God Readjusts the Thinking of His People
JEHOVAH is infallible, and he is the Great Teacher and Leader of his people. (Ps. 143:10) They are fallible, and at no point do they understand all things. God leads them progressively so that the truth constantly grows brighter, they reflect more fully God’s glory, and they are transformed more and more into his image. (2 Cor. 3:18) They come to know him more intimately. Their needs are fully supplied, everything for their spiritual welfare being provided. (Phil. 4:19) Such progress involves changes, readjustment of their thinking.
Some persons, however, object to changes in viewpoint, changes in understanding of certain scriptures or procedures. For example, since the 1940’s Jehovah’s witnesses have refused to give or accept blood transfusions, whereas prior to that they did not take this position. Since 1962 they understand the “superior authorities” of Romans 13:1 to be the rulers of worldly governments, whereas up to that time, since 1929, they had held a different viewpoint. Other examples could be cited. Does this show that Jehovah’s witnesses do not have the truth? Does this bring into question the basic principles of their teachings?
Not at all. Jehovah’s witnesses do not claim infallibility. They are being taught by God. (Isa. 54:13) Never will they know all things, but they will continually be learning from the inexhaustible wisdom of God as they walk in his truth.
EXAMPLE OF THE EARLY CONGREGATION
When Jesus was on earth, he said to his disciples: “I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present.” (John 16:12) If he had told them all these things at once, they would have been overwhelmed. It would have been impossible for them to grasp these things and to put them into effect in their lives. So he taught them progressively.
Review the history of the early congregation as recorded in the Acts of Apostles. When Jesus was with them shortly before his ascension to heaven, they thought that he would at that time set up a kingdom on earth for the fleshly nation of Israel. (Acts 1:6) But from Pentecost (33 C.E.) on, they learned differently. (Acts 2:32-36; 3:19-21; 1 Pet. 3:18) Some time after that God opened to their understanding another feature of his “sacred secret,” namely, that he would bring Gentiles into the Christian congregation. (Acts 10:34-48; Rom., chap. 11; Col. 1:25-27) Yet later the dispute about circumcision of Gentile converts arose and was settled by the governing body. Here a readjustment of thinking took place as they examined the Scriptures in the light of recent developments. (Acts, chap. 15) Also, the apostles clarified many things in their letters, such as Christ’s second presence and the resurrection (1 Cor., chap. 15; 1 Thess. 4:13-17), as well as matters involving congregation organization (the letters to Timothy and Titus).
Did these new understandings and adjustments weaken the congregation’s position as the “pillar and support of the truth”? No, rather, it strengthened it as being led and used by Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. Proof of this is seen in Jehovah’s blessing. When the clarification of the issue of circumcision was delivered to the congregations scattered about, “therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—1 Tim. 3:15; Acts 16:4, 5.
ADJUSTMENTS IN UNDERSTANDING TODAY
Like the governing body of the early Christian congregation, which was led progressively by Jehovah, handling matters as Jehovah allowed developments to take place, searching the Scriptures in order to direct the congregation according to Jehovah’s leading, so the governing body of the congregation does today. For example, the issue over blood began to arise particularly after 1937, when the first blood bank was established in Chicago, Illinois. Christian witnesses of Jehovah who became ill were faced with the question, Should I accept this form of therapy? Is it in harmony with God’s Word? A prayerful examination of the Scriptures was made, revealing God’s will in the matter.
Likewise as to the scripture at Romans 13:1, a correct understanding was gained by careful and critical study of the context and related pertinent scriptures. It was seen that the apostle Paul, in Romans chapter 12, dealt first with matters inside the congregation, then, at verse Ro 12:17, he began to turn his attention to the outside. From there on, Paul leads into the discussion of the superior authorities and, on through Ro 13 verse 7 in chapter 13, he is clearly talking about authorities in the governments of this world. This understanding did not cause a change in the attitude of Jehovah’s witnesses as regards their relationship to God or in their attitude toward rulers. No, for they continued to follow the principle enunciated by Jesus Christ: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matt. 22:21) But it did result in a readjusted view as to the meaning of Romans 13:1.
ANCIENT ‘DRAMATIC’ EVENTS
Another thing that has given rise to questions is the use by Jehovah’s witnesses of parallels or prophetic types, applying these to circumstances and to groups or classes of people today. Many people who read the Bible view its accounts all as simply history, but when they begin to study with Jehovah’s witnesses a readjustment of viewpoint takes place as they see that there is more to the accounts than history. For example, the Israelites gathered on the Plains of Moab just before entering the Promised Land fell into fornication with the women of Moab in their worship of the Baal of Peor. This brought about the death, at Jehovah’s hand, of 24,000 Israelites out of three million or more encamped there. (Num. 25:1-9) This has been likened to the position of God’s people today on the threshold of God’s new order, and serves as a warning to them now. In fact, due to the increased wickedness and immorality in the world now, the danger is accentuated, and it has proved true that a comparable percentage have been expelled or disfellowshiped from the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in recent years. This disfellowshiping has kept the congregations clean from defilement and is in harmony with the apostles’ counsel to remove wicked persons from the Christian congregation’s midst.—1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 John 9-11.
The question that is sometimes asked is, Did Jehovah stage that ‘dramatic’ event, so that we would have a warning now? Well, would he cause such bad things to happen? Would he maneuver them himself? No. The Christian disciple James answers: “With evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” (Jas. 1:13) As far as God’s actions and the application of his principles are concerned, he knows what he will do in certain circumstances. He acts always in harmony with his purpose and principles for the good of his faithful people. But he does not set up an arrangement inducing people to commit wrongdoing or set up the circumstances to lead them into bad.—Matt. 6:13.
In the case of the Israelites’ deviation in connection with Baal-Peor, God, while not bringing this about, could use this historical fact as a warning for Christians, for they are under a test just as was ancient Israel, and their enemy Satan the Devil uses similar tactics to make them fall. God showed the danger to Christians in this “time of the end,” and what he would do against those who would try to bring contamination into the Christian congregation. With reference to this very incident on the Plains of Moab, as well as other things taking place with ancient Israel, the apostle Paul said: “Now these things went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” (1 Cor. 10:11) They served as examples, lessons, warnings to Christians at the time of the end of the Jewish systems of things, and they do the same for us now.
This is in harmony with the apostle’s words: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Rom. 15:4.
Some dramas God did arrange fully, as when he commanded Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, foreshadowing His own offering up of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ as a ransom sacrifice for the human race. There was no wrongdoing in his command to Abraham, and he did not let Abraham go the full way in sacrificing his son, but provided a ram instead.—Gen. 22:1-18; Gal. 3:16; John 3:16.
Many other dramatic events wherein God took action in harmony with his principles to make a prophetic drama for us today were not fully staged by him. For instance, nothing in the Bible indicates that God caused Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, and Mahlon and Chilion, her sons, to die. Nor did he cause the one with the primary right of repurchase, called “So-and-so” in the Bible, to refuse to buy Elimelech’s inheritance. But through his Law he did point out the course for Ruth, Naomi and Boaz to take, and because of their love for God they acted in harmony with his Law. Hence he could have a record of this sequence of events written down to make a picture of things to come, as explained in the February 1, 1972, issue of The Watchtower.—Ruth, chaps. 1, 4.
It helps us to understand more fully when we keep in mind that the people in ancient times were real, living their daily lives in association with their families and fellowmen, having hopes and desires as we do today, the same general problems with sin working in their members, and many of them faithfully waging a fine fight to serve God. God spoke to them through his prophets and his laws, and took action toward them to reward righteousness and to punish wickedness.
Likewise today, similar things are happening in connection with those serving God. Jehovah does not change from one period of time to another, so that his principles and judgments are different. (Mal. 3:6) We can therefore read what took place with ancient Israel and surrounding nations and know that they were just as real as our situation today and that God will act toward us according to the same principles, just as surely as he did back there. As we benefit from the record of God’s dealings with his people in the past, we experience a readjustment of viewpoint. But, of course, at times there may be points that we find difficult to grasp.
FAITH AND PATIENCE ESSENTIAL
When questions arise, it is good to talk to the responsible ones in the congregation, who are spiritually “older men” and who have understanding. (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4) Even then, if, at the time, we do not fully understand, are we willing to go on with God’s congregation and accept Jehovah’s leading, with the assurance that he will enlighten us in his due time?
If we have a friend, do we forsake him when he says or does something we do not fully understand? How much more should we exercise faith in God and in his congregation. “He that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him,” say the Scriptures. (Heb. 11:6) We who have come to a knowledge of the truth know that the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and his atoning sacrifice for sins, must be preached as the only hope of mankind. Who is doing this preaching? Whom is God blessing with peace and spiritual prosperity in all the earth? What takes place with individuals who fight the work and organization of God’s people today? They try to tear down, but whom are they building up? If we allow some stumbling block to cause us to fall permanently, to turn us away from God and his people, where will we go for life?
When certain persons objected to some sayings of Jesus that they could not understand, Jesus asked his close disciples: “Does this stumble you?” Then to his apostles he said: “You do not want to go also, do you?” and Simon Peter answered: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”—John 6:61, 67-69.
The Bible counsels to exercise patience. (Jas. 5:9-11) Do we not owe patience, first of all, toward our greatest Friends, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, until they reveal the reasons for their actions? How foolish we would be to pit our knowledge and judgment against them! Jehovah’s prophet said: “Who has taken the proportions of the spirit of Jehovah, and who as his man of counsel can make him know anything?”—Isa. 40:13.
And as to the Christian congregation, made up as it is of imperfect humans, can we not be patient with it as it follows God’s leading? Certainly we are happy and thankful when patience is shown toward us. We do well to imitate God’s patience, for by means of Christ he will bring the congregation through spotless and unblemished.—2 Pet. 3:15; Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 19:7, 8.
Indeed, the only place of happiness and life is in following Jehovah’s leading. Now, on the threshold of his righteous new order, let us show ourselves willing to let Jehovah readjust our thinking. Doing so, we will strengthen one another to stand against the Devil, “that we may not be overreached by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.”—2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11.