“Go, therefore, and make disciples … , teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20
[Study 45 from ws 11/20 p.2 January 04 – January 10, 2021]
The article correctly starts off by saying Jesus had something important to tell them in Matthew 28: 18-20
For many Jehovah’s Witnesses, the words will instantly invoke the thought that they are obligated to go preach rather than focus on what Jesus was actually asking us to do?
You may be wondering why I would make such a statement. Jesus clearly says we should go teach people of the nations and make disciples, right? Clearly, that is the focus of the scripture?
Let us view the scripture in its entirety before I expand further.
“18 Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit,20 teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” Matthew 28:18-20
Did you notice what Jesus says we should do after we make people disciples? He says we should teach them to observe or obey all the things he has commanded us.
In a circular sense, the word obey may carry a negative connotation. Sometimes as a result of how human leaders, laws, and rules can be unduly restrictive. Yet the word for “obey” used by Jesus is “tērein” from the word “teros” which means “to guard”, “to note”, and by extension “to hold back”.
What becomes strikingly apparent from the word “guard”, is that we would only be willing to guard something of value. We would only be willing to take note of something of importance and hold back something we cherished. When we begin to think of Jesus’ words in that context, we then realize that the emphasis in those words is really to help people value Jesus’ teachings. What a lovely thought.
It may also explain why Jesus, the Apostles, or first-century Christians were not prescriptive in how this would be done. The focus is on instilling an appreciation for what Jesus had taught his disciples rather than going out to preach for hours with no positive result.
With that thought in mind, note that this review article will attempt to answer 3 questions as stated in paragraph 2; First, in addition to teaching God’s requirements to new disciples, what should we do? Second, how can all publishers in the congregation contribute to the spiritual growth of Bible students? Third, how can we help inactive fellow believers to share once again in the work of making disciples?
The thought brought out in paragraph 3 that we should not only teach but also guide our students is an important one. Why? Well, a guide is not always instructive but can still offer valuable advice and lessons for his audience.
In many ways like a tour guide on a vacation or on a game drive we understand that we need to explain the “rules”, Jesus’ commandment to those to whom we preach. However, a guide understands that for people to enjoy the tour they need a measure of freedom to explore and fully appreciate what they are learning or exploring. The guide is not there to police the tourist. He understands that he has limited authority and he is dealing with free moral agents. When we guide and allow people to fully appreciate the value of Jesus’ teachings and see the positive results of applying those principles in their own lives, then we are being good guides.
This should be the approach the Organization takes towards spirituality. The elders and the Governing Body should be guides, not policemen or dictators on matters of conscience.
Paragraph 6 says that the idea of sharing in the ministry may be intimidating for some students. Is it not because of the prescriptive nature of having to repeatedly knock-on doors of the same neighborhood where people have expressed their dislike for JWs? Where people have previously indicated their preference not to engage with people who are not agreeable to hearing a different viewpoint? And what of the controversial doctrinal teachings on matters which should be left to individual consciences like attending school dances, playing sport, choosing circular education, and blood transfusions? If you grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, you may recall how difficult it was for you to explain the Organization’s stance on some of these issues. Can you imagine how daunting it is for a new student to explain his or her belief in such doctrines?
Paragraph 7 says that we should show the student the tracts in the Teaching Toolbox and let them choose ones that would be appealing to their friends, co-workers, and relatives. There is nothing wrong with this suggestion provided whatever teaching aids we use do not conflict with the scriptures. The problem is that the Watchtower Organization uses its publication to spread doctrine, make unsubstantiated interpretations of events, misinterpret, or misapply certain scriptures and compel people to accept their teachings as truth rather than draw conclusions based on the Bible. A simple example is the reference to an unbaptized publisher. I challenge anyone reading this article to find the scriptural basis for having an unbaptized or baptized publisher.
HOW THE CONGREGATION HELPS BIBLE STUDENTS TO PROGRESS
The question to paragraph 8 asks “Why is it important that our students develop strong love for God and for neighbor?” The first point raised in paragraph 8 is the in Matthew 28 Jesus instructed us to teach others to observe all the things he commanded us to do. These include the two greatest commandments to love God and to love your neighbor. However, note the red herring in the sentence: “That certainly includes the two greatest commands—to love God and to love neighbor—both of which are closely connected to the preaching and disciple-making work” [bold ours]. “What is the connection? A principal motive for sharing in the preaching work is love—our love for God and our love for neighbor”. The idea brought forth by both statements is a noble one. The two greatest commandments are central to Jesus’ teachings and love should be the primary motivation for preaching to others. However, the disciple-making work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is really focused on those you are willing to be converted rather than teaching people to love God and their neighbor or observe ‘guard’ the teachings of Christ.
Take for example these words from the October 2020 Watchtower from the article How to Conduct a Bible Study that Leads to Baptism- Part Two; paragraph 12 says: “Talk openly about Christian dedication and baptism. After all, our goal in conducting a Bible study is to help a person become a baptized disciple. Within a few months of having a regular Bible Study and especially after beginning to attend meetings, the student should understand that the purpose of the Bible study is to help him to start serving Jehovah as one of His Witnesses.” Paragraph 15 says: “Regularly analyze the progress that the student is making. For example, does he express his feelings for Jehovah? Does he pray to Jehovah? Does he enjoy reading the Bible? Is he attending the meetings regularly? Has he made any needed changes to his lifestyle? Has he started sharing what he is learning with his family and friends? Most importantly, does he want to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? [bold ours]. So becoming a Jehovah’s Witness is far more important than reading the Bible, praying to Jehovah, or making changes in your lifestyle? Can that really be the case for Christians? Another point to note in the flawed reasoning is how would you know whether someone genuinely prays to God? Would you ask them? What about sharing their beliefs with family and friends, would you eavesdrop on their conversations? Again, the advice given to publishers requires the teacher to be a policeman rather than a guide.
While it is also true that love for neighbor may be a motivating factor for some Witnesses, many Witnesses go out on field service to avoid being classified as irregular publishers or because of the constant reminders that publishers need to do more for “Jehovah and his Organization”. In a recent midweek announcement, a statement was read that the organization has made a ‘loving’ arrangement such that those who report as little as 15 minutes a month can avoid becoming irregular publishers. Besides the whole notion of reporting and being irregular publishers having no scriptural basis, there is nothing loving about expecting people to preach during a global pandemic where people have lost loved ones, livelihoods and have heightened anxiety about their own health.
The three points brought out in the box are useful to consider when teaching:
- Encourage them to read the Bible,
- Help them meditate on God’s Word,
- Teach them to Pray to Jehovah.
All very good points.
HELP INACTIVE ONES TO SHARE ONCE AGAIN
Paragraph 13 – 15 speak about inactive ones. In this context, it refers to ones who have stopped sharing in the ministry. The writer compares inactive ones to the disciples who abandoned Jesus when he was about to be killed. The writer then encourages publishers to treat inactive ones the same way Jesus treated the disciples who abandoned him. The comparison is problematic, firstly because it creates the impression that ‘inactive’ one has abandoned their faith. Secondly, because it ignores the fact that there may be valid reasons why people have stopped engaging in the Witness preaching work.
No new information is brought to out in this Watchtower about how we teach men to observe the teachings of Christ. The article continues on the trend of recent articles to further emphasize the need for Witnesses to preach and convert more people into Witnesses. Despite the global pandemic currently and the issues being experienced by publishers the reporting of hours continues to be of primary importance to the Organization.