Should we judge
for ourselves what is right?
question to be addressed here is as follows: Is a person
supposed to use personal judgment when it comes to examining
the revelations of God, or should he be told what to believe
by a human source that claims divine favor?
Human beings have faculties that the animals do not have.
Humans are not governed by blind instinct. A human can think
and reason, is capable of forming conceptions of sublime
truths, and things that the senses cannot make out. A human
can reflect on himself and his actions, deliberate over
matters, and choose or refuse to act in a certain way. A human
has a consciousness of moral obligations, a spiritual need,
put there by God. A human has the ability to distinguish
between true and false, right and wrong, to make plans for the
future, to foresee the consequences of his actions, and
can’t free himself from a sense of propriety or impropriety,
of praise or blame for his conduct, which is entirely
independent of the opinion of fellow humans.
An examination of our own design suggests that our minds were
not meant to be governed by other humans. Otherwise God would
have made some humans with faculties that others did not have.
To some he would have given greater ability to discern right
from wrong than to others. This would have been an indication
that the ones with the superior faculties should govern those
with inferior faculties. Yet this is not the case.
All humans have these abilities. It is illogical to
assume that our Creator formed us with faculties and powers
that were not supposed to be used, or not to be used fully.
Surely we can’t accuse God of waste.
Would anyone argue that, although God created us with
eyes, he did not mean for us to see? Or that he created us
with ears, but that he did not mean for us to hear? Similarly,
he did not create us with the ability to reason, to weigh
arguments, and to exercise free will, if he did not mean for
us to use those abilities. Moreover, he would not have made
those abilities so expansive if he did not wish us to use them
to their full potential.
what more important use is there for these faculties than
trying to understand God's revelations? Surely it can’t be thought that our
reasoning powers were to be employed merely in secular affairs
of this life. Their highest end must be in reference to
God and the chief interests of humanity. Religion and reason
are the two things that separate us from animal creation.
Certainly there must be some connection between the two. Can
it be supposed that humans were entitled to act with
understanding only in the most ordinary and lowest concerns,
but not in whatever has to do with their spiritual interests?
Considering that we are instructed to take care of our
spiritual needs, including reading God’s Word, are
we to believe that when we read something in the Bible, we are
not supposed to employ our reasoning ability upon it, but
instead should go to some religious authority, ask it to give
us the proper understanding, and then believe it implicitly,
using our reasoning ability only to understand the
authority’s point of view, rather than the Bible’s?
we examine some of those persons in the Bible whom we might
consider religious authorities, we find that they do not hold
such a view.
appealed to reason, rather than to his authority, whenever he
taught. He didn't say, "You have to believe what I say,
because I am the Son of God." In fact, for a time he
tried to keep it a secret. Now why did he not appeal to his
authority? Isn't it because he wanted people to use their
power of reason? He even condemned the Pharisees for not
using their thinking ability: "Why do you not judge also for
yourselves what is righteous?" (Luke 12:57).
apostles made it their practice to encourage freedom of
thought, never intimating that this is hazardous to our
When Paul writes to the
Christians in Thessalonica, he says to them: “Make
sure of all things” (1 Thess. 5:21).
Paul could have said, “Whatever I or your leaders pronounce
true, this is what you are to accept as truth.” But nowhere
in his letters does he do so. Instead he says, “Make sure of
all things,” implying that even the things he himself was
telling them should be tested. This advice was good
for Christians, particularly for those who were neglectful
of examination and easy to persuade, because there was always
a danger of being misled.
The Jews at Beroea are commended (Acts 17:10-11) for
not believing the apostles themselves without critically
examining their teaching and comparing it with the writings of
Moses and the prophets. The passage thus emphasizes the right, the duty, and the
necessity of private judgment in spiritual matters.
When we say the right of private judgment, we mean
that every individual Christian has a right to judge for
himself whether a teaching that is put before him is the truth
or not, whether it is in keeping with the word of God, or
whether it is a human teaching.
When we say the duty of private judgment, we mean that
God requires every Christian to compare human words
with God's revelation, and to make sure not to be deluded and
taken in by a false teaching.
And when we say the necessity of private judgment, we
mean that it is absolutely necessary for every Christian to
exercise his reasoning in these matters in order to prevent
being misled into error and to prevent the Christian
congregation from being misled into error.
We thus are not to believe things in religion merely because
they are said by popes or cardinals, by bishops or priests, by
councils or synods, by learned and wise persons, or by a
“faithful and discreet slave.” We are not to think:
"Such things must be true, because these men say
so." We are to prove all things with the Word of God, the
power of reason, the moral sense of conscience, and the help
of God’s spirit.
leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that one may use his or
her reasoning ability to determine a trustworthy source of
spiritual information, but that the use of one’s reasoning
ability should be limited after the source has been chosen.
we have once established what instrument God is using as his
“slave” to dispense spiritual food to his people, surely
Jehovah is not pleased if we receive that food as though it
might contain something harmful. We should have confidence in
the channel God is using.” w81 2/15 p. 19.
this same article, the Watchtower argues that the Beroeans
were not yet Christians when Paul spoke to them, and so they
examined the scriptures to make sure that what Paul told them
was true. If they had already been Christians, they would have
accepted what Paul said without any skepticism. Is this a
their letters, the apostles do not say that one should only
use his thinking ability until he finds God's chosen
institution and then let the institution do the thinking for
him after that. The biblical counsel applies all the time,
not just at the beginning of a Christian's learning process.
We know this because Paul gives the counsel, not to newly
interested people, but to congregation members.
I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present
your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a
sacred service with your power of reason" (Rom.
this is what I continue praying, that your love may abound yet
more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment;
that you may make sure of the more important things, so
that you may be flawless and not be stumbling others up to the
day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10).
“Everyone that partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of
righteousness, for he is a babe. But
solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use
have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both
right and wrong” (Heb. 5:13-14).
“Look out: perhaps there may be someone who
will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and
empty deception according to the tradition of men, according
to the elementary things of the world and not according to
Christ” (Col. 2:8).
ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test
the inspired expressions to see whether they originate
with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the
world” (1 John 4:1).
verses emphasize the need for reason, full discernment, and
perceptive powers trained to distinguish right and wrong. That
these faculties are not to be employed only in the process of
finding a trustworthy spiritual authority is seen by the reference to mature
Christians using their perceptive powers to ascertain the
truth, and by the comment that these abilities should be used all
the way up to the day of Christ.
might argue that the warnings in Colossians and 1 John are in
reference to deceivers outside of the congregation or to
apostates within the congregation who are operating outside of
the constituted authority. But is this likely? If Christians
already knew that it was only those in authority that they
should listen to, why not simply give the warning not to
listen to anybody except their religious leaders? The fact
that they could be fooled, and had to “look out,” meant
that someone in whom they might have previously placed their
trust might in the future lead them astray. The argument that
these scriptures refer to those who are not in authority would suppose that Christians
could know a trustworthy source from an untrustworthy one
without even having to ‘test an inspired expression’ at
all. But the testing is necessary. And it is a test, not based
on who is saying it, but on what is being said.
We're not supposed to accept, or not accept, what someone says
simply because of who they are. We're supposed to accept it
because the reasoning is sound, --or, more accurately, because
it passes the tests of truth based on God’s word that we
have personally conducted.
these exhortations given to Christians demonstrate that they
are to examine and judge for themselves, and not to submit
automatically to the dictates of any other humans, even though
they claim some commission from God.
We may dislike this point of view,
but there is no doubt that it is continually taught in the
writings of the apostles.
might argue that the search for truth is an endeavor that the
Christian congregation needs to undertake as a whole,
that the scriptures applying to the use of reason and sound
judgment apply not to individuals, but to the body, and that
the interests of the whole outweigh the interests of the one.
The BODY needs to decide doctrine. The BODY needs to stand for
certain principles. Therefore someone needs to make decisions
for the whole group so that unity can be maintained.
Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian
congregation as an organization, not to individuals,
regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can
interpret the Bible" (Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1967. p.
is first of all to be noted that the scriptures cited above,
although possibly applicable to the body as a whole, surely
refer primarily to individuals. The Watchtower on many
occasions in the past has applied these scriptures on an
while it is to be acknowledged that the congregation can
maintain a certain amount of unity by having a set of
agreed-upon beliefs, there is a difference between having a
set of teachings that identify a body of Christians, and
enforcing all of those beliefs on the individual members of
Religion is the personal business and interest of every
person, and every individual must be responsible for his own
actions. Each must therefore have the freedom to think and act
according to his own best judgment and convictions. Religion
primarily and chiefly has to do with the individual. Hence the
proverb: “If you have become
wise, you have become wise in your own behalf; and if you have
ridiculed, you will bear it, just you alone” (Prov. 9:12).
To be sure, Christianity is also a social concern and
requires a public institution. It is also true that the
opinions people may hold, and the practices that they may
follow, may consequentially and secondarily affect others. But
since the concern that others have in the faith and actions of
a person is not equal to that which the person himself has in
them, and since the guilt of his errors or misconduct cannot
be transferred from himself to others, he must still preserve
the right of pronouncing sentence on his own acts and on his
own beliefs. If any human could actually secure a person from
error, or answer for his faults, and take all the dangerous
consequences that may result from them upon themselves, then
they might have a better pretext for assuming a right to
dictate absolutely to him what he should believe, and to deny
him the right of examining and regulating his own conduct. But
Paul says, “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” (Gal. 6:4-5). “Welcome
the man having weaknesses in his faith, but not to make
decisions on inward questionings…. Who
are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own
master he stands or falls…. Why do you judge your brother?
Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we shall all
stand before the judgment seat of God…. So,
then, each of us will render an account for himself to God.”
(Rom. 14:1-4, 10, 12).
Strangely enough, the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses
recognize that a person must stand on his own before Jehovah,
and even acknowledge the role of reason and conscience when it
comes to matters of morality and ethics. They allow for a
certain amount of freedom and private judgment in such areas.
“Unity without uniformity” is the motto. Yet, in matters
of doctrine and biblical understanding, no such latitude is
allowed. The reason for this double standard is unclear. The
Bible makes no distinction between unity in morality and
ethics, on the one hand, and unity in doctrine and biblical
understanding on the other.
In contrast to the Watchtower leadership, the apostles
believed in “unity without uniformity” even when it came
to theology. Difference of opinion was not a sin.
a controversy between the Jewish and Gentile converts at Rome,
Paul gave his own sense concerning the subject of debate, and
then, like a reasonable man, he concludes: “Let each man be
fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).
argues his positions frequently, but he never gets
authoritarian. He doesn't say, "I am God's
representative, so listen to me." He says: “I speak as
to men with discernment; judge for yourselves what I
say” (1 Cor. 10:15).
There is no evidence that people who were not ‘fully
convinced in their own minds’ were held to be sinners, or
that those who used their discernment and judged for
themselves, but who disagreed with Paul, were behaving in an
In the nature of things, there can be no religion without
faith. No person can come to God unless he or she actually believes
that God exists. No doctrine can be received as from God
unless the testimony that establishes it is believed.
No teacher can be followed, no life can be changed, except
through faith. Our whole religious life has to be a pure
process of faith. Christianity, rightly, reasonably, and necessarily founds
itself on faith. It requires faith of those who wish to
practice the religion. It insists that, without faith, all is
in vain. It would be preposterous to suppose that one may
worship an invisible God, may receive the advantages of
Christ's teaching and mediation, may have the influences,
consolations, and hopes of a spiritual and everlasting life,
without believing in it all.
“Without faith it is impossible to
please him well, for he that approaches God must believe that
he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly
seeking him” (Heb. 11:6).
The exercise of faith is not limited to faith in God. It is
not limited to faith in our spiritual guides on earth. We
exercise faith in all of our beliefs.
The foundation of faith is the rational assent to evidence
(Heb. 11:1). The understanding listens to testimony, weighs
probabilities, compares arguments, and decides to believe or
disbelieve according to the result. And it cannot, strictly
speaking, decide contrary to the strength of evidence, or,
should we say, to its own understanding of the strength of
evidence. A person cannot refuse to believe what seems proved
to be true, nor can a person hold as true what seems proved to
be false. In this respect, there is no moral quality involved.
It is neither blamable nor praiseworthy to be convinced by
evidence, and it is neither blamable nor praiseworthy to be
unconvinced. There is thus no reason to punish someone for not
believing a doctrine that appears to him unconvincing.
This is why, in the Bible, a mere acknowledgment that the
Gospel history is true and that Jesus is the Savior of the
world is nowhere spoken of as having any value. It isn’t
what the Scriptures applaud. Jesus reproved those who
‘honored God with their lips, but whose hearts were far
removed from him’ (Matt. 15:8). So a public acknowledgment
of the trueness of a doctrine is simply not enough. Belief is
And yet, our religious leaders, though admitting to this
principle when it suits them, deny it when it does not.
we fail to understand fully certain Bible texts or
explanations provided in Watch Tower publications, do we have
reason to become impatient? Awaiting Jehovah’s appointed
time to clarify matters is the course of wisdom. ‘For the
Sovereign Lord Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has
revealed his confidential matter to his servants the
prophets.’ (Amos 3:7) What a marvelous promise! But we must
realize that Jehovah reveals his confidential matters at the
time he deems advisable. For that purpose God has
authorized a ‘faithful and discreet slave’ to provide his
people with ‘their [spiritual] food at the proper
time.’ (Matthew 24:45) There is, therefore, no reason
for us to become overly concerned, or even agitated, that
certain matters are not fully explained. Rather, we can be
confident that if we patiently wait on Jehovah, he will
provide, through the faithful slave, what is needed ‘at the
proper time.’” W99 10/1, p. 5.
if we individually have difficulty understanding or accepting
a certain point? We should pray for wisdom and undertake
research in the Scriptures and Christian publications.
(Proverbs 2:4, 5; James 1:5-8) Discussion with an elder may
help. If the point still cannot be understood, it may be best
to let the matter rest. Perhaps more information on the
subject will be published, and then our understanding will be
broadened. It would be wrong, however, to try to convince
others in the congregation to accept our own divergent
opinion." w96 7/15, p. 17.
times, some bring to the attention of the ‘slave’ class
various doctrinal or organizational matters that they feel
ought to be revised. Certainly, suggestions for improvement
are proper, as are inquiries for clarification…. The proper
spirit after offering suggestions is to be content to leave
the matter to the prayerful consideration of the mature
brothers directing the work in Jehovah’s organization. But
if those making the suggestions are not content with that and
continue to dispute the subject in the congregations with a
view to getting others to support them, what then? That would
create divisions, and could subvert the faith of some. So Paul
counsels: ‘Keep your eye on those who cause divisions and
occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have
learned, and avoid them.’ Paul also counseled Titus to
‘reprove those who contradict,’ adding: ‘It is necessary
to shut the mouths of these, as these very men keep on
subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not
. . . For this very cause keep on reproving them with
severity.’—Romans 16:17, 18; Titus 1:9-13.” W82 6/1, p.
Note that when a Christian finds that he cannot believe
something the Watchtower teaches (the leaders refer to this as
‘failing to understand’), then they are told to suspend
their judgment until such time arrives when they can
believe what the Watchtower teaches. They are to do research
in "Christian publications," which on the surface
sounds like an openness to free examination, but the
"Christian publications" are Watchtower publications
(not publications presenting the various sides of an issue).
In other words, the Christian is to read the Watchtower
publications over and over and over again until the teaching
becomes palatable. If that time never comes, then so be it.
They are not to form an opinion contrary to what the
Watchtower has taught. If they express those opinions, they
are “teaching things they ought not.” By requiring this,
the leadership is not only asking its members to suspend
judgment, but to suspend their faith as well, because
no faith can be built upon a teaching that is not believed or
This is contrary to what the Bible teaches. It is, in fact, a
Christian’s obligation to reject whatever teaching he
believes to be founded
on the doctrines and commandments of humans, in imitation of
Jesus (Matt. 15:9).
Whatever is not done in faith, with personal persuasion of
the truth of a matter, is a sin. It is not respect or
conformity to an external law or the injunctions of a human
authority that will make anything an act of true religion.
When even the best system of faith and the purest form of
religion are professed and adhered to in contradiction to what
we actually believe, they lose their value, and to ask someone
to do this is to damage that person’s faith and injure their
someone might say that the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses
allow us to use our reasoning ability. They might point out
that the Watchtower articles often reason on various points
and would not do so unless they expected their readers to use
their reasoning faculties.
is the reasoning they encourage the same sort of reasoning the
Bible calls for? Reasoning involves free examination, weighing
arguments for and against with impartiality, as the way to
find the truth. A reasoning person honestly accepts as truth
whatever there appears evidence for, without trying to evade
it, to shift it off, or stifle the conviction of his own mind.
To look into the evidence serves no purpose unless we follow
it wherever it leads and gladly receive the truth wherever it
is to be found, whatever notions it may contradict, whatever
condemnations it may expose us to. It would be a waste to
examine something if we are determined beforehand to keep our
opinions as they are, or to come to the same conclusion that
our religious leaders came to. A person is not really trying
to find the truth unless he determines right from the start to
have no superstitious veneration for a group of men, but to
openly accept the evidence that presents itself.
the question arises: Does the Watchtower encourage this sort
of unbiased examination? How far will they let you exercise
your faculties? Will they allow you freely to arrive at
different conclusions than they do? On the contrary, they have
made it very clear that they will only allow you to arrive at
the same conclusions that they do. If your reasoning leads you
to another conclusion, then your reasoning is considered
impaired. You're wrong, and if they find out that you disagree
with them, you will not be allowed to be an associate of
theirs. Now is that really allowing you to use your reasoning?
Is that allowing private judgment?
an illustration, let's say that you see something in the
distance, and your friend asks you to look and see and
ascertain what the object is. You swear you see an elephant.
And then your friend corrects you and says it is a giraffe.
"Well, it looks like an elephant to me," you say.
But no, he insists it is a giraffe, and makes you agree with
him. Then he says, "Let the matter lie. Don't think about
it. Just assume it's a giraffe so that we don't have to argue,
okay?" And so you agree.
we ask you, is he really letting you use your eyes?
might point out that Christ appointed men to instruct
people in what the Bible means. He would not have done this
had he not wanted them to teach us. So it is our duty to learn
from them and not to take on the right of judging for
ourselves, and to accept their instructions without disputing
the truth of what they say in the name of God.
is true that Jesus appointed instructors for the congregation.
But supposing we have found the ones whom Jesus appointed to
be his representatives, it does not mean that they are to be
implicitly believed in everything they say, or even in
anything. No human is to be believed implicitly. There is a
difference between having a divine commission to teach and
having no error. Someone who has a divine right to instruct
others in religion may possibly teach false things. God has
given them a right to teach, but it is only to teach truth.
They don't have the right to teach falsehood. So we don't have
to accept something we believe to be false. We have to examine
all that they say, and either accept or reject it as evidence
of its truth does or does not appear. Even the apostles
themselves, as shown above, never claimed such a right of
dictating to others what they should believe.
colleges, we have professors and teachers of many subjects,
who know many things. But what school insists that we have to
accept everything that these professors say without examining
the evidence and coming to a personal conclusion? None do. So
even an authorized instructor in religious matters should not
expect this. Sure, the instructor may be right and the student
wrong, and if the student rejects the truth when it is
sufficiently proved, he does it at his own peril. But still we
should have the freedom to examine and judge for ourselves,
just as the early Christians taught and believed.
As the Bible says, “Do not put your trust
in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to
whom no salvation belongs” (Ps. 146:3). Even instructors in
the Christian faith are ‘sons of earthling man,’ with all
the imperfections that we might expect from human beings.
have argued that, if people were allowed to think and judge
for themselves, then many would fall into erroneous and
harmful opinions. Heresy and apostasy would enter into the
congregation. It would lead us away from the truth, not
towards it. Moreover, it would make people begin to disrespect
the shepherds of the congregation.
what some may not realize is that we enter into false
teachings by suppressing thought and speech from
others. When we restrict what people can think or say, we are
creating a breeding ground for falsehood, because the fewer
minds that think about something, the less likely we are to
find the truth. Truth is obtained through the sharing of
ideas, from the research and investigation of many minds, not
the restriction of examination and the closing of mouths.
the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment” (Prov.
Think about it. When have the greatest advancements in
religious truth been made? It has been when people have exercised their duty of private judgment, often in defiance of
the constituted authorities. Jesus did not “humble”
himself before the religious leaders of his day when it came
to the interests of truth. He put the cause of truth ahead of
Jewish religious unity and encouraged his followers to do the
same. Many throughout the centuries stood up to the Catholic Church
when it came to interpretation of the Bible. They did what
they did, suffered what they suffered, proclaimed what they
proclaimed, simply because they exercised their private
judgment about what was the truth. Private judgment made the
Waldenses, the Albigenses, and the Lollards put their lives in
jeopardy rather than believe the doctrines of the Church of
Rome. Private judgment made Wycliffe search the Bible,
translate the Scriptures into the common language, and stand
up to the Catholic Church. Private judgment made Francis David
and Michael Servetus speak against the Trinity doctrine. It
made Luther examine the system of indulgences by the light of
the Bible. Private judgment made the Reformers examine for
themselves, and inquire for themselves, and circulate the
Bible among the “laity.” They dared to think for
themselves. At the sacrifice of unity, they refused to take
for granted Rome's pretensions and assertions. They examined
all teachings by the Bible for themselves. The Church would
not abide that examination, saying it was a threat to unity.
Did the Reformers do the right thing? Charles Russell and the
early Bible students advanced the right of private judgment in
the face of the established religions of his day and did not
think it a sin to speak up about it. Many of the truths that
are taught today among Jehovah’s Witnesses are able to be
taught only because right-hearted individuals in the past
exercised their own powers of reason upon the Scriptures and
stood up and spoke up about it. We are indebted to people who
dared to think for themselves. All that we are enjoying at
this very day, we owe to the right exercise of private
judgment. Surely if we do not honor private judgment, we are
thankless and ungrateful indeed!
Is it said that our leaders would be disrespected if they
allowed for individual judgment when it came to the
interpretation of God’s word? We think history shows that it
is just the opposite. Religious leaders are more disrespected
when they do not allow for private judgment.
To be sure, private judgment has been used poorly by some. It
has even been abused. But what good gift of God has not
been abused! What high principle can we name that has not been
employed for the very worst of purposes? Because something may
be used improperly, are we, therefore, to give it up
if we thought that the cause of truth might suffer in some way
by persons exercising their right of private judgment, this is
no just reason for denying them the right given them by God,
and no human has a right to deprive another of it, under a
notion that he will abuse it. We might as well pick our
neighbor's pocket, for fear he should spend his money poorly,
as take from him his right of judging for himself what the
biggest concern the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses has
had in the matter of private judgment is the cause of unity.
the Scriptural direction may seem to us to be open to
different opinions, we need to demonstrate the humble
responsiveness that was shown by the early Christians and
accept decisions and directions from God’s congregation....
Are you willing to manifest that spirit? If
so, you are showing a fine sense of balance, recognizing that
peace and unity are more precious than your own personal
opinion." w89 2/15, p. 20.
we are not careful, we could be tempted to weave personal
preferences or opinions in with our teaching. That would
especially be a risk for a person tending to be confident in
his own conclusions even when these contradict what Jehovah’s
organization is teaching. But Malachi chapter 2 [verse 7] shows that we
should expect congregation teachers to hold to knowledge from
God and not to personal ideas, which could stumble the
sheep." w02 5/1, p. 16
might point to history and argue that, when Christians are
left to interpret the Bible for themselves, all kinds of sects
spring up among us, which destroy the peace and unity of the
Church. Without some common rules of faith, worship and
discipline, even beyond what the early Christians did, there
can be no sufficient bond of union among Christians.
Catholic Church has argued the same thing. They point to all
the Protestant denominations and accuse them of dividing the
Church. The Protestant churches, in turn, point the finger at
all those who divide off from them. Jehovah’s Witnesses are
a group that divided themselves off from other churches. All
these viewed the
interests of truth as of greater importance than uniformity
with the nominal Church.
such division need not have happened. If the greater churches
allowed for private judgment, no one would have to go
Bible does not say that uniformity in doctrine is what gives
the congregation its unity. It says that LOVE is a perfect
bond of union (Col. 3:14). If that was good enough for the
apostles, it should be good enough for us. If even the
apostles say that we should be able to judge what certain
things mean for ourselves, then that is what their
congregations back then did, and if we think that uniformity
was necessary, then we must also think that the first century
congregation must not have had any peace or unity and was not
well governed. But it was fine. If it worked then, it can work
no human company has any apostolic authority to enforce the
belief of any articles of faith that are not expressly and
explicitly pointed out by the apostles, so neither will
enforcing those beliefs preserve the peace and harmony of the
church. Instead of spending their zeal upon trivial matters,
the instructors in the congregation should be teaching mutual
forbearance and expansive love. Jesus and his apostles left
matters so that there may be a considerable latitude and
difference in the sentiments of good Christians, and in the
manner of their worship. But his "ambassadors" have
found out that this is a great defect. So they undertake to
add to his words under the notion that it preserves the peace
of the congregation. And this is what has been, and will
continue to be, the cause of angry debates and endless
contentions, a means of dividing the congregation, instead of
uniting it, and of inspiring Christians with mutual distaste
for one another, instead of mutual love and brotherly
Another objection that might be raised is that if everyone
were permitted to judge what is right in their own eyes, it
would put all beliefs, true and false, on the same level. It
would give false teaching the same privilege and virtue as
true teaching. This can hardly be right!
To this we reply that, if private judgment is suitable in
certain matters governing behavior, as the Watchtower Society
has allowed for, then certainly it can be so in matters of
interpretation. If a Christian decided it were acceptable to
go and see a particular movie, listen to certain music, or
watch certain TV shows, and another did not, and we allowed
for that, would we be putting improper actions on the same
level as proper actions? Do we not need someone to tell us
which actions are acceptable and which are not, so that
improper actions would not get the same privilege as proper
actions? Of course not. And why is that? Because there are
certain matters that simply are not important enough for us to
take a stand on. It is the same when it comes to the
interpretation of God’s word. Some beliefs are important,
either because of the way they reflect on God or because they
affect our more important actions. But others are not as
crucial. There are many passages in the Bible that we still do
not know the truth about. Does this matter? Not really. We are
still serving God, and he accepts our worship, even though all
our beliefs are not 100% true. So if some biblical passages
are left up to personal judgment, what of it?
It is also important to remember that the truth of a matter is
not affected by someone’s belief in it. Our opinions do not
alter the nature of things. So just because someone believes a
false teaching does not make that teaching true. Therefore, it
will never be on the same level or enjoy the same privilege as
a true teaching. The Apostle Paul, in the very case in which
he allows every person to be fully convinced in his own mind,
and in which he supposes that Christians might differ (such as
the issue of eating meats and observing days), does not say
that both have equal right and reason on their side. He
believed that his own view was correct: "I know and am
persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is defiled in
itself" (Rom. 14:14). But, while all had not attained
that knowledge, their opinion was to be put up with, without
forcing those who were mistaken to act against their
someone may say, “but to decide in matters of religion is a task that most people
simply don’t have the ability and skill for. Everyday
people, if left to themselves, could never come to a
determination about them. The Bible is a difficult book. We
are told that it contains “some things hard to understand,
which the untaught and unsteady are twisting” (2 Pet 3:16);
so without the decisions of the “faithful and discreet
slave,” we would be lost. Don’t you recall the story of
the Ethiopian eunuch, who needed someone to explain to him
what he was reading (Acts 8:26-39)? Therefore it must be the
better way to trust entirely to the judgment of our
This indeed would be the easier way, if it were a wise or a
safe one. But a person who says this perhaps has forgotten
that the brothers who make up the “faithful and discreet
slave” are everyday people too. They are proud of this fact,
and have often emphasized that they do not need special wisdom
from the world to understand the Bible, but only the spirit of
God to help them. "Where
is the wise man? Where the scribe? Where the debater of this
system of things? Did not God make the wisdom of the world
foolish?" (1 Cor. 1:20). “Jesus said in response: ‘I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of
heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from
the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to
babes. Yes, O Father,
because to do thus came to be the way approved by you.’”
(Matt 11:25-26). “Jesus
said to them: ‘Yes. Did you never read this, “Out of the
mouth of babes and sucklings you have furnished
praise”?’” (Matt 21:16) Who are we, then, to say
that our fellow brothers and sisters, or that we ourselves,
are incapable of examining the Scriptures to see if they
things we are taught are really so?
“All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for
teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for
disciplining in righteousness, that the man [individual]
of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every
good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Notice how Timothy is told
that the Scriptures are not only beneficial to the individual
person, but also sufficient to make him completely
This is not to say that a person can simply approach the
Bible, having done no research or investigation, and be able
to interpret it well. It does not mean it is not necessary to
seek expert knowledge from others either. After all, this is
why we have teachers in the congregation. It simply means that
ultimately we have to make our own decision, based on what we
have heard, as to what is true or false. We have God’s
spirit to help us, just as the spirit helps all of our
brothers and sisters. It is promised to all believers (John
In the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, the example for
Christians is set, not by the eunuch, who was not yet a
Christian, but by Philip, who was. We, like him, are
encouraged to explain the Scriptures to others, to the best of
our ability. But the eunuch does not represent a member of the
congregation and should not be used as an example of such.
Finally, someone might argue that it is the course of proper
Christian humility not to question the teachings of our
Governing Body, that to wish the freedom of making our own
decisions in these matters is a form of sinful pride.
Such humility is not proper humility, but a false humility,
an extreme form of humility that the Bible never calls for. It
strips a person of responsibility and throws the whole burden
of his Christian belief into the hands of others. It gives a
person a mere vicarious religion, a religion by which he
places his conscience and all his spiritual concerns under the
care of others. One need not trouble oneself! One need not
think for oneself! Call it rather laziness. Call it idleness.
It is a neglect of our Christian obligation. It is a good
thing our forefathers did not act upon such principles! Had
they been “humble,” we might have been bowing down to the
image of the Virgin Mary at this moment, or praying to the
spirits of departed saints. This so-called humility is a
humility created by people who have no humility, because, in
asking this humility of others, they magnify themselves.
In the eyes of authoritarian religious leaders, restriction
of thought is a necessary evil. To them, strict unity is more
important than strict truth. To them, all reformation of
established corruptions are unwarranted and impracticable.
This is not surprising. A voluntary relinquishment of a
corrupt system by those who have been long active and
interested in its support has rarely been seen in history,
and, humanly speaking, can hardly be expected. But all the
evidence suggests that their position is an imposition.
who in any way discourage freedom of inquiry and judgment in
interpreting the Bible, all in general who set themselves up
to judge for their brothers, all who are for imposing their
own opinions upon others, all who in any way distress those
who differ from them in their interpretation of the Bible, all
who use any other weapons besides those of reason and argument
in order to expose error and show truth, are encroachers upon
the natural rights that God gave us and prevent us from doing
our Christian duty. They are inhibitors of truth because free
examination is the way to truth. If a person has a right to
judge for himself, certainly no one else has a right to judge
Think of the account you will have to make to God. We
won’t be judged by organizations. We won’t be judged by
congregations. We will be judged individually (Rev. 20:13).
So, on that day, are we going to say, "Lord, Lord, I
believed everything the faithful and discreet slave told me. I
received and believed everything the elders set before me. I
thought that whatever the Watchtower said must be right, and I
did whatever it said"? Will that work if we have believed
some deadly error? Surely, God would say, "You had the
Scriptures. You had your conscience. You had your thinking
ability. You had my holy spirit. Why didn’t you make sure of
all things and keep clear of error?" What would be your
Beware of the blindfold system. Have an opinion
of your own. Make sure of all things. Never be ashamed to
question what humans say in the light of the Bible, of reason,
of conscience, and the holy spirit you receive. Test every
inspired expression and every uninspired expression.
“When wisdom enters
into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your
very soul, thinking
ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself
will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way” (Prov. 2:10-12).