[This article was contributed by Apollos]
*** w07 4/1 p. 30 par. 16 Humbly Submitting to Loving Shepherds ***
16 At times, an elder may not do things as directed by the faithful slave class and its Governing Body. If he continues acting this way, he will have to render an account to Jehovah, “the shepherd and overseer of [our] souls.” (1 Peter 2:25) But any failure or mistakes on the part of certain elders would not justify an insubordinate attitude on our part. Jehovah does not bless disobedience and rebellion.—Numbers 12:1, 2, 9-11.
The implication of the above article seems to be that we are required to follow direction from appointed authority in the organization even if that direction is flawed. I have personally heard this same line used by particular elders in order to show that our obedience should be unquestioning. It is not up to us to decide whether or not the direction given is right or wrong from God’s standpoint. If it is wrong then Jehovah will correct it eventually, but in the meantime our only obligation is to be obedient to those who have been given authority.
Note how the article subtly implies that the direction from the GB is infallible, since an elder can only be at fault if he is not doing things as directed by them. But I will leave this aside for now since it is not my primary point. We can certainly conclude that unquestioning obedience to the GB is taken for granted if the rest is to be true.
The scriptural account cited is that of Miriam and Aaron speaking out against Moses. It’s not a terribly good example since Moses wasn’t doing anything wrong in this particular case. The offenders just decided to challenge his divinely appointed authority for purely selfish reasons. Therefore this does not at all demonstrate the point that we should follow orders even if they are wrong.
Let’s examine a more pertinent account.
(1 Samuel 22:17, 18) With that the king said to the runners stationed about him: “Turn and put to death the priests of Jehovah, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was a runaway and they did not disclose it to my ear!” And the servants of the king did not want to thrust out their hand to assault the priests of Jehovah. 18 Finally the king said to Do?eg: “You turn and assault the priests!” Immediately Do?eg the E?dom·ite turned and himself assaulted the priests and put to death on that day eighty-five men bearing an eph?od of linen.
Saul was the anointed of Jehovah. David respected his authority even after he had lost Jehovah’s favour, and right up to his death. Did that make it correct for Doeg to follow Saul’s orders? Did the refusal of the runners to do so make them disobedient from Jehovah’s standpoint?
There is evidently a huge difference between 1) respecting authority and 2) following the direction of authority when it is out of step with God’s principles or laws. It is clear that Doeg could not have claimed that what he did was morally right because the direction came from God’s anointed. He as an individual had free moral will, just as the runners did who rightly refused to carry out Saul’s instructions.
In 1961 the Milgram experiment demonstrated the shocking human capacity to obey authority even in situations where the instructions given were known to be morally wrong. As imperfect humans we seem to be wired to absolve ourselves of personal responsibility if we can self-justify by claiming we were only following orders. The experiment helped us understand how the atrocities of Nazi Germany could occur in a “civilized” society.
Meleti wrote a very interesting article examining the true meaning of obedience in Hebrews 13:17. Nowhere in scripture do we find any justification for doing the wrong thing based upon instructions given by perceived authority. Rather “each one will carry his own load.” (Gal 6:5)
Respect for our fellow Christians is always appropriate. Also, insofar as some “take the lead” by setting a good example, we do well to “contemplate how their conduct turns out [and] imitate their faith”. (Heb 13:7) However we will ultimately each “stand before the judgment seat of God” and “render an account” (Rom 14:10-12). Therefore we do well to “make sure of all things” in order to individually “hold fast to what is fine” (1 Thes 5:18). We should never accept this idea that we can simply say we were just following direction if we have reason to believe that the direction is not in accord with Christian precepts.