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

What is Proper Church Discipline? by Jason Wright

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What is Proper Church Discipline? by Jason Wright

Introduction

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary discipline is defined as “control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior”. How does that definition make you feel? Do you find the concept of discipline appealing? I doubt it. We live in a postmodern, libertarian society where “discipline” is viewed negatively. There is no doubt that our cultural drift toward postmodern relativism has rendered a serious, judicious, and hardnosed evaluation of another’s alleged misbehavior into a sort of moral wrongdoing that is itself worthy of instant and judicious rejection.[1] In moral matters libertarians claim “all things are permissible so long as no one is gets hurt”. People are quick to point out their individual rights. Personal “freedom” to do “what I want” is what postmodern society is all about.

But that’s the way the world is. The Bible sets a different standard: “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.” (Proverbs 15:5). “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12). How do you feel about God’s discipline? Can you receive it – or do you reject it? Moreover, if God disciplines individuals, then what about his Church – do gatherings of Christians need discipline? If so, who administers it and to what degree? (cf. 1 Peter 4:17).

Before we delve into proper church discipline this article will explore how the Watchtower Society enforces their own. We will discover how in an attempt to control behavior the Watchtower has built a complex judicial system, which is impersonal and ruthless. We will discover that the goal of Watchtower discipline is not to protect individuals or even in glorifying God but rather to enforce Watchtower policy and maintain the status quo. Corollary to legalism and totalitarianism is the Watchtower’s wrong soteriology. When you have a wrong understanding of salvation you will invariably build a faulty theological system.

Many Christians who have experienced religious abuse are reticent about committing to a local church/fellowship. The very idea of organization smacks of control and thus fear of control can paralyze authentic fellowship. To counter such apprehension we must define what the church is and understand why commitment to a local body of believers is both biblical and advantageous. Once we understand these basics we can get to grips with what biblical discipline is and what it is not. In this way it is hoped that more Christians will embrace a local church/fellowship and live out their Christian walk in a community.

Overall it will be argued that the Watchtower has built a religious system that administers discipline in a rigid, impersonal, and legalistic manner to the detriment of its members. However, such experiences should not cause born-again believers to reject authentic fellowship or proper church discipline.

Watchtower Control

To begin we must underscore that the Watchtower Society is not simply the religious face of Jehovah’s Witnesses – the “Society” is the absolute arbitrator of Jehovah’s Witness belief and practice. As such the society dictates how discipline is to be administered within the organization. This unbending organizational structure operates in hierarchal fashion from the top down; Governing Body[2], Branch Committees, Circuit Overseer’s, Congregational elders, Ministerial servants and finally its members[3].

Within this structure congregation members are permitted to make suggestions concerning local Kingdom Hall needs, however, when it comes to organizational policy and practice no member can affect change. Instead all members defer to the Governing Body. In other words democratic process is absent. Even within the local congregation the body of elders hold full sway over the congregation, and they cannot be challenged without consequence. This is a totalitarian organization where individual freedom is extinguished.

From time to time the Watchtower attempts to appease questioning Witnesses through the publishing of various “timely” articles. For example, in the Watchtower May 2000 edition (page 11) under the heading “Show a waiting attitude” it is counseled that “If a person believes that a teaching should be adjusted or changed, he is encouraged “to be patient and wait on Jehovah for change”. Notice the person questioning policy is encouraged to wait on “Jehovah” which translates “keep quiet and wait to see if the Governing body make changes”. In this way a person is made to feel guilty for questioning policy.

You may ask why a person would submit to such control. The answer is simple. For a Jehovah’s Witness the organization is synonymous with Jehovah God. The outworking of this illusion is that to question the organization is to question Jehovah God himself. Such circular reasoning entraps the individual Witness. Under this immense pressure to “perform” many Witnesses hide their true feelings. Outwardly they display a facade of happiness and joy, while inside their mind and soul is in spiritual turmoil crying out in silence for liberation.

Thinking back to my own journey through the Watchtower, I remember how crushing the organizational structure was. For a long time I lived in a depressed state of “disquieting thoughts” – never being able to pin point what was wrong. I believe by divine revelation the Holy Spirit revealed the problem. It was the organizational structure itself. The society operates as a “big brother” robbing individual identity, self-worth and free expression, creating instead Watchtower clones. It also became abundantly clear to me that to succeed in the organization I had to toe the line and do exactly as the Watchtower instructed. Perfidious power seekers do well in the Watchtower organization. My experience was similar to former Governing Body member Raymond Franz. He wrote:

“It was not the realization that errors existed with the Watchtower organization’s teachings that most seriously affected me…it was primarily the spirit manifest that most deeply disturbed me. For I saw a “concern for authority at the expense of truth” and an accompanying “damage done to persons by workings of an impersonal and unfree system. Concern for authority clearly overshadowed concern for people.”[4]

Once a person becomes a Jehovah’s Witness, discipline becomes a fearful weapon of control. Prior to becoming a Witness the individual can freely ask as many questions as they like, but after pledging allegiance to the society, silent service is instilled.

On the positive side the Watchtower Society does encourage abstinence from various “sinful” actions. However, while this is commendable, the society fails to direct its members to the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is the solution to sin. Instead it feeds its members a works orientated plan of salvation, i.e. follow these rules and you just might make it through Armageddon and live in Paradise on earth. This is a dismal and blasphemous message. Salvation is a gift from God based on faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Titus 3:5 confirms this finished work; He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”.

Many verses could be cited to prove eternal salvation is by faith alone (Romans 5:1, 2, 5, 8-9; Galatians 2:16). For born again believers, such verses instill a deep assurance of God’s unfailing love towards his children despite our personal failings. However, in Watchtower soteriology one “must continually work” to earn eternal life, without assurance of salvation legalism blossoms. But what happens if a Witness makes a mistake? What is the disciplinary procedure?

Discipline in the Watchtower Society

Local elders each possess a guidebook or manual on how to deal with various misdemeanors. Issued to the elders by the governing body this “secret” book is not available to general Witnesses. As a congregational problem arises the elders will consult this guidebook entitled “Pay attention to yourselves and all the flock”. On the surface such a publication may appear advantageous, after all, don’t elders need guidance? Yes they do – but scripturally such guidance comes from prayer, meditation and study of God’s word along with guidance by his Holy Spirit – not from a man-made law book.

Rest assured I am not suggesting that all JW elders are bad shepherds or bad people. Ultimately, however, elders must choose between their own feelings/conscience and organizational policy. To go against policy is to put in jeopardy one’s own position. Therefore, the sad reality is that at the heart of this elders manual is “power and authority” along with “concepts and rules” which overshadow concern for individual rights and freedom. At all costs the society protects itself. Elders are the mechanism by which the society enforces policy and controls members. Such policy enters virtually all fields of conduct placing elders under obligation to involve themselves – with or without invitation – in the lives of congregation members. In my experience even the kindest sheep-like elder can turn on a member like a ravenous wolf devoid of compassion.

Below is a summary of Watchtower congregational discipline.

Non-judicial correction: These are “situations involving actions that are considered sinful or simply regrettable but are not considered to be of sufficient gravity to necessitate a judicial committee, and cannot result in disfellowshipping from the congregation; specific action by congregation elders is not administered in such situations, but counsel (or correction) may be provided by a mature Witness in addition to self-discipline and family discipline”[5] These situations may involve one or more of several types of discipline including:

  • Local needs: This is a short talk, normally once a month, designed to address matters relevant to the congregation. These talks can be used to indirectly administer discipline to specific individuals. For example, an individual may have received prior reproof, which is followed up by a congregational talk relating to that matter but without naming the individual.
  • Shepherding calls: This involves a personal visit from either two elders or an elder and ministerial servant (depending on purpose of the visit). These visits are arranged for every congregation member. They should be viewed as positive but more often than not shepherding visits entail correction and admonition to “do more” and many fear such visits.
  • Withheld recommendations or assignments: Ecclesiastical progress in the congregation is open only to males. To “move up the ladder” the body of elders must agree to recommend an individual for new privileges. If the person seeking a new privilege shows signs of inconsistency – such as being regularly late for meetings or missing field service (public proselytizing) then recommendations can be withheld.
  • Loss of special privileges: Elders, ministerial servants, pioneers, etc. can lose “privileges of service”. For example, an elder may be removed or choose to step aside voluntarily from his position if members of his household are not in “good standing”. After resignation or removal from an appointed position, an announcement is made during the congregation’s service meeting indicating that the person is “no longer serving”, without elaboration.
  • Limited privileges of service: An active Jehovah’s Witness may have their congregational “privileges of service” limited, that is, temporarily “put on hold” until such a time as they conform to elder recommendations. For example, exclusion from participation in demonstrations at service meetings.
  • Marking: Members who persist in a course considered scripturally wrong after repeated counsel by elders, but who are not guilty of something for which they could be disfellowshipped, can be “marked” (2 Thessalonians 3:14). I remember an example of this in the Sleaford congregation where two young girls were “marked” because they had continued to attend a nightclub after elders had warned them not to. Marked individuals are made to feel “shame” and are deemed “bad associates”, thus social interaction is discouraged. Marking is indicated by means of a service meeting talk, which discusses the shameful conduct, but without mentioning the individual(s) by name.

Discipline involving serious sin: Jehovah’s Witnesses consider many actions to be “serious sins” for which baptized Witnesses are subject to a judicial committee hearing.[6] Apostates – those holding to a different theological understanding of scripture – are especially targeted, being labeled “mentally diseased[7] The Watchtower accuses such individuals of trying to infect loyal Witnesses with disloyal teachings.

Evidence for actions that can result in congregational discipline is obtained by voluntary confession to the elders or by Witnesses of the violation. In the case of denial a minimum of two Witnesses are required to establish guilt[8]. Witnesses are encouraged to report serious sin and can be held accountable for not doing so.

The local body of elders investigates reports of serious sin. The elders consider confessions or credible allegations, and decide whether a judicial committee will be formed to address the matter. If formed a judicial committee usually consists of three elders. The committee arranges a formal judicial hearing to determine the circumstances of the sin, whether the accused is repentant, and whether disciplinary actions will be taken. In all cases the minutest details are requested. Such detailed analysis, especially in the case of sexual sin, is extremely disturbing.

If a judicial committee is formed the wrongdoer is invited to attend a private meeting. The accused may bring witnesses but neutral observers are not permitted. Likewise, recording devices are not permitted. If the accused fails to attend a judicial committee the meeting will proceed without them. This committee acts as judge and executioner.

The committee may determine that there was no “serious sin”, or that mitigating circumstances absolve the accused individual. The committee may then proceed with discipline such as is described for ‘non-judicial’ situations. Alternatively, the committee may decide that a serious sin was committed, in which case, the committee gives verbal admonitions and gauges the individual’s attitude and repentance. The committee then decides whether discipline will involve formal reproof or disfellowshipping.

Reproof is considered sufficient if the individual is deemed repentant. If knowledge of the serious sin is limited to a small number of people the reproof will be handled privately in the presence of those “in the know”. However, if the serious sin is common knowledge then reproof would be given at the service meeting typically under the auspices of a “local needs item”. In all cases of reproof, restrictions are imposed, typically prohibiting the individual from sharing in meeting parts, commenting during meetings, and giving group prayers. A reproved Witness cannot enroll as a pioneer or auxiliary pioneer for at least one year after reproof is given.

Disfellowshipping is similar to excommunication and as such is considered the last resort for unrepentant sin. Appeals can be made but must be submitted within seven days of the judicial meeting. However, verdicts are rarely – if ever – overturned. After disfellowshipping the congregation “shuns” the individual. This entails “cutting off” the disfellowshipped person. Active members no longer speak or interact with the person in question. In other words the disfellowshipped person is treated as if they have died. This applies to family members as well. Essentially, to “obey” the organization you must shun even your closest family member or friend if necessary. Shunning acts as a double edged sword, it rids the congregation of defilement and deters others from dissident behavior. Shunning is the ultimate rejection. One day you have friends the next you have none. The reality of being alone, cut off from one’s family, drives many to get reinstated – even if they no longer believe in the religion. While reinstatement is possible it is only after many months of proving one’s repentance and further judicial evaluation that one is accepted back.

Often, Witnesses facing disfellowshipping opt to voluntarily disassociate themselves from the organization. In this way the turmoil and shame of a judicial committee is avoided. However, under Watchtower legislation, disassociation is equivalent to disfellowshipping and thus the shunning policy is still applied even though no formal judgment has been made. In my own case I chose to disassociate. The day after the announcement my wife took our daughter to school and they were both shunned by our closest Witness friends. It was as if they were invisible. Even today, after many years, we are still being shunned. Our Witness friends opted to side with Watchtower policy makers in Brooklyn. Such shunning emphasizes the mind-control of this sect.

A perusal of the above clearly outlines that the Watchtower has fallen victim to extreme legalism and totalitarianism. In an attempt to keep the congregation “holy” and “pure” the society has become the archetypal Pharisee. These extra-biblical rules and conditions impose a heavy, depressing burden upon members. Furthermore the judicial process, due to its private and almost autonomous nature, is clearly open to abuse. In a nutshell the Watchtower wants to control its members. Any real or perceived threat is crushed with an iron fist. This is spiritual abuse at its worst.[9]

Biblical Foundations for Discipline

Having seen how easy it is to fall into legalism we might conclude that “church discipline” is so open to abuse that it is best avoided. If you feel that way then you are not alone. After leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses I wanted nothing more to do with “religion” – for me religion equated to organization and organization smacked of control. Understandably those who have experienced similar spiritual abuse are reluctant to submit to any form of church authority or discipline. No one wants to be burnt twice.

To understand and practice proper church discipline we must first be sure we have our soteriological foundations correct. As we have seen the Watchtower enforces strict discipline because it believes only those adhering to its statutes will inherit Paradise. Contrary to this claim biblical Christianity understands salvation to be a free gift; Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

This wonderful truth confirms our position in Christ. Jesus has freed believers from the penalty of “sin” – he has forgiven us of our sins and we have been – spiritually speaking – transferred into the Kingdom of God (Colossian 1:13-14), thus our eternal inheritance is secured. Clearly salvation is not mediated through an organization nor maintained by “rules” – rather it is a one sided act of God – wherein the lost sinner is imputed righteousness (Genesis 15:16; Romans 4:5). Such a conversion experience is personal and exclusive. Indeed nothing must supersede or divert a Christian’s direct communication with Christ the head of the Church (Ephesian 5:23; Colossian 1:18). For this reason many believe that the spiritual unity of true Christians is sufficient. This unity is often expressed in terms of the “Universal Church”. However, this is really only half the story.

Think of salvation as both horizontal and vertical. On the vertical plain you have been reconciled with God. You now have a personal relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet on the horizontal plain you have been adopted into the family of God. You have been reconciled into the “Church” or “body of Messiah”. Scripture is clear that the early Christians met regular for fellowship, edification and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:46). In other words church is a family and we have been called into fellowship with both God and the family of God. Remember God does not want a Church full of people he wants a building full of the Church.

Sadly our post-modern world exalts individualism over community. We must fight this trend within the Church and adopt a strong collectivist mindset. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that it is not normal for a Christian to live for himself alone. Instead each Christian is to exercise his/her particular gift within the faith community (1 Corinthians 12:1-28). No words can express strongly enough the risk of serious loss which dogs the steps of the Christian who has no time for a “spiritual home” in a local community of Christians. Some pride themselves on being ‘unattached’, however, we are called to live in community[10].

It cannot be denied that metaphorically speaking, we are all rough, sharp, stones, but in order to remove those rough edges we must be thrown into the “mixer” – which is fellowship. In such an environment we have to learn and practice Christ-like love. We cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway. Here in the midst of a bunch of redeemed sinners the true Gospel is displayed.[11]

Hebrews 10:19-25 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Notice the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the reasons for meeting regularly; 1) our position in Christ, 2) our thankfulness, 3) to consider and encourage one-another, 4) to await corporately for the LORD’s return. Consequently to be “born again” and remain estranged from the family of God is to ignore these Biblical directives.

Proper Church Discipline

Although born-again believers are no longer under God’s condemnation, that is, we are eternally secure, in the temporal sense we are still human and subject to our fallen sin nature. For that reason self-discipline and Church discipline are essential to personal and community growth.

Church polity (operational governance) is a complex subject and beyond the scope of this article.[12] Suffice to say some type of governance is required for a fellowship to operate and for proper discipline to be effective. Polity as the organization of the Church is a scriptural concept (cf. Acts 2:41-46; 4:4, 32-47; 5:1-11; 20:20; John 20:19, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Colossians 2:5).

Although polity is biblical, let me make it clear that Christ is the head of the Church. No person or organization is above or over the Church. The Lord Jesus Christ alone is the head. If we can keep this in mind it will help to avoid the abuse of polity (Ephesians 4:15, 5:23; Colossians 1:18).

Let me briefly outline what I believe a fellowship/church needs to function properly. Firstly you need a Shepherd – a man called to lead and administer pastoral care. Second you need an evangelist who can encourage each person to fulfill the great commission. Third you need a biblically sound teacher who can preach expositionally.[13] Rarely is one man all three yet all three are necessary to meet the needs of the congregation. Rev. Jacob Prasch illustrates this by way of a three legged stool. Take one leg away and the stool is useless. Far too many congregations rely on one man to be “everything”. When all three (or more) are in place a congregation can be disciplined and matured. Elders/deacons will naturally be raised up as the Lord wills. Such spirit led identification is essential in order to prevent egocentric persons obtaining positions of power.

Furthermore, committed Christians are responsible Christians. That means within a fellowship of believers we should each be accountable to one another. Church discipline is not the sole responsibility of one man or a body of men but is holistic in nature (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Peter 1:5). We should deal quickly with interpersonal strife without the need of calling on elders or leaving in a huff (Matthew 18:15-17).[14]

The Church – that is the believers – should reflect the holy and loving character of God. There is no place in church for enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions. Paul referred to such behavior as works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Discipline helps counteract the flesh resulting in a church that faithfully reflects Gods glorious character. We are to be a holy as God is holy, unblemished and without spot from the world (1 Peter 1:16; Ephesian 5:27). Because this is true, the church must be a community in which we constantly call one another to grow, by God’s grace, to higher and more consistent levels of conduct befitting that standard of holiness.

One major problem that crushes authentic fellowship is the size of some Churches. Once a Church grows too large the personal inter-relational aspects of “family” are lost. You can actually feel quite lonely in a big Church. Furthermore large Churches will inevitably find proper Church discipline almost impossible to implement. How can the Pastor truly know a flock numbering hundreds? If you find yourself lost in a big Church I would encourage you to think seriously about locating a smaller family orientated, biblically based fellowship, wherein proper church discipline is practiced.

Looking beyond interpersonal disputes, how does the process of discipline work within the church environment? For example, how should the pastor/elders (and congregation) respond to an act of adultery? Sadly many Churches turn a blind eye. After all, did not Jesus forbid “judging others?” (Matt 7:1). The whole idea of discipline seems harsh upon first consideration, but in truth the lack of discipline is still more devastating because by condoning the sin, which has been done in defiance to God and His Word, the whole church becomes corrupted and weak. The Lord clearly teaches us that the Church is to exercise judgment within itself. After counseling the Corinthians on their poor handling of immoral behavior and internal lawsuits, Paul – under inspiration – admonished “I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers?” (1 Corinthians 6:5). The N.T. is filled with similar language (1 Tim 1:20).

It should not surprise us that God calls us to exercise certain forms of judgment and discipline. The goal of the pastor/elders is to provide a safe environment for Christians to grow. One strategy to help maintain order/disciple is to: guard carefully the front door and open the back door. In other words, make it difficult to become part of the Church. Here sound doctrine/teaching helps separate the wheat from the chaff. Make clear as a “church” what you believe and where you stand. In our own fellowship those who wish to practice “sin” quickly move on. Not because their misdemeanors are publicized but because the Word of God convicts them of sin. When the spirit convicts the Christian has to make a personal choice. This is where Christian freedom and liberty comes in. Either the convicted Christian repents of that sin and turns around or they move on to a church that condones that sin, or worse still, they avoid Church altogether[15]. Remember the path to life is narrow, not broad. Consequently, making inclusion hard and exclusion easy helps towards proper Church discipline. Notice that no coercion or control over individuals is necessary. A biblically based church is self-correcting. Preach the Word (exposition), allow room for the Holy Spirit and watch as God himself works in the mind and hearts of believers. Try and take control away from God and watch the congregation become dry and unproductive.

Finally we must speak about discipline administered by the pastor. As a pastor this is a last resort and a task I find extremely difficult. Pastors/elders are not meant to be spiritual policemen. They are meant to “watch over” the flock but not “control” it. That means we are not to judge others on non-salvific, non-essential matters of faith (see Romans 14-15). To all intents and purposes the pastor/elder should be a point of contact for those who need help – not a constant voice of condemnation. Therefore in carrying out discipline, our attitudes must not be vindictive, but loving, merciful and Christ-like (Jude 23). Each serious sin or problem must be dealt with on its own merit. Turning to a formulaic manual is nonsense. Rather, through prayerful, loving consideration and practical help pastors/elders can – by God’s grace – effectuate change (Romans 6:1-14; 1 John 2:13-14).[16] The basis for counseling is always the word of God – not psychology[17] or the latest motivational book.

There is no denying that church discipline is fraught with problems of wisdom and pastoral application. But we must remember that the whole Christian life is difficult and open to abuse. Such truths should not be an excuse to leave proper church discipline unpracticed. Therefore each local church has a responsibility to judge the life of its leaders, pastor, and members, particularly when either the Gospel is compromised or error taught. Biblical discipline is simple obedience to God and a confession to him that we need help.[18]

Hebrews 12:11-14 “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Here are five positive reasons for practicing corrective church discipline. It shows love for:

  • The good of the disciplined individual
  • Other Christians as they see the danger of sin
  • The spiritual health of the whole church
  • The corporate witness of the church and, therefore, non-Christians in the community
  • The glory of God. Our holiness should reflect God’s holiness. (ibd.)

Conclusion

We have covered a huge amount of material. If you have read to this point then well done. Proper church discipline is no easy subject. Yet despite the complexities polity, along with discipline, is both scriptural and necessary for healthy church life.

We have seen how the Watchtower Society, because of its work orientated salvation, has misused polity and turned God’s word into a weapon of abuse. If you are a Jehovah’s Witness rest assured you need not live under the burden and control of the Watchtower any longer. Jesus is calling all crushed and hurting Witnesses to himself:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you restTake my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

For those of us whom have experienced spiritual abuse church discipline can feel oppressive. To overcome our inhibitions we must turn to our Savior. By reflecting on what he has done for us and noting our position in him we can successfully embrace the fullness of church community including proper church discipline. Furthermore, careful mediation on the Word of God will clarify sticking points.

In my own experience spiritual growth cannot be divorced from the faith community, nor can polity be avoided. Far too many ex-JW’s hide away behind computer screens, happy and thankful to be born again but isolated from the community of faith. They accept the vertical relationship – “me and Jesus” – but fail to comprehend the horizontal relationship of brotherhood. If you are one of these “lone ranger” Christians I would urge you to prayerfully consider the above information. God has given you a gift to be used for the edification of the saints. Don’t let your past bad experiences in the Watchtower rob you of authentic fellowship. A computer community is no substitute for the local Church. Remember Church is a family – your family – you are called to be part of that family both spiritually and physically (1 Corinthians 12:14-28). So what are you waiting for? Don’t delay – get involved in the family of God today!

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).

May the LORD richly bless you,

Shalom

Jason Wright

Further reading:

Hellerman, J.H., (2009). When the Church was a Family. B&H Academic.

Holden, A. (2002). Jehovah’s Witnesses – Portrait of a contemporary religious movement. Routledge.

FOOTNOTES: 

[1] Perspectives on Church Discipline, Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Volume: SBJT 04:4 (Winter 2000) page 86.

[2] See: https://watchtowerinvestigated.co.uk/2014/09/01/jehovahs-organisation-the-grand-illusion/

[3] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_structure_of_Jehovah’s_Witnesses

[4] Franz, Raymond. In search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press 2007, page 313.

[5]Keep Yourselves in God’s Love“, WBTS, page 142-143

[6] Dissfellowshipping offenses include: Abortion, adultery, apostasy, bestiality, blood transfusions, “brazen conduct” or “loose conduct”, drug abuse, drunkenness, extortion, fornication, fraud, gambling, greed, homosexual activity, idolatry, incest, interfaith activity, lying, manslaughter, murder, “perverted sex relations”, polygamy, pornography, reviling, sexual abuse, slander, spiritism, theft, and use of tobacco.

[7]Will You Heed Jehovah’s Clear Warnings?“, The Watchtower, July 15, 2011, page 15. See UPFC article: https://watchtowerinvestigated.co.uk/2011/10/17/174/

[8] This two Witness policy has created a perfect environment for pedophile activity. See: http://www.silentlambs.org/twowitnessrule.htm

[9] For a detailed analysis of organizational policy, shepherding and misuse of disfellowshipping see pages 312-390 of “In search of Christian Freedom” by Raymond Franz, Commentary Press 2007.

[10] Hammond, T.C., (1968). In Understanding Be Men. IVP. Page 153-159

[11] Dever, Mark. (2007). What is a healthy Church? Crossway Books. Page 107-111

[12] For in-depth analysis of various traditions see “Perspectives on Church Government” B&H Academic.

[13] Many would add “worship leader” to this list, however, worship is both an individual and corporate experience. In my humble opinion worship leaders tend to hijack or even manipulate the work of the Holy Spirit – this is especially so in Pentecostal/charismatic and Evangelical churches. Thus, while music may be advantageous it is not a primary goal. All we need is a voice to praise God!

[14] “Jesus himself expected just such interpersonal accountability to occur. Consider again the oft-cited text in Matthew 7:1–6. After Jesus says what is commonly quoted (“do not judge lest you be judged”), he proceeds with instructions precisely about how properly to bring an erring brother to account. Recall that he warns to “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (7:5). What is often missed in this is that once the log is removed, one has the obligation to then help remove the speck from his brother’s eye. In other words, Jesus expects us to be used in the lives of others to help them advance in holiness, just as they may be used likewise in our lives to help us to grow. Church discipline is, most essentially, the formal structure that grows out of a healthy practice of corporate accountability.” Perspectives on Church Discipline Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Volume: SBJT 04:4 (Winter 2000).

[15] Persistent, unrepentant sin is interpreted different ways by different theologians. Personally I believe salvation is eternal and secure. I reject any notion that human works are required to maintain or obtain salvation (2 Tim 2:13). I believe truly born-again believers will produce righteous fruit according to God’s grace and mercy. However, I also acknowledge that Christians can fall into serious ongoing sin. In order to avoid living a life of constant fretting and fruit inspecting – which itself can lead to legalism, I prefer to understand a Christians temporal works – both good and bad – in terms of eternal rewards and the Bema seat Judgment. See: http://www.gotquestions.org/judgment-seat-Christ.html

[16] An important point to hold in tension is that our love of true believers is unconditional, however, our ongoing fellowship with true believers is dependent on “walking in the light” (1 John 1:3, 10, 16). In other words, under certain circumstances we may have to break off fellowship with a true believer, but we still love them (1 Corinthians 15:13). This is in stark contrast to the Watchtower system wherein love is conditional upon keeping rules and those falling away are deemed unworthy of ongoing brotherly love (1 John 2:9).

[17] For a detailed analysis of the origins of Psychology and its dangers I recommend the DVD “Counterfeit counseling” by Pastor Brad Bigney. https://answersingenesis.org/store/product/counterfeit-counseling/?sku=30-9-421

[18] Dever, Mark. (2007). What is a healthy Church? Crossway Books. Pages 107-111.

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9 Responses »

  1. Hi, it seems that your religious and JW both have discipline, but in different way like you say. You say that yours is wet and productive, but JW are dry and unproductive, which means if it is dry and unproductive, it becomes hard, but for wet, it is opposite. Anyway, you list that JW do have reproof, but you don’t list what you assume reproof should have. You explain better and more clear for JW but not for your reproof that you have and what you assume JW have. So, you say that JW are dry and unproductive which it is hard, and inflexible, which mean fear of connect to other people because of example that you mention guilty which in other word is fear by your definition. So, guilty is wrong?? There is nothing wrong with guilty as it means the person know what they did is wrong, that is why they do feel guilty, as in the Bible where you mention about Peter that reproof to people in bible, so they do feel guilty. So, if there is reproof that mean there is guilty. So, there is nothing to fear, but it is hurtful as you say because no one like to be reproof because it is negative. But lead to result is positive way that become good because of change pattern from previous pattern when before there is no reproof, but doing wrong, now after reproof, but doing right. JW and what you say is the same. You mention God is not involve in JW, but yours because JW is from people that reproof them. I would assume that if God is not involve, then JW’s reproof is fear like people are mean to them, ‘change your way or die’, ‘what are you doing, fool? You have no respect, (whatever name you can think of)’, for best example that is easy to understood from mother to child. If a mother response that way to a child, a child will fear, and will less response to mother, a child may change but much later or not change or whatever, it won’t be as fast and motive to change. You are implying GB is a bad mother, but yours is a good mother. That they are willing to change. Since God is not involve which mean there are negative, but with God, there is no negative but positive, but reproof is negative, but in form of positive words.

    What do JW have that is negative?? How about you tell me what JW should change?? If they have bad experience from JW, they should not change to join another religious, because JW is good, you have to forgive them (JW) by assuming they want to hurt you, if they do, but they don’t mean it, the whole point that they want to help you so you can do right. They don’t control your action, but each individual do control themselves to do good or not, JW advice them the right way, but not saying you are wrong and other stuff, which cause them to feel negative which lead to fear, guilty and other stuff. But guilty can also mean you feel that you are doing wrong, but see the person talk about, not directly, it can be, but indirectly to people about sin, but it also applies to you. For example, if you watch porn, and the person talk about stop look at porn, you feel guilty directly what you see what the person say. It doesn’t mean fear, but seeing what is wrong and feel is wrong and can change it to do right. That is as reproof. So, if a person read your article they would see JW is good because of reproof and stop sinning, which it is same as what you say about your kind of discipline.

    You have no mention of reproof from your kind of reproof, but you mention about JW.

    I doubt it that people will resist JW after reading the article, because you mention positive about JW, same thing as what you feel about yourself. Not all, but some of them. What is your experience that cause JW to be wrong in discipline?? A discipline which it is wrong to change so the person to do good work, not bad work anymore. Not just about ‘grace’. It is grace from God and Work from us. Are ya saying our work is not need? You mention discipline is require which you say bible polity, well, I notice in dictionary that polity and policy is same but words of meaning is different, but the connect is there. So, polity and policy have a word which it is reproof that change from one guide of a person to another guide from same person. A guide can be right or wrong. It is a direction which go wrong way or right way. So, basically, you have reproof in your religious, or your reproof as discipline mean to get together with people that is all?? Not to be alone. Why is getting together important to you? Why not be alone??

    JW is same as yours that they do get together with other people, but you mention in fearful way which it is opposite of bible. So, it is reproof is negative way, not positive way. To be nice, kind, and other positive stuff. JW are negative??

    Do you people believe JW are negative??

    If people have negative experience from JW that mean it is either they don’t trust JW, jump conclusion and not enough info about JW, or resist to change and don’t like to be told to change. If enough negative, you might assume that they like to control people for sake of control like they are above them. Human above to other human, which cause problem, that will lead to more problem. Not be equal to other human, to help them because they are same as them. What is your prove that JW want to be like God, as God is literally above other people in everyway. You think what I mean above, what I mean about God and human and other stuff. Anyway, so, GB take the lead, but they are not leader as full leader, like God are as none is above God. So, God is leader, but GB are under God, so people obey GB, just like child obey mother. Are mother a totalitarian? I am going to assume that totalitarian is bad because it is not just final decision, but every decision base on that person, but that person (a second person) can’t decide at all what keep that (second) person happy, to have opinion. Which God is not because allow decision to person, right? Only first person to make decision, which mean can be bad or good to that person which it is second person. So, totalitarian is ignore of feeling of other person, like that person is not a person, but a robot to be move only by the first person. Robot have no control over themselves, it is same as a tree. A tree can’t response, but can response by fall over by a person cut the tree down, so the person cause tree to response in which direction.

    GB do care about us, so they are not totalitarian, which no feeling for us (or whatever feel they want with us, but no connect feeling with us, which it is fellow feeling) but do whatever they want with us. Like God is not totalitarian, which I assume you don’t feel God is totalitarian? What is God??

    You believe in love when you mention in article above, so love is work. Not just grace alone, but grace is primary, but love is secondary. Both are important. GB provide love as teaching and doing with people. Also as protect which you mention ‘back door’ as people that sin or other reason will move on which mean will go thru the back door. So, as the narrow road, which front door is open and back door is open, that lead in balance for the front door with back door, to keep people that is good. (which any one can get in and stay within reason) Not opposite as large road which front door is only open, but back door is close which any one can get in and stay. Notes: see the key word ‘stay within reason’ and ‘stay’. Both are different. JW is the same way. Which why you mention disfellow ship and other stuff. Reproof also.

    • Hello again, I hope you are well? We spoke at great length over the article “Jehovah’s organisation – The Grand Illusion” I appreciate that many of the articles on this site are disturbing to you and that you feel you must defend the Watchtower/GB position. I too would have once done the same as you.

      To be honest having spent several hours corresponding with you on the grand illusion article, I’m not sure anything I say will help you. Really you need God to do a work in you. Debating, arguing etc. will only go so far.

      Your presupposition is that the WT/GB is correct, it has the truth, therefore you naturally wish to fight it’s corner. All I would say is a coin has two sides. The WT/GB also has two sides. If you really want to know the “dark-side” – if you are really going to be honest with yourself – you owe it to yourself to read former Governing body member Raymond Franz’s two books “Crisis of Conscience” & “In search of Christian Freedom”. These books reveal how and why WT rules are made and administered.

      One of the things you need to understand is that Christians who are born again of God’s spirit change by his power not their own. As a born-again believer submits to the leading of the indwelling spirit a work begins inside. God works from within. Overtime a person changes.

      If a Christian “sins” God can deal directly with that sin, convicting a person directly by the Holy Spirit. The individual can repent of that sin and be instantly restored to fellowship with God. They do not need men to decide if they are repentant or not because they have a personal relationship with Jesus.

      At other times God works through other members of the congregation or through the pastor/elder. The danger as I explained in the article is to create legislation which is designed to stop or rectify sin. From a human point of view a guide book seems sensible. However in the long run you end up under “law” – which is what Christ came to fulfil. We don’t need a list of laws because God has written his law on our hearts.

      Heb 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”

      Sadly JW’s are not born again. They have not received the Holy spirit and they are not part of the New Covenant. In fact they pass by the new covenant emblems every year at “Memorial” – For these reasons they live still under law – JW law.

      So the Christian model is not to make a new “law book” but to take each case of “sin” on its own merit working with the individual in love to help them overcome whatever problem they have. Paul did not write a book of “Laws” rather he directed sinners to Christ. It is that personal relationship with Jesus that acts as a safeguard to sin. Remember Jesus died for all our sins, past present and future. Living in sin causes a division in fellowship (not a loss of salvation) between the Christian and God. Restoration of fellowship with God comes through repentance:

      1Jn 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
      1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
      1Jn 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
      1Jn 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
      1Jn 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

      The Apostle Paul warned the Galatians not to come back under law – either mosaic or man made:

      Gal 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
      Gal 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
      Gal 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
      Gal 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
      Gal 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

      Sadly Jehovah’s witnesses do not know the Holy Spirit because they have not been born again by him. That means they cannot be led by the spirit. Instead they look to a man made organisation to direct their steps. JW’s work to please Jehovah. Christians look to Jesus and serve him for what he has done for us.

      The WT/GB has created a system to control people. They have added extra laws. Laws burden people. Jesus came to set us free from Law. Christians live and are guided by the Holy Spirit. Church discipline works along with the leading of the Holy Spirit, it does not replace his ministry.

      Gal 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
      Gal 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

      Notice Paul placed the work of the indwelling spirit first – i.e. being led by the spirit – then as a secondary action he speaks of acting to restore transgressors in a spirit of gentleness and mildness. The goal being to fulfil the law of Christ – not the law of the WT/GB. Can you see that? Why do you prefer to live under JW law? Would you not prefer the freedom Jesus offers?

      Sadly many JW’s cannot function without strict guidelines and laws. That’s fine, but its not the biblical model. I hope that helps. I truly pray you will be set free by Jesus and know his grace and mercy in your life. He loves you so much!

      Shalom
      Jason

  2. Hi, by your definition of trinity that mean Holy Spirit is God, Son is God, Father is God. All are God as one. So, God as intelligent so it means Holy Spirit lead us, so God is in us that controls us, not we ourselves.

    JW follow law as from men. As men tell them, other men. If men tell other men what to do and what to say and whatever, that mean men (first men to progress to second) decide what they want another men (as second men, as second men is being told what to do) to do.

    So, you believe God changes us? Well, it is not mention in article and above, but adding by your definition of trinity.

    Do you believe JW will be save? Or they are not save unless they say I am free and JW are wrong, and you lead me and you decide every for me that is how to be free? Which mean no work on ourselves, but God works in us. Mean God controls us.

    What I see that JW and what you say about what is positive and what is negative, but you think different because of whole point of being who is leading the individual?? Men themselves or God that lead in men?

    • Hi again,

      Firstly the concept that the Holy Spirit, the Son and Father are all coeternal, coequal, and consubstantial is implicit in the N.T. Indeed the concept that God is a plural unity is found throughout the Bible. Sadly the JW’s and unitarians have not allowed the N.T. revelation to clarify the true nature of God. In this regard the JW’s have copied the errors of early adventism. It is essential that you understand the true nature of God. For a in-depth study watch Dr. James White teaching:

      To understand how God works in Christians you must first understand what salvation is. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (John 3:3, 7).

      Are you born again? You cannot even see let alone enter the Kingdom of God unless you are born again! Do you want to be born-again? Do you want to know the real Jesus?

      Paul wrote: “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God”. (Romans 5:1-2)

      Notice we are justified before God – born-again – through faith in Jesus death, burial and resurrection. At that moment of faith an eternal transaction takes place wherein the believer becomes a child of God. At this point the believer receives the Holy Spirit as a pledge of his eternal redemption. Furthermore the spirit within begins to change and direct the believers steps. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and character change begins. Christians are led by the Holy Spirit.

      For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17).

      Are you a child of God? Have you received the promised Holy Spirit?

      At salvation the relationship between the sinner and God is restored. It is an act of Grace on the part of God to bestow salvation upon the repentent sinner.

      Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time… since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 3-5, 23).

      Please notice according to Gods mercy we are born again as we respond to the Gospel message. Have you responded to the TRUE Gospel?

      Despite the spirit abiding within He does not control us. Rather He guides the Christian. Because we have free will we can ignore the inner promptings of the spirit and continue to sin. If we do so God will discipline us, either directly or through a secondary channel. This could be an individual, the Church or a Pastor/elder/vicar etc.

      So change comes by way of synergism. As the Christian who is born-again abides in God, as his/her relationship and intimacy with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit grows he/she will willingly submit to God’s will. So while the Spirit guides the individual must still respond. The Holy Spirit will also use the Word of God to guide. The beauty of Gods new covenant method is it removes law and legalism. We no longer need a long list of rules. Instead we each walk with God and together we change. Ultimately It is out of love for what God has done for us that we submit to him. We do not serve to earn salvation but we serve because we have salvation.

      You asked if JW’s are saved? What did Jesus say? YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN. Are JW’s born-again? Sadly they are not. They are not born-again of Gods spirit but remain lost. By denying who Jesus is they reject the Gospel. Yes they are zealous for righteousness and good works. But good works do not save a person, nor does allegiance to an organisation. Salvation is a personal one on one experience with God.

      For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)

      So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:24-26)

      For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:4-5; 10-12)

      Are you born-again? Do you know God the Son? Do you have eternal life or are you working for it?

      I pray this helps.
      Shalom
      Jason

      • Hi, so you believe in free will and God do not control us. You believe holy spirit is God, Jesus is God. Jesus is a person, and Holy Spirit is within us. So, what do God mean to you??

        JW believe same as you, free will which mean they decide to follow God or not. Which it is love. You provide good info that show positive process to God, so do JW do. Yet you say JW are wrong, like they provide negative process. Like GB tell them bad stuff, go to war, kill people, steal from people, which cause negative feeling and reduce emotional connect to people. Not to trust them. You feel connect to God as to obey God like you say love. You love God and you decide to follow God. How do you love God?? You say that JW are wrong, then how do they love God that is wrong way??

        You have discipline which mean if they do wrong, you will discipline them, so they will do the right way. Which you change their direction from wrong path to right path, same as JW. So, both are the same, then why do you say they are wrong?? Because after all, God will accept both, right because they (JW) provide positive to people, just like you do? How do you provide positive to people to your way??

        Love is a rule and a law. .

      • You are missing the point. I have provided all the information necessary to reach an informed scriptural decision on what proper Church discipline is and is not. You are getting confused over “Love” and “Law”. The fact that I have outlined the GB “laws” is not a positive but a negative reflection on their own lack of Biblical understanding. We do not need endless laws or control.

        Sadly (at this time) you prefer to follow the GB. That’s fine. All I can do is continue to provide biblical arguments that prove you are on the wrong track. But I cannot make you “see” the truth. To remove the WT blinkers from your eyes requires a miracle – only God can do that.

        Please don’t misunderstand me. I know what its like to struggle with the possibility that the WT may be a illusion. It is a hard thought and an even harder reality. But there is something much much better; true rest, assurance and security is available right now. You just need to take a step of faith towards Jesus.

        God bless
        Jason

  3. Jason, what a tremendously helpful, thoughtful and thoroughly Biblical article. There is much food for thought for JW and Christian alike. Well done brother and keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Tony your comments are much appreciated. Heavy weight stuff – not an easy subject. Especially challenging in a relativistic world – nevertheless a necessary topic. Thanks to Bobby for giving me the assignment! Shalom Jason

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