In a surprise move, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has decided to use the November 2023 broadcast on JW.org to release four of the talks from the October 2023 Annual Meeting of the Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. We have not yet covered these talks on the Beroean Pickets channel, so having the talks released earlier than normal is ideal for us, since it saves us the effort of doing voiceovers for our Russian, German, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, and French channels.
But before we get into our review of these four talks, I want to read you a very pertinent warning that Jesus gave to us. He told us to “be on the watch for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15, 16 NWT)
Jesus lovingly gave us the key to identifying wolfish men who disguise themselves as sheep to hide their true nature and selfish motives. Now you might be a Protestant, a Catholic, a Baptist or Mormon, or a Jehovah’s Witness. You might not look at your ministers, or priests, or pastors, or elders and think of them as wolves disguised as gentle, innocent sheep. But don’t go by their looks. They may dress in rich, immaculate clerical robes, or in expensive custom-tailored suits sporting exquisitely fashionable ties. With all that luster and color, it’s hard to see past it to what lies beneath. That is why Jesus told us to look to their fruits.
Now, I used to think that “their fruits” referred only to their works, the things they do. But in reviewing this year’s annual meeting, I have come to see that their fruits must also include their words. Does not the Bible speak of the “fruit of the lips” (Hebrews 13:15)? Doesn’t Luke tell us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)? Whatever fills a person’s heart is what drives their words, the fruit of their lips. It can be good fruit, or it can be very rotten fruit.
Jesus commands us to be always on the watch for false prophets, ravenous wolves disguised as harmless sheep. So, let’s do that. Let’s put the words we hear from the speakers in the annual meeting to the test by paying special attention to the fruit of their lips. We won’t need to go any farther than the introductory words of Christopher Mavor, a Helper to the Service Committee.
On October 7th the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania held its annual meeting. Usually you would be viewing this portion of the program in January 2024. However, you are now able to enjoy four talks this month, November 2023. These talks have been especially prepared at the direction of the Governing Body. They want the worldwide brotherhood to be aware of the content as soon as possible.
Isn’t it wonderful that millions of rank-and-file Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have to wait a full three months for the chance of learning what only a privileged few got to know back in October?
Did you know that “privilege” is not a word we will find in the Bible? In the New World Translation, it has been inserted six times, but in each instance, checking the interlinear, one can see that it’s not a corresponding translation or rendering of the original meaning.
In any religious cult, the term “privilege” is used to create class distinctions and a competitive atmosphere. I remember hearing talks at conventions extolling the privilege of pioneer service. Brothers would say, “I have the privilege of serving as an elder,” or, “my family had the privilege of serving where the need was greater.” We were always encouraged to reach out for greater privileges at circuit assemblies and district conventions, which resulted in many coming home depressed and feeling like they weren’t doing enough to please God fully.
So, the fact that some have already heard the entire program with all the “new light” while the vast majority must wait until January is seen as a special privilege, but now they are doling out a small portion of the annual meeting which will be seen as a loving provision.
Now, on to the first talk that is being released in this November broadcast which is given by one of the Governing Body members who was appointed in January of this year, Gage Fleegle. Initially, when I saw the full annual meeting that had been leaked to the public, I was going to skip a number of talks, his being one of them. My thought was to focus only on those talks presenting so-called new light.
However, after listening to the entirety of Fleegle’s talk, I saw that there was value in analyzing it because it brings a major flaw of JW worship into focus. This flaw has caused many to wonder whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are truly Christians at all. I know that sounds like a pretty outlandish statement to make, but let’s consider some facts first.
Fleegle’s talk is about the love of Jehovah God. I don’t know what is in the heart of Gage Fleegle, but in watching him speak, he does appear to be very moved by the subject of love. He seems most sincere. I, too, felt as he appears to feel when I believed Jehovah’s Witnesses had the truth. I had been brought up to focus on Jehovah God, and not so much on Jesus. I won’t subject you to the entirety of his discourse, but I will tell you that what should stand out to you, if you consider yourself to be a Christian, will be the ratio between the number of times he refers to Jehovah over Jesus.
I have the full transcript of Gage Fleegle’s talk and so I was able to run a word search on the names “Jehovah” and “Jesus.” I found that in his 22-minute-long presentation, he used the name of God 83 times, but when it came to Jesus, he only referred to him by name 12 times. So, “Jehovah” was used about 8 times as often as “Jesus”.
Out of curiosity, I ran a similar search using the three latest issues of the Watchtower Study Edition and found a similar ratio. “Jehovah” occurred 646 times, while Jesus merely 75 times. I remember years ago bringing up this discrepancy to the attention of a good friend who used to work in the Brooklyn Bethel. He asked me what was wrong with emphasizing Jehovah’s name over Jesus’. He didn’t see the point. So, I said that when you look at the Christian Scriptures, you’ll find the opposite. Even in the New World Translation which inserts the divine name where it is not found in the Greek manuscripts, the name of Jesus still surpasses the name of Jehovah in a number of occurrences.
His response was, “Eric, this conversation is making me feel uncomfortable.” Uncomfortable!? Imagine that. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
You see, a Jehovah’s Witness will see nothing wrong with giving all the attention to Jehovah and minimizing Jesus’ role and importance. But as right as that might seem to them from a human point of view, what really matters is what Jehovah God wants us to do. We don’t love God our way, but his way. We do not worship Him our way, but His way. At least, we do if we want to win his favor.
That Gage Fleegle has the wrong view is evident by another very important word that he all but fails to use. In fact, it only occurs twice, and even then, never in the right context or usage. What word is that? Can you guess? It’s a word that occurs hundreds of times in the Christian Scriptures.
I won’t keep you in suspense. The term he only uses twice is “father” and he never uses it to refer to a Christian’s relationship with God. Why not? Because he doesn’t want his audience to think about being God’s children, the only salvation hope that Jesus preached. No! He wants them to think of Jehovah, not as their Father, but as merely a friend. The Governing Body preaches that the other sheep are saved as God’s friends, not his children. Of course, this is entirely unscriptural.
So, let’s review Fleegle’s talk with that understanding in mind to guide us.
If you listen to the entirety of what Gage Fleegle has to say, you’ll notice that he spends almost all his time in the Hebrew Scriptures. That makes sense since he doesn’t want to focus on the love exemplified by Jesus Christ, the perfect reflection of the Father’s love and glory. That’s hard to do if you spend a lot of time in the Greek Scriptures. However, he does refer to the Greek Scriptures a little. For instance, he refers to the time that Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in the Mosaic law was, and in answer Gage quotes from the Gospel of Mark:
“Mark 12:29, 30: Jesus answered the first or the most important commandment, the greatest commandment is here, O Israel, Jehovah, our God is one Jehovah. And you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.”
Now, I don’t think any of us would take issue with that, would we? But what does it mean to love our Father with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength? Gage explains:
“Well, Jesus demonstrated that love of God requires more than a feeling of affection. Jesus stressed how completely we must love God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, with our whole mind, with our whole strength. Does that leave anything out? Our eyes, our ears? Our hands? Well, the study notes on verse 30 help us to understand that this includes our emotions, desires and feelings. It includes our intellectual faculties and power of reason. It includes our physical and mental strength. Yes, our whole being, all that we are, we must devote to our love, to Jehovah. Love for God must govern a person’s entire life. Nothing is left out.”
Again, all of what he says sounds good. But our purpose here is to evaluate whether we are listening to a kindly shepherd or a false prophet. What Fleegle and the other members of the Governing Body are saying in this annual meeting is meant to come across as the truth from Jehovah God. After all, they claim to be God’s channel of communication.
Here Fleegle is quoting from Scripture and talking about giving whole-souled love to God. Now comes the moment when he will apply those words in some practical way. His lips are about to produce the fruit that Jesus told us to watch for. We are about to see what motivates the Governing Body, because the Bible tells us that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Will we see the Governing Body as true spiritual shepherds, or as well-dressed wolves in disguise? Let’s watch and see:
“Well, shortly after emphasizing the greatest commandment and again we’re thinking of Jesus. He’s there in the temple. Shortly after emphasizing the greatest commandment, Jesus shines a light on both bad and good examples of love for God. First, he sharply condemned the scribes and the Pharisees for their pretense of love for God. Now, if you want the full condemnation it’s found in Matthew chapter 23. Those hypocrites, they gave even the 10th or a tithe of small, tiny herbs, but they ignored the weightier matters of justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
So far, so good. The leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses are showing the avaricious nature of the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who made a pretense of righteousness but lacked compassion for their fellow man. They loved to talk about sacrifice, but not mercy. They would do little to alleviate the suffering of the poor. They were self-satisfied, proud of their position of office and secure with their treasure chests stuffed with money. Let’s listen to what Fleegle say next:
“That was the bad example. But then Jesus gave his attention to an outstanding example of love for God. If you’re still there in Mark chapter 12, notice starting in verse 41.
“And Jesus sat down with the treasury chests in view and began observing how the crowd was dropping money into the treasury chests, and many rich people were dropping in many coins. Now, a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins of very little value. So, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you that this poor widow put in more than all the others who put money into the treasury chests. For they all put in out of their surplus. But she, out of her want, put in everything she had all she had to live on.”
The coins of the needy widow were worth about 15 minutes wages. Yet Jesus expressed his Father’s view of her worship. He commended her whole-souled sacrifice. What do we learn?”
Yes indeed, Gage, what do we learn? We learn that the Governing Body has missed the entire point of Jesus’ lesson. Does our Lord speak of making a whole-souled sacrifice? Does he even use the word “sacrifice”? Is he telling us that even if a widow doesn’t have food to feed herself and her children, Jehovah still wants her money?
That’s the position of the Organization, it seems.
If the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses try to deny this, then ask them why they don’t follow the example of first century Christians?
“The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” (James 1:27)
Those first-century Christians set up a loving charitable arrangement to provide for needy widows and orphans. Paul speaks to Timothy about that in one of his letters. (1 Timothy 5:9, 10)
Does the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses have a similar loving charitable arrangement for the poor? No. They have no arrangement at all. In fact, if a local congregation were to try to set up something like that up, they’d be told by the Circuit Overseer that charities run by a congregation are not allowed. I know this from personal experience. I tried to organize a collection for a needy family at the congregation level and was shut down by the C.O. telling me that the Organization doesn’t permit that.
To know men by their fruits, we examine not only their actions or works, but also their words, because out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34) Here, we have the Governing Body talking to millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses about love. But what are they really talking about? Money! They want their flock to imitate the example of the poor widow and give of their precious things! Give till it hurts. Then they will show their love for God and Jehovah will love them back. That’s the message.
That the Governing Body continues to use this passage to incite their flock to give, give, give should show us that they know what they are doing. Why? Well, remember that Gage Fleegle told us to read Matthew chapter 23 to see how wicked and greedy the scribes and Pharisees were. Then by contrast, he read to us from Mark 12:41, extolling the virtues of the needy widow. But why didn’t he read a few verses back in Mark 12 about the scribes and Pharisees? The reason is that he didn’t want us to see the connection that Jesus was making between the wolflike Pharisees eating up the meagre possessions of the widow.
We’ll read the verses that he failed to read or even mention, and I think you’ll be able to see what kind of fruits are being produced in this talk.
Let’s read from Mark 12, but instead of starting at 41 as he did, we’ll go back to 38 and read to 44.
“And in his teaching he went on to say: “Beware of the scribes who want to walk around in robes and want greetings in the marketplaces and front seats in the synagogues and the most prominent places at evening meals. They devour the houses of the widows, and for show they make long prayers. These will receive a more severe judgment.” And he sat down with the treasury chests in view and began observing how the crowd was dropping money into the treasury chests, and many rich people were dropping in many coins. Now a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins of very little value. So he called his disciples to him and said to them: “Truly I say to you that this poor widow put in more than all the others who put money into the treasury chests. For they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her want, put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”” (Mark 12:38-44)
Now that paints a very unflattering picture of the scribes, Pharisees, and the Governing Body. Verse 40 says that they “devour the houses of the widows”. Verse 44 says that the widow “put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” She did that because she felt obliged to do so because she had been made to feel by those same religious leaders that by giving her last dime—as we would say—she was doing something that was pleasing to God. In actuality, these religious leaders were devouring the houses of widows, as Jesus says.
Ask yourself, how is the Governing Body any different when it promotes the same idea and reinforces it with images in the Watchtower like these?
So, Jesus wasn’t using the donation of the widow as an example of Christian love for God to be imitated by all. To the contrary, the context shows that he was using her donation as a very graphic example of how the religious leaders were devouring the houses of widows and orphans. If we are to learn a lesson from Jesus’ words, we should realize that if we are to give money, it should be to help those in need. True, Jesus and his disciples benefitted from donations, but they did not seek to get rich. Instead, they used what they needed to continue preaching the good news of the kingdom while sharing any excess with the poor and needy. That is the example true Christians should follow to fulfill the law of the Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
Supporting the poor was a theme carried forward throughout the preaching work of the first century. When Paul met with some of the prominent ones in Jerusalem—James, Peter, and John—and it was decided that they would concentrate their ministry on the Jews, while Paul would go to the Gentiles, there was only one condition they all shared. Paul said that “we should keep the poor in mind. This very thing I have also earnestly endeavored to do.” (Galatians 2:10)
I don’t recall ever reading a similar directive from the Governing Body in any of their numerous letters to the bodies of elders. Imagine if all the congregations had been instructed to always keep the poor in mind as the Bible instructs us. Maybe that might have come about had the Watch Tower publishing company not been hijacked by the so-called “Judge” Rutherford in what amounts to a corporate coup.
After grabbing power, Rutherford instituted many changes that had more to do with corporate America than the Corpus Christi, that is, the body of Christ, the congregation of the anointed ones. The Governing Body, for reasons we shall explore in our next video, has decided to remove one of those changes: the requirement to turn in a monthly report of time spent in the field ministry. This is huge. Think about it! For over 100 years, they wanted the flock to believe that reporting your time in the preaching work was a loving requirement of Jehovah God. And now, after a century of imposing this burden on the flock, suddenly, it’s gone! Kapoof!!
They are trying to explain this change as a loving provision. Hence Gage’s talk. They don’t even attempt to explain how it can be a loving provision while the former requirement was also a loving provision. It can’t be both, but they have to say something because they are preparing the ground to plant this radical change. But the ground is pretty hard, since they’ve been walking on it for the past century. Yes, for over a hundred years, faithful disciples of the Watch Tower Society’s message have been required to turn in regular field service reports. This, they were told, was what Jehovah wanted them to do. Now suddenly God has changed his mind?!
If this is a loving provision, then what was the last hundred years? An unloving provision? Not from God, certainly.
In Jesus’ day, who was it that laid heavy burdens on the flock? Who was it that demanded rigid compliance with rules, and a visible and showy display of self-sacrificing works?
You all know the answer. Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees saying: “They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:4)
Rutherford had his colporteurs (nowadays, pioneers) out playing his records and selling his books in all kinds of foul weather while he sat in his comfortable armchair in his 10-bedroom California mansion sipping fine scotch by the case. Now, Witnesses play Governing Body videos at the door, and promote JW.org while privileged Watch Tower leaders enjoy a luxurious life at their country club-like resort in Warwick.
I remember as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses coming home from a circuit assembly or a district convention where we were all made to feel like we were never doing enough.
How unlike the love of Jesus who tells his disciples:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for yourselves. For my yoke is kindly, and my load is light.”” (Matthew 11:29, 30)
Now suddenly, the Governing Body has come to realize they’ve got it wrong after all this time?
Come on. What is really behind this move? We’ll get into that, but one thing I’m sure about: It has nothing to do with imitating the love of God.
Nevertheless, that is the story they’re selling as Gage’s next statement indicates:
Well, clearly the lessons go far beyond material giving. Motive, in our worship of Jehovah is important to him. Jehovah doesn’t compare us with others, or even previous versions of ourselves, younger versions of ourselves. Jehovah simply wants love for him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, not as they were 10 or 20 years ago, but as they currently are now.
And there it is. A kinder, gentler Jehovah. Except that Jehovah hasn’t changed. (James 1:17) But those who put themselves on the level of Jehovah have changed. Those who claim that leaving the Organization means leaving Jehovah are the ones who are making the change, and they want you to believe that this is a loving provision from God. That the heavy load they have bound on your backs for the past 100 years is being removed out of love, but that isn’t true.
Remember, if you didn’t report even one month, you were considered to be an irregular publisher and therefore couldn’t have any of those cherished congregation privileges that they push you to value so much. But if you didn’t report time for six months, what happened? You were taken off the list of publishers because you were officially no longer considered to be a member of the congregation. They wouldn’t even give you your Kingdom Ministry.
It didn’t matter that you went to all the meetings nor that you continued to preach to others. If you didn’t do the required paperwork, turning in that report, you were persona non grata.
In this talk of Gage Fleegle, which is all about love, he never once refers to Jesus’ new commandment about the love we should show for one another.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
“Just as I have loved you.” This goes way beyond loving one’s neighbor as oneself. It is no longer how I love myself that is the measuring stick for love that defines a servant of God. Jesus raised the bar. Now, it is his love for us that is the standard to which we must attain. In fact, according to John 13:34, 35, loving one another as Christ loved us has become the identifying mark of true Christians, anointed Christians, God’s children.
Think about that!
Perhaps that is why Gage Fleegle spends all his time in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the Book of Isaiah, to speak about the love of God. He doesn’t dare venture into the Christian Scriptures and look at the standard bearer of love who is God’s Son, Jesus Christ, sent to us so that we might truly understand the love of our Father.
What Gage fails to realize is that all the Scriptures he cites from the Book of Isaiah point to Jesus. Let’s listen in:
Well, let’s turn to Isaiah chapters 40-44. And there we’ll consider many of the reasons we have to love Jehovah. And at the same time we’ll consider some examples of the depth of Jehovah’s love for us. So our first example is in Isaiah chapter 40 and notice, please, verse 11. Isaiah 40, verse 11. There is says:
Like a shepherd he will care for his flock. With his arm he will gather together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry [them]. He will gently lead those nursing their young.
Does Gage make any mention of Jesus here? No. Why? Because he wants to distract you from seeing Jesus’ role as the true shepherd of Jehovah’s sheep. He doesn’t want you to think about all these scriptures pointing to Jesus as the only channel to God, “the way, the truth and the life.” Instead, he wants you to focus on the Governing Body in that role.
“. . .for out of you will come forth a governing one, who will shepherd my people, Israel.’”” (Matthew 2:6)
“. . .‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered about.’” (Matthew 26:31)
“. . .I am the fine shepherd; the fine shepherd surrenders his soul in behalf of the sheep.” (John 10:11)
“. . .I am the fine shepherd, and I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I surrender my soul in behalf of the sheep.” (John 10:14, 15)
“. . .“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
“. . .Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep . . .” (Hebrews 13:20)
“. . .For YOU were like sheep, going astray; but now YOU have returned to the shepherd and overseer of YOUR souls.” (1 Peter 2:25)
“. . .And when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, YOU will receive the unfadable crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4)
“. . .the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. . . .” (Revelation 7:17)
Now Gage moves to the Book of Ezequiel.
At Ezequiel 34:15,16, Jehovah says I myself will feed my sheep, the lost one I will search for, the stray I will bring back, the injured I will bandage, [as we notice in the illustration] and the weak I will strengthen. What a touching picture of compassion and tender care.
Yes, Ezequiel focuses on Jehovah God, and it is a touching word picture, but how does Jehovah God fulfill this picture? It is through his Son that he feeds the little lambs, and rescues the lost sheep.
What did Jesus say to Peter? Feed my little sheep. Three times he said this. And what did he say to the Pharisees. Which of you will not leave the 99 sheep to go searching for the one that is lost.
But Gage isn’t done minimizing Jesus’ role. He even manages to overlook his role as The Word of God in the creation of all things.
In referring to Jesus Christ as the Word of God, the apostle John writes: “All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” (John 1:3)
The Apostle Paul had this to say about Jesus Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15, 16)
But to hear Gage Fleegle tell it, you’d have no idea about Jesus’ pivotal role in Creation.
Let’s consider our second reason why we have to love Jehovah. Isaiah chapter 40, notice verses 28 and 29. Verse 28 says:
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, is a God for all eternity. He never tires out or grows weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the tired one. And full might to those lacking strength.”
With Jehovah’s mighty holy spirit he created everything: Beginning with his first born son, to myriads of mighty spirit creatures, to the vast universe with its trillions upon trillions of stars, to this beautiful earth with its endless variety of plant and animal life, to the human body with its awe inspiring ability and versatility. Jehovah is truly the All-mighty Creator.
Remarkable, isn’t it? How effectively they have excised Jesus from his duly appointed role as the head of the congregation. Oh, sure, if challenged, they will give lip service to Jesus’ role. But by their actions and even by their words, both written and spoken, they have pushed Christ to one side to make room for themselves as the head of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I won’t spend more time going through the rest of his talk. It is very much more of the same. He continually goes to the Hebrew Scriptures, while ignoring the Christian Greek Scriptures, because he wants to focus on Jehovah God to the exclusion of his anointed Son, our savior, Jesus Christ. What’s wrong with that, you might say? What’s wrong with that is it is not what our heavenly Father wants.
He sent us his son so that we could learn all about love and obedience through him, who is the perfect reflection of God’s glory and the image of the living God. If Jehovah tells us: “This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.” Who are we to say, “Well, that’s all well and good, Jehovah, but we’re fine with the old ways before Jesus came on the scene, so we’ll stick with focusing on the nation of Israel and the Hebrew Scriptures and do what the Governing Body tells us to do. Okay?”
In conclusion: We’ve examined the fruit of the lips as expressed by the Governing Body through Gage Fleegle. Do we hear the voice of the true shepherd or the voice of the false prophet? And what is all this leading up to? Why are they changing a feature of the Organization that has endured for a century?
We’ll explore the answers to these questions in the next and final video in our coverage of the 2023 Annual Meeting.
Cutting out the requirement to report time may seem like a technical issue to some, or a minor change in corporate procedure to others, such as occurs in any large corporation like the sprawling Watch Tower empire. But personally, I don’t think so. Whatever the reason turns out to be, they aren’t doing it out of love for their fellow man. Of that, I’m quite sure.
Until next time.