There has been an interesting series of events recently which, taken separately, might not mean much, but which collectively are pointing to a disturbing trend.
Last service year’s circuit assembly program contained a part with a demonstration in which an elder helped a brother who was having trouble understanding our most recent teaching regarding “this generation”. – Mt 24:34. The thrust of it was that if we don’t understand something we should just accept it as fact because it comes through “Jehovah’s appointed channel”.
There followed a reinforcement of this idea in the April 15, 2012 Watchtower in the article “Betrayal an Ominous Sign of the Times”. On page 10, paragraphs 10 and 11 of that article, the point was made that doubting some point made by the “faithful steward” would be equivalent to doubting what Jesus teaches.
A few months later at the district convention of the year, in a Friday afternoon part entitled “Avoid Testing Jehovah in Your Heart”, we were told that even thinking that a teaching from the faithful slave was wrong would be tantamount to putting Jehovah to the test.
Now comes this service year’s circuit assembly program with a part entitled “Keep This Mental Attitude—Oneness of Mind”. Using 1 Cor. 1:10, the speaker stated that ‘we cannot harbor ideas contrary to God’s word or to those found in our publications’. This astonishing statement is putting what we publish on a par with the inspired word of God. Just in case you’re thinking that these may have been only the speaker’s words, I checked with the circuit overseer and he confirmed that the wording comes from the printed outline from the Governing Body. Are we seriously prepared to equate what we teach in our publications with the inspired word of God? Remarkably, it would seem so.
In the half century or so that I have been part of Jehovah’s people, I’ve never seen a trend like this. Is this in response to the growing discontent of many due to the failure of past predictions? Does the Governing Body feel their assumed authority to interpret God’s word on our behalf is under siege? Is there a groundswell of brothers and sisters who are quietly expressing disbelief and are no longer willing to blindly accept what is being taught? One might come to this conclusion considering that the most recent aforementioned circuit assembly part calls for an interview with an actual “longtime elder who in the past found a certain Bible explanation (or direction from the organization) difficult to understand or accept.” [Taken from the outline instructions to the speaker]
Think about what that means. The average circuit contains 20 to 22 congregations. Let’s assume an average of 8 elders per congregation, though that would be high in many countries. That gives us somewhere between 160 to 170 elders. Of those, how many would be considered long-time elders? Let’s be generous and say a third. So in making this assignment, they must believe that a significant percentage of these brothers are having serious doubts about some of our official scriptural interpretations. How many of these “doubting Thomases” would be willing to get up on the circuit assembly platform and express their doubts? An even smaller number, to be sure. So the Governing Body must feel that the number of such ones is high enough to allow each circuit to find at least one candidate. However, to go through this process they must also feel that a very significant number of brothers and sisters in each circuit are reasoning in this manner.
Now it should be noted that Thomas doubted when he shouldn’t have. Yet, Jesus still provided him with proof. He did not rebuke the man for having his doubts. He did not demand of Thomas that he believe simply because Jesus said so. That is how Jesus dealt with doubt—he kindly provided additional proof.
If what you are teaching is based on solid fact; if what you are teaching can be proven from Scripture; then you do not need to be heavy-handed. You can simply prove to any dissenter the rightness of your cause by giving a scripturally-based defense. (1 Pet. 3:15) If, on the other hand, you cannot prove what you are asking others to believe, you have to use other methods to obtain compliance—unchristian methods.
The Governing Body is coming out with teachings for which no scriptural foundation is provided (the latest understandings of Mt. 24:34 and Mt. 24:45-47 are but two examples) and which actually seem to contradict Scripture; yet, we are being told to believe unconditionally. We are told that non-acceptance would be tantamount to doubting the inspired word of God. Essentially, we are told that if we do not believe, we are sinning; for a person who doubts is worse than one without faith. (1 Tim. 5:8)
What is even more bizarre about this situation is that it is contradicted by the very publications we are told to believe as if they were God’s Word. Take, as an example, this excellent article in the November 1, 2012 issue of the Watchtower entitled “Is Religious Faith an Emotional Crutch?” While making many sound and well-reasoned points, it is clear the article is directed toward those in false religion. The presumption of most Jehovah’s Witnesses would be that we are already practicing what the article teaches which is why we are in the truth. But let’s try to consider these points with an unbiased and open mind, shall we? Let’s see if they might just apply to us every bit as much as they do to someone in false religion.
“An emotional crutch is a form of self-deception that causes a person to ignore reality and prevents him from reasoning logically.” (Par. 1)
Certainly we would not want to be supporting ourselves on an emotional crutch that would cause us to ignore reality and prevent us from reasoning logically. Therefore, if we reason on a new teaching from the Governing Body and find that it makes no sense logically, what should we do according to this article. Obviously, accepting it anyway would be to ignore reality. Yet, isn’t that precisely what we have been told to do?
“Some equate faith with gullibility. They say that people who resort to faith do not want to think for themselves or allow hard evidence to influence their beliefs. Such skeptics imply that those with strong religious faith ignore reality.” (Par. 2)
We are not gullible, are we? We are not the sort that ‘do not want to think for ourselves’, nor will we ignore “hard evidence” that might influence our beliefs. This reasoning is based on God’s Word, and the Governing Body is using this article to teach us this truth. Yet, at the same time, they teach us that independent thinking is a bad trait. Independent from what or whom? Jehovah? Then we couldn’t agree more. However, based on the recent developments listed above, it would appear that thinking independently of the Governing Body is what they have in mind.
“The Bible has much to say about faith. Yet nowhere does it encourage us to be gullible or naive. Nor does it condone mental laziness. On the contrary, it labels people who put faith in every word they hear as inexperienced, even foolish. (Proverbs 14:15,18) Really, how foolish it would be for us to accept an idea as true without checking the facts! That would be like covering our eyes and trying to cross a busy street just because someone tells us to do it.” (Par. 3)
This is excellent counsel. It should be, of course. It is counsel taken from God’s Word. Yet, the source that is instructing us here to not “put faith in every word” is also telling us elsewhere that we must not doubt any word sounded down from the Governing Body through our publications. They instruct us here, from God’s Word, that the “inexperienced and foolish” put faith in every word they hear, yet they also demand of us to believe everything they say even if we cannot find evidence for it. In fact, as we’ve demonstrated time and again in this forum, the evidence often contradicts what we are teaching, yet we are to ignore that reality and just believe.
“Rather than encouraging blind faith, the Bible urges us to keep our figurative eyes open so that we are not deceived. (Matthew 16:6) We keep our eyes open by using our “power of reason.” (Romans 12:1) The Bible trains us to reason on evidence and reach sound conclusions that are based on facts.” (Par. 4)
Let’s repeat that last sentence: “The Bible trains us to reason on evidence and reach sound conclusions that are based on facts.” It trains us! Not a group of individuals who in turn tell us what to believe. The Bible trains us. Jehovah requires us individually to reason on the evidence and reach sound conclusions based, not on what others demand of us to believe, but on the facts.
“In a letter to Christians living in the city of Thessalonica, Paul encouraged them to be selective in what they believed. He wanted them to “make sure of all things.”—1 Thessalonians 5:21.” (Par. 5)
Paul encouraged Christians to be selective, but were he on earth today, would not this instruction run afoul of our organization’s doctrine that does not permit us to select which teachings we will not accept? True, we must believe all that the Bible teaches. There is no argument about that. However, the interpretation of men is another matter. The Bible command is to “make sure of all things”. That direction is given to each and every Christian, not just to those who would lead us. How does each one of us “make sure”? What is the standard or measuring stick that you must use? It is God’s Word and only God’s Word. We use Jehovah’s Word to make sure that what is taught in the publications is true. There is no provision in the Bible that would permit us to accept a teaching of men unconditionally.
Given what we have been taught in this article, it is incongruous—to say the least—that we should still require unconditional belief in the teachings of the Governing Body. In an organization that prizes truth so highly that we actually use it as a designation, this dichotomy is baffling. One can only assume that we get around the contradiction by imagining in our minds that the teachings of the Governing Body are, in some way, an exception to the rule. If Jehovah tells us to do something, even if we don’t understand it; even if it seems contradictory or unscientific at first glance (as the injunction against blood seemed at first) we do it unconditionally, because Jehovah cannot be wrong.
By equating the instruction from the Governing Body with that from God Almighty, we have permitted them the status of “exception-to-the-rule”.
But how can the Governing Body, made up of imperfect humans, and with a dreadful track record of failed interpretations, take up such a seemingly presumptuous position? The reason, it appears, is that they have assumed the mantle of Jehovah’s appointed channel of communication. Jehovah, it is believed, does not communicate directly with his people, nor does he simply use Jesus Christ to do so, but rather, a group of men are in that chain of communication. Is this a biblical teaching? It is best to leave that for another post. Suffice it to say that we have clearly established here from Scripture as well as from our own publications that we are under obligation to God to reason for ourselves, make sure of all things, refuse to blindly believe every word no matter how esteemed the imperfect human source may be, review the evidence, consider the facts, and reach our own conclusions. The Bible counsels us against putting faith in humans and their words. We must only put faith in Jehovah God.
Now it is up to each of us to obey God as ruler rather than men. (Acts 5:29)