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Repression of Thought

Is it right?

Jehovah's Witnesses are taught that one of the signs that Jehovah is behind the religion is the unity it has among all its members in what they believe. You can go to a Kingdom Hall anywhere in the world and the people there will believe exactly the same things that you do. It sounds quite amazing. What other religion could say this? It appears to be an indication that God is with this organization. But it’s all by design. It is impossible for it to be any other way. No one is allowed to think independently. Any Jehovah’s Witnesses who begin to formulate their own views and interpretations of doctrine and faith, even in small areas, are deemed apostates, not tolerated, and put out (disfellowshipped). This complete uniformity in thought, therefore, is not a spiritual "gift" from God. It is rather the result of artificial rules put in place by the organization, whereby any who hold different opinions are put out of the way. There have been tens of thousands of persons who have been expelled for this reason over the years. One thing that many Jehovah's Witnesses do not realize is that the administration of their religion does not restrict the label "apostate" to those who actively slander the organization or try to draw people off as their followers. It goes much further than that.   

"To be disfellowshipped, an apostate does not have to be a promoter of apostate views....If a baptized Christian abandons the teachings of Jehovah, as presented by the faithful and discreet slave, and persists in believing other doctrine despite Scriptural reproof, then he is apostasizing. Extended, kindly efforts should be put forth to readjust his thinking. However, if, after such extended efforts have been put forth to readjust his thinking, he continues to believe the apostate ideas and rejects what he has been provided through the 'slave class', then appropriate judicial action should be taken." (Letter to all Circuit and District Overseers, 9/1/80).

The reformation movement is against the current policy, because the Bible does not teach that people should be ousted from the congregation if they don’t conform to a delineated theology. To clarify, we are NOT talking about matters of behavior, attitude and conduct. We are talking about understanding of scripture in relation to prophecy, or teachings about God, Jesus, the angels and the Devil. On one hand, the writings of the representatives of the organization have condemned other religions for using fear tactics, inquisitions, and stifling free thought. On the other, they are guilty of doing the same thing to their own people:

“A basis for approved fellowship with Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot rest merely on a belief in God, in the Bible, in Jesus Christ, and so forth…. Simply professing to have such beliefs would not authorize one to be known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Approved association with Jehovah’s Witnesses requires accepting the entire range of the true teachings of the Bible, including those Scriptural beliefs that are unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Watchtower, April 1, 1986, p. 31).

“A mature Christian must be in unity and full harmony with fellow believers as far as faith and knowledge are concerned. He does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and ‘the faithful and discreet slave.’” (Watchtower, August 1, 2001, p. 14).  

Note that the first Watchtower quote makes it clear that a person can be one of Jehovah's Witnesses only with authorization. Such authorization comes from a centralized governing council, who grant approval based on a person's acceptance of Jehovah's Witness teachings ("the entire range"). Granted, people who harbor private opinions are not burnt at the stake, but keep in mind that disfellowshipping is the absolute worst punishment (or discipline) the organization can inflict upon someone. So if the organization is evicting God's sheep without biblical precedent, would this not be an injustice? Clearly, the attitude manifested by the Witness leadership is still very similar to the attitude manifested by the Catholic leadership in the Inquisition. Note this comment from a Watchtower article:

"We are not living today among theocratic nations where such members of our fleshly family relationship could be exterminated for apostasy from God and his theocratic organization, as was possible and was ordered in the nation of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai and in the land of Palestine. 'Thou shalt surely kill him; thy hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him to death with stones, because he hath sought to draw thee away from Jehovah thy God, . . . And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is in the midst of thee.'—Deut. 13:6-11, AS. Being limited by the laws of the worldly nation in which we live and also by the laws of God through Jesus Christ, we can take action against apostates only to a certain extent, that is, consistent with both sets of laws. The law of the land and God’s law through Christ forbid us to kill apostates, even though they be members of our own flesh-and-blood family relationship. However, God’s law requires us to recognize their being disfellowshiped from his congregation, and this despite the fact that the law of the land in which we live requires us under some natural obligation to live with and have dealings with such apostates under the same roof" (w52 11/15 pp. 703-704).

These words make it sound like the organization would desire to put apostates to death if it were only permitted to do so. It also makes it sound as if we are to live by the old Sinai law code as long as it doesn't contradict the Christian Scriptures. The scripture quoted from Deuteronomy refers to those who allure people to go "serve other gods," not to those who do not accept a group of doctrines, yet the governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses sees no difference. This is where the problem lies.

In the 2000 tract, What Do Jehovah's Witnesses Believe?, a seemingly comprehensive list of beliefs is provided to inform new and interested ones about the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. The following 32 beliefs are outlined:


Bible is God’s Word and is truth

Bible is more reliable than tradition

God’s name is Jehovah

Christ is God’s Son and is inferior to Him

Christ was first of God’s creations

Christ died on a stake, not a cross

Christ’s human life was paid as a ransom for obedient humans

Christ’s one sacrifice was sufficient

Christ was raised from the dead as an immortal spirit person

Christ’s presence is in spirit

We are now in the ‘time of the end’ 

Kingdom under Christ will rule earth in righteousness and peace

Kingdom will bring ideal living conditions to earth

Earth will never be destroyed or depopulated

God will eliminate present system of things in the battle at Har–Magedon

Wicked will be eternally destroyed

People God approves will receive everlasting life

There is only one road to life

Human death is due to Adam’s sin

The human soul ceases to exist at death

Hell is mankind’s common grave

Hope for dead is resurrection

Adamic death will cease 

Only a little flock of 144,000 go to heaven and rule with Christ

The 144,000 are born again as spiritual sons of God

New covenant is made with spiritual Israel

Christ’s congregation is built upon himself 

Prayers are to be directed only to Jehovah through Christ

Images should not be used in worship

Spiritism must be shunned 

Satan is invisible ruler of world

A Christian ought to have no part in interfaith movements 

A Christian should keep separate from world

Obey human laws that do not conflict with God’s laws

Taking blood into body through mouth or veins violates God’s laws

Bible’s laws on morals must be obeyed 

Sabbath observance was given only to Israel and ended with Mosaic Law

A clergy class and special titles are improper

Man did not evolve but was created

Christ set example that must be followed in serving God

Baptism by complete immersion symbolizes dedication

Christians gladly give public testimony to Scriptural truth

A student is expected to accept every doctrine on this list before receiving permission to become one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Although the presentation and wording of the list of teachings differs slightly from one piece of literature to the next, it is, in effect, a creed, because conformity to its tenets is required. And yet it does not end here. After persons becomes associated with Jehovah's Witnesses, they are exposed to other doctrines, which are not highlighted to the general public, and yet which are also required. 

In a "Questions from Readers" column in the 4/1/86 Watchtower, the organization provides a list of doctrines that a person must adhere to in order to remain in good standing among Jehovah's Witnesses. The list includes more controversial doctrines not found in the list above. Two significant ones are:

That there is a "faithful and discreet slave" upon earth today ‘entrusted with all of Jesus’ earthly interests,’ which slave is associated with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

That 1914 marked the end of the Gentile Times and the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the heavens, as well as the time for Christ’s foretold presence.

It is common for these particular teachings not to be advertised to newly-interested persons, because they are the most difficult to accept. Yet, as the article asserts, adherence to these doctrines is essential to remain in good standing. Let's say, for example, that you accepted the entire list of over 30 doctrines, but could not bring yourself to believe that 1914 marked the end of the Gentile Times. You could be disfellowshipped for apostasy. In fact, many have been put of the congregation for that very reason.

Think for a moment. Can you picture Jesus presenting such a long list of doctrines which every Christian must accept in order to be approved by God? Did he not, in fact, criticize the religious leaders of his day for doing something similar? 

And yet it does not stop even there. It is, in fact, expected that everything that is taught by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, not just the major teachings like the Kingdom, the identification of Jesus as God’s son, etc., but even the nitty gritty details, such as the timing of certain past or future events and those teachings in which one would expect some sort of flexibility and individuality of judgment, are not to be questioned, and acceptance of them are absolute requirements for approved association. Furthermore, the Watchtower interprets how each of the central tenets listed above comes into play in the various decisions we make on a personal level. It is expected that all Jehovah's Witnesses conform to these interpretations as well. Those who would harbor private views at odds with the Watchtower’s teachings, even if quiet about their beliefs, are viewed as apostates. The only reason they are not disfellowshipped is because the elders are not aware of their views. This policy differs from the position of the typical Christian church, which may not tolerate someone who actively and consciously objects to major doctrines, but would not have any problems with a person who disagreed on minor issues. Such things are usually considered by most religions to be secondary. Moreover, from everything one can see in the Bible, the early Christian church left room for flexibility of difference of opinion in minor areas of doctrine. But among Jehovah’s Witnesses all members are expected to conform to every doctrine and teaching be it major or minor, public or personal.

When it comes right down to it, although Jehovah’s Witnesses often pride themselves in being a group who look to the Bible as their authority, the truth of the matter is that it is not so much the Bible that acts as the sole authority, but rather the organization’s interpretation of what it thinks the Bible says. Look over the list again, and this will become apparent.

Let’s say, just for sake of argument, that in some point you see a discrepancy between what the Bible says and what the organization says. Which would you, as an individual, choose to uphold? The Bible or the organization’s teaching? Which comes first? Which has the higher authority? If you chose the Bible, then you would be in violation of the organization's rules.

It has not always been this way among Jehovah's Witnesses. In earlier days, this sort of authoritarianism was viewed as one of the vices of other Christian religions and looked down upon. Even as late as 1920, statements would appear in the Watchtower like this:

"We would not refuse to treat one as a brother because he did not believe the Society is the Lord's channel. If others see it in a different way, that is their privilege. There should be full liberty of conscience." (Watchtower April 1, 1920, pp.100-101)

Today, the leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses have taken the opposite view. The minds and consciences of the general membership are becoming more and more restricted.

If you take a look at the matters that bodies of elders, including the famous Jerusalem council, ruled on in the first century, you will find that they handled only matters of organization and of morality and behavior (Acts 15:28-29). They never issued rules on matters of theology. Why doesn’t the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses imitate this example?

One scripture used to justify disfellowshipping people for their belief in different doctrine is this one:

“For many deceivers have gone forth into the world, persons not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look out for yourselves, that you do not lose the things we have worked to produce, but that you may obtain a full reward. Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. He that does remain in this teaching is the one that has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works” (2 John 5-11).

Here counsel is given about the antichrist. This is said to be all persons not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. It is then said that everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. And these persons are not to be greeted by Christians or they will be a sharer in his or her wicked works. Brother Russell recognized the import of this passage:

"Examining the text we find that the Apostle is controverting an error prevalent in his day--a gross error which, in the name of the Truth, in the name of Christianity, in the name of discipleship to the Lord, was virtually making void the entire revelation. He declared this erroneous system to be no part of the true Church or its doctrines, but, on the contrary, antichrist, or opposed to Christ while claiming his name; thus sailing under false colors. He says of these that "they went out from us because they were not of us [either they never were true Christians or they had ceased to be such]; for if they had been of us they would have remained with us." He points out their error; namely that the prophecies of a Messiah were figurative, and never to be fulfilled through mankind, and declared this a complete denial of the Gospel statement that the Son of God became flesh, was anointed at his baptism by the holy Spirit as the Messiah and that he redeemed us. The Apostle's thought is, that any who have become Christians at all, any who have understood the divine plan to any extent, must first have before them the fact that they and all were sinners and in need of a Redeemer; and, secondly, the fact that Jesus, the Anointed One, had redeemed them by the sacrifice of his own life. The Apostle further declares that they have no need that any man teach them this basic truth. They could not be Christians at all and yet be in ignorance of this fundamental of the Christian religion-- that Christ died for their sins according to the Scriptures, and rose again for their justification--and that our justification and consequent sanctification and hope of glory are all dependent upon the fact and value of Christ's sacrifice on their behalf. He points out that although it might have been possible to trust in and believe on the Father without believing on the Son before the Son was manifested, yet now, whosoever denieth the Son of God denies thereby the Father; and no one can confess the Son of God without confessing at the same time the Father and the Father's plan, of which he is the center and executor. So, then, we today can see exactly what the Apostle meant; namely, that whoever had been begotten of the holy Spirit must first have been a believer in the Lord Jesus; that he was the Only Begotten of the Father; that he was manifested in the flesh; that he was holy, harmless and separate from sinners; that he gave himself as our ransom; and that the sacrifice was accepted of the Father and witnessed by his resurrection to be the glorious King and Deliverer. Without this faith no one could receive the holy Spirit, the anointing: consequently, whoever has the anointing needs not that any man shall waste time in discussing further the fundamental question as to whether Jesus was or was not the Son of God; whether or not he was the Redeemer; whether or not he was the anointed Messiah who shall fulfil in God's due time the precious promises of the Scriptures. The same anointing which we have received, if it abides in us, will assure us of the truth of these things"--The New Creation, pages 259-261.

It would be a serious misapplication of John's letter to label a person an “antichrist,” because of their disagreeing in areas of biblical interpretation where the Bible is open to interpretation. The teaching of “Jesus coming in the flesh” is, as Brother Russell says, a "basic truth," even THE fundamental teaching of Christianity. Someone who doesn’t acknowledge Jesus as coming in the flesh is not even a Christian. So John is clearly talking about people who were once Christian rejecting the Christian message altogether.  

How does the Bible say we should treat those who, while still confessing Jesus as coming in the flesh, hold to different doctrines? We should imitate Paul, who reasoned with others on matters of doctrine (1 Cor. 15:12-19). In several places in the Bible, Christians are encouraged to speak to any persons who have a difference of opinion. In James 5:19-20, Christians are told to “turn a sinner back” “who has been mislead from the truth.” In 2 Timothy 2:24-26, Christians are told to help ones to “come back to their proper senses out from the snare of the Devil.” The implication here is that these people once had their proper senses but have now left the right way. And in Titus 1:10-13, we are told to “keep on reproving” those who are “deceivers of the mind.” (Notice that the reproof is ongoing.) Indeed, Paul, throughout his letters does just that. Those who contradict are reproved, but not excommunicated. So it is very clear that Christians are instructed to reason with (i.e., speak to) all those who turn away from true teachings.

A good question to ask is: what would Jesus do? Well, Jesus was willing to have a conversation with the father of apostates, Satan the Devil (Matt. 4; Luke 4). He was willing to speak to him, refute him and prove him wrong. Jesus also exchanged greetings with and spoke to the apostate Jewish Pharisees, trying to bring them back to God. After Jesus’ death, he preached and communicated with the apostate demons (1 Pet 3:19). Jehovah also had spoken over and over again with the apostate nation of Israel, repeatedly sending forth prophets to talk to them. He was willing to “set matters straight” (Isaiah 1:18). In the book of Job, when Satan himself, the ultimate apostate, appeared before Jehovah in heaven and challenged him, Jehovah did not shun Satan. He did not oust him from the heavens as soon as he spoke. He did not fear that the angels present would be swayed by Satan's words. He actually listened to Satan and gave him the opportunity to prove his claim in front of everyone.. He was willing to test the words of Satan against his own words, so that the truth would become apparent. The truth does not need to hide. If it is true, it will stand, no matter what.

In his letters to Timothy, Paul mentions an instance where persons were to be "handed over to Satan" (i.e., put out of the congregation) for acts he calls "blasphemy" (1 Tim. 1:20). Later Paul says that these ones "deviated from the truth, saying the resurrection has already occurred" (2 Tim. 2:18). Perhaps a case could be made that this set a precedent for disfellowshipping any persons who disagree with established doctrine. However, whose established doctrine are we talking about? Is Paul saying that anyone who contradicts what he says should be subject to judicial action? Would such discipline encompass ALL issues of doctrine--even the small matters? Even the interpretation of scripture? We should keep in mind that in other cases, disagreement did not result in disfellowshipping. Moreover, it is clear that Hymenaeus' and Philetus' actions involved far more than simple disagreement with a central authority.  

Another scripture used to justify the disfellowshipping of those with contrary views is Titus 3:10-11:

“As for a man that promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition; knowing that such a man has been turned out of the way and is sinning, he being self-condemned.”

Here, Titus is instructed to reject those in the congregation who are promoting a sect, but only after admonishing them two times. But what does it mean to “promote a sect”? The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses says it refers to all those who teach something at variance with what they say. In their opinion, this would promote a sect, because anyone who has a contrary opinion cannot be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they would be forced to break off from the group and thus form a sect. But they don’t seem to realize that if the Governing Body did not make contrary opinion a divisive issue, then it would not divide the congregation, and there would be no sects as a result of this. The vast majority of those who are disfellowshipped for apostasy have no intention or desire of promoting a sect. They want to stay in the religion. Paul’s counsel “not to make decisions on inward questionings” should be applied by the Witness leaders (Rom. 14:1). By making the rule that there can be no difference of opinion, the Governing Body creates the problem of division. Promoting a sect is putting theology and doctrinal interpretations above love, forgiveness and mercy. True Christian freedom contains the allowance of personal beliefs on all doctrinal interpretations that do not hurt someone else or cause a person to disobey God’s moral commandments. Enforcing the theology of a particular religious council would instead be promoting a sect and should be avoided at all costs.

This organization claims to stand for the truth. It encourages its members to call their religion "the truth." However, it seems to have the tendency only to stand for the truth and not to love it. Truth is not afraid of falsehood, because it can hold up against it. It is only falsehood that needs to fear the truth, because it melts away in its presence, and if the Governing Body really loved the truth, it would do anything it could to find it. It would welcome opposing viewpoints in order to see if its assertions could hold up, and if its claims didn't hold up to scrutiny, then it would be willing to change them, and it would do so gladly. To be sure, the Governing Body adjusts its understandings of the Bible from time to time, but this is done only when it is necessary or convenient for the betterment of the organization itself. In other words, the organization and its interests are of supreme importance. They are valued more than the truth, for the sake of which the organization was created. The establishment is much more concerned with conserving the "spiritual paradise" that they have made than with planting new seeds of understanding. If one is really interested in gaining a better understanding of truth, one must be welcoming of alternate ideas rather than dismissive of them. One will follow the proverb, which tells us to "pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment," "call out for understanding itself and give your voice for discernment itself," "keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it" (Proverbs 2:1-5). The Governing Body claims that there is no wisdom anywhere except where it sits. The world does not have wisdom, and the everyday publishers among Jehovah's Witnesses do not have it. Instead of paying attention to wisdom with its ears, the Governing Body stops up its ear when anyone outside of its inner circle speaks. Instead of calling out for understanding, our leaders call out for the silencing of all who disagree with them. Instead of seeking for truth as for hidden treasure, they seek for it only in front of their very faces. A condition of knowing the truth is the willingness to reach out for it, to make some sacrifice for it, to work for it, and to suffer for it. The willingness to listen to anyone who has something to offer, to set aside pride, to sacrifice the comfort of established opinions, and, yes, even to sacrifice the smooth running of the organization itself, is necessary if we really love the truth. He who loves the organization more than the truth will end up loving himself more than either.

For these reasons, the reformation movement calls upon the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses to change their policy on this matter and make it conform to the Bible's viewpoint. Needless lives have been ruined as a result of the current policy, and the present practice cannot continue. 

See further, "Is it Christian to Exclude and Denounce Those With Different Opinions?", "The Role of the Individual Christian in the Interpretation of God's Word" and "Are There Apostates in the Organization?" on the Beth Sarim website.

True Freedom of Thought
"The Bible encourages each Christian to set as a goal the bringing of "every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5) This is achieved, not through restrictions placed by religious leaders, but through an individual’s exercise of self-control and through his love for and understanding of Jehovah and His principles. With the achievement of this goal comes true freedom of thought, limited only by godly standards and enhanced by the joy of knowing that, even in our thoughts, we are pleasing to Jehovah." (Awake, June 8, 1994, p. 21; italics ours)
Does Christian Unity Allow for Variety?
"Respect for a person as an individual continues after one becomes part of the Christian congregation. God’s people do not drown in a sea of complete uniformity and absolute conformity to the preferences of those in authority. Rather, they enjoy a wide variety of personalities and have different abilities, habits, and opinions. The individuality of each one is not viewed as a bother or a nuisance. It is part of God’s original design." (Awake, February 8, 1998, p. 14)
Discussion Forum
Beth Sarim's Reform Forum
Sites of Interest
Note: The following sites are supportive of the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. At the same time, they promote, in one way or another, freeness of speech about the workings and teachings of the JW organization and show where improvement is needed..

Beth Sarim

Our partner site, dedicated to providing a place of shelter from storms both within and without the Witness community.

Make Sure of All Things
New Light on Blood
Silent Lambs
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