Is Leaving Really the Only Option?
Part Two: When It Really Isnt "Doubt"
FINDING certainty in an uncertain world is sure to be met with disappointment. Yet even in light of such eventualities, we continue to yearn for certainty, for something which will solidify our hope, make it firm and yield up reassurance. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul wrote the following words of inspiration, which hold just as true today as they did when pen set the words to parchment around two thousand years ago:
What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)
Indeed, the only certainty that we will obtain, the only peace that we will have in our lives, comes from having faith in the promises set forth in Gods Word, the Bible. No other source apart from the Bible holds the answers to the problems that have plagued our existence for millennia. Indeed, many sources cull promises from Gods Word and convert it to their own ends, resulting in a disastrous loss of what little faith may have remained in the very heart of some who heeded the words of such sources.
So, having faith is the most important ingredient that a Christian can add to their life. A living faith will be cultivated and bear fruitage in all that the person does, thinks, or even considers. We live with our eye on the future, on a Promise, even though we do not currently have what has been promised. (Hebrews 11:10) However strong and intense our focus is upon that Promise is a direct measure of how strong our faith is, and vice versa.
But all the faith in the universe is of no benefit on the day we realize that our faith has been towards the wrong thing. Indeed, on the day that we finally realize that, a part of ourselves withers, and if the damage is allowed to fester, faith will eventually die outright.
As Jehovahs Witnesses, we are told:
To avoid having our faith destroyed by doubt as Eves was, we need to be vigilant. If some tinge of doubt about Jehovah, his Word, or his organization has begun to linger in your heart, take quick steps to eliminate it before it festers into something that could destroy your faith. (Watchtower, February 1, 1996, p. 23)
Many who experience a shaking of their faith often become convinced that they would never have suffered such a faltering of their faith if they had really been in Jehovahs organization. Really, they begin to question whether Jehovah even has an earthly organization. And as these questions persist, the damage becomes greater, and the persons having been stumbled becomes all the more evident. (Part Three will more closely examine those questions.)
To ward off such dangerous attacks on our faith, as Jehovahs Witnesses, we are encouraged to set apart a portion of our busy personal lives to have our own personal study, in addition to keeping up with the latest magazines, meetings, assemblies, conventions, and field service. During that personal Bible study, we are to endeavor to draw closer to our God, Jehovah, by becoming more acquainted with his Word, the Bible.
But what happens when, during our personal Bible study, we begin to see a Bible passage in a different way from the understanding we have become familiar as originating with the Society? What happens when we begin to realize that our reading and subsequent understanding of a Bible passage differs from that of the Faithful and Discreet Slave? How can this impact our faith?
It is true that Jehovahs Witnesses look to the Faithful and Discreet Slave for insight into Gods Word, and to acquire food at the right time. We accept in faith that Jehovah is dispensing spiritual knowledge and insight through the devoted brothers that have taken the lead in our organization, and that to act in any way that we dont appreciate that arrangement is viewed with displeasure by Jehovah himself. While the brothers who are taking the lead have seen to it that these precious truths are published for our edification, they likewise confess that they themselves are not infallible. Yet, we are encouraged to believe that any errors are rooted out by Jehovah himself as we grow progressively as an organization towards the Truth.
To support such a view, we are continuously reminded that, organizationally-speaking, we have a long history from which we can demonstrate that the errors in our teachings have always been sifted out after a time, leaving sound Bible understandings in their wake.
Even so, it seems to be a recent development within the literature, talks and conventions that the same Faithful and Discreet Slave that we look to for spiritual guidance and insight has begun to impatiently respond to a growing (melancholy) within the organization and the suggestion of a (lack in appreciation) for the food that has been dispensed. In response, more and more articles are being included, for example, in the Watchtower magazine addressing such issues as loyalty towards the arrangement, gratitude for the food being dispensed by the faithful and discreet slave and appreciation for the spiritual paradise that we have been provided. Too, there is an increased emphasis on apostasy and how it should be defined in our minds, broadening the scriptural definition to include even questioning the Society or its understandings in any way. (see Endnote #1)
Still, what does any of this have to do with the topic of When it isnt really doubt?
Well, it helps us to set the stage for the tremendous obstacles that stand before one of Jehovahs loyal ones, because once we have clearly identified and acknowledged the dangers that surround our tenuous tent of faith outside the organization, we can then focus on the dangers that surround our tent of faith inside the organization. And, surprisingly, one of those dangers is the very source that we may have devoted decades to listening to and following.
As mentioned earlier, one common feature that seems to recur in many of the situations involving Jehovahs Witnesses who falter from their course and are stumbled from serving Jehovah God, comes by means of ones own personal Bible studyan irony that one would not expect to find within an organization that believes itself to be so closely aligned with the Bibles teachings. When one adds in the fact that the organizations leader, the faithful and discreet slave, encourages a personal Bible study be established and kept to, we would think that there would be no harm in following that suggestion.
However, one of the first things we learn as we become Jehovahs Witnesses is that when we study the Bible, we need to utilize the Bible study aids provided by the Society, because only by means of those aids will we be able to understand the Bible:
The Society has provided an abundance of Bible study aids, such as the new
Publications Index 1930-1985. Only by taking full advantage of these provisions can we have a good, trusting relationship with our heavenly Father and be effective as his witnesses. (Watchtower, January 15, 1988, p. 27)
Here, we are told that only by taking full advantage of the aids can we have a good, trusting relationship with Jehovah. If this is the case, what is the point of having a personal study of the Bible, since the only way we will ever understand what we read in the Bible will be with the Societys aids, thus eliminating the personal from personal study.
Through diligent study of the Bible with The Watchtower and other Christian publications as aids, we can acquire accurate knowledge about God that is like a spring of pure, refreshing, life-giving water. (Watchtower, October 15, 1987, p. 22)
Again the point is made that studying of the Bible is to be with the Societys publications. Furthermore, Jehovah is said to correct us through the Bible study aids:
Sometimes God corrects us through the Bible or Bible study aids. (Watchtower, September 1, 1981, page 21)
The emphasis on the importance of taking full advantage of the Societys literature doesnt stop there, however. As can be seen in the following quote, which addresses what we can do in the event that access to new Watchtower magazines or related Bible study aids is hindered or otherwise prevented due to ban or similar conditions, we are given the steps we should take in response to such an event. Notice that being grateful that we (at least) have the Bible is secondary:
What about literature? Supposing you have no new Bible literature? Would it not be appropriate and proper to study whatever you have available? If you have no Bible study aids, rejoice in having the Bible itself. If you do not have the Bible, then Christians will still meet together to discuss the truths of the Bible that each one remembers, in order to refresh and stimulate their minds. (Watchtower, March 1, 1972, p. 137)
This elevated view of the Bible study aids produced by the Society is a view that has been in place since the days of Charles Taze Russell, who wrote:
Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the Scripture Studies aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten yearsif he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references, and not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures. (Watchtower, September 15, 1910, p. 4685)
The importance of closely adhering to the published writings of the Society is abundantly clear in statements like the following:
First, since oneness is to be observed, a mature Christian must be in unity and full harmony with fellow believers as far as faith and knowledge are concerned. He does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the faithful and discreet slave. By regularly taking in the spiritual food provided at the proper timethrough Christian publications, meetings, assemblies, and conventionswe can be sure that we maintain oneness with fellow Christians in faith and knowledge.Matthew 24:45. (Watchtower, August 1, 2001, p. 14)
The question becomes one of what exactly we are to do if we are being encouraged to have a consistent personal Bible, so long as we do not do so apart from the Societys publications, nor allow ourselves to read any passage in a light other than what the Society has deemed an acceptable understanding for us to have. Really, what is to be gained by praying to Jehovah for insight into His Word before we actually read and study our Bible when there is the risk that we might arrive at a different conclusion than that reached by the Society? As was stated in the Watchtower magazine itself, we are not even to harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. We are to have complete confidenceyes, faith!in what we are taught, never suspecting that it might, in actuality, be wrong, even if it proves to be wrong:
We can benefit from this consideration. If we have once established what instrument God is using as his slave to dispense spiritual food to his people, surely Jehovah is not pleased if we receive that food as though it might contain something harmful. We should have confidence in the channel God is using. At the
headquarters from which the Bible publications of Jehovahs Witnesses emanate there are more mature Christian elders, both of the remnant and of the other sheep, than anywhere else upon earth.
True, the brothers preparing these publications are not infallible. Their writings are not inspired as are those of Paul and the other Bible writers. (2 Tim. 3:16) And so, at times, it has been necessary, as understanding became clearer, to correct views. (Prov. 4:18) However, this has resulted in a continual refining of the body of Bible-based truth to which Jehovahs Witnesses subscribe. Over the years, as adjustments have been made to that body of truth, it has become ever more wonderful and applicable to our lives in these last days. Bible commentators of Christendom are not inspired either. Despite their claims to great knowledge, they have failed to highlight even basic Bible truthssuch as the coming
earth, the importance of Gods name, and the condition of the dead.
Rather, the record that the faithful and discreet slave organization has made for the past more than 100 years forces us to the conclusion that Peter expressed when Jesus asked if his apostles also wanted to leave him, namely, Whom shall we go away to? (John 6:66-69) No question about it. We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the faithful and discreet slave organization. (Watchtower, February 15, 1981, p. 19)
There are numerous problems with the statements just cited from the Societys flagship publication. First of all, very few Witnesses, especially those who have been a part of the organization for perhaps decades expect to find a problem with a given teaching, nor expect to encounter disagreement during a personal Bible study. So, to (suggest) that we are guilty of viewing the literature, the food, as though it might contain something harmful, is a dismissal of how it really happens as well as a shirking of the realness of a potential stumbling block in our body of teachings and doctrines, by saying that the problem is with us and not the understanding itself. All-the-more shameful such a tactic by the Society becomes when, months or years later, themselves realize that they were wrong and change a teaching to that which we tried to express in the first place.
Second, where in the Bible are we counseled to place our confidence in men, in humans? If anything, we are admonished not to do such a foolish thing. But, so as to provide us with a (good reason) to ignore or view inapplicable the Bibles counsel against placing confidence in humans and their institutions, the Society goes on to explain why we should and must have confidence by pointing out that the Brooklyn headquarters has more mature Christian elders than anywhere else in the world; so we can trust them, or have confidence in them.
Third, the statement is made that these brothers who compose
s headquarters are not infallible, and yet the reasoning given in the article is written so as to compel us to treat the food as though it were infallible. Otherwise, allowance would be made to examine it, and even reject it. Instead, we are instructed to continue to eat it until those preparing it have realized their error and change it. This seems not only unreasonable, but spiritually dangerous.
Fourth, as if two wrongs can be made into a single right, we are reminded by the Society that the Bible commentators of Christendom are not inspired either, yet isnt it true that we are to view those publications from said Bible commentators of Christendom with the view that they contain harmful elements. (See Endnote #2)
Finally, we are told by the Society that the established record of the past 100 years or so forces us to acknowledge that without the Society, there simply is no hope in ever understanding the Bible. This, too, creates several problems, all of them related to placing undeserved and unwarranted confidence in humans and their organizations. (Psalm 146:3)
As mentioned earlier, the problem isnt that we set out looking for discrepancies or inaccuracies in the publications, but that we find them unexpectedly, often during our personal Bible study. While we are advised by the Society to put away any sort of thinking that would counter or disagree with that published in our literature, we find ourselves powerless to do so, motivated from deep within our self, in our private heart (that only Jehovah and His appointed Christ, Jesus, can read), to a particular conclusion or understanding.
And what is most disturbing of all is that when this happens, it isnt that we begin to lose faith in Jehovah God or in His Word, the Bible. It isnt that we begin to doubt that Jesus really lived as a human, was sacrificed in our behalf, and was resurrected. It isnt that we begin to believe anything like that at all: the only concern or disagreement that develops is in a particular understanding as taught to us by the Society, and whether it is the only possible understanding, or even correct in any sense of scriptural insight. Along with this comes the issue of ones personal, Bible-trained conscience, in being expected to promote an understanding that we cannot personally defend or believe to be true. (1 Peter 3:15)
Unfortunately, the elders who watch over our local congregations are ill-prepared to address such matters in the way that such matters truly deserve, in spite of their responsibility to watch over us, acting as shepherds for the Christ. However, as long as they perceive our differing stance as related to having doubt over a published understanding of the Society, they will extend as much help as they are able. Once it becomes apparent to them that it isnt a matter of doubt, but rather of clear disagreement with the Society, their handling of the individual changes.
According to the 1991 edition of the elders manual, Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock:
Those with sincere doubts should be helped, dealt with mercifully. (Jude 22, 23; w82 9/1 pp. 20-1;w80 8/1 pp. 21-2) (Pay Attention, page 94)
Persons who deliberately spread (stubbornly hold to and speak about) teachings contrary to Bible truth as taught by Jehovahs Witnesses are apostates. (Pay Attention, page 94)
The Bible condemns the following: Causing divisions and promoting sects. This would be deliberate action disrupting the unity of the congregation or undermining the confidence of the brothers in Jehovahs arrangement. (Pay Attention, page 95)
As can be seen, provisions are in place to assist those who (merely) have doubts concerning understandings. Yet the very definition of doubt is think something unlikely: to feel unconvinced or uncertain about something, or think that something is unlikely. (Encarta Dictionary, 2003)
The question, then, is where does one draw the line between doubt and disagreement. One can have doubts about the validity of the 1914 teaching, for example. What this means, though, is that the person thinks it unlikely to be a valid teaching, being unconvinced because of the evidence offered to support it: thus the person is disputing the claim. Additionally, the perception of others in the congregation may cause some, elders especially, to interpret the persons doubt as stubbornly holding to a different view on the 1914 teaching because nothing which has been offered by the elders was able to convince the individual that it is a valid teaching. This typically leads to the person being viewed as spiritually weak and probably avoided by the majority of the congregation. Such treatment by the congregation is supported by the Society, and so is an organizationally legitimate approach to those who disagree with the Society. The Societys view is quite clear:
Approved association with Jehovahs Witnesses requires accepting the entire range of the true teachings of the Bible, including those Scriptural beliefs that are unique to Jehovahs Witnesses. (Watchtower, April 1, 1986, p. 31)
Simply put, unless one accepts the entire range of teachings, including those unique to Jehovahs Witnesses, such as the 1914 doctrine, then one is not to be considered approved association and may even be treated as an apostate (see above-cited article for further details).
Does this constitute apostasy, however?
In many cases, the Society believes this to be the caseas do the majority of Jehovahs Witnesses. But this is especially the case if the individual speaks to someone else (or others) of their doubt as to the validity of a given teachingeven to an elder, who is supposed to address such matters and help as far as they are able. Sheltering the Societys established understanding from critical examination by saying that an open discussion is tantamount to undermining the confidence of the brothers in Jehovahs arrangement is but one excuse for the prohibition of public scrutiny by Jehovahs Witnesses with other Witnesses of the established Bible truth as taught by Jehovahs Witnesses. (This last statement, in reality, should read Bible truth as taught by the Society since Jehovahs Witnesses do not teach understandings of our own origination, but are simply sharing with the public that which we are taught by the Society.)
Curiously, our flagship publication had the following bold invitation, evidently extended to non-Witnesses:
However, The Watchtower does not claim to be inspired in its utterances, nor is it dogmatic. It invites careful and critical examination of its contents in the light of the Scriptures. (Watchtower, August 15, 1950, p. 263)
Again, it must be stressed that this is an invitation only to non-Witnesses, as any Witness who engages in a critical examination of our publications is viewed as a troublemaker, a critical brother, having a problem with authority, or having a higher view of his own opinion than one should have in Gods organization. And this, even though one of Jehovahs Witnesses would be best able to accurately give careful and critical examination because of their familiarity with the various nuances between published statements and actual carrying-out of their propagation. Indeed, if it is true that our body of teachings is so sound, so accurate that the Society confidently invites careful and critical examination of its contents, then why are those from among our own ranks who begin to do so so readily ostracized? Why are they viewed as dissenters among the ranks of our worldwide association of brothers? Why is it that careful and critical examination is elsewhere referred to as someone acting in a rebellious, disrespectful, ungrateful manner, as this statement from the Society points out:
If we have once established what instrument God is using as his slave to dispense spiritual food to his people, surely Jehovah is not pleased if we receive that food as though it might contain something harmful. We should have confidence in the channel God is using.
Does not the Bible tell us to Keep testing whether (we) are in the faith? (2 Corinthians 13:5, NWT) How, then, should we reconcile the instruction from the Society that If we have once established what instrument God is using that we should ever after accept anything and everything it says or doeswithout question, without examination, without testing whether (we) are in the faith?
By way of example: King Saul, at one time, was Jehovahs anointed leader over His people, and yet he fell away. Was Jehovah really displeased with those who decided to take a stand for righteousness? When Jonathan protected David from King Saul, did this displease Jehovah because Jonathan, although at one time convinced that Saul was Jehovahs anointed leader, acted contrary to Saul when it became clear to Jonathan that Saul had departed from righteousness? This writer does not believe so.
There are other examples that could be examined which would amply demonstrate that even though Jehovah uses a particular channel at one time or another, He is just as likely to stop using that channel when it ceases to act in Jehovahs righteousness. We have no other reliable way of knowing whether this is the case today, apart from how Jehovahs spirit bears witness within us, motivating our Bible-trained conscience. When Jehovahs spirit acts as a witness in our conscience or our spiritual core, we must then choose whether to follow men or follow God. (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29)
But when, through a disclosure of spiritual insight into Gods Word, we stumble upon a conclusion or view that differs from that issued by the Society, it is only in the rarer instances that someone will demand that their suddenly changed view be held of higher esteem than others. For the majority of us, on the other hand, we seek only acknowledgment of our God-given right to be full in our faith towards Jehovah God, and for allowances to be made for variations in understanding when it comes to matters which are yet to be conclusively defined. We continue to have hope towards the benefit of the doubt that we just might be correct, and be allowed to act and believe according to our Bible-trained conscience, acting wholeheartedly in our worship towards our Grand Creator.
When it isnt really doubt, neither is it apostasy, although were continuously made to feel and believe that this is precisely the case, by the Society and our own friends in the congregation where we attend. For the record, our Christian love for the brothers and sisters among us is not diminished by our having concerns or even outright disagreements with such teachings as the 1914 doctrine. Our striving towards unity is not overcome by differences, but glorified in them. (Acts 10:34-35)
Really, one need only give a passing glance to Creation itself to realize that unity and harmony is not derived from uniformity, nor by enforced conformity. What a different world we would live in if every tree we looked at had to be a pine tree in order to claim to be a tree. Or if the flowers of the field had to be the same color of azure in order to be identified as a flower. Or each of us had to have only black hair if we wanted to be considered approved association.
Unfortunately, diversity in views on matters that are left open-ended in the Bible drive some to enforce a pseudo-unity by imposing a singular conscience or view upon the general population, under the guise that this somehow alleviates individual accountability before our Grand Creator because we are loyally submitting to the arrangement. (For further examination of this issue, see Part Four.)
This sort of reasoning only adds to the dilemma that is being faced by those who suddenly find their eyes opened to the faults and errors of our system of worship.
When one considers that to the disturbing, smoldering fire burning in our heart and conscience, we must live with the ostracism and/or alienation by ones fellow worshipers for our allegedly stubbornly holding to a personal opinion
live with the feelings of isolation, of being cut-off in many ways from those we regularly have been associating with (sometimes for decades!), because we no longer feel that we are able to speak openlyfor fear that we will say something which will incur the wrath of an organization that has little tolerance for talk that might be construed as undermining the faith that others have in the arrangement it becomes easy to understand how the next step in the process becomes a searching for the answer to the question: How can this happen if its really Jehovahs organization?
That is the next point that we will examine.
Part 3: How Can This Happen If It's Really "Jehovah's Organization"?
In recent years, the growth of the internet has played its own heavy hand in testing our faith as hundreds of web sites devoted to criticizing Jehovahs Witnesses and our organization are brought online every day, reporting personal experiences, second-hand accounts, and how to respond to Jehovahs Witnesses if we show up at a persons door. Clearly, those who would seek to undermine the faith of others should be avoided, and warnings against their poisonous words should be given, lest we fall prey to their false reasonings. Even the Bible admonishes us to stay aware of such ones. And, true to their apostate nature, many websites that are anti-Witness actually delight in getting someone to leave the organization, not because such opposers have something better to offer, but because their (victim) is no longer among Jehovahs Witnesses, thus signifying some sort of perverted victory for opposers and apostates. The stumbled person, having been duped themselves into overlooking or dismissing the real issue we are facing in these last days, will then often join the ranks of such opposers and apostates, and likely try to engage in discussions other Jehovahs Witnesses, with the hope of enlightening them about the so-called truth about the truth. (This will be revisited in more detail in Parts Five and Six, as well as Part Nine of this series.)
This, unfortunately, creates a double-edgedif not hypocriticalstandard in the minds of many, since we are not to exercise an equally critical and judgmental diligence towards our own publications, because our own publications have been approved by the Society for our consumption, as pointed out in a statement published in the Watchtower magazine:
First, study: We may think of study as hard work, as involving heavy research. But in Jehovahs organization it is not necessary to spend a lot of time and energy in research, for there are brothers in the organization who are assigned to do that very thing, to help you who do not have so much time for this, these preparing the good material in The Watchtower and other publications of the Society. But you do not study enough? Take this suggestion: Often the very best and most beneficial studying you do is that done when you read a new Watchtower or Awake! or a new book with the joy of getting the new truths and a fresh view. (Watchtower, June 1, 1967, p. 338)