How the Governing Body Differs From a Legal Corporation
ANNUAL meetings of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania have been held since January of 1885. When the ingathering of anointed Christians was underway in the late 19th century, the directors and officers of this corporation had the heavenly hope. In fact, this has almost always been the case.
There was one exception. In 1940, Hayden C. Covington—then the Society’s legal counsel and one of the “other sheep,” with the earthly hope—was elected a director of the Society. (John 10:16) He served as the Society’s vice president from 1942 to 1945. At that time, Brother Covington stepped aside as a director to comply with what then seemed to be Jehovah’s will—that all directors and officers of the Pennsylvania corporation be anointed Christians. Lyman A. Swingle replaced Hayden C. Covington on the board of directors, and Frederick W. Franz was elected vice president.
Why did Jehovah’s servants believe that all the directors and officers of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania should be anointed Christians? Because at the time, the board of directors and officers of the Pennsylvania corporation were closely identified with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has always been made up entirely of spirit-anointed men.
A Historic Annual Meeting
At the annual meeting held on October 2, 1944, in Pittsburgh, the members of the Pennsylvania corporation adopted six resolutions amending its charter. The charter had provided that voting shares be issued to contributors of funds to the Society’s work, but the third amendment eliminated that provision. A report on that annual meeting noted: “Membership in the Society will be limited to not more than 500 . . . Each one chosen must be a full-time servant of the Society or a part-time servant of a company [congregation] of Jehovah’s witnesses and must show the spirit of the Lord.”
Thereafter, directors of the Society were to be voted into office by individuals who were fully devoted to Jehovah, irrespective of the amount of money that they contributed to advance the Kingdom work. This turned out to be in accord with the progressive refinements foretold at Isaiah 60:17, where we read: “Instead of the copper I shall bring in gold, and instead of the iron I shall bring in silver, and instead of the wood, copper, and instead of the stones, iron; and I will appoint peace as your overseers and righteousness as your task assigners.” In referring to “overseers” and “task assigners,” this prophecy pointed to improvements in organizational procedures among Jehovah’s people.
This important step in bringing the organization into theocratic alignment came at the end of the “two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings,” mentioned at Daniel 8:14. At that time, “the holy place” was “brought into its right condition.”
After the historic annual meeting in 1944, however, a vital question remained. Since the Governing Body was then closely identified with the Pennsylvania corporation’s seven-member board of directors, did this mean that the Governing Body could never be made up of more than seven anointed Christians? Moreover, since the directors are elected by the members of the corporation, were the corporation members electing members of the Governing Body at the annual meeting each year? Are the directors and officers of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania and the members of the Governing Body one and the same, or are they different?
Another Unforgettable Annual Meeting
These questions were answered at the annual meeting held on October 1, 1971. On that occasion, one of the speakers pointed out that the governing body of “the faithful and discreet slave” preceded the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania by hundreds of years. (Matthew 24:45-47) A governing body was formed at Pentecost of 33 C.E., more than 18 centuries before the Pennsylvania corporation came into existence. At first, the governing body consisted of, not 7 men, but 12 apostles. Evidently, its number was enlarged later, for “the apostles and older men in Jerusalem” were taking the lead.—Acts 15:2.
In 1971 the same speaker explained that the members of the Watch Tower Society could not vote in the members of the anointed Governing Body. Why? “Because,” he said, “the governing body of the ‘slave’ class is not appointed by any man. It is appointed by . . . Jesus Christ, the Head of the true Christian congregation and the Lord and Master of the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ class.” Clearly, then, the members of the Governing Body cannot be voted into office by the membership of any legal corporation.
Continuing, the speaker made this very significant statement: “The governing body does not have officers such as the Society’s Board of Directors has, namely, president, vice president, secretary-treasurer and assistant secretary-treasurer. It has merely a chairman.” For many years, the president of the Pennsylvania corporation was also the foremost member of the Governing Body. This would no longer be the case. While not equal in experience or ability, Governing Body members would be equal in responsibility. The speaker added: “Any member of the governing body can be chairman thereof without being at the same time the president of the . . . Society . . . It all depends upon the rotation system for the chairmanship in the governing body.”
At that unforgettable annual meeting in 1971, a distinction was clearly drawn between the spirit-anointed members of the Governing Body and the directors of the Pennsylvania corporation. Still, members of the Governing Body continued to serve as directors and officers of the Society. Today, however, the question arises: Is there any Scriptural reason why the directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania must be members of the Governing Body?
The answer is no. The Pennsylvania corporation is not the only legal entity used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are others. One is the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Incorporated. It facilitates our work in the United States. Jehovah’s blessing has clearly been upon that corporation, though its directors and officers have been mainly of the “other sheep.” The International Bible Students Association is used in Britain. Other legal entities are used to promote Kingdom interests in other lands. All of them harmoniously assist and have a role to play in getting the good news preached earth wide. No matter where they are located or who serve as directors or officers, these entities are theocratically guided and used by the Governing Body. Hence, such entities have assigned tasks to perform in furthering Kingdom interests.
It is beneficial for us to have legal entities. We thereby conform to local and national laws, as required by God’s Word. (Jeremiah 32:11; Romans 13:1) Legal entities facilitate our work of spreading the Kingdom message by printing Bibles, books, magazines, brochures, and other material. Such entities also serve as legal instruments to handle matters related to property ownership, relief efforts, contracts for the use of convention facilities, and so forth. We are thankful for the services of such legal entities.
Jehovah’s Name to the Fore
In 1944, Article II of the charter of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania was amended to underscore the objectives of this corporation. According to the charter, the purposes of the Society include this principal purpose: “To preach the gospel of God’s kingdom under Christ Jesus unto all nations as a witness to the name, word and supremacy of Almighty God JEHOVAH.”
Since 1926 ‘the faithful slave’ has brought Jehovah’s name to the fore. Especially noteworthy was 1931 when the Bible Students adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Isaiah 43:10-12) Publications of the Society that have laid emphasis on God’s name include the books Jehovah (1934), “Let Your Name Be Sanctified” (1961), and “The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah”—How? (1971).
Special mention must be made of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, published in its entirety in English in 1960. It contains Jehovah’s name in every place where the Tetragrammaton appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. This translation also includes the divine name in 237 places in the Christian Greek Scriptures where careful analysis indicated that this was warranted. How thankful we are that, in various ways, Jehovah has permitted the “slave” and its Governing Body to utilize their publishing resources and legal entities in making his name known earth wide!
Distribution of God’s Word Promoted
Jehovah’s people have consistently borne witness to his name and have upheld his Word by publishing and distributing millions of Bible-based publications as well as the Bible itself. In the early 1900’s, the Watch Tower Society became the copyright owner of The Emphatic Diaglott, Benjamin Wilson’s Greek-English interlinear edition of the Christian Greek Scriptures. The Society published the Bible Students’ edition of the King James Version, which included a 500-page appendix. In 1942 it published the King James Version with marginal references. Then in 1944 the Society began to print the American Standard Version of 1901, which uses the divine name. The name of Jehovah also was a feature of The Bible in Living English, by Stephen T. Byington, published by the Society in 1972.
The legal entities used by Jehovah’s Witnesses have assisted in printing and distributing all of these Bible translations. Most notable, however, has been the very close cooperation between the Watch Tower Society and the group of anointed Witnesses of Jehovah comprising the New World Bible Translation Committee. We rejoice that, in whole or in part, to date over 106,400,000 copies of this translation have been printed in 38 languages. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania truly is a Bible society!
‘The faithful slave’ has been ‘appointed over all his master’s belongings.’ These include facilities at headquarters in New York State, U.S.A., and the 110 branches now operating worldwide. The members of the slave class know that they will be called upon to render an account for the way in which they have used what has been entrusted to them. (Matthew 25:14-30) Yet, this does not prevent the ‘slave’ from allowing qualified overseers from among the “other sheep” to care for legal and administrative responsibilities. In fact, this allows members of the Governing Body to devote more time “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”—Acts 6:4.
As long as conditions in this world permit, the Governing Body, representing “the faithful and discreet slave,” will make use of legal entities. These are convenient, but they are not indispensable. If a legal entity is dissolved by government decree, the preaching work will still go on. Even now, in lands where restrictions are in effect and no legal entities are used, the Kingdom message is being proclaimed, disciples are being made, and theocracy’s increase continues. That is happening because Jehovah’s Witnesses plant and water, and ‘God keeps making it grow.’—1 Corinthians 3:6, 7.
As we look to the future, we are confident that Jehovah will care for the spiritual and material needs of his people. He and his Son, Jesus Christ, will continue to provide the heavenly direction and support needed to complete the Kingdom-preaching work. Of course, whatever we accomplish as God’s servants is done ‘not by a military force, nor by power, but by Jehovah’s spirit.’ (Zechariah 4:6) We therefore pray for divine help, knowing that in the strength that Jehovah supplies, we will be able to finish the work he has given us to do in this time of the end!