This article started out as a short piece intended to provide all of you in our online community with some details into our use of donated funds. We have always intended to be transparent about such things, but to be honest, I hate accounting and so I kept pushing this off for other more interesting topics. Nevertheless, the time has come. Then, as I started to write this, it occurred to me that another topic I’d been wanting to write about might dovetail nicely into the discussion of donations. They may seem unrelated, but as I’ve asked before, please bear with me.
Over the past 90 days, this site—Beroean Pickets – JW.org Reviewer—has had over 11,000 users opening 33,000 sessions. There were almost 1,000 page views of the most recent article on the Memorial. Over the same period of time, the Beroean Pickets Archive has been visited by over 5,000 users opening over 10,000 sessions. Of course, numbers are not a measure of God’s blessing, but it can be encouraging, as it was to Elijah, to learn that you are not alone. (Romans 11:1-5)
As we look back on where we have been, the next logical question is, where are we going?
Jehovah’s Witnesses—and members of most other religions, whether Christian or otherwise—cannot conceive of any form of worship being acceptable to God unless made within the framework of some religious group. Such thinking stems from the idea that worship of God is achieved through works, formal practices, or ritualistic procedures. This overlooks the fact that for about half of human existence, the only form of organized religious worship involved the worship of demons. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did very nicely on their own, thank you very much.
The Greek word most translated as “worship” in English is proskuneó, which means “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior”. What this refers to is complete and unconditional obedience. Such a level of obedience should never be granted to sinful men, as they are unworthy of it. Only our Father, Jehovah, merits such worship/obedience. That is why the angel rebuked John when, overcome with awe at what he saw, he performed an inappropriate act of proskuneó:
At that I fell down before his feet to worship him. But he tells me: “Be careful! Do not do that! All I am is a fellow slave of you and of your brothers who have the work of witnessing to Jesus. Worship God; for the bearing witness to Jesus is what inspires prophesying.” (Revelation 19:10)
There is little from J.F. Rutherford’s body of work with which I can agree, but the title of this article is one notable exception. In 1938, “The Judge” launched a new preaching campaign with the theme: “Religion is a snare and a racket. Serve God and Christ the King.”
The moment we subscribe to some particular brand of Christianity, we are no longer worshipping God. We must now accept the commands of our religious leaders who claim to speak for God. Who we hate and who we love, who we tolerate and who we eradicate, who we support and who we trample on, is all now determined by men with their own sinful agenda. What we have is the very thing that Satan sold to Eve: Human rule, this time clothed in the robes of piety. In the name of God, man has dominated man to his injury. (Ecclesiastes 8:9)
If you want to get away with doing something that is wrong, one successful tactic has proven to be: to condemn the very thing you practice, while extolling the very thing you fail to do. Rutherford condemns religion as “a snare and a racket” while urging people to “serve God and Christ the King”. Yet this campaign was launched after he had carefully worked to craft a religion of his very own. In 1931, he created it under the brand name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” by consolidating the Bible Student Associations still affiliated with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society into a single entity with himself as their leader.[i] Then in 1934, he created a clergy/laity distinction by dividing the congregation into an anointed clergy class and a laity Other Sheep class.[ii] Thus the two elements he used to condemn all religion were integrated into his own brand. How so?
What is a snare?
A snare is defined as “a trap for catching birds or animals, typically one having a noose of wire or cord.” Essentially, a snare deprives a creature of its freedom. This is the case with religion. One’s conscience, one’s freedom of choice, becomes subservient to the dictates and rules of the religion to which one subscribes.
Jesus said the truth will set us free. But what truth? The context reveals:
“Then Jesus went on to say to the Jews who had believed him: ‘If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31, 32)
We must remain in his word! So, accepting teachings of men rather than teachings of Christ will lead to enslavement to men. Only if we follow the Christ, and only the Christ, can we be truly free. Religion, which puts a man (or men) in a position of authority over us, severs that direct connection with the Christ as leader. Thus, religion is a snare, because it deprives us of that essential freedom.
What is a racket?
The definitions that apply to Rutherford’s anti-religion campaign are:
- A fraudulent scheme, enterprise, or activity
- A usually illegitimate enterprise made workable by bribery or intimidation
- An easy and lucrative means of livelihood.
We’ve all heard the term ‘racketeering’ used to describe the protection rackets which criminal gangs are known for. Essentially, you have to pay them money or bad things will happen to you. Would it not be accurate to say that religion has its own version of racketeering? Being told you will burn in hell if you do not submit to papal and cleric authority is but one example. Fear of eternal death at Armageddon if one leaves the Organization is the JW equivalent of that. Additionally, one is induced to support the organization or church financially as a way of paving the road to salvation. The purpose of any gift of funds, however, should be made willingly and with the purpose of helping the needy, not enriching the clergy. Jesus, who did not even have a place to lay his head, warned us about such men and told us that we would be able to identity them by their works. (Matthew 8:20; 7:15-20)
For example, the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses now owns billions of dollars worth of real estate worldwide. Every one of the tens of thousands of properties built with the funds and by the hands of local brothers and sisters, whether we are talking about Kingdom and assembly halls, or branch office and translation facilities, is wholly owned by the corporation, by headquarters.
One might argue that we need things like Kingdom halls so that we can meet together. Fair enough—though the point is arguable—but why are they no longer owned by the people who built them and paid for them? Why the need to seize control as was done back in 2013 when ownership of all such properties worldwide was passed from local congregations to JW.org? Kingdom halls are now being sold at an unprecedented rate, but were a congregation to attempt to block such a sale, as was the case in the Menlo Park Congregation a few years back, they would come to understand racketeering at a very personal level.
But surely all this only applies to organized religion?
Is there any other kind?
Some might suggest I’m putting too fine a point on this by including all religion in the mix. They would suggest that organized religion may well apply to Rutherford’s critique, but that it is possible to practice religion without it being organized under human rulership.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I recognize that some level of organization is necessary in any endeavor. First-century Christians made arrangements to gather in private homes “to incite one another to love and fine works”. (Hebrews 10:24, 25)
The problem is religion itself. The organization of a religion just follows naturally as night follows day.
“But isn’t religion at its most fundamental, just worship of God?” you may ask.
One might conclude that when viewing the dictionary definition:
- the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
- a particular system of faith and worship.
- a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.
The thing to remember is that this definition is created based on the use to which the word is put in popular culture. This is not the Bible definition. For instance, James 1:26, 27 is often rendered using the word “religion”, but what is it really saying?
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26, 27 ESV)
The Greek word used here is thréskeia which means: “ritual worship, religion, worship as expressed in ritual acts”. It seems as if James is gently mocking those who take great pride in their piety, their religious observance, by defining the word in ways that have nothing to do with formalism nor ritual. He’s saying in effect: “You think you know what religion is? You think your formal acts win God’s approval? Let me tell you something. They’re all worthless. What counts is how you treat those in need and the morality you practice free from Satanic influence.”
Is not the goal of all this to get back to the Garden, as it were? To return to the idyllic relationship that Adam and Eve had before they rebelled? Did Adam engage in formalistic or ritualistic worship of Jehovah? No. He walked with God and talked with God on a daily basis. His relationship was that of a son with a Father. His worship was only the reverence and obedience that a loyal son owes to a loving Father. It’s all about family, not places of worship, nor complex belief systems, nor convoluted rituals. These really have no value in pleasing our heavenly Father.
The moment we start down that path, we have to get “organized”. Somebody has to call the shots. Somebody has to be in charge. The next thing you know, men are in charge and Jesus is pushed to one side.
When I started up the first site, www.meletivivlon.com, my intention was only to find other like-minded Jehovah’s Witnesses who were unafraid of doing real Bible research. At that point in time, I still believed that we were the one true organization on earth. As that changed and as I slowly awakened to the reality of the situation, I came to encounter many others who were sharing my journey. The site slowly transformed from a Bible research site into something more, a place for fellow Christians to share encouragement and find solace in the knowledge that they were no longer alone in this traumatic journey of awakening.
I made the original site into an archive because it was named after my alias, Meleti Vivlon. I was concerned that could lead some to conclude it was all about me. I could have simply changed the name of the URL but then all the valuable search engine links to the various articles would have failed and it would become difficult to find the site. So I chose to create a new site without the alias being part of the name.
I recently revealed my given name, Eric Michael Wilson, when I started releasing the videos. I did that because I felt that it was a way to help my personal JW friends to take a stand. A number of them have awakened, in part, because I did. If you’ve known, trusted, and respected someone for a long time, and then learn they’ve rejected as false, teachings they formerly promoted, you are not so likely to dismiss them out of hand. You will want to know more.
This is not to say that I no longer answer to Meleti Vivlon, which is a Greek transliteration for “Bible Study”. I’ve grown fond of the name, since it identifies whom I have become. Saul became Paul, and Abram became Abraham, and though I don’t measure myself beside them, I don’t mind still being called Meleti. It means something special to me. Eric is also okay. It does mean “Kingly” which is the hope we all share, is it not? And as for Michael, well…who can complain about having that name? I only hope I can live up to all the names I’ve been given or have taken on. Perhaps our Lord will give us all new names when that wondrous day arrives.
Just let me state once again that the purpose of these sites is not to start a new religion. Jesus told us how to worship our Father and that information is 2,000 years old. There is no reason to go beyond that. That was the other part of Rutherford’s campaign slogan I can agree with: “Serve God and Christ the King!” As you find other like-minded Christians in your area, you can join with them, meeting in private homes as the first-century Christians did. However, you must always resist the temptation to appoint a king over you. The Israelites failed that test and look what that led to. (1 Samuel 8:10-19)
Admittedly, some have to take charge in any group to maintain order. However, that is a far cry from becoming a leader. (Matthew 23:10) One way to avoid human leadership is to have round-table Bible readings and discussions where all have the right to speak up and question. It’s okay to have questions we cannot answer, but it is not acceptable to have answers that we cannot question. If someone gives a talk to share his or her research, the talk should be followed by a Q&A in which he or she is prepared to back up whatever findings are promoted.
Does what follows sound like a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
But he said to them: “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those having authority over them are called Benefactors. 26 You, though, are not to be that way. But let the one who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the one taking the lead as the one ministering. 27 For which one is greater, the one dining or the one serving? Is it not the one dining? But I am among you as the one serving. (Luke 22:25-27)
Anyone “taking the lead among you” is subject to the will of the congregation. (Hebrews 13:7) This is not democracy but as close as we can get to theocracy in this system of things, for the true congregation is led by the spirit of God. Consider that when the 12th apostle was sought, the 11 asked the entire congregation to make a selection. (Acts 1:14-26) Can you imagine the Governing Body of today doing such a thing? And again when the role of Ministerial Servant was created, the apostles asked the congregation to find the men that would be appointed. (Acts 6:3)
What does any of this have to do with donations?
The purpose of religion is to enrich and empower those in the lead. Money is a big part of this. Just look at the trappings of the Vatican, or to a lessor extent, Warwick. This is not what Christ established. Nevertheless, little can be done without monetary support. So how to draw the line between the proper and judicious use of funds to support the preaching of the Good News and the inappropriate use of same to enrich men?
The only way I can think of is to be transparent. Of course, we must protect the names of donors since we do not seek praise of men when donating. (Matthew 6:3, 4)
I’m not going to give you a detailed chart of accounts, mostly because there is not one. All I have is the listing of donations and expenses from the PayPal account.
For the year of 2017, we received via PayPal a total of US$6,180.73 and spent US$5,950.60, leaving $230.09. The money was used to pay for the monthly dedicated server rental and backup service which is US$159 per month, or $1,908 per year. There were expenses paid to technical personnel to configure and modify settings on the server, and handle the occasional problems that came up in closing security loopholes. (That is expertise beyond my level of knowledge.) Additionally, we spent money to buy video equipment. My living room looks like a studio with umbrella lights, mic stands and tripods everywhere. It’s a pain to set up and take down every time someone visits, but I only have 750 sq. ft. so “whatcha gonna do?” 😊
We used other funds for online meeting software, VPN security, and software development tools. No money was taken by anyone for personal use, but only to cover expenses directly related to managing and maintaining the site. Fortunately, the three founding members all have jobs which are sufficient for us to live.
If funds come in that surpass our monthly expenditures, we will use them to extend the quantity and reach of our printed and on-line presence, to get the word out there faster and better. Before we do anything major, we will submit the idea to the community of those who have helped fund the work so all feel their monies are being put to good use.
If someone would be willing to donate their time and expertise to manage our accounts, it would not only be appreciated, but would make next year’s report more precise and informative.
All this is said under the proviso of “If The Lord Wills”, of course.
I would like to extend sincere and heartfelt thanks from all of us who founded the sites to all of you who have so generously helped us keep afloat. I feel that the pace of awakening will quicken, and that we will soon be facing a groundswell of new ones looking for spiritual stability (and maybe a bit of therapy) as they adjust to life free of the decades-long indoctrination to which we’ve all been subject.
May the Lord continue to bless us and give us the energy, time and means to carry out his work.
[i] By some reports, only a quarter of the Bible Student groups were still affiliated with Rutherford by 1931. This is attributed in large part to such things as his promotion of the purchase of War Bonds in 1918, the failure of the “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” 1925 prediction, and evidence of his autocratic manner.
[ii] “Be it noted that the obligation is laid upon the priestly class to do the leading or reading of the law of instruction to the people. Therefore, where there is a company of Jehovah’s witnesses…the leader of a study should be selected from amongst the anointed, and likewise those of the service committee should be taken from the anointed….Jonadab was there as one to learn, and not one who was to teach….The official organization of Jehovah on earth consists of his anointed remnant, and the Jonadabs [other sheep] who walk with the anointed are to be taught, but not to be leaders. This appearing to be God’s arrangement, all should gladly abide thereby.” (w34 8/15 p. 250 par. 32)