[From ws15/09 for Oct. 26 – Nov 1]
“Attain…the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ” (Eph 4:13)
In this week’s Watchtower review, we will focus a little on style and composition, but mostly on content, particularly the read-between-the-lines kind. First, let us begin with…
A Little Constructive Criticism
One would never want to alienate a portion of one’s audience by using an ill-considered metaphor, would one? Yet the writer of this study article has done just that with his opening words.
“WHEN an experienced housewife selects fresh fruit at the market, she does not always choose the biggest pieces or the least expensive ones.”
Better would be, ‘When an experienced shopper selects fresh fruit at the market, he or she does not always choose the biggest pieces or the least expensive ones.’ Or to avoid the awkward “he or she”, the entire illustration could be presented in the second person. After all, who among us has not shopped for fresh fruit as some point in life?
Then there’s the question of using a fitting illustration. The writer’s purpose is to illustrate with fruit how a Christian grows to maturity. However, fruit only remains ripe (mature) for a brief span of time, after which it over-ripens and becomes rotten. While this may be the case for some Christians, it is hardly the point the writer is trying to make. Therefore, a different analogy is called for. Perhaps trees would have served his purpose better. They start as saplings but grow to maturity and only get more majestic with age.[i]
Misrepresenting the Text
Our organization loves to quote a single verse out of context – or as in this case, a mere fraction of a verse – and then to base an entire topic on it. In doing so, the actual meaning of the text is often skewed, or even lost completely.
The topic at hand which is based on Ephesians 4:13 has to do with Christians growing to maturity. According to the article, this maturity manifests itself through love (par. 5-7), Bible study (par. 8-10), unity (par. 11-13), and staying inside the organization (par. 14-18).
Rather than take it for granted that this is what the writer of Ephesians was getting at when he penned the words “attaining the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ,” let us read the text in its context.
“And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, 12 with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, to build up the body of the Christ, 13 until we all attain to the oneness of the faith and of the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to being a full-grown man, attaining the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ. 14 So we should no longer be children, tossed about as by waves and carried here and there by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in deceptive schemes. 15 But speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ. 16 From him all the body is harmoniously joined together and made to cooperate through every joint that gives what is needed. When each respective member functions properly, this contributes to the growth of the body as it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:11-16)
Although this was written by no one less than the apostle Paul, he makes no provision for himself nor a so-called governing body in Jerusalem in this maturity-building equation. True, there are the gifts that Jesus gave to men as part of the ministering process, but the purpose is for each one to grow up in all things by love into the one head, Jesus Christ. There is no other head referred to. In fact, Paul warns against those who would take advantage of spiritual children, misleading such ones by cunning and trickery through false teachings and deceptive schemes.
Of course, a deceptive scheme must be hidden. It cannot be seen as a scheme, but must be clothed in the garments of truth. The article does speak of exercising love toward our brothers, the importance of regular Bible study, and the need for unity. These are all positive things. The question is, is there an agenda which is being cleverly cloaked in such positive things? A child might miss that, but a mature Christian can see deeper for he has the mind of Christ, and examines all things spiritually. (1Co 2:14-16)
Steganography is the craft of hiding messages inside of pictures or images. We have been told that the publishers of the magazine spend considerable time and effort to carefully craft the images, illustrations, and photos in the magazines so as to better instruct their flock. Often, the key point of an article is transmitted through its graphical illustrations and sidebars,[ii] rather than in its text. Such is the case this week.
Fully half of page 5 is devoted to an illustration linked to paragraph six. The caption of the illustration is: “Older Christians can reflect Christlike humility by supporting younger ones now taking the lead.”
It would be expected that older Christians have already attained to the maturity that is the fullness of the Christ, so why is this even here? What is the issue that is being subtly addressed?
The answer is found in the link (see asterisk) to paragraph 6. There it states: “The mature Christian shows humility in that he recognizes that Jehovah’s ways and standards are always better than his own.”
Ah, so the appointment of a younger man over the older one is part of “Jehovah’s ways and standards.” Let’s say the youth in the illustration is 30, and the older man praying under his direction is 80. It would be likely that the older man has been serving as an elder for 5 to 10 times as long as the younger man. That’s a huge experience differential. Is this such a common occurrence that it merits being the main point of the article? Given the power of an illustration and the fact that half a page of real estate is devoted to it, one must assume the answer is Yes. In fact, it is.
Policy changes in the organization are resulting in older men being marginalized solely on the basis of age. Men with 60, 70, even 80 years of experience are being sent out to pasture, while the ranks of travelling overseers are being filled with men in the prime of youth. Concurrent with this Watchtower’s study is the release of a video on tv.jw.org called “Iron Sharpens Iron” in which three forcibly retired district overseers are interviewed to put a positive spin on the new arrangement.
Why is youth being preferred over experience? Is the wisdom and balance that comes with age of less value than the blind obedience of the young and naïve? It would seem so. This fact is unwittingly revealed by the words of one brother speaking to a 2014 graduation class of the “School for Christian Couples”. After exhorting them not to take the initiative, but rather to follow the instructions they receive from the branch, he refers to them as “spiritual bureaucrats” and “spiritual company men”. (See the 27:15 minute mark of this recording.)
(I find it so odd to hear phrases I used to joke about disparagingly with friends now used as part of official JW vernacular.)
At a time when thousands of Bethelites—many of them older ones—are being handed their walking papers, we get a part on tv.jw.org and a subtle reminder in this week’s study that this is all Jehovah’s doing, part of his “ways and standards.”
The organization has implemented a policy of forced retirement while at the same time callously dismissing thousands with the assurance that Jehovah will provide. They are to go in peace and be well, but no material provision is being made for them. Additionally, in a sort of reverse retirement age limit, all special pioneers under 65 are being reduced to regular pioneer status and will no longer receive a monthly allowance. I couldn’t help but recall Paul McCartney’s words:
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?”
It would seem not. But take heart all you ex-district and ex-circuit overseers trying to get by on a paltry income. Despair not, you ex-bethelites thrust out on a hard, cruel world for the first time in 20, 30, or 40 years with no income, no resume, and few prospects. Stand firm you aged ex-special pioneers as you consider your options now that the branch office teat has dried up. For all this is not man’s doing. No! This is all part of “Jehovah’s ways and standards”. That is what this Watchtower is saying. This is all Jehovah’s doing.
They would have us believe that the God who is love approves of this? Where in Scripture is there a provision for the forced retirement of faithful servants without financial provision being made? (These ones are not even given severance packages, something no worldly firm could get away with.) Our Organization loves to model Christianity on Israel. Very well. Were the priests and Levites sent away to fend for themselves when they were getting old and about to become a burden on society? What was – and still is – Jehovah’s standard?
“When you finish tithing the entire tenth of your produce in the third year, the year of the tenth, you will give it to the Levite, the foreign resident, the fatherless child, and the widow, and they will eat their fill within your cities. 13 You will then say before Jehovah your God, ‘I have cleared the holy portion out of my house and given it to the Levite, the foreign resident, the fatherless child, and the widow, just as you have commanded me. I have not violated or neglected your commandments.” (De 26:12, 13)
It wasn’t just the Levites who got the tenth, but it was also reserved for those in need. The foreign resident, the fatherless child and the widow. But the Organization says, “Fair well. Don’t worry. Jehovah will provide.”
At the annual meeting we were assured that these changes had nothing to do with a shortfall in funds. ‘No,’ we were told, ‘the organization has lots of money despite rumors to the contrary.’ If so, then why do they appear to be concerned about ditching the elderly who have sacrificed so much in what JWs could term ‘modern Levitic service’? To cite one case as an example of this trend, a brother who has worked as a journeyman in Bethel for 30 years is being dismissed while his young apprentice is to remain. The work the apprentice does must be certified by a journeyman, who presumably will now be called in from outside. If they can’t find a willing brother, they will have to pay a commercial firm. Why send a 50-year-old out who can certify his own work, while keeping the 20-year-old on staff?
Here is God’s true “way and standard” about treatment of older ones:
“‘Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show honor to an older man, and you must be in fear of your God. I am Jehovah.” (Le 19:32)
This Bethel policy seems to be a variation on the corban workaround the Pharisees used to avoid caring for their aging parents. Saving money for the temple (aka Bethel) is seen as justification for ousting older ones to fend for themselves. Oh, they’re being nice about it, to be sure. For example, these ones are told that they don’t have to make their special pioneer hours for the rest of the year so as to give them time to secure secular work by January. Truly, our mercy knows no limits.
We have become just like those whom Jesus condemned for “adroitly setting aside the commandment”, justifying it all with the logically incoherent claim that the preaching work is paramount. (Mark 7:9-13)
To understand how serious this is, we have to realize that these policies are unlawful. They break the two greatest laws in the universe.
“‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”” (Mt 22:37-40)
We do not show love for God if we act in a way that brings reproach on his name. If a man who fails to provide for his own is worse than a man without faith, what are we in the Organization? (1Ti 5:8) But to make it worse, we claim that these policies are not ours, but are part of Jehovah’s ways and standards!? We would make God responsible for our actions!
“You who take pride in law, do you dishonor God by your transgressing of the Law? 24 For “the name of God is being blasphemed among the nations because of you,” just as it is written.” (Ro 2:23, 24)
As for showing love for our neighbor, the Bible is very clear on what is expected of us.
“If a brother or a sister is lacking clothing and enough food for the day, 16 yet one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what they need for their body, of what benefit is it? 17 So, too, faith by itself, without works, is dead.” (Jas 2:15-17)
It would seem our faith is dead. These vapid attempts at self-justification, these facile assurances of “Go in peace; Jehovah will provide”, will carry no weight on judgment day. We must always bear in mind that judgment starts with the house of God. (1Pe 4:17)
What of us? As individuals, are we free of judgment? Absolutely not. We must practice the mercy the organization is failing to demonstrate, if we wish to have our judgment with mercy. (Ja 2:13) Jehovah will provide for those in need, but his first choice is to provide through his servants. Only if we drop the ball, does he step in. So, let us seize every opportunity to obey the words of James by “giving [those in need] what they need for their body.” (Ja 2:15-17)
[i] If you are wondering why I didn’t follow my own advice by referring to the writer of this article as “he or she”, it’s because we all know that the writer is most definitely a male.
[ii] For instance, there was a sidebar or box on page 25 of the 2/15 2008 Watchtower in the article “Christ’s Presence—What Does It Mean to You?” This was the first time Exodus 1:6 was used to introduce the idea of overlapping generations. The idea of using the generation to calculate the length of the last days was still off the table. In fact, the sidebar concludes with the words: “Jesus did not give his disciples a formula to enable them to determine when “the last days” would end.” But the seed was planted, and it bore fruit two years later when the concept of two overlapping generations was introduced which has now come to be used to provide us with a formula to enable us to determine approximately when “the last days” will end. (w10 4/15 p. 10)