Something extremely troubling happened yesterday in the Friday sessions of this year’s district convention.
Now, I have been going to district conventions for over 60 years. Most of my better, life-altering decisions—pioneering, serving where the need is greater—have come as a consequence of the spiritual boost one gets from attending a district convention. Up to the late 1970s, these yearly conventions were exciting things. They were full of parts on prophecy and were the primary forum for the release of new understandings of Scripture. Then came the simultaneous release of the Watchtower in all its languages. From that point onward, it seemed more appropriate that new light should be dispensed to the worldwide brotherhood in its pages rather than from the convention platform.[i] The district conventions stopped being exciting and became somewhat repetitive. In the last 30 years, the content hasn’t changed much, and there is now little attention given to the revelation of prophecy. The development of the Christian personality and adherence to our code of conduct are the dominant themes these days. There is no great depth of Scriptural study and while some of us older ones miss the ‘good old days’ of deeper study, we are content to benefit from the uplifting atmosphere that develops as a consequence of three days of immersion in Christian fellowship and spiritual feeding.
It’s like going to the yearly congregation picnic. Mary brings her homemade coffee cake and Joan, her signature potato salad, and you play the same games and talk about the same things and still you wouldn’t miss it, because it is predictable and comforting and yes, upbuilding.
I’m not saying there have not been welcome improvements at our conventions. The elimination of long discourses in favor of shorter symposium parts has helped pick up the pace. The acting in the dramas shows a marked improvement; at least in my part of the world. Gone are the exaggerated gesticulations that detracted from the theme. Even the stilted speech patterns that were characteristic of district convention talks have all but disappeared.
Yesterday’s sessions might have been described as a pleasant, if uninspired, orchestral composition, had it not been for the discordant interruption presented by the afternoon part, “Avoid Testing Jehovah in Your Heart”.
I have come away from a district convention feeling many things, but I have never felt troubled. I have never felt disturbed in my spirit. I will not be able to say that anymore.
The talk dealt with three core issues.
First, it seems that there are those who are tired of the same old spiritual fare and would like a richer menu. To be fair, I must count myself in among their number. Meatloaf, week after week, is still nutritious, but it is hard to get excited by it, no matter how good it tastes.
Second, there are those who disagree with some of the Scriptural interpretations which the governing body has published. Our current position on disfellowshipping was discussed, and although I don’t recall it being specifically mentioned, interpretations like our current stand on the meaning of ‘this generation’ were surely on their mind when compiling this outline.
Finally, there are those who are engaging in Bible study on their own. Web site study groups were mentioned specifically.
It appears the talk theme is derived from Ps. 78:18,
“And they proceeded to test God in their heart
By asking for something to eat for their soul.”
Early in the part, Jesus words at Luke 11:11 were read: “Indeed, which father is there among YOU who, if his son asks for a fish, will perhaps hand him a serpent instead of a fish?”
Jesus is using this illustration to teach us something about how Jehovah answers our prayers, but the Scripture was misapplied to the dispensation of new light from the faithful slave class. We were told that thinking that the governing body[ii] had made a mistake was equivalent to thinking Jehovah had handed us a serpent rather than a fish. Even if we kept silent and just believed in our heart that something we are being taught is wrong, we are like the rebellious Israelites who were “testing Jehovah in our heart”.
By saying this, they are making Jehovah responsible for every interpretative misstep they have ever made. If every teaching from the governing body is like a fish from God, then what of 1925 and 1975? What of the multiple changes to the meaning of Mt. 24:34? Fish from Jehovah, all? When we completely abandoned our teaching on the meaning of ‘this generation’ in the mid-90s, what then? If the food was from Jehovah, why would we abandon it? If these abandoned beliefs were not from God—who cannot lie—then how can we liken them to food from God? Historical fact shows them to be the result of faulty human speculation. How can we now turn around and ignore this reality by stating that every morsel of food coming forth from the governing body is food from Jehovah which we must not even question in our thoughts, for fear of testing the Almighty.
How does such an application of Jesus’ words honor our God, Jehovah? And for this words to come from the convention platform? Words fail me.
Moving on, the speaker dealt with what appears to be a growing problem for the governing body, brothers who want better spiritual food. Tired with the milk of the word, they would like some meat. I’m assuming from the context that these ones are tired of hearing about materialism, worldly association, pornography, dress and grooming, obedience, ways to improve our preaching, et cetera. It’s not that they are saying it is wrong for us to cover these subjects, even as repeatedly as we do. It is just that they’d like something else, something deeper. Something meaty.
To such ones, and our name is legion, they make another misapplication of Scripture. They refer to the Israelites who complained about the manna. Excuse me!? Let’s think this through!
The Israelites had rebelled against Jehovah’s express command. As a consequence, they were condemned to walk around the wilderness for 40 years until everyone over the age of 20 died off. It was a death march, plain and simple. The manna was prison fare and they should have been content with it, as it was more than they deserved.
The governing body is, what?…comparing us with rebellious Israelites condemned by Jehovah to die? Is asking for a little spiritual meat showing a lack of appreciation? Are we being disloyal to Jehovah; ‘testing him in our heart’ for even thinking this way?
How dare we ask for more food! What the Dickens are they on about?!
‘Please, sir, I want some more.’
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.
‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’
The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.
The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said,
‘Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!’
There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.
‘For MORE!’ said Mr. Limbkins. ‘Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?’
‘He did, sir,’ replied Bumble.
‘That boy will be hung,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. ‘I know that boy will be hung.’
(Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens)
Manna is not used in the Bible to depict the food that is dispensed by the faithful and discreet slave. Jesus used it illustratively to depict the bread which is his perfect flesh for the redemption of mankind. Like the manna which saved the condemned adult Israelites from dying of starvation, his flesh is the true bread from which we get everlasting life from God.
Our application of this scripture is yet another in a growing line of misapplications wherein we seize any old scripture and apply it to the topic at hand as if its mere application were proof enough. This particular talk was rife with them.
Perhaps the most egregious point was the final one. It seems that there are a growing number of web sites which brothers use to deepen their understanding of scripture. They specifically mentioned study sites and sites where brothers are learning Greek and Hebrew with a view to understanding the Bible better; as if the NWT weren’t all we’d ever need. Previously, the Kingdom Ministry spoke about this.
Thus, “the faithful and discreet slave” does not endorse any literature, meetings, or Web sites that are not produced or organized under its oversight. (km 9/07 p. 3 Question Box)
Great. No problem. No one seemed to be asking for their endorsement in any case, so it was no great loss. Apparently, that wasn’t the message they were trying to get across. So the talk made it clear that individual witnesses engaging in such study groups are being “selfish and ungrateful” for Jehovah’s provision through the faithful slave class. Reference was made to Korah and the rebels who put themselves in opposition to Moses and were swallowed up by the earth. If we engage in any kind of extracurricular study with others in the congregation that is not part of our congregation arrangement, we are being ‘disloyal to Jehovah’ and ‘testing Jehovah in our heart’.
Huh? Are they actually condemning sincere Bible study because they didn’t organize it? It seems so.
In case you’re thinking that they’re referring to apostates, it was quite clear during the talk that they are not. They are talking about loyal Jehovah’s witnesses who are not content to limit their Bible education to the restrictions imposed by the organization. For example, I would love to have the time to learn Hebrew and Greek so that I could read the Bible in its original languages. However, were I to do so, according to this talk, I would be “testing Jehovah in my heart.” What a remarkable allegation.
In fact, according to the governing body, as a consequence of our Bible study and use of the Beroean Pickets web site, we are on the path that Korah took. We are displaying a selfish and ungrateful attitude towards Jehovah’s provisions and are in fact testing his patience. Our sin seems to be that we have been ‘carefully examining the Scriptures as to whether these things are so’. (Acts 17:11) It is a very odd feeling to be so roundly condemned by those I have held in such high esteem all my life.
What Scriptural proof did they put forward for condemning Christians who come together to study God’s word? Mt. 24:45-47. Read it and tell me if there is any realistic application of that study that would allow for the condemnation of individuals who wish to study the Bible on their own outside of a meeting or in meeting preparation?
There was a religious organization that so zealously guarded its own decrees that it prohibited the very reading of the Bible and enforced its prohibition by damning such heretics to burn in a fiery hell. Of course, that’s not us. Oh no, that could never be us.
Now you can see why this is so troubling to me. I am not an emotional man. Certainly not one given to tears. Yet, as I sat there listening to this talk, I felt like crying. The purest, most beautiful thing I have ever known is the truth as taught to me by Jehovah’s people. The organization has been the bright star in my life; the brotherhood, my refuge. The assurance that we have the truth and enjoy Jehovah’s love and blessing is the rock I cling to in the turbulent sea that is this old world.
This talk threatened to take that away from me.
It has about as much place in a district convention as a boil does on porcelain skin.
[i] Before the 1980s, foreign language magazines were released four to six months after their English language counterparts. District conventions continue to be held from June to December around the world. So back then, the world-wide release of a new Scriptural interpretation was bound to be staggered no matter which medium was used.
[ii] They used the term ‘faithful slave’, but I find it difficult to impute what was said in this talk to the thousands of faithful anointed ones around the globe. Therefore, for clarity, I am ‘substituting ‘governing body’ throughout.