Par. 7 – “In giving direction to fellow believers, elders provide encouragement and counsel based either on the Scriptures themselves or on Scriptural principles.” What is the difference between counsel based on the “Scriptures themselves” and “Scriptural principles”? All Scriptural principles are found in the Scriptures. Is there another source for Scriptural principles? Of course not. So why use the word, “themselves”? Because the principles being referred to come not only from the “Scriptures themselves”, but from non-Scriptural sources. Anyone who has served as an elder knows that principles and guidelines and even out-and-out rules come from the Governing Body through our publications, correspondence and traveling overseers. These are all supposedly based on laws and principles found in Scripture. However, in many instances they are based on the interpretation of men. To give but one quick example, in January of 1972 such a “Scriptural principle” was applied to the Lord’s people prohibiting a woman to divorce a husband who was a practicing homosexual, or who engaged in bestiality. (w72 1/1 p. 31)
Par. 8 – “Further, before being appointed, they demonstrated that they had a clear understanding of the Scriptures and that they were qualified to teach what is healthful.” I wish that this idyllic statement were true. Having sat in countless elders meetings, I can attest that in many instances the elders often do not use the Bible during elders meetings to arrive at decisions. In a good body, there will be one or two who are adept at using the Bible aright, and who will bring the Scriptures into the discussion to help the rest reason on a principle. However, the most frequent influence determining the direction taken on an issue is the force of personality of one or two members of the body. Often, the elders are not even aware of the principles in our own publications, such as the Shepherd the Flock of God book. Thus, it is not just Bible principles that are frequently overlooked, but the Organization’s own guidelines and rules. In my lifetime, I have served in many places in this country as well as outside of the United States, and I’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder with some really fine spiritual men, but I can attest that the idea that all elders—or that even the majority of elders—have “a clear understanding of the Scriptures” is at best wishful thinking.
Par. 9, 10 – “Through his organization, Jehovah provides an abundance of spiritual food…” I really wish this were true. I wish I could go to the meetings and delve into the “deep things of God”. I wish that our 30-minute Congregation Bible Study was a true study of the Scriptures. The recent change to the Draw Close to Jehovah book is a vast improvement over our previous study of the organization, but still, we do not get deep into things. Instead, we rehash what has been taught countless times before. We use the excuse that these are reminders that we need to hear repeatedly. I used to buy that excuse, but no more. I’ve seen what can be accomplished and I wish all my brothers could experience the freedom I’ve enjoyed these past months on this forum. The exchange of encouragement and shared Bible research has helped me to learn more Scriptural truths than I’ve gotten from the past several decades of regular meeting attendance.
Jehovah provides an abundance of spiritual food, Yes. But its source is his inspired Word, not the publications of any organization or religion. Let’s give credit where credit is due.
Par. 11 – “Such individuals may reason: ‘They are imperfect humans just like us. Why should we listen to their counsel?’ Truth be told, we shouldn’t. We should listen to God’s counsel as expressed through the elders. If the counsel we get is not in accord with the Bible, then we shouldn’t listen to it. Whether the elder is a shining example of Christian spirituality or a man who is an utter reprobate should make no difference. Jehovah used wicked Caiaphas to speak an inspired warning not because he was worthy, but because of his appointed office as high priest. (John 11:49) So we can ignore the messenger but apply the message; assuming it comes from God.
Par. 12, 13 – These paragraphs, like the rest of the study, are full of fine principles. However, there is a disconnect in the application of these principles to the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. True, David and many other “overseers” of Jehovah’s people had serious flaws. However, when those flaws were pointed out to them by those under their care, these men—who had the power of life and death—listened humbly. David was in a murderous rage but listened to the voice of a woman and so was saved from sin. He was not concerned that perhaps this made him look weak before his men. He did not view this as an attack on his authority; as a presumptuous or rebellious act on her part, or as a sign of disrespect. (1 Sam. 25:1-35) How often is that the case today? Could you approach any of your elders to give them counsel when you have seen them going astray? Would you do so completely without any fear of reprisal? If so, you have a wonderful body of elders and should cherish them.
Par. 14, 15 – “Obedience to those who today are taking the lead among us is vital.” The use of the word “vital” here, based on the context, fits with this definition from the Shorter Oxford Dictionary: “Essential to the existence of something; absolutely indispensable or necessary; extremely important, crucial.” Based on the last week’s article, as well as what is said here concerning Moses, obedience to the elders is or will be a matter of life and death.
If this is what Jehovah intended all along, one must wonder why he inspired Paul to write Hebrews 13:17—the only scripture that discusses obedience to those taking the lead—the way he did. There is a Greek word, peitharcheó, which means “obey” just as its English counterpart. You’ll find it at Acts 5:29. Then there is a related Greek word, peithó, which means “urge, be persuaded, have confidence”. That’s the word we incorrectly translate as “obey” in Hebrews 13:17. (For a fuller discussion, see To Obey or Not to Obey—That Is the Question.)
We have often used Moses as a counterpart to the Governing Body. Those who rebelled against Moses or who murmured against him are likened to those who question the absolute authority of the present-day Governing Body. There is indeed a Scriptural counterpart to Moses: Jesus Christ, the Greater Moses. He is the head of the congregation. Moses did give vital—read, life-saving—direction to the Israelites as the paragraph explains. However, the 10th plague referred to in the paragraph came after nine others. Nine reasons to know and believe that God was speaking through Moses. He was a great prophet. He never prophesied falsely. It is a presumptuous affront to all that he represents to compare the leadership of our Organization from 1919 onward to him. We have an unbroken string of failed and failing prophecies. We have none of the credentials of Moses. It is true, as the paragraph states, that Jehovah has always spoken to his people through the mouth of some man, some prophet. Never through the mouth of a committee of prophets however. Always an individual. And there is no Bible account of any prophet proclaiming himself to be a prophet before the fact. No true prophet has ever come forward and said, “I do not now speak under inspiration and Jehovah has never spoken to me, but sometime in the future, Jehovah will and you had better listen to me then, or you will die.”
Still, these words in The Watchtower may well inspire fear in the minds of many of the faithful. “If he doesn’t speak through the Governing Body then who will he speak through?”, some will reason. Let us not presume to know what Jehovah intends to do because we can’t see an alternative. However, if you need some form of reassurance, consider this historical incident from the early Christian congregation:
“But while we were remaining quite a number of days, a certain prophet named Ag′a·bus came down from Ju·de′a, 11 and he came to us and took up the girdle of Paul, bound his own feet and hands and said: “Thus says the holy spirit, ‘The man to whom this girdle belongs the Jews will bind in this manner in Jerusalem and deliver into the hands of people of the nations.’” (Acts 21:10, 11)
Agabus was no Governing Body member, but he was known as a prophet. Jesus did not use Paul to reveal this prophecy, even though Paul was a Bible writer and (according to our teaching) a member of the first century governing body. So why did Jesus use Agabus? Because that’s the way he does things, just as his Father did throughout Israelite times. If Agabus had proclaimed prophecies that failed to come true—as we have done repeatedly in our history—do you suppose Jesus would have used him? In that case, how could the brothers have known that this time wouldn’t be a repeat of his past failures? No, he was known to be a prophet for good reason—he was a true prophet. Hence, they believed him.
“But Jehovah doesn’t raise up prophets today like he did back then”, some will counter.
Who is to know what Jehovah will do. For centuries prior to the time of Christ, no prophet is recorded as being used. Jehovah has raised up prophets when it suits him to do so, and one thing is consistent: Whenever he raises up a prophet, he invests him or her with undeniable credentials.
Paragraph 15 says, “Very likely, you can think of numerous other occasions in Bible history when Jehovah provided life-saving instructions through human or angelic representatives. In all these cases, God saw fit to delegate authority. Messengers spoke in his name, and they told his people what they needed to do in order to survive a crisis. Can we not imagine that Jehovah might do something similar at Armageddon? Naturally, any elders today who are delegated the responsibility of representing Jehovah or his organization….”
How subtly we slip in our teaching, bypassing reason. Jehovah didn’t delegate authority. The prophet was a messenger, one who carried a message, not one in authority. Even when the angels were used as his mouthpiece, they gave instructions, but did not assume command. Otherwise, there would have been no test of faith.
Perhaps Jehovah will again use angelic representatives. It is the angels, not any organization of men, who are going to gather the wheat from the weeds. (Mat. 13:41) Or perhaps he will use men such as those taking the lead among us. However, following the perfect pattern of inspired words, he will first invest such men with unmistakable credentials of his divine backing. If he chooses to do that, then following the age-old pattern, the men will convey Jehovah’s word to us but will not have any special authority over us. They will urge and persuade us to act (peithó) but it will be up to each one of us to follow that urging; to have confidence in their persuasion; and so to make our own choice as an act of faith.
Frankly, this whole direction we’re taking worries me deeply. There have been many cult leaders who have risen up and mislead many, causing great harm, even death. It is easy to dismiss such concerns as unrealistic paranoia. We may feel we are above such things. After all, this is Jehovah’s organization. Yet, we have the prophetic word of our Lord Jesus to dwell on.
“Then if anyone says to YOU, ‘Look! Here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones.” (Matthew 24:23, 24)
If and when there is some impractical, non-strategic direction from God coming through the Governing Body, let us remember the above words and apply John’s counsel:
“Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
Whatever we are told to do must conform to God’s word in every way. Jesus, the Great Shepherd, will not leave his flock wandering blindly. If the “inspired direction” goes against what we already know to be true, then we must not doubt nor let fear cloud our judgment. In such a case, we must remember that it is ‘with presumptuousness that the prophet speaks. We must not get frightened at him.’ (Deuteronomy 18:22)