[From ws 06/20 p.24 – August 24 – August 30]
“Return to me, and I will return to you.” – MAL 3:7
“From the days of your forefathers you have turned aside from my regulations and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says Jehovah of armies. But you say: “How are we supposed to return?”- Malachi 3:7
When it comes to the scriptures, context is everything.
First, the scripture cited as the theme scripture was directed squarely at the Israelites as God’s chosen nation. Why would this be the theme scripture in relation to someone returning to a Christian congregation?
Second, although it had never bothered me before, the concept of being “inactive” does not have any scriptural backing.
How is one inactive? Who measures whether we are active or inactive? If one continues to meet other like-minded Christians and preach informally to people, are they still considered inactive from God’s standpoint?
If we look further at the scripture in Malachi 3:8 says the following:
“Will a mere human rob God? But you are robbing me.” And you say: “How have we robbed you?” “In the tithes* and in the contributions.”
When Jehovah appealed to the Israelites to return to Him, it was because they had neglected true worship. They had stopped tithing as required by the law and therefore Jehovah had abandoned them.
Can we say that Jehovah has abandoned those who no longer congregate with the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The article will discuss three of Jesus’ illustrations and apply them to those who have strayed from Jehovah.
Let us review the article and come back to the questions raised.
SEARCH FOR THE LOST COIN
Paragraph 3 -7 discusses the application of Jesus’s illustration in Luke 15:8-10.
8 “Or what woman who has ten drachma coins, if she loses one of the drachmas, does not light a lamp and sweep her house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma coin that I had lost.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, joy arises among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The illustration of a woman is then applied to those who no longer associate with Jehovah’s Witnesses as follows:
- The woman sweeps the floor when she notices that one of the coins is missing, therefore implying that it takes hard work to find something that is lost. In a similar way, it takes hard work to locate those who have left the congregation.
- Years may have passed since they stopped associating with the congregation
- They may have moved to an area where local brothers do not know them
- The inactive ones are longing to return to Jehovah
- They want to serve Jehovah with his true worshippers
Is the application of this scripture to an inactive Witness correct?
Firstly, notice that Jesus says, “In the same way, I tell you, joy arises among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” [Bold ours]
Now consider each of the points above; can we say that the inactive one is a repentant sinner?
What does it mean to repent?
The Greek word used in verse 10 for repent is “metanoounti” meaning “to think differently or reconsider”
What are some of the reasons why Witnesses become inactive?
Some are discouraged by the unscriptural practices they see in the Organization.
Others may have valid personal reasons for isolating themselves.
Others may be avoiding facing the JW judicial process which may leave additional scars and cause embarrassment despite having repented of their wrongdoing already.
What about the Witnesses who suffered at the hands of the abuser?
It is unlikely that someone who is discouraged by wrongdoing in the congregation could be considered remorseful.
It is also unlikely that such a person would express regret over leaving the congregation.
Would the angels in heaven rejoice over someone who returns to a congregation that teaches false doctrine? An Organization that refuses to acknowledge the effect of unscriptural and unkind policies on the victims of sexual abuse? Not likely.
The biggest stumbling block for this article and the illustrations the writer attempts to apply is that Jesus never referred to “inactive” Christians neither did the first-century Christians.
2 Timothy 2:18 speaks about those who had deviated or gone astray from the truth when speaking about the resurrection hope.
1 Timothy 6:21 speaks about those who had gone astray from the faith as a result of godless and foolish discussions.
But nothing is said about inactive Christians.
The word inactive carries the meaning of being: idle, inert, sluggish, or passive.
Because Christianity requires exercising faith in Jesus and the ransom it would never be possible for true Christians to be considered passive. (James 2:14-19)
BRING BACK JEHOVAH’s LOST SONS AND DAUGHTERS
Paragraphs 8 to 13 discuss the application of the illustration found in Luke 15:17-32. Some know this as the parable of the Prodigal son.
What is important to note in this illustration:
- The younger son squanders his inheritance by living a debauched life
- when he has spent everything and is destitute, he comes to his senses and goes back home
- He acknowledges he has sinned against his father and asks to be taken back as a hired man
- The father embraces him and celebrates his coming home and slaughters a fattened calf
- The older brother comes home and becomes angry when he catches sight of the celebrations
- The Father assures the older brother that he has always been his son, but they had to celebrate the younger brother’s return
The writer interprets the illustration as follows:
- The son had a troubled conscience and felt unworthy of being called a son
- The father felt empathy for his son, who poured out his feelings.
- The father then took practical steps to assure his son that he was welcome back home, not as a hired man, but as a cherished member of the family.
The writer applies it as follows:
- Jehovah is like the father in that illustration. He loves our inactive brothers and sisters and wants them to return to him.
- By imitating Jehovah, we can help them to return
- We need to be patient because it takes time for a person to heal spiritually
- be willing to keep in contact, even visiting them again and again
- show them genuine love and assure them that Jehovah loves them and so do the brothers
- be prepared to listen with empathy. Doing so involves understanding their challenges and avoiding a judgmental attitude.
- Some inactive ones have struggled for years with bitter feelings toward someone in the congregation. These feelings have stifled the desire to return to Jehovah.
- They may need someone who will listen to them and understand their feelings.
While many of the points above are scriptural and good counsel, the application to inactive ones is again the stumbling block.
As discussed above there may be valid reasons for not being part of the congregation.
What if the inactive person starts to explain to the elders that the Organization’s teaches are unscriptural? What if they state they believe something contrary to what the governing body teaches? Would the elders listen without a judgmental attitude? It is likely that the person would be labeled an apostate despite the validity of any points raised. It appears then that the above suggestions are subject to someone agreeing to follow everything taught by the Organization unconditionally.
LOVINGLY SUPPORT THE WEAK
Paragraph 14 and 15 deal with the illustration in Luke 15:4,5
“What man among you with 100 sheep, on losing one of them, will not leave the 99 behind in the wilderness and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders and rejoices.”
The writer interprets as this:
- Inactive ones need consistent support from us
- And they are likely weak spiritually because of what they experienced in Satan’s world
- The shepherd has already spent time and energy finding the lost sheep
- We may need to invest time and energy in helping some inactive ones to overcome their weaknesses
The theme again seems to be that time and energy are required to ensure that those who have strayed from the congregation return.
The article is the annual reminder to JW members to seek out those who no longer participate in congregational activities or attend meetings. No new scriptural information is brought to the fore. Furthermore, it is unclear how being inactive is defined. The appeal to return to Jehovah is again a request to return to JW.org. Instead of showing the individual members of the congregation how they could use scriptures to appeal to the hearts of those who have strayed from the congregation, the article focuses on persistence, patience, time, and energy. The love, patience, and listening are all subject to unconditional obedience to the doctrine of the governing body.