I was doing my daily Bible reading a few days ago and came to Luke chapter 12. I’ve read this passage many times before, but this time it was like someone had smacked me in the forehead.
“In the meantime, when a crowd of so many thousands had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, he started by saying first to his disciples: “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 But there is nothing carefully concealed that will not be revealed, and nothing secret that will not become known. 3 Therefore, whatever you say in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you whisper in private rooms will be preached from the housetops.” (Lu 12:1-3)
Try to envision the scenario.
There are so many thousands gathered round that they are stepping on one another. Close to Jesus are his most intimate associates; his apostles and disciples. Soon he will be gone and these will take his place. Crowds will look to them for guidance. (Acts 2:41; 4:4) Jesus is well aware that this apostles have an improper desire for prominence.
Given this situation, with the crowd of eager followers pressing in on them, the first thing Jesus does is to tell his disciples to watch out for the sin of hypocrisy. Then he immediately adds to the warning the revelation that hypocrites do not stay hidden. Their secrets told in darkness are revealed in the light of day. Their private whisperings are to be shouted from the housetops. Indeed, his disciples will do much of the shouting. Nevertheless, there is a real danger that his own disciples will fall prey to this corrupting leaven and become hypocrites themselves.
In fact, that is precisely what happened.
Today, there are many men who portray themselves as holy and righteous. To maintain the hypocritical façade, these men must keep many things secret. But Jesus’ words cannot fail to come true. This brings to mind an inspired warning from the apostle Paul.
“Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a person is sowing, this he will also reap;” (Ga 6:7)
An interesting choice of words, is it not? Why would what you plant metaphorically have anything to do with mocking God? Because, like the hypocrites who think they can hide their sin, men try to mock God by thinking they can conduct themselves improperly and not suffer the consequences. Essentially, they think they can plant weeds and reap wheat. But Jehovah God cannot be mocked. They will reap what they sow.
Today the things whispered in private rooms are being preached from the housetops. Our global housetop is the internet.
Hypocrisy and Disobedience
Brother Anthony Morris III recently spoke on the subject of Jehovah blessing obedience. The reverse is also true. Jehovah will not bless us if we are disobedient.
There is an important area in which we have acted both disobediently and hypocritically for many decades. We have been sowing a seed in secret believing it would never see the light of day. We reasoned we were sowing so as to harvest a crop of righteousness, but we are now reaping bitterness.
In what way have they been disobedient? The answer again comes from Luke chapter 12, but in a way that is easy to miss.
“Then someone in the crowd said to him: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 He said to him: “Man, who appointed me judge or arbitrator between you two?”” (Lu 12:13, 14)
You may not see the connection right away. I’m quite sure I would not have, had it not been for news items that have been very much on my mind for the past few weeks.
Please bear with me as I try to explain this.
Handling the Question of Child Abuse in the Congregation
Child sexual abuse is a serious and pervasive problem in our society. Only God’s kingdom will totally eradicate this scourge which has been with us since virtually the start of human history. Of all the organizations and institutions on earth today, which ones come to mind most readily when child abuse is mentioned? How regrettable that it is often Christian religions which news broadcasts feature when reporting on this scandal. This is not to suggest that there are more child molesters in the Christian community than outside of it. No one is alleging that. The problem is that some of these institutions do not deal with the crime properly, thereby greatly exacerbating the damage it causes.
I do not think I would be stretching credulity to suggest that the first religious institution that comes to the mind of the public when this issue is mentioned is the Catholic Church. For many decades, pedophile priests have been protected and shielded, often shunted off to other parishes only to commit their crimes yet again. It seems that the church’s main goal has been to protect its name before the world community.
For some years now, another widely publicized Christian faith has also been making headlines worldwide in this same area and for similar reasons. The Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been forced unwillingly to share a bed with its historic rival over its mishandling of child abuse cases within its ranks.
This might seem very odd at first glance when you consider that there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world against a scant 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are many other Christian denominations with a far larger membership base. These would surely have a proportionately larger number of child abusers than do Jehovah’s Witnesses. So why are other religions not mentioned alongside Catholics. For instance, during recent hearings by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia, the two religions that received the greatest attention were Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Given that there are 150 times more Catholics in the world than Jehovah’s Witnesses, either Jehovah’s Witnesses are 150 times more likely to commit child abuse, or there is some other factor at work here.
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses will see this focus as evidence of persecution by Satan’s world. We reason that Satan doesn’t hate other Christian religions because they are on his side. They are all part of false religion, Babylon the Great. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses are the one true religion and so Satan hates us and brings persecution upon us in the form of trumped up accusations by apostates falsely alleging we have protected child molesters and mishandled their cases.
A convenient self-deception this, for it overlooks one very important fact: For Catholics, the child abuse scandal is pretty much restricted to its clergy. It is not that members of the laity – all 1.2 billion of them – are free of this grave perversion. Rather, it is that the Catholic Church has no judicial system for dealing with such ones. If a Catholic is accused of child abuse, he is not brought before a committee of priests and judged as to whether or not he can remain in the Catholic Church. It is up to the civil authorities to deal with such criminals. It is only when a clergyman is involved that historically the Church has gone out of its way to conceal the problem from the authorities.
However, when looking at the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses we find that sins of all members, not just the elders, are dealt with internally. If a man is accused of child abuse, the police are not called in. Instead he meets with a committee of three elders who determine whether or not he is guilty. If they find him guilty, they next must determine if he is repentant. If a man is both guilty and unrepentant, he is disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, unless there are specific laws to the contrary, the elders do not report these crimes to the civil authorities. In fact, these trials are held in secret and even the members of the congregation are not told there is a child molester in their midst.
This explains why Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses are such strange bedfellows. It’s simple math.
Instead of 1.2 billion against 8 million, we have 400,000 priests against 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses. Assuming that there are just as many potential child abusers among Catholics as there are among Jehovah’s Witnesses, this means that the Organization has had to deal with 20 times more cases of child abuse than has the Catholic Church. (This helps explain why our own records reveal an astonishing 1,006 cases of child abuse in the Organization in a 60-year history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia, though we number only 68,000 there.)[A]
Assume, only for the sake of argument, that the Catholic Church has mishandled all of its cases of child abuse among the priesthood. Now, let say that Jehovah’s Witnesses have mishandled only 5% of their cases. This would put us on par with the Catholic Church in terms of number of cases. However, the Catholic Church is far more than 150 times richer than the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Besides having 150 times more contributors, it has been squirreling away money and hard assets for something like 15 centuries. (The artwork in the Vatican alone is worth many billions.) Nevertheless, the many cases of child abuse the Church has fought or quietly settled over the past 50 years has put a serious strain on Catholic coffers. Now imagine a potentially equal number of cases coming against a religious organization the size of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and you can see the potential scope of this problem.[B]
Disobeying the Lord does not Bring Blessings
What does any of this have to do with the words of Christ as recorded in Luke chapter 12? Let’s begin with Luke 12:14. In answer to the man’s request for Jesus to adjudicate his affairs, our Lord said: “Man, who appointed me judge or arbitrator between you two?”
Jesus Christ was about to be appointed judge of the world. Yet as a man, he refused to arbitrate the affairs of others. There we have Jesus, surrounded by thousands of people all looking to him for guidance, refusing to act as judge in a civil case. What message was he sending to this followers? If no one had appointed him to judge simple civil matters, would he presume to judge even more serious criminal ones? And if Jesus wouldn’t, should we? Who are we to assume a mantle that our Lord rejected?
Those who would argue for a judiciary in the Christian congregation might refer to Jesus’ words at Matthew 18:15-17 as support. Let us consider that, but before we start, please bear in mind two facts: 1) Jesus never contradicted himself and 2) we must let the Bible say what it means, not put words in its mouth.
“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” (Mt 18:15-17)
The parties directly involved are to resolve the matter themselves, or failing that, to use witnesses—not judges—in step two of the process. What about step three? Does the final step say anything about involving the elders? Does it even imply a three-man committee meeting in a secret setting from which observers are excluded?[C] No! What it says is to “speak to the congregation.”
When Paul and Barnabas brought a serious matter that was disrupting the congregation in Antioch to Jerusalem, it was not considered by committee nor in private session. They were received by the “congregation and the apostles and the older men.” (Acts 15:4) The disputing was conducted before the congregation. “At that the entire multitude became silent…” (Acts 15:12) “Then the apostles and the older men together with the whole congregation…” resolved on how to respond. (Acts 15:22)
The Holy Spirit operated through the entire Jerusalem congregation, not just the apostles. If the 12 apostles were not a governing body making decisions for the entire brotherhood, if the entire congregation was involved, then why today have we abandoned that Scriptural model and put all the authority for the worldwide congregation in the hands of just seven individuals?
This is not to suggest that Matthew 18:15-17 authorizes the congregation as a whole or in part to handle crimes like rape, murder and child abuse. Jesus is referring to sins of a civil nature. This lines up with what Paul said at 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.[D]
The Bible clearly explains that criminal cases are, by divine decree, the jurisdiction of worldly governmental authorities. (Romans 13:1-7)
The disobedience of the Organization in circumventing God’s divinely appointed minister (Ro 13:4) by presuming to handle crimes of sexual perversion against innocent children internally, and by frustrating the police from performing their duties to protect the civilian population, has resulted not in God’s blessing, but in reaping a bitter harvest of what they have sown for many decades. (Ro 13:2)
By appointing elders to sit in judgment in civil and criminal cases, the Governing Body has imposed a burden on these men that Jesus himself was not willing to assume. (Luke 12:14) Most of these men are ill-suited for such weighty matters. To commission janitors, window washers, fishermen, plumbers, and the like to deal with criminal activity for which they lack both the experience and training is to set them up for failure. This is not a loving provision and clearly not one which Jesus imposed on his servants.
Paul considered himself as a father to those whom he’d brought up in the truth of God’s word. (1Co 4:14, 15) He used this metaphor, not to supplant the role of Jehovah as the heavenly Father, but rather to express the type and extent of his love for those he called his children, though they were in actuality his brothers and sisters.
We all know that a father or mother will willingly give their life for their children. The Governing Body has expressed fatherly love for these little ones in the publications, on the broadcast site, and most recently by GB member, Geoffrey Jackson, before the Royal Commission in Australia.
Hypocrisy is exposed when deeds do not match words.
The first impulse of a loving father would be to comfort his daughter while imagining just how badly he was going to hurt the abuser. He would take charge, understanding his daughter was too weak and broken emotionally to do this herself, nor would he want her to. He would want to be “streams of water in a waterless land” and a massive crag to provide her with shade. (Isaiah 32:2) What kind of father would inform his wounded daughter that “she has the right to go to the police herself.” What man would say that in doing so she might bring reproach on the family?
Time and again our deeds have shown that our love is for the Organization. Like the Catholic Church, we too wish to protect our religion. But our heavenly Father is not interested in our Organization, but in his little ones. That is why Jesus told us that to stumble a little one is to have tied a chain around one’s own neck, a chain attached to a millstone which God will throw in the sea. (Mt 18:6)
Our sin is the sin of the Catholic Church which in turn is the sin of the Pharisees. It is the sin of hypocrisy. Instead of openly acknowledging cases of gross sin in our ranks, we have hidden this dirty laundry for more than half a century, hoping that our self-image as the only truly righteous people on earth might not be tarnished. However, all that we have “carefully concealed” is being revealed. Our secrets are becoming known. What we said in the darkness is now seeing the light of day, and what we ‘whispered in private rooms is being preached from the internet housetops.’
We are reaping what we have sown, and the reproach we were hoping to avoid has been magnified 100-fold by our failed hypocrisy.
[B] We may just be seeing the effects of this in a recent announcement made to the worldwide bethel community. The Organization is cutting back on support service staff like cleaners and laundry staff. All construction of RTOs and branches is being reconsidered with most being halted. The flagship at Warwick will likely continue however. The reason given is ostensibly to free up more workers for the preaching work. That has a hollow ring to it. After all, cutting back on 140 regional translation offices doesn’t seem to benefit the worldwide preaching effort.
[C] In judicial cases, the Shepherd the Flock of God manual for elders directs that “observers should not be present for moral support.” – ks p. 90, par. 3
[D] Some will point to 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 for support of the judicial arrangement as practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, there are no details whatsoever in that passage that support the judicial procedures in practice today. In fact, no mention is made of the older men making the decision for the congregation. To the contrary, in his second letter to the Corinthians Paul states, “This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man…” This indicates that it was to the congregation both letters were directed, and that it was the congregation members who individually made the determination to disassociate themselves from the man. No judgment was involved, for the man’s sins were public knowledge as was his lack of repentance. All that remained was for each individual to determine whether or not to associate with this brother. It seemed that the majority applied Paul counsel.
Bringing this forward to our day, if a brother were arrested and tried for child abuse, this would be public knowledge and each member the congregation could determine whether or not to associate with such a man. This arrangement is far healthier than the secretive one in place within the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world to this day.