Laying a Foundation for the Right Kind of Ministers
“Therefore everyone that hears these sayings of mine and does them will be likened to a discreet man, who built his house upon the rock-mass.”—Matt. 7:24.
1. What does the “rock-mass” in Jesus’ illustration at Matthew 7:24-27 represent? What is built on it?
A HOUSE built on a rockmass or a house built on sand, which would you prefer? Jesus used this vivid contrast to illustrate the difference between the wise course of ‘hearing and doing’ Jesus’ sayings, and the foolish course of hearing them but not doing them. (Matt. 7:24-27) But, wait—did you note clearly that the “rock-mass” in his illustration does not represent simply accepting or believing in Christ Jesus and his teachings? Rather, it represents obedience to his teachings. This is the one solid foundation on which to build our hopes and prospects for the future, particularly so if we hope to gain life as God’s ministers in his coming new order.—Jas. 2:26.
2. What does the storm in this illustration picture? How only can one’s ‘building’ keep standing?
2 Storms are sure to threaten one’s building work. Not just the impending storm of Armageddon that is hovering on the world’s horizon but, more presently, the storms of personal difficulties and crises that arise in the life of each individual builder. These put to the critical test his foundation, his adherence to a course of obedience. Will his hopes and prospects for the future be able to weather these storms of a personal nature and, ultimately, the storm of Armageddon? Or will they be dashed to pieces, perhaps bringing spiritual ruin or literal destruction to him as well? This will depend on how deeply into his heart the truths communicated through God’s Son have penetrated, and whether or not his heart has moved him to put those truths to work in his life.—Compare Matthew 13:18-23.
3. What has happened to the figurative ‘houses’ of millions of persons in Christendom, and why?
3 Look around you today and you can see the figurative wreckage of innumerable ‘houses.’ Throughout the scene of Christendom, where Jesus’ words have been heard the most, the tempests brought about by increasing modern-day pressures, the flood of propaganda and troubles, and the surging winds of change have wreaked havoc with the hope of millions of professed Christians. They can well say with the apostate people of ancient Judah: “There was a hoping for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but, look! terror!” To them the future in this last half of the twentieth century now looks filled with “distress and darkness, obscurity, hard times and gloominess with no brightness.” (Jer. 8:15; Isa. 8:22) Why? Because they built on sand.
4. (a)How do present-day conditions demonstrate that such ones have built on sand? (b) Who bear the basic responsibility?
4 Materialism, dishonesty, delinquency, immorality and even homosexuality all give mounting testimony to the abandonment of even the pretense of adherence to Christian teachings among many such professed Christian ‘builders.’ Fierce nationalism, racial strife and lawless conduct add to the evidence that, although being members of Christendom’s churches, millions have failed to build on the sure foundation of obedience. The religious organizations themselves must bear much of the responsibility for this general collapse. They failed to carry out the true sense of Jesus’ teachings and even undermined the people’s confidence in the Bible as God’s Word and in Jesus as God’s Son and appointed Spokesman. For these they substituted the shifting, unstable philosophies and traditions of men. (Eph. 4:14; Heb. 13:9) Yet, the individuals cannot place all the blame on their leaders. They themselves bear the fundamental responsibility. They at least heard some of Jesus’ words from the Bible in their churches or read them in their homes. But they simply did not do them.
5. What great contrast to Christendom’s spiritual wreckage can be seen both in the past and in the present?
5 The situation is certainly very different from the days of the early Christian congregation. Then its members were willing to suffer imprisonment and death rather than compromise on adherence to Christian principles. (Acts 4:18-21; 5:27-32, 40-42; 21:11-14) And it is very different from the condition prevailing within one Christian organization today, whose members are found in all the earth, living in 200 lands and islands of the sea. Those Christians known as Jehovah’s witnesses are going through the same tempestuous times as others; their individual Christian ‘houses’ have been buffeted by the same destructive forces. They have even had to face additional tempests in the form of severe persecution and opposition in many places. (1 Pet. 2:21) Yet, despite this, they have been able to weather the storm. How? By holding on with full confidence to a course of obedience to Christ’s teachings and of following his example and way. They are building their lives and their hopes for the future around service to God, even as Jesus did. (John 4:32-34) Not that every individual among them has continued firmly founded, even as not all of Jesus’ own disciples held firm. But the overall picture they present is strikingly sound and in great contrast to the shaky condition prevailing within Christendom’s churches today. What is the underlying cause of such a contrast?
NEED OF REAL INSTRUCTION AND GENUINE COMMITMENT
6. How did the apostle Paul describe Colossian Christians, and how does this compare with most church members today?
6 Well, what does it take today to become a member of one of Christendom’s churches? Is it not true that in the majority of cases it requires not much more than to join a social club or other organization? Little if any commitment is required of the individual. No particular expression of the qualities of knowledge, faith, conviction, love or appreciation is expected of him. Yet when the apostle Paul wrote to members of the Christian congregation at Colossae, he could say to them: “As you have accepted Christ Jesus the Lord, go on walking in union with him, rooted and being built up in him and being stabilized in the faith, just is you were taught, overflowing with faith in thanksgiving.”—Col. 2:6, 7.
7. What is one of the major reasons for the solid foundation evident among true Christians in the past and the present?
7 It was not after their baptism, but before that these Christians began to be “taught.” The Bible shows, too, that, particularly from 36 C.E. onward, Christian baptism stood as a symbol of one’s complete dedication to do Jehovah’s will as taught and exemplified by Christ Jesus. (Luke 9:23, 24) Yes, it was by first ‘teaching them to observe all the things Christ had commanded’ that persons of all the nations were made into disciples. And only then were they to be baptized and recognized as members of the Christian congregation. (Matt. 28:19, 20) The teaching, of course, continued on after baptism and formed a vital part of the congregational arrangement. (Eph. 4:11-13) This thorough teaching of persons to observe Christ’s instruction is a major reason for the solid foundation found among genuine Christians, then and now.
8. What is the Biblical meaning of “catechism”?
8 The apostle Paul laid great stress on teaching. In his writings not only did he use the common Greek word for teaching (didaʹskō, as in Jesus’ command at Matthew 28:20), but he also made use of a special term, katēkheʹō, from which comes the English word “catechism.” This special Greek term is called a “technical term for Christian instruction” by some authorities. It literally means “to sound down,” that is, by oral instruction. Thus, at Galatians 6:6, Paul wrote: “Moreover, let anyone who is being orally taught [Greek, katēkhouʹmĕnŏs, from which comes the English “catechumen”] the word share in all good things with the one who gives such oral teaching [katēkhounʹ].” So, by such oral instruction the truths of God’s Word and the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ, were ‘sounded down’ into the mind and heart of the learner, qualifying him to become a teacher of still others.—Acts 18:25.
9, 10. (a) Has the foremost religious organization of Christendom continued true Christian “catechism”? (b) What of the Protestant organizations?
9 This was true “catechetical” instruction. It prepared the learner for building on the sure foundation, obedience to God’s Son. History shows, however, that following the death of the apostles such careful instruction of learners did not continue in effect. Apostasy set in. Thus, we read that, after several centuries, when “the Church [that is, the Catholic Church] had become established, and its increase was obtained by the birth and baptism of children rather than by conversions from heathendom, the idea of catechetical instruction passed from being that of a preparation for baptism to that of a culture of baptized children. . . . In the missions to heathens, in the Middle Age, it became usual to baptize converts at once, and the ancient catechumenate fell into disuse. Nor was great attention given to the catechizing of baptized children in the Roman Church up to the time of the Reformation; the confessional took the place of the Catechism.”
10 During the Protestant Reformation, Luther, called by religious authorities “the father of modern catechetics,” taught that such instruction of learners “should not merely include the hearing of a recitation from the book, but also an explanation and application of it to the hearts of the pupils.” Yet, as time went by, in Germany, England and elsewhere, “the catechetical instruction degenerated into a mere formal routine of preparation for confirmation [not baptism, which had already taken place].” In the Protestant systems the aim of catechism was not to draw out what was in the mind of the pupil but merely to convey the desired teachings. The pupil was to “learn the words of the Catechism by heart.” So it became a ritual of memorizing words and repeating them by rote. There was little room for expression of the real thoughts and feelings within the heart and mind of the pupil. Furthermore, attention was concentrated almost entirely upon children.—M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. II, pp. 148-154.
11. Contrast the above methods with those of Jehovah’s witnesses.
11 Contrast this with the methods used by Jehovah’s witnesses. Their methods are based on the Bible accounts of the ministry of Jesus and his apostles and upon other Bible principles. Newly interested persons, usually adults, are located by active ministry to the homes of the public. (Acts 20:20) These interested persons are then provided with free home Bible study, at times entire families joining in. This hour-long weekly study deals with the fundamental teachings of the Bible and is developed around questions drawn from a Bible textbook. The one studying is encouraged to answer on the basis of his understanding and belief and has the opportunity to ask additional questions. (Rom. 10:10) Throughout the study, the Witness conductor is conscious of the importance of directing attention to Jehovah God as the Source of life, and of laying Christ as a foundation by teaching the truth about him. (John 17:3; 1 Cor. 3:11) He endeavors to aid the student to make belief in that truth a part of his own life, in fact, to build his life around that sure pattern.
12. In what way do both the one instructing and the one learning do a building work?
12 So there is a joint building work involved. The conductor, as one of Jehovah’s witnesses, wants to build up the learner with durable, fire-resistant materials: true wisdom from God’s Word, faith, conviction, devotion to Bible principles, love of God and love of neighbor, and an overpowering desire to stand for and speak on behalf of what is true and righteous, especially on behalf of God’s kingdom. He works with these materials in his spiritual building work so that the person studied with can become a genuine Christian, able to stand up under fiery tests, including the corroding influence of doubts. (1 Cor. 3:10-15; Jude 22, 23) On the other hand, the student also does a building work. Knowledge alone is not the sure foundation on which to build his hopes and prospects for the future. It is by doing, by putting that knowledge to work, that he can build on a solid foundation, obedience to Christ. There is no other way.—Phil. 1:27-30; 2:12, 13.
13. How can persons be helped to put on the new personality?
13 Rather than just convey knowledge of basic Bible doctrine, then, Jehovah’s witnesses realize that the person needs to be “made new in the force actuating [his] mind, and should put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Eph. 4:23, 24) So, as the study progresses, they try to help the person to begin to think in terms of Bible principles as these govern our daily lives. It is not a matter of the student’s just restating some points from a certain textbook. It is a question of seeing the Bible reason for these points and of coming to accept the principles set forth in God’s Word as the only sure guide for life. Then, and then only, can the student truly say that God’s Word “is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway.”—Ps. 119:105; Prov. 3:5, 6.
14. Why is it important to build up appreciation for Jehovah God in the student’s heart? How can this be done?
14 You cannot love a person unless you know him well, know his qualities, his ways, what he has done and what he purposes to do. So, during the study, the minister who conducts seeks to build up in the student an appreciation of God’s grandness and goodness. It is his hope that someday the student, like the faithful Israelite of old, will be able to say jubilantly: “Look! This is our God. We have hoped in him, and he will save us. This is Jehovah. We have hoped in him. Let us be joyful and rejoice in the salvation by him.” (Isa. 25:9) This means directing attention, not only to the student’s mind, but also to his heart or seat of motivation. (Prov. 4:23) How can this be done? By pausing at appropriate points to draw attention to the significance of what God has done and how the point involved or the scripture cited highlights God’s love, wisdom, justice or power. Then, if the person’s heart is right, in course of time he too will feel a deep loyalty to Jehovah and a desire to be among those praising His name among all peoples.—Isa. 12:3, 4.
15, 16. Why is it so urgent that we be effective in laying a foundation for the right kind of ministers today?
15 How well is this being done at the present time? What are some of the problems involved? As world conditions get ever worse and spirituality weakens earth wide, such instruction work becomes increasingly important. In the year 70 C.E. the calamitous destruction of Jerusalem cut a mammoth swath through the Jewish population and smashed to bits the hopes and prospects around which millions of them had built their lives. Why? Because they failed to build on the rock-mass of obedience to Christ’s teachings. But a small remnant of that nation escaped destruction through flight at the right time, the time that Jesus had indicated. (Luke 21:20-22) So in our day, on a far vaster scale, the destroying forces of Armageddon will bring disaster to all who have built on a sandlike foundation, being led by their own desires and reasonings or those of other imperfect men. They will see their hopes and prospects disintegrate before them, because they did “not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess. 1:7-10) But a “great crowd” of persons will come through that storm virtually unscathed. As God’s faithful ministers, they will live to enjoy life in a new order of God’s making where their hearts will thrill to see their hopes and prospects realized to their eternal satisfaction and delight.—Prov. 1:24-33; Rev. 7:9, 10, 14.
16 Those of us who have a share in ‘sounding down’ the truths of God’s Word into the ears, minds and hearts of others now do well to consider carefully our teaching methods.