To whom do Jehovah’s Witnesses owe their primary loyalty?
The Watchtower Society encourages Jehovah’s Witnesses to go out to knock on people’s doors and also to talk to them informally to bring them “the good news of the Kingdom.” Part of their efforts in this regard involve trying to get people to question, to critically analyze their own religious beliefs and organizations. When I first started studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it was in the book “The Truth That Lead to Eternal Life.” On page 13, that book says: “We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated.”In later years, the book “You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth” replaced the “The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life” as the main study book for new Witnesses. In this book, on pages 32-33, the Watchtower wrote the following:
“How should you feel if proof is given that what you believe is wrong? For example, say that you were in a car, traveling for the first time to a certain place. You have a road map, but you have not taken time to check it carefully. Someone has told you the road to take. You trust him, sincerely believing that the way he has directed you is correct. But suppose it is not. What if someone points out the error? What if he, by referring to your own map, shows that you are on the wrong road? Would pride or stubbornness prevent you from admitting that you are on the wrong road? Well, then, if you learn from an examination of your Bible that you are traveling a wrong religious road, be willing to change. Avoid the broad road to destruction; get on the narrow road to life!”
So then, the Watchtower is asking people to look at their own religion and its teachings with a critical eye. Do they invite their own members to scrutinize their religion?I think that the article “Meeting the Challenge of Christian Loyalty” provides a good answer. It appeared in the March 15, 1996 issue of The Watchtower. Paragraph 9 of that article, which appears on pages 16 and 17 says the following:
We now come to the matter of being loyal to Jehovah’s visible organization. Certainly, we owe loyalty to it, including “the faithful and discreet slave,” through which the Christian congregation is fed spiritually (Matthew 24:45-47) Suppose that something appears in Watch Tower publications that we do not understand or agree with at the moment. What will we do? Take offense and leave the organization? That is what some did when The Watch Tower, many years ago, applied the new covenant to the Millennium. Others took offense at what The Watchtower once said on the issue of neutrality. If those who stumbled over these matters had been loyal to the organization and to their brothers, they would have waited on Jehovah to clarify these matters, which he did in his due time. Thus, loyalty includes waiting patiently until further understanding is published by the faithful and discreet slave.
The part about “Others took offense at what The Watchtower once said about neutrality” refers to the Standfasters who broke away because the Watch Tower said that it was okay to buy war bonds and encouraged the Bible Students to support the National Day of Prayer for the victory of the allies in WWI. The 3/15/96 Watchtower is basically saying that the Standfasters should have loyally stayed with the organization until Jehovah clarified the matter. Governing body member Karl Klein, in his life story which was published in the October 1, 1984 Watchtower (page 22), put it this way:
Shortly after my baptism in 1918, my loyalty to fellow Bible Students was put to the test. World War I was raging, and even though the most prominent brothers had been unjustly imprisoned over the war issue, the need for Christian neutrality was not fully appreciated by those then taking the lead. A few who saw the issue clearly took offense and separated themselves from the Bible Students, calling themselves Standfasters. They warned me that if I stayed with the Bible Students I would lose out on being of the “little flock” of Jesus’ anointed followers. (Luke 12:32) Mother, though not yet dedicated, helped me to make the right decision. I could not see myself leaving those from whom I had learned so much, and I therefore decided to take my chances with my Bible Student brothers. It really was a test of loyalty. Since then, I have observed many similar tests of loyalty. When mistakes are made, those not wholly loyal at heart seem to pounce upon them as an excuse for quitting. – Compare Psalm 119:165
I noticed that nowhere in his discussion of this situation did Klein mention loyalty to Jehovah, loyalty to what what right or loyalty to one’s own conscience. The only issue he addressed was loyalty to the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known). Klein admits that it was the Standfasters who saw the issue clearly. The WTS has taught for years that the remnant shared bloodguilt for WWI because of their not remaining strictly neutral and that their lack of neutrality resulted in their being allowed to go into captivity to Babylon the Great. As an example, notice this from the “Man’s Salvation” book, page 114:
In similar fashion, the modern-day remnant of spiritual Israel had to do some reforming as to their way and thoughts as World War I ended on November 11, 1918, and they entered still alive on earth into the postwar period. Their exile from God’s full favor in Babylon the Great’s realm was about to end, and it became the proper time for they to think about their failings and shortcomings with regard to God’s worship and service. They had come under a community responsibility because of the bloodshed and violence of World War I. They needed to search for Jehovah and to call upon His name in prayer …
Later, on page 187-8, the same book says:
During World War I of 1914-1918 B.C.E., some of the remnant of spiritual Israel accepted non-combatant service in the fighting armies, and thus they came under bloodguilt because of their sharing in community responsibility for the blood spilled in war. However, in 1939, the year in which World War II erupted, all the remnant of spiritual Israel and also those of the ‘great crowd’ of sheeplike companions declared themselves in favor of absolute neutrality toward all worldly conflicts, regardless of nationality. The publication of the article ‘Neutrality’ in the issue of November 1, 1939, of The Watchtower set forth their position.
In the book “God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached,” the WTS establishes another aspect of bloodguilt and community responsibility. This is from pages 380-1. After linking the clergy of Christendom with the “man of lawlessness,” paragraph 18 says:
Of course, what one prominent member of this clerical “man” does attaches blame to all the other members of the clergy class for their agreeing with what is done or not protesting against it or for acquiescing in it and remaining with the clergy organization. They all share a community responsibility and culpability for what a member of the clergy class does in a representative way as when speaking or acting for the whole group.
Here and elsewhere in WT publications, the Society establishes the teaching that when one is a member of any group, he is communally responsible for whatever is done by that group. While both the “Salvation” and “Thousand Years” books are more than 20 years old, I do not think that the teachings have changed on these matters. In the September 8, 1987 Awake!, (pages 10,11) the Watchtower makes the following appeal to members of other churches under the subheading: “If Your Church Fails to Act, Will You?
If, after making an honest investigation, you are less than pleased with what you see, do more than just complain. A journalist, while commenting on Karl Barth’s statement that a church is its members, logically concluded: ‘Church members … are responsible for what the church says and does.’ So ask yourself: Am I willing to share responsibility for everything my church says and does? Can I really be proud of having all its members as spiritual brothers?
So, on the one hand, the Standfasters are being condemned as disloyal and at the same time, members of other churches are being urged to remember that they are communally responsible for what their church did and does. Putting all of this together, it seems that the March 15, 1996 The Watchtower is saying that the Standfasters should have remained loyal to the Watchtower Society and stayed with it even while it, by its own admission, incurred bloodguilt and divine disfavor because of not being neutral. Put more simply, the WT is asking its members to put loyalty to the organization over loyalty to God, loyalty to what is right and loyalty to their own consciences.