Keeping God’s Congregation Clean in the Time of His Judgment
“Do you not know that a little leaven ferments the whole lump?”—1 Cor. 5:6.
1. Why are Christians seriously concerned about cleanness?
CLEANNESS works for the good of the human body, both physical cleanness and moral cleanness. Good attention to this promotes healthful living. What is true of the human body is also true of the body-like congregation of genuine disciples of Christ Jesus, found today in all parts of the earth. Jehovah God requires such healthful cleanness in that body of his servants—for his own name’s honor and for the lasting good of all who love him.—2 Cor. 6:17; Isa. 52:11; Mal. 3:2, 3.
2, 3. In harmony with apostolic counsel, what duty must Christian shepherds or overseers therefore take care to perform?
2 Writing to fellow Christians nineteen hundred years ago, the apostle Paul exhorted: “Pursue peace with all people, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord, carefully watching that . . . no poisonous root may spring up and cause trouble and that many may not be defiled by it; that there may be no fornicator nor anyone not appreciating sacred things, like Esau, who in exchange for one meal gave away his rights as firstborn.”—Heb. 12:14-16.
3 So, while pursuing peace with all persons, shepherds of God’s flock must protect it from any infiltration or cropping up of undesirable elements. They must realistically recognize that “a little leaven ferments the whole lump.”—1 Cor. 5:6; Acts 20:28.
FACING UP TO THE ISSUE OF DRUG ADDICTION
4, 5. (a) What issue has recently come up for prayerful consideration? (b) In comparing persons on such drug programs with those on other types of medication, what major differences exist?
4 Today, drug addiction has become like a plague in many lands. Certainly there is no place in God’s clean congregation for such practice.a But what of persons who may be on some government-sponsored program where controlled doses of a product (such as that known as methadone) are given in substitution for a more dangerous drug, like heroin? Persons on such government programs may say they are doing nothing ‘illegal’; that they do not experience the hallucinations so characteristic of drug addiction; that they are able to function as a ‘working part of society.’ What if they seek to become recognized, baptized members of the worldwide congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses? Should they be accepted for baptism?
5 These questions have come up for prayerful consideration. From the Bible’s viewpoint it appears clear that those on such programs do not Scripturally qualify, since they may rightly be considered as still addicted to drugs. There is, of course, a proper use of drugs in medication, in treating physical or organic illness. But the person on, for example, methadone is not properly compared with the diabetic who has an organic illness requiring insulin, or the chronic arthritic or the person with terminal cancer who receives medication to reduce pain. The diabetic, arthritic or cancer cases are not using these medications to avoid the disagreeable, even agonizing, experience of “withdrawal” from “hard”-drug addiction; nor are they using the medications as a ‘crutch’ to maintain mental and emotional equilibrium. And, while doctors may prescribe a sedative to provide some temporary relief or to induce sleep at a critical time, or to prepare a patient for surgical operation, this is not the same as being enslaved to a drug through addiction.
6, 7. Though perhaps ‘legal,’ what is a major weakness of these programs, and what questions does this raise?
6 The ‘legality’ of using a product, such as methadone, in some government drug program is not the decisive factor. In some countries addicts may ‘legally’ obtain heroin through government dispensaries. This does not make it Scripturally proper.
7 Generally such programs are just a case of substituting one drug for another, one viewed as less harmful than a drug like heroin. Yet now we read in the newspapers of methadone as being sold on the streets to drug addicts like other ‘illegal’ drugs. Rather than go through the pangs of “withdrawal” and then take up a life free from drug addiction, persons continuing on these programs are seeking to evade or postpone facing up to their problem and conquering it. This raises the questions: Just how meaningful would their baptism be? What would it signify?
8. Contrast the reluctance of addicts to go through “withdrawal” with the Scriptural requirements for disciples of God’s Son.
8 Christ Jesus said that anyone wishing to be his disciple should ‘pick up his torture stake’ and follow him, being willing to lose even his life for Christ’s sake. (Luke 9:23, 24; John 12:25) Anyone who is baptized should have made such heart decision. If the person is willing to bear a “torture stake” and would be willing to follow Jesus to the point of impalement, can he then say he is not willing to endure the pain of “withdrawal” from drug addiction? (Compare Romans 6:6; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:5.) In reality, the suffering that “withdrawal” brings is but a natural consequence of a wrong practice, a ‘reaping of what has been sown.’—Gal. 6:7.
9. (a) What questions are rightly asked concerning persons on such drug programs who desire to be baptized? (b) What example did God’s Son set for us in this respect?
9 How complete, then, has been such one’s ‘repenting and turning around’ from his previous way of life? (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20) Can he truly present himself with whole heart, soul, mind and strength to God as his slave if he continues enslaved to addictive drugs? (Mark 12:29, 30) Does the person on such a program really have faith in God’s Word, as at Philippians 4:6, 7, wherein we have the promise that God’s peace will ‘guard our hearts and mental powers’ if we look to him in faith? Will he put his trust in the power of God’s spirit or will he show doubt as to that power and rely on some substitute drugs to guard his heart and mental powers and keep him from losing control of himself? Where is he demonstrating the “self-control” that is a fruit of God’s spirit? (Gal. 5:22, 23) At the time of his impalement, Jesus refused to drink “wine drugged with myrrh,” evidently being determined to keep his full senses as he sealed his integrity in death. (Mark 15:23, New World Translation; also An American Translation) He thus set an example for us of reliance on God’s power to see one through such vital tests.
10, 11. Why is it reasonable to expect those seeking baptism to overcome first any drug addiction they may have, and why would it be no real kindness to accept them as baptismal candidates before they do so?
10 There is no denying the extreme difficulty experienced in overcoming heroin and other “hard”-drug addiction, or that only a very small minority successfully do so. The very fact that some persons have done it, however, shows it can be done. The fact that persons of the world have been able to do it gives all the more reason for believing that those wanting to become true disciples of God’s Son should also be able to do so. Rather than exchange enslavement to one drug for enslavement to another, such as methadone, they should face up to the challenge and trust in God’s help to overcome that slavery.
11 To admit persons for baptism before they do this would simply be to condone their postponing any facing up to the issue. It would not be truly helpful to them, for eventually they must face that issue and take a firm stand. The time may come soon when such government programs will not be available to them. If addicted persons are accepted now as recognized members of a congregation, might not they become a real source of danger or of grave reproach at some future time? Even before that, might not their full acceptance into the congregation weaken the resistance of some of our Christian brothers to the taking of drugs? We cannot ignore the good of the congregation as a whole to favor an individual.—Gal. 5:9; 6:10.
A CONSISTENT POSITION REGARDING TOBACCO ADDICTION
12-14. Can a tobacco habit be compared with other drug addiction, and what question does this bring to the fore?
12 This raises, however, the question of consistency as regards accepting for baptism persons still using tobacco. They too are enslaved to a harmful product, whether by smoking, chewing or snuffing it. Consider what a report in Science World of April 9, 1973, says:
13 “The drug . . . that causes the addiction is nicotine. . . . Within a minute or two after a person ‘takes a drag’ on a cigarette, nicotine is present in the brain. But 20 to 30 minutes after the ‘last drag,’ most of the nicotine has left the brain for other organs . . . . This is just about the time when the smoker needs another cigarette. . . . When there is no nicotine, the body ‘hungers’ for it. So much so that the body sometimes becomes ‘sick’ without it. Withdrawal symptoms—a sick feeling—begin. . . . Some of these symptoms are drowsiness, headaches, stomach upsets, sweating, and irregular heart beats.”
14 Even worldly governments have been moved to issue serious warnings against the danger of tobacco use. Do, then, persons who have not broken their addiction to tobacco qualify for baptism?
15. Even though tobacco is not specifically referred to in the Bible, how do Bible principles provide an answer to this issue?
15 The Scriptural evidence points to the conclusion that they do not. As has been explained in other issues of this magazine, the Greek word phar·ma·kiʹa used by Bible writers and translated “practice of spiritism” or “spiritistic practices” has the initial meaning of “druggery.” (Gal. 5:20; Rev. 9:21) The term came to refer to spiritistic practices because of the close connection between the use of drugs and spiritism. Tobacco was also used initially by the American Indians in this way. It can properly be placed, therefore, in the category of addictive drugs like those that provided the source for the Greek term phar·ma·kiʹa. The nicotine in tobacco does not have the same mental and emotional effects produced by “hard” drugs such as heroin or the so-called psychedelic drugs like LSD; yet nicotine addiction does definitely affect the mind and exercises a strong enslavement. In Europe at the close of World War II, in some instances cigarettes were worth more than money. Reportedly, prostitutes sold themselves for a few cigarettes, and ordinary people sacrificed even food ration coupons to obtain tobacco.
16. (a) What powerful reasons are there for abandoning such addictive practice? (b) Does Genesis 1:29 provide any excuse for tobacco users?
16 Tobacco’s damaging effect on the body is well known and its befouling effect is just as evident. Surely it does not show respect for the Creator’s having given us life if we misuse and befoul our bodies through tobacco addiction. Medical authorities warn that pregnant women using tobacco are far more likely to suffer abortion than others, and this, too, would show gross disregard for the sanctity of life. Tobacco addicts cannot Scripturally defend themselves by arguing that God created the tobacco plant and that it is part of the “vegetation” that God gave mankind for “food.” (Gen. 1:29) Tobacco users do not use it as “food” by eating the green leaves as a salad or cooking it like spinach. No, but they cure these and use the dried, brown leaves for smoking, chewing (without swallowing the juice), or snuffing for physical sensations, and all of this with real harm to body and mind.
17-19. (a) What searching questions should persons addicted to tobacco consider if they desire to be baptized? (b) To what other addicts would these same points apply?
17 Questions like those presented regarding persons on government-sponsored drug programs may similarly be raised regarding tobacco addicts who present themselves for baptism. Have they truly ‘repented and turned around,’ or are they still hanging on to practices that they themselves know to be contrary to Scriptural principles? (Rom. 6:19; 1 Thess. 4:7; 5:22) At 2 Corinthians 7:1 the apostle says: “Therefore, since we have these promises, beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” Have tobacco addicts taken this to heart? Surely all will acknowledge that persons living in God’s new order will not be addicted to tobacco and need spittoons and ashtrays and pollute the air with tobacco smoke for others to breathe in.
18 So, then, should those now addicted to tobacco not discontinue its use as evidence of their faith in that clean new order and of their love for the righteousness that will dwell therein? If wanting to be found by God as “spotless and unblemished” at his time for executing judgment, should they not take a firm stand now rather than, perhaps, hoping that the experience of passing through the coming “great tribulation” would somehow produce a change and cure them of their nicotine addiction? (2 Pet. 3:11-14) When the approaching “great tribulation” makes commercial tobacco unobtainable, it would then be no easier to break addiction under force of circumstances than to do so now in a desire to please God.
19 What is said regarding tobacco would apply with similar force to the use in some areas of such harmful habit-forming products as betel nut and the coca plant leaves (these latter containing cocaine, which clearly has a stupefying effect on the mind).b
NEED FOR DECISIVE ACTION NOW
20, 21. In view of these points, what decisive position is now taken by Jehovah’s witnesses, and why is this for the good of even the addicts?
20 For decades the publications of Jehovah’s witnesses have warned against the use of such addictive products as tobacco. Persons associated with congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in almost all cases recognize the wrongness of these habits. Newly interested ones, then, should take a firm stand and not postpone matters by asking to be baptized and accepted into the congregation, or to share in presenting information from the platform in their Kingdom Halls, while still in the grip of nicotine or other harmful addiction.c As the new order now draws very near, it is assuredly in harmony with God’s Word to take the position that those unwilling to abandon any such harmful addictive practices do not qualify for our baptizing them and recognizing them as approved members of Jehovah’s Christian congregation.
21 Actually, to accept such ones into the congregation could prove a disservice to them, salving their consciences. Refusal to accept them can prove a blessing, aiding them to feel seriously the need for decisive action and for preparing themselves for life in God’s new order. By facing up to such challenges one gains a moral victory that brings true strength and confidence in God’s power and willingness to help.
22-24. (a) If a person was baptized while still thus addicted, what should he now do, and why is it reasonable to expect this of him? (b) What course should congregations take toward baptized persons who will not free themselves from such addiction?
22 What, then, of those who in the past were baptized while still using such addictive products as tobacco, other drugs, or who are on some treatment such as the “methadone program” and who continue in such practice? They may now be given a reasonable period of time, such as six months, in which to free themselves of the addiction. So doing, they will show their sincere desire to remain within Jehovah God’s clean congregation of dedicated servants.
23 Surely if one can go through the agonizing experience of withdrawal from “hard”-drug addiction in order to become a true disciple of God’s Son, then those addicted to tobacco or similar products should have no sound objection to undergoing the lesser suffering of withdrawing from their addiction. Refusal to do so would certainly set a very poor example for the person striving to overcome a “hard”-drug habit who faces a much more difficult challenge.
24 If persons already baptized are not willing to abandon their addiction to damaging and enslaving products, what then? Then they show that, like Esau, they do not ‘appreciate sacred things,’ preferring such habits to the privilege of being part of Jehovah’s clean people. They should therefore be removed from the congregation due to such conduct unbecoming a Christian.—1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 12:15, 16.
25. Do those congregation members who now abandon harmful addiction need to be rebaptized?
25 Would there be need for rebaptism on the part of those abandoning their addiction to tobacco or other harmful product? No, this does not seem necessary. Knowledge brings responsibility and educates the conscience. (1 Tim. 1:13) The congregation gave them to understand that their practice did not ‘prevent them,’ and they were baptized in accord with that understanding. (Acts 8:36) Of course, if an individual feels that he presented himself for baptism with a ‘bad conscience’ due to such practice, he may decide to be rebaptized. That would be his personal decision.
THE TIME FOR DIVINE JUDICIAL DECISIONS
26. What should be kept in mind concerning the conclusions that have been reached?
26 These rulings with regard to spiritual and moral matters of the Christian witnesses of Jehovah may appear to some to be very strict. But this represents no effort to act in an arbitrary, dictatorial manner. The strictness really proceeds from God, who expresses himself through his written Word. In view of the time in which this generation of mankind is living, it is the time for careful attention to cleanness of conduct by those who desire to please God and to enter into his approaching righteous new order.
27-29. (a) Why did the apostle Peter, as a member of the Governing Body in the first century, feel moved to write his brothers, and on what theme? (b) What serious question was raised as to who would be approved under God’s judgment?
27 Nineteen centuries ago the apostle Peter was a member of the Governing Body of the Christian congregation of the first century C.E. As such, he wrote letters of counsel and instruction to the congregations of Jehovah’s people. Peter realized that the Christian congregation was then living in the final period of the Jewish system of things that centered around Jerusalem and its temple. His Master, Jesus Christ, had foretold that such culmination would occur within that generation. (Matt. 23:36; 24:34) It was a very serious time, especially for Christianized Jews, and also in view of the fact that persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire was about to break out. So Peter felt moved to write to his fellow Christians.
28 His first letter was written about 62-64 C.E., just a short while before the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire in 66 C.E., this to be followed by the end of Jewish Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. Peter knew that his death was approaching, and he sensed his obligation to warn his fellow Christians against running with the unchristianized worldly people in their “course to the same low sink of debauchery.” To emphasize the urgency of avoiding such a ruinous course even at the cost of persecution, Peter showed the lateness of the time by writing: “But the end of all things has drawn close. Be sound in mind [not drugged into an escape from reality], therefore, and be vigilant with a view to prayers.” (1 Pet. 4:4-7) The matter was made all the more serious, because the process of expressing divine judgment was already begun with reference to the Christian congregation. Who would stand approved under the divine examination and scrutiny? Not the easy-going ones, not those who conformed to the debauched ways of the world, not those who willfully indulged in unchristian things that gave pleasure to the depraved, fallen flesh. (Prov. 1:32, 33) Wrote the apostle Peter:
29 “If he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame, but let him keep on glorifying God in this name. For it is the appointed time for the judgment to start with the house of God. Now if it starts first with us [the house of God], what will the end be of those who are not obedient to the good news of God? ‘And if the righteous man is being saved with difficulty, where will the ungodly man and the sinner [inside the Christian congregation] make a showing?’ So, then, also let those who are suffering in harmony with the will of God keep on commending their souls to a faithful Creator while they are doing good.”—1 Pet. 4:16-19.
30. Why is it so hazardous for a baptized Christian to imitate to any extent the “ungodly” and those ‘sinning,’ particularly at this time?
30 Even while remaining “righteous” within the Christian congregation, a faithful follower of Jesus Christ is “being saved with difficulty.” For a baptized Christian to imitate the “ungodly” and the “sinner” to any extent it would make his salvation all the more difficult. Or would he make a showing of worthiness of salvation at all? This is something for Christians to remember today. Certainly with regard to our generation it can truthfully be said: “The end of all things has drawn close.” God’s rendering of judicial decisions toward his own “house” of worshipers is now in progress. This was referred to in the prophecy of Malachi, chapter three, which tells of Jehovah’s coming to his spiritual temple, accompanied by Jesus Christ as the “messenger of the covenant.” Against whom will the divine Judge, Jehovah, bear witness as against lawbreakers and sinners? He tells us, in Malachi 3:5:
31-33. (a) How does Malachi 3:5 point up the grave danger facing those now enslaved to addictive products? (b) What other Scriptural evidence shows the connection between spiritism and druggery?
31 “‘And I will come near to you people for the judgment, and I will become a speedy witness against the sorcerers [phar·ma·kousʹ—according to the Greek Septuagint], and against the adulterers, and against those swearing falsely, and against those acting fraudulently with the wages of a wage worker, with the widow and with the fatherless boy, and those turning away the alien resident, while they have not feared me,’ Jehovah of armies has said.”
32 Note that the first ones whom Jehovah mentions as the targets of his speedy witness regarding their wrongdoing are the “sorcerers.” The Greek Septuagint Version, as translated by Alexandrian Jews before Christ, rendered “sorcerers” by the Greek word phar·ma·kousʹ. This is the same word used in Revelation 21:8, where some translators render it as “sorcerers,” but the New World Translation renders it as “those practicing spiritism.” The ancient sorcerers indeed practiced spiritism. The Greek word applied to them literally means “druggers,” not “druggists” such as “pharmacists.” The ancient sorcerers were the drug pushers of their day.
33 The pre-Christian Greek Septuagint Version uses the related Greek word pharʹma·kon (meaning literally “drug,” but translated as “sorcery”) at least five times. Idolatrous Queen Jezebel of ancient Israel practiced such pharʹma·kon (in the plural number) or “sorcery.” (2 Ki. 9:22, LXX) She was executed by King Jehu acting as Jehovah’s executioner. Those who patronized the professional “sorcerers” or practicers of spiritism also participated in spiritistic practices and were condemned.
34-36. (a) Why is it reasonable that such practices should now be receiving judicial attention? (b) What responsibility thus rests on those serving as shepherds among God’s flock?
34 It is little wonder, then, that, in these days of widespread addiction to drugs and the growing use of tobacco, those indulging in such things should come under judicial observation. Jehovah God, the Supreme Judge, is at his spiritual temple and is specially scrutinizing those who profess to worship him in that holy place. He has promised to be a speedy witness against the sorcerers or the practicers of spiritism, which from ancient times onward had a connection with habit-forming, enslaving drugs.
35 Do we want to have Jehovah God be a speedy witness against us as addicts to drugs or other habit-forming injurious weeds, things that expose us to the influence of the spirit demons? Jehovah’s judgment against such addicts during the oncoming “great tribulation” will mean their destruction. (Rev. 21:8) Most assuredly, Jehovah God does not want such addicts among the congregation of his Christian witnesses now in this “conclusion of the system of things.” Of the promised “New Jerusalem,” Revelation 22:15 says: “Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism [the druggers, Kingdom Interlinear translation] and the fornicators and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone liking and carrying on a lie.”
36 Therefore, with a feeling of a deep sense of responsibility to Jehovah God, these instructions are issued. It is accordingly the duty of the elders, as spiritual overseers of God’s flock, to see to it that such undesirable elements are not accepted as approved, baptized members of congregations of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses.
c See Organization for Kingdom-preaching and Disciple-making, page 98, par. 5.
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To many people in the world, smoking is their idea of pleasure. But is it Christian?
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If a person wants to become a dedicated, baptized witness of Jehovah, he must shun the use of tobacco