There have been quite a few excellent comments made under Apollos’ post, “An Illustration” about the situation many are facing in the congregation as they make their newfound knowledge known to others. An innocent , newly converted Jehovah’s Witness might not think that the free exchange of Bible truth among the brothers could be hazardous, but that turns out to be very much the case.
This brought to mind Jesus’ words in a way I had never thought to apply them before.
(Matthew 10:16, 17) . . .“Look! I am sending YOU forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves. 17 Be on YOUR guard against men; for they will deliver YOU up to local courts, and they will scourge YOU in their synagogues.
The parallel between the persecuting Jewish leaders and the persecuting clergy of Christendom is enticingly obvious. All we have to do is change “local courts” to “Court of the Inquisition” and “synagogues” to “churches” to make the application fit.
But should we stop there? What if we changed “local courts” to “judicial committees” and “synagogues” to “congregations”? Or would that be going too far?
Officially, our publications have limited the application of Jesus’ words at Matthew 10:16,17 to Christendom, which is the name we give to all false Christianity—we being, of course, true Christianity and therefore not in Christendom.[i]
Are we right to exclude ourselves from the application of these words? The apostle Paul did not think so.
“I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among YOU and will not treat the flock with tenderness, 30 and from among YOU yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30)
“From among YOU yourselves men will rise…” The application is clear. Additionally, when applying these word to the Christian congregation, he gave us no time limit. There is no implication that all this would change a hundred years before the end, when a true Christian congregation would spring into existence completely free from ‘oppressive wolves speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves’.
Both from this site and within our personal sphere of knowledge, we are aware of congregation after congregation where sheep-like Christians are being treated harshly by those acting either in the modern-day capacity of wolves, or if not then acting in ignorance based on a misdirected zeal and faith in men.
As we have come to learn Bible truths that had been hidden from us for many years, we are anxious to share them with family and friends. However, just like the Jewish Christians in the first century, it has resulted in persecution and even being expelled from the synagogue (congregation).
Jesus said that we were being sent forth as sheep among wolves. Sheep are harmless creatures. They are incapable of tearing the flesh from their victims. That is how wolves act. Knowing this, Jesus gave us some valuable counsel. By telling us that we should be as innocent as doves, he was not speaking about the quality of innocence which should be the status quo for all Christians. He was being specific to the topic of sheep dwelling among wolves. A dove is never seen as a threat. A dove is nothing to be worried about. The wolves will attack those who they see as a threat to their authority. So within the congregation we must appear innocent and non-threatening.
At the same time, Jesus told us to proceed cautiously like a serpent. Any illustration employing a serpent to a modern Western mentality is going to have to deal with negative connotations, but we have to put those aside to understand what Jesus was saying. Jesus was using the metaphor of a serpent to show how his disciples would have to act when there were such wolfish men about. A serpent has to sneak up on its prey cautiously, always wary of other predators, as well as wary not to spook the prey. Christians have been likened to fisherman. The fish they catch are their prey. However, in this case the prey benefits from being caught. Likewise by comparing the situation of a Christian as a sheep among wolves proceeding cautiously like a serpent, Jesus was doing a good job of mixing metaphors. Like the fisherman, we are seeking to catch prey for the Christ. Like the serpent, we are operating in a hostile environment, so we have to proceed with great caution feeling our way so as not to fall into a trap. There are those who will respond to the new truths we have found. They will perceive the pearls of truth we share as items of great value. On the other hand, if I may continue in a mixed metaphor vein, if we are not cautious we may actually be giving our pearls to swine, who will step all over them and then turn on us and tear us to bits.
It would shock many a Jehovah’s Witness to think that Jesus’s words about being “on your guard against such men” could actually apply within the Organization today. However, the facts speak for themselves—and do so over and over again.
[i] Christendom conjures up the idea of a kingdom ruled by men. A monarchy, meaning “ruled by one.” For some churches, there is truly one man ruling. In others, it is a committee of men, but they are seen as an individual, a single voice when acting as that committee or synod. Historically, Christendom is the domain or rule of men in the name of Christ. Christianity, on the other hand, is the way of the Christ, which puts him as head over every man. Therefore, Christianity makes no allowance for humans to rule other humans and exercise headship over them. We were once this way, long before we were known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.