Christians—Not Followers of Men
WOULD you say that Abel should have turned away from God because his parents, Adam and Eve, did? Were eleven apostles wrong in continuing to believe in Christ after Judas betrayed him? Do you think anyone should abandon Christianity because some individual professing it today proves unfaithful to it tomorrow? It may surprise you to learn that some people reason that way regarding their own profession of faith.
For example, an ex-Protestant recently explained to one of Jehovah’s witnesses how he and his family happened to become Catholics. For some time they had belonged to a Bible-reading fundamentalist sect. Then it was discovered that their pastor was running around with women. The scandal caused a number of the congregation to leave their church.
This man’s indignation found a parallel in the sadness of a woman householder who explained why she and her husband left their church. They had been contented churchgoers until certain members of the congregation got into a bitter dispute among themselves. This unchristian strife caused the woman and her husband to give up their faith.
Granting that each of these families had ample reason to be grieved by the misconduct of professing Christians, the question arises: Were they following Christ or men? Did they give up their faith because the organization itself simply glossed over the wrong and so became a party to it, showing that it was not concerned with following Christ, or were they simply stumbled over the failings of men that they had admired?
This tendency to follow men, even when one is claiming to worship God, is understandable but not excusable. Imperfect creatures are attracted to individuals who seem to be especially endowed with ability, knowledge, experience, prominence, wealth or some other gift such as a pleasing personality or voice. The resultant danger of hero worship or creature worship has been long a threat to true worshipers. The person who has brought us accurate knowledge of God’s purpose through Christ will hold a large place in our heart. We may tend to look to him more than we should, forgetting that the Christian walks by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) Similarly, a newly converted man or an immature Christian has a strong urge to get older Christians to make important decisions for him, whereas God holds him responsible to make his own decisions on the basis of Christian guiding principles. (Gal. 6:5) If another person can be induced to bear responsibility for a decision, the immature one may feel that he has someone to share the blame if the decision does not get the desired results. These are some of the reasons why professing Christians may allow themselves to follow men. But is this wise?
The possibility of succumbing to creature worship is not the only danger involved in following men. Following men, including those through whom we became believers, can lead to jealousy and strife in a Christian congregation, even as Paul warned: “I was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshly men, as to babes in Christ. I fed you milk, not something to eat, for you were not yet strong enough. In fact, neither are you strong enough now, for you are yet fleshly. For whereas there are jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and are you not walking as men do? For when one says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ but another says: ‘I to Apollos,’ are you not simply men? What, then, is Apollos? Yes, what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, even as the Lord granted each one.” (1 Cor. 3:1-5) It is the Lord who arranges for the preaching of the good news and permits one to come to a knowledge of Bible truth. Christians follow God and Christ, not men—not even the one God uses to tell them about his kingdom.
In carefully following in Christ’s footsteps there is no danger of displeasing Jehovah God, since Jesus was faithful to death. However, Jesus warned that not all professing to be Christians would actually follow his course: “It is unavoidable that causes for stumbling should come. Nevertheless, woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1) Paul foretold that some would rise in the congregations and draw disciples after themselves by speaking twisted things. (Acts 20:29, 30) Likewise Peter declared: “There also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively.” (2 Pet. 2:1, 2) Jesus and his disciples recognized that unfaithfulness and misconduct by a few cause some to stumble, and bring reproach on the congregation of God.
In the early Christian congregation those who fell away included Hymenaeus, Alexander, Phygelus, Hermogenes, Demas and Diotrephes. (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 4:10; 3 John 9) In his letter to the Philippians Paul referred to persons of that sort when he wrote: “There are many, I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping, who are walking as the enemies of the torture stake of the Christ, and their finish is destruction, and their god is their belly, and their glory consists in their shame, and they have their minds upon things on the earth.” (Phil. 3:18, 19) If one follows a man, instead of Christ, and that man has his mind on fleshly things that lead to destruction, such will be the end of the one who follows him. Those fleshly things include immorality, love of money, false show of knowledge, pride and love of the world.—2 Pet. 2:14; Jude 4, 12; 1 Tim. 6:10, 20, 21; 3:6; 1 John 2:15.
When Satan, Adam and Eve turned away from Jehovah God they were no longer welcomed as a part of God’s family. In the congregation of Israel and among early Christians misconduct had to be penalized. Transgressors who failed to show evidence of heartfelt repentance were cut off from the congregation. When a particularly offensive case of fornication was committed by a member of the congregation in Corinth, Paul instructed them to “hand such a man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:5) Such disfellowshiping would preserve the Corinthian congregation’s standing with God and might, as in fact it did, bring the wrongdoer to his senses.
To the same congregation the apostle further instructed: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. . . . ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.’” (1 Cor. 5:11, 13) Paul did just that when he disfellowshiped Hymenaeus and Alexander for subverting the faith of some by false teachings.—1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17, 18.
Men and women coming to an accurate knowledge of God’s Word through home Bible study should be taught these facts prior to their dedication and baptism. There are two good reasons for this. First, because they will then know what is expected of them in the way of high moral principles if they are to serve Jehovah acceptably. Secondly, because knowledge of what the Scriptures forewarn about unavoidable stumblingblocks and disfellowshiping those who prove to be such will stir the newly instructed ones to follow Christ, not men. Thorough grounding of Bible students in all such necessary doctrine helps them on the way to life, even as Peter wrote: “You, therefore, beloved ones, having this advance knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away with them by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness. No, but go on growing in the undeserved kindness and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”—2 Pet. 3:17, 18.
IMITATORS OF MEN?
But perhaps you are wondering, in view of this, why Paul told the Christians at Philippi: “Unitedly become imitators of me, brothers.” (Phil. 3:17) Was the apostle inviting Christians to be his followers? No, he was not. In all his fourteen letters you read nothing of any “disciples” of Paul. On the contrary, in a letter to the Corinthians he asked: “Does the Christ exist divided? Paul was not impaled for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13) The answer to all three questions was in the negative. Then why did Paul say, “Become imitators of me”?
Because God wishes every Christian to “be an imitator, not of what is bad, but of what is good.” (3 John 11) To the Ephesians Paul wrote: “Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph. 5:1) To Jews who had been converted to faith in Christ he declared: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.” (Heb. 12:1, 2) To these same Hebrews Paul wrote: “Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” (Heb. 6:12; 13:7) Imitate what? Their faith, their patience, their conduct, just so long as it accords with the principles of God’s Word and the perfect example Jesus set. (Ps. 119:105) That is what Paul invites us to do. But if a Christian loses his faith, fails to endure and misbehaves, what is there left about him to imitate? Nothing. We certainly are not going to imitate those who turn aside to destruction.
WHOM DO YOU FOLLOW?
If you had been a member of the Christian congregation in the time of Hymenaeus and Alexander, would you have quit because of their sins? Would you have turned against Jesus because of the terrible crime of Judas Iscariot? Would you give up your faith because any man, either through design or imperfection, commits a grave wrong? In other words, do you follow Christ or men?
It is a different case when an organization professing to be Christian ignores the Scriptural commands to disfellowship unrepentant wrongdoers, as is often the way in Christendom’s churches. Such an organization shows by its indifference that it does not have God’s favor and does not seek it. One would have to leave that church and seek the true Christian congregation that stops associating with wrongdoers, however prominent they may be. What position does your church take in this matter?
Jehovah’s witnesses obey the Bible command to put unrepentant wrongdoers out of the congregation. Just as Paul mentioned the names of certain ones disfellowshiped by him, so Jehovah’s witnesses announce the names of those no longer welcome among them because of unchristian conduct. This firm disciplining of lawless ones keeps the organization clean, allowing God’s spirit to operate freely on each congregation. Into such a clean organization gladly come men and women in search of the knowledge of God and Christ that leads to everlasting life. (John 17:3) When such ones observe that Jehovah’s witnesses take swift action against those deserving discipline, this fact should strengthen their confidence in the organization and increase their own determination to serve Jehovah God faithfully, in the footsteps of Christ.
As true Christians, let us continue to become good examples to the faithful ones “in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.” (1 Tim. 4:12) “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men, for you know that it is from Jehovah you will receive the due reward of the inheritance. Slave for the Master, Christ.”—Col. 3:23, 24.
Yes, be a true Christian—not a follower of men.