I’ve been looking forward to doing this final video in our series, Identifying True Worship. That’s because this is the only one that really matters.
Let me explain what I mean. Through the previous videos, it has been instructive to show how using the very criteria the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses uses to show all other religions are false also shows that the Witness religion is false. They don’t measure up to their own criteria. How did we not see that!? As a Witness myself, for years I was busy picking the straw out of other people’s eye while being totally unaware of the rafter in my own eye. (Mt 7:3-5)
However, there is a problem with using this criteria. The problem is that the Bible doesn’t use any of it when giving us a way to identify true worship. Now before you go, “Whoa, teaching truth isn’t important?! Being no part of the world, not important?! Sanctifying God’s name, preaching the good news, obeying Jesus—all not important?!” No, of course they are all important, but as a means of identifying true worship, they leave much to be desired.
Take, for example, the criterion of adhering to Bible truth. By that measure, according to this individual, Jehovah’s Witnesses fail.
Now I don’t believe the Trinity represents Bible truth. But say you are looking to find Jesus’ true disciples. Who are you going to believe? Me? Or the fellow? And what are you going to do to figure out who’s got the truth? Go into months of deep Bible study? Who has the time? Who has the inclination? And what about the millions who simply lack the mental capacity or educational background for such an arduous task?
Jesus said that the truth would be hidden from “wise and intellectual ones”, but ‘revealed to babes or young children’. (Mt 11:25) He wasn’t implying that you have to be dumb to know the truth, nor that if you’re smart, you’re out of luck, because you just won’t get it. If you read the context of his words, you’ll see he is referring to attitude. A young child, say a five-year-old, will run to his mommy or daddy when he has a question. He doesn’t do that by the time he reaches 13 or 14 because by that time he knows all there is know and thinks his parents just don’t get it. But when he was very young, he relied on them. If we are to understand truth, we must run to our Father and through his Word, get the answer to our questions. If we are humble, he will give us his holy spirit and it will guide us into truth.
It’s like we’ve all given the same codebook, but only some of us have the key to unlock the code.
So, if you’re looking for the true form of worship, how do you know which ones have the key; which ones have broken the code; which ones have the truth?
At this point, maybe you’re feeling a little lost. Maybe you feel you’re not that intelligent and fear you might be easily deceived. Maybe you have been deceived before and are afraid of going down the same path again. And what about the millions around the world who cannot even read? How can such ones distinguish between the true disciples of Christ and the counterfeit ones?
Jesus wisely gave us the only criterion that will work for everyone when he said:
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples—if you have love among yourselves.”” (John 13:34, 35)[i]
I have to admire how our Lord was able to say so much with so few words. What a wealth of meaning is to be found packed into these two sentences. Let’s start with the phrase: “By this all will know”.
“By this all will know”
I don’t care what your IQ is; I don’t care about your level of education; I don’t care about your culture, race, nationality, sex, nor age—as a human, you understand what love is and you can recognize when it is there, and you know when it is missing.
Every Christian religion believes they have the truth and that they are the true disciples of Christ. Fair enough. Pick one. Ask one of its members if they fought in the Second World War. If the answer is “Yes”, you can safely move on to the next religion. Repeat until the answer is “No”. Doing this will eliminate 90 to 95% of all Christian denominations.
I remember back in 1990 during the Gulf War, I was in a discussion with a couple of Mormon missionaries. The discussion was going nowhere, so I asked them if they had made any converts in Iraq, to which they answered that there were Mormons in Iraq. I asked if Mormons were in the US and Iraqi military. Again, the answer was in the affirmative.
“So, you have brother killing brother?” I asked.
They answered that the Bible commands us to obey the superior authorities.
I felt rather smug that I could claim as a Jehovah’s Witness that we applied Acts 5:29 to limit our obedience to the superior authorities to commands that do not go against God’s law. I believed that Witnesses obeyed God as ruler rather than men, and so we would never act unlovingly—and shooting someone, or blowing them up would, in most societies, be viewed as a tiny weeny bit unloving.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ words do not apply exclusively to the fighting of wars. Are there ways in which Jehovah’s Witnesses obey men rather than God and so fail the test of love toward their brothers and sisters?
Before we can answer that, we need to complete our analysis of Jesus’ words.
“I am giving you a new commandment…”
When asked what was the greatest commandment of the Law of Moses, Jesus answered in two parts: Love God with one’s whole soul, and love one’s neighbor as oneself. Now he says, he’s giving us a new commandment, which means that he is giving us something not contained in the original law on love. What could that be?
“…that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also love one another.”
We are commanded not just to love another as we love ourselves—what the Law of Moses required—but to love each other as Christ loved us. His love is the defining factor.
In love, as in all things, Jesus and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
The Bible says that God is love. It follows therefore that Jesus is too. (1 John 4:8)
How was God’s love and the love of Jesus manifested toward us?
“For, indeed, while we were still weak, Christ died for ungodly men at the appointed time. For hardly would anyone die for a righteous man; though perhaps for a good man someone may dare to die. But God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
While we were ungodly, while we were unrighteous, while we were enemies, Christ died for us. People can love a righteous man. They may even give their lives for a good man, but to die for a total stranger, or worse, for an enemy?…
If Jesus would love his enemies to this extent, what type of love does he display for his brothers and sisters? If we are “in Christ”, as the Bible says, then we must reflect the same love he displayed.
“Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and in this way you will fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Ga 6:2)
This is the only place in Scripture where the phrase, “the law of the Christ”, appears. The law of the Christ is the law of love which surpasses the Mosaic Law on love. To fulfill the law of the Christ, we must be willing to carry the burdens of one another. So far, so good.
“By this all will know that you are my disciples—if you have love among yourselves.”
The beauty of this measure of true worship is that it cannot be faked or counterfeited effectively. This isn’t simply the type of love that exists between friends. Jesus said:
“For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing?” (Mt 5:46, 47)
I’ve heard brothers and sisters argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses must be the true religion, because they can go anywhere in the world and be welcomed as a brother and a friend. Most Witnesses are unaware that the same can be said of other Christian denominations, because they are told not read non-JW literature and not to watch non-JW videos.
Be that as it may, all such manifestations of love only prove that people naturally love those who love them back. You personally may have experienced an outpouring of love and support from the brothers in your own congregation, but beware of falling into the trap of confusing this for the love that identifies true worship. Jesus said that even the tax collectors and gentiles (people despised by the Jews) exhibited such love. The love true Christians are to display goes beyond this and will identify them so that “all will know” who they are.
If you are a long-time Witness, you may not want to look into this any deeper. That may be because you have an investment to protect. Let me illustrate.
You may be like a shopkeeper who is handed three twenty-dollar bills in payment for some merchandise. You accept them trustingly. Then later that day, you hear that there are twenty-dollar counterfeits in circulation. Do you examine the bills you hold to see if they are really authentic, or do you just assume they are and give them as change when others come in to make purchases?
As Witnesses, we have invested so much, perhaps our whole lives. That is so in my case: Seven years preaching in Colombia, two more in Ecuador, working on construction projects and special Bethel projects that utilized my programming skills. I was a well-known elder and a sought-after public speaker. I had many friends in the Organization and a good reputation to uphold. That’s a lot of investment to abandon. Witnesses like to think that one leaves the Organization out of pride and selfishness, but really, pride and selfishness would have been the very things to keep me in.
Returning to the analogy, do you—our proverbial shopkeeper—examine the twenty-dollar bill to see if its genuine, or do you just hope it is and carry on business as usual? The problem is that if you know that the bill is counterfeit and then still pass it on, we are complicit in criminal activity. So, ignorance is bliss. Nevertheless, ignorance does not transform a counterfeit bill into an authentic one with real value.
Thus, we come to the big question: “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses really pass the test of the love of Christ?”
We can best answer that by looking at how we love our little ones.
It has been said that there is no greater love than that of a parent for a child. A father or mother will sacrifice their own life for their newborn child, even thought that infant lacks the capacity to return that love. It’s just too young to understand love. So that intense, self-sacrificing love is one-sided at that point in time. That will change as the child grows of course, but we’re discussing a newborn now.
That is the love God and the Christ showed for us—for you and me—when we did not even know them. While we were in ignorance, they loved us. We were the “little ones”.
If we are to be “in Christ”, as the Bible says, then we must reflect that love. For this reason, Jesus talked of the extreme adverse judgment that would be brought down on those who “stumbled the little ones”. Better for them to have a millstone tied round the neck and chucked into the deep blue sea. (Mt 18:6)
So, let us review.
- We are commanded to love one another as Christ loved us.
- “All will know” we are true Christians, if we display the love of the Christ.
- This love constitutes the law of the Christ.
- We fulfill this law by carrying the burdens of one another.
- We are to show special consideration to the “little ones”.
- Christian’s fail the test of love when they obey men over God.
To answer our big question, let’s ask a supplementary one. Is there a situation within the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses that is equivalent to that found in other Christian faiths whereby Christians break the law of love by killing their fellows in war? The reason they do this is because they have chosen to obey men rather than God. Do Witnesses act unlovingly, even hatefully, to certain ones out of obedience to the Governing Body?
Do they act in such a way that “all will know” they are not loving, but cruel?
I’m going to show you a video taken from the Australia Royal Commission hearings into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. (A shout out of thanks to 1988johnm for compiling this for us.)
Let’s pretend that the two men in the hot seat are not Witnesses, but are Catholic priests. Would you view their answers and the policies they uphold as evidence of the love of Christ within their religion? In all likelihood, you would not. But being a Witness, it might color your viewpoint.
These men claim they are acting this way because the policy of disassociation is from God. They claim it is a Scriptural doctrine. Yet, when asked a direct question from his Honor, they prevaricate and evade the question. Why? Why not just show the Scriptural basis for this policy?
Obviously, because there is none. It is not scriptural. It originates from men.
How did it come about? It seems that back in the 1950s, when the policy of disfellowshipping was first introduced into the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nathan Knorr and Fred Franz realized they had a problem: What to do about Jehovah’s Witnesses who chose to vote or to join the military? You see, disfellowshipping and shunning such ones would be a violation of federal law. Serious penalties could be levied. The solution was to create a new designation known as disassociation. The premise was that we could then claim that they didn’t disfellowship such individuals. Instead, they were the ones who abandoned us, or disfellowshipped us. Of course, all the penalties of disfellowshipping would continue to apply.
But in Australia, we’re talking about people who have not sinned as defined by the Organization, so why apply it to them?
Here’s what is really behind this horrible policy: Do you recall the Berlin Wall in the 1970s and 1980s? It was built to keep East Germans from escaping to the West. By seeking to escape, they were rejecting the authority of the communist government over them. In effect, their desire to leave was a non-verbal form of condemnation.
Any government that has to imprison its subjects is corrupt and failing government. When a witness resigns from the Organization, he or she is likewise rejecting the authority of the elders, and ultimately, the authority of the Governing Body. The resignation is an implicit condemnation of the Witness lifestyle. It cannot go unpunished.
The Governing Body, in an effort to preserve its power and control, has built its own Berlin Wall. In this case, the wall is their shunning policy. By punishing the escapee, they send a message to the rest to keep them in line. Any who fail to shun the dissenter are threatened with shunning themselves.
Of course, Terrence O’Brien and Rodney Spinks could hardly say such a thing in a public forum like that of the Royal Commission, so instead they try to shift the blame.
How pathetic! “We don’t shun them”, they say. “They shun us.” ‘We’re the victims.’ This is, of course, a bald-faced lie. If the individual were really shunning all members of the congregation, would that require the individual publishers to shun them in return, effectively returning evil for evil? (Romans 12:17) This argument insulted the intelligence of the court and continues to insult our intelligence. What is particularly sad is that these two Watchtower representatives seemed to believe it’s a valid argument.
Paul says that we fulfill the law of Christ by carrying the burdens of one another.
“Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and in this way you will fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Ga 6:2)
His Honor shows that the child abuse victim is carrying a great burden. I can certainly think of no greater burden to bear than the childhood trauma of being abused sexually by someone you were supposed to look to for support and protection. Yet, how are we to support such ones laboring under such a burden—how are we to fulfill the law of the Christ—if the elders tell us we cannot even say ‘hello’ to such a one?
Disassociation and disfellowshipping are two sides of the same coin. The cruel nature of the policy as practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses will not even permit a mother to answer the phone from her daughter, who—for all she knows, may be lying in a ditch bleeding to death.
Love is easily recognizable by any and all, from the poorest and most uneducated to the wisest and most influential. Here, his Honor says repeatedly that the policy is cruel and the two representatives of the Governing Body having no defence other than to look chagrined and to point to official policy.
If we can dismiss another Christian religion as false because its members obey men when told to engage in war, we can dismiss the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the same way, because its members will all obey men and shun anyone condemned from the platform, even if they have no idea—which they rarely do—of the sin of the person, or even if he or she has sinned. They simply obey and in doing so grant the elders the power they need to control the flock.
If we do not grant them this unscriptural power, then what are they going to do? Disfellowship us? Perhaps it will be we who disfellowship them.
Perhaps you have not experienced this problem yourself. Well, most Catholics have not fought in a war. But what if, at the next midweek meeting, the elders read out an announcement telling you that a particular sister is no longer a member of the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. You have no idea why or what she has done, if anything. Perhaps she has disassociated herself. Perhaps she has committed no sin, but is suffering and desperately needs your emotional support.
What will you do? Remember, at some point you are going to stand before the judge of all the earth, Jesus Christ. The excuse, “I was just following orders”, will not wash. What if Jesus responds, “Whose orders? Certainly not mine. I told you to love your brother.”
“By this all will know…”
I was able to casually dismiss any religion as unloving and disapproved of by God when I found that it supported the wars of man. Now I must apply the same logic to the religion I have practiced my whole life. I must acknowledge that to be a Witness these days is to give the Governing Body, and its lieutenants, the congregation elders, unquestioning obedience. At times, that will require us to act in a hateful way to those who are carrying an enormous burden. Thus, we will fail to fulfill the law of Christ individually. At the most basic level, we will be obeying men as ruler rather than God.
If we support the problem, we become the problem. When you obey someone unconditionally, they become your GOD.
The Governing Body claims they are the Guardians of Doctrine.
An unfortunate choice of words, perhaps.
It raises a question each of us must answer, a question sounded out musically in Song 40 of the Songbook.
“To whom do you belong? Which God will you obey?”
Now some might say I’m advocating that all depart from the Organization. That is not for me to say. I will say that the parable of the Wheat and Weeds indicates that they grow together till the harvest. I’ll also say that when Jesus gave us the law of love he did not say that, “By this all will know that you are my Organization.” An organization cannot love. Individuals love, or hate, as the case may be…and the judgment is to come upon individuals. We will stand before Christ on our own.
The questions each must answer are: Will I carry the burdens of my brother despite what others might think? Will I work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to me in the family of faith even when told not to by men in authority?
A good friend of mine wrote to me expressing his belief that obedience to the Governing Body was a matter of life and death. He was right. It is.
“To whom do you belong? Which God will you obey?”
Thank you very much
[i] Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotes are taken from the (NWT) New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures published by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.