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Is Reform a Good Idea?

Why we are neither overstepping our bounds, nor beating a dead horse

There are some who might object to any attempts to reform the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. They might believe that criticizing the organization might be equivalent to criticizing Jehovah God himself. But we have to keep in mind that this is NOT the case. If we were to equate criticism of the organization with criticism of God, then most of the faithful people written about in the Bible would be blasphemers. Throughout the history of Israel and Judah and the Christian congregation there were many leaders of Jehovah's people who were not living up to the standards they should have been. In such cases, people spoke out in criticism of them, and this is a reaction that is praised by the Bible writers. Some of the Bible writers themselves were critics of their leaders. The kings of Judah were certainly part of Jehovah's "organization." They were the leaders of the people, not only politically, but also spiritually. So was it wrong to criticize them? Was exposing their error disrespectful of Jehovah? What about the apostles in the first century? If they made a mistake, was it wrong to criticize them? Let's look at a few examples. 

The prophets of ancient Israel spoke out against Jehovah's arrangement all of the time. Elijah and Elisha criticized King Ahab. Samuel spoke against Eli the high priest, as well as Saul the king. Jeremiah spoke against several kings of his day. An unnamed prophet criticized King Jeroboam's religious innovations. Malachi spoke against the priesthood in his day. The Bible is rife with examples. Many, many, many of the kings and priests of Israel were not measuring up, and time and time again, the prophets got up in front of the people and publicly criticized these leaders for their wrongs. They brought to the people's attention not only their leaders' personal failings, but the weaknesses and wrongs of their public policies as well. It was common for the prophets to speak both to the people about the kings and directly to the kings, telling them their failings and what they needed to do to change. 

To be sure, the prophets were inspired by Jehovah to speak what they did, and we are making no such claim. But our point is that these servants of God set an example, and their inspiration would actually testify to the rightness of that example. The crucial point here is that God did not choose his prophets from among the royalty or from among the priests. Where did the prophets come from?  These people were not always (and not usually) men of the higher echelon in Israelite society.  Most came from humble circumstances. They were often the lowly, the unpopular, or the outcasts. Even more significantly, they were under the authority of the religious and political leaders. Yet they spoke out candidly and courageously against those leaders. Did Samuel keep his mouth shut and say, "Saul is the king, God's anointed. I better not say anything about his sins. That would be disloyal to God and his arrangement." Did Elijah? Jeremiah? When David sinned with Bathsheba, did God appear to him personally and call him to account? No, Nathan is the one who came to David in the name of Jehovah to counsel him. Organizationally, Nathan was lower on the totem pole than David. And yet, Jehovah used him.  

In early Christian times, it was very similar. Peter was one of the Twelve, and yet Paul, who was not, actually criticized Peter publicly in a letter about his improper behavior (Gal. 2:14). That letter was read all over the Mediterranean. Was Paul condemned for this? If so, we have no record of it. (For a more thorough discussion of the first century parallels, see the article, "Should a Witness Disagree with the Organization Publicly?")    

The Bible shows that counsel often does not come from the "top down." And with respect to those in the highest positions, counsel almost always comes from the bottom up. It is no doubt true that when an individual member of the present-day Governing Body does something wrong, one or more of the other members might correct him. But what if the Body itself is in error? For them to expect correction to come directly from God himself with no middle-man is not in keeping with biblical precedent. The counsel would have to come from someone below them. In Bible times, Jehovah raised up the poor and the afflicted, the "lesser" ones, to speak up for what is right and to point out problems in their leaders. He will do the same today when necessary. Those in authority, if truly good, will react as David did, and as Peter did--humbly and rightly. They will not act as Ahab and Jezebel, who tried to get rid of those who called them to account. 

The most obvious example is that set by our ultimate exemplar Jesus. Did he not expose the failings of the religious leaders of his day? While he lived, was he not a Jew? Did he not adhere to the Mosaic law? So why did Jesus speak out against the scribes and Pharisees? It was because he saw that the sheep were being led by the blind and were in danger. They needed help. He wasn't about to sit by and let them be trodden on. The Pharisees tried to silence Jesus out of what they saw as respect for God's arrangement. But they were wrong in doing so. His disciples continued to expose the hypocrisy well after he died. This is, and has always been, God's way. 

Here is what the Watchtower has to say about it:

“Why did Jesus publicly criticize religious men who claimed to serve the same God he preached? Was his motive bad? Not at all…. Was it only Christ who could properly make such comments? No, for the Bible shows clearly that Jesus’ disciples also called attention to religious error…. Further, out of love for truth these first-century Christians exposed deviations from true Christianity by ones professing to be Christians.—1 Tim. 1:19, 20; 2 Tim. 2:16-19…. As with Jesus, the motive behind the criticism was good. So the disciples were being Christian—not unchristian—in pointing out religious error. Consequently, is it unchristian today to offer Bible-based comments about another’s religion? The Scriptural answer must be No. True, criticism that reveals faults in the teachings or practices of someone’s religion might at first seem severe. Yet, how should one react? Not like those who became violently enraged over Stephen’s criticism. Rather, note the fine reaction of some Athenians who heard Paul’s comments. They accepted the Bible truth and became believers, to their eternal benefit.—Compare Acts 17:11, 12. Far from being rejected as unchristian, then, criticism based on God’s Word should be carefully considered, for it can bring real benefits.” (Awake, 11/22/1974, p. 27)

The Bible is chock full of servants of God, greater and lesser, perfect and imperfect, who exposed falsehood. They were faithful people worthy of example. Imitating them is not somehow sacrilegious and preserved only for a special few. They showed us how to act. And they spoke out on behalf of the people against corruption. We are obliged to do the same, not look the other way. Moreover, their purpose was not to see the fall of God's arrangement (look how devastated they were when it did fall), but to reform it and make it right. When it was finally time to bring the Jewish system to an end, Jesus lamented: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her--how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings!" (Matthew 23:37). By this time he had exhausted all options. We are far from that point with regard to our own organization. 

Some people are under the impression that acknowledging even one mistake in our organization will somehow call into question our whole faith system. But we have to remember whom we serve--Jehovah God. If men are imperfect, that says nothing about him. If men are even sinful and evil, does that do anything to Jehovah? Of course not. Why, then, should our faith in him be affected? 

Some, including the Governing Body, have used the example of Korah to argue that criticism of those in authority is inappropriate. Setting aside, for the moment, the presumptuousness of the Governing Body to equate themselves with Moses, we need only to point out that the Christian system dissolved the Israelite priesthood, made all of God's servants equal (Matt. 23:8-11), and put in the place of the priesthood only one true high priest, Jesus Christ, who is the only figure who has the right to be called the Greater Moses (Heb. 3:1, 8:1, 10:19-22). He is the one whom Moses prefigures, not the leaders of any earthly organization.   

We wish to make it clear that it is not our intention to gain some kind of control over the organization through these reforms. That would merely replace one form of hierarchy for another. We would rather our current leadership loosen its unauthorized hold over its brothers. King David had a chance to kill Saul and did not do it. Forcefully usurping power is not the intention of anyone here. There is a big difference between killing the anointed of God (not appropriate) and speaking out when the anointed one sins (appropriate). 

There are many Jehovah's Witnesses, who, although they see the problems in the organization, are convinced that the correct course of action is to let matters lie. They talk about "waiting on Jehovah" to handle matters, leaving things in his hands. But there is a fine line between being patient and allowing bad things to go on when we have the capability to stop them. The last thing we want to become is status quo people. Should we ever be content with "good enough"? If we don't think that way about our personal standing with God, then we shouldn't think that way about our religion. Each and every day that passes, there are people in Jehovah's organization who are being mistreated in some way as a result of the policies put in place by the Governing Body. Are we to walk by the bleeding man on the side of the road and not pay him any attention? Perhaps the priest in Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan, who passed the injured man, thought to himself, "If God wants this rectified, he'll take care of it. I'll leave it in his hands." Or maybe the Levite who walked by and did nothing thought, "These sorts of evils will be handled in God's new system of things. Nothing I can do will keep this man from dying eventually anyway. Might as well let God save this man in his due time." But Christianity is not a passive religion. It is an active one. It requires us to act on behalf of our brothers. 

There are countless proverbs in the Bible that urge us to help when help is needed: "As for anyone stopping up his ear from the complaining cry of the lowly one, he himself also will call and not be answered" (Proverbs 21:13); "Do not hold back good from those to whom it is owing, when it happens to be in the power of your hand to do it. Do not say to your fellowman: 'Go, and come back and tomorrow I shall give,' when there is something with you" (Proverbs 3:27-28). There is something with us. We can help, and so we should. It should not make us afraid if people speak up and speak out. What can men do to God and his people? Nothing. On the other hand, if we ourselves keep silent, if we fail to speak out when we see wrongdoing, we may become guilty by association, accomplices to the crimes. We may be the ones "winking" at badness. We would be like Eli who did not correct his sons firmly enough. That goes against everything we believe in. Good and truth and right come well before loyalty to imperfect men. To be sure, we do not want to go overboard and get caught up in hate speech. The Reform Movement is certainly not for that. However, we do not see anywhere in the Bible where reticence is praised as virtuous.

We think many of us have a mistaken notion as to how Jehovah handles problems among his people. When people think of Jehovah acting on behalf of his servants, they seem to assume supernatural intervention of some kind, but in the Bible, 9 times out of 10, Jehovah handles things through human agents, not directly with a lightning bolt or dove from heaven. 

A story might help illustrate this point: A terrible flash flood hit a small town, and people were trying to get out. There was a brother stuck up on the roof of his house stranded. He prayed and said, "Jehovah, if it be your will, please save me." A few minutes later, a man in a row boat came by and offered assistance. The brother said, "Thank you, sir. But I am leaving things in my God Jehovah's hands. If he wants me to survive, he will rescue me." So the man went on his way. Then a police rescue boat came by and offered the brother assistance. His reply was the same. "My salvation will be from my God Jehovah," he said to himself. Finally, a rescue helicopter came by and put down a ladder. But the brother wouldn't go up. "Thank you, but I think it is best to leave things in Jehovah's hands." Finally, the waters overwhelmed him and he drowned. When he was resurrected in the new system, he met up with one of the faithful men of old, and he told his story. "I guess Jehovah didn't think it best to save me, " he said. The reply was: "He sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more did you want?"

So we think this applies to the present situation. Yes, Jehovah will handle this matter in his time, and
we all know that God's kingdom will solve all of humankind's problems. But that doesn't mean we live our lives in such a way that we help neither ourselves nor anyone else because we are waiting for God to correct things. Do you think the Governing Body operates according to the principle--"Let's just wait on Jehovah?" If they did, nothing would ever get done. Whenever anything happens here on earth that furthers God's will, that is Jehovah acting. Whenever we do something good in the name of Jehovah, that's him doing it. Whenever someone preaches the word, that's Jehovah speaking. That's how he operates. And yes, on occasion, God spoke directly to a king or priest, or used a miracle to handle certain matters himself, but that was not his usual method. His most common way of handling things was through the mouths and deeds of his people. And now that the days of miraculous intervention are over, we should expect that to be the case even more so. Although we are not prophets, the prophets set a very clear example for us today. We may sometimes have to reflect the same spirit out of loyalty to Jehovah. 

When people say they are "waiting on Jehovah," what is it exactly that they are waiting for? It seems to mean more that they are waiting on the Governing Body, rather than waiting on Jehovah. This is understandable, since we are taught that they are basically the same thing. But is it wise to fall into lukewarmness as we wait for God to speak to the Governing Body? How is it that he will speak to them? The Governing Body admits no inspiration, so even they acknowledge that Jehovah will not give them a special revelation. The biblical examples make it clear that God speaks to people in many ways and from many sources, some of them even unlikely. As God often needed to send servants of the leaders of Israel to speak to those leaders to get them to act justly, he may choose to do the same today.

It has become quite clear that those in authority in this organization will not act to right the wrong policies that were put in place by their predecessors. They have even added to these wrongs. While acknowledging that there have been beneficial organizational adjustments over the years, we do not feel the necessary changes called for here will be made voluntarily by those in power. So they need some encouragement. There is nothing wrong with giving the members of the Governing Body this encouragement. They will only change by force of circumstance, and we need to create that circumstance. The current problems have gone on for too long already. They need to be handled swiftly. 

Remember, Jesus said: "Truly I say to you men, Whatever things you may bind on earth will be things bound in heaven, and whatever things you may loose on earth will be things loosed in heaven. Again I truly say to you, If two of you on earth agree concerning anything of importance that they should request, it will take place for them due to my Father in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst" (Matthew 18:18-20). To be sure, sometimes our leaders are the ones through whom God might work. But note that Jesus says that he is with any two or three that are gathered in his name. He uses his servants, any whom he wishes, to accomplish his purposes. And we are all his servants. So, depending on the issue, Jesus will choose whomever will be able to accomplish the task as he wants it done. 

Which servants will be instrumental in this reform, we don't know. But we do know it won't be revealed from on high through an angel to the Governing Body. If the Reform Movement is in some small way responsible for positive change, that is Jehovah acting. We are not taking things out of his hands; we become his hands.

But one might object that it is presumptuous of the members of the Reform Movement to act when they do not know whether Jesus has chosen them. He didn't come down and personally commission them in order to accomplish his purposes. That is true. However, Jesus has already given a commission to all Christians. He tells us what we need to know through his word, and we are supposed to follow it. That's where we get our authority. 

Here is what the spirit says:

Jesus counseled: "If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more..." (Matt. 18:15-16). The brothers in charge have not listened when single individuals have written to them. So now we are taking more along, writing to each of them as a group. Notice, if you will, that the whole point of laying bare a fault is not simply to pronounce the brother in error, but to get the brother to listen. We think this principle applies here.

The scriptures support the idea of warning any Christian brother if they are taking a step towards apostasy.

"Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted." (Gal. 6:1)

The New World Translation muffles the power of this scripture by limiting the right to readjust someone to only those having "spiritual qualifications." Witnesses are taught that these qualifications belong solely to those appointed by the Watchtower. Other Bible translators handle this scripture as follows:

"Brethren,  if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort,  you who are spiritual  [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit]  should set him right and restore and reinstate him,  without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness,  keeping an attentive eye on yourself,  lest you should be tempted also." (Gal. 6:1 AMP)

"Brothers, if a man is taken in any wrongdoing, you who are of the Spirit will put such a one right in a spirit of love; keeping watch on yourself, for fear that you yourself may be tested." (Gal. 6:1 BBE)

"My brothers, perhaps a man has done something wrong. If so, you who are strong in the Spirit must help him to do the right thing again. Help him in a gentle way. Take care yourself, that you are not tried and will want to do wrong." (Gal. 6:1 BWE)

"My friends, you are spiritual. So if someone is trapped in sin, you should gently lead that person back to the right path. But watch out, and don't be tempted yourself." (Gal. 6:1 CEV)

These translations stay true to the spirit in which those words were written. It's simple: if we witness a brother or sister taking a false step, it is our Christian obligation to lead them back to the right path. We are responsible for one another. To delegate that responsibility to someone else is not a scriptural option, unless we are not spiritual to begin with.

Christ, as the head of the congregation, has a body, and we are that body. Let's not allow paralysis to set in. Let's follow the lead of our head. Granted, according to Romans 12:3-8, not everyone in the congregation serves the same function. But all act in accordance with the spirit that bears witness with them. Isn't it possible that his spirit is leading everyday Jehovah's Witnesses to do something about this whole affair? There are many who may not listen, but that doesn't mean we should not speak (Isa. 6:9-10).

If, after gentle persuasion, our efforts are rebuffed, then we would do well to at least make it a matter of prayer to God, and let them be, for they are beyond our help. However, we do this only after all options have been exhausted. They have not been exhausted yet. And then, even at the end, we would never close the door to them, just as the parable of the prodigal son demonstrates.  

We wish to reiterate that our purpose here is not to "restore pure worship," as we often hear the Watchtower Society claiming it has done, but merely to do our Scriptural duty and offer needed counsel in a loving way to the brothers in charge, calling attention to their misconduct and pleading with them to change their policies in some important areas. Whether they listen or not is up to them. We will leave that part up to Jehovah. But if any good comes of this movement, if even one person's life is helped, then it will have been worth it. 

Some are of the opinion that the Bible points to a future disciplining of the organization, as was the case with Israel of old. Some talk about it as a complete shakeup (i.e., the organization will be replaced with a new better one) and assume that Jehovah will somehow accomplish this goal by using some worldly entity (as he did Babylon) to execute judgment on the organization. This revelation, to them, indicates that it is too late to save the organization, that its fate has already been determined. But this view denies the free will of the leaders of the organization. It takes away from them their chance to choose their course of action and to be judged according to their deeds. It withholds from them the opportunity for repentance, which all humans must have. (For a full critique of this view, see the article, "When Is It Too Late?" on the Beth Sarim site.)

Those who feel that God and Christ will do nothing to help the congregation until the end of this system are forgetful of two important facts: 1) Jesus is ruling over the congregation right now (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:13, 18) and promised his disciples since the very beginning that he would be with them all the days until the conclusion of the system (Matthew 28:20); 2) His rulership involves the subjection of all his enemies, the enemies of truth and right and good (1 Corinthians 15:25). His kingship over the world may not have begun yet, but most certainly his kingship over the congregation has. Is it logical to assume that he would do nothing about the corruption in his congregation until it was time for him to conquer his enemies in the rest of the world? If he were not presently leading his congregation to do what is right, then why were the Scriptures given to us? What were all his words, which he uttered 2,000 years ago, for? 

On the other hand, there is a lesson in what happened to ancient Israel and Judah. Why ensure that so many things were written if not to serve as a warning to later generations? Are we not supposed to learn from past mistakes, so that said mistakes do not become repeated mistakes? The same things that stumbled Israel will inevitably stumble us, for such things are common to all humans. But we are not left without help from our God either.

Even if we believe that Jehovah will execute some kind of judgment on the leaders of this organization because of their bad behavior, we have to keep in mind that there will be a period of time before this judgment comes. Are we just going to sit back and let any kind of badness continue? Are we going to let people's lives be threatened and even ruined because of the actions of a person in authority? That is just too callous. Think of how many thousands of years Israel existed before Jehovah gave up on it. It had problems all the way along. Now what did God's loyal Israelite servants do? Did they give up on it and say, "No point in fixing anything. It's going to be destroyed anyway." Absolutely not! They were constantly trying to make things better. Think about good king Josiah. Do you remember how he reacted when he found out that there was nothing he could do to prevent the destruction of Jerusalem? He went ahead with his reforms anyway! (2 Kings 22-23) What a wonderful man. We should follow his example with enthusiasm. We don't throw our hands up in defeat. We encourage people, including our leaders, to do what is right. Like the prophets of old, we call for change and hope that they listen.




See further, "Should a Witness Disagree with the Organization Publicly?".



The Proper Course of Action
"If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation." (Matthew 18:15-17)
Our Responsibility Before God
"When someone righteous turns back from his righteousness and actually does injustice and I must put a stumbling block before him, he himself will die because you did not warn him. For his sin he will die, and his righteous acts that he did will not be remembered, but his blood I shall ask back from your own hand. And as for you, in case you have warned someone righteous that the righteous one should not sin, and he himself does not actually sin, he will without fail keep on living because he had been warned, and you yourself will have delivered your own soul.” (Ezekiel 3:18-21)
Discussion Forum
Shelter
Sites of Interest
Note: The following sites are supportive of the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. At the same time, they promote, in one way or another, freeness of speech about the workings and teachings of the JW organization and show where improvement is needed..

New Light on Blood

Silent Lambs
Shunning Must Stop
Beth Sarim
  Copyright [ jwreform.org ] 2005


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