Who or what was the “Society”? I had a natural dislike of political organizations and in my 40 plus years “in the truth” never tried to cultivate connections, or “play the organization game,” as one connected elder put it. I really avoided thinking about the whole matter of the GB, the Society, and that whole political network in New York. However, when the new book Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom came out, I read the large volume of 750 pages in two days. This ability to speed-read using a high-lighter was a gift I always had. This new volume caused me to re-examine the whole idea of organizational structure. I was particularly interested in the chapter (15), “Development of the Organization Structure,” beginning on page 204.
I noticed the subtlety with which the whole idea about “organization” was developed. First, on page 205 it appeared that the Pastor was very much opposed to “organization.” On page 205 there is a side-bar banner on the right of the margin which reads in bold letters: “Not attempting to set up an ‘earthly organization.’” The actual paragraph on this read: “However, Brother Russell emphasized that they were not attempting to set up an ‘earthly organization.’ Rather, he said, ‘we adhere only to that heavenly organization-'whose names are written in heaven.' (Heb. 12:23; Luke 10:20.) Because of Christendom's sordid history, reference to ‘church organization’ usually reminded a person of sectarianism, clergy domination,68 and membership on the basis of adhering to a creed formulated69 by a religious council.70 So, when referring to themselves, Brother Russell felt that the term ‘association’ was a better one.”
|68||CLERGY DOMINATION. If this means a group of salaried men with whom none may disagree, then the JW GB are of the same sort.|
|69||A CREED FORMULATED BY A RELIGIOUS COUNCIIL. This is exactly what the GB does. Knorr would say: “It is the truth when it comes from the Ninth Floor.”|
|70||RELIGIOUS COUNCIL. Is someone going to argue the Governing Body is not a “religious council”?|
However, the chapter went on to actually contradict this original thought by the Pastor. The chapter goes on to gradually develop exactly what the Pastor said the Bible Students were not attempting to do: set up an earthly organization. The whole thing was contradictory and that bold type on the margin burned into my retina. But, there were other observations.
If one goes on to read the development of this “structure” it moves slowly from the Pastor’s objection to building such an organization to actually building such. The next heading uses the word “association.” A few pages later the word “organizing” occurs in a heading. And, then “organization” and pretty soon the book has moved from the very thing the Pastor said they were not attempting to do, to “Jehovah’s organization” and then the full development of the idea without explaining the justification for it.
The subject of who really was “the Society” comes up on page 219: “To keep matters in proper perspective, however, it was pointed out that when The Watchtower 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. Thus the expression stood for the faithful and discreet slave with its Governing Body.”71 This seemed well enough if it were true. Many would argue this was never the case in the first place. This definition of “the Society” would mean every member of the anointed was a member of “the Society.” But was this the case?
|71||GOVERNING BODY. Raymond Franz has discussed the legitimacy of a “governing body” among JWs in both his books Crisis of Conscience and Christian Freedom. The term “Governing Body” is absent from the Bible. The Society has use Hebrews 13:7, 17 but this refers to older men among the general association of Christians.|
A few pages later the actually situation is mentioned, creating a contradiction. Note page 229: ‘”However,’ Brother Knorr explained, ‘inasmuch as the charter of the Society provided for voting shares to be issued to contributors of funds to the Society's work, it tended to bedim or encroach upon this Theocratic principle with respect to the governing body; and it also tended to endanger it or create hindrances for it.’
“Hence, at the business meeting of all shareholder-voters of the Society on October 2, 1944, it was unanimously voted that the Society's charter be revised and be brought into closer harmony with theocratic principles. Membership would not now be unlimited as to number but would be between 300 and 500, all of whom would be men chosen by the board of directors,72 not on the basis of monetary contributions, but because they were mature, active, faithful Witnesses of Jehovah who were serving full-time in the work of the organization or were active ministers of congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses. These members would vote for the board of directors, and the board of directors would then select its officers. These new arrangements went into effect the following year, on October 1, 1945.”
|72||MEN. I have known a few of these “men” who are without question “loyal” corporate men. All those I knew were not anointed but other sheep. At least two elders were known to have never gone door to door in 20 years.|
This completely shocked me. Ten pages earlier the book had said “the Society” was the body of anointed and now it was saying “the Society” had a membership of between 300 and 500 whereas the number of the anointed at this time was in the tens of thousands. Who were these 300 and 500 members of the Society? They were largely “other sheep” and not anointed at all and therefore could not be members of that “the Society” on page 219. This all began to smell more and more of control.
The whole matter of removing control from contributors to the Society to hand-picked men, mostly “other sheep,” seemed just a movement toward greater and greater control. That is what had been going on since the Pastor wanted only an “association” belonging to that “heavenly organization.” These “300 and 500” were men loyal to the core. I have never attended an annual meeting of “the Society” though, according to page 219, I was a member of it. But, I suspect any “business meeting” would proceed as they do in congregations and circuits. Those in charge tell the audience what the resolution is and then they are asked to vote and it is always 100%. If one dared raise an objection it would be a frightful thing.
What about “organization” any way? The Greek word for “organization,” organon, does not occur in the Christian Greek Scriptures. This does not necessarily mean the idea of organization is lacking in the Bible. If one defines “organization” as a united, working, body of people, then all the elements appear in Ephesians 4:16: ‘From him all the body, by being harmoniously joined together and being made to cooperate through every joint that gives what is needed, according to the functioning of each respective member in due measure, makes for the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.’ The Greek word here for “body” is soma and can carry the idea of a military corp. Indeed the Latin equivalent is corpus from which comes “corporation.”
The word “organization” occurs almost 13,000 times in JW publications. When discussing this subject of “organization” it is very common for the publications to essentially say: “God has always dealt with an organization.” JWs will often repeat this theme. I thought about this myself. I began to examine the Bible and see if this were really true. In the entire Book of Genesis Jehovah dealt with individual men from Abel to Joseph, a period of about 3,500 years. It is true he dealt with some families like Noah’s and Abraham’s and Jacob’s but this would be stretching matters to force the idea of an “organization.” The first case of God dealing with an organization began with Moses in 1512 BC.
This organization decayed much like the Christian Church into varying degrees of apostasy, until Isaiah could declare: ‘We have for a long time become as those over whom you did not rule, as those upon whom your name had not been called.’ (Isaiah 63:19) Even during the 1,500 years of the existence of this Israelite “organization” Jehovah resorted to using certain lone individuals against this apostate nation: David, Elijah, Jeremiah, and others.
With the coming of the Messiah Jehovah clearly was dealing with one man, Jesus Christ. Christ established his “congregation” (Matthew 16:18) around his apostles and other disciples. Within a few years it became necessary for Christ to deal with one particular man, Paul. Why the glorified Jesus bypassed his own apostolic body in Jerusalem to deal with a persecutor of the Christians is an interesting lesson in “organization.” The heavenly Christ was not at all bound by some so-called governing or apostolic body in Jerusalem.
Demonstrating this further, Paul did not immediately go to that governing body in Jerusalem to get an appointment. He himself writes about this: ‘But when God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called [me] through his undeserved kindness, thought good to reveal his Son in connection with me, that I might declare the good news about him to the nations, I did not go at once into conference with flesh and blood. Neither did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles previous to me, but I went off into Arabia, and I came back again to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to visit Ce'phas, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. But I saw no one else of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord. ... Then after fourteen years I again went up to Jerusalem with Bar'na·bas, taking also Titus along with me. But I went up as a result of a revelation. And I laid before them the good news which I am preaching among the nations, privately, however, before those who were outstanding men.’ (Galatians 1:15-19; 2.1, 2) If one dare say those words about the modern GB he would be excommunicated forthwith!
JWs will often point to Acts chapter 15 as evidence of a central governing body. It is good to note who met to solve the problem at hand: ‘But when there had occurred no little dissension and disputing by Paul and Bar'na·bas with them, they arranged for Paul and Bar'na·bas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.’ (Acts 15:2) This includes “the elders in Jerusalem.” It does not say “some of the elders” or “the governing body.” All of the anointed elders, including the apostles, in Jerusalem convened over the matter. If this is the First Century example, then it would argue that when a matter of this deep concern came up in New York, it ought to be settled by all the (anointed) elders in New York.
This and other matters began to make me ponder whether my own religion was actually organized after the pattern of the First Century as we always claimed.
“What is to be done, then?” I wrote a long white paper to Brooklyn on this question, raised twice by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 14. Compare, Paul’s answer: ‘What is to be done, then, brothers? When you come together, one has a psalm, another has a teaching, another has a revelation, another has a tongue, another has an interpretation. Let all things take place for upbuilding.’ (1 Corinthians 14:26) I noted this meeting format was unlike the so-called modern counterpart among JWs. There was no revelation, no tongue, no interpretation.
Another factor under the answer to this question is also quite different from JW meetings: ‘As in all the congregations of the holy ones, let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, even as the Law says. If, then, they want to learn something, let them question their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in a congregation.’ (1 Corinthians 14:33-35) Contrary to Paul’s instructions, JW women do speak in the congregations. They have teaching assignments at every Theocratic Ministry School and are often used to teach at the Service Meeting. Further, they often ask questions at the Congregation Book Study. I realized it would take great courage to take this position given that “political correctness” in the 90s. But, Paul seems to be firm on the matter, just as was the custom among the Jewish congregations or synagogues. He says, “as in all the congregations,” and he says this, not to former Jews, but to Corinthians. Further, Paul writes that what he says about the woman’s role in the congregation is “the Lord’s commandment.” (1 Corinthians 14:37)
On this subject of the primitive organization as a model for modern congregations of JWs, there was another matter. In the original Christian congregations there were three particular offices: apostle, teacher, and prophet. ‘And God has set the respective ones in the congregation, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers.’ (1 Corinthians 12:28; compare Ephesians 4:12, 13) Acts 13:1 may indicate this was an office: “Now in Antioch there were prophets and teachers in the local congregation.” It would seem not all congregations had such “prophets and teachers.” These designations do not exist among JWs.
ACTS 20.20. There was another matter somewhat related to JW organization: the door-to-door preaching method. I had participated in this method of evangelism since 1956, devoting 20 years to it full-time right up to the summer of 1996 in Spain. Could there be any question about this august subject which virtually identified a JW, and irritated a million people around the globe on any given day?
There are only two texts, both in the Book of Acts, which possibly describe this method of preaching. In the NWT they read: ‘And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.’ (Acts 5:42) And, Acts 20:20: ‘Nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.’ The publication The Greatest Man asserts by quoting Matthew Henry that Jesus and his disciples preached door-to-door: “Regarding the activity of the 70, Matthew Henry's Commentary reports: ‘Like their Master, wherever they visited, they preached from house to house.’” (Lesson 72) There is no Biblical basis for this assertion by Matthew Henry or JWs.
The Greek construct in these two verses is kat oikon and translators render it either “house to house” or “in private homes.” The NWT shows this in its own footnotes. The Greek phrase occurs on other time in Acts 2:46, but here the NWT renders the phrase: ‘they took their meals in private homes.’ However, note the words of the Nazarene: ‘Do not be transferring from house to house.’ (Luke 10:7) So, the only place where “house to house” occurs is a command not to do it by Jesus Christ. Whether the Pastor and the Judge, who did not preach from house to house, understood this command is unknown. The truth is most members of the GB and Bethel elders seldom go from house to house. The average elder who is not a pioneer in the general congregations probably goes door to door about one to two hours a month, if that.
Of course, there were many more questions which began to gain my interest: Who were the “great crowd”? Who were the 144,000? What was the real answer Jesus gave to his disciples’ questions in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21. Did Jesus ever teach about “the end of the world”? And, what did Revelation have to say on all of this? Many of these answers I would discover when I returned to America.
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved