the Spirit Watch
Does God Work Through An Organization?
(Bible quotations are from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, 1971 edition, or The Holy Bible, New International Version, 1983 edition)
By Tom Cabeen
Does God have an organization? Has He always had an organization? Was Israel God's organization in ancient times? Are Jehovah's Witnesses His organization today? Can an organization be God's prophet or spokesperson? Does the Bible tell Christians to identify or be loyal to God's organization?
The Watchtower asserts that God has always communicated with and directed his servants through an organization. Today, it teaches, God's organization is identified with Jehovah's Witnesses, who view their Governing Body and its legal agent, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, as representatives of a divinely appointed "channel of communication" between God and man. They are taught that God directs all his interests on earth through that organization, and that outside it there is no possibility of either salvation or divine favor. Recognizing the authority of the "spirit-directed organization" is even included in Jehovah's Witnesses' requirements for baptism.
Through printed publications and representatives, the Watchtower Society headquarters staff gives regular, detailed direction to thousands of congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide. They coordinate field activities, adjust explanations of doctrinal or organizational subjects, provide rules and regulations to govern religious and secular matters, and specify disciplinary procedures for those who fail to conform. The headquarters staff also receives regular reports from representatives in the field.
This type of regular direction by a central group over others spread worldwide or throughout a large region was not possible even two centuries ago. The whole concept of a "world-wide organization" is quite recent, a result of vast improvements in communications within the last century or so. It is important to keep this fact in mind as we evaluate what the Bible shows about how God revealed himself to his people in the past.
From Adam to the Flood
God spoke directly to Adam and Eve. He blessed them and told them what he expected of them (Gen. 1:28-30). After they sinned, he questioned them and pronounced judgment directly upon them and the serpent (Gen. 3:9-19). God judged sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel individually. When Cain showed an incorrect attitude, God gave him personal guidance and a warning against sin. After he murdered his brother, God judged him as an individual - Gen. 4:6-15.
During the long patriarchal period, obedience to God's command to mankind to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth required his servants to spread out rather than gather together. Consistently, there is no mention of any group of God's servants who either worshipped in a central location or regularly received messages as a group from God to pass on to others.
When God decided to cleanse the earth of unrighteousness by means of a flood, he selected Noah to carry out the instructions that would preserve both the human and animal families. God spoke directly to Noah (1). A "preacher of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5), Noah acted as a prophet, one who communicates divine messages. After the flood, Noah made sacrifices to God on behalf of his family, a pattern that was to last for many centuries (Job 1:5). Family heads represented their families before God, and thus took on the role of priest or mediator in that limited sense.
From the Flood to Sinai
After the flood, God repeated his command to "be fruitful and become many and fill the earth" (Gen. 9:1). And He continued to speak directly to individuals, or to communicate through angels, dreams, and visions or prophets, who received messages from God and were compelled to deliver them to their recipients. When a group of rebels conspired to gather together and build a great tower, partly because of fear that they would be "scattered over all the surface of the earth," Jehovah God confused their languages to force them to obey, at least for a time, his command to fill the earth - Gen. 11:4, 8.
Hundreds of years later, God promised his friend Abraham, an outstanding man of faith, that he would become a "a great nation" (Gen. 12:2). This marked the beginning of something new. A favored family would receive special attention and produce the promised Messiah. Did this mark the beginning of a new, more "organized" way of communicating with mankind?
As Abraham's family grew, God continued to communicate directly with his servants, including persons who acted, temporarily or permanently, as prophets. Yet it appears that no one had the whole picture, nor did God only work through only one "channel" or slave at a time. For example, while still a boy living with his father, a patriarch and prophet, Joseph dreamed inspired dreams that foretold the future. Joseph was sent by Jehovah to Egypt to prepare the way for the growth of Jacob's family into a nation. But Jehovah did not reveal to Jacob what He was doing, although Jacob was still a patriarch and prophet (Gen. 42:36). Under God's guidance, seventy-five descendants of Abraham moved down to Egypt. When they came out 430 years later, they numbered in the millions.
When God was about to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt, he spoke personally to Moses through a burning bush, and commissioned him to perform miracles, to show the Israelites and the Egyptians the meaning and power behind the name of Jehovah. Their readiness to accept and worship a golden calf on the plains of Sinai, for example, and other signs of weak faith suggests that while in Egypt, they had not, as a group, maintained the pure worship practiced by their ancestor Abraham.
The Israelites entered into a special covenant relationship with God after they left Egypt. They received the Law, which would guide them in moral, civil, and religious matters. The Watchtower presents these events as a parallel of how Jehovah's Witnesses were brought out of the "world," especially Christendom, and how they received centralized direction through an earthly "channel of communication," resulting in their being built up into their current organized form. Israel is used as a "type" or picture of the highly-organized Watchtower Society. Does the picture hold true? Did the Mosaic Law create a centralized administrative structure like the one that governs Jehovah's Witnesses today?
How Was Israel Organized?
Moses was truly a "channel of communication" between God and the Israelites. He is referred to in scripture as a "mediator" (Num. 12:7; Gal. 3:19). In that role, he foreshadowed Jesus Christ (Deut. 18:18-19 compared with Acts 3:19-23). Moses led Israel and was a prophet. His successor Joshua was a leader, but not a mediator or prophet. Nor were Moses' brother Aaron and his descendants the priests. They, as well as the other members of their tribe, the Levites, were only to carry out religious functions, not executive or prophetic ones. Who, then, directed things in Israel?
There was no need for a centralized government because the nation of Israel was actually a single family. It was "organized" along family lines. In Israel, elders and "chieftains over hundreds and thousands" were not elected by popular vote nor appointed by God. They were relatives of the people they represented. Each tribe was a family group, descended from a common ancestor and closely related by blood.
The Mosaic Law gave moral and religious guidance to the Israelites. It provided extensive definition of sinful thoughts or actions that could occur in every facet of everyday life, along with specific procedures for dealing with that sinfulness. But it did not set up any human form of government or administrative body. Under the Law, the Israelites were to be guided by personal conscience rather than human rulers who enforced governmental power through police or other armed forces. Sanctions against sinners or lawbreakers were carried out in each community by the people themselves, under the supervision of the elders. The priests supervised the accompanying offerings and other religious procedures. Each individual was responsible for his own behavior before God, his family and the community. This was a theocratic form of government in its truest sense: God himself acted in place of any earthly king. Did this form of government work?
From Sinai To Samuel
After entering the promised land, the Israelites lived for over 350 years without any human king or centralized government. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 21:25). This theocratic arrangement did not result in anarchy. The evidence shows that it precluded excellent results.
God selected and appointed judges from time to time as needed. They acted as leaders, but more in a military than in a governmental way. At times more that one judge was active. At times no judge was active. They had no special executive authority, nor did they act as kings over Israel, for God was to be their only ruler. The closing chapters of Judges contain an interesting and unusual story of how justice was administered under this arrangement in the case of a particularly violent crime.
The Bible record shows that during over two thirds of the period of the Judges, there was peace in the land. Following occasions when judges appeared to deliver Israel from enemies, there were three periods of forty years and one period of eighty years when the land had "peace" (Judges 3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28). There were never so many peaceful years after that period of the Judges ended. In fact, during that time, the Bible only reports that one prophet, the woman Deborah was sent to Israel. What happened that changed the situation and prevented peaceful conditions in the land?
A Bad Idea Takes Root
Eventually, the Israelites began to clamor for a king. They wanted a visible centralized government. Why? Was it because the theocratic form of rule that had brought peace and prosperity for generations wasn't working? No. Was it to protect them from apostasy? No. Why was it? They said: "Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles" (1 Sam. 8:20). It was so they could be just like the pagan nations around them. The idea was selfish, worldly, and untheocratic. And God said exactly that. Samuel thought that Israel had rejected him as prophet, but Jehovah God corrected him. God said that their request was a rejection of him as their king. God warned Israel that a centralized form of government would lead to many difficulties, but they continued to insist that God give them a human king - 1 Sam. 8:10.
God granted their request. He chose a good and capable man, Saul, as their first king. With the passage of time, the good qualities for which Saul was chosen became corrupted. God rejected Saul and chose another king for Israel, the boy David who grew up into a man "agreeable to (God's) heart" (1 Sam. 13:14). Even a man with this wonderful recommendation was not without serious faults. David's reign was marred with personal scandal and family tragedy. David's son Solomon was called "the wisest of all men." His forty-year reign was marked by peace, prosperity, and happiness, but with age, he too, was unfaithful to God (1 Kings 11:4-6). As a result, when Solomon's son, Rehoboam, took the throne, Jehovah split the nation forever into two kingdoms: ten tribes in the north (Israel) and two tribes in the south (Judah) - 1 Kings 11:9-13.
Centralized government over all Israel failed miserably. It lasted only three generations, even though God himself selected their kings. From this point on in Jewish history, comparing the Israelites with Jehovah's Witnesses in the twentieth century becomes even more difficult and complicated.
Two Kingdoms, One Organization?
After the division into two kingdoms, things were never the same for the Jews. The kingdom of Judah continued to have David's descendants on their throne, while the kingdom of Israel had multiple dynasties, at times changing through bloody warfare. The two kingdoms fought wars with outside enemies, and they fought each other. Each had its own line of kings. The northern kingdom set up a center of worship in Samaria rather than at Jerusalem, which was in the territory of the two-tribe kingdom, and largely replaced the Levitical priests with non-Levite priests, which led to false worship.
It's hard to imagine how the governmental situation among the Jews could be compared in any way to a single harmonious organization with a centralized administrative structure. It is not as if one of the kingdoms was faithful and the other was unfaithful. Good and bad kings were as likely to be in one kingdom or the other. God did not refuse to deal with one kingdom or the other. He sent prophets to both kingdoms. In either kingdom, when there were unrighteous kings, wickedness abounded. But under righteously-inclined kings, there was generally a return to a more pure form of worship and blessings resulted.
The northern kingdom, Israel, fell forever at the hands of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser in the middle of the eighth century before Christ. In time, some of their descendants returned to their formal capital, Samaria in Northern Palestine. In Jesus' day they were known as Samaritans, and were hated by their Jewish cousins. After the fall of the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom, Judah, continued to have both good and bad kings. In the sixth century before Christ, God finally allowed them to be taken captivity to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar due to their unfaithfulness. After the captivity, a relatively small group did return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and reestablish themselves in their Jewish homeland. But most never returned to Palestine.
Almost twenty centuries passed between the time God promised his friend Abraham that his offspring would become a nation until Jesus came. Israelites did worship together faithfully from time to time, especially in the centuries before they had a king. But they never had a central administrative body that even remotely resembled today's Watchtower organization, either in form or function. Yet during the entire time, they were still God's chosen people. How do we know this?
Jesus: Sent To The "Lost Sheep Of Israel"
By the time Jesus appeared on the scene, Israel as a nation was anything but highly organized. They were governed by foreigners. They did not practice pure worship. The majority of them (what was left of the ten-tribe kingdom, plus the descendants of the large number of Jews who never returned to Palestine after the Babylonian captivity) were scattered throughout the earth. They were governed by a number of nations and rulers. They were divided in their beliefs. They had embellished and added to the Law to the point that even simple commands such as the Sabbath were nearly impossible to obey. The worship carried on in Jerusalem was corrupted by commercialism and meaningless rituals and formalities.
In spite of this situation, however, Jesus' ministry was directed to Jews and Samaritans rather than Gentiles. Why? In his own words, he was sent "to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:24 NIV). In spite of unfaithfulness and apostasy, they were still God's chosen people. It was only after their rejection of the Messiah that their "house was abandoned to them" - Matthew 23:28.
How Did God Communicate With Israel?
The Bible is filled with examples of how God communicated with his people. He spoke to some directly (Gen. 46:1-4; Joshua 8:1) or through angels (Judges 6:11-24; chapter 13). Others, including prophets, received visions or dreams (1 Kings 3:5-15; 9:1-9; Isaiah 1:1; Amos 7:1-9; Ezekiel 1:1). But most messages to God's people were delivered by prophets. As Hebrews 1:1 states: "God long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets."
Prophets appeared in Israel most often when God's people were unfaithful. They simply received messages from God and passed them on to others. Those messages from God, or prophecies, warned the people to turn from false worship and encouraged them to obey the Law and practice true worship. Who appointed prophets? They were not chosen by national leaders, priests or even other prophets. They were appointed by God himself, by holy spirit (Num. 11:24-29).
Since there was no arrangement in the Law for appointing prophets, nor any official procedure to authorize them, it was left to each individual Israelite to determine whether someone calling himself a prophet truly represented God. So the Law specified three signs of true prophets and prophecies: 1. the prophet spoke in the name of Jehovah, 2. the prophecy came true, 3. the prophecy promoted true worship - Deuteronomy 18:20-22; 13:1-4. The job of prophet as described in the Bible offered little or no prestige or power. Prophets were unpopular. Most of them were treated poorly by God's chosen people. Many were brutally persecuted or killed by the leaders of the nation.
Were God's prophets ever organized into a central body that gave direction to the nation of Israel? The Bible mentions groups of prophets in a couple of places, such as 1 Samuel 10:5, 10; 2 Kings 2:3, 5; and 4:38, but they never acted as any type of regular "channel of communication" from God. In fact, at times prophets were not aware of other prophets or even of other true worshippers. For example, during one of the periods of the northern kingdom's unfaithfulness, the prophet Elijah believed himself to be the only person in Israel who had not bowed down to Baal. Yet God revealed to him: "I reserve seven thousand in Israel - all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him" (1 Kings 19:18). Those faithful persons would doubtless have been considered disloyal to the anointed king that was in power. Yet they were obviously not organized into any type of group. They lived in quiet personal faith to God while surrounded by God's unfaithful (but still chosen) people.
Throughout the entire pre-Christian period, the Bible mentions faithful individuals who were loyal to God, regardless of whether the nation's leaders were faithful. This was true right up until Jesus appeared. A righteous prophet named Simeon saw the young child Jesus, in fulfillment of a prophecy given him by the holy spirit. A faithful prophetess named Anna is also mentioned - Luke 2:25-38.
The Christian Era Begins
Jesus' arrival involved a new spokesman rather than a new way of communication between God and man. Hebrews 1:2 says, "in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." Would Jesus establish a visible organization to represent his interests on earth, or would each individual Christian be an "ambassador substituting for Christ?" - 2 Corinthians 5:20.
When Jesus encouraged watchfulness, "Peter asked, 'Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?' The Lord answered, 'Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions." Jesus then showed that there were various possibilities for disobedient slaves. He concluded: "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." - Luke 12:41-48, NIV.
The Watchtower uses Jesus' rhetorical question in the parallel passage in Matthew 24:44-51 as the basis for assuming authority as "the [one and only] faithful and discreet slave" in charge of "all [the master's] belongings." But it is hard to imagine that this parable refers to multiple religious organizations. each with more or less accountability based on what each did with the knowledge each had. It only makes sense as an exhortation to individual Christians to be constantly aware of the importance of proper behavior towards others, especially other Christians, always remembering the fact that one day everyone will have to answer to a higher Master.
Were The Apostles A "Governing Body?"
If Jesus wanted to establish a "channel of communication" through which increased understanding of the Scriptures would be revealed, surely his faithful apostles would be expected to be the ones to whom such "new light" would be revealed. However, the record shows that not to be the case. Some of the apostles appear often in the inspired record of the growth of Christianity. But only three wrote part of the Bible: Matthew, Peter and John. Others of the twelve did not figure nearly so prominently in the growth and spread of Christianity as did, for example Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Timothy. And the majority of the inspired Christian scriptures were written by persons other than the twelve, most notably Paul, but also Mark, Luke, James and Jude.
Jesus' life, death and resurrection fulfilled many prophecies in ways not anticipated by religious teachers of the apostles' day. Christians needed help to understand them. How was the truth of Jesus' role as Messiah revealed to early Christians? According to Luke 24:13-35, Jesus, on the same day he was resurrected, appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaeus, a man named Cleopus and, possibly, his wife. "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them" (not to the eleven) "what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself' (NIV). This complete explanation of how the Hebrew prophecies applied to Jesus was an outstanding example of divine revelation. Jesus shared a meal with them and left. They immediately returned to Jerusalem, found the eleven apostles, and told them about their meeting with Jesus. While they were telling the story, Jesus appeared to the assembled group.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus indicated to the eleven that he had already been given the authority to take personal responsibility for everything: "All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to obey all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things." - Matthew 28:18-20.
Jesus had told his disciples before his death that he would send a paraclete, a helper or counselor that would take his place on earth after he returned to heaven: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth ... You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you" (John 14:16-17 NIV). Speaking later of the work of the holy spirit, Jesus continued: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you" (John 16:13-15 NIV).
Was the holy spirit simply to work during a short interval, a generation of so after the start of the Christian congregation, until Jesus could organize the newly formed church to take over the duties of the holy spirit, that is, feeding the disciples, "guiding them into all the truth," and speaking on Jesus' behalf? No. Jesus said that the spirit would be with them "forever," needing no replacement. Because Jesus would be in constant contact with his disciples after his resurrection through the holy spirit, there was no reason for him to encourage them to expect the development of any centralized group of human representatives for guidance or direction. Jesus had not indicated otherwise when he said: " .. where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" - Matthew 18:20.
The Jerusalem "Council" - Source of "New Light?"
The Watchtower suggests that the elders of the congregation at Jerusalem, the city from which the Gospel began to spread to all the world, acted much like the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, deciding matters of importance for Christians in other congregations, and acting as a source of increased understanding of truth. It states that the elders in Jerusalem acted in that capacity when an issue arose involving circumcision. Is this what the Bible teaches? What was the role of the Jerusalem congregation, and how did Jesus himself and the holy spirit act in the development and resolution of this issue? Let's examine the record, found in Acts 15:1-35 and Galatians 2:1-14.
According to Acts, the issue was raised when some men came from Jerusalem ("from James," see Galatians 2:12) to Antioch and started teaching something new, something Paul hadn't taught these Gentile believers. What was this "new truth" from Jerusalem? "You cannot be saved unless you are circumcised as the Law of Moses requires," they said. This was in direct conflict with what Jesus himself had revealed to Paul, that it was by faith alone that one could be saved. Paul took strong issue with this "new teaching." But the men from Jerusalem insisted they were right, so Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to "see the apostles and elders about this question." Paul's account in Galatians shows that he went to Jerusalem at the direction of the Lord himself, "as the result of a revelation." As it turned out, certain Jewish Christians did believe that circumcision was necessary for salvation.
Paul's account of this situation given to the Galatian congregation shows that he went into a private meeting with those "who seemed to be something" in the congregation, the prominent elders. He "set before them the Gospel that [he preached] among the Gentiles, and did not given in to them for a moment." Those godly men, under the leading of the holy spirit, recognized that they were in error, accepted the correction given by Christ through Paul, and spoke up in a larger meeting with the other elders, guiding it, under the direction of the holy spirit, so all arrived at a proper viewpoint. They then wrote a letter of apology, addressed specifically to the Gentiles in Antioch, suggesting some things they should avoid, to contribute to peace between the Jews and Gentiles, as well as to their health and prosperity. (2)
There is certainly no evidence that any new understanding came out of this meeting. The elders at Jerusalem received correction rather than giving direction. This account produces no evidence that there was a "governing body" of men in Jerusalem that made the rules and regulations to pass on to all other Christians. Quite the opposite is the case. The evidence clearly shows that God's spirit worked through faithful individuals to guide the Christian congregation away from error.
God's Spirit Works With Early Christians
Jesus told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem only until they had been "clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). This occurred at Pentecost. Peter spoke on that occasion, applying Joel's prophecy to what had happened. Included in that prophecy, to be fulfilled throughout the Christian era, was the prediction that "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 dream dreams; and even on my men slaves and my women slaves I will pour out of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy" (Acts 2:17-18). This prophecy said that God, through the holy spirit, would communicate with Christians in exactly the same ways he had during pre-Christian times, directly, by visions, dreams and through prophets. Does the scriptural record show that this happened?
The book of Acts is filled with accounts that clearly illustrate the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. It shows the very active involvement of Jesus personally, as well as the holy spirit, angels, visions and dreams in the early Christian congregation. This included the conversion of individuals, the expansion of the congregation, selecting and guiding apostles and missionaries, keeping the congregation from corruption by falsehood, encouraging and assisting Christians through trials and hardships, and guiding the recording and preservation of all essential information that Christians would need in the coming centuries, that is, the Christian Scriptures. There was no essential part of the growth of Christianity that Jesus or the holy spirit did not guide and direct.
Consider the case of Philip and the Ethiopian. Philip was preaching in Samaria. An angel sent him to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. On his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The spirit sent Philip to his chariot. After Philip baptized him, God's spirit led Philip away - Acts 8:36, 39-40.
Consider Cornelius, a devout, God-fearing man. He had a vision of an angel of God, who told him to send men to Joppa to get Peter. Meanwhile, Peter, who was on the roof praying, fell into a trance, and was told by a voice that things formerly considered unclean were now clean. The spirit told him about the men sent by Cornelius. Peter went to Cornelius' house, where he proclaimed the Gospel to a large group of people, who became Christians - Acts 10:1-46.
Jesus himself converted Saul (Acts 9:3-6; 15). Saul (Paul), under the influence of holy spirit, was outstanding among the apostles for carrying the Christian message to non-Jewish persons. He started many congregations. Who authorized him to do so? Was it the congregation at Jerusalem or even Antioch, from which he left on his missionary journeys? No. Saul and Barnabas were commissioned as missionaries and sent out at the specific direction of the holy spirit - Acts 13:1-4.
The record shows that persons to whom Paul preached were directed to look to Christ himself for guidance rather than any group of elders, in Jerusalem or elsewhere. When Paul spoke to a jailer in Phillipi, he simply spoke God's word to the man and "all those in his house" shortly after their miraculous release, sometime after midnight. Before dawn, the jailer and his whole household (possibly including children and servants) were baptized. Did Paul direct their attention to the local congregation to finish their "training"? No, for there was no congregation there, only another recent convert, a woman named Lydia - Acts 16:30-34.
There are many other examples that could be cited, but the message is clear: Jesus Christ himself and the holy spirit, rather than any man or group of men, played the most active role in guiding early Christians. The spirit guided Paul and his companions during his missionary tours (16:6-10; 18:9-11, 20:22, 23, 21:4), rescued them from danger, inspired them to write letters to the congregations that resulted from their efforts, and appointed overseers - 20:28, 32, 33 (3).
Like the Israelites, Christians also have a way to distinguish between true and false prophets and their teachings. The apostle John, addressing this issue, did not suggest any sort of organized approval process. Rather, he said to test the "inspired expressions:" ("spirits" NIV) "Every inspired expression that confesses Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh originates with God, but every inspired expression that does not confess Jesus does not originate with God. Furthermore, this is the antichrist's inspired expression, which you have heard was coming, and now it is already in the world" (1 John 4:1-3). John did not focus on the source of the prophecy or the behavior of the prophet as the criteria for judging the spirit or intent of messages that supposedly come from God. Rather, a prophecy is judged by its focus. If the focus is on Christ and his redemptive works, it is from God. If not, it is from the antichrist (compare Revelation 19:10).
Does God Work With Individuals And An Organization?
In view of the overwhelming evidence that God has always communicated his will through individuals, someone may ask: Is it possible that God communicates certain things to us individually and other things through an approved organization which acts as a prophet? This concept is based on the idea that an organization can act like a person. Association with an organization can influence its members to copy the viewpoints of its leaders, express themselves in a very similar way, or act in a uniform manner. It may appear that the organization has a "mind" of its own. But that is not so. An organization has no capability for independent thoughts, feelings, or opinions. It is not a separate entity like a person.
Organizations are formed when individuals wish to pool their efforts to accomplish a task, achieve an objective, or share fellowship. The organization may be small or large, tightly or loosely knit. Members of the group may form a legal corporation in order to conduct business. They may appoint leaders or spokespersons for the group, and assign jobs to various members. They may establish rules of conduct and operational methods to be followed as they go about achieving their objectives. But, although it is common to speak of an organization as accomplishing something, no activity attributed to an organization is actually done independently of the individual members, working alone or together. Every thought or action comes from individuals. Apart from its members, an organization is absolutely incapable of generating, communicating or carrying out ideas. This means that any communication that comes from "the organization" is really coming from an individual, even though that member may be sincerely attempting to speak on behalf of the group. It also explains why it is so hard for sincere Witnesses to determine just what "the Society's viewpoint" is on certain matters, since written or verbal communications may be contradictory. This is so because they simply reflect the differing viewpoints of the different people who produced the communications.
An organization simply provides a way to get things done. It has no viewpoint, memory or conscience of its own. It can neither love nor hate. It has no emotions or feelings. It cannot do right or wrong. An organization can do nothing of itself. Only people can do things. And only a person can have a relationship with God (or anyone else).
After World War II, the Nazi organization never went on trial for war crimes. But individuals who were associated with it did. An organization cannot commit nor be punished for crimes. It bears no responsibility. But people do. That is why Jesus said, referring to his arrival in glory, that he would "separate people from one another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." He continued, showing that he would base his judgment on personal conduct rather than blind loyalty to organizational rules or beliefs - Matthew 25:31-46.
This is not to say that organizations are wrong or bad in themselves. But they must be seen for what they are and what they are not. Organizations are a way for people to combine their efforts so they can accomplish more as a group than they could accomplish as individuals. But they are not personalities with independent wills, intellects or capabilities. This means that the only authority that organizations have is in the minds of individuals who obey the organizational rules and regulations (compare Romans 6:16). Obedience to directives given by representatives of an organization may be perceived as obedience to that organization. But it is not. It is simply obedience to the will of the individuals who made up those directives, since an organization has no will of its own. It is easy to lose sight of this simple fact when confronted with evidence of the enormous accomplishments that are possible when individuals pool their efforts. But huge buildings and other material achievements do not impress God nor necessarily indicate his favor and blessing - Genesis 11:6.
We should not be intimidated or fooled when the leaders of a religious organization point to visible marks of "success" as an indication that God has blessed them or is backing their work. God has absolutely unlimited resources and abilities. He has no need for any buildings, printing presses, financial support, or any type of organizational structure to multiply his resources, as if there were things he could not do by himself. God has none of the limitations associated with organizations. For example, organizational rules and regulations that may be the best possible compromise to govern the behavior of people as a group may be unfair to individuals within the group. God, on the other hand, can give personalized direction to everyone. We can rely on the fact that our heavenly Father knows our individual needs and will supply them in the best possible way - Matthew 6:31-33; 1 John 5:13-15,20.
"Come To Me"
In the centuries since the death of the apostles, many religious organizations have been formed, often with very sincere intentions, to provide fellowship, escape persecution, and attempt to protect believers from false teachings. However, in time, the original founders die and the membership grows. Active, influential members of these organizations may sooner or later lose sight of the original purpose of forming the fellowship or organization. Lacking faith in Jesus' ability to meet his disciples' needs, or moved perhaps by a sense of responsibility, or by opportunities for financial gain, power or prestige, they may hide behind the lofty stated goals of the organization and maneuver things so they gain increased control over others. The terrible consequences that ultimately result when this process matures are written in blood and tears across the pages of history. Leaders of these organizations may claim to represent Christ, and insist that they have authority to speak in his name. Declaring that they have the right to interpret the Bible, they expel anyone who disagrees with their interpretations. They may substitute their own views for the pure message of the Bible, and increase membership through human means such as the promise of security within the organization. They may maintain their membership through blackmail, coercion or threats, dictate rules and regulations to their members, demand loyalty and financial support, and browbeat sincere persons with they tyranny of authority.
All these actions bring great dishonor to Jesus Christ. After describing at length the type of loving conduct that his true followers would produce, Jesus warned: "Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep's covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves." He said "those men" could be recognized by their conduct or "fruits," not as an organization but as individuals (Matthew 7:15-20). This is why organizational growth or size does not necessarily show God's approval and blessing, for Jesus said "many false prophets will arise and mislead many" - Matthew 24:11.
Organizations are not wrong in themselves. They provide a way to channel resources such as time, energy, and money. In the wrong hands, however, a religious organization may use these resources for purposes other than to honor Jesus Christ and his redemptive work. Then, when individuals within the organization choose to focus on Christ, they may find themselves at odds with other members of the organization. They may face a choice, since the organization's leaders may threaten them, label them as "dangerous" to other members or expel them. This is nothing new. If members of a religious organization hate us or call us apostates because we are faithful to God and His Son alone rather than to the organization, and exclude us from their fellowship as a result, remember Jesus' words of comfort: "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Many. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven" - Luke 6:22, 23 NIV, compare with 3 John 9,10.
Peter stated: "God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34, 35). Paul added: "[God] is not far off from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-27). Our response to God can occur in any place, at any time, and must happen on a personal basis. God bought each of us as individuals with the blood of his Son. He wants each of us to personally repent of our sins, accept forgiveness, and come to Jesus. "Come to me," Jesus said, " .. and I will refresh you" - Matthew 11:28.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Bible says that God spoke to mankind through prophets in pre-Christian times, and through his Son in the Christian era. There is absolutely no evidence anywhere in the Bible that even suggests that God ever established or worked through a small group of special representative servants who regularly acted as his administrators, revealing his messages or expressed will to the rest of his faithful people. That is why there is not a single exhortation in the Bible to identify or exhibit loyalty, faithfulness, obedience, or cooperation with such an approved representative group.
We cannot transfer our personal accountability before God to another person, and, as we have seen, an organization cannot take responsibility for anything. Paul said: "Each of us will render an account for himself to God" (Romans 14:12). On the day when we must render an account to God for how we lived, a record of loyalty to an organization will be no substitute for a fine record of faith in God and resulting good Christian conduct toward others, especially Jesus' followers.
The conclusions presented herein, if accepted, may create a problem for persons who may be considering whether to continue to associate with the Watchtower organization. If they choose to leave, they may wonder where to go. Even if they have serious doctrinal disagreements with the Watchtower organization, they may consider simply staying with it, since the consequences for leaving, especially on doctrinal grounds, will almost certainly include rejection by friends and family, plus slander and gossip. Leaving may not seem worth that abuse, especially if one goes off in search of "truth" to another group or church, only to find that the new church has certain doctrines correct, but not "the whole truth." Searching among organizations to find "truth" may be fruitless and frustrating. But it is certainly not the only, nor the best, alternative. Actually, the decision shouldn't be about choosing between organizations at all. Why not?
Watchtower publications teach that the true religion must teach all the truth, that if just one teaching is incorrect, the entire body of teachings is suspect. In the Watchtower view, "truth" consists of "correct teachings" or "accurate explanations" that seem to fit reality, interpretations that can be supported or "proven" by human reasoning and use of Bible references for support in the same way that a scientist or mathematician might attempt to explain the operation of the physical universe by reasoning on accepted mathematical or physical axioms or procedures.
This approach cannot be used to know God. Paul warned against such a view of knowledge: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone thinks he has acquired knowledge of something, he does not yet know [it]. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by him" (1 Corinthians 8:2-3). Paul makes clear that loving God is far more important than what you know about facts or Bible passages. No person or group of persons, and thus, no organization, church or religious group knows everything about God or his ways. So no one can find "the truth that leads to eternal life" by searching for the "correct" explanation of Bible passages or "proving" doctrinal positions. "Truth," in the Bible sense, simply isn't found there.
Jesus said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Therefore, knowing "truth" in the Bible sense must begin with a relationship with Jesus Christ, simply accepting him as God's Son and our Savior, Mediator, Lord and King (1 Corinthians 3:11). When many of Jesus' disciples left him because they didn't understand some of his teachings, he asked the twelve, "you do not want to go away also, do you?" Peter replied: "Lord, who would we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus' apostles were not about to leave him and go elsewhere in search of "truth." They knew that no one else could give them life. Peter's reply to Jesus' question shows that he understood that the question was not about where to go, but about whom to trust. The apostles recognized Jesus as the only source of truth, and knew that they could trust no other person or group of persons to give them teachings that would lead to eternal life.
The apostle John assures us that we have been given "understanding [intellectual capacity NWT] so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true - even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20). John continued: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (v. 21). Why this warning? Because people tend to follow other persons or religious systems in place of Christ. Watchtower publications refer to the organization in terms the Bible uses to refer to Jesus Christ. Witnesses say they are "in the truth" to mean they are "in the organization." The organization is presented as handling "all the king's interests" on earth, really everything Jesus said he would handle personally. To attribute to an organization such capabilities as being a source of God's spirit, His blessings and direction, or providing a channel through which pure teaching, leadership, or protection from enemies comes, amounts to nothing less than idolatry (compare Exodus 32:4). And persons who focus attention on an organization rather than on Christ Jesus are false prophets.
Rather than following any man or group of men, follow only Jesus Christ. He had "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). Based on that firm foundation, fellowship with other Christians, whether you prefer it more or less structured, takes on a whole new dimension. Seek and you will certainly find other true Christians with whom to share the pure joy of belonging to and sharing Jesus' love, guided by God's spirit and His Word the Bible, to his eternal glory and praise.
(1) The Watchtower compares Noah's Ark with their organization. The ark, it says, was God's provision for salvation into which all the righteous on earth at the time gathered to be saved from destruction at the flood. It is worth noting that, although his wife, three sons and daughters-in-law were saved through the flood with him, Noah himself is the only one specifically mentioned in the Bible's account as being righteous at the time, both in the Genesis account as well as Jesus' an Peter's references to the flood (Matthew 24:38; 2 Peter 2:5). The Bible does not state or even suggest that they were unrighteous. But neither does it make a point of establishing that Noah's family was righteous, or that only righteous persons were allowed on the ark. Jehovah is referred to specifically as Shem's God only much later, in Abraham's time. Any of the others, if not righteous, may have been spared for Noah's sake and to carry on the human race. Later, righteous Lot's family and in-laws were offered salvation from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but showed no strong inclination toward true worship.
(2) In the letter, the Gentiles were encouraged to abstain from "food polluted by idols" and "the meat of strangled animals." Later, however, Paul discusses eating meat and other foods and makes it clear that avoiding them was a matter of conscience, and that to Christians, avoiding actions that might stumble others was a prime motivating factor. Compare Romans 14:14, 20, 21; 1 Corinthians 10:19-33.
(3) It has been suggested that overseers are "appointed" by holy spirit in the sense that men who know the Biblical qualifications for overseers appoint men who meet those qualifications. This is a sensible explanation, and respected commentators suggest that the overseers in Ephesus were appointed by some representative of the church. But the Bible itself does not state that Paul or anyone else appointed these overseers. Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus that contain those qualifications had not yet been written. The Bible says that the Ephesian overseers were appointed by holy spirit (Acts 20:28). So it is possible that holy spirit appointed these men to the post of overseer directly. If so, it is also possible that it was by observing these men appointed directly by holy spirit that Paul was inspired to write the qualifications for this office to Timothy and Titus.
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