[From ws15/04 p. 22 for June 22-28]

“Trust in him at all times, O people.” – Psalm 62:8

We trust in our friends; but friends, even very good friends, may abandon us in our time of greatest need. This happened to Paul as paragraph 2 of this week’s Watchtower study shows, yet Paul asked that they not be held accountable. This reminds us of the greatest test Jesus faced and how he also experienced the abandonment of his friends. (Mt 26:56)

While friends may leave you, it is far less likely that a loving parent will do the same. That is because it is a different relationship. In fact, we might even have a friend to whom we are so close that we think of him as a brother—or to her as a sister. (Pr 18:24) Even then, we still boost the relationship up another notch when we speak of the special relationship between parents and children. What mother or father would not sacrifice their own life to save that of their child?

Lately the Governing Body has been banging a lot on the “friend” drum. At this year’s convention, they make the point that Jehovah was Jesus’ best friend, using John 15:13 to make their point. Reducing the relationship between Jehovah and Jesus to that of “best buds” is demeaning in this writer’s opinion. Why would they do it, misapplying John 15:13 to try to make it Scriptural? There is an obvious agenda. By blurring the definition of the term they hope to make the “also rans” that comprise the other sheep feel like they are not missing out on anything by not being sons of God.

It is true that friendship is based on love and implies a level of intimacy. A son also loves his father and shares an intimate relationship. However, in imperfect human society, often a son loves his father, but has no intimate relationship with him; or if he does, it differs from that which he has with friends. A father is a father, but friends are chums, pals, compadres.

It is true that Abraham was called God’s friend, but that was at a time when the adoption as sons was unknown, part of the great mystery, the “Sacred Secret”. (James 2:23) Once this secret was revealed, a new relationship with God was made possible—that of a child with a Father. (Ro 16:25)

The scope of this relationship is beyond us to grasp at present. Please carefully consider the following passage revealed by Paul.

“But we speak God’s wisdom in a sacred secret, the hidden wisdom, which God foreordained before the systems of things for our glory. 8 It is this wisdom that none of the rulers of this system of things came to know, for if they had known it, they would not have executed the glorious Lord. 9 But just as it is written: “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” 10 For it is to us God has revealed them through his spirit, for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God.” (1Co 2:7-10)

Prior to Jesus’ arrival, eyes had not seen, nor ears heard, nor hearts conceived what God had in store. Even with his arrival, it was only by means of holy spirit that such things could be searched out. It takes time to search and grasp hold of the deep things of God—to understand what being a child of the true God fully encompasses. Starting off on the wrong foot, believing we are only friends, will not get us there.

However the best the Governing Body can do without destroying their doctrinal infrastructure is to use similes. The Christian Scriptures are short on such things given that the reality had arrived with the Christ, so they again have to dip into the Israelite well.

“Why does Jehovah not give us an immediate response to our every request? Recall that he likens our relationship with him to that of children with a father. (Ps. 103:13)” – Par. 7

Here, the Psalmist uses the father/son relationship as a simile to help the Israelites understand how Jehovah viewed those who obeyed him then. Removing the need for metaphor, Jesus came to establish legal adoption as children of God.

“However, to all who did receive him, he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name.” (Joh 1:12)

The publishers of The Watchtower do not want their readership to have this relationship. Instead, Witnesses are told repeatedly that they are only God’s friends. Still, they continue to trip over this Bible based relationship in their dialogue with phrases like the forgoing and this one from paragraph 8: “Therefore, he does not expect us to endure in our own strength but offers us his fatherly help.”

They would have us continue to view our God as the Israelites did—like a father—instead of how the first Christians did—as their actual Father.

Trusting in Jehovah Implies Obedience

Paragraphs 14 thru 16 deal with our trust in Jehovah when dealing with the trial that results from a family member being disfellowshipped. The illustration on page 27 is heart breaking, depicting a son leaving—or being forced to leave—the family home because he has been disfellowshipped from the congregation. He is to blame for the suffering of his loving parents. Their test is to remain loyal to Jehovah no matter how difficult it may seem. To do this, they must learn to trust in Jehovah. In fact, paragraph 14 suggests that the disfellowshipping of the child may actually benefit them by helping them to build greater trust in God:

“Can you trust that your heavenly Father will give you the fortitude you need to be resolute in abiding by the Bible’s direction about disfellowshipping? Do you see here an opportunity for you to make your relationship with Jehovah stronger by forming a closer bond with him?” – par. 14

This approach—call it the “every cloud has a silver lining” approach—will likely seem insensitive to those whose children are currently cut off from them by the Organization’s disfellowshipping policy.  Nevertheless, the article assures us that this is policy is Bible based.

“From your study of the Bible, you know how disfellowshipped ones are to be treated. (1 Cor. 5:11 and 2 John 10)” – par. 14

The two scriptures just cited read:

“But now I am writing you to stop keeping company with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” (1Co 5:11)

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him.” (2Jo 10)

Obviously, if we are obeying the Bible commands from these two Scriptures, we have reason to trust in Jehovah; reason to believe that he will support us and be there for us. Why? Well, simply put, because any suffering we are experiencing is a direct result of our obedient compliance with his commands. He is righteous. He will not forsake us if we suffer out of loyalty to him.

Ah, but there’s the rub as Hamlet said.[i]

What if we are not being obedient to Jehovah in our treatment of those we flag as disfellowshipped? Can we expect him to help us then? Let us apply the counsel of this week’s study article to two actual case histories to see how we might measure up before God.

Two Real-Life Situations

In line with the illustration on page 27, I would like to relate a couple of situations of which I had firsthand knowledge when I served as an elder. In the first one, a young brother still living at home began to experiment with marijuana. He did this in the company of other Witness friends over a period of a few weeks before they all came to their senses and decided to stop. After a few months, still feeling guilty, he and the others decided to make confession before the elders.[ii] All were privately reproved save this one, who was disfellowshipped. Remember, he came forward voluntarily and had not sinned for months. Years later, two of the three elders on the committee admitted to the father that they had been mistaken in their judgment. The third elder had already passed away.

In the second case, a young sister was having sex with her Witness boyfriend. She was in love with him and planned to marry. However, he unexpectedly dumped her, leaving her feeling cheap and used. Guilt ridden, she went to the elders to confess.  She did not need to as no one else knew of the sin. They disfellowshipped her.

Both these young ones remained in their disfellowshipped state for over a year despite regularly attending meetings.

They both had to write letters repeatedly asking for the “privilege” of reinstatement.

Eventually, they are both reinstated.

This is the reality of Jehovah’s Witnesses as regards disfellowshipping. We are told it is all solidly based on Scripture. If the current article is correct in its assertions, the family members in these two cases could have trusted in Jehovah to help and sustain them as long as they remained resolute in not “keeping company” with their disfellowshipped children.

If we obey God and suffer, we have reason to “trust in Jehovah” to sustain us through a trying time, for he is loyal and will not abandon his faithful ones.

“For Jehovah loves justice, And he will not abandon his loyal ones” (Ps 37:28)

However, if our actions are not just, will Jehovah still support us? If we are obeying men rather than God, will he be there for us? What if we are withholding love from our children by treating them as disfellowshipped when there is no Bible basis for that judgment? We could actually end up forsaking God and in so doing, losing our basis for trusting in his support.

“Anyone who withholds loyal love from his fellow man
Will forsake the fear of the Almighty.”
(Job 6:14)

Failing to forgive a repentant sinner is withholding our love. We are failing to imitate our heavenly Father as depicted in the illustration of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32) We have therefore forsaken our fear of God.

Applying the Article’s Logic

This particular Watchtower article makes no mention of being loyal to the organization’s policies on disfellowshipping. It only points to the Bible as the basis for how we treat a disfellowshipped one. Very well, let’s do that with the aforementioned case histories.

The young man went to the elders after having stopped smoking marijuana for several months. He confessed a sin they would not have known about had he remained silent. The basis for disfellowshipping is (1) a practice of sin combined with (2) a lack of repentance. Not only is this the Biblical basis, but it is also the basis as laid down in the book elders use. (See “Shepherd the Flock of God”, ks10-E, chapter 5 “Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed”.) Would not desisting of sin for a period of several months plus a willingness to make confession indicate repentance? One would have to ask, what else would be required? Did not the fact that even after being disfellowshipped, the young man continued to regularly attend meetings demonstrate a repentant attitude?

Similarly with the young sister, it was exceedingly courageous of her to sit alone before three men and reveal the intimate details of her fornication. She could have kept it hidden, but she did not, nor was she continuing to practice her sin. Yet, she too was disfellowshipped.

We may say that we can’t know all the facts. How can we since the meetings are held in secret despite the wishes of the accused to have moral support? We may say that we have to trust in the wisdom and spirituality of the elders who alone are privy to the facts of the case. Of course we must, since no public record is kept of the proceedings.[iii] We therefore surrender our judgment and our conscience to others—men who have been appointed by the Governing Body to their post. We may feel safe in this position. We may feel it excuses us from personally applying the counsel in 1 Corinthians 5:11. But that is a cop-out, plain and simple. It won’t hold water on Judgment Day, so let us not delude ourselves with the old saw, “I was only following orders.”

Let us again review what the Bible says:

“But now I am writing you to stop keeping company with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” (1Co 5:11)

While not speaking of modern drugs per se, we can accept that the principle of not being a drunkard applies. The young man we spoke of was not “a drunkard”. He had stopped smoking the marijuana months before his case was heard. The adage, “You do the crime, you do the time”, is not found in Scripture. What God cares about is whether or not you have renounced the sin. This, the young brother had done.  So while three men in a secret meeting[iv] that no one was allowed to attend[v] pronounced him disfellowshipped, there is no Bible basis for us to obey such men in this. We are told at 1 Corinthians to make our own determination.

The same situation existed with the young sister. Willing confession, a desisting of the wrongdoing, and yet disfellowshipped. Should the congregation and family members have obeyed men, or God?

What the Article is Really Saying

Jehovah’s Witnesses worship their God within the strict confines of an ecclesiastical authority structure. Those who do not conform to the rules of that structure are dealt with severely by being cut off from family and friends. This is done, allegedly, to protect the congregation from contamination. However, a disciplinary system that depends on secret meetings where no observers are permitted and where no public record is kept is completely incompatible with the law of the Christ, a law based on love. (Gal. 6:2) Such a system is about control. Such a system has been seen frequently throughout history. That is why Western societies have drafted laws to protect the citizenry from the abuse of power. Power corrupts is the time-honored maxim. We acknowledge that we are all sinful. Yet the Governing Body has put in place a system for which there are few, if any, checks and balances. When an injustice has been done, time and again the response by those with the power to set things right has been for the victims to exercise patience and to wait on Jehovah. The reason for this is that they fear a challenge to the authority structure upon which their rule is based. The authority of all levels of the structure is paramount. The needs of the one, or the many, do not outweigh the needs of the few at the top.

A similar system was in place in the first century. A hierarchy that instilled fear in its flock and persecuted any who disagreed. (John 9:22, 23; Acts 8:1) There was nothing that the true followers of Christ could do to fix that system and it was best they did not try in keeping with Jesus’ admonition. (Mt 9:16, 17) For them, it was best to wait on Jehovah to fix things which he did when he brought destruction on the Jewish system of things in 70 C.E. Likewise today, we cannot fix what is wrong in the Organization. All we can do is be true to Jehovah, obey the law of the Christ, act in love but with prudence, and wait for Jehovah to fix things. It would seem history will soon repeat itself.

___________________________________________

[i] From Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “To die—to sleep. To sleep—perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!”

[ii] There is no requirement in Christian law to confess one’s sins to men. James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 are often misapplied to support the idea that we cannot truly get God’s forgiveness without bringing the elders into the equation. We are again imitating the Catholic Church by using this method as a means of controlling the membership to ensure compliance with the directives of the Governing Body.

[iii] In boldface on page 90, the “Shepherd the Flock of God” book states: “Recording devices should not be allowed.” Yet in the civilized world, every word spoken in a court case is recorded and made public for all to review. How else are we to ensure that our rights are not stripped away from us?  The issue of confidentiality does not apply if the accused asks for the proceedings to be made public.

[iv] Not only is this against Israelite law (the supposed precedent for all JW judicial matters) where capital cases were heard openly in the public gates, it is also against the law codes of every civilized nation on earth. The Catholics held secret trials during the dark ages. We have become the very thing we have hated.

[v] The most notorious secret trial in the Bible, in which the accused was denied the support of family and friends is the nighttime Sanhedrin trial of our Lord Jesus. This is the company that Jehovah’s Witnesses keep by following the dictates of their Governing Body. At judicial hearings, elders are instructed that “observers should not be present for moral support.” (ks10-E p. 90, par. 3) Why would you deny your brother moral support?