The Congregation in the Time of the End
1, 2. (a) How was the falling away of the congregation foretold, and how did it begin to occur? (b) Did that mark the end of the congregation in God’s purposes?
THE Christian congregation of the first century was strong, united and wholly devoted to advancing clean worship. But this condition was not going to continue undisrupted through the centuries down to the time of the end where we are now. The apostles had the authority to keep the congregation subject to Christ; but they foretold that they, who acted as a restraint upon lawless action in the congregation, would be taken away in death and then the congregation would fall away to lawlessness and false teaching. (2 Cor. 10:2-6; 2 Thess. 2:3-12; 2 Tim. 4:3, 4; Acts 20:29, 30) Jesus also foretold this when he likened the congregation of faithful believers of that time to the right kind of seed that he planted in a field. According to this parable the enemy was to be allowed to plant weeds, a counterfeit planting, which would be allowed to grow up among the wheat until the harvesttime, which would be at the consummation of the system of things. This meant that the clear identity and organizational purity of the Christian congregation would be obscured and corrupted by the growth of apostates. Not long after the death of the apostles this false growth began to flourish; human philosophies, heathen doctrines and celebrations were absorbed; alliances were made with the political state and the congregation became formed, shaped and marked by this old world.—Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43.
2 This, however, did not mean that the idea of a congregation was a failure. Jesus foretold that in the last days, “the time of the end,” there would be a harvesting or gathering together of God’s true planting and a restoring of them to a theocratically organized congregation, which would play a vital part in the lives of all Christians at the time of the end. We shall here consider a number of prophecies that show this would be the case and compare such with the experiences of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses in our time.
3. (a) What would happen to God’s servants in the time of the end, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares? (b) How could they be a ‘light to the world’ and a ‘city upon a mountain’?
3 In his parable of the wheat and the tares Jesus said that at the time of the end the wheat, the true planting of God, would be gathered into the storehouse and the tares bundled and cast out of the kingdom so as to be burned. “At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. 13:43) This does not refer to the heavenly condition of the resurrected anointed members of Christ’s body, but rather to the restored earthly condition. It is on earth that they are gathered and shine as a ‘light to the world,’ whereas all apostate organizations or plantings would be cast out of this place where they had claimed to be God’s church. (Dan. 12:3; Phil. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:9) As to being a light, Jesus said to his followers: “You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when situated upon a mountain.” (Matt. 5:14) In the harvesttime there was to be a gathering together of Christ’s spiritual brothers into a group or congregation so they would have an identity, would be united in teaching, become a ‘light to the world’ and ‘shine like the brightness of the firmament.’ Their condition needed to be restored to that of the organized congregation of the first century so they could become a ‘city upon a mountain.’
4 This being gathered together is supported by Matthew 24:31, which states that at the time of the end the chosen ones are to be gathered from the four corners of the earth. That these would be united as a congregation is further shown in verses 45 to 47, where their condition is likened to that of domestics in a master’s household who are given food at the proper time by a faithful slave. Even as the first congregation was called God’s household at Ephesians 2:19 and 1 Timothy 3:15, so this household of the master must refer to an organized congregation. This ‘slave class’ has proved to be the anointed remnant of Jehovah’s witnesses working with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, who are busy providing the individuals of this household world-wide with spiritual food. Note that this slave would be appointed over all the master’s belongings. What this includes is emphasized at Matthew 25:31-46, in the parable of the sheep and goats, where we read of how a large group of sheeplike good-will persons come into favor with the King, Christ Jesus, because they identify, support and work together with Christ’s brothers.
GOING UP TO JEHOVAH’S HOUSE
5, 6. (a) How is there an elevating of the “house” mentioned at Isaiah, chapter 2, to which people of the nations stream, and how is this shown? (b) What provision was to be made here?
5 Another picture of how the earthly condition of God’s anointed servants in the time of the end would be as an organized congregation under the established Zion in the heavens is found at Isaiah 2:2, 3: “And it must occur in the final part of the days that the mountain of the house of Jehovah will become firmly established above the top of the mountains, and it will certainly be lifted up above the hills, and to it all the nations must stream. And many peoples will certainly go and say: ‘Come, you people, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will instruct us about his ways and we will walk in his paths. For out of Zion law will go forth.”’ Of course, “Zion” is established in the heavens, from which the law goes forth. But the crowd of persons from all nations cannot stream to heaven, for they are not spirit-begotten. So this “house of Jehovah” to which they come must have a relationship to something on earth. What? The congregation of Jehovah’s anointed witnesses, which is brought into unity with heavenly Zion. Remember, it has already been shown that the congregation in the days of the apostles was God’s household. (Heb. 3:4, 6) To correspond with God’s mountain of worship being established above all other power and authority, his worship as represented by his house would need to be “lifted up,” that is, it must be exalted above all earthly things, organizations and interests.
6 As worshipers of Jehovah God, the faithful followers of Jesus must become a ‘city on a mountain.’ Not only would this congregation of Christ’s brothers be seen, but it would be busy letting its light shine so as to be visible and approachable for people from all nations to come to. This “city” would also make provision for the educating and training of people from the nations. “He will instruct us about his ways and we will walk in his paths.” So this prophecy about the “house of the God of Jacob” really foretold the exaltation of Jehovah’s worship among the remnant of the temple class as a congregation in the last days, in a pure worship that provides for offering praises to Jehovah and for the ingathering, instructing and training of the great crowd of other sheep, from all nations, who will get everlasting life on earth.
7. (a) What does the temple represent, where the great crowd serve God as foretold in Revelation, chapter 7, and why is this true? (b) How does this coincide with the prophecy of Haggai?
7 That this would take place in the time of the end is also shown in another prophecy recorded in the book of Revelation. Here it was revealed that after the last of the 144,000 anointed body members of Christ had been gathered and sealed, and after the enthroned King, Christ Jesus, had begun the tribulation against Satan and his organization by casting Satan down from heaven, a great crowd of men and women of every nation and tongue would be gathered out and brought to serve in God’s temple through an extensive preaching work. (Rev. 7:1-4, 9-17; 14:1-6) Now these have not been sealed with God’s spirit, nor have they been “purchased from the earth,” so they cannot enter into the heavenly temple of the resurrected Kingdom heirs with Christ Jesus. Yet it is stated, “They are before the throne of God, and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple.” This temple must be represented by some “living stones” on earth. Knowing that to the first congregation it was said: “The temple of God is holy, which temple you people are,” we can understand that the temple here referred to is represented today by the congregation of Christ’s anointed followers, now a mere remnant. (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16) Those of the great crowd are brought into temple service within the congregation. The prophecies of Isaiah, chapter 2, and Revelation, chapter 7, correspond therefore to Haggai’s prophecy which shows that after God restores his “house” or temple of worship, he will shake the nations and bring the ‘treasures,’ ‘treasured ones,’ or ‘desirable ones’ of the nations into the house and fill it with splendor.—Hag. 1:7, 8; 2:7-9.
8. How is the congregation’s condition described at Isaiah, chapter 60, and what two groups are gathered to it?
8 Not only do we find the prophecies mentioning a house or temple as a picture of the restored congregation in the time of the end, but also a city is used. At Isaiah, chapter 60, words addressed to the heavenly Zion or Jerusalem also apply to the restored remnant, to let their light shine. Here the congregation of the anointed remnant is addressed as a part of the city that first gathers in the last of the spiritual Israelites, Zion’s children, and then becomes a gathering place for people of the nations. The city “walls” are even built up by “foreigners,” who also help the restored remnant to look after ‘flocks, fields and vineyards.’—Isa. 60:4, 9-11; 61:5.
9, 10. What sort of organization should we expect to find representing Jehovah in the time of the end, and what do the historic facts show this to be?
9 All these prophecies and many others indicate that there would be a gathering together of God’s servants on the earth at the time of the end and a restoring of the true congregation of God, which would come into prominence as a ‘light to the world.’ Is there such an organization existing today that contains two classes of persons, a smaller, dwindling group who have an assurance of being joint heirs with Christ and a rapidly growing crowd of men, women and children from all “nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” who hope to live forever on earth?
IDENTIFYING THE CONGREGATION
10 The evidence is clear that the body of Christian men and women now known as Jehovah’s witnesses has in its more than eighty years of doing God’s will experienced the fulfillment of these and many other prophecies. Their being gathered and growing in the light of truth from the 1870’s to 1918 was a preparing of the chosen ones for the coming of the Lord Jehovah to his temple. Though they had expected that with the establishment of Jehovah’s kingdom by Christ their work on earth would be finished and they would be taken to heaven, they began to learn there was other work entrusted to them. (Mal. 3:1-4; Matt. 24:45-47) This good news of the Kingdom was to be preached throughout all the world during the time of the end and God’s anointed servants needed to be better organized in a congregation so as to teach a great crowd of men and women God’s ways.—Matt. 24:14; Rev. 14:6, 7.
11. What were the activities and experiences of the congregation of the anointed from 1919 to 1931, and how did they get a more definite identity?
11 By 1918 history shows that this little congregation of men and women had been badly disrupted by harsh persecution during World War I. But in 1919 they began to be reorganized and restored to the “land” or condition of God’s favor, and began to experience the fulfillment of the prophecies of Haggai, Isaiah and many others. They began an extensive preaching work that for the following twelve years served not only to publicize God’s judgments to this world but also to gather in the remainder of the chosen ones, largely completing the 144,000. By this time the understanding of Jehovah’s servants had been cleansed of many incorrect ideas concerning doctrine and their relationship to Jehovah and Christ Jesus as the superior authorities. This group gained a clearer identity in getting the name Jehovah’s witnesses, denoting the many who would make up the one servant class or congregation of Jehovah on earth.—Isa. 43:10-12.
12. (a) What governing arrangement would be expected in this congregation, and why? (b) What part in this did the mature brothers in the Allegheny congregation have?
12 This congregation began to be identified not only by name and works of witnessing but also in its governing arrangement. According to prophecy it was to be a congregation representing Jehovah’s theocratic organization on earth, Jehovah’s house or temple. Therefore it must be governed theocratically and not democratically. And Jehovah’s leading would be expected to be manifest through the spiritually mature ones in the congregation as it was in the days of the apostles. As was true in the first century so it could be expected in the time of the end that the mature brothers serving as overseers and their assistants in the first organized body or congregation would take the initiative in expanding true worship through extending the preaching out to other areas, and that they would serve as advisers and examples to the newer and younger congregations. From as far back as 1879 and before, the first congregated group of the restored remnant in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, served as a sort of leading congregation, and the mature brothers there, cooperating with overseers in other congregations, took the initiative in organizing to expand the preaching and forming new congregations. It was from this body of older brothers in Allegheny that the magazine now known as The Watchtower was sent to many parts of the world, and which was used as a basis for Bible study in all congregations. This served to unify their thinking and understanding of the Scriptures and to co-ordinate their preaching methods.
13. (a) Why was it necessary to replace democratic methods with theocratic methods in the congregation, and how was this foretold at Isaiah 60:17-22? (b) How was this brought about between 1919 and 1938?
13 Still the individual congregations were largely independent and self-governing, electing their own ‘elders’ and determining many of their study and service arrangements in the democratic method. But if a great crowd of men and women were to be gathered and instructed in God’s will this arrangement needed to be improved; otherwise the method of instruction and the standards of true worship might vary considerably from one place to another, depending upon the maturity of a congregation. The inferior methods of oversight in the congregation would need to be replaced by genuine, divinely guided principles, as foretold in Isaiah 60:17-22. Already in 1919, with the beginning of the work to distribute The Golden Age, the Watch Tower Society, which had been serving as a form of governing body for the congregations and which had moved its headquarters office and staff to Brooklyn, New York, so as to provide for more effective supervision of the world-wide preaching, began to initiate a more theocratic governing arrangement by appointing a service director in each congregation. By October, 1932, the congregations world-wide went on record to bring their identity more in accord with Bible prophecy by doing away with “elective elders” and having the most mature, spiritually discerning brothers selected to serve as a “service committee” to assist the Society-appointed service director. This development was completed by 1938 when congregations world-wide expressed their wish to be organized completely under the direction of “The Society,” “the faithful and discreet slave” class, who would hereafter appoint all overseers and their assistants in the congregations and who would direct all study and preaching arrangements. This was necessary not only for the bringing of Jehovah’s sanctuary or congregation of anointed ones on earth into the proper relationship to him, but also so that God’s congregation on earth could be the proper place to teach and train the great crowd being gathered in from the nations to do God’s will.
14, 15. (a) Why was it especially necessary that this change to theocratic governing form be completed by 1938? (b) What did this insure for those of the great crowd? (c) What really took place with the restoring of the congregation of anointed ones in 1919, according to Isaiah 51:3–52:2?
14 This building up of the congregation theocratically served to bring it to the fore as a place where one would learn God’s ways. If it was unsuitable for the congregation of anointed ones to be directed by democratic vote so that the majority, perhaps being largely immature ones, would direct instead of the spiritually mature, it was even more unsuitable when the great crowd would be gathered. For these of the nations by reason of their growing to a large majority could begin to form the congregation in accord with their will instead of their being conformed to God’s will. But God’s oversight of such matters is very evident, and theocratic oversight was functioning completely by 1938, at a time when the “other sheep” or those of the great crowd were still in a minority.
15 This principle of oversight was necessary, not only to care for the preaching work, but also to serve to train all those of the great crowd to submit to God’s will during the time of the end, before Armageddon, so they would be trained and qualified to proceed after Armageddon with cleansing and beautifying the earth in an orderly and theocratic manner. The congregation of the anointed ones was to be an example or pattern. In this we see the fulfillment of another prophecy, namely, Isaiah 51:3–52:2, which shows that with the restoring of the anointed remnant to their right relationship and service of God in 1919 the “new earth” was founded. That is the beginning of the formation of a New World society, which would gather and train the great crowd and which in its organized form as a congregation functioning under the new system of things would be preserved through that war of Armageddon ending this old system.—See “New Heavens and a New Earth,” pages 322-341.
16. How has the theocratic arrangement made it possible for the congregation to maintain its purity and retain the proper relationship between the remnant and the great crowd?
16 Though this growing congregation or New World society has gathered in more than 800,000 men and women and children from all nations, tribes, races and peoples, it has not been shaped or formed according to the ideas or customs these people had previously, but all of these have been shaped after God’s will. They are teachable, meek, loving, peace-pursuing, and are at unity with all their fellow believers. Though numbering more than 800,000 in comparison to now less than 14,000 of the anointed ones, or a majority of about fifty-four to one, yet all these from the nations have submitted themselves to being instructed according to God’s ways, by the “faithful and discreet slave” class, the remnant. Though this world from which they have come has been greatly influenced by selfishness, immorality, lying, dishonesty, atheism, spiritism and many other godless thoughts and actions, yet these things have not crept into the true congregation of God. Those who would try to corrupt the congregation today with immoral conduct or false teaching are disfellowshiped, as was the case in the congregation of the first century, so that the congregation’s purity and identity are preserved.
17, 18. (a) How has it been possible for the organization to expand and to train and supervise hundreds of thousands of person in 179 countries when the remnant are becoming fewer year after year? (b) What scriptures foretold this?
17 The ingathering of so many hundreds of thousands from all lands required an organization that could expand greatly and still retain its theocratic structure, even as was foretold at Isaiah 54:2, 3. But how could this little congregation expand when the anointed class was growing smaller and many of those left had become elderly and sickly with the passing of years. By following Paul’s advice at 2 Timothy 2:1-3 and thus training those of the great crowd so they would qualify as overseers and as teachers of others. Not only have thousands of these been trained as servants in congregations, but especially during the past twenty years thousands have entered the full-time ministry as pioneers and gone to work in isolated sections while others have been especially trained to open up the work in new lands, forming new congregations, building daughter “cities,” as it were, so as to make the teaching from God’s house available to all. All this has been done under the supervision of the anointed remnant.—Isa. 60:10; 61:4-6.
18 So there are many congregations and even whole lands where there are none of the remnant. Yet it is possible for men and women in 179 lands to come to God’s “house” in more than 21,000 congregations, for all overseers have been taught and trained through the congregation arrangement of the “faithful and discreet slave.” All congregations are under supervision of local overseers and others who visit and inspect congregations, circuits and Society branch offices, so that all parts of the organization are kept in harmony with God’s will. In this way the anointed class shepherds God’s flock.
19. How do members both of the remnant and of the great crowd view the rapidly expanding organization, and how do they view their relationship to each other?
19 Even though the “great crowd” is growing larger all the time and the remnant of the “little flock” of anointed followers of Christ is getting smaller in numbers, yet there is complete unity. And those of the growing crowd have not tried to use their greater numbers to gain prominence in the organization. By their loyalty and obedience to Jehovah’s theocratic arrangement through the congregation, those of the “great crowd” show the greatest respect for the dwindling group of anointed ones. They do not feel that any credit should go to them because they are in the majority and today doing most of the preaching work. They realize that it is to Jehovah’s glory, and, too, that this growing unified congregation is a tangible sign of Jehovah’s approval of his faithful anointed ones on earth. Neither do these of the anointed resent this growing crowd with its numbers and its youthful, energetic zeal. Rather, they see the fruits of many years of hard work and are rejoicing to see that these have followed their example in zeal, obedience and loyalty to Jehovah. “And as for you, the priests of Jehovah you will be called; the ministers of our God.” (Isa. 61:6-11) Only the true congregation of God could demonstrate the love and unity of two such groups of persons.
20. (a) What do the Scriptures and facts show regarding the proper state for God’s servants in the time of the end? (b) What course of action is urged upon all?
20 Thus, from the example of the Christian congregation of the first century and the investigation of many prophecies pertaining to our day we have proof that the proper state for God’s true servants now in the “time of the end” is not that of loosely associated individuals acting independently of one another. Rather, it is that of a tightly organized congregation, unified and fitted together on a world-wide basis, and under the oversight of the experienced and spiritually mature anointed remnant of Christ’s spiritual body. All readers of this magazine are urged to come together with this congregation, Jehovah’s witnesses, associate with them, compare their teaching, their worship, their works and their congregation organization with the Bible. “Come, you people, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will instruct us about his ways and we will walk in his paths.” Search out and identify the people whom God is with today, and associate with them.—Isa. 2:2-4; Zech. 8:20-23.