Nov 032009
 

In their sixth and final point, the writers of the Awake! article tell us:

6. When the laity are Biblically uniformed, they can be easily be misled by clerics. Indeed, history contains may examples of such abuses.

I have to agree with this point. I agree that Biblically uninformed and misinformed Jehovah’s Witness laity have been mislead by their clergy – both paid and unpaid. Now, having said that, I will say that this point is really moot. Whether we are Jehovah’s Witnesses or Congregationalists or Baptists or Methodist or are non-denominational, we need to take responsibility for our own Biblical literacy. If we abdicate that responsibility and leave it to others whether it be an organization or elders or pastors, we are just setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment.

The problem with the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they are taught that the way to be Biblically informed is to stick with the organization’s program of “Bible” study. The organization does not really foster spiritual growth, but keeps its adherents in a perpetual state of spiritual immaturity and spiritual dependence on the organization for their spiritual food. The same does happen within Christendom, but only within very unhealthy churches. There are a lot of very healthy churches out there and I have been blessed to have been able to fellowship with many of them. Those healthy churches foster spiritual growth in the individual Christian and within the church as a whole. While the scene in Christendom is not perfect, it is not nearly as bad as the writers of the Watchtower and Awake would like to paint it.

Oct 282009
 

In the third and fourth points that they present, the writers of the Awake! article bring up the subject of finances and the clergy. First, point number three:

3. A paid clergy class can impose a heavy financial burden on the laity, especially when the former have lavish lifestyles.

This is a sweeping generalization that was presented with neither evidence nor example. How many of the clergy really have lavish lifestyles? Yes there are a few. In 2007, accusations of financial improprieties spawned an investigation of TV preachers including Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer and Paula White by Senator Charles Grassley who is the ranking Republican on the Seanate Finance Committee. But are these really typical of the clergy? Clergy such as those being investigated by Senator Grassley are very rare. Most clergy are not on television and do not enjoy a lavish lifestyle.

Rather than relying on generalizations based on a small minority, I did some research on just how much pastors in mainline denominations are paid. The Massachusetts United Church of Christ’s “Clergy Compensation Booklet” for the year 2000 contains salary guidelines for 2001. The salary guidelines range from $24,000 – 36,000 per annum for a pastor with 0-3 years experience serving in a church with 0-150 members to $45,000 to $67,500 per annum for a pastor with over 10 years experience in a church with over 1000 members1. The Illinois UCC guidelines for 2009 call for a base salary for a newly graduated pastor serving a church of up to 75 attendance of $32,130 and up to $46,130 for a pastor of 15 years experience serving a church of 400+ average weekly attendance2. Salaries such as these will hardly support a lavish lifestyle.

In an ancillary point, the writers try to draw a distinction between Christian clergy and Jehovah’s Witness overseers.

Christian overseers, on the other hand, care for their financial needs by doing normal secular work, thus setting a good example for others.

It is true that elders in local congregations are not paid. But neither are the elders in most churches that I know of.

The “Christian overseers” that are mentioned here evidently do not include circuit and district overseers and members of the branch committees and the governing body. All these are compensated for their work as overseers and are not engaged in any sort of secular work.

The circuit overseer is the overseer that the rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses are most familiar with. He visits each congregation about twice a year, each visit lasting a week.  At the end of each visit, the circuit overseer submits his expenses for the week to the congregation he is visiting and they reimburse him for those. He is also provided with a monthly stipend, a leased car (a Buick, last I knew), health insurance, and housing. And, as I mentioned earlier, these are members of the Order of Special Full-Time Servants and as such have taken a Simple Vow of Poverty which allows them to receive their compensation and other contributions from congregations and their members tax-free.

Along with their monthly stipend, their leased car and their other benefits, circuit overseers are often greeted by some in the congregations with the “green handshake”.  I knew of a couple of families in my old congregation who would slip the C.O. a hundred at each visit – tax-free, of course.

Bivocational Pastors

A phenomenon among Christian denominations that goes almost without notice by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that of bivocational pastors. These are pastors that also have secular jobs. Now that I have looked into this, I’ve found there are more of them than I ever realized. There are enough among Southern Baptist churches that there is a Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association. In a 2002 press release “Bivocational Ministry Emerging As Option” that organizations says “In fact, only 60-65 percent of churches have what bivocational ministers prefer to call “fully funded” pastors.”

I work with two bivocational pastors. Both have challenging positions as engineers where we work along with their pastoral duties. I was recently chatting with one of them about his schedule. He works secularly from 9:00 to 5:00 (or later) then his pastoral appointments begin at 6:30 PM and his day doesn’t end until midnight or 1 AM. Then of course, Sunday is extremely busy.

Point number 4 that the writers of the Awake! article raised speaks to the motivation of the clergy.

4. Because a clergyman may depend on others for financial support, he might be tempted to dilute the Bible’s message in order to please the parishoners.

Yet another generalization that is presented without any evidence. This is an assertion that they have made before, but with no examples. While this may occur, is it really the norm? I would say that it is much more common that a Jehovah’s Witness elder would be careful to preach and teach what he was expected to knowing that to do otherwise could cost him his family and friends rather than a few bucks.

In summary, while the Jehovah’s Witness leadership and those who write for them attempt to call into question the motives and work of the clergy, from what I have seen, most of them are people who are answering a calling to their ministries and working hard to do with is right.

  1. Clergy Compensation Booklet, Third Edition, Commission for Leadership Development, Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, 2000 []
  2. 2009 Guidelines for the Call and Support of Ministry Leadership, The Ottawa Table of the Illinois Conference UCC []
Oct 102009
 

Now, let’s get back to the article in the August, 2009 issue of “Awake!”

The article raises 6 points where they say that the churches have deviated from the Bible and where harm has been the result. The first point reads:

1. The separation of a clergy class implies that one must have a special calling to be a minister of God. Yet, the bible says that all true Christians should serve God and praise his name. (Romans 10:9, 10) As for ministering within the congregation, Christian men in general are encouraged to reach out for the privilege, which is the custom among Jehovah’s Witnesses. – 1 Timothy 3:1

The clergy-laity distinction does not imply anything like that. It does imply that different people are called to different kinds of ministries, some of which involve leadership. This is what Ephesians 4:11 tells us. :

Eph 4:11 (NASB) – And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

And while we are on the subject of callings and ministries, let’s also include the fifth point that the writers of the Awake! article make. I think it is very closely related to the first:

5. The clergy-laity distinction tends to cause lay people to relegate religion to the clergy, while the laity just turn up for weekly services.

While this may be the case in some churches, it is very different from what I see in the churches where I am involved. The pastors are not the only ones involved in ministry. Lay people serve as Sunday school teachers, ushers and greeters.  Others are involved in music and technical ministries. At my church, we recently had several of  our youth travel to the mid-west to minister to the elderly in a nursing home, another group went on a short-term mission to Guatemala and last Sunday we heard from a woman in our church who had traveled  to Ethiopia to minister to orphans there.

Besides those ministries that are more or less tied to a church, there are many other opportunities for ministry within various communities. For several years I was involved in the Christian Motorcyclists Association. CMA is one of several  ministries that serves the motorcycle community. A few years ago, I came across 8 different ministries at Bike Week in Laconia NH. There are also aircraft, boating, hiking and various sports related ministries where Christians minister to others within the community of the sport or activity they enjoy.

Along with all that there are also ministries that reach out to people of various professions, ages and ethnicities.

From what I have seen, the churches that are thriving are the ones where the clergy actively encourage the laity to be involved in various ministries. Many churches will periodically have ministry fairs where each ministry has a table or a booth where members of the congregation can find out more about the ministry and how they can be involved.

But all of this ministry activity by lay people in churches receives scant attention from the writers of Watchtower publications.

In the next part we will cover what the Awake! article says about the clergy and finances.

Sep 012009
 

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Have Clergy?

As we examine what the Jehovah’s Witness’ leadership have to say about the clergy of the Christian churches, we need to look at whether or not they have their own clergy.

Part of their criticism of the clergy is that they constitute a class that is exalted above the laity. Watchtower publications will tell you that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a classless society and that all Jehovah’s Witnesses are ordained ministers, becoming such at their baptism as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Although all baptized Jehovah’s  Witnesses are ordained ministers, their leadership is very hierarchical. The Jehovah’s Witness organization is organized geographically into zones, branches, districts, circuits and congregations with zones covering the largest area and congregations the smallest. In each division there are those who hold positions of oversight. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses oversees the whole organization.

Having served as a congregation elder for 10 years and now having been involved in other churches, it seems to me that the congregation elders, circuit overseers, district overseers, branch overseers and the governing body constitute a clergy class. While congregation elders are unpaid, all the others are compensated monetarily and with other benefits such as health insurance, leased cars and living expenses.

Overseers other than congregation elders are also members of the Order of Special Full-Time Servants and as members of this religious order have taken a Simple Vow of Poverty which allows them to receive their compensation and other contributions from congregations and their members tax-free.

While congregation elders are not paid, I would say that they are, in effect, clergy. They are said to be appointed by holy spirit, they hold ecclesiastical tribunals to decide judicial matters, the rest of the congregation are bound to support the decisions of these tribunals while not being privy to the evidence, and they are provided material by headquarters  that is not provided to the rest of the congregation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Clergy Privilege

Despite their proclaiming that they have no clergy class, congregation elders have on several occasions invoked clergy privilege when called upon to testify against child molesters in their midst.  Such was the case near me in New Hampshire when congregation elders refused to testify in the cases of  Gregory Blackstock and Paul Berry.

So, they try to have it both ways. On the one hand they want to allow some of their leaders to enjoy the privileges that accrue to the clergy of other religious organizations, such as tax advantages and clergy privilege, while on they other hand they try to characterize their leaders as not being “clergy” in order to differentiate themselves from the churches of Christendom. As with so many other areas with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a distiction without a difference.

Aug 302009
 

The August 2009 edition of the “Awake!” magazine contains an article entitled “Should There Be a Clergy-Laity Distinction?” This article is rife with inaccuracies and generalizations. I will attempt to cover these in a series of posts.

Before considering the content of the Awake! article, it’s important to establish how Jehovah’s Witnesses view the Christian churches and their clergy. To say that the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses is critical of Christian churches and their clergy is a huge understatement. Consider this 1994 quote from a 1958 speech by the then-vice-president of the Watch Tower Society:

14 Exposure of the clergy by the Jeremiah class has been powerful. For example, at the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York City, the vice president of the Watch Tower Society presented a statement that said in part: “Without any double talk or hesitation we declare this root cause of all the crime, delinquency, hatred, strife, prejudice, . . . and mad confusion to be wrong religion, false religion; behind which is man’s unseen enemy, Satan the Devil. The men most responsible for the world condition are the religious instructors and leaders; and the most reprehensible of these are the religious clergy of Christendom. . . . After all these years since World War I, Christendom stands in a relationship toward God like that of Israel in Jeremiah’s day. Yes, Christendom faces a destruction more frightful and devastating than that which Jeremiah saw happen to Jerusalem.” – The Watchtower, March 1, 1994, p 11, “Jehovah’s Judgment Against False Teachers”

The writers of the Watchtower apply the term “reprehensible” to the clergy time and again. Here are a few examples. In the first two, the Watchtower called the clergy “the most reprehensible”,

20 As the most reprehensible ones among the people of Christendom, the clergy and religious leaders will drink the potion of death: “For from the prophets of Jerusalem [prefiguring Christendom] apostasy has gone forth to all the land.”—Jer. 23:15. – The Watchtower, Sept. 1, 1979, p. 28

and,

Today, the most reprehensible group is identified as “the man of lawlessness,” made up of the self-exalted clergy of Christendom, who have taken the lead in opposing and persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Matthew 9:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4. – The Watchtower, Jan. 15, 1988 p. 12

In 1990, the February 1 issue contained two articles devoted to the subjects of “God’s Judgement Against the ‘Man of Lawlessness'” and “Exposing the ‘Man of Lawlessness'”. In these, the Watchtower says that the clergy are more reprehensible because of their claiming to be Christian.

12 Christendom’s clergy are more reprehensible in shedding blood than other religious leaders. Why? Because in addition to taking God’s name upon themselves, they have taken Christ’s too. They thereby obligated themselves to follow the teachings of Jesus. (John 15:10-14) But they have not followed those teachings, thus bringing great reproach upon both God and Christ. The responsibility for bloodshed by the clergy has been both direct, in the Crusades, other religious wars, inquisitions, and persecutions, and indirect, in condoning wars in which members of the churches killed their fellowman in other lands. – The Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1990,  p. 17, “God’s Judgment Against ‘the Man of Lawlessness’”

and, the second article:

13 Jesus said that the “good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) As part of this worldwide witness, God’s servants are under obligation to make known his judgment against false religion, especially the clergy of Christendom. These are more reprehensible in God’s sight because they claim to be Christian. They must be exposed so that those who want to serve God can be freed from their influence and can take the proper steps for survival. As Jesus said: “The truth will set you free.”—John 8:32. – The Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1990, p. 23,  “Exposing ‘the Man of Lawlessness’”

So, putting this all together, the Watchtower tells us that the clergy are “self-exalted”, that they “have taken the lead in opposing and persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses”, that they bear responsibility for bloodshed directly for the “Crusades, other religious wars, inquisitions, and persecutions”, and indirectly  “in condoning wars in which members of the churches killed their fellowman in other lands.”, that they are “more reprehensible in God’s sight because they claim to be Christian.”

While some of the clergy of both the past and the present may be responsible for some of the things the Watchtower accuses them of, the Watchtower attaches blame to all of the clergy based on the principle they explain here:

38 However, it is not to be forgotten that the “man of lawlessness” is not a single individual religious leader like the pope of Rome or the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Athens, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) or other religious patriarch. The foretold “lawless” one is a composite “man,” the whole religious clergy of the professed “Christian” church. 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. It is what the clergy class as a whole does or joins in doing through the centuries of time that fulfills the prophecy concerning the “man of lawlessness.” – God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached!, pp. 380-381, par. 38, “Bringing the ‘Man of Lawlessness’ to Nothing”

So, according to the Watchtower, all the clergy share the responsibility for what any of the others did. Please take note of this principle of “community responsibility” that the Watchtower invokes against the clergy. It will come up again in a future post.

Jan 232005
 

The phrase “Avoid Independent Thinking” appears as a subheading in the 1/15/1983 issue of “The Watchtower.” For many years, the Watchtower has warned Jehovah’s Witnesses of the dangers of “independent thinking.” This article will explore the Watchtower’s present view of independent thinking and how that view has changed over the years.

The Watchtower has not always used the phrase “independent thinking” in such a negative context. In the 8/1/1957 Watchtower, they were promoting independent thinking and criticizing those who were afraid to be alone with their own thoughts.

7 Though not sought by crowds as Jesus was, his followers today are hard-pressed by modern living to find solitude for meditation. In many places in the world simplicity of living has been replaced by a life of complexity, with waking hours crammed with both important and trivial matters. Moreover, people today are developing an aversion to thinking. They fear being alone with their own thoughts. If other people are not around, they fill the void with television, movies, light reading matter, or if they go to the beach or park the portable radio goes too so they will not have to be with their own thoughts. Their thinking must be channeled for them, ready-made by propagandists. This suits Satan’s purpose. He deluges the mass mind with anything and everything but God’s truth. To keep minds from doing godly thinking Satan keeps them busy with thoughts that are either trivial or ungodly. It is tailor-made thinking, and the tailor of it is the Devil. Minds work, but in the way that a horse is led. Independent thinking is difficult, unpopular and even suspect. Thought conformity is the order of our day. To seek solitude for meditation is frowned upon as antisocial and neurotic.-Rev. 16:13, 14. – The Watchtower, 8/1/1957, page 469, para 7, “Will You Get to Live on Earth Forever?”

In the 1958 Watchtower, they talk about how the Irish do little independent thinking because of the influence of the Church.

Fear has a great hold on the people. People are afraid of what their neighbors, their friends, relatives and clergy might think if they were even so much as to read the Bible on their own. For centuries the clergy have dominated their lives, told them what they can read, what they should believe and do. To ask a sound religious question is a demonstration of lack of faith in God and the church, according to the clergy. As a result, the Irish people do very little independent thinking. They are victims of the clergy and fear; but freedom is in sight. – The Watchtower, 8/1/1958, page 460

While the 1957 Watchtower talked about how the world filled people’s minds with Satan’s tailor made thinking in order to keep them from independent thinking, just three years later the Watchtower says the following:

Today the trend of this world is to seek independent thinking as the ideal goal, but even as the unrealistic thinking of a scientist who tries to ignore the law of gravity is doomed to failure, so also is the unrealistic thinking of those who try to ignore the fact of man’s dependence on God. .“It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his steps.” (Jer 10:23; Prov. 16:1-3) When men try to think independently of God, they set aside the perfect standard of goodness, righteousness, virtue and faithfulness and become victims of their own selfish, sinful inclinations and degrade their own thinking ability.-Rom. 1:21-32; Eph. 4:17-19. – The Watchtower, 2/15/1960, page 106-7, para 5, “Safeguard Your Thinking Ability”

My, how the world changed in 3 short years.

Now in the context in which the WT uses the term more recently. It would be nice if the WT did use the term to describe thinking indepent of Jehovah, but that is not really the case.

It seems that some in association with the early Corinthian congregation were disregarding Paul’s authority, looking at him according to what he appeared to be in the flesh, and neglecting to take into account his special commission from Christ. Today, too, there are those who, by their independent thinking, question Christ’s ability to have and use on the earth a specially appointed governing body of imperfect humans, to whom he has entrusted all the Kingdom interests or “belongings” on earth. (Matt. 24:45-47) When such independent thinkers receive counsel and direction based on the Bible, they incline to the thought, ‘This is only from fleshly men, so it is up to me to decide whether to accept it or not.’ – The Watchtower, 6/1/1966, page 324, “Intellectual Freedom or Captivity to the Christ?”

So they are saying that independent thinkers question, not the organization itself, but “Christ’s ability to have and use on the earth a specially appointed governing body of imperfect humans,”. I certainly do not question Christ’s abilities in this area, only that the Watchtower Society is an expression of those abilities.

In the 1/15/1983 Watchtower, there were two articles that dealt with indepenent thinking. In the first, under the subheading “Avoid Independent Thinking”, the Watchtower said:

How is such independent thinking manifested? A common way is by questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible organization. For example, God’s organization has from time to time given warnings about listening to certain types of immoral and suggestive music, and about frequenting discos and other types of worldly dance halls where such music is played and people are known to engage in immoral conduct. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Yet certain ones have professed to know better. They have rebelled against such counsel and have done what is right in their own eyes. With what result? Very often they have become involved in sexual immorality and have suffered severe spiritual harm. But even if they have not been so affected, are they not reprehensible if others follow their example and suffer bad consequences?-Matthew 18:6. – The Watchtower, 1/15/1983, page 22, para 21, “Exposing the Devil’s Subtle Designs”

So rather than questioning God’s Word, the Watchtower says that independent thinkers question “the counsel that is provided by God’s visibile organization.”

19 As we study the Bible we learn that Jehovah has always guided his servants in an organized way. And just as in the first century there was only one true Christian organization, so today Jehovah is using only one organization. (Ephesians 4:4, 5; Matthew 24:45-47) Yet there are some who point out that the organization has had to make adjustments before, and so they argue: “This shows that we have to make up our own mind on what to believe.” This is independent thinking. Why is it so dangerous? 20 Such thinking is an evidence of pride. And the Bible says: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Proverbs 16:18) If we get to thinking that we know better than the organization, we should ask ourselves: “Where did we learn Bible truth in the first place? Would we know the way of the truth if it had not been for guidance from the organization? Really, can we get along without the direction of God’s organization?” No, we cannot! -Compare Acts 15:2, 28, 29; 16:4, 5. – The Watchtower, 1/15/1983, page 27, “Armed for the Fight Against Wicked Spirits”

Again, independent thinkers are cast, not as questioning God Himself, but thinking they know better than the organization.

In the world, there is a tendency to reject leadership. As one lecturer said: “The rising education level has improved the talent pool such that followers have become so critical that they are almost impossible to lead.” But a spirit of independent thinking does not prevail in God’s organization, and we have sound reasons for confidence in the men taking the lead among us. For instance, only those meeting Scriptural requirements are appointed as elders. (1 Timothy 3:1-7) They are trained to be kind, loving, and helpful, yet firm in upholding Jehovah’s righteous standards. The elders adhere to Scriptural truth, ‘holding firmly to the faithful word, that they may be able to exhort by healthful teaching.’ (Titus 1:5-9) Of course, we should not magnify their human imperfections, for all of us are imperfect. (1 Kings 8:46; Romans 5:12) Instead of feeling frustrated by their limitations and treating their counsel lightly, let us appreciate and accept the Bible-based direction of the elders as coming from God. – The Watchtower, 9/15/1989, Page 23, para 13, “Be Obedient to Those Taking the Lead”

So the WT characterization has changed drastically since 1957. And most recently, it has not been geared toward thinking independent of God, but independent of the WT organization.