Another Blog from UK Partnerships for Christ (www.upfc.org.uk)

What is the Jehovah’s Witnesses Real Authority for Belief? by Jason Wright

background

Hey all we are starting a mid year mini series being put together by our new volunteer Jason Wright, an ex Witness now born again Christian. Jason will be looking at many of the fundamental issues that the Jehovah’s Witness movement raises such as Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Salvation and others. However it seemed fitting to start with looking at where really is the basis for the beliefs held by the Jehovah’s Witness members? Is it the Bible? They often call themselves Bible students so you would think so, or is it something else? Please feel free to leave your thoughts below.

What is the Jehovah’s Witness Authority for belief?

 

Bishop Benjamin Hoadley wrote “Authority is the greatest and most irreconcilable enemy to truth…that this world ever furnished”. Historian Lord Acton observed “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Former Watchtower Governing body member Raymond Franz noted “When compelled to confront truth in the field of combat, error finds its favourite weapon and its ultimate refuge in authority”[1]

With these quotes in mind let us explore the question; “What is the authority for belief in the life of a Jehovah’s Witness?” Ask any active witness and they will tell you their authority rests solely on the Bible. Engage a witness on theology and they will answer your questions by quoting from the Bible, therefore on the surface the authority appears to spring from allegiance to the Word of God. However ask them questions concerning the Watchtower organisation and you will receive a very different response. Why is this?

In a word “Metanarrative” – that is our world view. We each have a metanarrative or structure upon which hangs our understanding of the world around us and our interpretation of it. For example a person with a particular ideology such as communism will read the world through that metanarrative. For a Jehovah’s Witness the metanarrative of life is underwritten by the Watchtower organisation. The society[2] is the ultimate authority for belief and practice.

A witness reading this will immediately argue that Watchtower is simply a tool, a channel of communication used by God through which he speaks to humanity. The problem with that defence is it falls far short of reality. You see once an organisation claims to speak for God they have crossed a line. We are no longer in the realm of what a man says, but what God says through that man or men. The natural consequence is that the organisational position becomes one of supreme authority in affect they speak for God.

In laymen’s terms to question the Watchtower’s authority is to question Jehovah God the two are synonymous. Therefore it is not the “Law of Christ” (Romans 8:2, Galatians 6:2) that is at work in the witness but an abject obedience to the Watchtower organisation. Rather than true freedom in Christ a witness has belief and practice dictated. So if a witness has a question about a particular scripture the first point of reference is “what does the organisation say on this topic?” In other words the default setting is always the authority of the Watchtower NOT the Bible alone. Why? Because to the Jehovah’s Witness it is the Watchtower organisation that accurately explains scripture and individually (they say) we are not free or able to understand the Bible. In fact independent study in the mind of a witness would create theological anarchy.

To understand how Watchtower authority for belief evolved we must follow the paper trail back to its embryonic form as espoused by Charles Taze Russell the founder of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society. The first error he makes is to elevate his writings above scripture.

“If the Lord has provided us with something in our day that…the apostles knew nothing about, no matter how good nor how wise they were – for us to ignore the line of teaching which has been developed would be, in our judgement, to ignore the Lord’s providences…people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself…if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside…and ignores them and goes to the scriptures alone…within two years he goes into darkness”[3]

So according to Russell, God had providentially given him revelation of his “Divine Plan” and only by regularly reading HIS writings could a person understand and continue to understand the divine plan. This is a common trait with cult leaders wherein they and their pronouncements become the focus of attention. The Bible simply becomes a proof texting tool (eisegesis[4]).

Though Russell’s publications are no longer printed by the Watchtower society[5] the dogmatic claim that the Watchtowers literature is essential to saving knowledge and indispensable for understanding the Bible accurately is part and parcel of the Jehovah’s Witness metanarrative. Acceptance of the literature is seen as a divine requirement.

To bolster this claim to absolute authority as God’s only channel of communication on earth the Watchtower announces what it calls a “Special message”. This message relates to a life or death choice which every human must make concerning Jehovah’s coming Kingdom[6]. What witnesses call the “Good News” is really an invitation to join them and be saved through Armageddon[7]. This doomsday message is unlike anything in the New Testament canon and does not reflect the true “Good news” concerning Jesus Christ. Thus while terminology may sound the same meaning is distorted. Paul warned his Galatian brethren to be careful of such false “Good news”.

Galatians 1:6-8  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!” (NRSV)

What then is the Gospel? 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, “the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand…For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures”

Herein Paul identifies the simple “Gospel” namely Christ died, was buried and rose again. The resurrection is the evidence for all that Jesus has power over death and can give eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in him. (John 3:16). A witness will tacitly acknowledge Pauls words as part of a message but not the whole message. So for a witness under the control of the Watchtower metanarrative “to believe” is just not enough. Russell said you had to read STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES to receive accurate knowledge and today Jehovah Witness will tell you similar – taking in “true knowledge”[8] will lead you to everlasting life. In stark contrast to the teachings of the Watchtower the Bible says we are justified before God by his unmerited grace and by faith alone, i.e. believing Jesus is LORD and SAVIOR.

Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Our subject is authority, so just how did the Society achieve such a level of power over the lives of thousands of people and distort the “true Gospel”? We begin with the Watchtower’s claim to absolute authority. Such authority is inextricably linked to the society’s unique eschatological claim that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914[9] and chose the Watchtower Society in 1918 as his channel of communication to humanity, rejecting all other Channel’s especially Christendom[10]. With such an illusion fixed firmly in the psyche of every witness it is understandable how Jehovah and Jehovah’s organisation cannot be separated in witness thinking. Consequently to question the Watchtower is to question Jehovah. To leave the Watchtower is to leave Jehovah.

With such a position of authority in place the governing body[11] assumes the mediatory role of Christ. You can see how scriptures are ripped out of their context and applied to the Society in the Watchtower Magazine of November 15th 1950. It explained;

IT IS with respect to Jehovah’s theocratic organization that Paul says: “Therefore he who ranges himself up against the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves.” (Rom. 13:2, NW) We are therefore to respect the “authority”, the office which the servant of God occupies…God set up the theocratic organization of the Christian congregation. He made Jesus of Nazareth Head of it and also stationed unlettered and ordinary men as apostles next to him in the organization…A.D. 1914 the appointed times of the nations expired. Then God put his Son[12] into authority as King of the new world.”

Once this eschatological paradigm is accepted then obedience to the society becomes second nature. However the development of centralized control over all members was a gradual process. In the days of Russell “Bible Students” as they were then called were independent of the Watchtower Society and simply subscribed to the Society’s publications[13].  However with the arrival of President Joseph Rutherford in 1916 came a slow, sinister centralization of congregations worldwide. Rutherford requested congregations to register with the society with the understanding that the Brooklyn headquarters would appoint a brother in each registered congregation to serve as the Society’s appointee.[14]

Thus a power transfer occurred, once democratically controlled congregations under elective elders became subservient and directly controlled by the Watchtower Society. This was seen as the birth of God’s modern-day theocratic organisation. To help establish the idea of centralized control the society once again utilized proof texts. For example they claimed that the first century Christians had a “Governing Body” i.e. the Apostles in Jerusalem. The March 15th 1990 Watchtower explains:

“By the year 49 C.E. at the latest the governing body had been expanded to include not only the remaining apostles but also a number of other older men in Jerusalem. (Acts 15:2) So the makeup of the governing body was not rigidly fixed, but God evidently guided things so that it changed to fit the circumstances of the people”

Notice what is asserted. Firstly God had his organisational elite, namely the Apostles. They operated as a governing body with centralized authority and power. Thus Jehovah’s first century “governing body” controlled and directed all first century congregations from Jerusalem. The article then asserts “other older men” were “added” to the governing body to “fit the circumstances of his people” What is the Watchtower saying? Simply this; God had a governing body then and he has one now and it is the final authority on belief and practice. For a witness to abandon this truth would be seen as heretical to theocratic order.

However is this doctrine true? – did all congregations come under the control of one centralized governing body? The Apostle Paul stressed that after his conversion he DID NOT turn to a human seat of authority. Paul explained:

Galatians 1:15-18  “But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days”

What does this mean? The Watchtower has built a straw man. They have created by eisegesis a governing body which never existed! Even the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) which convened to address concerns over Judaizers in Antioch does not set a president for a centralized governing body which controls all other congregations[15]. The truth is Christians were autonomous entities gathering in Christian homes (Philemon 1:2) yet spiritually ONE family united in Christ. These were communities of believers meeting for edification FREE in Christ (Galatians 5:1) each having a personal relationship with Christ. Men called to act in roles of leadership did so as servants not dictators, each believer retained his freedom in Christ alone.

Another spin on the authority claim used by the Watchtower Society is their unique interpretation of Jesus parable in Luke 12:42. They claim to be the “the faithful slave[16]” in whom Jesus entrusts his earthly “belongings”[17]. The Watchtower publication “Organized to do Jehovah’s Will” on page 15 states “Jesus indicated that the “slave” would be entrusted with oversight of Kingdom interests on earth…providing God’s people spiritual food “at the proper time”…who is “that slave”?…the composite body of Christ’s spirit anointed followers

Luke 12:40 sets the parable at the time of Christ return however if as the Watchtower claims Jesus has already returned invisibly in 1914 the link between his return and Jesus choosing a faithful slave in 1918 is easily made albeit quite out of context both exegetically and eschatologically[18]. You see by spiritualizing Christ return and making the eschaton visible only to those with eyes to see, i.e. the Watchtower society, the illusion of Christ choosing the society can be established and maintained. Thus we have the creation of an all-powerful illusion! Christ invisible return was discerned by his true servants – and guess who they were? Yep the Watchtower!

Notice the Watchtowers claim is that the élite “spirit anointed” class embodied by the Governing body are responsible for feeding all members. That means that Jehovah’s witnesses are spiritually spoon fed by the Society exactly what they want to feed them. With this authority in place maintained by the illusion they are the “Faithfull Slave” the Society feeds so-called “solid food at the proper time” and the faithful Jehovah’s witness simply opens his spiritual mouth while big brother feeds, without thought or question.

The result is changed doctrine goes unquestioned. For example once upon a time a Jehovah’s Witness was NOT allowed to accept an organ transplant but now “New Light” from the mother Organisation says you can take an organ transplant, so we are dealing with life and death rulings laid out from the top. Even the intimacy of marriage is not sacred. The Watchtower has produced articles outlining what is and what is not permissible between consenting married adult witnesses even outlining what acts[19] maybe deemed worthy of council or even dis-fellowshipping.[20]

Raymond Franz notes: “The parable is used to enforce the control of an authoritarian structure, as a means of intimidation, supressing any conscientious objection to the dictates and declarations of what amounts to an élite group, as also its use to robe those dictates and declarations with divine force”[21]

As can be seen we have in place a hierarchal system going from Jehovah God, to Jesus, to the Governing Body (aka faithful slave/anointed class)[22]. This authority structure then permeates down through various levels of responsibility into each and every Kingdom Hall. However the tentacles of power do not end at the Kingdom Hall. Why? because the mind of each witness is now captive to an illusion. It is the equation “Watchtower = Jehovah” that must be broken for a captive to be set free.

Sadly far from bringing to its members true freedom in CHRIST (Galatians 2:4) the Watchtower has systematically indoctrinated each witness to the point where they dare not think for themselves outside of Watchtower policy. Fear of displeasing Jehovah dominates thinking and independent thinking is seen as from the Devil. What is the result? Jesus words come to mind for he too did battle over who had true authority:

Matthew 23:15“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (NRSV)

C.T. Russell began a lie, a lie which hung upon his Biblical Chronology of Christ invisible return in 1874 and a terminus date for Armageddon of 1914. I can say these were lies not just because they failed but because they were stated as infallible interpretations of scripture. There is the lie! Claiming to speak for God Almighty! Rather than come clean and admit his superlative error Russell pushed the date forward to 1915. Following his death in 1916, Joseph Rutherford immortalized the lie in the organisation that we know today as Jehovah’s Witnesses[23]. As Jesus asked “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?” (NRSV).

Brothers we are dealing with more than doctrinal error, we are battling supernatural forces behind which lies Satan himself the Father of the lie. Is this an exaggeration? Saint   Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

“For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.”

The Watchtower has created a well-oiled machine a corporate giant which sucks honest hearted people into its utopian dream. In the Watchtower publication “United in Worship” on page 40 under the heading “Where freedom can be found” a whole list of “things” are given which can achieve freedom, but does the publication point to Christ as all sufficient? Does it direct its readers to the Bible alone? The answer is NO. You see terminology and method is everything. The Watchtower has this down to a fine art how to use loaded language and snippets of scripture amidst a smorgasbord of error to ensnare the unwary reader. However the dark truth is no matter how many scriptures are quoted, no matter what “Freedom” is offered it is always by means of the “visible organisation”[24] To benefit and be saved you must become a loyal obedient Watchtower slave, Jesus is never presented as all sufficient. The Watchtower claim is antithetical to Jesus FREE invitation;

Mat 11:28-30  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (NRSV)

As Christians we come to Jesus not any man made organisation no matter what its claims. Why then do people become Jehovah’s Witnesses? Why do they accept the lie and become Watchtower slaves?

Sociologist Andrew Holden noted “Resources enable the witnesses to impart a dualistic view of the world – a view that glorifies their own community…the way of life prescribed by their Governing body provides them with a ticket into Paradise…the Watchtower provides a safe haven for those who yearn to belong[25]

We learn a great deal from these observations. People join the witnesses because the Watchtower metanarrative gives hope; it provides a place to belong where “the organisation” is your refuge and before you lies a Paradise earth; all your dreams come true in that “New world”. Once a person has accepted that the Watchtower is God’s authoritative earthly organisation the die is cast. It is my belief that only the LORD can break this illusion. That is where meaningful prayerful intercession comes in not just apologetics and polemics, they play a role but the power of God comes through intercession.

So returning to our original question “What is the Jehovah’s Witness authority for belief” we can clearly see it boils down to several illegitimate claims.

1)       Jesus returned invisibly in 1914[26] and in 1918 chose the Watchtower Organisation as his prophetic mouth piece to the Nations. In so doing he rejected all other religious systems including Christendom.

2)       That Jehovah has given the Watchtower a “Special message” for all humanity concerning preservation through God’s war of Armageddon. This special message is the “Good news”.

3)       That as Gods channel the Watchtower Society is the “Faithful slave” and therefore can dispense “food at the proper time” presenting “New light” from Jehovah.

4)       Acceptance of the above creates a dualistic world view, namely loyalty to Jehovah = loyalty to the Watchtower organisation, opposition to the Watchtower organisation = opposition to Jehovah.

5)       If this illusion is accepted then the Watchtower society is the only place of refuge in “Satan’s world”. For a witness there is simply nowhere else to go. To leave the Watchtower is to leave God and go back into Satan’s world[27]. This is the logical fallacy that entraps thousands of good honest people and denies them the real freedom that comes from knowing Jesus; the Gospel of salvation by Grace alone in Christ alone.

If you are a born again believer, if you know our LORD and Savior Jesus then how thankful we should be to him who out of his great love has chosen and sealed us for his eternal glory. Jesus speaking of all who believe in him said:

John 17:24-25 “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.”

 

Let Jesus words motivate us to help all the lost! In Christian freedom we can explore the scriptures, examine doctrine, delve into theology and enjoy the rich tapestry of Christian thought which was been spun over the centuries. We are FREE to enjoy life and are at peace with God as we rest in his eternal security.

Not so for Jehovah’s witnesses. They live under a heavy burden built on lies. My feelings as I close this article are that prayer is the essential ingredient along with deep humility and love for those trapped and lost in the Watchtower abyss. Church leaders have a responsibility to equip and inform their flock on how to accurately, effectively and lovingly convey the Gospel of salvation to Jehovah’s witnesses. Yet having been faithful stewards we must submit to the fact that only Jesus can truly set a person free (Matthew 16:17). Our job is to be their when he does.

God bless

Jason


[1] “In Search of Christian Freedom” Commentary Press 2007, Page 16.

[2]   The terms Watchtower organisation, Jehovah’s organisation, the society, Gods channel etc… are all interchangeable terms referring to the entity known as the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.

[3] Watchtower 1910 September 15th.

[4] Imbuing the text with meaning the author did not intend.

[5] Various schismatic “Bible Student” groups still promote and distribute Russell’s writings.

[6] I acknowledge that some Christians hold to pre-millennial eschatology. However the Watchtower distorts and elevates millenarian doctrine to a salvific position thus denying the Gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.

[7] God’s war upon unrepentant sinful humanity which will clear the way for a Paradise earth.

[8] The idea that “hidden knowledge” was revealed only to an elite class is nothing new. Such Gnostic ideas have been part of heresy since the Church’s inception.

[9] It should be noted Russell had stated Christ returned invisibly in 1874 and 1914 marked the terminus date for humanity, i.e. Armageddon.  After prophetic failure ensued the 1874 date was abandoned and pushed forward to 1914. Thus 1914 was adopted as the date of Christ’s invisible return.

[10] The 2nd President Joseph Rutherford was particularly vitriolic writing many polemic statements against the Churches of Christendom in order to break any lingering connection with what he saw as false religion (Babylon the Great).

[11] The governing body makes up an élite group of men responsible for organisational and doctrinal decision making which directly affects every Jehovah’s Witness.

[12] Note the subordinate role of Jesus as God’s tool in Watchtower theology.

[13] Prior to 1916 early subscribers and contributors to the Watchtower magazine included Christians from various denominations. At this time the Watchtower as a publishing company was on the fringes of Christendom but not completely separated as would occur in the 1920’s, albeit with erroneous doctrine.

[14] Since then the society has given more and more power to local elders.

[15] Post apostolic structures were created during the 2nd & 3rd centuries leading to the catholic “Magisterium”.

[16] This was originally applied to Russell himself.

[17] This includes facilities such as branch offices, kingdom halls, assembly halls also the commission to preach the good news, and responsibility over the great crowd (non-anointed witnesses with an earthly hope).  Cf. Organised to do Jehovah’s will” chapter 3.

[18] Quite simply Jesus’ return is to be VISIBLE (Revelation 1:7). The parable is in response to Peters question (Luke 12:41) concerning Christ return (vrs 40) and our individual faithfulness to Jesus NOT the Watchtowers claim to supreme bestowed by Christ in 1918! How utterly ridiculous is such a claim.

[19] Cf. Watchtower December 1st 1972 Question from Readers on “Oral copulation”.

[20] Excommunication.

[21] “In search of Christian freedom” Page 178.

[22] The Holy Spirit is simply an enabling force.

[23] This well know name is taken from Isaiah 43:10 which contextually applies to ancient Israel NOT a modern day Watchtower counterpart.

[24] “United in Worship” page 42.

[25] “Jehovah’s Witnesses – portrait of a contemporary religious movement” Page 57.

[26] It is worth brushing up on Watchtower chronology because if you can prove 1914 is chronologically in error the whole authority claim collapses. Disproving 1914 has a domino effect upon witness thinking. I would recommend Carl Olof Jonsson’s book “The Gentile Times Reconsidered” as the definitive examination of the Watchtowers chronological claims concerning 1914.

[27] Interestingly many witnesses who do leave the Society still hold to Watchtower theology. They assume that this life is all there is and at death they will experience annihilation. However they will not experience annihilation but eternal separation in the abode the Bible calls Gehenna/Hell.  This is another reason for Christians to reach out to Jehovah’s witnesses Cf. James 5:20.

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Categorised in: Reaching Jehovah's Witnesses, The New World Translation, Watchtower Magazine

2 Responses »

  1. Thank you for making Watchtower dogma so clear.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus ALREADY had his second coming in 1914.
    Jesus himself warned of those false prophets who would say,”see he is there in the wilderness,or see he is there in the synagogue’.
    Jesus further warned DO NOT GO AFTER THEM!

    Since the October 1914 date for Jesus ‘return’ aka invisible second coming can be debunked.Then the follow up doctrine of the 3 1/2 wait until the selection and sealing of the ‘annointed’ is also false.Ergo,no 1914 then there can be no 1918 inspection and sealing of the ‘anointed’ so the entire Watchtower Bible and Tract Society doctrinal superstructure comes crashing down like a house of cards.
    …….This would mean that the Watchtower leaders the governing body are illegitimate.
    – –Danny Haszard born 3rd generation Jehovah’s Witness

  2. Amen! Thanks for filing in the extra so called 3 1/2 year inspection and eventual selection of the WTBTS in 1918. Without the foundation of 1914 the rest of the Watchtower chronology collapses including the Governing bodies claim to be Gods chosen mouthpiece, they are as you so illegitimate as regards an authority figure and irrelevant as to a persons relationship with Christ and salvation. Maybe I’ll do an article on Russell’s 1800’s chronology as his dates (which are numerous and complex) were claimed by him to be absolute. Thus they cannot and should not be ignored by the average witness. The “New light” to cover “failures” just does not wash. Thanks again for your comments. Jason

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