[This is a review of highlights from this week’s Watchtower study (w13 12/15 p.11). Please feel free to share your own insights using the Comments feature of the Beroean Pickets Forum.]
Rather than a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the article as we have done in the past, I would like to consider this article thematically. The focus of the article is on the sacrifices that we make as Christians. As the basis for this, it draws parallels with the sacrifices Jews made in ancient Israel. (See paragraphs 4 through 6.)
These days, I find a little alarm bell goes off in my brain anytime an article purporting to teach us something about Christianity is based on the Jewish system of things. I wonder why we are going yet again to the tutor when the master teacher has already arrived? Let us do a little analysis of our own. Open up the Watchtower Library program and enter “sacrific*” into the search box—without the quotation marks, of course. The asterisk will allow you to find “sacrifice, sacrifices, sacrificing, and sacrificial”. If you discount appendix references, you get 50 occurrences of the word in the entirety of the Christian Greek Scriptures. If you discount the book of Hebrews in which Paul spends a lot of time discussing the Jewish system of things so as to illustrate the superiority of the sacrifice that Jesus made, you end up with 27 occurrences. However, in this single Watchtower article alone the word sacrifice occurs 40 times.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are urged over and over again to make sacrifices. Is this really a valid exhortation? Is the emphasis we put on this in keeping with the message of the good news of the Christ? Let’s look at this another way. The book of Matthew uses the word “sacrifice” only twice and yet it has 10 times the word count of this single article that uses it 40 times. I do not think it is outrageous to suggest that we are overemphasizing the Christian need to make sacrifices.
Since you have already got the Watchtower Library program open, why not scan through every occurrence in the Christian Greek Scriptures of the word. For your convenience I have extracted those which do not have to do with references to the Jewish system of things nor to the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf. The following are sacrifices that Christians make.
(Romans 12:1, 2) . . .Therefore, I appeal to you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason. 2 And stop being molded by this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, so that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
The context of Romans indicates that we are the sacrifice. Like Jesus who gave his all, even to his human life, we likewise surrender ourselves to the will of our Father. We are not here speaking about the sacrifice of things, our time and money, but of our very selves.
(Philippians 4:18) . . .However, I have everything I need and even more. I am fully supplied, now that I have received from E·paph·ro·di′tus what you sent, a sweet fragrance, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
Apparently a gift was made to Paul through Epaphroditus; a sweet smelling, acceptable sacrifice, something pleasing to God. Whether it was a material contribution, or something else, we cannot say with certainty. So a gift made to someone in need can be considered a sacrifice.
(Hebrews 13:15) . . .Through him let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that make public declaration to his name. .
This scripture is often used to support the idea that our field ministry is a sacrifice. But that is not what is being addressed here. There are two ways of looking at any sacrifice to God. One is that it is a means to praise God as indicated here in Hebrews; the other, that it is a legal or necessary requirement. One is given joyfully and willingly while the other is given because one is expected to do so. Are both of equal value to God? A Pharisee would answer, Yes; for they considered that righteousness could be achieved through works. Nevertheless, this “sacrifice of praise… the fruit of our lips” is made ‘through Jesus’. If we are to imitate him, we can hardly imagine obtaining sanctification by means of works, for he did not do this.
In fact, Paul continues by saying, “Moreover, do not forget to do good and to share what you have with others, for God is well-pleased with such sacrifices.”[i] Christ never forgot to do what was good and whatever he had he shared with others. He encouraged others to give to the poor.[ii]
It is therefore obvious that a Christian who shares of his time and wealth with others in need is making a sacrifice that is acceptable to God. However, the focus in the Christian Greek Scriptures is not on the sacrifice itself as if by works one can buy one’s way to salvation. Rather, the focus is on motivation, heart condition; specifically, love of God and neighbor.
A superficial read of the article might suggest to the reader that this is the very same message being expounded in this week’s study.
However, consider the opening remarks of paragraph 2:
“Certain sacrifices are fundamental for all true Christians and are essential to our cultivating and maintaining a good relationship with Jehovah. Such sacrifices include devoting personal time and energy to prayer, Bible reading, family worship, meeting attendance, and the field ministry.”
I was hoping to find something in the Christian Scriptures that associated prayer, Bible reading, meeting attendance, or our worship of God with sacrifice. To me, considering prayer or Bible reading as a sacrifice because of the time we devote to it would be like considering sitting down to a fine meal as a sacrifice because of the time it takes for us to eat it. God has given me a gift by the opportunity I have of speaking directly to him. He has given me a gift of his wisdom as expressed in the holy Scriptures by which I can live a better, more fruitful life and even attain to everlasting life. What is the message I am imparting to my heavenly father with regard to these gifts if I consider their use to be a sacrifice?
I’m sorry to say that this overemphasis on sacrifice as presented in our magazines often serves to create feelings of guilt and worthlessness. As the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did, we continue to bind heavy burdens on the disciples, burdens we are often not willing to carry ourselves.[iii]
The Crux of the Article
It will be evident to even a casual reader that the thrust of this article is to promote the sacrifice of our time and money toward disaster relief efforts and the building of Kingdom Halls. Being against either of these two pursuits is like being against puppy dogs and little children.
The first century Christians did engage in disaster relief as paragraphs 15 and 16 point out. As to the building of Kingdom Halls there is no record in the Bible. However, one thing is for sure: Whatever monies were used to construct or provide places of meeting, and whatever funds were donated for disaster relief, they were not channeled through and controlled by some centralized authority in Jerusalem or elsewhere.
When I was a child we met at the Legion Hall, which we rented on a monthly basis for our meetings. I remember that when we first started building Kingdom Halls, some thought it was an outrageous waste of time and money given that the end was going to come at any time. In the 70s when I served in Latin America, there were very few Kingdom Halls. Most congregations met in the homes of some well-to-do brothers who rented out or donated the use of the first floor.
Back in those days, if you wanted to build a Kingdom Hall you got the brothers of the congregation together, gathered what funds you could, then started to work. It was very much a labor of love run at the local level. Toward the end of the 20th century all that changed. The Governing Body instituted the Regional Building Committee arrangement. The idea was to have skilled brothers in the building trades oversee the work and take the pressure off the local congregation. In time the whole process became very institutionalized. It is no longer possible for a congregation to go it alone. It is now a requirement to build or renovate a kingdom Hall through the RBC. The RBC will take charge of the entire affair, schedule it according to their own timetable, and control the funds. In fact, the congregation that tries to go it alone, even if they have the skill set and the funds, will get into trouble with head office.
Around the turn-of-the-century a similar process came into effect with regard to disaster relief. This is now all controlled through a central organizational structure. I’m not being critical of this process nor am I promoting it. These are simply the facts as I understand them.
If you donate your time as a skilled professional in the building of Kingdom Halls or the repair of structures damaged by some disaster, you are in effect donating money. The result of your efforts is a tangible asset which will continue to grow in value as the real estate market inflates.
If you contribute your money to a worldly charity, you have every right to know how the money is being used; to ensure that your funds are being put to the best use.
If we follow the money that is donated either directly or through contributed labor to relief efforts or the building of Kingdom Halls, where does it end up? With regard to Kingdom Halls, the obvious answer is, in the hands of the local congregation since they own the Kingdom Hall. I had always believed this to be the case. However, recent events have surfaced in the media leading me to question the validity of this assumption. I am therefore asking for some insight from our readership as to what really is the case. Let me paint a scenario: Say a congregation owns a Kingdom Hall that through the rise of real estate values is now worth $2 million. (Many Kingdom Halls in the North America are worth far more than this.) Let us say that some bright minds in the congregation realize that they can sell the Kingdom Hall, use half of the money to alleviate the suffering of several destitute families in the congregation and contribute to local charities or even open one themselves so as to provide for the poor in the spirit of Jesus’ disciples.[iv] The other half of the money would be put into a bank account where it could earn 5% a year. The resulting $50,000 would be used to pay the rental on a place of meeting much as we did back in the 50s. Some have suggested that if anything like this were to be attempted, the body of elders would be removed and the congregation dissolved, whereby the publishers would be dispatched to neighboring Kingdom Halls. Then, the branch would appoint the local RBC to sell the property. Does anyone know of a situation where something like this has happened? Something that would prove who really owns the property and Kingdom Hall of any and all congregations?
Along similar lines, and again in the vein of making sure our money is being used wisely, one has to wonder how disaster relief works when the properties we are repairing our insured or are in line to receive federal disaster relief funds, as was the case in New Orleans. Brothers donate materials. Brothers donate money. Brothers donate their labor and skills. Who does the insurance money go to? To whom does the federal government send the funds earmarked for disaster relief? If anyone can give a definitive answer to this question, we would very much like to know.