reprint of the Sept./Oct. 1985 Bethel Ministries Newsletter
by Randall Watters
From my experience these last five years of being a former Jehovah's Witness, the
hardest part of all has been helping other JWs and ex-JWs to understand the churches. I
feel that I am in a position to contribute helpful insight into this area for several
reasons. For one, I myself have struggled with understanding the churches, and still have
much to learn. I have discussed the problems of the churches and our view of them with
many individuals, both pastors, ex-JWs, and others. Secondly, I am a licensed pastor, and
have assisted in starting a church in Venice, Calif. Though never having been reimbursed
for my services by any church (other than for a speaking engagement), I have worked
together to help many churches of various denominations, as well as non-denominational
churches. I attend church services at two of them, working along with them as part of the
Body of Christ. When occasions have come up for witnessing to others either on the street
or from door-to-door, I have helped in this. So I have been blessed with much experience
in this area. Additionally, I have never lost sight of the difficulties faced in
understanding and working with churches, both for those who have been Witnesses and for
people in general. This article is intended to reflect my personal observations on this
matter, rather than just a formal study of the issue. I know it will reach into many of
your own lives and experiences, as we all must consider our view of just who is the
Bride of Christ.
There are certain truths that the Witnesses hold to regarding Christianity and the Church that are based on the Bible. Both as a JW, and now as a Christian, I still hold these truths to be valid, because they are taught in the Bible. I will mention five of them. The first one is:
1. GOD HAS HAD A PEOPLE SINCE PENTECOST
This is true NOT because the JWs say it, but because the BIBLE has said it, and Christians have believed it for 2000 years. Though the Witnesses have exploited and added to this concept (by claiming Christians are represented by one human institution - The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society; and that you must follow their instructions), the truth remains that God has had a people since Pentecost at 33 A.D. Note the following passages that bear witness to this fact:
Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. Acts 15:14
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matt. 28:19,20
Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Matt. 24:45,46
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in . . . Romans 11:25
In Acts 15:13-18, James recalls the prophecies of Amos 9:11,12 and Jeremiah 12:15,
where it was foretold that the nation of Israel would be restored to God's favor, and the
Gentiles would see salvation as well. Obviously, the nation of Israel had not yet been
restored by the time of James, but God's turning his attention to the Gentiles had already
begun. This is where Romans 11:25 comes in with Paul's explanation of God's dual purpose
with both the Gentiles (meaning the Body of Christ) and the Jewish nation, as he says that
there is a dispensation (or age; epoch) between the casting off of Jerusalem and her
restoration to God's favor, and this is known as the Times of the Gentiles. Some call it
the Church Age (read Romans chapter 11 for a fuller explanation). Contrary to what the
Watchtower teaches, we are still living in this intermediate dispensation (or
"Gentile Times"), since Jerusalem has not yet been restored to God's favor, and
the "Deliverer" (Christ) has not come from Zion in fulfillment of the prophecies
(Rom. 11:26). This will apparently occur at the end of the Great Tribulation, with the
return of Christ to the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4). God has not forsaken the restoration
of the literal nation of Israel and sought to convey the promises made to Abraham upon the
so-called "anointed remnant" of Jehovah's Witnesses, for the Bible is clear that
the "gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29), in spite of the
present unbelief of the Jews. The promises given to Abraham regarding his descendants will
be fulfilled (Gen. 12:2,3). Even the founder of the Watchtower, C.T. Russell, believed in
the restoration of Israel from the beginning,
the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is CHRIST IN YOU, THE HOPE OF GLORY. Colossians 1:26-27
The choosing of a Bride for Christ that would experience spiritual rebirth and rule in heaven with him was purposed IN ADDITION to the fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the restoration of Israel and a paradise earth, and in fact this additional promise was not foreseen until after Pentecost of 33 A.D. The Jewish world is still blind to this mystery. Yet, all of the main prophecies regarding Israel and the restored earth remained in effect, and indeed, could not be cancelled, as God is not a liar and will carry out all of his promises. But as Matt. 28:19,20 and 24:45 reveal, the Church (Bride of Christ) would exist during the interim between Christ's first and second coming. He would be with those of his Bride, directing and blessing them, and they would have shepherds who would be accountable to God for their leading the flock in a good way or a bad way.
The Watchtower has misconstrued Matthew 24:45 to fit themselves, as they so often call themselves the "faithful and discreet slave class," as if Jesus was referring to a manmade organization or institution. Were they to read Matthew 25:20-23 and think about it, they would realize that Jesus mentions MORE THAN ONE faithful & discreet slave, and in fact was only indicating that any faithful Christian shepherd is represented by these faithful slaves, and that false prophets and unfaithful shepherds are represented by the evil slave of Matt. 24:48 and 25:26. He could not possibly be referring to one group or even one denomination of Christians, as this prophecy covers at least 2000 years, with hundreds of "groups" coming and going. Rather, God is primarily interested in individuals, not organizations.
The point is, there would always be born-again Christians throughout history. They would be recognized by their knowing Christ as their personal Lord, by their love for the Church and each other from a pure heart (not from an enforced unity or group pride), and their awaiting his return in glory for them. By definition they would be part of Christendom, which includes all people who claim belief in Jesus Christ. Most of them would therefore logically be found in the various churches, since Christians believe they must meet together to worship and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24,25).
It would be foolish for us to reject all of Christendom because of some poor examples who merely claim to be Christian. By the very definition of "Christendom," we would thereby also be rejecting true Christians. Jesus warned us that there would be counterfeit Christians (the "weeds," or tares of Matthew 13:24-30) that would grow together alongside the true Bride of Christ, so we need not let the fact that there are false Christians disturb us.
I never had too much of a problem believing that God is primarily interested in people and not organizations. Even as a Witness, I believed that some within the Watchtower organization would not be saved, and some outside of the organization would be saved. I think many JWs feel this way; but not because of Watchtower teachings - rather, because they perceive this to be God's way from reading the Scriptures. I still feel the same way! I don't look at people and ask them what church they go to. I ask them what they think about Jesus - who he is and what he means to them. If they view Jesus as something less than what the Bible says he is (John 1:1; 5:23; Heb. 1:2,3; Col. 2:9), or if they have no desire to share with him for all eternity (John 14:2,3), or if they are practicing sin (1 John 3:4-10), or have no love for the body of Christ (1 John 4:20,21; 3:14,15), I know they are not Christians; they do not have the Spirit of God. If they DO know Christ and if they DO love the Body, I am free to fellowship with them. Others I am free to be friends with and enjoy the company thereof, but I do not consider them Christians just because they claim to be. The real question is, are they Christians according to the Biblical worldview found in the New Testament, or according to a recently formed world-view, such as that espoused by Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Bahais, etc.?]
There is a tendency for those of us who have been involved in overly legalistic and narrow-minded cults to become imbalanced in the opposite direction, and accept anyone who claims to be a Christian as their brother. Remember, just because the Watchtower has abused Biblical guidelines for determining who are Christians and who are not does not mean that we throw out the Bible's counsel on these matters. To do so is to elevate human feelings above the Scriptures, and to reject a Biblical worldview for the New Age worldview that says we are to embrace ALL paths to God as acceptable. This simply is not true. Of course, nothing is to stop us from having many friends who are not Christians if we so desire, and we can consider them just as much our friends as fellow Christians.
The second truth about God's people I will mention is:
2. THE BODY OF CHRIST WILL ALWAYS HAVE MAJOR PROBLEMS TO OVERCOME
That is, at least, until the Lord returns and we are perfected. This is the area where the cults have made the most effective counterfeit, by constructing a church (or organization) on the principles of "obedience or else," instead of by the love of Christ and the painful freedom it brings. Freedom requires us to use our heads and our hearts in making decisions constantly, and not following a Talmud of rules, as did the Pharisees. For many, though, such freedom is frightening. They would rather be able to find all their answers in a book, so as to avoid thinking. Thinking to them appears to be too painful to get involved in.
Jehovah's Witnesses claim to model themselves after the New Testament Church. Not unexpectedly, so do most other "Christian" cults. However, there is no historical match, as the records of the early Church reveal they were worlds apart from being a regimented, well-oiled machine. Unity came through their spirits being at one with one another, not through a unity enforced in the flesh, as is the case with modern religious organizations like the Watchtower. Since such organizations cannot produce true spiritual unity (which can only come by the Holy Spirit), they must enforce unity by rules and regulations. Even some "orthodox" churches have developed this technique.
Note the words of Harold Bussell in his book, Unholy Devotion - Why Cults Lure Christians with regard to such unrealistic expectations:
Many cults, as with numerous Evangelical groups, present themselves as being modeled after the New Testament church.
We all long and search for the "ideal" Christian community. We all have high expectations of the model Christian church. As Christians we esteem the New Testament church as our foundation and its fellowship as the goal for our community life . . . [We] frequently forget that the New Testament church was constantly beset with doctrinal, behavioral, even racial problems.
The Corinthians, for example, tolerated sexual aberration, misunderstood the resurrection of the dead, and misused the gifts of the Spirit, and some even got drunk at Communion services. The Galatians misrepresented the gospel and turned to legalism for a time. The church in Colosse mixed Christian teachings with heathen world-views. . . .
Can we expect more from our "New Testament church"? Many cults describe themselves as ideal communities; they promise perfect fellowship. Our yearning and search for such an ideal can quickly turn our heads in the direction of those who offer something beyond what God is committed to establish in the here and now with fallen and redeemed human beings. Unholy Devotion, p.51,52
This has been the most painful lesson for me to learn, even five years after leaving
the Watchtower. As a Witness, I became accustomed to a community of people that believe
the same thing, wear the same thing, work the same jobs more or less, have the same habits
and talk the same talk. This was especially true at the headquarters of the Watchtower,
where I was part of the Bethel family. There was actually a community pride that
went along with this organization; a sense of brotherhood much like Jewish communities and
political activists possess. Jehovah's Witnesses feel at one with each other, not because
of a supernatural unity based on a common love for Christ, but rather, based on their
common interests in matters of routine and idealism. But this utopian idealism is an
enforced idealism; there can be no dissent among the ranks. It restricts the freedom of
people to be individuals, and forces them to conform to a certain narrow pattern of life
so as to collectively accomplish a goal, much like communism operates. Christ never
intended that we all be clones of each other and walk and talk alike. He never intended
that rules of conduct and dress be drawn up and enforced.
If we compare the Church (or, Body of Christ) to a human family with a father, we realize why the Church continually has problems. Within any family there are always those who refuse to mature or wise up. They will cause problems for the other members of the family, and they in turn learn patience and other fruitages of the Spirit in the process. The father does not disown the problem child just because he is causing grief to the others, but will discipline him or her, yet keeping them within the family. Of course, the analogy breaks down when you consider God's timing. God does not always react with the same sense of timing as human fathers do. God at times allows the person's true feelings to become manifest; he may allow a bad situation to run the course of time. Ecclesiastes 8:11-13 says,
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.
As Harold Bussell said, the Corinthians had moral problems that God did not step in and correct. Rather, God expected the elders to readjust the person. Also, there were the Galatians, who fell into false doctrine for a time. Revelation chapter 2 reveals that the Ephesians tolerated false doctrine which the leaders weren't correcting, so Christ himself was going to come and straighten them out. Those in Pergamum were fornicating and eating things offered to idols, which stumbled others. In addition, they held onto the false teachings of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14-16). Rather than weeding them out for apostasy, Jesus calls them to repentance before he will act. Christians in Thyatira were tolerating a woman teacher that claimed to be a prophetess and taught them how to fornicate and still be called Christians! Yet Jesus even gave her time to repent, which time could have been a matter of years for all we know (Rev. 2:20-23).
The point is, God operates a little differently than we would. His timing is different, and he is generally more gracious than we would be! (Isa. 55:69) Our tendency, which is manifest in groups like the Watchtower, is to take all matters into our own hands and enforce conformity to a list of rules and codes of conduct, so as not to have compassion or mercy towards troublemakers at all. We then become like the eldest son of a family who rejects his weaker brothers and sisters, seeking to become an independent man, and then use the excuse that the family is a bad example to outsiders, and that he is therefore keeping himself free from contamination by immature ones. Such an attitude stinks of pride and hatred for the lowly ones who really do need help within the family. Rather than seeking to work as a body and help those who are weak in faith and immature in heart, we form an elitist clique that will even go outside the family to enlist sympathy and talk about our "embarrassing" siblings; much to the shame of ourselves and the anger of our father. Likewise, God is capable of such anger against those who despise his "little ones" (Matt. 25:41-46). What is more . . .
3. GOD CHOOSES PASTORS AND SHEPHERDS
TO SHEPHERD HIS FLOCK
The Witnesses are fairly close to the New Testament teaching in this area. The Bible
sets forth qualifications for elders in the church in 1 Tim. 3:17 and Titus 1:5-9.
Qualifications for deacons (Greek: diakonos) are laid out in 1 Tim. 3:8-13.
If men meet the qualifications for office and are appointed by other Christian elders, or if they are directly appointed by God for a particular work, they are said to be appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). These men are given charge over the flock, as shepherds in spiritual matters (not over the secular affairs of their life or their personal business). Their authority can be abused and this happens from time to time, and this is why they are given limited power to begin with. Only in the cults are elders given full power over the people.
It is interesting as I visit churches and notice how little authority the pastors have
over the lives of their flock in most matters. Their authority is minimal, and that is the
way it should be. They are shepherds, not policemen. Yet the Witnesses will deride
"Christendom" for paying these men salaries
If we recognize those who are appointed by the Holy Spirit within the church, and we decide to work as part of the local body, then we should submit to them where our conscience does not object, so as to make it easier for them to do the Lord's work given to them (Heb. 13:17). They have their own orders to follow (1 Peter 5:13). If you choose not to belong to any church, that is your decision and it will not affect your salvation, but it will affect your spiritual health, which leads us to the next consideration:
4. GOD LIKENS THE CHURCH TO A BODY
In 1 Cor. 12:7-31, Paul likens the church to a human body, where each member plays a part in contributing to the welfare of others. In Colossians 2:19 he indicates that this body is supplied and held together by the "joints" and "ligaments," meaning that there is a cohesiveness in the Body of Christ; there is a working together and a sharing in love. That way it is easier for us to remain as fruitful branches attached to the Vine, which is Christ (John 15:58). It is much harder (but not impossible) to be considered part of the Body if you isolate yourself from fellowship. Additionally, there are other complications. Due to our sinful nature, we tend to become selfish and withdrawn when we keep to ourselves (Prov. 18:1). On the other hand, as we put the interests of others ahead of our own and seek to minister to others within the Body, we feel good and our personal problems seem to become less significant (Phil. 2:3,4). God is also pleased with us, as even our Lord said, "There is more happiness in giving than in receiving." (Acts 20:35)
Of course, circumstances may prevent us from fellowshipping with others for various reasons. Because there are so many false teachers around, we may be afraid to check out churches. This is a monumental hurdle for JWs and ex-JWs to conquer. I started checking out churches before I even resigned from the Watchtower organization - in fact, I was still going to the Kingdom Hall. This didn't bother me, because I trusted God would grant me wisdom to discern truth from error. Having been misled for eight years by the Watchtower, I had learned to be very cautious and wasn't afraid of churches or pastors, and neither should you be. They have no power over me, nor can they lay any real bondage on you. The hard part, let's face it, is getting to know strange people and daring to disagree with them or question them if we see something we consider wrong. Often they are not wrong at all; and we end up with a more enlightened perspective on a formerly narrow viewpoint.
I was never stumbled by immoral people within the Watchtower, and I am not about to be stumbled by such people we may discover in the churches. If we look to Christ for the answers as to why certain people may pursue a wrong way of life, he will reveal it to us. There will always be bad examples in any faith. This is especially true in Christianity more so than in any other faith, since Jesus is the standard of comparison! I confess, I cannot live up to perfection either. But I get better at it from day to day, and THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR - NOT PEOPLE WHO LOOK LIKE CHRIST ALREADY, BUT HUMBLE PEOPLE WHO ARE DRAWING CLOSER TO HIM DAY BY DAY IN THEIR INTIMACY WITH HIM. The "Bride of Christ" is exactly that, promised in "marriage" to him, being built up as a place for God to inhabit by Spirit (Eph. 2:22).
I have never signed any membership roll to any church, nor do I intend to. It is simply a piece of paper. People will know if I am part of the body or not by how I operate within it. If you have hangups about "joining a church," then don't do it, at least not officially. But think about becoming a working part of the Body of Christ on a local level.
I have found there are God-given benefits from associating with a church. There is much encouragement and good fellowship (providing you find a good church). The writer of Hebrews tells us not to forsake our gathering together (Heb. 10:24,25). There is a nurturing atmosphere that is a healing in itself (1 Thess. 2:7-12). Since there are shepherds in each group, they can assist us with our problems (Gal. 6:1). If we fall into sin or drift away, someone will come looking for us out of love (Matt. 18:12-14). According to James 5:14,15, we can be prayed for and be healed of sickness (many of us ex-JWs can bear witness to that!).
Finally, I have found that Christians working together can accomplish more in the ministry of sharing the gospel, but there must be a caution here. This is not a substitute for your personal testimony given to others at the right time (1 Peter 3:15).
But the most amazing promise that the Witnesses even believed that still holds true is:
5. THE CHURCH WILL RULE WITH CHRIST
OVER THE EARTH
The Witnesses have part of the Biblical prophecies correct in this area. The Body of Christ is a priesthood, chosen first of all to proclaim the excellencies of God, who has called us out of darkness into light (1 Peter 2:4-9). We are promised a place in the throne room of Christ one day (Rev. 3:21). We will reign with Christ over the earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:6; 5:10). The earth will be restored to a paradise and apparently Israel will receive the fulfillment of its many promises (Isa. 2:14; Jer. 3:17,18). The Church is said to judge the twelve tribes of Israel at that time (Luke 22:29,30). It seems that there will be a time when the church comes down from heaven back to the earth, obviously in their glorified condition (Rev. 21:2,3,9-14). It may be difficult for some of us to accept what the Bible says in these areas, but certainly no more difficult than believing what the Watchtower teaches.
The Body of Christ is a family, with God as its Father. Most of the problems within the church can be understood as long as it is viewed from this perspective. Just as in a large human family, the church . . .
a) HAS DIFFERENT MEMBERS with a wide range of personalities.
b) HAS A FATHER who does not seek to conform all of the family members to a certain personality type, but allows a wide variation of personalities without cramping their style (yet will correct those children who hinder the others by their immaturity).
c) IS A SACRED INSTITUTION with its own internal government; treated by the father differently than outsiders.
d) IS DISCIPLINED by the father himself. If outsiders criticize the family unduly, the father takes it personally. Though the father may allow outsiders to discipline members of his family to teach them a lesson, they are on shaky ground if they venture too far in this.
e) WILL BE KNOWN by its love and affection for the members of the family, but don't expect perfection! Maturity comes with the passage of time, and there will always be squabbles.
f) THERE ARE always members of the family who are embarrassed for their siblings, and speak against them to outsiders, thereby undermining the bonds of the family and angering the father.
g) HAS SOME WHO will style themselves as leaders of the family and seek to exert power over their siblings without authority of the father.
h) HAS OUTSIDERS WHO will disparage and deride the family, offering something that looks better but is a whitewashed grave.
WHAT IS "CHRISTENDOM"?
Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines CHRISTENDOM as: 1. Christianity. 2. the territories, countries or regions chiefly inhabited by those who profess to the Christian religion. 3. Christians collectively.
The word "Christendom" is not a Biblical word, nor was it invented by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society as some JWs believe. It is a proper term used to describe all the religions (including Jehovah's Witnesses), that claim to be followers of Christ. It is a secular term used to describe the outward appearance of things with regard to the claims of a religion, without seeking to judge whether those claims hold up or not. The Watchtower has sought to make "Christendom" an ugly word by giving it their own definition, thereby excluding themselves from it. Notice how The Watchtower invents their own definition of this word, based on their religious bias:
What, though, do we mean by the term Christendom? Among the definitions given in Webster's Third New International Dictionary is this one: "The portion of the world in which Christianity prevails or which is governed principally under Christian institutions." But the religion that Christendom practices in her hundreds of religious sects is far from the Christianity of the Bible. Therefore her religion is a professed Christianity; and so Christendom must be the portion of the world of mankind which is governed under professed Christian institutions. The Watchtower, Dec. 1, 1970, p. 713
First of all, the Watchtower follows the usual ploy of the cults in redefining the English language to agree with their own beliefs. But secondly, even if one were to accept THEIR definition of Christendom, it could easily be proven that they themselves are part of Christendom, due to their many false prophecies in the name of Jehovah, and their many doctrinal shifts and cover ups. (see Thus Saith the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses) Nevertheless, for the sake of truth, I will stick to the dictionary's definition of the word "Christendom."
By the expression, "Babylon the Great," the Watchtower is referring to what they call "the world empire of false religion," including all religions that are manmade and corrupt in God's eyes. Again, by their very own definition, it can also be proven that the Watchtower is part of "Babylon the Great." But I prefer to believe, as do many Biblical scholars, that "Babylon" refers to a world apostasy from Christianity that is in the formation stages right now, and will be most noticeably manifest during the time immediately preceding and during the Great Tribulation; for I believe that almost the whole of Revelation from the fourth chapter on to the twentieth chapter is reviewing the events that will occur during the Great Tribulation.
However, if the term "Christendom" includes the true Christians as well as the false, let's not allow the Watchtower to put a bad taste in our mouth without reason.
1. Those who have embraced our Lord Jesus and have been born again are referred to as the true Church, the Bride of Christ. (1 Cor. 15:9; Rev. 21:2)
2. See The Divine Plan Of The Ages, p. 288-302, by C.T. Russell; also Comfort For The Jews, by Joseph Rutherford.
3. See Let God Be True, p. 213-218
4. The apostle Paul condemns the adding of laws (legalism) in Gal. 5:14, along with those who advocate such laws (Gal. 1:6-9).
5. There is no Biblical basis for the title "ministerial servants," but is simply used by the Watchtower to avoid looking like the churches, who call them deacons, from the original Greek (diakonos).
6. 1 Cor. 9:14 says, "So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel." See also 1 Tim. 5:17-18.
back to Doctrine
back to Home Page