[Watchtower study for the week of September 8, 2014 – w14 7/15 p. 12]

 

“Let everyone calling on the name of Jehovah renounce unrighteousness.” – 2 Tim. 2:19

The study opens by focusing on the fact that few other religions emphasize Jehovah’s name as we do. It states in paragraph 2, “As his Witnesses, we are indeed renowned for calling on Jehovah’s name.” However, simply calling on God’s name is no guarantee of his approval.[1] So as the theme text points out, if we are to call on his name, we must renounce unrighteousness.

“Move Away” from Badness

Under this subtitle, a connection is drawn between Paul’s reference to “a solid foundation of God” and the events surrounding the rebellion of Korah. (See “The Greater Korah” for a deeper discussion of those events.) The key point is that to be saved, the congregation of Israel had to separate itself from the rebels. Note that the Israelites did not put Korah and his cronies away—disfellowshipping them if you will. No, they themselves moved away from the wrongdoers. Jehovah took care of the rest. Likewise today we await a call to “get out of her my people if you do not want to share with her in her sins.” (Re 18:4) Like the Israelites back then, there will come a time when our salvation will depend on our readiness to distance ourselves from the wrongdoers in the Christian congregation who are about to receive divine retribution. (2 Th 1:6-9; Mt 13:40-43)

“Reject Foolish and Ignorant Debates”

We now get to the heart of the study; what all this has been leading up to.

What is a foolish debate or argument?

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, it would be a debate “lacking in good sense or judgement; like or befitting a fool”.

And what is an ignorant debate or argument?

“Ignorant” is defined as “lacking knowledge; not versed in a subject, unaware of a fact.”

Obviously, engaging in a debate with someone who is foolish and ignorant is a waste of time at best, so Paul’s advice is most sound. However, it is not a shotgun to be pointed at any and every discussion with someone who disagrees with us. That would be a misapplication of his counsel, which is precisely what we do in paragraphs 9 and 10. We use Paul’s words to condemn any form of communication with ones we label as apostates. And what is an apostate in our eyes? Any brother or sister who disagrees with any of our official teachings.

We are told to not “engage in debates with apostates, whether in person, by responding to their blogs, or by any other form of communication.” We are told that doing so “would be contrary to the Scriptural direction we just considered”.

Let’s engage our critical thinking for a moment. A foolish argument is by definition one lacking good sense. Does the current teaching of two overlapping generations uniting 1914 and our future into a signal 120-year-long generation make good sense? Would a worldly person consider it logical or foolish to say that Napolean and Churchill were part of the same generation? If not, then is this the type of argument Paul was counseling us to avoid?

An ignorant argument is by definition one “lacking knowledge; not versed in the subject; unaware of a fact.” If you were at the door to discuss the unscriptural teaching of hellfire and the householder said “I can’t talk to you because I don’t engage in foolish and ignorant debates”, would you not think the household himself was ignorant—that is, “lacking knowledge; not versed in the subject; unaware of the facts”? Of course.  Who wouldn’t?  After all, he has not even given you the chance to present your argument before labelling and dismissing it. Only after hearing you could he properly determine whether your argument was foolish and ignorant or logical and factual. To make such a determination because someone has pre-judged you because you are a Jehovah’s Witnesses is the height of ignorance.  Yet that is precisely what the Governing Body is directing us to do. If a brother comes to you to discuss a doctrine he feels is unscriptural, you must label his argument as ignorant and foolish and refuse to listen.

The Irony Most Will Miss

The irony to all this is found in the very same paragraph where we are told, “when exposed to unscriptural teachings, regardless of the source, we must decisively reject them.”

What if the source of the unscriptural teaching is the Governing Body?

We have discussed on this forum that 1914 is unscriptural and in doing so have uncovered numerous facts, both historical and Biblical, which the publications have missed or willingly ignored. So whose argument is lacking knowledge, showing it is not fully versed in the subject and revealing an ignorance of key facts?

The simple truth is, if we are to obey the command to ‘decisively reject unscriptural teachings’, we must first be allowed to discuss them. If we find that the discussion demonstrates a foolish or ignorant argument, then we should follow Paul’s counsel, but we cannot summarily dismiss all discussions that disagree with us, blithely labeling them as ignorant or foolish, and the arguers as apostate. Doing so shows we have something to hide; something to be afraid of. Doing so is the mark of ignorance.

That we have something to fear is indicated by the illustration on page 15 which is linked to paragraph 10, just discussed.

Caption from WT: "Avoid engaging in debates with apostates"

Caption from WT: “Avoid engaging in debates with apostates”

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are truthful words. We see here a group of rough, angry, disheveled people standing in stark contrast with the peaceful, dignified, well-dressed Witnesses who are just minding their own business. The protesters are loud and unkempt. Even their Bibles are shabby looking. They look like they’re raring for a fight. Would you want to engage in a discussion with them? I sure wouldn’t.

This is all carefully orchestrated and well thought out.  At a single stroke, the Governing Body has smeared the character of anyone disagreeing with them. This is a tactic unworthy of a Christian. Yes, there are such ones who make a spectacle of themselves and protest the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but by using this illustration and linking it to thoughts expressed in paragraph 10, we attempt to discredit the sincere brother or sister who simply questions whether some of our teachings are unscriptural. When the questioning of such ones cannot be answered using the Bible, other means—low means—have to be employed. In just one illustration, we have utilized four fallacious argument techniques: The Ad Hominem attack; the Abusive Fallacy; the Moral High Ground Fallacy; and finally, the fallacy of judgmental language—in this case, the language of graphics.[2]

It saddens me so much to see the people I have esteemed so highly for years reduced to employing the very same tactics which have been used against us by other churches.

Jehovah Blesses Our Decisiveness

There is a second irony in this article. We have just been advised to dismiss ignorant arguments. That is, an argument in which the one making the point shows that he is not versed in the subject, or lacks knowledge, or is unaware of the facts. Well, paragraph 17 states that the Israelites that obeyed and “immediately moved away” did so out of loyalty. To quote: “Loyal ones were not about to take any risks. Their obedience was not partial or halfhearted. They took a clear stand for Jehovah and against unrighteousness.”

One has to ask sincerely whether the writer actually read the account he is describing. He seems to lack knowledge and is ignorant of key facts.  Numbers 16:41 continues:

On the very next day, the whole assembly of the Israelites began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, saying: “You two have put Jehovah’s people to death.”  (Nu 16:41)

The account then goes on to describe a scourge brought by God that killed 14,700. Loyalty doesn’t evaporate overnight. What is more likely is that the preceding day the Israelites had moved away out of fear. They knew the hammer was about to fall and they wanted to be far away when it came down. Perhaps the next day, they thought there was safety in numbers. Hard to believe they could be so short-sighted, but this was not the first time they exhibited an appalling degree of foolishness. Whatever the case, imputing righteous motives to them—motives we are called to imitate—is downright silly in this context.  It is, by definition, a foolish and ignorant argument.

The Israelites obeyed Jehovah but for the wrong reason.  Doing the right thing with a bad motive has no long term benefit, as was proven in their case.  Had they truly been motivated by loyalty for God and a desire for righteousness, they would not have rebelled the very next day.

We should move way from apostates, to be sure.  But let them be true apostates.  True apostates stand away from Jehovah and Jesus and reject the wholesome teaching. The wholesome teaching is that which is found in the Bible not in the publications  of any man, including yours truly.  If you cannot prove what you are being taught by using the scriptures, then do no believe it.  Yes, we should fear God, but never should we fear men.  Moreover, the true and correct fear of God cannot be achieved unless there is love for God as well.  Indeed, the correct fear of God is but an aspect of love.

Would you shun a brother because a group of brothers told you to? Would you do so out of fear of what might happen to you if you disobeyed them?  Is fear of man the path to renouncing unrighteousness?

The Israelites of Korah’s time did not have the proper fear of God.  They feared his wrath only.  But they feared man more.  This is an age-old pattern.  (John 9:22)  Fear of man runs counter to “calling on the name of Jehovah”.

An Odd Endorsement

Finally, in paragraphs 18 and 19 we seem to be praising those who have taken an extreme position to reject unrighteousness. One example is of a brother who will not even dance for fear of awakening improper desires. Of course that is a personal choice, but it is presented here as laudable. Yet, Paul wrote to the Corinthians about a similar attitude and while acknowledging that we should respect the individual’s decision, he recognized that it was indicative of a weak conscience, not a strong one. (1 Co 8:7-13)

To get God’s view on this topic, consider what Paul wrote to the Colossians:

“. . .If YOU died together with Christ toward the elementary things of the world, why do YOU, as if living in the world, further subject yourselves to the decrees: 21 “Do not handle, nor taste, nor touch,” 22 respecting things that are all destined to destruction by being used up, in accordance with the commands and teachings of men? 23 Those very things are, indeed, possessed of an appearance of wisdom in a self-imposed form of worship and [mock] humility, a severe treatment of the body; but they are of no value in combating the satisfying of the flesh.” (Col 2:20-23)

Given this counsel, we should be promoting moderation, not extremism. Love of God will make us known to him and will motivate us to reject unrighteousness. (2 Tim 2:19) A self-imposed form of worship and severe treatment of the body are of no value in fighting sinful tendencies.

The Watchtower is hinting at one way to renounce unrighteousness, but Jesus through Paul is telling us of a better way.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [a]Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 NET Bible)

_______________________________________

[1] Ge 4:26; 2 Ki 17:29-33; 18:22; 2 Ch 33:17; Mt 7:21
[2] A true Beroean should be aware of these and other fallacies so as to recognize them and defend against them. For a comprehensive list, see here. We, on the other hand, should never resort to such fallacies, as the truth is all we need to make our point.