“We need to guard against developing a spirit of independence. By word or action, may we never challenge the channel of communication that Jehovah is using today. “ (w09 11/15 p. 14 par. 5 Treasure Your Place in the Congregation)
Sobering words, to be sure! None of us would want to be in a position where we find ourselves challenging Jehovah, would we? Challenging his modern-day channel of communication would amount to the same thing, would it not?
Given the importance of this—it is really a life-and-death situation—we need to understand just what His channel of communication is. What is the means by which Jehovah, our God, speaks to us today?
Unfortunately, the aforementioned paragraph containing this exhortation is somewhat vague on the subject. It begins by suggesting that the channel is Jehovah’s organization. However, the organization is vast and globe-spanning; far too amorphous an entity to constitute a single channel of communication from God. Then it draws an analogy with the apostle John who wrote under inspiration—something the modern-day organization has never done. It then moves on to refer to the slave class, a small subset of the organization, which at the time of this article was thought to be comprised of thousands of individuals, but which now is limited to only eight. Finally, in its closing sentence, it exhorts us to obey the local elders.
So just what is the channel of communication which Jehovah is using today?
The Bible doesn’t say specifically. In fact, the phrase is not found in Scripture. Nevertheless, the role definitely is. Consider as but one example, Moses. When He was about forty years of age, he killed an Egyptian who was striking one of his Hebrew brethren. The next day he intervened when two Hebrews were struggling with each other, but was rebuffed when one said to him: “Who appointed you as a prince and judge over us?” (Ex. 2:14)
Moses, it seems, was presumptuously attempting to set himself up as the savior, ruler and judge of Israel. This failed attempt led to his being self-exiled for some forty additional years until, at the age of 80, Jehovah considered him to be ready for the task he had coveted four decades earlier. He had learned humility and was now quite reluctant to accept the task. Still, from his earlier experience, he realized that his Hebrew brothers would not readily accept him as their leader. Therefore, Jehovah gave him three signs to perform that by these he might establish his credentials as God’s appointed one. (Gen. 4:1-9, 29-31)
Eventually, Moses became the one through whom Jehovah transmitted his law covenant. He also began the writing of the Holy Scriptures which we still use to this day. He became Jehovah’s appointed channel of communication and there could have been no doubt of the validity of this appointment after he called for ten plagues to punish Egypt and then parted the waters of the Red Sea with his staff. The fact that the Israelites could rebel against him a mere three months after these awe-inspiring events speaks of mind-numbing stupidity. We certainly would not want to imitate them in rebelling against Jehovah’s appointed channel of communication in our day, would we?
So we return to our question. Exactly what or who is that channel in our day?
The Watchtower has provided this answer:
Can any human with a life span of a few decades personally reach all mankind and serve as a channel of communication from God? No. But a permanent written record can. Therefore, would it not be appropriate that the revelation from God be made available in the form of a book? (w05 7/15 p. 4 True Teachings That Please God)
Before the Bible began to be written, there were patriarchs, like Job and Abraham through whom Jehovah spoke. After Moses, there were judges, like Deborah and Gideon; prophets, like Jeremiah, Daniel and Huldah; and kings, like David and Solomon, all of whom Jehovah used to communicate with his subjects. All were non-exclusive channels of communication or spokespersons for God. Jesus was, without doubt, the foremost human channel of communication. By the time the last apostle, John, died, the writing of the Holy Scriptures was complete. From that time forward, there have been no prophets, apostles, nor individuals of any kind—male or female—who have been privileged to speak Jehovah’s word under inspiration. So it would seem that the historical evidence supports the point being made by the aforementioned Watchtower article that Jehovah’s channel of communication at the present time is the Holy Scriptures.
Nevertheless, it appears our understanding isn’t as clear as all that. For example, we also teach that the Christian Congregation is Jehovah’s channel of communication.
Once the Christian congregation was founded at Pentecost 33 C.E., Christ’s followers became the “nation producing its fruits.” From then on, this congregation was God’s channel of communication. (w00 10/15 p. 22 Have I Made the Holy Spirit My Personal Helper?)
We also teach that the “faithful and discreet slave” is Jehovah’s channel of communication.
JESUS assured us that after his death and resurrection, he would raise up a “faithful and discreet slave” that would serve as his channel of communication. (Matthew 24:45-47)…It helps us to understand the Word of God. All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the “greatly diversified wisdom of God” can become known only through Jehovah’s channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave.—John 6:68. (w94 10/1 p. 8 The Bible—A Book Meant to Be Understood)
Much Ado about Nothing?
Is it the Bible? Is it the Christian Congregation? Is it the Governing Body? You begin to see the confusion, do you not?
Now, if by channel of communication, we mean simply the means by which Jehovah teaches and instructs us or feeds us today, then this isn’t such a big issue, is it? For example, when the Ethiopian eunuch was reading from the scroll of Isaiah, he didn’t understand what he was reading and needed someone to explain it to him. Philip happened along and getting into the chariot explained what the prophet was saying and as a result, the Ethiopian was baptized. So here we have the Scriptures (Jehovah’s channel of communication) plus a member of the Christian congregation acting as a teacher (supplementing the Scriptural channel of communication) to tell the eunuch what God was saying.
We can be sure that the newly converted Ethiopian official respected and appreciated Philip. However, it is unlikely that he considered Philip to be God’s spokesman. Philip did not come out with new or original truths not contained in Scripture as Jesus did. Jesus truly was God’s channel of communication, as were those who acted as prophets in the first century and those who wrote under inspiration.
“And in the last days,” God says, “I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and YOUR sons and YOUR daughters will prophesy and YOUR young men will see visions and YOUR old men will dream dreams; 18 and even upon my men slaves and upon my women slaves I will pour out some of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17, 18)
[There was not group of men in the first century who served as the sole means by which the holy writings were interpreted and understood.]
The trouble with this definition is that it really doesn’t fit the meaning of the phrase, does it? For example, a channel of communication can take many forms. A television is a channel of communication. It produces nothing of its own originality but only what is transmitted through it on a particular channel. It provides a faithful reproduction of the image, voice and words of the person broadcasting through it. When a channel of communication takes a human form, we refer to the human as a spokesperson for the one sending the information. So if the Governing Body is indeed God’s channel of communication, then we can rightly refer to them as God’s spokesperson. God speaks through them to us.
However, they themselves have said that they do not write nor speak under inspiration. Therefore, how can they be God’s channel of communication?
Apparently, they mean that the Bible, the written channel of communication , can only be understood by them. They reveal to us the meaning of the Scriptures. For us to do this without them amounts to independent thinking and is condemned. Being the sole channel by which Jehovah reveals the meaning of Scriptures, they become part of the channel of communication.
It is interesting that there is no precedent for this in Scripture. Patriarchs, judges, prophets and some kings served as God’s spokespersons because they were inspired by him to do so. But there is no entity in the Bible neither among the ancient Israelites nor the Christian congregation that was constituted the sole means by which God’s written word was to be revealed. That writing was intended for all to read and understand.
Let’s simplify this further with an analogy that more closely parallels the role that the Governing Body is apparently assuming. A university mathematics professor will use a text book, commissioned by the university, to instruct his students on the laws and principles of the science. The origin of all these principles and laws is Jehovah God. After the student has finished his education, he is expected to go forth and continue his research on his own, with the hope that he may expand the frontiers of the science, adding to the collective knowledge of his colleagues.
How strange it would be if the faculty of the Mathematics department were to declare that any additional understanding of the science and new revelations or discoveries of mathematics could only come through them; that God had appointed them alone to reveal these principles to humanity.
What We Mean by God’s Channel
But really, is that what we are saying? Alas, that does appear to be the case.
To “think in agreement,” we cannot harbor ideas contrary to God’s Word or our publications (CA-tk13-E No. 8 1/12)
We could still be testing Jehovah in our heart by secretly doubting the organization’s position on higher education. (Avoid Testing God in Your Heart, 2012 District Convention part, Friday afternoon sessions)
If we are to treat our publications with the same reverence that we treat the expressions of God found in his Holy Word the Bible, then we truly are treating the Governing Body as a channel of communication from God himself. If even thinking in our heart that they may have something wrong about a topic such as higher education is equivalent to putting Jehovah to the test, then their word is Jehovah’s Word. Questioning them is questioning Jehovah God himself. A very serious and dangerous thing to do.
Fair enough. If that’s the way it is, then that’s the way it is. However, only God can make that appointment, correct. Only Jehovah God can bear witness to that appointment. That even applied to Jesus, so it definitely would apply to any imperfect man or group of men.
“If I alone bear witness about myself, my witness is not true. 32 There is another that bears witness about me, and I know that the witness which he bears about me is true. 33 YOU have dispatched men to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 However, I do not accept the witness from man, but I say these things that YOU may be saved. 35 That man was a burning and shining lamp, and YOU for a short time were willing to rejoice greatly in his light. 36 But I have the witness greater than that of John, for the very works that my Father assigned me to accomplish, the works themselves that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father dispatched me. 37 Also, the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. YOU have neither heard his voice at any time nor seen his figure; 38 and YOU do not have his word remaining in YOU, because the very one whom he dispatched YOU do not believe. 39 “YOU are searching the Scriptures, because YOU think that by means of them YOU will have everlasting life; and these are the very ones that bear witness about me. (John 5:31-39)
Analyzing the Claim
We do not want to hastily dismiss the claim the Governing Body is making about itself. However, there is reason to proceed with caution, for isn’t it true that the leaders of every religion that has ever existed have made the claim that they speak for God? Jesus made that claim. So did the Pharisees. Now it is of interest that at that moment in time, Israel was still Jehovah’s people. He did not reject his covenant until 36 C.E. The priesthood was still Jehovah’s arrangement to provide food to his people. The Pharisees claimed that they were speaking for God. They provided a complex set of oral laws governing virtually every aspect of daily life. Would doubting them be testing Jehovah in your heart? They thought so.
So how would people know who truly was God’s channel of communication? Consider the difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus served his people and died for them. The Pharisees lorded over the people and abused them. Jesus also cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, and here’s the kicker—he raised the dead. The Pharisees could do none of that. In addition, every prophetic word out of Jesus’ mouth came true. So Jesus wins hand down.
After he went to heaven, he left men to guide his flock, but as for speaking for God, only a select few did that. Men like Peter and Paul, who cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, and oh yeah, raised the dead. Incidentally, all their prophecies also came true without fail.
Are we saying that we can identify someone as God’s appointed channel of communication or God’s spokesperson if (a) he performs miracles, and/or ( b) he pronounces true prophecies? Not quite.
Performing miracles, i.e., great signs and wonders, isn’t sufficient in and of itself as we see from this warning given by our Lord, Jesus.
For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones (Mt. 24:24)
What about prophecies then?
“In case a prophet or a dreamer of a dream arises in your midst and does give you a sign or a portent, 2 and the sign or the portent does come true of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us walk after other gods, whom you have not known, and let us serve them,’ 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or to the dreamer of that dream, because Jehovah YOUR God is testing YOU to know whether YOU are loving Jehovah YOUR God with all YOUR heart and all YOUR soul. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)
So even a true prophecy that tries to get us to go against Jehovah’s word must be ignored, and the prophet, rejected.
But if making a true prophecy isn’t identification enough, then what is?
“‘However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. 21 And in case you should say in your heart: “How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?” 22 when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak. With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it. You must not get frightened at him.’ (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)
From this we see that it isn’t the ability to make a true prophecy that distinguishes the prophet of God, but the inability to make a false one. All the prophecies, without exception, must come true, not just some. The man, or group of men, laying claim to being God’s appointed channel cannot make mistakes, because God does not make mistakes. The television doesn’t suddenly start showing something which isn’t being broadcast at the point of origin, does it?
So there we have it. The channel Jehovah is using to teach and feed mankind today is his Holy Word the Bible. The Bible contains true prophecy and is never wrong. You, I, and the Governing Body teach Jehovah’s Word the Bible in a self-sacrificing effort to help others to understand it. But what we teach orally and what we print in our publications can never go beyond the things written in God’s Word. If we do go beyond these things claiming that we are God’s channel of communication, and if we claim that our listeners or readers must consider our spoken and written words as they would the Holy Scriptures, then we are claiming to be God’s spokespersons. That is alright if we truly are, but horribly presumptuous of us if we are not.
While the Governing Body has taught us many truths from the Scriptures, they have also misled us on many occasions. We’re not judging here nor imputing bad motives. It may well be that every instance of false teaching was the result of a sincere effort to teach what was then thought to be truth. However, this isn’t a question of motives. Teaching something that is false, even with the best of intentions, disqualifies one from claiming they are speaking for God. That is the thrust of Deut. 18:20-22 and it is also just plain logical. God cannot lie. So false teaching must originate with man.
That’s okay as long as the false teaching is abandoned when it is shown up for what it truly is, and as long as the original motives were pure. We’ve all engaged in our fair share of falsehood and misleading instruction, haven’t we? It goes with the territory of being human and imperfect. But then, we’re not claiming to be Jehovah’s channel of communication.
One Final Line of Reasoning
Recently, we have been seeing a line of reasoning in the publications that is used to support the idea that the Governing Body is Jehovah’s appointed channel of communication. We are told to remember from whom we have learned all the marvelous truths from the Bible that have set us free from Babylonish captivity. The argument is made that since the faithful and discreet slave (i.e., the Governing Body) taught us everything we know about God, we should treat them as God’s appointed channel of communication.
If that is truly a criterium for surrendering our independence and submitting our understanding of Scripture to a group of men, then we should take the reasoning to its logical conclusion. The truths I personally learned from the publications, I learned long before any of the current members of the Governing Body were appointed. In fact, before two of them were even baptised and before one of them was even born. Ah, but we are not talking about the men, but the official role of the Governing Body and it is true that the publications that instructed me were written by the Governing Body of that era. Fair enough, but where did those making up that Governing Body get their instruction? Knorr, Franz, and the other esteemed brothers were instructed by the individual we now claim was the first to comprise the faithful and discreet slave in the year 1919. But again, where did Judge Rutherford learn these truths? Who taught him? If Jehovah’s appointed channel is identified based on being the source of what we have learned, then Brother Russell must be our man. Every major truth that distinguishes us from Christendom can be traced back to him, yet we claim he was not the Faithful and Discreet slave and therefore could not be Jehovah’s channel of communication.
Taking this particular line of reasoning to its logical conclusion leads to an irreconcilable paradox.
As we have said elsewhere in this forum, we are not challenging the role the Governing Body is playing in Jehovah’s organization of producing our literature, organizing the worldwide preaching work and coordinating so many things relating to our congregations. Their work is vital. Nor are we suggesting that the brotherhood should stop cooperating with these men. We must stand united.
However, there are some things we are obliged not to surrender to men. The foremost of these is our relationship to Jehovah God. When we speak to Jehovah in prayer, we do so directly. There are no intermediaries; not even Jesus Christ. When Jehovah speaks to us, He does so directly through his Word the Bible. True, it was written by men, but like our television analogy, these men were merely a channel to relay Jehovah’s words to us.
Jehovah speaks to you and me through the pages of his written word. What a precious gift that is. It is like a letter written by an earthly father. If you were to get such a letter and had trouble understanding some part of it, you might call your sibling over to help you understand it. However, would you confer upon that sibling the role of sole interpreter of your father’s words and wishes? What would that say about your relationship with your father.
Let us refer back to the closing words of Deuteronomy 18:20-22 which refers to a false prophet: “With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it. You must not get frightened at him.”
Let us continue to cooperate with those taking the lead among us and ‘as we contemplate how their conduct turns out, let us imitate their faith.’ (Heb. 13:7) However, if men go beyond the things that are written, let us not fear them, or be forced to confer upon them a role that goes contrary to Scripture simply because they have told us that to not do so will bring God’s wrath down upon us. “You must not get frightened at him.”
Still, some may counter, “But doesn’t the Bible say we should be obedient to those taking the lead”? (Heb. 13:17)
It does, and perhaps that should be our next topic of discussion.