[From ws4/18 p. 3 – June 4 – June 10]
“If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free.” John 8:36
Liberty, equality, fraternity was the slogan of the French Revolution of 1789. The ensuing two centuries have shown how elusive those ideals are.
This week’s article is setting the groundwork for the study article for next week. However, this article is unusual in that it, for the most part, sticks to the scriptures and common sense understanding. However, it will be beneficial to evaluate how the organization compares to the principles highlighted by the scriptures.
Paragraph 2 says: “This once again testifies to the truthfulness of King Solomon’s inspired observation: “Man has dominated man to his harm.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9)”
King Solomon well knew the truth of this matter. Around 100 years before, Samuel had warned the Israelites that having a King to dominate them would be harmful, as he prophesied in 1 Samuel 8:10-22. Today, men in general and especially including students of God’s word who should have read Samuel’s warning from Jehovah, have ignored this. As a result they have been willing to place over themselves ‘kings’ without realising the full import of their actions. As a consequence, the freedom of conscience and thought and action brought by Christ has been rejected in favour of organizational dictates. This has happened regardless of what religion one professes, but especially so amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When we read the accounts of first century Christianity do we see evidence that the early Christians were afraid to discuss the scriptures? Do we see a rigid framework of formal meetings and organised preaching? Do we see any wielding of authority by elders or apostles? The answer is no to all of these questions. In fact the Bible Students association in the early 1900’s was much closer to the first century model of Christianity because the loosely affiliated local study groups had far more freedom than exists under the centralised control exerted by the organization today.
When Humans were truly free
“Adam and Eve enjoyed the kind of freedom that people today can only hope for – freedom from want, from fear, and from oppression.” (par. 4) Should not the organization, if it is truly God’s organization, be the best at helping and allowing its members to be free from want, from fear and from oppression in comparison to political systems and other religions? Of course it should be the best as far as it is possible with imperfect men. What is the reality?
- Freedom from want
- What about ‘Want’ or hunger for truly helpful spiritual food? Food that will help us act in the manner of Christ? For the most part it is missing. We are told to be Christians, but not helped to be Christians except in the narrow field of preaching to others.
- When was the last in-depth article on practising self-control for example? Can you remember? Many in the world have anger management issues, and that is increasingly so amongst even appointed men. Where is the help for that? By and large it is missing. That is just one fruit of the spirit picked at random.
- Freedom from fear
- Are those who no longer agree with some teachings or even just one teaching of the organization free from fear of the consequences of voicing that disagreement, either in the congregation or by writing to the organization or even personally to an elder? No, these ones are in fear of being called into the back room and likely summarily disfellowshipped for ‘not having faith in the governing body as God’s appointed and spirit-guided representatives’ and being labelled as ‘apostates’ just for questioning anything, let alone disbelieving it.[i]
- Fear of being cut off from all one’s family and friends just because of no longer wanting to jump through all the hoops the organization gives us.
- Freedom from oppression
- Are those still in the organization free from being oppressed by proud, opinionated elders who try to control their hairstyle, whether they have a beard, their choice of dress, whether they wear a jacket while caring for a meeting assignment on a hot day and the like?
- Are these ones free from being oppressed as to the amount of time they are pressured into spending on organization pursuits? Does the requirement to report all such activity for fear of being labelled a rebel sound like freedom from oppression?
Secrecy breeds fear and oppression; the first century Christians who took the lead had no secret procedures hidden from their fellow Christians. Today we have ‘secret elders meetings, secret judicial committee meetings, secret elders instructions and letters, etc., etc.’. Does the average witness who has never been an elder know exactly all the things they could be disfellowshipped for? Or that there is an appeal process that makes it impossible to prove you are repentant because you are denied witnesses so the two-witness rule will always result in upholding the disfellowshipping committee’s decision?
We could elaborate further but that is sufficient to prove the point. This information and more is all contained in the elders handbook, but would be very difficult if not impossible to obtain from literature available to the publisher.
Quoting from the World Book Encyclopaedia the article goes on to say “The laws of every organized society form a complicated pattern of balanced freedoms and restrictions.” “Complicated” is surely the right word. Just think of the volumes and volumes of laws written by man, let alone the armies of lawyers and judges needed to interpret and administer them.” (par. 5)
So how does the organization match up here? It too has a complicated set of laws. How, you may ask? It has a special book of laws called “Shepherd the Flock of God” which dictates how elders rule the congregation, and how to judge all sorts of sins and misdemeanours. There are also special manuals containing instructions or laws for Circuit overseers, Bethel servants, Branch committees and so forth.
What is wrong with this you might ask? After all an organization needs some structure. Some food for thought is that Jehovah gave us free will, although with certain limitations for our own benefit. Through his word he has also ensured that we know those limits, otherwise it would be very unfair to administer correction, or punishment. But, all witnesses are familiar with Jeremiah 10:23, and all readers will therefore know that there is no special exclusion mentioned in that scripture. They don’t exist, whether for a governing body or elders to wield authority over others. None of us are capable of directing ourselves, let alone anyone else.
Furthermore as Jesus made clear to the Pharisees, when one tries to make laws for every eventuality rather than living by principles, there will be many occasions when laws either do not apply or should not apply because their application in the circumstance is contrary to the principle from which the law was derived. Also, the more laws there are, the less freedom there is to exercise our free will and show how we really feel about God, Jesus and our fellow humans.
How to gain True Freedom
Eventually in paragraph 14 the article gets around to discussing the theme scripture: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) Jesus’ direction for gaining true freedom involves two requirements: First, accept the truth that he taught, and second, become his disciple. Doing so will lead to true freedom. But freedom from what? Jesus went on to explain: “Every doer of sin is a slave of sin. . . . If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free.”—John 8:34, 36.”
As you can see, for once the organization actually used the context to explain, albeit briefly, the verses that follow. But, as usual the importance of the context is all but ignored. Rather than discuss what Jesus’ word is and how to remain in it, instead they focus on the aspect of sin.
Therefore, what was Jesus’ word that we should remain in? The passage of scripture known as the “Sermon on the Mount” is a good starting place. (Matthew 5-7) We should also note that Jesus wanted more from us than to become his disciple or follower, he wanted us to remain in his word. This takes much more effort than merely following, it means imitating him by adopting and practicing his teachings.
The real issues however will come in next week’s WT article when they discuss and teach their version of the truth Jesus taught and their narrow interpretation of being a disciple of Jesus.
However, they do elaborate a little more in the final paragraphs as to how true freedom will come about. The article states: “Submitting to Jesus’ teachings as his disciples will give our life real meaning and satisfaction.” (par. 17) This is true, so the next sentence is interesting when it says “This, in turn, opens up the prospect of being completely liberated from enslavement to sin and death. (Read Romans 8:1, 2, 20, 21.)” Nothing to disagree with there, but what does the cited scripture talk about?
Romans 8:2 says “For the law of that spirit which gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” So according to the scripture they cite, we are already set free from the law of sin and death. How? Because, through our faith in Christ’s ransom we have been declared righteous, allowing the benefits to be applied in advance provided we remain in his word (Romans 8:30, John 8:31). As Romans 8:20-21 says “For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will but through him that subjected it, on the basis of hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Yes, the scriptures teach the whole of creation can have the hope of gaining the freedom of the children of God. Not just a select few.
How is that possible? The context itself answers in verses not cited by the article. Note what Romans 8:12-14 says “So, then, brothers, we are under obligation, not to the flesh to live in accord with the flesh; 13 for if YOU live in accord with the flesh YOU are sure to die; but if YOU put the practices of the body to death by the spirit, YOU will live. 14 For all who are led by God’s spirit, these are God’s sons.”
Note in particular verse 14 highlighted in bold. All, yes, all who allow themselves to be led by God’s Holy Spirit, as opposed to the spirit of the flesh, are God’s sons.
Living for the flesh will likely result in death. There are only two options put here: “life or death”. This reminds us of Deuteronomy 30:19, where the Israelites had the blessing and the malediction put before them. There were only two options: one of blessing and one of malediction, it was either one or the other. All genuine Christians must live by the spirit to gain life and therefore all of these are God’s sons. The scripture is crystal clear on this.
[i] A brief review of the many internet sites set up by current and ex-JW’s with their personal experiences, including many given on this site through comments, prove this.