[A Review of the August 15, 2014 Watchtower article,
”Hear Jehovah’s Voice Wherever You Are”]
“13 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut up the Kingdom of the heavens before men; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in.
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you travel over sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him a subject for Ge·hen′na twice as much so as yourselves.” (Mt 23:13-15)
“27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Mt 23:27, 28)[i]
A hypocrite pretends to be one thing while masking his true self. The scribes and Pharisees pretended to provide the way to God’s Kingdom, yet they really blocked access to it. They demonstrated zeal in proselytizing, yet they only made their converts twice as likely to end up in Gehenna. They gave the appearance of upstanding, spiritual, godly men, but they were dead inside.
How we love to look down on them as Jehovah’s Witnesses. How we love to draw parallels between them and the leadership of the other religions of Christendom.
The scribes and Pharisees said: “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have shared with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Jesus used this to condemn them saying, “Therefore, you are testifying against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Well, then, fill up the measure of your forefathers.” He then called them, “Serpents, offspring of vipers”. – Mt. 23:30-33
Are we, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, guilty of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees? Have we fooled ourselves into thinking that we would not have treated Jesus the way they did? If so, then let us remember the principle by which he condemned the goats to death at Mt. 25:45.
“Truly I say to YOU, To the extent that YOU did not do it to one of these least ones, YOU did not do it to me.”
If withholding good from one of the least of Jesus’ brothers results in “everlasting cutting-off”, what hope is there for those who actually do bad toward them?
Has the leadership of our Organization from the Governing Body on down to the level of the local elders begun to persecute sincere Christians for calling attention to false doctrines being repeatedly taught in the congregations?
These are all sobering questions with life-and-death answers. Perhaps a review of this week’s Watchtower study article will help us to find the answers.
Hear Jehovah’s Voice Wherever You Are
The article introduces the idea of two voices.
“Since it is practically impossible to listen to two voices simultaneously, we need to ‘know the voice’ of Jesus and listen to him. He is the one whom Jehovah appointed over His sheep.” – par. 6
“Satan tries to influence the thinking of people by providing false information and deceptive propaganda….In addition to printed material, the globe—including remote parts of the earth—is blanketed with broadcasts via radio, TV, and the Internet.” – par. 4
How can we tell whether the voice we hear through the printed page or TV or the internet is Jehovah’s or Satan’s?
How can we tell who’s speaking to us?
The article answers:
“God’s written Word contains essential guidance that enables us to distinguish truthful information from deceptive propaganda….“Essential to distinguishing right from wrong is listening to Jehovah’s voice and shutting out the incessant din of satanic propaganda.” – par. 5
There’s a problem here if we’re not very careful. You see, both the Pharisees and the Apostles used God’s written Word. Even Satan quoted from the Bible. So how are we do know if the men speaking to us and teaching us are using God’s voice or Satan’s?
Simple, we go to the source. We cut the men out of the equation and go to the source, God’s written Word. True disciples of Jesus will encourage us to do this.
“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thes·sa·lo·ni′ca, for they accepted the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Ac 17:11)
“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.” (1Jo 4:1)
“However, even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond the good news we declared to you, let him be accursed.” (Ga 1:8)
By contrast, pretenders—hypocrites—will act like the Pharisees did. They believed their teachings were above reproach. Because of their self-assumed status as God’s chosen ones, they believed the average Joe had no right to question their teachings. They would say, “Do you think you know more than the Governing Body?” (For they were the governing body of that time.)
“47 In turn the Pharisees answered: “You have not been misled also, have you? 48 Not one of the rulers or of the Pharisees has put faith in him, has he? 49 But this crowd who do not know the Law are accursed people.”” (Joh 7:47-49)
Recognizing the Hypocrisy of the Pharisee
The article says:
“In effect, Jesus also conveys Jehovah’s voice to us as he directs the congregation through “the faithful and discreet slave.” [the 7-member Governing Body]” – par. 2
“We need to take this guidance and direction seriously, for our everlasting life depends on our obedience.” – par. 2
This may be true. On the other hand, it may be a lie.
Since not just our life, but our everlasting life, hangs in the balance, it is absolutely vital that we know which it is.
In the great card game of life, with the pot holding life eternal, the Pharisees would have us believe they have the winning hand. Do they or are they bluffing? Fortunately, they have a tell.
If challenged, they do not discuss amiably and reasonably, using the Scriptures to “discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) Instead, they cajole, insult, intimidate, demean, threaten, and lash out.
For example, Stephen proved from God’s Word that they were just like their forefathers who killed the prophets. How did they answer this charge? By reasoning from the Scriptures to show Stephen he was mistaken? No. They answered by proving his point. They stoned him to death. (Acts 7:1-60)
Do we act like them or like the Apostles?
In this very issue, the “Questions from Readers” uses sound Scriptural reasoning to prove that our previous understanding of Luke 20:34-36 was wrong all along. For fifty years many sincere Bible students knew it was wrong based on this same Scriptural reasoning, but they remained silent. Why? Because they knew that if they were to show up the error of the previous interpretation publicly, they would have been stoned—err, disfellowshipped.
This is a truth that cannot be denied and that is lately being borne out by the cases of many sincere Christian Witnesses who are disproving some core teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses using only the Scriptures. Like those who stoned Stephen, the elders do not counter with scriptural reasoning of their own. Instead, they simply expel the “troublesome” one from the congregation.
These elders do not come by this attitude out of thin air. The idea has been carefully implanted. An oft-repeated phrase at the circuit overseer level when referring to branch letters is: “They instruct us. We don’t instruct them.”
When the man Jesus cured of blindness was before the leaders of the synagogue, he said, “If this [man] were not from God, he could do nothing at all.” Their response was akin to our modern-day idea that “They instruct us. We do not instruct them.”
“In answer they said to him: “You were altogether born in sins, and yet are you teaching us?” And they threw him out!” (John 9:34)
They disfellowshipped him, since this was what they had decreed they would do to any who confessed Jesus. (John 9:22) They could not rule by reason, nor by love, so they ruled by fear.
Today, if it becomes known that we disagree with a teaching of the Governing Body, even if our idea can be backed up from Scripture and even if we do not promote it openly, we can be “expelled from the synagogue” of the modern congregation—simply for believing it.
Given these parallels and given that the Pharisees were labelled as “Hypocrites” and “Serpents” and “Offspring of Vipers” by Jesus himself, how do you feel we fare as an Organization?
A Passive-Aggressive Policy
Paragraph 16 states:
“Although Jehovah makes his counsel freely available, he does not force anyone to follow it.”
This is true of Jehovah. The Governing Body claims to be His voice; His “appointed channel of communication”. As such, they also claim not to force anyone to follow their [God’s] counsel. (See “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Former Members of Their Religion” on jw.org and this review of that statement.)
Is it true that we do not force people to remain members of our religion?
No one simply leaves the Mafia. There would be serious repercussions to one’s self and one’s family. Likewise, a Muslim living in most Muslim communities cannot leave his faith without risking immediate retaliation, even death.
While not engaging in physical violence to force members to stay, we do use other effective techniques. Since we exercise control over a member’s valuable things in the form of family and social relationships, we can cut him off from everyone he loves. Therefore, it is safer to stay and conform.
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses do not see the true passive-aggressive nature of this approach. They do not see that sincere Christians are being quietly threatened for non-compliance and treated like apostates for simply withdrawing.
Hypocrisy is feigning one thing while doing another. We feign tolerance and understanding, but the reality is that we deal with anyone who simply wishes to resign from the congregation worse than a total stranger or even a known criminal.
Back to the Rebellious Korah Well
Under the subtitle “Overcoming Pride and Greed”, we have this to say about pride.
“Because of pride, the rebels made independent arrangements to worship Jehovah.” – par. 11
Even though we studied about Korah, Dathan, and Abiram only a few weeks ago, we are again returning to that well. It seems the Organization is demonstrably worried because more and more sincere Christian Witnesses are starting to listen to the real voice of God as expressed in the Scriptures.
Yes, wicked Korah and associates made arrangements independent of Jehovah. Yes, they wanted the nation’s worship of Jehovah to go through them, not Moses. However, who does Moses represent today? Both our publications and the Bible show Jesus is the greater Moses. (it-1 p. 498 par. 4; Heb 12:22-24; Ac 3:19-23)
So who today fills Korah’s shoes in trying to get people to worship God through them? Worship means to submit to a higher authority. We submit to Jesus and through him to Jehovah. Is someone today claiming to be included in that chain of command? In Israel, there was only Moses and God. God spoke through Moses. Now there is Jesus and God. God speaks through Jesus. Is someone trying to displace Jesus?
Consider as exhibit A this snippet from paragraph 10:
“A proud person has an exaggerated opinion of himself….So he may feel that he is above the direction and counsel of fellow Christians, the elders, or even God’s organization.”
The chain of command stops with the organization, i.e., the Governing Body. Jesus is not even mentioned in passing.
When sincere Christians try to point out errors in our teachings by quoting directly from Jesus’ words, they are dealt with harshly and often disfellowshipped. Time and again the evidence shows that the words of the Governing Body supplant those of Christ the King.
In the first century, the hypocritical scribes, Pharisees and Jewish leaders persecuted Christians by labelling them apostates. There is growing evidence that we are following in their footsteps.
The Hypocrisy of Greed
Still under the subtitle “Overcoming Pride and Greed”, we come to paragraph 13.
“Greed may start small, but if it is not curbed, it can grow rapidly and overcome a person.”…”Let us therefore ‘guard against every sort of greed.’ (Luke 12:15)”
One definition of greed is wanting more than one’s fair share of something. It is often money, but it can also be prominence, praise, authority, or power. The Pharisees’ hypocrisy was evident in that, while pretending to be caring Godly men who only wished to do Jehovah’s will, their greed kept them from making even the slightest real effort to help others.
“. . .They bind up heavy loads and put them on the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Mt 23:4)
What does any of this have to do with our Organization?
Picture yourself at the head of the multibillion-dollar corporation which is the modern Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. You have just told your eight million followers that based on Mt. 24:34 there’s only about 10 (max. 15) years left in this system. You’ve told them the work is life-saving. That if they hold back from preaching, they could incur blood-guilt. You make constant reminders about the need to simplify, to downscale, to sell the big house, give up on the big career and higher education, and get out and preach.
“When I say to someone wicked, ‘You will positively die,’ and you do not actually warn him and speak in order to warn the wicked one from his wicked way to preserve him alive, he being wicked, in his error he will die, but his blood I shall ask back from your own hand.” (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 33:7-9) Jehovah’s anointed servants and the “great crowd” of their companions bear a similar responsibility today. Our witness should be thorough.“ (w86 9/1 p. 27 par. 20 Godly Respect for Blood)
How could you give a thorough witness? There are hundreds of millions living in restricted access high-rise buildings around the globe. You encourage pioneers to preach by mail, but at current postal rates, even one large building would cost a pioneer over a thousand a month in postage. Direct mail would be far, far cheaper. Millions who would never otherwise hear the good news can now be reached by TV and radio ads as well as magazine, newspaper and internet advertising.
Where will the funds come from?
While asking all others to simplify, you still live in a resort-like country manor. You own properties (Kingdom halls, branch offices, and training facilities) worth tens of billions—more than enough to fund the worldwide advertising of the Good News right to your predicted end of the system. To avoid the appearance of hypocrisy and since you’re always teaching that the preaching work is the most important thing there is, you now propose to sell it all. Sure, the brothers will have to leave their cosy, often opulent, Kingdom halls, but it’s only for a few years. We used to rent modest halls back in the 50’s and 60’s, didn’t we? Yet we grew well during that time. Why not save even more and meet in private homes like we did in the early days and in the first century? Even better.
Surely, Bethel families would likewise welcome this simplification and downsizing to more modest living quarters.
Thus, no one could accuse you of hypocrisy and greed were you do all this. And think of the witness that could be given if all those billions were put into advertising rather than luxurious buildings and acres of manicured lawns. Truly, we could “Advertise! Advertise! Advertise! The King and his Kingdom”.
Certainly that would leave no room for the accusation of hypocrite. Additionally, when Jesus comes we could say that we did everything we could to make his name known. No one could charge us with greedily holding on to material things nor privilege nor prominence. If Jesus is indeed coming in the next decade or so, we wouldn’t want him to look at us and say:
“27 “Woe to YOU, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because YOU resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness. 28 In that way YOU also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside YOU are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Mt 23:27, 28)
Of course, there’s still that thing about persecuting Jesus’ brothers to contend with. But one thing at a time.
[i] All the “Woe to you” condemnations of the Scribes and Pharisees that include the label “Hypocrites!” are found only in the gospel of Matthew. One can’t help but wonder if Matthew having been despised and reviled by these men because he was a tax collector didn’t feel a special revulsion for their hypocrisy once it had been revealed to him by Jesus. What a role-reversal he must have experienced!