell asleep at the meetings from exhaustion. Sadly, however, obviously this is not the kind of refreshment they mean.
Showing what little understanding the Watchtower writers have for life in the real world we are then offered an experience of a sister who was battling with chronic fatigue, depression and migraine headaches. What did she do? She gave herself more stress (which is often a trigger for migraines, depression and fatigue) in struggling to make the public meeting, as opposed to listening over a phone link or listening to a recording. A qualified medical doctor would probably be appalled at such advice.
Applying the recommendations of paragraphs 8-11 to pray to Jehovah for strength is valid. But it would be important to ensure we use the strength for accomplishing works that Jehovah would be pleased with. If the goals of the organization are from men, then would Jehovah bless us?
Paragraph 13 deals with an important point, that while Jehovah sees what happens when we are mistreated and is not happy about that mistreatment, he does not usually intervene. He may bless the individual as he blessed Joseph, but he does not step in. Yet many Witnesses are under the mistaken impression (often gained from the literature) that because they may be ‘a pioneer, an appointed man, or a long-time witness’ Jehovah will protect them from all harm and trying circumstances. They then have difficulty in adjusting to the reality that he doesn’t prevent them from getting cancer, from losing everything materially, or the death of a loved one.
Paragraphs 15-16 give counsel as to how we should act when we are disappointed by our brothers. It focuses on steps it recommends the offended one take to settle the situation. Now while this is laudable and a Christian attitude, we may have heard of the saying ‘it takes two to tango’. If the offender doesn’t wish to settle the situation, the one offended is expected to just grin and bear it. The counsel provided is one-sided. There is no direction given by which the offender might be assisted to change, to develop Christian qualities. What happened to in-depth discussions on subjects such as ‘exercising self-control’, ‘displaying humility’, ‘showing kindness’, ‘being long-suffering’, ‘treating others with mildness’, ‘treating others with justice and fairness’, ‘being hospitable’ , ‘showing meekness’ and so forth? What happened to assistance in how to apply these fruits of the spirit in all our interpersonal relationships, not just how to apply these qualities according to the organization’s requirements: i.e., ministry, obedience to elders and obedience to the Governing Body?
It would certainly not be unreasonable to conclude that it is the very lack of such articles that results in the perceived need for Watchtower study articles such as this week’s. Why? Because of the urgent need to try to handle and placate the resulting fallout of problems caused by the continual display of unchristian attitudes by many Witnesses and in particular appointed men, many of whom blindly follow the organization’s rules without question instead of concentrating on displaying the fruits of the spirit as a true shepherd should.
Time and time again the same pattern of appalling treatment is found in the stories of those who have since become awakened. This is a worldwide situation, not confined to a country or an area. The reported scale and scope seems to indicate an endemic problem. Years before awakening, I began to realize that the obsession with field service and pioneering meant that shepherding was neglected and led to a situation where congregation members were leaving through the back door unnoticed and uncared for at a faster rate than new members were being baptized. This situation continues to this day, unabated. For example, we recently witnessed the following: A baptized brother who simply became inactive and has not attended meetings for months, recently attended a meeting. Was he welcomed with open arms? No, rather he was ignored by the majority of the congregation (most of whom have known him for years) and was also ignored by almost all the elders. Did he feel encouraged to return another time? Of course not. Yet if a member of the public attended, they would be swamped with offers of a Bible Study from elders, pioneers and publishers. Why the disparity of caring? Has it anything to do with the fact that a Bible study looks good on the monthly field service report?
In paragraph 17 we are served with the usual misdirection to maintain the status quo of the power of the elders. Under the subheading “When we are tormented by our past” we are first treated to a comment that would be taken by many non-witness onlookers as sexist. Discussing how King David felt because of his guilt over serious sin the reader is told: “Happily, David dealt with the problem like a man- a spiritual man.” Should it not have said “Happily, David dealt with the problem like a mature adult – a spiritual person.”? Otherwise it gives the impression that only men are mature enough to confess to Jehovah.
It then quotes Psalm 32:3-5 that clearly shows David confessed directly to Jehovah and no one else; but then contradicts the principle from this scripture by citing James 5 in support of the statement “If you have sinned seriously, Jehovah is ready to help you recover. But you must accept the help he provides through the congregation. (Proverbs 24:16, James 5:13-15)”. (bold ours)
As discussed many times in articles on this site, citing James 5 to support the claim by the organization that you have to confess to the elders is an erroneous application. When read in context (and from the original Greek) it can clearly be seen that James was talking about physically sick Christians, not spiritually sick ones. Nevertheless the Watchtower article then goes on to pressure us into accepting the authority of the congregation elders in this way by stating: “Do not delay – your everlasting future is at stake!”
Even in paragraph 18 they still try to reinforce this unscriptural requirement by saying “If you are sincerely repentant of past sins and have confessed them to the extent necessary, you can rest assured that Jehovah will be merciful.” What is meant by “to the extent necessary”? Clearly, this is talking about making a full confession to men, to the elders. Only then can Jehovah forgive you.
In conclusion, yes, it is true that “pressures of life” can increase, and yes, Jehovah can give power to the tired one. However, let us not add unnecessary pressures to our life by blindly following men’s dictates rather than Bible principles, and let us not tire ourselves out slaving for an organization and its goals, but rather for our Lord and Master Jesus Christ and our heavenly Father Jehovah.
[i] Awake 1974 November 8 p 11 “The evidence is that Jesus’ prophecy will shortly have a major fulfillment, upon this entire system of things. This has been a major factor in influencing many couples to decide not to have children at this time.”