Bethel – House of God or Symbol of Apostasy?

I had noticed for a while that someone had the following in his signature on talk.religion.misc:

Bethel: a symbol of rank apostacy from true worship Insight, Vol I

That, along with an article in the March 1995 Our Kingdom Ministry entitled “Bethel Service – More Volunteers Needed” that was covered in the weekly Service Meeting got me to doing some research. In this first article I will quote from the article in the Kingdom Ministry, and then I will share some of the research from the Insight book and from the Bible regarding the historical background of the place called Bethel. After relating the story of Jacob’s ladder, and explaining how Bethel means “house of God”, the KM said:

March 1995 Kingdom Ministry “Bethel Service – More Volunteers Needed” Thus, the name Bethel has a rich historical background and is appropriate for the world headquarters of Jehovah’s people. Today God’s servants do not have divinely inspired dreams. Angels are not seen ascending and descending on a ladder from Bethel to heaven. Brothers are not receiving visions or hearing God’s voice directly. Yet, when you consider all that has happened at Bethel these past 85 years, from the time of Brother Russell till now, there is no doubt that Jehovah’s hand has been with his anointed servants, part of the spiritual seed of Abraham, at Bethel. So many outstanding events in the history of Jehovah’s modern-day Witnesses are closely associated with Bethel!

Consider some highlights:

On October 2, 1914, as he entered the Bethel dining room, Brother Russell accurately announced: “The Gentile Times have ended; their kings have had their day.”

In the early morning hours one day in 1931, shortly before the convention in Columbus, Ohio, the president of the Society, Brother Rutherford, discerned that the name Jehovah’s Witnesses truly described God’s people and the work they were already doing and that they should be identified as His witnesses. – yb 75 p. 151

In the early 1920’s, during the morning worship, a member of the Society’s editorial staff used the expression “God’s organization.” This so stimulated their thinking that by 1925 the brothers had come to see that there are to distinct and opposing organizations, Jehovah’s and Satan’s – w85 3/15 p. 10.

Early in 1935, questions were raised about who are the “great crowd,” or “great multitude.” (Rev. 7:9; KJ) some among those who expressed themselves at that time suggested that they were an earthly class. On May 31, 1935, at the Washington, D.C., convention, a satisfying explanation was given.

These few examples illustrate how Jehovah through his holy spirit, has given guidance and support to his faithful anointed servants at Bethel. And what about the angels? When you consider all the bitter opposition from our enemies and the difficult years when resources were scarce, there is no doubt that without angelic protection and assistance, Bethel could not have operated so remarkably all these years.1

Now that we’ve looked at what the March 1995 Our Kingdom Ministry said about Bethel, lets look at what the Insight from the Scriptures says about it:

Following the defilement of Dinah at Shechem and the act of vengeance executed by Jacob’s sons against the Shechemites, Jacob received God’s instruction to return to Bethel. After eliminating false religious articles from his household and servants, he traveled to Bethel under divine protection, built an altar there, and restated the name he had given the place earlier, calling it El-bethel, meaning “The God of Bethel.” Here Rebekah’s nursing woman Deborah died and was buried. Here, too, Jehovah confirmed the change of Jacob’s name to Israel, restating the Abrahamic promise. – Ge 35:1-16.2

and

Bethel was on the circuit visited by Samuel as he judged the people annually at that city as well as at Gilgal and Mizpah, and it was still viewed as a place favored for worship. (1Sa 7:16; 10:3) However, from then till the division of the kingdom (997 B.C.E.), Bethel is mentioned only in connection with King Saul’s stationing of troops in preparation for combat with the Philistines. – 1Sa 13:23

So far, so good. Bethel seems to fit the description in the KM of having a “rich historical background and is appropriate for the world headquarters of Jehovah’s people today.” Let’s go on to our next paragraph:

As a major city of the northern kingdom under Jeroboam, Bethel, once prominent as a place of revelation by the true God, now became renowned as a center of false worship. At Bethel, in the extreme S of the newly formed kingdom of Israel, and at Dan, in the extreme N thereof, Jeroboam set up the golden calves in his effort to dissuade the people of his realm from going to the temple at Jerusalem. (1Ki 12:27-29) With its own religious house and altar, a specially invented festival time, and priests selected from among the non-Levitical tribes, Bethel became a symbol of rank apostasy from true worship. (1Ki 12:31-33) Jehovah God did not delay in expressing his disapproval through a “man of the true God” sent to Bethel to pronounce judgment against the altar used in connection with calf worship. The ripping apart of this altar served as a portent, confirming the sure fulfillment of the prophet’s words. After leaving Bethel, however, this “man of the true God” allowed himself to be induced by an old prophet of Bethel to accept and act on a supposed message from an angel in violation of the direct orders from God, with disastrous consequences to himself. Slain by a lion, he was buried at Bethel in the personal burial place of the old prophet who saw in all these events the certainty of the fulfillment of Jehovah’s word and thus requested that his own body be buried at death in the same burial site.-1Ki 13:1-32.4

Hmmmm, the plot thickens! We could read all sorts of prophetic significance into this little incident. Let’s take a page from the WT and view an individual as prophically pointing forward to a class of people and pose a few obviously loaded, as well as only slightly sarcastic questions:

    1. Is there a figurative golden calf and altar today at a place called Bethel that was conveniently placed to dissuade people from worshipping God at his true temple?
    2. Is there a “man of the true God” class today that is being used by Jehovah to express his disapproval of this false worship at Bethel and is courageously pronoucing God’s impending judgement against the altar used in connection with this idolatry?
    3. Is there a danger that this “man of the true God” class could be mislead by an old false prophet of Bethel by means of a supposed “angelic” message and with disastrous consequences?

 

Are you beginning to get the picture? Let’s continue

Despite the prevalence of false worship there, the record shows Bethel as the location of a group of prophets in the time of Elijah and Elisha. Bethel was also the home of the group of jeering boys who mocked Elisha, this costing many of them their lives as a result of divine execution.-2Ki 2:1-3, 23, 24.5

Are there boys from Bethel today who mock the “man of the true God” class, possibly endangering their own lives?

The prophets Amos and Hosea, in the late ninth and mid-eighth centuries B.C.E., proclaimed God’s condemnation of the religious corruption centered at Bethel. Although Hosea makes direct mention of Bethel (meaning “House of God”) only when recalling God’s revelation of himself to faithful Jacob there (Ho 12:4), he evidently employs the name “Beth-aven,” meaning “House of Hurtfulness (Something Hurtful),” as applying to that city and the effect of its false religious practices. (Ho 4:15; 5:8) He warns that its calf idol served by foreign-god priests will come to be a cause for mourning to idolatrous Israel, its high places will be annihilated, and thorns and thistles will cover its altars; while the people, faced with exile in Assyria, cry out to the mountains, “Cover us!” and to the hills, “Fall over us!” (Ho 10:5-8; compare Lu 23:30; Re 6:16.)6

Could Bethel today be viewed at Beth-aven (House of Hurtfulness) due to its religious corruption and its false religious practices? Could it become a cause for mouring to its people when it is annihilated?

The prophet Amos spoke in similar vein, showing that, no matter how frequent the sacrifices offered by the people at Bethel’s altars, their pious pilgrimages to that place only constituted the commission of transgression, and warning that Jehovah’s burning anger would blaze against them inextinguishably. (Am 3:14; 4:4; 5:5, 6) Angered at this prophesying done by Amos right in Bethel, the apostate priest Amaziah accused Amos of seditious talk and ordered him to ‘go back to Judah where he came from’ and there do his prophesying: “But at Bethel you must no longer do any further prophesying, for it is the sanctuary of a king and it is the house of a kingdom.”-Am 7:10-13.7

    1. Is there an “Amos class” today that is courageously warning those worshipping at Bethel’s altars that no matter what sacrifices they offer at Bethel that it only constitutes the commission of transgression and that Jehovah’s anger will blaze against them (inextinguishably ?)
    2. Is there an “Amaziah class” of apostate priests at Bethel today who accuse the Amos class of seditous talk, kick them out of Bethel, order them not to prophesy there any longer and order them “back to Judah” (presumably Christendom) where they came from?

 

Finally, here are two scriptures I though appropriate to the discussion:

(Amos 4:4) “‘Come, YOU people, to Beth’el and commit transgression. At Gil’gal be frequent in committing transgression, and bring YOUR sacrifices in the morning; on the third day, YOUR tenth parts.

(Amos 5:5-6) And do not search for Beth’el, and to Gil’gal YOU must not come, and to Be’er-she’ba YOU must not pass over; because Gil’gal itself will without fail go into exile; and as regards Beth’el, it will become something uncanny. 6 Search for Jehovah, and keep living, that he may not become operative just like fire, O house of Joseph, and it may not actually devour, and Beth’el may not be with no one to extinguish [it],

 

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, p. 166 []
  2. Insight on the Scriptures, vol. 1, p. 295 []
  3. Ibid, p. 296 []
  4. Ibid, p. 296 []
  5. Ibid, p. 296 []
  6. Ibid, p. 296-7 []
  7. Ibid, p. 296-7 []

DF Form No-No’s

6 things elders are not supposed to put on disfellowshipping reports. During the Kingdom Ministry Schools that were held during November and December of 1994, elders in the United States were given information that was to be written into their “Pay Attention To Yourselves And To All The Flock” book. This information concerned the S77 and S79 forms that local judicial committees use to report disfellowshippings to the branch office in Brooklyn.

Genocide and Persecution

After recounting incidents of persecution in Ethiopia, the 1/1/95
issue of The Watchtower, page 6, para 8, said:

“Satan has failed to crack the integrity of such loyal brothers and sisters by direct frontal attack. So, what other crafty devices does he employ? Revelation 12:12 says of these last days: “Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” Having failed to annihilate God’s loyal people by persecutions, in his anger he attempts to massacre entire populations, no doubt with a view to destroying Jehovah’s people along with the rest. Thus so-called ethnic cleansing has been carried out in parts of the former Yugoslavia, and genocides have been attempted in Liberia, Burundi, and Rwanda.”

 

According to the 1995 Yearbook: “Among the possible half million Rwandans who lost their lives were hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

So what they’re saying is that in order to put a few hundred (about 300 is what I read in a branch report several years ago) witnesses out of the picture, Satan took out about 500,000 Rwandans. I always thought that Satan had better aim than that. If he’s that inept, maybe we don’t have as much to worry about from him as we thought. 🙂

But seriously, folks …

This paragraph shows a great deal of arrogance. The Watchtower Society would have us believe that all world events revolve around it. Every significant world event is tied the “the outworking of Jehovahs purpose.” (Is “outworking” a word that anyone other than the Watchtower uses?) And because the Watchtower is the visible part of Jehovah’s universal organization that he uses to accomplish His will here on the earth, it is the focus of these world events. If you try to say anything to the effect that perhaps these things happened due to causes that may have nothing to do with the Watchtower, you get funny looks from the “faithful.” (Been there, Done that)

Some of the rank and file take this type of statement and apply it individually. When this occurs, they begin to believe that every bad thing that happens to every JW in the organization is as a result of supernatural Satanic forces trying to keep them from spreading the “good news.” Nothing ever happens by chance, no JW is ever just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every automotive difficulty, every illness, every financial upset is a result of persecution from Satan, especially if it happens the mo nth you sign up to auxillary pioneer. In some extreme cases, witnesses have blamed marital problems on satanic persecution. When I was and elder, I heard the following line of reasoning from some brothers and sisters whose mates had left them. “My husband (or wife) left me. It must be Satan trying to get me to slow down in my preaching.” (Hmmm, it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you spend so much time preaching that you never spend any time with your mate, and when you do spend time with them you treat them like dirt, could it?)

This becomes a very convenient device for shifting responsibility.

Joe Publisher can reason: “The flat tire I had on the way to the Kingdom Hall was persecution from Satan. It couldn’t be because I’ve been running these bald tires for the last couple of months. That cold that I got last time I tried to pioneer was persec ution too. I couldn’t be due to the fact that a good portion of the general population had a cold at the same time. My having too little (or too much) employment and consequently too little (or too much) money is Satan trying to divert me from the preachi ng work, not a result of the same economic forces that everybody else has to deal with.”

The governing body can reason: “All of this trouble we have with people leaving the organization and becoming apostates is as a result of Satan trying to destroy Jehovah’s earthly organization. It couldn’t be because we have changed doctrine so often that everyone’s totally confused. All this persecution we get is instigated by the clergy of Christendom which we know is controlled by Satan. It couldn’t be because we have publically labled that clergy as the ‘Man of Lawlessness.’ It couldn’t be because we say that they have been responsible for every war that has every occured. It couldn’t be because we try to imply that every minister and priest is in it only for the money and that after they get your money they’ll probably molest your sons and daughters. It couldn’t be because we show churches and temples and synagogues being blow to bits at Armageddon in our publications, just like we know they will be.”

Just for contrast:

Galatians 6: 3-5 (NWT): “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deceiving his own mind. But let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person. For each one will carry his own load.”

If the WT is what is purports to be, it should stand out from other religions by its own merits, not as a result of tearing everyone else down.

Romans 14:4 (NWT): “Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master he stand for falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.”

Finally …

“Can there be false religion? It is not a form of religious persecution for anyone to say and to show that another religion is false. It is not religious persecution for an informed person to expose publicly a certain religion as being false, thus allowing persons to see the difference between false religion and true religion. But in order to make the exposure and show the wrong religions to be false, the true worshiper will have to use an authoritative means of judgment, a rule of measurement that cannot be proved faulty. To make a public exposure of false religion is certainly of more value than exposing a news report as being untrue; it is a public service instead of a religious persecution and it has to do with the eternal life and happiness of the public. Still it leaves the public free to choose. – The Watchtower, 11/15/63, page 688

Inappropriate Behavior

Propriety is something very important within the Jehovah’s Witness culture and worship as it should be. But, the Witnesses take it to a whole new level. Many things that are part of Christian worship in other churches are viewed by Jehovah’s Witnesses as inappropriate and are noticeably absent at the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Among these things that you will not see at Kingdom Halls are live musicians: no organists, no pianists and certainly no guitarists or drummers. Years ago, live pianists were at least an option. My wife used to play the piano at our Kingdom Hall and for the circuit assemblies. On a few occasions we even had a small orchestra at our circuit assembly. For congregations without a pianist, records and later cassette tapes and CD’s were available. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there seemed to be a concerted effort by the circuit overseers to remove pianos and pianists from the Kingdom Halls and to utilize the recordings that were supplied by the Watchtower Society.

Several reasons were given for removing the pianos and pianists. First was that in some congregations the quality of the piano or that of the pianist was not up the standard that would be honoring to Jehovah. Second was that using the Society’s recordings contributed to unity within the organization. Finally, it was said that having live music might draw undue attention to the musician rather than to Jehovah. Today, all of the music for Jehovah’s Witness meetings are recordings that are supplied by the Watchtower Society. Along with the music, the content for the meetings is also supplied by headquarters as are the song numbers that are to accompany that content.

During the singing at the Kingdom Hall, you will also see no raising of hands or other expressions of worship that are seen in many churches. There are also no spontaneous expressions of agreement during the sermon, which is referred to as the “public talk” or “public discourse”. The only  “amen” you will normally hear at the Kingdom hall is at the end of the prayers that are said at the beginning and end of each meeting. Raising of hand in worship and saying “amen” during the public talk would be viewed as  inappropriate by the Witnesses.

As I see it now, what is called worship at the Kingdom Hall is very restrained, mostly devoid of emotion, and dry and dead.