[From ws15/09 for Nov 1-7]
“The objective of this instruction is love out of a clean heart
and out of a good conscience.” – 1 Tim. 1:5
This study asks us whether our own conscience is a reliable guide. One would presume that by studying this article, we will be able to answer that question.
Learning how the conscience works and how to train and exercise our conscience is a good thing. It is the trained conscience, not the commands of men, that tells us what to do when there is no direct scriptural rule governing an action or regulating a choice. For example, we might reflect on Matthew 6:3, 4.
“But you, when making gifts of mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, 4 that your gifts of mercy may be in secret; then your Father who is looking on in secret will repay you.” (Mt 6:3, 4)
Bible study will have taught us that a gift of mercy is a gift that alleviates the suffering of another. It may be a material gift to one in need, or the gift of an understanding and sympathetic ear in a time of distress. It may be the gift of knowledge freely imparted that helps people to resolve one or more of life’s problems. In this regard, we are told that our preaching work is an act of love and mercy.[i] Therefore, we could rightly consider that expending our time, energy and material resources to preach the good news amounts to making a gift of mercy to those in need.
Further to that, we might reason that providing details of the time and activity we devote to this merciful work would amount to disregarding the clear direction of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 6:3, 4. By letting our right hand know what our left is doing, we would be in line to get accolades from men. Men might look up to us, put us on convention platforms as examples of zeal in the ministry. We might get greater “privileges” in the congregation based partially on the amount of activity we report. Our conscience might warn us that in so doing we are imitating the pseudo-righteous men Jesus warned us about when he said:
“Take care not to practice your righteousness in front of men to be noticed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens. 2 So when you make gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” (Mt 6:1, 2)
Not wanting to have our reward paid in full by men, but preferring instead to have Jehovah repay us, we could decide to desist from handing in our monthly Field Service Report.
Since there is no Bible requirement to report one’s preaching time, this becomes a strict matter of conscience.
What would you expect the reaction to be to such a conscientious decision?
This week’s study article gives us this sage advice:
“If we cannot understand the conscientious decision of a fellow believer on some personal matter, we should not quickly judge him or feel that we ought to pressure him to change his mind.” – par. 10
Imagine telling your congregation secretary that you’ve decided not to report your time anymore. When asked why, you simply state that it is a personal decision made in good conscience. You might expect that the counsel not to judge nor pressure someone who makes a choice based on his or her conscience would apply, especially from those charged with obeying the instructions of the Organization.
From personal experience, I can attest that the opposite will be the case. You will be invited into the back room of the Kingdom hall and two elders will ask you to explain yourself. If you stick to your guns and decline to provide an explanation other than to say it is a personal decision based on your conscience, you may well be accused of being rebellious and of failing to obey the direction of the “faithful slave.” They may even suggest that your attitude indicates you are weak or possibly engaging in secret sins. They will then surely pressure you by telling you that after six months of not reporting, you will be considered inactive and therefore no longer a member of the congregation. Since we are taught that only members of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses will survive Armageddon, this is substantial pressure indeed. (The fact that these same brothers will continue to see you attending the service groups and going from door-to-door will carry no weight in their decision to consider you as an inactive “publisher of the good news.”)
The foregoing scenario is not the exception. It indicates an attitude which is systematically fostered in the training of elders.
Ignoring Our Own Counsel
The fact is we give mere lip service to the idea of a Christian acting conscientiously. In reality, we only support a decision based on conscience if it does not violate any of the man-made rules and traditions of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We need go no farther than paragraph 7 of his very article for evidence of this.
It opens with the disclaimer: “Neither a branch office nor the local congregation elders are authorized to make health-care decisions for a Witness.” Yet, the removal of the individual’s right to conscientious self-determination is immediately introduced by these words: “For example, a Christian needs to remember the Biblical command “to keep abstaining from…blood.” (Acts 15:29) That would clearly rule out medical treatments that involve taking in whole blood or any of its four major components.”
Clearly, the Organization would have us believe that “medical treatments that involve taking in whole blood or any of its four major components” do not constitute a matter of conscience. There is a rule here, and a Biblical one at that.
This may seem obvious to you if you are a tried and true Jehovah’s Witness. I found it so myself. How can I be abstaining from blood if I take a blood transfusion? However, I found a very reasonable and scriptural counter-argument in the article Apollos wrote which you can view by clicking this title: “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the “No Blood” Doctrine”. (Read it before making a final decision.)
Just to show that we shouldn’t jump to an easy conclusion, we have to look at Acts 15:29 in context. The Jews didn’t eat blood, or things sacrificed to idols, and sex was not part of their worship. Yet all of these elements were common practice in pagan worship. So the use of the word “abstain” went beyond the specific injunction given to Noah not to eat blood. The apostles wanted Gentile Christians to keep far away from all these practices because they could lead them back into false worship. It was like telling an alcoholic to abstain from alcohol. It could lead to sin. But such a prohibition would not be understood as a medical injunction precluding the use of alcohol as an anesthetic in the case of emergency surgery, would it?
By overextending the application of a simple dietary injunction, Jehovah’s Witnesses have created a tangled web of rules. God’s law is simple. It takes men to complicate it.
Please understand that the question before us now isn’t whether it is right or wrong to take a blood transfusion or medicine that has blood fractions in it, or whether it is right to store blood or allow it to be circulated by machines. The question is, “Who should be deciding this?”
It is a matter of individual conscience, not something that anyone else should decide for us. By surrendering our conscience to others, we are submitting to them and allowing them to usurp the authority of God, for He gave us a conscience by which to rule ourselves guided–not by men–but by his word and spirit.
The Organization should follow its own advice and remove all doctrinal injunctions regulating how blood should be used in medical procedures. Our implementation of this doctrine mimics the oral law of the Pharisees who sought to regulate every action under the Mosiac law down to ruling whether killing a fly on the Sabbath amounted to work. When men make rules, it often starts out as a nice little idea, but before long it gets silly.
Of course, they cannot back off this injunction now. If they did, they would open themselves up to millions of dollars in wrongful death litigation. So it ain’t gonna happen.
The Article’s Real Purpose
While the article promises to teach us about the Christian Conscience, its real purpose is to get us to conform to the Organizational standard regarding health care, recreation and entertainment, and zeal in the preaching work. This drum is beaten on a regular basis.
Going back to the article’s title, the answer we are expected to arrive at is that our conscience can only be considered a reliable guide if its decisions conform to those the Organization is directing us to accept.
[i] See w14 4/15 p. 11 par. 14