[A Review of the November 15, 2014 Watchtower article on page 18]
“Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah.”— Ps 144:15
Our review this week will not take us beyond the first paragraph of the study. It opens with:
“Many thinking people today readily admit that mainstream religions, inside and outside Christendom, do little to benefit mankind.” (Par. 1)
By “thinking people”, the article refers to those who use the power of critical thinking to evaluate what they perceive is going on around them. Such critical thinking is beneficial as it protects us from being easily deceived. Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to think critically about the conduct of mainstream religions so as to warn others about their misdeeds. However, there is a big blind spot in our landscape. We are actually discouraged from using critical thinking when viewing the mainstream religion to which we ourselves belong.
(Let there be no doubt about this. A religion boasting eight million adherents, larger than many nations on earth, can hardly be called marginal.)
So let us be “thinking people” and evaluate. Let us not jump to preconceived conclusions that have been all nicely packaged up for us by others.
“Some agree that such religious systems misrepresent God by their teachings and by their conduct and therefore cannot have God’s approval.” (Par. 1)
Jesus spoke of such religious systems when he said:
“Be on the watch for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. 16 By their fruits you will recognize them. “ (Mt 7:15 NWT)
A prophet is more than one who foretells the future. In the Bible, the term refers to one who speaks inspired utterances; ergo, one who speaks for God or in God’s name.[i] Therefore, a false prophet is one who misrepresents God by his false teachings. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we will read this sentence and nod our heads in silent agreement thinking of the religions of Christendom that continue to teach the Trinity, Hellfire, the immortality of the human soul, and idolatry; religions who hide God’s name from the masses, and support the wars of man. Such ones simply cannot have God’s approval.
However, we will not turn this same critical eye upon ourselves.
I have personally experienced this. I have seen highly intelligent brothers recognize that a core teaching of ours is untrue, yet continue to accept it with the words, “We have to be patient and wait on Jehovah”, or “We mustn’t run ahead”, or “If it is wrong, Jehovah will correct it in his good time.” They do this automatically because they are working on the premise that we are the true religion, therefore, these are all minor issues. For us, the core issue is the vindication of God’s sovereignty and the restoration of the divine name to its proper place. To our minds, this is what sets us apart; this is what makes us the one true faith.
No one is suggesting that the restoration of God’s name to its proper place in Scripture is unimportant, nor is anyone suggesting that we should not submit to our Sovereign Lord Jehovah. However, to make these the distinguishing features of true Christianity is to miss the mark. Jesus points elsewhere when giving us the identifying characteristics of his true disciples. He spoke of love and spirit and truth. (John 13:35; 4:23, 24)
Since truth is a distinguishing feature, how will we apply the words of James when confronted with the reality that one of our teachings is false?
“. . .Therefore, if someone knows how to do what is right and yet does not do it, it is a sin for him.” (Jas 4:17 NWT)
Speaking truth is right. Speaking a lie is not. If we know the truth and do not speak it, if we hide it and lend support to a replacement lie, then “it is a sin”.
To turn a blind eye to this, many will point to our growth—such as it is these days—and claim this shows God’s blessing. They will ignore the fact that other religions are growing as well. More important, they will ignore that Jesus said,
“. . .Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? 17 Likewise, every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce fine fruit. 19 Every tree not producing fine fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.” (Mt 7:16-20 NWT)
Notice that both true and false religion produces fruit. What distinguishes the true from the false is the quality of the fruit. As Witnesses we will look at the many good people we meet—kind people who do good works to benefit others in need—and sadly shake our heads when we’re back with the car group and say, “Such nice people. They should be Jehovah’s Witnesses. If only they had the truth”. In our eyes, their false beliefs and their association with organizations that teach falsehood nullifies all the good they do. In our eyes, their fruits are rotten. So if false teachings are the determining factor, what of us with our failed 1914-1919 series of prophecies; our “other sheep” doctrine that denies the heavenly calling to millions, forcing them to disobey Jesus’ command at Luke 22:19; our medieval application of disfellowshipping; and worst of all, our demand for unconditional submission to the teachings of men?
Truly, if we are to paint “mainstream religion” with a brush, should we not follow the principle of 1 Peter 4:17 and paint ourselves with it first? And if the paint sticks, shouldn’t we cleanse ourselves first, before pointing out the flaws of others? (Luke 6:41, 42)
Still tenaciously holding to the precept that we are exempt from such critical thought, sincere witnesses will point to our worldwide brotherhood and its willingness to contribute time and resources to our many building projects, our disaster relief work, jw.org, and the like. Wonderful stuff, but is it God’s will?
21 “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of the heavens, but only the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. 22 Many will say to me in that day: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them: ‘I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!’ (Mt 7:21-23 NWT)
Perish the thought that we should be included in these warning words of our Lord. We love to point the finger at every other Christian denomination on earth and show how this applies to them, but to us? Never!
Notice that Jesus doesn’t deny the powerful works, prophesying and expelling of demons. The determining factor is whether these ones did God’s will. If not then they are workers of lawlessness.
So what is God’s Will? Jesus goes on to explain in the very next verses:
“24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does them will be like a discreet man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and lashed against that house, but it did not cave in, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 Furthermore, everyone hearing these sayings of mine and not doing them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and struck against that house, and it caved in, and its collapse was great.”” (Mt 7:24-27 NWT)
Jesus as God’s one and only appointed and anointed channel of communication expresses God’s will to us. If we do not follow his sayings, we may still build a beautiful house, yes, but its foundation will be on sand. It will not withstand the flood coming upon mankind. It is crucial for us to keep this thought in mind for next week when we study the conclusion of this two-article theme.
The Real Theme
The rest of this article discusses the formation of the nation of Israel as a people for Jehovah’s name. It is only when we get to next week’s study that we understand the purpose of these two articles. However, the foundation for the theme is laid in the next sentences of paragraph 1:
“They believe, however, that there are sincere people in all religions and that God sees them and accepts them as his worshippers on earth. They see no need for such ones to quit engaging in false religion in order to worship as a separate people. But does this thinking represent God’s?” (Par. 1)
The idea that salvation can only be attained within the bounds of our Organization goes back to the days of Rutherford. The real purpose of these two articles, as it was the previous two, is to make us more loyal to the Organization.
The article asks whether the thinking that one can remain in a false religion and still have God’s approval represents God’s point of view. If after considering the second article in this study, the conclusion is that it is not possible to gain God’s approval this way, then may we be judged by the very standard we impose upon others. For if we conclude that God sees “a need for such ones to quit engaging in false religion in order to worship as a separate people”, then given our false teachings, the organization is calling for its “thinking” members to leave.
[i] The Samaritan woman perceived Jesus was a prophet though he had spoken only of past and present events. (John 4:16-19)