[From ws15/07 p. 7 for Aug. 30- Sep. 6]
Every once in a while something is published that is so over-the-top it makes you want to laugh.
One of the brothers from Canada sent me a copy of a letter sent out to congregations local to the Canada branch office. Apparently, the Canada Bethel is renovating its residences—again. Workers are needed and this letter, dated July 23, 2015, is asking brothers living within a 20-minute drive of the branch to provide lodging all week and food on the weekends for volunteer workers. It is also asking for tradespeople to come forward and donate their time and skills. Imagine, if you will, sitting in the Kingdom Hall when the opening words of this letter were read out from the platform:
“There are no words to fully express the explosion of feelings that erupted from my heart. My eyes fluttered up, my throat painfully choked as if I had a dozen apples stuck, and I couldn’t believe what a beautiful, awesome, fulfilling, happy, joyful, productive, life-changing day I had!”
Fluttering eyes, erupting hearts, and a throat painfully choked with 12 apples. Quick, call 911!
I’m sure the effect was to inspire, and it did – laughter!
Upon reading this week’s Watchtower, I could not help but recall this letter, for the Watchtower article itself is also, in many places, so very over-the-top.
Paragraph 1 instructs us that the earth is God’s footstool. This, you may be surprised to learn, has meaning for the Other Sheep. Paragraph 2 then introduces another symbolic representation for “footstool”.
“Besides referring to the earth, the term “footstool” is also employed figuratively in the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the ancient temple used by the Israelites. (1 Chron. 28:2; Ps 132:7) Located on the earth, the temple served as the center of true worship”
So “footstool” also represents the ancient temple of the Israelites which, just in case this isn’t clear to the reader, was “located on the earth.” Isn’t it nice that they clear that up for us? Perhaps there is a community of JWs out there who think it was in geosynchronous orbit over Jerusalem.
So by the time you reach paragraph 3, you the reader clearly understand that “footstool” is used figuratively in the Bible to represent both the earth and the ancient Israelite temple, which coincidentally is also located on the earth. Now here is where this is all going. Paragraph 3 next tells us that nowadays God has another temple, a spiritual one. It cites Heb. 9:11, 12 in support of this, but it fails to cite verse 24 of that chapter.
“For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, so that he now appears before God on our behalf.” (Heb. 9:24)
That’s right, the temple is in the heavens, not on the earth, or footstool. Is this spiritual temple a real thing or just an arrangement? The writer of Hebrews says that the Israelite temple – you know that’s the one on the earth – was just a copy of the reality, a mere shadow of heavenly things.
“. . .but which [men] are rendering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things;. . .” (Heb 8:5)
So which is more real, the shadow or the thing that casts the shadow? And where is that thing again? In the heavens.
Okay, we’re all on the same page now, which is important because the ride from here on gets a little bumpy. Paragraph 3 goes on to state that this temple—you know the one in the heavens; yeah, that one—well, this temple is…oh, I’ll just let them explain it.
“This is an arrangement that makes reconciliation with God possible by means of the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” – par. 3
“In appreciation of the spiritual temple arrangement, we praise Jehovah by making known his name…” – par. 4
Whoa, Nelly! Where did this come from? Suddenly, the literal temple in the heavens—the reality of Heb. 9:24, where our Lord literally entered to offer up the value of his sacrifice—is “an arrangement”? This word, “arrangement”, occurs six times in this article alone. How often do you think it occurs in the Christian Scriptures in relation to the temple? Go on, guess. That’s right. ZERO!
So why are we using it? And what does “God’s footstool” have to do with any of this? Patience grasshopper. All will be revealed.
But first we have to deal with a particularly egregious bit of conceit in paragraph 4.
“Unlike some religious people who mistakenly think that they will praise God once they have left the earth and gone to heaven, all of Jehovah’s Witnesses realize the need to praise him here and now on the earth.” – par. 4
Allow me to translate the JW speak: All the other so-called Christians in Christendom who think they are going to go to heaven will end up dying at Armageddon because they didn’t go out in the door-to-door preaching work to tell people about God’s kingdom like we do.
Of course, only anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses are going to heaven. However, this little piece of organizational narcissism (or as your kids would express it: “Nyah, nyah, yah, nyah, nyah.”) isn’t here just to dis all the folks in Christendom. You see, the organization has to get eight million Witnesses who are also not going to heaven to appreciate their role and stay active and supportive. So they are taught that they can help the anointed who (as paragraph 5 next states) “faithfully serve in the earthly courtyard of the spiritual temple.”
You may recall that brother Splane told us (and the March Watchtower “Questions from Readers” confirmed) that they weren’t going to give us any more man-made antitypes. It did not take him long to break that promise. Apparently, the spiritual temple into which Jesus entered after his resurrection has an earthly courtyard in which “millions of other sheep loyally support” the anointed.
If you haven’t already guessed by this point – if this is your first Watchtower Study – the phrase “spiritual temple arrangement” is really a synonym for the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. With that in mind, the purpose of the article is revealed by the question at the end of paragraph 5: “Am I giving full support to Jehovah’s arrangement for pure worship?”
Identifying Those Who Serve at God’s Spiritual Temple
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that anointed Christians[i] were God’s temple on earth. (1Co 3:16, 17) However, dwelling on that in this article would leave the 8 million “other sheep” out in left field. Besides which it does nothing to promote the theme of the article which is to foster obedient servitude for the Organization. To this end, we have invented a “spiritual temple arrangement” and must now seek to support it scripturally.
The technical name for the methodology you are about to witness is: “jiggery-pokery”. Observe!
In the Scriptures, the earth is called God’s footstool. The ancient temple in Israel is also called God’s footstool. The ancient temple was located on the earth. The other sheep are on the earth. Therefore the other sheep are in the temple. Are you with me so far? Okay, now what is the temple? It is an arrangement. An arrangement for worship. Therefore it is not something you are part of but rather something you have to serve. Place you have to be. Therefore, you serve “at the temple”.
“Less than a century after the Christian congregation was established, a foretold apostasy began to develop. Thereafter, it became increasingly difficult to identify who was truly serving God at his spiritual temple.“ – par. 6
Notice the use of “at” to reinforce that Christians are not the temple. It is an arrangement, a metaphorical place to which one goes to serve. Since it became difficult to identify those who are serving “at the temple” after the apostasy set in, the obvious conclusion is that prior to the apostasy anointed Christians in the first century were serving “at the temple”. In other words, they were serving at the spiritual temple arrangement.
I know, I know… I can see you now, fists clenched, eyes bulging, stifling a scream, just itching to say, “BUT THEY WERE THE TEMPLE. THEY COMPRISED GOD’S TEMPLE! IT SAYS SO RIGHT THERE IN THE BIBLE!”
It was at this point that I decided that rather than bust a corollary, I would try to see the humor in this. One has to care for one’s health after all.
That decision came none too soon, because paragraph 7 opens with this absurdly presumptuous statement:
“By 1919, those approved by Jehovah and serving at his spiritual temple were clearly identified.” – par. 7
There is not a phrase in this sentence that is true. There is no scriptural support for 1919. There is no evidence, empirical or scriptural, that Jehovah approved anyone in that year. We are not even being loyal to our own doctrine which teaches us that it was Jesus who supposedly approved the faithful and discreet slave in that year. Suddenly, it’s Jehovah who comes to the temple. Is Jehovah now to be the messenger of the covenant? (Another made-up antitype, I might add.) And on top of all of that, the publications teach us that in 1919 all Jehovah’s Witnesses were anointed. So how could they be serving at the temple when they were the temple?
It is as if they realize they don’t even have to try anymore. They can virtually say anything they want and the brothers will accept it. Truly, the blind are leading the blind. (Mt 15:14)
Revelations from Above
Paragraph 8 introduces the supernatural vision that Paul referred to at 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. Therein he speaks of being caught away into paradise and hearing words that were “not lawful for a man to say.” He doesn’t explain what this third heaven represents, and he doesn’t explain what the paradise is, and he can’t tell us what he heard because he was told not to.
No worries though! Your curiosity can now be satisfied. The Governing Body has the skinny. You see, it wasn’t lawful then, but it is now. What Paul saw was us, the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do we know this? Because that is what Paul saw! But how do we know what Paul saw? Because now it’s lawful for us to know. Yes, but how do we know. Because we can see the fulfillment in the Organization. But how do we know that’s the fulfillment since we don’t know what he saw? Because now it is lawful to know.
What’s that? Your head is hurting? Go take an aspirin. I’ll wait. One one thousand, two one thousand….
Better now? Good. I think I found the source of your headache. Let’s go back over paragraph 9.
“Why, though, did Paul say that he had “heard words that cannot be spoken and that are not lawful for a man to say”? It was not the time for him to explain in detail the marvelous things that he had seen in that vision. But today it is lawful to speak of the blessings that now exist among God’s people!”
Since Paul was never able to explain in detail the marvellous things that he saw in that vision, how do we know what he saw? If it is now – as the paragraph alleges – lawful to speak of such things, one has to wonder how the Governing Body came by this knowledge. They certainly didn’t find it in the Bible because the writing of the Bible ended at a time when it was still unlawful to speak of such things. Perhaps an angel from heaven revealed it to them? Or perhaps they had a collective vision, or a vivid dream inspired by God. They clearly didn’t deduce it from Scripture, because if they could have, others would have discovered the same answers long ago. We must deduce that someone from the spirit realm is communicating with them. Either that, or they’re making it up.
Could that be it? Let’s have a look at paragraph 10 to see.
“The expression “spiritual paradise” has become a part of our theocratic vocabulary. It describes our unique, spiritually rich environment, or condition, which allows us to enjoy peace with God and with our brothers. Of course, we should not conclude that the terms “spiritual paradise” and “spiritual temple” are the same. The spiritual temple is God’s arrangement for true worship. The spiritual paradise serves to identify clearly those who have God’s approval and who are today serving him at his spiritual temple.“ — Mal. 3:18
The term “spiritual paradise” is not found in the Bible. It is made up. It has become the basis for the latest marketing slogan: “JW.ORG – The Best Life Ever!” As for the term “spiritual temple”, it is not “God’s arrangement for true worship.” At least, not if you’re going by what the Bible says. And according to the Bible, Christians are not serving at the spiritual temple. Christians are the spiritual temple. Conclusion: they are making it all up.
“How exciting it is to know that since 1919, Jehovah has allowed imperfect humans to work with him in cultivating, strengthening, and expanding the spiritual paradise on earth! Do you see yourself playing a part in this marvelous work? Are you moved to continue working with Jehovah in glorifying ‘the place for his feet’?” – par. 11
It seems that each paragraph of the study is a delight in interpretational jiggery-pokery. Who came up with this? I feel like echoing the words of Iñigo Montoya (The Princess Bride, 1987).
Me: “Who wrote this article?”
Them: “No one of consequence.”
Me: “I must know.”
Them: “Get used to disappointment.”
Me: [with a shrug] “Okay.”
From paragraph 11, we learn that prior to 1919 Jehovah wasn’t allowing imperfect humans to work with him. All those faithful Christians who worshipped God prior to 1919 are just out of luck.
And now, the writer ties it all together with a nice little bow. “Are you moved to continue working with Jehovah in glorifying ‘the place for his feet’?” Since the eight million have missed out on serving in the kingdom of the heavens, the need to concentrate on the “here and now, on the earth” (see par. 4) God’s footstool, the earth, the ancient temple, the modern spiritual temple arrangement. They are all one. Praise be to the Lord. I can see it now!
It is jiggery-pokery, but in their hands, it has been raised to an art form.
In case you think I’m making this all up, I give you the next subtitle:
Jehovah’s Organization Is Being Made More Beautiful
Paragraph 12 says:
“A marvelous work of transformation in connection with the earthly part of Jehovah’s organization was foretold at Isaiah 60:17. (Read.) Those who are young or comparatively new in the truth have read about the evidences of this transformation or have heard about it from others. But how privileged the brothers and sisters are who have personally experienced it! No wonder they are convinced that by means of his enthroned King, Jehovah is guiding and directing His organization! They know that their confidence is well-founded, a confidence all of us share. Hearing their heartfelt expressions will fortify your faith and strengthen your trust in Jehovah.”
Having read the context of Isaiah 60, and remembering that the chapter and verse divisions were added many centuries later, one might well conclude that Isaiah was prophesying regarding the restoration of Israel. One might even conclude that this prophecy relates to the Messiah and the foundation of the Christian congregation. However, there is nothing in his words that would lead us to conclude that their fulfilment would occur from 1919 onward. Nevertheless, the paragraph states that “the evidences (sic) of this fulfilment have been experienced by many of us personally.” We’ll come to that, but first we have to deal with a perversion of the good news. Paragraph 13 states:
“Regardless of how long we have been in the truth, we must tell others about Jehovah’s organization. The existence of a spiritual paradise in the midst of a wicked, corrupt, and loveless world is a modern-day miracle! The wonders about Jehovah’s organization, or “Zion,” and the truth about the spiritual paradise must be joyfully passed on “to future generations.”—Read Psalm 48:12-14.”
The Bible tells us to declare abroad the kingdom of God and the excellencies of the Lord. (Luke 9:60; 1 Peter 2:9) It also tells us to preach the good news of the Christ and the good news of the kingdom and the good news of salvation, but nowhere are we told to preach the good news of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The paragraph refers to the organization as “Zion” and then tells us to read Psalm 48:12-14 which states:
“March around Zion [aka The Organization]; go all around it; Count its towers. 13 Set your hearts upon its ramparts. Inspect its fortified towers, So that you may tell about it to future generations. 14 For this God is our God forever and ever. He will guide us forevermore.” (Ps 48:12-14)
What blatant self-glorification! Zion was where Jerusalem was and thus was the seat of government for the nation of Israel. The organization headed by the Governing Body is now the seat of government for Jehovah’s Witnesses. This paragraph is telling us to march around it, set our hearts upon it, and declare it to future generations. All praise goes to the organization! It is “a modern-day miracle!”
Many of us are among the old-timers who have been ‘privileged to personally experience the marvellous work of transformation in connection with the earthly part of Jehovah’s organization’ to quote from paragraph 12. All of us have therefore been designated by the Governing Body as witnesses to this alleged transformation. What do you say brothers and sisters? Will you bear witness?
Speaking for myself, and in line with the “evidences” (sic) the article speaks of in paragraph 14, I can state that when the elder arrangement first came into being it did seem like a very positive transformation. As paragraph 15 states, it did remove ‘the influence of one individual to dominate’, at least for a time. Taking the power away from individuals and putting it into the hands of a committee seemed like a good idea. The problem is that it is just another version of the rulership of men. Ecclesiastes 8:9 does not make allowances for some forms of human rulership as good. Every time man dominates man, it eventually turns out to be injurious. The elder arrangement began with a rotating chairmanship, but that was done away with. Soon personalities took over and even in a body of two dozen men, a single leader emerges to dominate. I have seen this time and again. The kind of autocracy we had under the congregation servant arrangement has returned to become the norm under the elder arrangement. When one well-meaning brother speaks up because he sees that things are not being done scripturally, he is deemed a troublemaker and often the circuit overseer, who is directed to support the elder arrangement – meaning the arrangement itself – removes the troublesome personality from the group.
I’m not suggesting that a committee arrangement is wrong. It is one way of getting things done in an organized manner. But the human dynamic will always cause one individual to become the leader of a group. Basically, if there is no group leader, the group accomplishes little. (Welcome to the human condition.) Again, there nothing intrinsically wrong with that as long as the purpose of the committee or group is not the rulership of other men. If it is organized to get the job done, that’s one thing. However the purpose of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses goes beyond simply getting the job done.
It has been reported from reliable sources that when the Governing Body arrangement first came into existence, it did seem like a change for the better. However, some personalities began to establish themselves quickly and the preservation of the status quo became the paramount issue.
At the start, the average Jehovah’s Witness could probably only name one or two members of the Governing Body which at one point numbered eighteen. We did not know what they looked like because their pictures were not routinely published. After only ten years, that changed with the publication of the Proclaimers book which revealed the names and pictures of all Governing Body members. As the years went by and older members, raised at a time when creature worship was disdained, died off, there has been a growing emphasis on the role and importance of the Governing Body. Recently, they seized absolute power for themselves, declaring themselves alone to be the faithful and discreet slave, the ones Jesus is delighted to approve of.[ii] Their power is now so great that they feel confident in instructing us to be prepared to obey their commands even when such may seem unsound.[iii]
A challenge to the direction of the Governing Body, no matter how scripturally-based, will result in one’s immediate removal from all positions of privilege and oversight. If the dissenter does not remain silent, he or she will be removed from the congregation entirely by being disfellowshipped.
The article wants us to bear witness? Well, that’s the evidence of this particular witness. I know that I do not stand alone. There are thousands who could echo my words and go beyond them, all from firsthand knowledge. This, to me, does not speak of a miraculous transformation. There is a transformation to be sure, but it is very mundane. It has occurred many, many times before in virtually every organized religion that has started off with good intentions of returning to the roots of Christianity. We call it “mainstreaming”, but what it really refers to is exchanging the headship of the Christ for the rulership of men. The article winds up by speaking of other adjustments, such as “changes to the appearance, contents, and methods of distribution of our publications” and expanded use of technology, as if such things have any real spiritual value. Every other religion uses them as well, and many of them use them far better than we do. (See Bible Videos for “evidences” of this.) The fact is all these alleged “evidences” of a modern-day miracle that have been advanced so far refer to policy and administrative adjustments. What has been done to truly enhance the spirituality of the congregation? Family study nights? These are occasions when the family is encouraged to view Caleb and Sophia videos and study the publications of the Organization. However, enhanced Bible knowledge and instruction that draws us closer to our Lord Jesus Christ? These are all but missing entirely.
Your Share in Contributing to the Spiritual Paradise
The question here is what are you doing to build up the Organization? To preach the good news of the temple arrangement, a.k.a. the modern-day Zion?
Paragraph 19 states: “More than even Bible knowledge, it is often our chaste, peaceful conduct that initially draws people to the organization and in turn to God and to Christ.” Notice the order. First, we draw people to the organization, then to God, and finally to Christ.
Where in the Bible can we find support for such a sequence? In Luke’s great account of the Acts of the Apostles, where do we find the apostles drawing people to the Organization? Read Peter’s epic speech at Pentecost and see that all attention – ALL ATTENTION – was on the Christ. Through the Christ people get to God. Peter was one of the original twelve. As such, he is one of the pillars of the New Jerusalem. Yet do you ever see him drawing attention to himself or the other apostles, or even the congregation as a whole as something to be virtually worshipped as implied by our reference to Psalm 48:12-14?
All laughter aside, this article is an appalling example of the downward slide of the organization into the idolization of men. Having been a loyal and proud Jehovah’s Witness all my life, I am utterly ashamed of what we are rapidly becoming.
[i] “Anointed Christians” is really a tautology since all Christians are anointed with Holy Spirit. However, for purposes of clarity for Jehovah’s Witnesses, I use the term here to refer to the small group that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe are destined to go to heaven in contrast to the millions of other sheep who have an earthly hope according to JW theology.
[ii] w13 7/15 “Who Really Is the Faithful and Discreet Slave?” par. 18
[iii] At that time, the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not. (w13 11/15 p. 20 par. 17)