There have been a number of encouraging comments in the wake of our announcement that we’ll soon be moving to a new self-hosted site for Beroean Pickets. Once launched, and with your support, we hope to have a Spanish version as well, followed by a Portuguese one. We also hope, again with community support, to have multilingual “Good News” sites which will focus on the message of the Good News of Salvation, the Kingdom, and the Christ, without any connection to existing religious denominations, JWs or otherwise.
Quite understandably, a change of this nature can create some genuine apprehension. Some have voiced concern that we do not become yet another religion under yet another form of human rule—another ecclesiastical hierarchy. Typical of this thought is a comment made by StoneDragon2K.
Avoiding Historical Repetition
It has been said that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We who back this forum are of a single mind. We find the idea of following in the pattern of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses—or that of any similar ecclesiastical body—thoroughly abhorrent. Having seen where this leads, we want no part of it. Disobedience to Christ results in death. The words which will continue to guide us as we progress in understanding of God’s Word are these:
“But YOU, do not YOU be called Rabbi, for one is YOUR teacher, whereas all YOU are brothers. 9 Moreover, do not call anyone YOUR father on earth, for one is YOUR Father, the heavenly One. 10 Neither be called ‘leaders,’ for YOUR Leader is one, the Christ. 11 But the greatest one among YOU must be YOUR minister. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23:8-12)
Yes indeed! We are all brothers! Only one is our leader; only one, our teacher. This does not mean a Christian cannot teach, for how else can he explain the good news of the Christ? But in imitation of Jesus, he will strive to never teach of his own originality. (More on this in Part 2.)
The above reminder was just one of many our Lord imparted to his disciples, though this one in particular required a lot of repetition. It seemed they were constantly arguing over who would be first, even at the Last Supper. (Luke 22:24) Their concern was for their own place.
While we may promise to stay free of this attitude, these are just words. Promises can, and often are, broken. Is there any way we can guarantee this won’t happen? Is there any means by which we can all protect ourselves from “wolves in sheep’s clothing”? (Mt 7:15)
Indeed there is!
The Leaven of the Pharisees
Seeing his disciples’ desire for prominence, Jesus gave them this warning:
“Jesus said to them: “Keep your eyes open and watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”” (Mt 16:6)
Whenever the publications I’ve studied all my life touched on this Scripture, it was always to focus on the meaning of leaven. Leaven is a bacteria which is applied to many things, such as bread dough. It only takes a little bit to spread into the entire mass. The bacteria multiply and feed, and as a by-product of their activity, produce gas which causes the mass of dough to rise. Baking kills the bacteria and we’re left with the type of bread we enjoy so much. (I love a good French Baguette.)
The ability of leaven to permeate a substance in a quiet, unseen manner serves as an apt metaphor for both positive and negative spiritual processes. It was in a negative sense that Jesus used it to refer to the quietly corrupting influence of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Verse 12 of Matthew 16 shows that the leaven was “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” However, there were many false teachings in the world at that time. Teachings from Pagan sources, teachings of educated philosophers, even teachings of libertines. (1Co 15:32) What made the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees particularly relevant and dangerous was its source. It came from the religious leaders of the nation, men considered holy and who were esteemed.
Once those men were removed from the scene, as happened when the Jewish nation was destroyed, do you think their leaven ceased to exist?
Leaven is self-propagating. It can lie dormant until put in contact with a food source and then it begins to grow and spread. Jesus was about to depart and leave the welfare of the congregation in the hands of his apostles and disciples. They would do works even greater than Jesus did, which could lead to feelings of pride and self-worth. (John 14:12) What corrupted the religious leaders of the Jewish nation could also corrupt those taking the lead in the Christian congregation if they failed to obey Jesus and humble themselves. (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5,6)
How could the sheep protect themselves?
John Gives Us a Way to Protect Ourselves
It is worthy of note that John’s second letter contains some of the last words ever written under divine inspiration. As the last living apostle, he knew he would soon be leaving the congregation in the hands of others. How to protect it once he’d departed?
He wrote the following:
“Everyone who pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. The one who does remain in this teaching is the one who has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. 11 For the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.” (2Jo 9-11)
We must view this in the context of the times and culture in which it was written. John is not suggesting that a Christian is not allowed to even say a “Hello!” or “Good Morning” to someone who does not bring the teaching of the Christ with him. Jesus dialogued with Satan, certainly the foremost apostate. (Mt 4:1-10) But Jesus did not fellowship with Satan. A greeting in those days was more than a simple “Hello” in passing. By warning Christians not to receive such a man into their homes, he is speaking of befriending and socializing with someone who brings a contrary teaching.
The question then becomes, What teaching? This is critical, because John isn’t telling us to break off friendship with everyone who simply doesn’t agree with us. The teaching he refers to is “the teaching of the Christ.”
Again, the context will help us understand his meaning. He wrote:
“The older man to the chosen lady and to her children, whom I truly love, and not only I but also all those who have come to know the truth, 2 because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever. 3 There will be with us undeserved kindness, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, with truth and love.”
“4 I rejoice very much because I have found some of your children walking in the truth, just as we received commandment from the Father. 5 So now I request you, lady, that we love one another. (I am writing you, not a new commandment, but one that we had from the beginning.) 6 And this is what love means, that we go on walking according to his commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should go on walking in it.” (2 John 1-6)
John speaks of love and truth. These are intertwined. He also refers to these as the things “heard from the beginning”. There is nothing new here.
Now Jesus didn’t load us down with a lot of new commandments to replace the old ones of the Mosaic Law. He taught that the law could be summed up by two pre-existing commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself, and love Jehovah with your whole being. (Mt 22:37-40) To these he added a new commandment.
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also love one another.” (Joh 13:34)
Therefore, we can safely conclude that when John speaks in verse 9 of those who do not remain in the teaching of Christ, he speaks of the teaching of love with truth that was imparted from God through Jesus to his disciples.
It follows as night does day that the corrupting leaven of human leaders would cause a Christian to depart from the divine teaching of love and truth. Since man always dominates man to his injury, a religion in which men rule others cannot be loving. If we are not filled with God’s love, then the truth also cannot be in us, for God is love and only through love can we come to know God, the source of all truth. (1 John 4:8; Ro 3:4)
How can we love God if we misrepresent him with false teachings? Will God love us in that case? Will he give us his spirit if we teach lies? The spirit of God produces truth in us. (John 4:24) Without that spirit, a different spirit from a wicked source enters in and produces fruits of falsehood. (Mt 12:43-45)
When Christians are corrupted by the leaven of the Pharisees—the leaven of human leadership—they do not remain in the teaching of the Christ which is love and truth. Unimaginable horror can result. If you think I speak in hyperbole, just remember that the 30-years war, the 100-years war, the World Wars, the Holocaust, the near-elimination of the South, Central, and North American indigenous populations – were all horrors perpetrated by God-fearing Christians dutifully obeying their leaders.
Now a Jehovah’s Witness will surely object to being lumped in with blood-stained Christendom. It is both true and laudable that Witnesses have a solid record of remaining neutral as respects the wars and conflicts of the nations. And if that were all that was required to be free of the leaven of the Pharisees, there would be cause for boasting. However, the effects of this contamination can manifest in ways far worse than that of wholesale slaughter. As surprising as that may seem, consider that those who are cast into the deep, wide sea with a millstone around their neck are not those who kill by the sword, but those who stumble the little ones. (Mt 18:6) If we take a man’s life, Jehovah can resurrect him, but if we steal his soul, what hope is left? (Mt 23:15)
They Did Not Remain in the Teaching of the Christ
In speaking of “the teaching of the Christ”, John spoke about the commandments they had received from the beginning. He added nothing new. In fact, the new revelations from Christ transmitted through John were by then already part of the inspired record. (Scholars believe the book of Revelation preceded the writing of John’s letter by two years.)
Centuries later, men pushed ahead and did not remain in the original teaching by promoting ideas that sprang from the leaven of the Pharisees—that is, the false teachings of a religious hierarchy. Ideas like the Trinity, Hellfire, the immortality of the human soul, predestination, Christ’s invisible presence in 1874, then 1914, and the denial of spirit adoption as sons of God are all new ideas originating from men acting as leaders in place of Christ. None of these teachings can be found in “the teaching of the Christ” which John referred to. They all sprang up afterwards from men speaking of their own originality for their own glory.
“If anyone desires to do His will, he will know concerning the teaching whether it is from God or I speak of my own originality. 18 He that speaks of his own originality is seeking his own glory; but he that seeks the glory of him that sent him, this one is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” (Joh 7:17, 18)
Those who gave birth to and nurtured these false doctrines through time have a verifiable historical record of unrighteous acts. Therefore, their teachings are revealed as glory-seeking falsehoods. (Mt 7:16) They have not remained in the teaching of the Christ, but have pushed ahead.
Protecting Ourselves from the Leaven of Human Leadership
If I may borrow from a famous recurring line in a well-known Spaghetti Western, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those that obey God and those that obey men.” From the days of Adam, human history is defined by these two choices.
As we are on the cusp of expanding our ministry with new multilingual sites, the question arises: “How do we keep from becoming just another Christian denomination run by men?” Whatever his virtues and his flaws, C.T. Russell had no intention of allowing one man to take over the Watchtower Society. He made provision in his will for an executive committee of 7 to run things, and J. F. Rutherford was not named to that committee. Yet only months after his death and despite the legal provisions of his will, Rutherford took the helm and eventually dissolved the 7-man executive committee and after that, the 5-man editorial committee, appointing himself as “generalissimo”.
So the question should not be what guarantees that we won’t, like so many others, follow the same downward spiral to human rulership. The question should be: What are you prepared to do should we, or others that follow, take that course? Jesus’ warning of the leaven and John’s direction on how to deal with those corrupted by it were both given to individual Christians, not some church leadership committee or governing body. The individual Christian must act for him or herself.
Maintaining a Spirit of Christian Freedom
Many of us on these sites come from a stringent background of religious dogma which did not allow us to openly question instructions and teachings from our leaders. For us, these sites are an oasis of Christian freedom; places to come and associate with others of like mind; to learn about our Father and our Lord; to deepen our love for both God and men. We don’t want to lose what we have. The question is, how to keep that from happening? The answer is not simple. There are many facets to it. Freedom is a beautiful, yet fragile, thing. It needs to be handled delicately and handled with wisdom. A heavy handed approach, even one intended to protect the freedom we cherish, could end up destroying it.
We will discuss ways in which we can guard and grow what we have planted here in our next post. I look forward, as always, to your comments and reflections.
A Brief Word on the Progress of the New Site
I had hoped to have the site ready by now, but as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” (Or just mice, if you’re a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) The learning curve for the WordPress theme I’ve chosen to enhance the site’s capabilities is a little bigger than I thought. But the key problem is simply a lack of time. Nevertheless, it is still my top priority, so I’ll continue to keep you informed.
Again, thanks for your support and encouragement.