Living Up to Christian Dedication in Freedom
“Where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.” —2 CORINTHIANS 3:17.
1. To whom are Jehovah’s Witnesses dedicated, and why do they use legal agencies?
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES believe that their religion will last forever. They therefore anticipate serving God “with spirit and truth” for all eternity. (John 4:23, 24) As free moral agents, these Christians have made an unreserved dedication to Jehovah God and are determined to live up to it. To that end, they rely on God’s Word and on his holy spirit. As they wholeheartedly pursue their course of Christian dedication in God-given freedom, the Witnesses show due respect for the role of governmental “superior authorities” and make proper use of legal means and provisions. (Romans 13:1; James 1:25) For instance, the Witnesses use the Watch Tower Society as a legal instrument—one of many in various lands—to enable them to accomplish their work of helping fellow humans, especially in spiritual ways. But the Witnesses are dedicated to God, not to any legal agency, and their dedication to Jehovah will last forever.
2. Why are the Watch Tower Society and similar legal agencies greatly appreciated by Jehovah’s Witnesses?
2 As servants dedicated to God, Jehovah’s Witnesses are obligated to follow Jesus’ instructions to “make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) This work will continue until the end of the system of things, for Jesus also said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:3, 14) Each year, printing plants of the Watch Tower Society and similar legal bodies supply Jehovah’s Witnesses with millions of Bibles, books, brochures, and magazines for use in their worldwide preaching activity. These legal entities are therefore invaluable in helping dedicated servants of God to live up to their dedication to him.
3. In what sense did Jehovah’s Witnesses formerly use the term “the Society”?
3 Someone may argue that the way the Witnesses speak about the Watch Tower Society—or more often just “the Society”—indicates that they view it as more than a legal instrument. Do they not consider it to be the final authority on matters of worship? The book Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom clarifies this point by explaining: “When The Watchtower [June 1, 1938] referred to ‘The Society,’ this meant, not a mere legal instrumentality, but the body of anointed Christians that had formed that legal entity and used it.”a The expression therefore stood for “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45) It is in this sense that the Witnesses generally used the term “the Society.” Of course, the legal corporation and “the faithful and discreet slave” are not interchangeable terms. Directors of the Watch Tower Society are elected, whereas Witnesses who make up ‘the faithful slave’ are anointed by Jehovah’s holy spirit.
4. (a) How do many Witnesses express themselves so as to avoid misunderstandings? (b) Why should we be balanced as regards terminology?
4 In order to avoid misunderstandings, Jehovah’s Witnesses try to be careful about how they express themselves. Instead of saying, “the Society teaches,” many Witnesses prefer to use such expressions as, “the Bible says” or, “I understand the Bible to teach.” In this way they emphasize the personal decision that each Witness has made in accepting Bible teachings and also avoid giving the false impression that Witnesses are somehow bound to the dictates of some religious sect. Of course, suggestions as regards terminology should never become a subject of controversy. After all, terminology is of importance only to the extent that it prevents misunderstandings. Christian balance is required. The Bible admonishes us “not to fight about words.” (2 Timothy 2:14, 15) The Scriptures also state this principle: “Unless you through the tongue utter speech easily understood, how will it be known what is being spoken?”—1 Corinthians 14:9.
God’s Spirit Reduces the Need for Rules
5. How is 1 Corinthians 10:23 to be understood?
5 “All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous,” noted the apostle Paul. He added: “All things are lawful; but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) Paul obviously did not mean that it is lawful to do things that God’s Word expressly condemns. Compared to the some 600 laws given to ancient Israel, there are comparatively few explicit commands regulating Christian life. Hence, many matters are left to individual conscience. A person who has made a dedication to Jehovah enjoys the freedom that results from guidance by God’s spirit. Having made the truth his own, a Christian follows his Bible-trained conscience and relies on God’s direction by holy spirit. This helps the dedicated Christian to determine what will “build up” and be “advantageous” for himself and others. He realizes that the decisions he makes will affect his personal relationship with God, to whom he is dedicated.
6. At Christian meetings, how can we demonstrate that we have made the truth our own?
6 A Witness demonstrates that he has made the truth his own by commenting at Christian meetings. At first, he may recite what is stated in the publication being studied. In time, however, he will progress to the point of expressing Bible teachings in his own words. He thus gives evidence that he is developing his thinking ability, not merely repeating what others have said. Framing thoughts in his own words and expressing correct words of truth in a heartfelt way will bring him delight and show that he is convinced in his own mind.—Ecclesiastes 12:10; compare Romans 14:5b.
7. What decisions have been made freely by servants of Jehovah?
7 Jehovah’s Witnesses are motivated by love for God and their fellow humans. (Matthew 22:36-40) True, they are closely knit together by the bond of Christlike love as a worldwide association of brothers. (Colossians 3:14; 1 Peter 5:9) But as a free moral agent, each one has personally decided to declare the good news of God’s Kingdom, to remain politically neutral, to abstain from blood, to avoid certain types of entertainment, and to live by Bible standards. These are not decisions forced upon them. They are decisions that fall within the framework of a way of life freely chosen by potential Witnesses before they ever take the step of Christian dedication.
Accountable to a Governing Body?
8. What question needs to be clarified?
8 The Bible clearly shows that true Christians do not serve God under coercion. It says: “Jehovah is the Spirit; and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) But how can this fact be harmonized with the idea of a “faithful and discreet slave” with its Governing Body?—Matthew 24:45-47.
9, 10. (a) How does the principle of headship apply in the Christian congregation? (b) What did following the principle of headship necessitate in the first-century Christian congregation?
9 To answer this question, we must keep in mind the Scriptural principle of headship. (1 Corinthians 11:3) At Ephesians 5:21-24, Christ is identified as “head of the congregation,” the one to whom it is “in subjection.” Jehovah’s Witnesses understand that the faithful and discreet slave is made up of Jesus’ spiritual brothers. (Hebrews 2:10-13) This faithful slave class has been appointed to provide God’s people with spiritual “food at the proper time.” In this time of the end, Christ has appointed this slave “over all his belongings.” Its position therefore merits the respect of anyone claiming to be a Christian.
10 The purpose of headship is to preserve unity and ensure that “all things take place decently and by arrangement.” (1 Corinthians 14:40) To achieve this in the first century, a number of anointed Christians from the faithful and discreet slave class were chosen to represent the entire group. As subsequent events proved, the supervision exercised by this first-century governing body had Jehovah’s approval and blessing. First-century Christians gladly accepted the arrangement. Yes, they actually welcomed and were grateful for the fine results it produced.—Acts 15:1-32.
11. How should the present-day Governing Body be viewed?
11 The value of such an arrangement still exists. Presently, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is composed of ten anointed Christians, all with decades of Christian experience behind them. They offer spiritual direction to Jehovah’s Witnesses, as did the first-century governing body. (Acts 16:4) Like the early Christians, the Witnesses gladly look to the mature brothers of the Governing Body for Bible-based direction and guidance in matters of worship. Though members of the Governing Body are slaves of Jehovah and of Christ, as are their fellow Christians, the Bible instructs us: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”—Hebrews 13:17.
12. To whom must each individual Christian render an account?
12 Does the position of oversight that the Scriptures assign the Governing Body mean that each of Jehovah’s Witnesses must render to it an account of his works? Not according to Paul’s words to Christians in Rome: “Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God . . . Each of us will render an account for himself to God.”—Romans 14:10-12.
13. Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses report their preaching activity?
13 Is it not true, however, that individual Witnesses are expected to report their preaching activity? Yes, but the purpose of this is clearly explained in a Witness handbook, which says: “Early followers of Jesus Christ took interest in reports of progress in the preaching work. (Mark 6:30) As the work prospered, statistical reports were compiled along with accounts of outstanding experiences of those having a share in preaching the good news. . . . (Acts 2:5-11, 41, 47; 6:7; 1:15; 4:4) . . . How encouraging it was for those faithful Christian workers to hear reports of what was being accomplished! . . . In like manner, Jehovah’s modern-day organization endeavors to keep precise records of the work being done in fulfillment of Matthew 24:14.”
14, 15. (a) How does 2 Corinthians 1:24 apply to the Governing Body? (b) On what basis must individual Christians make personal decisions, in recognition of what fact?
14 The Governing Body is a loving provision and an example of faith worthy of imitation. (Philippians 3:17; Hebrews 13:7) By their adhering to and following Christ as a model, they can echo Paul’s words: “Not that we are the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy, for it is by your faith that you are standing.” (2 Corinthians 1:24) By observing trends, the Governing Body draws attention to the benefits of heeding Bible counsel, offers suggestions about applying Bible laws and principles, warns of hidden dangers, and provides “fellow workers” needed encouragement. It thus discharges its Christian stewardship, helps them to maintain their joy, and builds them up in faith so that they can stand firm.—1 Corinthians 4:1, 2; Titus 1:7-9.
15 If a Witness makes decisions on the basis of Bible counsel offered by the Governing Body, he does so of his own volition because his own study of the Bible has convinced him that this is the proper course. Each Witness is influenced by God’s own Word to apply sound Scriptural counsel offered by the Governing Body, in full recognition that decisions he makes will affect his personal relationship with God, to whom he is dedicated.—1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Students and Soldiers
16. Although decisions regarding conduct are a personal matter, why are some disfellowshipped?
16 But if decisions as to conduct are a personal matter, why are some of Jehovah’s Witnesses disfellowshipped? Nobody arbitrarily determines that the practice of a particular sin requires disfellowshipping. Rather, this action is Scripturally required only when a member of the congregation unrepentantly engages in gross sins, such as those enumerated in the 5th chapter of First Corinthians. Thus, while a Christian may be disfellowshipped for practicing fornication, this occurs only if the individual refuses to accept the spiritual assistance of loving shepherds. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not alone in following this Christian practice. The Encyclopedia of Religion notes: “Any community claims the right to protect itself against nonconforming members who may threaten the common welfare. In a religious setting this right has often been reinforced by the belief that the sanction [of excommunication] affects one’s standing before God.”
17, 18. How might the propriety of disfellowshipping be illustrated?
17 Jehovah’s Witnesses are students of the Bible. (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; Acts 17:11) The program of Bible education provided by the Governing Body might be compared to a school curriculum outlined by a board of education. Although the board is itself not the source of the material being taught, it does set up the curriculum, determine the method of instruction, and issue necessary directives. If anyone flagrantly refuses to live according to the requirements of the institution, creates difficulties for fellow students, or brings disgrace upon the school, he can be expelled. The school authorities have the right to act for the benefit of the students as a whole.
18 Besides being students, Jehovah’s Witnesses are soldiers of Jesus Christ, instructed to “fight the fine fight of the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3) Naturally, persistent conduct unbecoming a Christian soldier may incur divine disapproval. As an individual endowed with freedom of choice, a Christian soldier can decide as he wishes, but he must bear the consequences of his decision. Paul reasons: “No man serving as a soldier involves himself in the commercial businesses of life, in order that he may gain the approval of the one who enrolled him as a soldier. Moreover, if anyone contends even in the games, he is not crowned unless he has contended according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:4, 5) Mature Christians, including those of the Governing Body, remain wholly at the disposal of their Leader, Jesus Christ, keeping “the rules” so that they can win the prize of life everlasting.—John 17:3; Revelation 2:10.
19. Having examined the facts about Christian dedication, of what can we be sure?
19 Do not the facts make clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses are servants of God, not slaves of men? As dedicated Christians enjoying the freedom for which Christ set them free, they let God’s spirit and his Word govern their lives as they serve unitedly with their brothers in the congregation of God. (Psalm 133:1) The evidences of this should also erase any uncertainty about the source of their strength. With the psalmist, they can sing: “Jehovah is my strength and my shield. In him my heart has trusted, and I have been helped, so that my heart exults, and with my song I shall laud him.”—Psalm 28:7.
a Published in 1993 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
How Would You Answer?
◻ How do the Watch Tower Society and similar legal agencies help Jehovah’s Witnesses?
◻ How do Christians benefit from the role of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
◻ Why do Jehovah’s people report their preaching activity?
◻ Under what circumstances is disfellowshipping of a dedicated Christian appropriate?
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The first-century governing body preserved unity of doctrine
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Around the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoy the freedom for which Christ set them free