[This article was contributed by Apollos]

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

In the following article a reference is made to one of the new 2012 releases. If you have not yet attended your 2012 District Convention and you do not wish to know anything about the releases then please abandon ship now.

Perfect obedience to God always results in the best outcome for us. Ultimately our obedience to God will determine whether he grants us the gift of eternal life. Therefore if another human claims to be God’s spokesman, and further to that makes the statement that obedience to God is demonstrated by obedience to him, it is obviously a vital matter that we determine the veracity of the claim.

The possibility of such an arrangement existing is certainly established in scripture. Moses was a human mediator, and the Israelites demonstrated their obedience to Jehovah by doing what Moses instructed them, even though he was an imperfect human. For Christians the greater Moses is Jesus who has no imperfection and becomes the mediator of a better covenant. The question is whether there is a further link in this chain – a human mediary between God, Christ and the members of the Christian congregation.

In the first century congregation there were mature Christians who were appointed to take the spiritual lead. The qualifications and responsibilities for these ones is clearly laid out in scripture. Neither back then, nor today, do they act as God’s spokesmen, but rather they shepherd the flock of God to the best of their abilities based upon the mandate laid out in scripture.

In the first century there were also travelling overseers and missionaries. The Apostle Paul is the most obvious example of one who served as both. He also served as a spokesman for God. He received new information under inspiration and communicated this through his letters, and presumably also in person. The same is true of all the Christian Bible writers, and perhaps others during the time period. Therefore there is a precedent within the Christian arrangement for humans to act as spokesman for God. However, there are two important points to note about this arrangement:

  1. They are not recorded as claiming to be a sole channel, either as individuals or as groups of individuals.
  2. They were directly inspired of God in their capacity as spokesmen. This meant there was no possibility of error pertaining to those specific matters on which they made clear that they had heard from God.

Today we are required to believe that God is communicating with the Christian congregation though an appointed human channel. Here is an example of how this doctrine is expressed in our literature:

*** w67 10/1 p. 590 par. 19 Finding Freedom with Jehovah’s Visible Organization ***

19 Evidences are now conclusive that Jesus Christ was enthroned in heaven in 1914 C.E. and that he accompanied Jehovah to his temple in 1918 C.E., when judgment began with the house of God. (1 Pet. 4:17) After cleansing those belonging to this house who were alive on earth, Jehovah poured out his spirit upon them and assigned them the responsibility of serving as his sole visible channel, through whom alone spiritual instruction was to come. Those who recognize Jehovah’s visible theocratic organization, therefore, must recognize and accept this appointment of the “faithful and discreet slave” and be submissive to it.

It would be possible to cite a large body of quotations here to expand on the point, but most readers of this article will accept that this is acknowledged among Jehovah’s people as a fundamental and important doctrine. It is not uncommon to hear the term “instruction from Jehovah” used interchangeably with “instruction from the faithful and discreet slave” by anyone at any level within the organization, so it is evident that the doctrine is accepted and deeply entrenched.

As stated at the outset there is a lot riding on the truth of this doctrine, and therefore it must surely be a matter that can be clearly argued from scripture if we are to rest our faith on it.

Our new brochure “Who Are Doing Jehovah’s Will Today?” is the most up to date explanation that we have of how our current organizational structure finds its basis in scripture. Therefore it would be reasonable to conclude that we would find the most accurate and concise treatment of this matter therein.

The relevant sections are 19 and 20 – “Who Is the Faithful and Discreet Slave Class?” and “How Does the Governing Body Function Today?”. The identification of the Faithful and Discreet Slave class has been discussed extensively under Meleti’s earlier article, and in the current context is really a moot point since in the capacity as God’s channel and spokesman only the members of the governing body have any opportunity to fulfill that role.

Section 20 opens with the line, “In the first century, a small group, ‘the apostles and older men in Jerusalem,’ served as a governing body to make important decisions on behalf of the entire anointed Christian congregation”. If that statement is accurate then we have a good basis for our current belief system. We are even shown a picture of the first century governing body apparently in private session, and the number of individuals presented approximates to the modern day group.

The section invites us to “Find Out More” by reading Acts 15:1-35. At this point I would invite you to do the same. Don’t just skim through with a preconceived account in mind as I confess I have been inclined to do in the past, but build up a complete picture of the context and the scenes involved.

Have you read the passage? Let’s take it from the top.

Acts 15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers

This entire controversy is initiated by incorrect teachings of men who came from Judea – the very seat of the apostles and older men who will be later spoken of. It is true that the account does not say what the authority of these men might have been, but they must have been perceived to have a least a little clout, otherwise Paul and Barnabus could have simply dismissed these men as either non-Christians or weak Christians. It would be like saying that some brothers came from Brooklyn during our CO visit and the message they brought clashed with the views of the CO so that a dispute occurred. It seems unlikely that the CO would give it much time unless they had a measure of authority from the brothers in Brooklyn in the first place.

Acts 15:2 But when there had occurred no little dissension and disputing by Paul and Barnabas with them, they arranged for Paul and Bar?na·bas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.

If we try to impose the current structure on this scenario it would be like sending a delegation to meet with the governing body to debate a certain doctrine. Could you imagine such a thing? A recent study article warned us against even harbouring a different thought in our minds and waiting for change, but rather working hard to change our own thoughts to conform to any understanding given.

Next let’s analyse the central point. Was this as stated a “small group”, serving “as a governing body to make important decisions on behalf of the entire anointed Christian congregation”? At what point did this small group meet to make such a decision? On arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabus address the entire congregation in addition to the apostles and the older men (v4). Verse 6 does seems to provide a mini-break where is says “And the apostles and the older men gathered together to see about this affair “. On the face of it we might imagine a smaller governing body retiring to consider the evidence, except for the fact that partway through Peter’s speech we are told:

Acts 15:12 At that the entire multitude became silent, and they began to listen to Bar?na·bas and Paul relate the many signs and portents that God did through them among the nations.

The entire multitude? Where does that leave our artist’s illustration of eight men in a private meeting. Other translations render it:

  • The whole assembly … (NIV)
  • All the people … (New American Standard Bible)
  • The whole crowd … (International Standard Version)
  • And all the crowds … (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

And it’s pretty easy to see why the translations uniformly give us the picture of a large number of people when we find that the Greek word used here is plethos from which we obtain the word plethora.

Strong’s provides this definition:

1)      a multitude

  1. a great number, of men or things
  2. the whole number, the whole multitude, the assemblage

2)      the multitude of the people

We must therefore ask where the idea comes from that a precedent was set that “a small group” would act to make decisions in private, since this is the only account cited, and indeed the only account available. The passage actually describes a large assembly resolving a dispute that threatened to divide the naissant congregation. Nothing indicates that authority became highly centralized and that the congregations would be dependent on a small group of men acting as a channel of communication. If such an arrangement did exist then why is it absent from God’s Word?

One area in particular we might expect to find mention of the “governing body” would be pertaining to prayer. Today we are encouraged to pray for the governing body, not just for them as brothers, but in that particular capacity as God’s channel. The “Jehovah’s Will” brochure includes such a request for prayers, and without question it makes sense that we should pray for any agent who acts as God’s communication channel to us. Again, if such an arrangement existed in the first century, would we not expect to see at least once a scriptural injunction to pray for that governing entity? Paul’s letters often make request for prayer on behalf of himself and others, but never for a centralized body in Jerusalem.

The term “governing body” is not found in scripture, so it seems that we need to build a more solid case as to the concept of such an entity as we currently interpret it. We are very quick to point out that the term “trinity” does not appear in scripture and yet proponents of this influential doctrine will be equally quick to argue that the underlying concepts are found in scripture. It is by showing how the doctrine does not fully harmonize with those concepts that the trinity is exposed as wanting. Here we are in danger of presenting our concept of the “governing body” based on a single passage that can very simply be shown to fall short of the picture we paint.

The question is, can we find a pattern for our modern day structure in first-century Christianity? Is it necessary / important to do so? Does it matter that the scriptural account on which we currently base our doctrine is not accurately portrayed either in words or pictures? If there was no first century governing body in the sense that we define it, would that preclude such an entity being used as a sole channel today, or can other argumentation be found to support it?

Your comments are welcome.

(Please note that the point of this article is not to challenge any God given authority, but rather to find better support from scripture for such authority where it exists.)