The first time I partook of the emblems at the memorial in my local Kingdom hall, the elderly sister sitting next to me remarked in all sincerity: “I had no idea we were so privileged!” There you have it in a single phrase—the problem behind the JW two-class system of redemption. The sad irony is that the Governing Body, while claiming to have done away with the clergy/laity distinctions of Christendom[i], has joined its fellow denominations in creating one of their very own, and a particularly pronounced distinction it is.
You might think I’m overstating the problem. You might say that this is a difference without a distinction—this sister’s comment notwithstanding. Yet, in a way, the JW class distinction is greater than is currently practiced in Catholicism. Consider the fact that, potentially, anyone can become Pope, as this video demonstrates.
This is not the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to JW theology, one must be specifically selected by God as one of an elite group of anointed before he can have any hope of rising to the top of the JW ladder. Only those so chosen can claim to be adopted children of God. (The rest can only call themselves “God’s friends.”[ii]) Additionally, within the Catholic Church, the clergy/laity distinction does not affect the reward each Catholic is said to receive. Whether priest, bishop, or lay person, all good people are believed to go to heaven. However, among Witnesses this is not the case. The clergy/laity distinction persists after death, with the elite going to heaven to rule, while the remainder—about 99.9% of all those considered to be true and faithful Christians—having another 1,000 years of imperfection and sin to look forward to, followed by a final test, only after which they can be granted everlasting life in the fullest sense of the term.
In this, the non-anointed Jehovah’s Witness who is allegedly declared righteous by God gets the same prospect as an unrighteous resurrected one, even one who has never known the Christ. At best, he can look forward to a “head start” in the race toward perfection over his non-Christian or false-Christian counterpart. Apparently, this is all God’s declaration of righteousness amounts to in the case of a member of the Other Sheep.
Now it becomes clear why that dear elderly sister was moved to make her heartfelt expression about my newly acquired exalted status.
If you feel that something doesn’t feel quite right about all this, you are not alone. Thousands of still-practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses are struggling with the question of whether they should partake of the bread and the wine at this year’s memorial. A member of almost any of Christendom’s churches would find this struggle perplexing. They would reason, “But didn’t our Lord Jesus command us to partake of the symbols representing his flesh and blood? Didn’t he give us a clear, unequivocal command: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me”? (1 Co 11:24, 25)
The reason that many JWs are hesitating, afraid to obey what seems to be a simple, straightforward command, is that their minds have become confused by “artfully contrived false stories.” (2 Pe 1:16) By a misapplication of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, Witnesses have been led to believe that they are actually committing a sin if they partake of the emblems without having received the special notification from God that they are members of this elite group.[iii] Is such reasoning valid? More important, is it scriptural?
God Didn’t Call Me
Our Lord Jesus is a remarkable Commander-in-Chief. He does not give us conflicting instructions nor vague directives. If he only wanted some Christians, a tiny minority, to partake of the emblems, then he would have said so. If partaking in error would amount to a sin, Jesus would have spelled out the criteria by which we would know whether or not to participate.
Given that, we see that he unambiguously told us to partake of the emblems signifying his flesh and blood, making no exceptions. He did this, because he knew no follower of his could be saved without eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood.
“So Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I will resurrect him on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” (John 6:53-57)
Are we to believe that the Other Sheep “have no life” in themselves? On what basis are Witnesses compelled to ignore this requirement and deny themselves this life-saving provision?
On the basis of the Governing Body’s misinterpretation of a single Scripture: Romans 8:16.
Taken out of context in true JW eisegetical[iv] fashion, the publications have this to say:
w16 January p. 19 pars. 9-10 The Spirit Bears Witness With Our Spirit
9 But how does a person know that he has the heavenly calling, that he has, in fact, received this special token? The answer is clearly seen in Paul’s words to the anointed brothers in Rome, who were “called to be holy ones.” He told them: “You did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Rom. 1:7; 8:15, 16) Simply put, by means of his holy spirit, God makes it clear to that person that he is invited to become a future heir in the Kingdom arrangement.—1 Thess. 2:12.
10 Those who have received this special invitation from God do not need another witness from any other source. They do not need someone else to verify what has happened to them. Jehovah leaves no doubt whatsoever in their minds and hearts. The apostle John tells such anointed Christians: “You have an anointing from the holy one, and all of you have knowledge.” He further states: “As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to be teaching you; but the anointing from him is teaching you about all things and is true and is no lie. Just as it has taught you, remain in union with him.” (1 John 2:20, 27) These ones need spiritual instruction just like everyone else. But they do not need anyone to validate their anointing. The most powerful force in the universe has given them this conviction!
What irony that they quote 1 John 2:20, 27 to show that these ones “do not need anyone to validate their anointing”, while going out of their way to invalidate it! At every memorial commemoration I have ever attended, the speaker has spent a major part of the discourse telling everyone why they shouldn’t partake, thus invalidating the anointing of the Holy Spirit in their minds.
By using unscriptural terms like “special token” and “special invitation”, the Governing Body attempts to convey the idea that all Jehovah’s Witnesses have the holy spirit, but not all are invited to become Children of God. So, you, as a Jehovah’s Witness, have God’s holy spirit, but you are not anointed by that spirit unless you have had a “special invitation” or have received a “special token”, whatever that means.
To many this seems reasonable, because their Bible study is confined to the publications of the Organization which cherry-pick verses to support institutional reasoning. But let’s not do that. Let’s do something radical, shall we? Let’s read the Bible and let it speak for itself.
If you have the time, read all of Romans to get a feel for Paul’s overall message. Then reread chapters 7 and 8. (Remember, there were no chapter nor verse divisions in the original letter.)
As we reach the end of chapter 7 and get into chapter 8, it is clear that Paul is speaking about polar opposites. Opposing forces. In this case, the juxtaposition of two laws standing in opposition to each other.
“I find, then, this law in my case: When I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me. 22 I really delight in the law of God according to the man I am within, 23 but I see in my body another law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law that is in my body. 24 Miserable man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body undergoing this death? 25 Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, then, with my mind I myself am a slave to God’s law, but with my flesh to sin’s law.” (Romans 7:21-25)
Not by force of will can Paul get the mastery over his fallen flesh; nor can he, by the abundance of good works, wipe clean the slate of a life of sin. He is condemned. But there is hope. This hope comes as a free gift. So, he continues:
“Therefore, those in union with Christ Jesus have no condemnation.” (Romans 8:1)
Unfortunately, the NWT robs this verse of some of its power by adding the words “union with”. In the Greek it reads simply, “those in Christ Jesus”. If we are in Christ, we have no condemnation. How does that work? Paul goes on (reading from the ESV):
2For the law of the Spirit of life has set youb free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,c he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:2-8)
There is a law of the Spirit and an opposing law of sin and death, i.e. a law of the flesh. To be in Christ is to be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit sets us free. However, the flesh is filled with sin and so enslaves us. While we cannot be free of the fallen flesh, nor its effects, we can counter its influence by being filled with the Holy Spirit. Thus, we are saved in Christ.
Therefore, it is not the putting aside of the flesh which brings life, since there is no way for us to do that, but rather it is our willingness to live according to the spirit, to be filled by that spirit, to live in Christ.
From Paul’s words we see only the possibility for two states of being. One state is the fleshly state in which we are given over to the desires of the flesh. The other state is the one where we freely accept the spirit, our minds firmly set on life and peace, on oneness with Jesus.
Please note that there is one state resulting in death, the fleshly state. Likewise, there is one state resulting in life. That state comes from the spirit. Each state has a single outcome, either death by the flesh or life by the Spirit. There is no third state.
Paul explains this further:
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9-11 ESV)
The only two states Paul speaks of are either the fleshly state, or the spiritual state. You’re either in Christ or you are not. You either are dying or you are living. Do you see anything here that would allow Paul’s readers to conclude that there are three states of being, one in the flesh and two in the spirit? This is what The Watchtower wants us to believe.
The difficulty of this interpretation becomes evident when we consider the next verses:
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:12-15 ESV)
The publications tell us that as Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are led by the spirit.
(w11 4/15 p. 23 par. 3 Are You Allowing God’s Spirit to Lead You?)
Why is it vital that we be led by holy spirit? Because another force seeks to dominate us, a force that opposes the operation of holy spirit. That other force is what the Scriptures term “the flesh,” which refers to the sinful inclinations of our fallen flesh, the legacy of imperfection we have received as descendants of Adam. (Read Galatians 5:17.)
According to Paul, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Yet the Governing Body would have us believe otherwise. They would have us believe we can be led by God’s spirit, while being only his friends. As friends, we are not to avail ourselves of the life-saving provision of Christ’s body and blood. They would have us believe that more is required. We must have received some “special invitation or token” delivered in some mystical or mysterious manner to make us part of this elite group.
Is not the spirit of God that Paul speaks of in verse 14 the same spirit he speaks of in verse 15 when he calls it the spirit of adoption? Or are there two spirits—one of God and one of adoption? There is nothing in these verses to indicate such a ridiculous concept. Yet we must accept that interpretation if we are to believe the Organization’s application of the next verse:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,…” (Romans 8:16)
If you do not have the Spirit of God, then according to verse 14 you not a child of God. However, if you do not have the Spirit of God, then according to all the preceding verses you have the spirit of the flesh. There is no middle ground. You can be the nicest person on the block, but we’re not talking about niceness, nor goodness, nor charitable works. We are talking about accepting the spirit of God into our hearts so that we may live in Christ. Everything that we read here in Paul’s words to the Romans speaks of a binary situation. The basic computer circuit is a binary circuit. It is either 1 or 0; either on or off. It can only exist in one of two states. This is Paul’s essential message. We are either in the flesh or in the spirit. We either mind the flesh, or we mind the spirit. We are either in Christ, or we are not. If we are in the spirit, if we are minding the spirit, if we are in Christ, then we know it. We do not doubt it. We know it. And that spirit bears witness with our spirit that we have been adopted by God as his children.
Witnesses are taught to think that they can have the Holy Spirit and live, as the NWT puts it, “in union with Christ”, while at the same time not being children of God and not having the spirit of adoption. There is nothing in Paul’s writings, nor those of any other Bible writer, to support such an outrageous idea.
Having arrived at the conclusion that the Watchtower’s application of Romans 8:16 is bogus and self-serving, one might assume that there would be no further impediment to partaking of the emblems at the Memorial. However, that turns out not to be the case for several reasons:
We’re Not Worthy!
A good friend was able to convince his wife that the Organization’s interpretation of Romans 8:16 was not scriptural, and yet she still refused to partake. Her reasoning was that she did not feel worthy. Despite the humourous reference this might evoke to that scene from Wayne’s World, the fact is, none of us is worthy. Am I worthy of the gift being offered me by my heavenly Father through my Lord Jesus? Are you? Is any human? That is why it is called God’s Grace, or as Witnesses like to call it, “Jehovah’s undeserved kindness.” It cannot be earned, so no one can be worthy of it.
Nevertheless, would you refuse a gift from someone who loves you simply because you feel unworthy of the gift? If your friend deems you as worthy of his gift, are you not, in fact, insulting him and questioning his judgment to turn your nose up at it?
Saying that you are not worthy is not a valid argument. You are loved and you are being offered what the Bible calls the “free gift of life”. It’s not about being worthy; it’s about being grateful. It’s about being humble. It’s about being obedient.
We are worthy of the gift because of the grace of God, the all-encompassing love of God. Nothing we do makes us worthy. It is God’s love for us individually that makes us worthy. Our worth to him is a result of our love for him and his love for us. Given this, it would be an affront to our heavenly Father to refuse that which he offers us, by suggesting we are unworthy. It is tantamount to saying, “You’ve made a bad call here, Jehovah. I know more than you. I’m not worthy of this.” What cheek!
Location, Location, Location!
We all know the excitement one feels at opening a gift. In anticipation, our mind fills with the possibilities of what the box might contain. We also know the letdown at opening the gift and seeing that our friend has made a poor choice. Humans do their best to get the right gift to bring joy to a friend, but so often we fail to accurately anticipate our friend’s wants, desires, and needs. Do we really think that our heavenly Father is similarly limited; that any gift he gives us could be less than far and away beyond anything we could possibly want, desire, or need? Yet, that is often the reaction I’ve seen when introducing the thought that Witnesses who had always believed they had an earthly hope, can now grasp onto a heavenly one.
For decades, the magazines have contained artfully contrived illustrations depicting an idyllic life in a paradise earth. (How the earth could instantly become a paradise while being filled with billions of returning wicked ones seems naively fanciful, especially when we realize that they will all still have free will. Yes, under the rule of Christ, it will be better than it is now, but an idyllic paradise right off the bat, I don’t think so.) These articles and illustrations have built up a desire in the minds and hearts of Jehovah’s Witnesses for a far better world than they have ever known. Little to no attention has been given to any heavenly hope. (Since 2007, we admit that the heavenly hope is still open, yet do we go door-to-door offering it as a possibility?[v]) Thus, we have this imaginary reality built up in our minds, such that any thought of a different hope leaves us empty. We all want to be human. That’s a natural desire. We also want to be eternally young. Therefore, the Organization, along with every other denomination in Christendom, has painted an unappealing picture by teaching that the reward is life in heaven.
I get that.
But if the Governing Body has been wrong about who gets the heavenly calling, maybe they’ve been wrong about what the heavenly calling is? Is it a call to live in heaven with the angels?
Is there anywhere in the Bible where is says that the anointed go off to live in heaven? Matthew does speak about the kingdom of the heavens over thirty times, but it isn’t the kingdom in the heavens, but the kingdom of the heavens (plural). The word “heavens” is ouranos in Greek and can mean “the sky, the air, or atmosphere, the starry heavens (universe), and the spiritual heavens.” When Peter writes of a “new heavens and a new earth” at 2 Peter 3:13, he isn’t speaking of location, the physical earth and the literal heavens, but of a new system of things on the earth and a new government over the earth. Heavens often refers to the governing or controlling forces over the world of Mankind.
Thus, when Matthew refers to the kingdom of the heavens, he is not speaking about the location of the kingdom but about its origin, its source of authority. The kingdom is of—that is, it originates from—the heavens. The kingdom is of God and not of men.
This tallies with other expressions involving the kingdom. For example, its rulers are said to rule on or upon the earth. (See Revelation 5:10.) The preposition in this verse is epi which means “on, to, against, on the basis of, at”.
“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5:10 NASB)
“and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.” (Revelation 5:10 NWT)
The NWT translates epi as “over” to support its particular theology, but there is no basis for this biased rendering. It makes sense that these would rule on or upon the earth because part of their role is to act as priests in the New Jerusalem for the healing of the nations. (Re 22:2) Isaiah was inspired to speak of such ones when he wrote:
“Look! A king will reign for righteousness itself; and as respects princes, they will rule as princes for justice itself. 2 And each one must prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” (Isaiah 32:1, 2)
How are they expected to do this, if they reside far away in heaven? Even Jesus left a faithful and discreet slave to feed his flock when he was absent. (Matthew 24:45-47)
Our Lord Jesus interacted with his disciples by manifesting himself in a fleshly form. He ate with them and drank with them and spoke with them. He then departed but promised to return. Why should he return, if it’s possible to govern remotely from heaven? Why is the tent of God with mankind, if the government is going to reside far off in heaven? Why does the New Jerusalem, which is populated with the anointed, descend from heaven to the earth to reside among the sons and daughters of mankind? (Re 21:1-4; 3:12)
Yes, the Bible does speak of a spiritual body which these ones will receive. It also says that Jesus was resurrected and became a life-giving spirit. Nevertheless, he was able to manifest himself in a fleshly form on numerous occasions. We often argue against those who promote the idea that all good people go to heaven with the reasoning that it makes no sense for God to have created the earth as a kind of testing ground to prepare humans to become angels. Jehovah already had millions upon millions of angels when he created the first human pair. Why create other beings of the flesh only to later convert them into angels? Humans were made to live on the earth, and the whole purpose of selecting qualified and tested ones from among humankind is so that the problems of Mankind can be fixed by humans. It stays within the family.
Of course, none of this is definitive. That’s the whole point. We cannot categorically say that the anointed go off to heaven, nor can we categorically say they will not. Will they have access to heaven? The Bible does say they will see God (Mt 5:8), so it can be argued that such ones will have access to heavenly places. Still, we have these words from the apostle John:
“Beloved ones, we are now children of God, but it has not yet been made manifest what we will be. We do know that when he is made manifest we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as that one is pure. (1 John 3:2, 3)
“And just as we have borne the image of the one made of dust, we will bear also the image of the heavenly one.” (1 Corinthians 15:49)
If Christ did not reveal to John, the disciple he loved, the full picture of what is the reward given to the children of God, we must content ourselves with what little we know and leave the rest up to our faith in the goodness and sublime wisdom of our heavenly Father.
All we can say with certainty is that we will be like Jesus. We know he is a life-giving spirit. We also know he can take on human form at will. Will the children of God reside as humans among and interact with the billions of unrighteous resurrected? We must wait-and-see.
It really is a question of faith, is it not? If Jehovah knows that you as an individual would not be happy in an assignment, would he give it to you? Is that what a loving father does? Jehovah does not set us up to fail, nor will he reward us with things that will make us unhappy. The question is not what will God do, nor how will God reward us? The question we should be asking ourselves is, “Do I love Jehovah enough and trust him enough to stop worrying about this and just obey?”
The Restraint of Fear
The third thing that will keep us from obeying the command of Christ is fear. Fear in the form of peer pressure. Fear of being judged by friends and family. When a Jehovah’s Witness begins partaking, many will assume that he is acting out of pride or being presumptuous. In some cases, rumours will fly that the partaker is emotionally unstable. There will be some who will consider it an act of rebellion, particularly if more than one family member starts partaking.
Fear of the reproach that partaking will bring could cause us to refrain from doing so.
Nevertheless, we should let these Scriptures guide us:
“For as often as YOU eat this loaf and drink this cup, YOU keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
Partaking is an acknowledgement that Jesus is our Lord. We are proclaiming his death, which for us is the means for salvation.
“Everyone, then, who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father who is in the heavens. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 10:32, 33)
How can we acknowledge Jesus before men if we publicly disobey his command?
This is not to suggest that we must attend the memorial of Christ’s death at the Kingdom hall, anymore than we should feel compelled to attend similar ceremonies at other churches. In fact, some have reasoned that the JW practice of passing the emblems while refusing to partake is an affront to the person of our Lord and so refuse even to attend. They commemorate privately with friends and/or family members, or if there is no one else, then by themselves. The important thing is to partake. This does not appear to be an option given the nature of Christ’s command to us.
My purpose in writing this article is not to provide an in-depth treatise on the significance of the wine and the bread. Rather, I merely hope to allay some of the fears and concerns that confuse the mind and stay the hand of faithful Christians who only want to do what is right and please our Lord Jesus.
In past years, I myself was befuddled and confused about the very things I have touched on in this article. This was due to, as I’ve stated, the artfully contrived stories and decades-long indoctrination under which I lived as a Jehovah’s Witness from childhood. While there are many things that fall into the category of personal opinion and private understanding, things which would not be considered as deal breakers in our course toward eternal life, the obligation to obey the express command of our Lord is not one of these.
Jesus gave his disciples a clear command to drink of the wine and eat of the bread in symbol of their acceptance of his flesh and blood for their salvation. If one wishes to be a Christian, a true follower of the Christ, there does not seem to be a way in which one can avoid obedience to this command and still expect the favour of our Lord. If there is any lingering doubt, then this is a matter for which heartfelt prayer is called. Our Lord Jesus and our Father, Jehovah, love us and will not leave us with an uncertain heart if we truly request an answer and the strength to make a wise choice. (Matthew 7:7-11)
[i] “In harmony with this, there is no clergy-laity distinction among Jehovah’s witnesses. All baptized Christians are spiritual brothers and sisters, just as Jesus indicated.” (w69 10/15 p. 634 When You First Go to a Kingdom Hall)
[ii] “They are declared righteous as friends of God, like Abraham.” (w08 1/15 p. 25 par. 3 Counted Worthy to Be Guided to Fountains of Waters of Life)
[iii] See w91 3/15 pp. 21-22 Who Really Have a Heavenly Calling?
[iv] Eisegesis (/ˌaɪsəˈdʒiːsəs/;) is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text.
[v] See w07 5/1 pp. 30-31 “Questions From Readers”.