[As a result of timing issues and a miscommunication for which I take full responsibility, you are the beneficiaries of two reviews of this week’s Watchtower Study article. The benefit is that you get two (three actually) sets of eyes on one topic.]
[From ws 10/18 p. 22 — December 17-23]
“Your Leader is one, the Christ.” — Matthew 23:10
I’m going to go out on a limb. I’ve just read the introductory four paragraphs, and without reading further, I’m going to speculate that while the article talks about Jesus as our active leader, its real purpose will be to have the brothers and sisters put trust in the leadership of the Governing Body.
Now, trusting in the Governing Body makes sense to a trained Jehovah’s Witness, such as I was brought up to be. You see, I was taught that Armageddon would result in the eternal death of everyone on earth who failed to heed the warning we, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, were proclaiming worldwide. Ours was a life-saving work, a work of salvation. That was the good news that we were preaching. The idea we were conveying was, “Heed us and get a good chance at eternal life.[i] Dismiss us, and if Armageddon catches you alive, you’re a goner—for good!”
Given that the eternal lives of billions of humans hang in the balance, it is understandable why Witnesses feel that only through a highly organized effort can this monumental, “never-to-be-repeated work” be accomplished.[ii]
Let’s be clear on one point: This preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their message and their expectation of what will happen at Armageddon, is not based in the Bible. It is the interpretation of men. The good news the Bible speaks of is the ingathering of an administration made up of the spirit-anointed children of God. Through them, the salvation of the rest of Mankind will be accomplished during the 1,000 Reign of the Messiah. A careful read of Romans 8:1-25 leads to that inevitable conclusion, assuming one doesn’t have an agenda that will make busy-work for a compliant group numbering in the millions.
Yes, there is going to be such a event as Armageddon but it is just one element in the salvation process. It is the war Christ wages with the nations to clear the way for his righteous rule over Mankind. (Da 2:44; Re 16:13-16)
However, there’s nothing to indicate that it will be the final judgment for all humans alive at the time. Witnesses misapply the timing of the parable of the Sheep and Goats to Armageddon, but really, Judgment Day, even within Witness theology, is the period that follows Armageddon and extends for 1,000 years.
It follows that to make any inroads into the thinking of Jehovah’s Witnesses on their fundamental belief in the necessity for an organization, one must first address the flawed and unscriptural premise upon which it is based: the need for Witnesses to preach worldwide to save billions from eternal condemnation
Given their mindset, it is easy to understand how the Organization can slip in teachings based on “givens” without so much as a peep from their readership. They just state something outright, without proof, knowing the flock will eat it up.
The first false statement based on a “given” is found in paragraph 4.
‘As God’s organization is rapidly moving forward, do we have good reasons to trust in Jesus as our appointed Leader?’
The evidence is that the Organization is not “rapidly moving forward”. Quite the contrary, in fact. In the last three years, we’ve seen a cessation of most construction projects. Instead, thousands of Kingdom halls are on the block, being sold, with the money going in to headquarters. We’ve seen the worldwide staff being cut by 25%, and the ranks of the special pioneer force have been decimated. None of this is evidence of an Organization “rapidly moving forward”. In fact, it now appears to be moving backwards.
Leading God’s People into Canaan
Paragraphs 5 thru 8 speak of the strategically unsound instructions given to the Israelites by Joshua prior to the taking of Jericho. Would the people trust Jehovah’s appointment of Joshua as their leader? Why should they have? Well, consider that they had witnessed many miracles at the hand of Moses and now Moses had passed the staff of authority on to Joshua. Additionally, they had seen the miracle of the Jordan drying up to allow them to pass. (Joshua 3:13)
With that in mind, consider the conclusion the Governing Body would have us draw.
What can we learn from this account? We may not at times fully comprehend the reasons for new initiatives put forth by the organization. For example, we may at first have questioned the use of electronic devices for personal study, in the ministry, and at the meetings. Now we likely realize the benefits of using them if possible. When we see the positive results of such advancements despite any doubts we might have had, we grow in faith and unity. (Par. 9)
The ”given” here is that there is a correlation between Joshua at Jericho and the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They start with a Scriptural fact all accept—that Joshua was appointed by God—and then extend that without evidence to the Governing Body.
Things then get stretched to the point of silliness when they compare the campaign against Jericho with the direction to use electronic devices at the meetings and field ministry.
The Governing Body would have you believe that just as the Israelites may have questioned Joshua’s instructions, so the brothers questioned the use of smart phones and tablets, but in the end, all worked out just fine. We are meant to read into this the idea that Jehovah is guiding the Organization and they are always at the cutting edge, taking the lead in what is best. They seem to have forgotten that it was not that long ago that we were discouraged from using computers for anything related to the congregation. When they finally gave in and created JW.org and then started producing The Watchtower in electronic form, I began using my iPad when I took the weekly Watchtower Study. However, I was told by the Circuit Overseer that I was not allowed to do so. Here’s a link to the November 8, 2011 Letter to the Bodies of Elders on the use of such devices. The relevant passage reads:
“…an electronic tablet or other similar device should not be used on the platform, such as for reading the paragraphs at the Watchtower Study, conducting a meeting, or giving a talk of any kind…it is felt that using an electronic tablet from the platform could prompt others to feel that they too should invest in such a device. Additionally, since many brothers cannot afford such a device, using one prominently from the stage could, in effect, create “class distinctions” or appear to be a “showy display of one’s means of life.”
Within two years, that decision was reversed. Suddenly, brothers and sisters who still could not “afford such a device” were being directed to make use of them in the field ministry. How could it turn from a “showy display of one’s means of life” to—in less than two years—the approved tool for preaching the good news according to Jehovah’s Witnesses? And does the fact that publishers were now encouraged to use costly phones and tablets in the ministry mean the financial circumstances of poorer Witnesses were no long a consideration?
A more relevant question is, ‘How does this flip-flop serve as an equitable comparison with the divine instruction Joshua imparted to the Israelites regarding the invasion of the promised land?’
Christ’s Leadership in the First Century
The “givens” continue to pile up.
About 13 years after Cornelius’ conversion, some Jewish believers were still promoting circumcision. (Acts 15:1, 2) When dissension broke out in Antioch, it was arranged for Paul to take the matter to the governing body in Jerusalem. But who was behind that direction? Paul stated: “I went up as a result of a revelation.” Obviously, Christ directed matters so that the governing body would settle the dispute. (Par. 10)
This assumes there was a first century governing body.[iii] There is no evidence that there was such a body directing the worldwide work in the first century. The problem about circumcision did not come from Antioch, but was brought in by Jewish believers who “came down from Judea”. (Acts 15:1) Logically, it follows that if they were going to resolve the dispute that originated from Jerusalem, they would have to go to Jerusalem to do so. The apostles were there, and the work began there, but that doesn’t mean that they became a body that governed the expansion of Christianity through the first century. Following the destruction of Jerusalem and all the way down to the counsel of Nicea in 325 C.E., there is no evidence in the historical writings of the time of a centralized governing body. In fact, the counsel of Nicea shows that quite the opposite existed. It was Pagan Emperor Constantine who is really responsible for the beginnings of a centralized authority over the church.
Paragraph 11 and the box on page 24 speak of the situation where the older men of Jerusalem persuaded Paul to engage in a Jewish ritual in an effort to appease the Jews. It didn’t work and Paul’s life was put in jeopardy. The Christianized Jews were not grasping the freedom that the Christ had offered to them, and this attitude ascended all the way to the most prominent older men.
To conclude this train of thought, the last paragraph under this subtitle states:
For some, it takes time to adjust to a clarification in understanding. Jewish Christians needed sufficient time to adjust their viewpoint. (John 16:12) Some found it hard to accept that circumcision was no longer a sign of a special relationship with God. (Gen. 17:9-12) Others, out of fear of persecution, were reluctant to stand out in Jewish communities. (Gal. 6:12) In time, though, Christ provided further guidance through inspired letters written by Paul.—Rom. 2:28, 29; Gal. 3:23-25. (Par. 12)
It is true that as humans, we need time to come to grips with radically new, life-altering truths. It is also true that Christ, like Our Father, is patient. He provided what was needed by inspiring Paul and others to write on the subject. But the failed attempt at appeasement that brought Paul such grief was not the work of the Christ.
What we are being set up for here is another “given”. Christ inspired Paul to write so as to correct the thinking of Christians. However, Paul wasn’t the originator of that failed thinking, but the victim of it. Christ didn’t inspire the older men of Jerusalem to correct their own faulty thinking, but an outsider was used. So, the analogy fails. Indeed, if we are going to make comparisons, then when the Governing Body comes out with instructions that need adjustment or even radical change, Jesus will not use them to correct themselves, but rather he will use an outsider.
Christ Is Still Leading His Congregation
It is true that the Christ is still leading his congregation. The “given” here is that JW.org is that congregation.
When we do not fully understand the reasons for some organizational changes, we do well to reflect on how Christ exercised his leadership in the past. Whether in Joshua’s day or in the first century, Christ has always provided wise direction to protect God’s people as a whole, to strengthen their faith, and to maintain unity among God’s servants. (Par. 13)
There are so many things wrong with this paragraph that I hardly know where to start. First, they are attributing the changes the Organization makes to Christ’s leadership. We just read the letter directing the brothers not to use tablets on the platform and stating that their use might be viewed as a showy display of one’s means of life and motivate poorer ones to spend money they didn’t have so as not to feel like they were in a lower class. Then we saw that policy reversed. So, if both changes were ‘Christ exercising his leadership’, then we have to blame Christ for this. That would be inappropriate, because Christ doesn’t make silly mistakes. So, when a point like this is brought up as a challenge, the Governing Body attribute the former understanding to the mistakes we make due to human imperfection. Fine, but then which change is the result of human imperfection? The first, or the second? Was Christ involved in one, but humans in the other? And if so, which one was Christ directing us to follow? Was Christ telling us not to use tablets, but due to human imperfection, the current Governing Body is running ahead of Christ and telling us to disobey him and use them? Or is neither direction from Christ, but only from men?
Next, they speak of Christ’s direction in Joshua’s day? Christ means anointed one, and Jesus did not become the Christ until his baptism, long after Joshua died. Further, it was an angel that visited Joshua. Jesus was never just an angel. Paul says:
“For example, to which one of the angels did God ever say: “You are my son; today I have become your father”? And again: “I will become his father, and he will become my son”? But when he again brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth, he says: “And let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.”” (Heb 1:5, 6)
Here, Paul makes a clear contrast between all the angels and the Son of God. He then demonstrates that angels were used to communicate with faithful men of old, which would include Joshua, but that Christians get their direction from the Son of God.
“For if the word spoken through angels proved to be firm, and every transgression and disobedient act received a retribution in harmony with justice; how shall we escape if we have neglected a salvation of such greatness in that it began to be spoken through [our] Lord and was verified for us by those who heard him…” (Heb 2:2, 3)
We’re still in paragraph 12 and there’s more to come. Now we come to the final statement:
Christ has always provided wise direction to protect God’s people as a whole, to strengthen their faith, and to maintain unity among God’s servants.
Notice that the focus hasn’t shifted from the Organization. Jesus protects God’s people “as a whole”. Another way of wording this—in line with the message The Watchtower article is clearly making—is ‘Christ always provides wise direction to protect the Organization, to strengthen the faith of the Organization and to maintain unity within the Organization.’
Where is the support for this in Scripture? If we are to build a personal relationship with God through Jesus, we need a personal view. Jesus protects us individually, not as a whole. He strengthens our faith on an individual level. And as for unity, it is all well and good, but Jesus never directs us to maintain unity at the cost of truth. In fact, he predicted quite the opposite.
“Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth; I came to bring, not peace, but a sword. For I came to cause division…” (Mt 10:34, 35)
And just why all the talk of the Christ, but not of Jesus. “Christ” appears 24 times in this article. “Jehovah” appear 12 times. But “Jesus” only 6! If you’re trying to impose respect for authority, then you speak of the authoritative role someone is playing, thus, you refer to them by their title. If you want to build a personal relationship, you use their name.
The duplicity found in paragraph 16 is a little hard to take:
In addition to caring for our spiritual needs, Christ helps us to keep our focus on the most important work being done on earth today. (Read Mark 13:10.) André, a newly appointed elder, has always been attentive to changes in direction within God’s organization. He says: “The reductions in branch office personnel remind us of the urgency of the times and the need to focus our energy on the preaching activity.”
They are running low on money and instead of admitting it and having to explain where the money is going, they are putting a false spin on the situation. The lie in all this is evident from the fact that they also stripped to ranks of Special Pioneers down to the bone? These are individuals who are able to preach in areas that few can reach. They do so because they are supported monetarily by the Organization. So if we need to focus “on the preaching activity”, why cut back so drastically on our foremost and most productive preachers?
Additionally, if it were really to focus on the preaching, why dismiss the older, long-time Bethelites. These have issues with health and stamina? Since they have been out of the workforce for decades, they will have trouble acquiring gainful employment that will allow them to engage in full-time witnessing. Why not let all the young ones go; those with the least sonority? They still have the energy, health, and earning potential to be effective full-time evangelizers.
It seems apparent that the Organization is trying to put a positive spin on a deteriorate situation. This effort will continue in next week’s study article.
[i] Witnesses teach that those who survive Armageddon continue as sinners, but can work toward perfection over the course of the 1,000 reign of Christ, then, if they pass the final test, they will be granted eternal life.
[ii] w12 12/15 p. 13 par. 21
[iii] They always use lower case for the first century governing body, but the modern one is capitalized.