Bethel – House of God or Symbol of Apostasy?

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Jan 092005
 

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 []
Dec 242004
 

Two days after I sent Letter 1, I received a call from two the the elders of my congregation. They asked if I were formally disassociating myself. When I replied that I was not, I was invited to appear before them to face charges of apostasy. I sent this letter as a reply to that invitation. The elders never replied either in writing or verbally.

December 17, 1999

Dear Brothers,

I realize how difficult all of this is for you in dealing with me, what I said in my recent letter and where all of this is likely going. My purpose in writing that letter was not to cause any of you any trouble, but just to let my old friends know what was happening with me. In that letter, I was able to address you and the others I wrote to as friends, some of whom I have known for more than twenty five years. I know that you are doing what you think is right, but please realize that I am doing the same. None of what follows in this letter is meant to cause any of you any personal grief. Despite all this I love you brothers very much.

In my recent phone conversation with Paul W___ and Paul D______, I was not surprised at all at the way our conversation went. Having dealt with many judicial situations while I was an elder, I know that friendship ends up taking second place to organizational concerns in situations such as this. Since you are dealing with me, not as friends, but as elders appointed by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Incorporated, and since I think there is good reason to believe that you will be consulting and/or reporting to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Incorporated, I feel I must respond to you as agents of that corporation rather than as I would like to – as friends.

I have decided that I will not formally disassociate myself from the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses or from Jehovah’s Witnesses in general. I came to this decision for several reasons. First, there is nothing I see in the Bible that calls for a formal letter of disassociation in my situation, or any other. It seems to me that the provision of formal disassociation is a matter of convenience for the legal department of the Watchtower Society rather than serving any real religious purpose. It allows people to be pigeon-holed into nice neat little categories rather than dealing with the real issues involved. Also, I have no problem with the Portsmouth Congregation or its members. My disagreement is with certain actions, policies, teachings and writings contained in publications that are produced and in oral teachings promulgated either individually or collectively by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and its legal corporations, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc. and the International Bible Students Association.

The purpose of this letter is to clarify certain matters and to secure and protect what I consider basic human rights in dealing with agents of the multinational, multi-billion dollar Watchtower corporations.

Since you have asked me to appear before a judicial committee to face charges of apostacy, there are a few things that I must ask for and which I feel must be clarified before I will even consider meeting with a judicial committee.

1. I shall be notified in writing of the time, place and purpose of any meetings with a judicial committee.

2. I shall be notified in writing of the exact purpose of the meetings.

3. I shall be notified in writing exactly on whose behalf the judicial committee was convened and is acting: the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its legal corporation the Portsmouth Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its legal corporations, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc., the International Bible Students Association or any other agency not here named.

4. If any other agency other than the one for whom the judicial committee has informed me they are acting for is consulted, reported to, or allowed to have any bearing on the outcome of the judicial process, I will consider the judicial committee as acting in the their behalf.

5. I shall be notified in writing as to my status as a member of any and all of the organizations for which the committee is acting or to which the committee will report.

6. I insist that the judicial committee immediately cease, and in the future desist from any actions toward or against me in behalf of any corporation or organization of which I am not a member.

7. I shall be notified in writing of any accusations against me, the names of persons making such accusations and the substance of any evidence against me.

8. I shall be notified in writing of any and all of my rights and responsibilities involved in the judicial process.

9. I shall be given sufficient time between notification of any meetings with a judicial committee and the time of the actual meeting to prepare a response to any accusations.

10. I shall be allowed to have one person of my choice present during all meetings between me and the judicial committee as an observer. Since I think there is good reason to believe that the judicial committee may consult with one or more lawyers, specifically those employed by the Legal Department of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Incorporated, the person of my choice may also be a lawyer.

11. During the meetings with the judicial committee I and/or my observer will be allowed to take whatever notes we feel are necessary.

Additionally, if the judicial committee takes any judicial action against me :

12. I will not recognize any action taken by the judicial committee as valid unless it is communicated to me in writing, stating the exact nature and reason for the action.

13. In this written communication the judicial committee must state exactly on whose behalf they have taken the action, specifically the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its legal corporation the Portsmouth Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its legal corporations, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc., the International Bible Students Association or any other agency not here named.

14. If the judicial committee has stated that it is acting only for the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is enjoined from notifying any agency outside the congregation of their action. If the judicial committee or anyone acting in their behalf notifies of reports to anyone outside the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I may take any appropriate legal action.

15. I may appeal any action taken by the judicial committee.

16. Before I will meet with an appeal committee, that committee must notify me in writing of the names of all of the members of the appeal committee and who each one represents: the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its legal corporation the Portsmouth Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its legal corporations, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc., the International Bible Students Association or any other agency not here named

17. There shall be no contact between the judicial committee and the appeal committee other than to inform them of the time and place of my meetings with them. If I determine that there is any contact, communication or attempt on the part of any of the members of the original judicial committee or anyone acting on their behalf to, in any way prejudice or sway the appeal committee, I will insist that a new appeal committee be formed.

18. I shall be notified in writing of any and all of my rights and responsibilities involved in the appeal process.

19. I shall be allowed to have one person of my choice present during the all meetings between me and the appeal committee. Since I think there is good reason to believe that the appeal committee may consult with one or more lawyers, specifically those employed by the Legal Department of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Incorporated, the person of my choice may also be a lawyer.

20. During the meetings with the appeal committee I and/or my observer will take whatever notes we feel are necessary.

21. I will not recognize any action taken by the appeal committee as valid unless it is communicated to me in writing, stating the exact nature and reason for the action.

22. In this written communication the appeal committee must state exactly on whose behalf they are taking the action, specifically the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its legal corporation the Portsmouth Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its legal corporations, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc., the International Bible Students Association or any other agency not here named.

23. If the appeal committee has stated that it is acting only for the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is enjoined from notifying any agency outside the congregation of their action. If the appeal committee or anyone acting in their behalf notifies or reports to anyone outside the Portsmouth Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I may take any appropriate legal action.

24. I understand that if I am disfellowshipped by the judicial committee and the disfellowshipping is upheld by the appeal committee that I am, at that point, no longer considered to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I also understand that it is necessary to make a brief announcement that I have been disfellowshipped. From then on, I will consider any attempt to convince by speeches, talks or teaching; to coerce by implied or actual threat of similar judicial action; or to encourage by private counsel or suggestion any of Jehovah’s Witnesses to treat me differently from any other person that is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be a serious violation of my civil rights and I may initiate any legal action, civil or criminal that I deem appropriate. This includes any attempt to convince by speeches, talks or teaching; to coerce by implied or actual threat of similar judicial action; or to encourage by private counsel or suggestion any present Jehovah’s Witnesses to shun or avoid me, cease or otherwise modify their doing business with me, or terminate or otherwise abrogate any lease, rental, mortgage, or any other legal agreement that I may presently have with them. I may consider such to be an infringement of free trade and may initiate appropriate legal action.

25. I consider any communication between the members of the judicial committee and myself and the appeal committee and myself to be ecclesiastically privileged. Any attempt to reveal the substance or tone of those communications to any other person or group will be considered by me to be a breach of that privilege and may result in legal action. This includes any announcements beyond the fact of my disfellowshipping, speeches, talks, or any other communication, written or oral, public or private.

I fully realize that you may be unwilling or that the Watchtower corporations will not allow you to comply with the preceding.

I respectfully await your written response