[Watchtower study for the week of July 28, 2014 – w14 5/15 p. 26]
“The eyes of Jehovah area on the righteous.” 1 Pet. 3:12
The word “organization” appears over 17,000 times in all the publications included in the WT Library program. This is a remarkable number for publications which are considered as teaching aids to Bible understanding because the same word does not appear even once in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
Congregation does appear in that NWT some 254 times (1984 edition) and 208 (2013 edition). In the current issue we are studying this week, “congregation” appears 5 times. However, the non-scriptural term “organization” is used 55 times. Jesus said: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mt 12:34) Why do we speak about organization far more then congregation? What is abundant in the heart of those leading us that causes them to vastly favor a non-scriptural term over a wholly scriptural one ?
I can say based on my decades as a Jehovah’s Witness that we view these two terms as synonymous. Only recently have I come to question that premise and done some investigation. With that in mind, let’s begin our review of this week’s study article.
Par. 1 – “Jehovah is rightly credited with the establishment of the Christian congregation in the first century…. As noted in the preceding article, the organization consisting of Christ’s early followers…” The boldfacing is used to highlight how, already in the opening two sentences of the article, the idea is introduced that “congregation” and “organization” are synonymous. If true—if these terms are interchangeable—then why do we favor the non-Biblical term over the one Jehovah gave us? We do this evidently because “organization” carries a meaning not found in “congregation”; a meaning that serves a purpose not provided for by the Biblical term. “Congregation” is ekklésia in Greek; often translated “church”. It means “called forth” or “called out” and was used secularly to refer to a gathering of citizens called out of their homes into a public place for some official or administrative or political purpose. Loosely, it can mean any assembly of individuals. Its use in the Bible is more specific. Retaining the idea of being called out, it can refer to a local grouping of Christians meeting together. Paul used it this way. (Ro 16:5; 1 Co 16:19; Col 4:15; Phil 1:2) It is also used for the collective body of worshipers spread out over a larger geographical area. (Acts 9:31) It can also be used of the entire body of worshippers called out of the world for a purpose. (Acts 20:28; 1 Co 12:27, 28)
Nothing in the biblical term carries the idea of organization. An assembly of people who have been called out for some purpose may be organized or it may be disorganized. It may have a leader, or it may not. It may have an authority hierarchy or it may not. One thing it does have if we are going by the etymological meaning of the Greek is someone who called it out. In the case of the Christian congregation that someone is God. The first century congregation were those who were called out to belong to Christ. (Ro 1:6; 1 Co 1:1, 2; Eph 1:18; 1 Ti 1:9; 1 Pe 1:15; 1 Pe 2:9)
In contrast, “organization” is meaningless unless it is organized, has a leader, as well as an administrative hierarchy or authority structure. Thinking of those Christ has called to be his own in terms of an organization has far reaching consequences. To begin with, it can cause us to think in the collective rather than consider the individual. When the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society incorporates its branch offices in Spanish speaking nations, it is registered as una persona juridica. The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in those countries is viewed as a person in law. This highlights the mindset we increasingly see in the organization where the welfare of the whole—the person of the Organization— outweighs the needs of the individual. It is better to sacrifice the individual so as to preserve the integrity of the collective. This is simply not the Christian way and finds no support in the concept of congregation, where every individual “called out” is of equal value to our Lord and our Father. Perhaps this is why Jehovah never inspired any Bible writer to speak of the congregation as “the organization”.
Let us not get distracted by talk of the need to be organized. There is nothing wrong with being organized. But that isn’t the message of the last two articles in this issue. The title of last week’s study wasn’t, “Jehovah is an organized God”, but rather, “Jehovah is a god of organization”. We are not focusing all our attention on being organized, but instead, on belonging to, supporting, and obeying an organization. If doubts still linger in your mind, consider this statement, still from the opening paragraph: “God’s organization will survive the last days.” It is not his people who survive, but the organization itself.
Also telling is this sidebar found on page 25 of the Simplified Edition of this issue—though oddly missing from the standard one.
“The only way to have Jehovah’s favor is always to follow the direction of his organization.”
(The simplified version is intended for people with limited language skills. While that would include foreign language speakers learning English, they would have the magazines available in their own languages for comparison. The most vulnerable ones are our children. Using the simplified version and receiving this instruction from the people they trust most in the world, their own parents, they will come to believe whole-heartedly that their salvation requires absolute obedience to the commands[i] from the Governing Body.)
To further illustrate why Christ did not head up an organization, consider that the model he provided for loving care focused always on the individual. He could have done mass healings. That would have been most efficient from an organizational perspective. He could have had the ailing and sick lined up in a row and have run along the line, touching each one in passing as we’ve seen some supposed faith healers do on YouTube videos. Yet, he never engaged in such spectacles. He is always depicted as taking time for the individual, even stepping aside with some vulnerable ones to give them both personal and private attention.
Let us keep that picture in mind as we continue our review.
Par. 2 – Our loyalty to the organization is largely based on fear. If we are not part of it, we will die. That is the message. This short paragraph introduces the great tribulation and the destruction of Babylon the Great in preparation for the assertions in the next paragraph.
Par. 3 – Under this subheading we state in the Simplified Edition: “After false religion is destroyed, Jehovah’s Witnesses will be the only religious organization left on earth.”
Satan’s Attack Leads to Armageddon
One of our readers pointed out that the jw.org web site answers a question commonly asked of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Feel That They Are the Only People Who Will Be Saved?” The answer given is “No”. The site then goes on to provide an evasive explanation that people who have died in the past will be resurrected as unrighteous ones. But the question is not being asked in that context obviously, so we are contradicting ourselves. We do most definitely believe that only Jehovah’s Witnesses will be saved as this paragraph clearly states. Paragraph 5 closes with the statement, “Armageddon will bring an end to Satan’s world. But Jehovah’s organization will remain.”
That Jehovah’s people—his congregation, the ones he has called out of the world—will remain is beyond dispute as it is well attested to in the Bible. However, the Organization is another thing. Revelation describes Babylon the Great as being stripped naked, eaten up and burned. (Re 17:16; 18:8) We have often predicted that religions like the Catholic church will be stripped of all their wealth. Their buildings will be torn down and destroyed, their assets will be taken from them, their leadership attacked and killed. Many witnesses imagine that this storm of destruction will pass us by; that we will emerge with our buildings, finances, and religious hierarchy intact and ready to proceed with a final condemnatory message of judgment. If that turns out not to be the case—if, as the Bible and Christian history shows, it is individuals who are spared—what will be the result for so many who have put faith in an organization? Where will they go, having depended on men for so long for their salvation?
Why Jehovah’s Organization Continues to Grow
Par. 6 – Under this subheading in the Simplified Edition we state: “Today, the earthly part of God’s organization continues to grow because it is full of righteous people who have God’s approval.” The Governing Body does not have the benefit of miraculous gifts of the spirit, nor a cloud by day and column of fire by night to indicate Jehovah’s blessing. Neither can they point to an unbroken string of prophecies come true to prove divine endorsement. So they must resort to pointing to our growth as proof of God’s approval. The problem with that is some other religions are growing faster. A recent NY Times article reported that the evangelical movement in Brazil had grown from 15% to 22% of the population in one recent 10-year period. That is phenomenal growth! If growth is the measure of Jehovah’s blessing, then we must conclude that Brazil’s evangelical churches are “full of righteous people”.
Par. 7 – Here we are told the encouraging news that 2.7 million individuals have been baptized from 2003 to 2012, and that now there are almost 8 million of us. However, focusing only on those coming in the front door can blind us to a serious problem involving the huge number exiting through the back door. From 2000 to 2013, 3.8 million individuals were baptized, but 1.8 million vanished from our rosters. That’s almost half! The worldwide death rate doesn’t account for anything near that number of departing ones.
We will excuse that number by claiming they were “not of our sort”. (1 John 2:19) True, but that presumes we are ourselves of the right “sort”. Are we?
Par. 10 – We now get to the main point of the study: The need to follow direction and accept the teachings of the Organization (aka, the Governing Body) without question. We again misapply Proverbs 4:18[ii] to explain away our errors of the past. We are then encouraged to keep up with “refinements[iii] in our understanding of Scriptural truth”. We are encouraged to be an “avid reader” of the publications “especially now that the great tribulation is drawing so close!”
Par. 11 – “Jehovah’s organization is acting in our best interests when it urges us to heed the apostle Paul’s counsel: “Let us consider one another so as to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking our meeting together…” People can love us and therefore act in our best interests. An impersonal organization cannot do this. An organization can have no heart. Paul was acting in our best interests when he penned these words and Jehovah even more so when he inspired this writing. Plugging the Organization in this way is done to reinforce the article’s theme of calling for loyalty to and appreciation of the Organization for all it has done for us.
We follow up with: “Today, we also have meetings, assemblies, and conventions. We should try to be present at all these occasions because they help us to stay close to Jehovah and to be happy in our service to him.” That is true, but is it because of the indoctrination we get there or because of divine teaching? Is the happiness many feel after attending an assembly or convention based on a genuine hope, or an illusion? What would we say if asked that question concerning any of the conventions held by other religions? Their tens of thousands of attendees make similar claims of joy and faith and hope and upbuilding association. Are they being indoctrinated or are these feelings the result of genuine divine instruction?
That fact is we like to believe. We love to believe. Believing makes us feel good. Yet, as Jehovah’s Witnesses we would discount any expressions of joy expressed by members of other religions following one of their revival meetings. We would recognize their sincerity and acknowledge God’s word has power, yet we would never want to attend one of those gatherings ourselves, because they teach falsehood. We might even acknowledge that 99% of what they teach is true, but that 1% poisons the whole mix for us, doesn’t it? Yet, if the only criteria that condemns those non-JW gatherings is the teaching of some falsehood, what can be said about ours? We teach 1914 as the start of Christ’s invisible presence. We teach that 99.9% of all Christians are sinners if they obey Jesus’ command to commemorate his death by partaking of the wine and bread. We teach that people who quietly leave our ranks must be treated as disfellowshipped. We teach that just believing in one’s heart that some of the Governing Body’s teachings are wrong merits disfellowshipping and spiritual—and eventually physical—death. We teach that those alive in 1914 were part of the generation who sees the end. We teach that the vast majority of Christians are not God’s children, but merely his friends. The list goes on, but is that not enough to lump us in with the rest whom we reject for teaching falsehoods?
Par. 12 – “As members of Jehovah’s organization, we must preach the good news.” (Simplified Edition) Again, the central theme, membership has its privileges. The article says nothing about being in Jehovah’s family, or part of a universal brotherhood, or of being part of the congregation of the holy ones. Yet, these are all Biblical concepts taught throughout the Christian Scriptures. No, the article pays no attention to these teachings, but instead focuses on membership in an organization ruled by men.
Par. 13 – Let us use our critical thinking as we consider this statement: “Jehovah wants what is best for us. That is why he wants us to stay close to him and his organization.” (Simplified Edition) The first sentence is true and scriptural, as is the first part of the second sentence. However, if Jehovah wants us to stay close to his organization, why doesn’t he say so? Where in the Bible does it say that? Staying close to our brothers, Yes! Close to the congregation of holy ones, Yes! But if an organization is so vital, why is the word expressing that important concept never used in the entirety of Holy Scripture?
“Choose life. Love Jehovah, and always be loyal to him and his organization.” (Simplified Edition)
Again, our eternal life is linked to loyalty and obedience to the organization. You could substitute Jesus for Jehovah in that sentence and it still holds true, because our Lord does nothing of his own initiative, but only what is pleasing to his Father. (John 8:28-30) The same can most emphatically not be said about the Organization which has often been shown to initiate teachings subsequently discredited as false, then excuse themselves saying they were only refinements. That would be fine if it were not for the fact that while doing this—and even acknowledging awareness of their own imperfection and sinful nature—they continue to demand the same type of loyalty due to God. One cannot help but think of the “two masters” analogy Jesus gave us. (Mt 6:24) That was predicated on the idea that each master would ask different things from us, forcing us to choose between them. By demanding the loyalty owed only to our heavenly Father, the Organization is placing us in the same quandary. For they have—and inevitably will again—ask us to do things that are contrary to Jehovah’s teachings.
Par. 14 – Brother Pryce Hughes…said that the most important lesson he learned was to stay close to Jehovah’s organization and not rely on human thinking.” The implication is that Jehovah’s organization does not engage in human thinking, but only reflects God’s thinking. A secondary implication is that we shouldn’t think for ourselves, but we should simply depend on what the organization tells us. The overall message of the article seems to be that we will be safe, happy, and blessed if we surrender our conscience and power of reason to the organization and do what they tell us to do.
Par. 15 – One tries to present the facts coldly and logically without emotionalism so as not to unduly influence the reader, but the opening statement of this paragraph is so outrageous, so disrespectful to God, that it is difficult to maintain a sense of detachment.
Keep Moving Ahead with God’s Organization
“Jehovah wants us to support his organization and accept adjustments in the way we understand Bible truth and in the way we preach.” (ws14 5/15 p. 25 par. 15 Simplified Edition)
We claim Jehovah chose his Organization and Jesus appointed his faithful and discreet slave back in 1919. Since then, the Organization has taught us that the end would come and the dead be resurrected in 1925; that the 1,000-year reign of Christ would likely begin in 1975; that the generation born in 1914 would live to see Armageddon. These are only a tiny fraction of the teachings which we have subsequently rejected as false. If we accept this paragraph’s opening statement, we must acknowledge that at the time of each false teaching Jehovah wanted us to believe them as true. He knew they were false, but he wanted us to accept them as true anyway. Therefore, Jehovah wanted to deceive us. The God who cannot lie wanted us to believe a lie. (He 6:18) The God who does not try anyone with evil was wanting us to be enticed by our desire for an early end to test our loyalty to his Organization when the prophesy failed to come true. (James 1:13-15)
Surely we are crossing a line with this statement.
Par. 16 – After wielding the stick of Armageddon, this paragraph offers the carrot of future blessings. “All who remain loyal to Jehovah and his organization will receive blessings.” Again, hitting the theme, “Listen, Obey, and Be Blessed”— which works fine if the one listened to and obeyed is God, but if it is a man-run organization…not so much. This paragraph is linked to a half-page illustration of the new world which we’ll get to if we stay in the organization. (p. 26, Simplified Edition) Nothing beats a pretty picture if you are trying to indoctrinate a child.
Par. 17 – “May each one of us stay close to Jehovah and move ahead with his organization.” Let us stay close to Jehovah. Yes! Most definitely! Let us also stay close to our brothers who are displaying the qualities of Christ. Let us be there to help them to see the light of God’s word. As for moving ahead with the Organization…well, there are only two roads Jesus spoke of. Before we jump onboard any vehicle, let’s make sure which one it’s on. The road leading to life is guarded by a narrow gate. I’m not sure something as big as the Organization would fit through. But individuals, Yes!
[i] “Direction” is a euphemistic term we have long employed to mask the true nature of the directives from our leadership. Direction gives the idea of optional courses of action or suggestions—another euphemism also frequently used—when in fact tying our salvation to our compliance to this direction raises it above the level of counsel or advice to the status of orders from God.
[ii] For a fuller understanding of what this verse really refers to, see “What is the Role of Holy Spirit in Doctrinal Development?”
[iii] Another euphemism for changes, about-faces, and flip-flops. Our worst example of this is the 8-fold flip-flop on whether the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah will be resurrected or not.