[This is a continuation to the article, “Doubling Down on Faith”]
Before Jesus came on the scene, the nation of Israel was ruled by a governing body made up of the priests in coalition with other powerful religious groups like the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. This governing body had added to the law code so that Jehovah’s law given through Moses had become a burden on the people. These men loved their wealth, their position of prestige and their power over the people. They viewed Jesus as a threat to all they held dear. They wanted to do away with him, but they had appear righteous in doing so. Therefore, they had to discredit Jesus first. They used various tactics in their attempts to do so, but all failed.
The Sadducees came at him with baffling questions to confuse him only to learn that things which confounded them were child’s play for this spirit directed man. How easily he defeated their best attempts. (Mt 22:23-33; 19:3) The Pharisees, always concerned with issues of authority, tried loaded questions set up in such a way as to trap Jesus no matter how he answered—or so they thought. How effectively he turned the tables on them. (Mt 22:15-22) With each failure these wicked opposers descended into more unscrupulous tactics, such as fault finding, implying they broke with accepted custom, launching personal attacks and slandering his character. (Mt 9:14-18; Mt 9:11-13; 34) All their evil machinations came to naught.
Instead of repenting, they sank still deeper into wickedness. They wished to do away with him but could not with the crowds around, for they saw him as a prophet. They needed a betrayer, someone who could take them to Jesus under cover of darkness so they could arrest him in secret. They found such man in Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles. Once they had Jesus in custody, they held an illegal and secret night court, denying him his legal right to counsel. It was a sham of a trial, full of contradictory testimony and hearsay evidence. In an attempt to keep Jesus off balance, they badgered him with accusatory and probing questions; accused him of being presumptuous; insulted and slapped him. Their attempts to provoke him into self-incrimination also failed. Their desire was to find some legal pretext to do away with him. They needed to appear righteous, so the appearance of legality was crucial. (Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; John 18:12-24)
In all of this, they were fulfilling prophecy:
“. . .“Like a sheep he was brought to the slaughter, and like a lamb that is silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 During his humiliation, justice was taken away from him. . . .” (Ac 8:32, 33 NWT)
Dealing with Persecution the Way Our Lord Did
As Jehovah’s Witnesses we are frequently told to expect persecution. The Bible says that if they persecuted Jesus, then in the same way they would persecute his followers. (John 15:20; 16:2)
Have you ever been persecuted? Have you ever been challenged with loaded questions? Abused verbally? Accused of acting presumptuously? Has your character been sullied by slander and false accusations based on hearsay and gossip? Have men in authority every tried you in a secret session, denying you the support of family and the counsel of friends?
I’m sure that such things have happened to my JW brothers at the hands of men from other Christian denominations as well as by secular authorities, but I can’t name any offhand. However, I can give you numerous examples of such things happening within the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the hands of elders. Jehovah’s Witnesses are happy when they are the ones being persecuted because that means glory and honor. (Mt 5:10-12) However, what does it say about us when we are the ones doing the persecuting?
Let us say you’ve shared some Scriptural truth with a friend—truth that contradicts something the publications teach. Before you know it, there’s a knock on your door and two of the elders are there for a surprise visit; or you may be at the meeting and one of the elders asks if you could step into the library as they wish to chat with you for a few minutes. Either way, you’re caught off guard; made to feel like you’ve done something wrong. You’re on the defensive.
Then they ask you a direct, probing question like, “Do you believe the Governing Body is the faithful and discreet slave?” or “Do you believe Jehovah God is using the Governing Body to feed us?”
All our training as Jehovah’s Witnesses is to use the Bible to reveal truth. At the door, when asked a direct question, we whip out the Bible and show from Scripture what the truth really is. When under pressure, we fall back on training. While the world may not accept the authority of God’s word, we reason that surely those taking the lead among us will. How emotionally traumatic it has been for countless brothers and sisters to realize this is simply not the case.
Our instinct to defend our position from scripture the way we do at the door is ill-advised in this type of situation. We have to train ourselves beforehand to resist this inclination and instead imitate our Lord who used different tactics when dealing with opposers. Jesus forewarned us by saying, “Look! I am sending YOU forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16) These wolves were foretold to appear within the flock of God. Our publications teach us that these wolves exist outside our congregations amidst the false religions of Christendom. Yet Paul corroborates Jesus’ words at Acts 20:29, showing that these men are within the Christian congregation. Peter tells us not to be surprised by this.
“. . .Beloved ones, do not be puzzled at the burning among YOU, which is happening to YOU for a trial, as though a strange thing were befalling YOU. 13 On the contrary, go on rejoicing forasmuch as YOU are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ, that YOU may rejoice and be overjoyed also during the revelation of his glory. 14 If YOU are being reproached for the name of Christ, YOU are happy, because the [spirit] of glory, even the spirit of God, is resting upon YOU.” (1Pe 4:12-14 NWT)
How Jesus Deal with Loaded Questions
A loaded question is not asked to gain greater understanding and wisdom, but rather to ensnare a victim.
Since we are called to be “sharers in the sufferings of the Christ”, we can learn from his example in dealing with the wolves that used such questions to trap him. First, we need to adopt his mental attitude. Jesus did not allow these opposers to make him feel defensive, as if he were the one in the wrong, the one needing to justify his actions. Like him, we should be “innocent as doves”. An innocent person is not aware of any wrongdoing. He cannot be made to feel guilty because he is innocent. Therefore, there is no reason for him to act defensively. He will not play into the hands of opposers by giving a direct answer to their loaded questions. That is where being as “cautious as serpents” comes in.
Here is but one example for our consideration and instruction.
“Now after he went into the temple, the chief priests and the older men of the people came up to him while he was teaching and said: “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?”” (Mt 21:23 NWT)
They believed Jesus was acting presumptuously because they had been appointed by God to rule the nation, so by what authority did this upstart presume to take their place?
Jesus answered with a question.
“I, also, will ask YOU one thing. If YOU tell it to me, I also will tell YOU by what authority I do these things: 25 The baptism by John, from what source was it? From heaven or from men?” (Mt 21:24, 25 NWT)
This question put them in a difficult situation. If they said from heaven, they could not deny Jesus’ authority also came from heaven since his works were greater than John’s. Yet, if they said “from men”, they had the crowd to worry about for they all held John to be a prophet. So they chose to be nonresponsive by answering, “We do not know.”
To which Jesus replied, “Neither am I telling YOU by what authority I do these things.” (Mt. 21:25-27 NWT)
They believed their position of authority granted them the right to ask probing questions of Jesus. It did not. He refused to answer.
Applying the Lesson Jesus Taught
How should you respond if two elders were to pull you aside to ask you a loaded questions like:
- “Do you believe Jehovah is using the Governing Body to direct his people?”
- “Do you accept that the Governing Body is the Faithful Slave?”
- “Do you think you know more than the Governing Body?”
These questions are not asked because the elders are seeking enlightenment. They are loaded and as such are much like a grenade with the pin pulled out. You can fall on it, or you can toss it back to them by asking something like, “Why are you asking me this?”
Perhaps they’ve heard something. Perhaps someone has gossiped about you. Based on the principle of 1 Timothy 5:19,[i] they need two or more witnesses. If they have only hearsay and no witnesses, then they are wrong to even question you. Point out to them that they are breaking a direct command of God’s word. If they persist in asking, you can respond that it would be wrong to enable them in a course of sin by answering questions they have been told by God not to ask, and again refer to 1 Timothy 5:19.
They will likely counter that they just wanted to get your side of the story, or hear your opinion before proceeding. Do not be seduced into giving it. Instead, tell them that your opinion is that they need to follow the direction of the Bible as found at 1 Timothy 5:19. They may very well get upset with you for continuing to go back to that well, but what of it? That means they are getting upset with direction from God.
Avoid Foolish and Ignorant Questionings
We cannot plan a response for every potential question. There are just too many possibilities. What we can do is train ourselves to follow a principle. We can never go wrong by obeying a command of our Lord. The Bible says to avoid “foolish and ignorant questionings, knowing they produce fights”, and promoting the idea that the Governing Body speaks for God is both foolish and ignorant. (2 Tim. 2:23) So if they ask us a loaded question, we do not argue, but ask them for justification.
To provide an example:
Elder: “Do you believe the Governing Body is the faithful and discreet slave?”
You: “Do you?”
Elder: “Of course, but I want to know what you think?”
You: “Why do you believe they are the faithful slave?”
Elder: “So you’re saying you don’t believe it?”
You: “Please don’t put words in my mouth. Why do you believe that the Governing Body is the faithful and discreet slave?”
Elder: “You know as well as I do?”
You: “Why do you deflect my question? Never mind, this discussion is becoming unpleasant and I think we should put an end to it.”
At this point, you stand up and start to leave.
The Abuse of Authority
You may fear that by not answering their questions, they will just go ahead and disfellowship you anyway. That is always a possibility, though they need to provide justification for it or they will look very foolish when the appeal committee reviews the case, since you will have given them no evidence on which to base their decision. Nevertheless, they can still abuse their authority and do as they wish. The only sure way to avoid disfellowshipping is to compromise your integrity and admit that the unscriptural teachings you have a problem with are really true after all. Bending the knee in submission is what these men are really seeking from you.
18th Century Scholar Bishop Benjamin Hoadley said:
“Authority is the greatest and most irreconcilable enemy to truth and argument that this world ever furnished. All the sophistry–all the color of plausibility–the artifice and cunning of the subtlest disputer in the world may be laid open and turned to the advantage of that very truth which they are designed to hide; but against authority there is no defence.”
Fortunately, the ultimate authority lies with Jehovah and those who abuse their authority will one day answer to God for it.
In the meantime, we must not give way to fear.
Silence is Golden
What if the matter escalates? What if a friend betrays you by revealing a confidential discussion. What if the elders imitate the Jewish leaders who arrested Jesus and take you into a secret meeting. Like Jesus, you may find yourself all alone. No one will be allowed to witness the proceedings even if you request it. No friends or family will be allowed to accompany you for support. You will be badgered with questions. Often, hearsay testimony will be taken as evidence. This is a common circumstance and is eerily like what our Lord experienced on his last night.
The Jewish leaders condemned Jesus for blasphemy, though no man has ever been less guilty of that charge. Their modern day counterparts will try to charge you with apostasy. This will be a travesty of law, of course, but they need something to hang their legal hat on.
In such a situation, we should not make their lives easier.
In the same situation, Jesus refused to answer their questions. He gave them nothing. He was following his own counsel.
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, neither throw YOUR pearls before swine, that they may never trample them under their feet and turn around and rip YOU open.” (Mt 7:6 NWT)
It may seem shocking and even insulting to suggest that this scripture could apply to a committee hearing within the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the results of many such encounters between elders and truth-seeking Christians demonstrates this to be an accurate application of these words. He surely had in mind the Pharisees and Sadducees when he gave his disciples this warning. Remember that members of each of those groups were Jews, and therefore fellow servants of Jehovah God.
If we throw our pearls of wisdom before such men, they will not prize them, they will trample upon them, then turn on us. We hear accounts of Christians who try to reason from the Scriptures with a judicial committee, but the committee members will not even open the Bible to follow the reasoning. Jesus gave up his right to silence only at the very end, and this only so that the scripture might be fulfilled, for he had to die for the salvation of mankind. Truly, he was humiliated and justice was taken away from him. (Ac 8:33 NWT)
However, our situation differs somewhat from his. Our continued silence may be our only defense. If they have evidence, let them present it. If not, let us not give it to them on a silver platter. They have twisted God’s law so that disagreement with a teaching of men constitutes apostasy against God. Let this perversion of divine law be on their head.
It may well go against our nature to sit silently while being interrogated and falsely accused; to let the silence reach uncomfortable levels. Nevertheless, we must. Eventually, they will fill the silence and in doing so reveal their true motivation and heart condition. We must remain obedient to our Lord who told us not to throw pearls before swine. “Listen, obey and be blessed.” In these cases, silence is golden. You may reason that they cannot disfellowship a man for apostasy if he speaks the truth, but to men like this, apostasy means contradicting the Governing Body. Remember, these are men who have chosen to ignore plainly stated direction from God’s word and who have chosen to obey men over God. They are like the first century Sanhedrin who acknowledged that a notable sign had occurred through the apostles, but ignored its implications and chose to persecute the children of God instead. (Ac 4:16, 17)
Beware of Disassociation
The elders fear someone who can use the Bible to overturn our false teachings. They view such an individual as a corrupting influence and a threat to their authority. Even if the individuals are not actively associating with the congregation, they are still seen as a threat. So they may drop by “to encourage” and during the discussion ask innocently whether you wish to continue to associate with the congregation. If you say no, you give them the authority to read out a letter of disassociation in the Kingdom hall. This is disfellowshipping by another name.
Years back we risked serious legal repercussions for disfellowshipping individuals who joined the military or voted. So we came up with a slight-of-hand solution we called “disassociation”. Our answer if asked was that we don’t threaten people from exercising their legal right to vote or defend their country by any punitive action such as disfellowshipping. However, if they choose to leave on their own, that is their decision. They have disassociated themselves by their actions, but they were not—absolutely not—disfellowshipped. Of course, we all knew (“nudge, nudge, wink, wink”) that disassociation was exactly the same thing as disfellowshipping.
In the 1980s we began to use the unscriptural designation “disassociated” as a weapon against sincere Christians who were recognizing that God’s word was being misapplied and twisted. There have been cases where individuals wishing to quietly fade away but not lose all contact with family members have moved to another city, not giving their forwarding address to the congregation. These ones have nevertheless been tracked down, visited by the local elders and asked the loaded question, “Do you still wish to associate with the congregation?” By answering no, a letter could then be read out to all congregation members branding them with the official status of “disassociated” and thus they could be treated exactly as disfellowshipped ones.
Each circumstance is different. The needs and goals of each individual are different. What is expressed here is intended only to help each one reflect on the scriptural principles involved and to determine for him or herself how best to apply them. Those of us congregating here have given up following men, and now follow only the Christ. What I have shared are thoughts based on my own personal experience and that of others I know of firsthand. I hope they prove beneficial. But please, do nothing because a man tells you too. Instead, seek out the guidance of the holy spirit, pray and meditate on God’s word, and the way for you to proceed in any endeavor will be made clear.
I look forward to learning from the experience of others as they go through their own trials and tribulations. It may seem odd to say, but all of this is a cause for rejoicing.
“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, 3 knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith produces endurance. 4 But let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything.” (James 1:2-4 NTW)
[i] While this text applies specifically to accusations brought against those taking the lead, the principle cannot be abandoned when dealing with even the least one in the congregation. If anything, the little one is deserving of greater protection in law than the one in authority.