One Thing We Know About Jesus: He Does Not Go Through Channels

 

It took the religious leaders of Jesus' day no time at all to hate his guts and to put out schemes to kill him. John chapter 11 is very frank as to why. Starting with vs 47:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together and said: “What are we to do, for this man performs many signs? If we let him go on this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” [Protecting their turf is what is was all about with these guys.]

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them: “You do not know anything at all, and you have not reasoned that it is to your benefit for one man to let one man die in behalf of the people rather than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” [He's a contemptuous character, isn't he?] 

He did not say this, however, of his own originality, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only for the nation but also to gather together into one the children of God who were scattered about. [And he's a schemer.]

So from that day on they conspired to kill him.

Imagine! Issuing his own prophesy that Jesus will "die for the nation and gather the children of God, yada yada yada," so that when he killed him, he could put a happy face on it.

During that time, the high priest was not installed in the usual way that the Torah says it should be done. It was a political appointment from the governing authorities. He was serving as high priest "that year." You are not supposed to do it that way because you forget all about God and instead focus on covering your rear end. That is why you don't want a 'house church,' under government control.

For (prime) example, there is the house church in Russia, the Orthodox Church, snuggling up to national leadership and that leadership in return granting it exclusive status. And isn't the result more or less the same as it was back then: the ones closely reading, studying, and applying God's word of instruction and counsel, find themselves, from an organizational point of view, killed?

I like how one of those leaders broke ranks, having come to Jesus previously by night, as covered in John chapter 3:

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This one came to him in the night and said to him: “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him.”

He's not exactly of the same heart with his buddies, is he, and he sticks up for Jesus later on (to no avail).

In response Jesus said to him: “Most truly I say to you, unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter into the womb of his mother a second time and be born, can he?” Jesus answered: “Most truly I say to you, unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. What has been born from the flesh is flesh, and what has been born from the spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed because I told you: You people must be born again. The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who has been born from the spirit.”

Now you know, you just know, that Caiaphas and the boys would have snapped: "What is it with these riddles? I don't have time for this nonsense!" But Nicodemus said: “How can these things be?” and he even suffers through a little reproof from Jesus as the latter replies:

“Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not know these things? Most truly I say to you, what we know we speak, and what we have seen we bear witness to, but you do not receive the witness we give. If I have told you earthly things and you still do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Moreover, no man has ascended into heaven but the one who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.

He is speaking awfully plain now (for him) and he goes on to reveal to the unpretentious ruler the most compact, though complete, statement yet of just how God adapts his purpose to the present and future, a purpose he revealed long ago, when he says:

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. (vs 16)

It is too cool. He doesn't go 'through channels' because if he did, he would have run this by Caiaphas first (who would have told him to zip it). He never goes though channels. Always he goes over the heads of the pompous ones and speaks straight to the ordinary ones. And this next bit is certainly true (skipping only a verse or two):

Now this is the basis for judgment: that the light has come into the world, but men have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked.

And what about this beaut that follows? 

For whoever practices vile things hates the light and does not come to the light, so that his works may not be reproved.

Nobody wants to be reproved and a fine way to reach that end is to shut down any channel that might do it.

Nicodemus doesn't fare well (John 7:51) when he tries to defend Jesus before his co-rulers: “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” he says.

But they tell him: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you?"

Yep. Rural, backwards Galilee, home of the bumpkins, far from the sophisticated city that they hail from. Galilee, the armpit of the world, and Jesus probably smells like one, too, even if he does raise some lowlife people from the dead every now and again.

 

 

 


The Marcion Trap

So here I am, battling villains who insist the name Jehovah has no place in the New Testament, assisted by allies who nobly and quite properly come to my defense, when what should land in my comment inbox but a dissertation about Marcion. Who in the world is he? And what does he have to do with anything?

“In all likely-hood, Marcion actually lived in 40 AD not 140 and was the apostle John Mark, writer of both the gospel of Mark and gospel of John, as well as parts of Matthew and Luke,” says Rey, who offers the comment, “which were originally one gospel but were separated into four under the reign of Commodus because Commodus fancied himself to be a god who sits between the four winds. The first figure in church history to proclaim there are four gospel is Ireneaus, who works in the palace of Commodus, and who argues that there must be four gospels because there are four winds. Very suspicious.”

Very suspicious, indeed. But suspicious, from my point of view, because it has absolutely nothing to do with anything we'd discussed thus far (which often is grounds for my rejecting a comment, but I let it go this time).

Now, anyone familiar with the parent organization behind Jehovah's Witnesses knows that their enthusiasm for the internet is not boundless. In fact, it barely exists at all. One of the reservations they have about cyberspace is how easy it is for a person therein to hide their true identity. You'll think you're talking with your bosom chum, only to find out its really some scoundrel.....why...a wolf in sheep's clothing! I get around this reservation by assuming, up front, that everyone's a liar. That way, if it turns out they're not, it's a pleasant surprise.

But there's no reason not to answer this guy Rey. If you're a blogger, you like to receive comments. And this bit about Marcion, whoever he is, is a comment. Actually, I have only three rules regarding comments, and “agreeing with me” is not one of them. I don't mind a bit when people don't agree with me, but

1.) comments have to be reasonably respectful.
2.) they have to be reasonably “on topic”.....you just can't submit a laundry list of all you don't like about Jehovah's Witnesses, and
3.)  they can't link back to a site whose primary or substantial purpose is to tear down JW beliefs.
 
For instance, one sorehead submitted a comment positively bursting with insults and crudeness, and so I read my rules to him, and asked “are you capable of writing such a comment?” His subsequent answer showed he was not.

Sometimes I'll think of minor corollaries to my three rules along the way.....comments that choke the virus checker, for example.....but in the main, those three rules are it.

So Rey keeps carrying on about this Marcion character, and he seems sort of an oddball, both he and his namesake, pushing theology that you might expect on a Dr Who episode. But am I not a blogger? So, blog already, Tom Sheepandgoats, even if you don't know exactly where this guy is coming from. You don't have to know everything.

Moreover, when you're responding to a comment, you don't necessarily address each point made. Especially when you're talking to a lunatic. It's too taxing for the reader. No. Pick a few points, or sometimes just one. If the fellow has ten additional points, let him submit ten additional comments. Just because he thinks in a muddle doesn't mean you have to. That way, readers can readily skip over whatever they find dull. So I go back and forth with this Rey character. All the time wondering....who is this guy anyway? Is he really a  devotee of Marcion, someone I've never heard of? Ah, well....blog away Tom. Just do it. Besides, sometimes good posts emerge from such conversations. You'll know it when you see it.

So we go round and round a bit, and I point out why I think this fellow is a nutjob, when suddenly Rey tips his hand:

“I don't get why a Jehovah's Witness would find Marcionism so offensive. Why wouldn't someone from a cult started in modern America be happy to jump back to a cult that actual has at least a claim to being authentic, I mean **hello** 2nd Century here. Your cult is clearly wrong in that it didn't exist until now. That one is from the early 2nd Century, pre-dating even the New Testament Canon!”

HA! So that's what this is all about! Another cult accusation! Up till now I had never met someone who believed in Marcionism, and now I saw that I still hadn't. It was all about setting me up for a sucker punch! Just like I'd been warned. Rey just doesn't like us. If you don't like someone, they are a sect. If you really don't like them, they are a cult.

Nonetheless, what about his charge? If you “didn't exist until now,” can you really claim to link directly to first century Christianity? Especially when the Catholics will tell you that Peter was the first Pope? (even though Peter was a married man)

You can. There are any number of passages in the Bible that point out 'new and improved teachings' would commence soon after the death of the apostles, and would overrun Jesus actual teachings. The latter would not be fully restored until the final days of this system of things. For example:

1.) Jesus' parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt 13:24-30):

"Another illustration he set before them, saying: “The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man that sowed fine seed in his field. While men were sleeping, his enemy came and oversowed weeds in among the wheat, and left. When the blade sprouted and produced fruit, then the weeds appeared also. So the slaves of the householder came up and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow fine seed in your field? How, then, does it come to have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy, a man, did this.’ They said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go out and collect them?’ He said, ‘No; that by no chance, while collecting the weeds, you uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the harvest season I will tell the reapers, First collect the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up, then go to gathering the wheat into my storehouse."

Lest anyone doubt how the verses apply, vs 36 continues:

And his disciples came to him and said: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.” In response he said: “The sower of the fine seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; as for the fine seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; but the weeds are the sons of the wicked one, and the enemy that sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels."

Didn't Paul also say the weeds would sprout? (Acts 20:29-30): "I  know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves."

Those early Christians spoke to the general populace, like Jesus and the apostles did. But that's hard. Over time, more and more people simply didn't want to hear it. Easier to preach to the choir! Teachers taking the lead in the congregation began to specialize, preaching only to their flock, and drawing a salary....something new....for doing so! Those only marginally “keeping on the watch” quickly adjusted to the new plan: pay a preacher and go hear him out once a week. The public ministry was tough.  Easier to become “the laity” at a "church," and focus six days a week (in time, all seven) on secular activities. Preachers became like politicians....adept at seeing which way the wind blew, so as to incorporate whatever was popular, and draw in more paying parishioners.

Christians should be “no part of the world?” (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4; John 17:16) Why not become fully part of the world, and thus broaden your base? Oh....and there's going to be an “end of this system of things.....a “harvest?” Can't have that....it's too much of a disruption! Better to tell people to simply “be good” and go to heaven when they die. By the time of the fourth century, when Christianity became the Roman “state religion,” it was barely recognizable.

You can trace the details if you want....in fact, you should....but even intuitively, you know it's true. After all, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Dark Ages, the Holocaust, eager clergy participation on both sides of World Wars I and II, hardly square with what Christ taught. But it's all part of religious leaders pushing to the fore.....telling people whatever they'll most readily consume so as to expand their influence.

Everyone knows it's happened, but not everyone knows the Bible said it would happen. Nearly all the NT writers predicted it:

Jude: "Beloved ones, though I was making every effort to write you about the salvation we hold in common, I found it necessary to write to exhort you to put up a hard fight for the faith that was once for all time delivered to the holy ones. My reason is that certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to this judgment, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ." (vs 3-4)

Peter:   "However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively." (2 Peter 2:1-2)

John:  “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."  (2 John 8-10)                   

and "I wrote something to the congregation, but Diotrephes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us [the apostle John!] with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering about us with wicked words."   (3 John -10)

Paul: “For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories." (2 Tim 4:2-3)

And another parable of Jesus. Note a long period of inactivity.....sleep, it's called.....and when the bridegroom finally does arrive, not everyone's ready to receive him. Using language common to many Bible verses, Christ's followers initially prepare to meet the bridegroom [first century] But there is a long delay, during which they fall asleep. When the cry comes "Here is the Bridegroom," towards Christ's reappearance, some are not ready, having long strayed from Christian teaching:

"Then the kingdom of the heavens will become like ten virgins that took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet. For the foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, whereas the discreet took oil in their receptacles with their lamps. While the bridegroom was delaying, they all nodded and went to sleep. Right in the middle of the night there arose a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Be on your way out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and put their lamps in order. The foolish said to the discreet, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are about to go out.’ The discreet answered with the words, ‘Perhaps there may not be quite enough for us and you. Be on your way, instead, to those who sell it and buy for yourselves.’ While they were going off to buy, the bridegroom arrived, and the virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterwards the rest of the virgins also came, saying, ‘Sir, sir, open to us!’ In answer he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you."  (Matt 25:1-11)

The prophet Daniel received many visions, which are collected in the book bearing his name. Yet they were not to be understood during his time, or even during the time of Jesus' ministry, but only in the "time of the end." ........... "And as for you, O Daniel, make secret the words and seal up the book, until the time of [the] end. Many will rove about, and the [true] knowledge will become abundant." (Dan 12:4)

So, to quote Rey, is our “cult clearly wrong in that it didn't exist until now?" Frankly, in view of the above Bible verses, the more unbroken your history, the more suspect you are.

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Tom Irregardless and Me       No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

 


Did Jesus Die on a Cross?

I think it was Tom Oxgoad who, when confronted with something shocking, or even unexpected, would frantically move his right hand from breastbone to abdomen and back again, over and over. Of course, any companion would look at him quizzically. 'What's with you?' they'd want to know. Nothing to worry about, he'd say: “Just making the sign of the stake.” He was merely staking himself.

All the JWs he pulled this on either thought him very funny, or would, at least, tolerate him. Naturally, the joke would be lost on everyone else, and even offensive to a few, but he never did it in front of anyone else....just JWs. He was just clowning, you understand. His joke could be made with Jehovah's Witnesses, and them alone, because JWs are well known for rejecting that Christ was executed on a cross. We maintain he was put to death on an upright stake. Where many Bibles say “cross,” the New World Translation says “torture stake.” (Greek word: stauros)

I've mentioned this quirky aberration from common dogma only once on this blog, and even that was in response to someone else....the scientist from Iceland, who was impressed with a dialogue between the two of us and chose to reproduce it on his own blog, assigning icons to himself and me. He, man of science that he was, represented himself with the double helix. I got stuck with the cross! So I fired back my reply that we don't believe Jesus died on a cross. 'Yeah, I know,' he admitted, 'but I had to use something, and a stake looks ridiculous as an icon.' I have to admit it does, but then who says that the instrument of Jesus death should be used as an icon, anyway...kissed, carried around, worn around one's neck, and so forth? What if he had been killed with a handgun? Would folks wear tiny handguns around their necks?

But I otherwise haven't mentioned our belief that Jesus did not die on a cross, because once you come forward with something like that, people latch on to it as the definitive Jehovah's Witness belief, whereas it really is only a detail for us. “What do you know about Jehovah's Witnesses?” they'll be asked, and their reply will be “well, I know they don't celebrate Christmas, and they don't take blood transfusions, and they don't believe Jesus died on a cross.” All true, but it's as though someone asks you at a party, “what do you do?” and you say “well, I brush my teeth.” So I haven't made a big deal about this point before.

But now I will make a big deal about it, because over the summer, ABCNews.com made a big deal about it. “Jesus Christ May Not Have Died on Cross” runs the headline of July 2, 2010, followed up with: “No Evidence in Ancient Sources Backs Up Defining Symbol of Christianity, Scholar Says.”

The text goes on to tell about Gunnar Samuelsson, an evangelical preacher and theologian, who researched the cross for his doctoral thesis and concluded it's a mistranslation! Stauros is the Greek word generally translated as 'cross,' but it doesn't mean that! Or, rather, it didn't mean that at the time it was written; it has been assigned that meaning retroactively by some who want to read their doctrines into the New Testament. Rather, Samuelsson says, stauros, at its time of use in the New Testament, meant stake, or pole, or even tree trunk.

This evangelical preacher searched through thousands of ancient texts to research his 400-page "Crucifixion in Antiquity." "If you chose to just read the text and ignore the art and theology,” he says, “there is quite a small amount of information about the crucifixion. Jesus, the Bible says, carried something called a stauros out to Calvary. Everyone thought it meant cross, but it does not only mean cross.”

“Ignore the art and theology,” Samuelsson says. Now, that is exactly what Jehovah's Witnesses do. They focus only on what the text says, not the art and “theology.” So, not having to grapple with these red herrings, JWs have recognized for over 100 years the truth about the cross. Not only was Christ not put to death on a cross, but the symbol itself far predates Christianity, and finds its roots in various beliefs which, from a Christian point of view, would be considered unsavory.

From An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (London, 1962), W. E. Vine, p. 256:   The shape of the [two-beamed cross] had it origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt. By the middle of the 3rd cent. A. D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical systems pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ. -

Samuelson originally printed just 200 copies of his work. He figured family and friends might like it....maybe a few others. Instead, he got his Andy Warhol ten minutes of worldwide fame. The ABC.com piece alone is followed by (at last count) 463 comments. [!] No....I didn't read them all...if I don't exactly have “a life,” at least its not to that extent. But I skimmed through some of them. There's a few scholarly types saying scholarly things. And quite a few religionists, essentially calling him the antichrist, since they know “by faith” that Jesus died on a cross. Then some atheists chiming in that, not only did Jesus not die on a cross, but everything else about him is made-up hooey, as well. Then the aforementioned religionists responding “Oh yeah!! Well, you atheists will be singing a different tune when you're BURNING IN HELL!!!” And then, somewhere along the line, Jehovah's Witnesses discover the post, and they....shall we say.....pile on? with comments that (in a few cases) amount to “nyah, nyah, told ya so!” But how can you blame them for piling on? Didn't I, sort of, do the same with that New Scientist article “An Act of Faith in the Operating Room”? It's irresistible. JW's have said this about the cross forever, only to be told to shut up since they are ignoramuses, and then some University fellow concludes the same, and it's taken as ground-breaking research. Not at all unlike the learned response to “unlettered and ordinary” apostles of the first century. (Acts 4:13; KJV reads more harsh: “unlearned and ignorant”) Once again, we see it's not what is said that counts, but who says it. If this Samuelsson fellow had been one of Jehovah's Witnesses, his story would not even be on the bottom of ABC's cat litter box.

Frankly, I'll bet he, an evangelist preacher, curses the day he ever thought to write about the cross. He thus joins the ranks of people like Bruce Speiss, Jason Beduhn, and Joel Engardio who write something that squares with JW beliefs, and spend the rest of their days on earth denying that they are one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Occasionally, they (though none of the aforementioned, to my knowledge) issue statements to the effect of  “Look, I'm not one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't agree with Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't like Jehovah's Witnesses.” But it's too late! The damage has been done! Sigh....what's a scholar to do? Agreeing with Jehovah's Witnesses is detrimental to one's career, and yet Jehovah's Witnesses are right on so many things. And the things they're right about, they have been saying for a long time, so it's embarrassing for cutting edge scholars to endorse what the JWs, for the most part unscholarly and ordinary folk, have long maintained. Alan Greenspan better be very careful the same fate does not befall him. He recently completed his memoirs in which he observes 1914 was a turning-point year, something you-know-who has said for 90 years.  

And, of course, we ought not let this subject go without putting in a good word for the New World Translation. There's not a cross in the entire work. Stauros is consistently rendered “torture stake,” and xylon is consistently rendered “stake.” Nor are there any “crucifies” in the NWT; the verb form of stauros is rendered “impale” throughout. Nobody else had the guts to do this, but now, per Samuelsson's research, we see that such translating is exactly correct. I am so sick and tired of know-nothings, guided by their “divine revelation,” and not scholarship, trashing the NWT, solely because it doesn't justify their favorite doctrines. It doesn't justify their favorite doctrines because those doctrines are not to be found in the Hebrew or Greek scriptures – they are found only “by revelation,” and the trouble with knowing things by revelation is that eventually someone else comes along who also knows something by revelation, but his revelation doesn't square with yours, and how is anyone else to ever get to the bottom of it? That's why Jehovah's Witnesses have always let their Bible study dictate their beliefs and not the other way around.

The closest any mainstream non-Witness work comes to exposing the cross dogma is the King James Version (and a few derivations that have kept its wording, such as the Revised Standard Version.)  Translating the Greek word xylon, the KJV reads:

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree   (Acts 5:30, see also Acts 10:39)

Not to worry, though. Most modern Bible translations have cleaned up this “apostasy,” either crucifying Jesus, or hanging him on a cross so as to conform to that “ol time [if innacurate] religion.”

Gunder Samuelsson deserves credit for his investigative work....there's no taking that away. Nonetheless, his discovery has been written about before, just not lately. The Watchtower organization can cite many sources. Such as this one from the Imperial Bible-Dictionary (Edited by P. Fairbairn (London, 1874), Vol. I, p. 376): “The Greek word for cross, [stau·ros′], properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling [fencing in] a piece of ground.....Even amongst the Romans the crux (from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.”—Edited by P. Fairbairn (London, 1874), Vol. I, p. 376.

“An upright pole.....on which anything might be hung.” Yeah. That struck Samuelsson as odd, too. Says the ABC.com article: “Part of what tipped Samuelson off to the apparent mistranslation, were routine references to things like fruits and dead animals being "crucified" in ancient texts, when translating the word as "suspended" makes more sense.”

Here's another source:

The Non-Christian Cross, by J. D. Parsons (London, 1896): “There is not a single sentence in any of the numerous writings forming the New Testament, which, in the original Greek, bears even indirect evidence to the effect that the stauros used in the case of Jesus was other than an ordinary stauros; much less to the effect that it consisted, not of one piece of timber, but of two pieces nailed together in the form of a cross. . . . It is not a little misleading upon the part of our teachers to translate the word stauros as ‘cross’ when rendering the Greek documents of the Church into our native tongue, and to support that action by putting ‘cross’ in our lexicons as the meaning of stauros.......[bolded type mine]

Well....."misleading upon the part of our teachers." It's what they do best. Doesn't that show you need new teachers? Someone has to call them on it. This time it is Gunder Samuelsson, but Jehovah's Witnesses came long before him. 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Governing the Modern Day Congregation

Like Plato's philosopher kings, the "apostles and older men" in Jerusalem set policy for the first century congregation. They determined how scripture applied for the rapidly growing Christian faith, much as modern govenments apply principles contained within national constitutions. If they did not do so, constitutions would quickly become inapplicable, lost among new developments not explicitly spelled out. They'd become relics for debate, and nothing else. (Some people would like it that way.) But the Bible was not to suffer the same fate. It was to be applied to changing times by a governing agency.
 
Traveling ministers carried decisions of that early governing body to the ever-increasing congregations, which within decades had spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Acts 16:4-5 reports:
 
Now as they traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.

Alas, for those who suppose Christianity ought to be based upon Western democracy! It wasn't guidelines being delivered. It wasn't suggestions. It wasn't proposals to be put to popular vote. It was decrees which were to be observed.
 
It's not just the New World Translation. Nearly all English translations use the terms "decrees" or "decisions." The New International Version calls them "decisions for the people to obey." Of the few variations, only the Message translation waters the phrase down to "simple guidelines which turned out to be most helpful." But the Amplified Bible uses "regulations," Moffatts Bible says "resolutions," the Good News Bible offers up "rules."
 
Isn't this what one would expect? If God's ways are really higher than our ways, as Isa 55:9 states, and people become Christian converts precisely for that reason, does anyone truly think God's ways would be determined by majority vote? If that's the case, who needs God? Unless you want scripture to be no more than fodder for debate. And as already observed, that's exactly what many folks want; the more learned they are and thereby fond of their own opinions, the more they want it. That way no one has to really pay any attention to it, even if it's their own that opinion prevails. It's just academic hot air. No, there has to be a governing agency. God saw to that in the first century. The apostles and older men governed from Jerusalem as a God-ordained arrangement. They weren't ambitious men seizing power. They were Christians with the most experience, men who had introduced the faith to others, and they saw to their own succession.
 
Is this arrangement to be extended into the present? Jehovah's Witnesses say yes. It's what they glean from consideration of Matt 24:45-47: Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.  

At first glance, one might wonder if these verses can really refer to governance for the modern-day Christian congregations. I've had someone try to tell me the verses are no more than a nice little story with the moral to always do your best. But consider that the verses are embedded in Matthew 24-25, two Bible chapters filled with prophesies and parables about Christ's return. Matt 24:3 leads with the question posed by Jesus' disciples: "what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?" Matthew 25 consists of three parables in which the Master returns after a long absence and settles accounts with his slaves....what have they been up to while he was gone? Some have been diligent. Some negligent. Some have kept alert. Some have fallen asleep.  Some have done well by his "brothers." Some have ignored them. As always, Jesus speaks in illustrations, largely so as to throw off people whose interest in spiritual things is only superficial. (see Matt: 13:10-15)
 
From time to time through the years, various persons have claimed to be "the faithful and discreet slave," presuming that whatever they have to say constitutes "food at the proper time" for the "domestics." However, Christ departed in 33CE - wouldn't he have made his appointments before leaving?. And he arrived....Jehovah's Witnesses (alone) are on record stating his invisible presence as reigning heavenly King began in 1914 (another claim which, at first glance, seems far-fetched, but which is substantiated with reasonings reproduced here and here and here.) Therefore, the faithful and discreet slave must be, not an individual, but a group, or class, of individuals. A small remnant of Christ's followers recognized through Bible study that the Master's presence would commence in 1914. They gave the matter wide publicity well beforehand. ‘Look out for 1914!’ has been the cry of the hundreds of traveling evangelists who, representing this strange creed [today known as Jehovah's Witnesses], have gone up and down the country enunciating the doctrine that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ wrote the New York World newspaper on August 30, 1914. Early Watchtower President C.T. Russell wrote weekly sermons which were published, all told, by more than 4000 newspapers. The early Witnesses were off on some applications, but they were surely right on enough of them so as to be uniquely recognizable.
 
Can that small anointed remnant not be "the faithful and discreet slave", found by the "master on arriving" to be giving "food at the proper time?" The passage points out that this "slave" is thereby appointed over all his [the Master's] belongings. Thus, today, a governing body, drawn from members of this anointed class, oversees kingdom interests on earth. As closely as possible, it models itself after the pattern set by that first century governing body. In this way, congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are governed. They thereby maintain unity. They actually stand for something, and don't just reflect cultural norms of the day slightly modified by a God smiley face.
 
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Appendix: Acts chapter 15 (reproduced below) offers a specific example of how Christians were governed in the first century. It provides a template which the governing body uses in directing Christians today. Note the dispute (regarding circumcision), and the agreed upon channel of redress. Note how, prior to reaching a decision, scriptures are considered, both historical and prophetic. Witnesses are heard, who testify to the role holy spirit is playing....what God is then doing among the congregations. The resulting decision is put into writing and sent to all the congregations. Delivery must have taken some time, given means of travel back then.
 
From Acts chapter 15:
 
And certain men came down from Judea and began to teach the [newly converted Gentile] brothers: “Unless you get circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” But when there had occurred no little dissension and disputing by Paul and Barnabas with them, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.  Accordingly, after being conducted partway by the congregation, these men continued on their way through both Phoenicia and Samaria, relating in detail the conversion of people of the nations, and they were causing great joy to all the brothers. On arriving in Jerusalem they were kindly received by the congregation and the apostles and the older men, and they recounted the many things God had done by means of them. Yet, some of those of the sect of the Pharisees that had believed rose up from their seats and said: “It is necessary to circumcise them and charge them to observe the law of Moses.”
 
 And the apostles and the older men gathered together to see about this affair. Now when much disputing had taken place, Peter rose and said to them: “Men, brothers, you well know that from early days God made the choice among you that through my mouth people of the nations should hear the word of the good news and believe; and God, who knows the heart, bore witness by giving them the holy spirit, just as he did to us also. And he made no distinction at all between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you making a test of God by imposing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our forefathers nor we were capable of bearing? On the contrary, we trust to get saved through the undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus in the same way as those people also.”
 

At that the entire multitude became silent, and they began to listen to Barnabas and Paul relate the many signs and portents that God did through them among the nations. After they quit speaking, James answered, saying: “Men, brothers, hear me. Symeon has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I shall return and rebuild the booth of David that is fallen down; and I shall rebuild its ruins and erect it again, in order that those who remain of the men may earnestly seek Jehovah, together with people of all the nations, people who are called by my name, says Jehovah, who is doing these things, known from of old.’ Hence my decision is not to trouble those from the nations who are turning to God, but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For from ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath.”


Then the apostles and the older men together with the whole congregation favored sending chosen men from among them to Antioch along with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was called Barsabbas and Silas, leading men among the brothers; and by their hand they wrote:
 

“The apostles and the older men, brothers, to those brothers in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the nations: Greetings! Since we have heard that some from among us have caused you trouble with speeches, trying to subvert your souls, although we did not give them any instructions, we have come to a unanimous accord and have favored choosing men to send to together with our loved ones, Barnabas and Paul, men that have delivered up their souls for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are therefore dispatching Judas and Silas, that they also may report the same things by word. For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!”
 

Accordingly, when these men were let go, they went down to Antioch, and they gathered the multitude together and handed them the letter. After reading it, they rejoiced over the encouragement. And Judas and Silas, since they themselves were also prophets, encouraged the brothers with many a discourse and strengthened them. So, when they had passed some time, they were let go in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them out. 

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The new policy wasn't at once accepted by all, which in itself offers a template for modern-day similar situations. Jewish converts, in particular, had taken circumcision as a rite for generations. But now it was to be simply a personal choice, not an obligation to be imposed upon new believers. Long after the governing body supposedly settled the matter (49CE), its representatives were reasoning with those who opposed it, becoming more forceful with the passage of time:
 
(circa 51CE - 2 years later): For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery. See! I, Paul, am telling you that if you become circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Moreover, I bear witness again to every man getting circumcised that he is under obligation to perform the whole Law.  (Gal 5:1-3)
 

(55CE - 6 years later): Was any man called circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has any man been called in uncircumcision? Let him not get circumcised. Circumcision does not mean a thing, and uncircumcision means not a thing, but observance of God’s commandments [does]. (1 Cor 7:18-20)
 
(circa 61CE - 12 years later): Look out for the dogs, look out for the workers of injury, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are those with the real circumcision, who are rendering sacred service by God’s spirit and have our boasting in Christ Jesus and do not have our confidence in the flesh.   (Phil 3:2-3)
 
(circa 63CE - 14 years later): For there are many unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind, especially those men who adhere to the circumcision. 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 the sake of dishonest gain. (Tit 1:10-11)
 
Did such resisters eventually find themselves removed from the congregation? It seems likely, in view of such directives as:
 
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. (Tit 3:10-11)
 
So it is in the modern-day congregation. Not everyone agrees with everything. But they strive to come into agreement, rather than cultivate divisions, having bought into the way of thinking that "God's ways are higher than man's ways," including his ways of providing organization. They subscribe to the wisdom from above (tell me if this isn't different from the wisdom of today): ...the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey....(Jas 3:17)

Occasionally individuals decide they can no longer acquiesce to this type of arrangement. Should they get to that point, they leave. It's the only reasonable course. It's really the only viable course. As in real life, you can't grab hold of the wheel. You get tossed off the bus should you try that.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 


Nelson Barbour and the Rochester Connection

It’s obvious to any reasonably astute spiritual person that Rochester, my hometown, is nowhere mentioned in scripture. It’s equally plain that such neglect is grossly unjust. Not only unjust, but arbitrary. After all, if I lived just 90 miles east, in Syracuse, I would at least have minor (yet satisfying) scriptural mention. I think it was Tom Wheatandweeds concluding a District Convention held in that city a few years back, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Auditorium, who pointed out that all in attendance had fulfilled a scriptural pattern. He referred to Acts 28:12, the clown, which reads:  “And putting into port at Syracuse we remained three days… " And what if you lived in Rome, NY, 30 miles to the northeast. Well, then you’d have scriptural mention all the time. But Rochester….not even once.

Perhaps, though, things are different when we consider the modern-day history of Jehovah’s people - you know, the one that got underway in the late 1800’s, the one where Charles Taze Russell was a prominent figure. What finds we when we do a search of that period?

Whoa!! Right off the bat we hit a home run! In the very early days of Jehovah’s modern-day Witnesses, Russell came across a fellow searcher of scripture in Rochester by the name of Nelson H Barbour. The latter published a journal called The Herald of the Morning which advanced some doctrinal points that Russell, too, had discerned. The two teamed up and combined their Bible study groups, Barbour’s being the larger of the two. They became coeditors of the Herald. Russell infused cash into it, as it was in danger of going belly-up. They published a book together (in 1877): Three Worlds, and the Harvest of this World.

Ah….but the marriage didn’t last. Barbour began veering away with some ideas Russell didn’t care for, most notably denying the ransom value of Christ’s death, saying that [Russell’s words] “Christ’s death was no more a settlement of the penalty of man’s sins than would the sticking of a pin through the body of a fly and causing it suffering and death be considered by an earthly parent as a just settlement for misdemeanor in his child.” The two squabbled back and forth in the Herald magazine for awhile - each penning separate articles - and then Russell broke off partnership and started a journal of his own: Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, known today as the Watchtower. The Watchtower grew to its present circulation of 37 million. The Herald of the Morning disappeared.

Who was this fellow Barbour? I don’t know if I’d be especially curious, were it not for his Rochester connection. But I spent some time in the library archives [unnecessary, it turned out, since most of the information is also at Wikapedia] and uncovered some basics about him. He was a serious student of the Bible. Born in 1824  and raised among Presbyterians [as I was], he was a little too inquisitive for them and broke off at age 19 to do independent study and preaching. He published some tracts and books before he met Russell, and he founded The Church of the Strangers afterward. A pork chop preacher! Joe Hart might have called him, but such wouldn’t be fair. Unlike storefront preachers today, who, Joe suspected, preached just so as to supply themselves with pork chops, Barbour gives every appearance of being legit. Another Barbour, Clarence A Barbour, was a local Presbyterian preacher at the time, and he gets more contemporary press than does Nelson. Was Nelson the black sheep of the family?  And an Elizabeth Barbour - apparently Nelson’s wife - is listed in the records of the Central Presbyterian Church (3/31/1873) as “suspended, erased & excommunicated” [!] Did she stray from Presbyterianism and join Nelson in his heresy? She died in 1901. Nelson died in 1905.

There were a lot of guys like Nelson in those days. In fact, Russell was like him. As the end of the Gentile times approached, there were many in the decades leading up to 1914 who began searching the Scriptures - roving about, as Daniel phrases it. They focused on the fulfillment of prophesies - many of them found in the book of Daniel. You could say they were “keeping on the watch“ as to the Lord’s return. Might they be the “you” of verse 12?

10 Concerning this very salvation a diligent inquiry and a careful search were made by the prophets who prophesied about the undeserved kindness meant for you. 11 They kept on investigating what particular season or what sort of [season] the spirit in them was indicating concerning Christ when it was bearing witness beforehand about the sufferings for Christ and about the glories to follow these. 12 It was revealed to them that, not to themselves, but to you, they were ministering the things that have now been announced to you through those who have declared the good news to you with holy spirit sent forth from heaven. Into these very things angels are desiring to peer.       1 Pet 1:10-12

At any rate, Daniel relates what was told him about prophesies he recorded:

And as for you, O Daniel, make secret the words and seal up the book, until the time of [the] end. Many will rove about, and the [true] knowledge will become abundant.    Dan 12:1

You couldn’t count on the Presbyterians or any mainline church to do any such “roving.” They’d long since grown fat and happy with well-paid clergymen who were content to confer God’s blessing on whatever human government they lived under. No, it would be breakaway students - folks like Barbour - and Russell.

In the early twentieth century, Charles Taze Russell enjoyed particular success. The Bible study group he formed has grown into Jehovah’s Witnesses of today. Is it because he was smarter than the rest of them? Or more dedicated? Started with more money? Was more humble?  Was more blessed?  He would, I think, have emphasized the latter factor. At any rate, the movement he chaired became exceedingly active. Russell himself saw his weekly sermons published in 4000 newspapers. A publication called The Continent said of him: “His writings are said to have greater newspaper circulation every week than those of any other living man; a greater, doubtless, than the combined circulation of the writings of all the priests and preachers in North America; greater even than the work of Arthur Brisbane, Norman Hapgood, George Horace Lorimer, Dr. Frank Crane, Frederick Haskins, and a dozen other of the best known editors and syndicate writers put together.”

In what would have made Sam Harris proud, were he willing to give credit to a “deist,” -  which he is not - Russell and associates “called a spade a spade”with regard to the God-dishonoring teachings of the churches. So much so that when the eight principle officers of them was railroaded off to jail in 1918 (convicted under wartime charges of sedition - a conviction reversed nine months later, the original trial having been shown to contain 125 errors) the churches all high-fived each other.   Ray H Abrams writes in his book Preachers Present Arms, (published in 1933)  “An analysis of the whole case leads to the conclusion that the churches and the clergy were originally behind the movement to stamp out the Russellites. . . .
“When the news of the twenty-year sentences reached the editors of the religious press, practically every one of these publications, great and small, rejoiced over the event. I have been unable to discover any words of sympathy in any of the orthodox religious journals. ‘There can be no question,’ concluded Upton Sinclair, that ‘the persecution . . . sprang in part from the fact that they had won the hatred of “orthodox” religious bodies.’ What the combined efforts of the churches had failed to do the government now seemed to have succeeded in accomplishing for them—the crushing of these ‘prophets of Baal’ forever.”

Upon release from prison -their convictions overturned - the eight officers of the Watchtower were not a bit abashed. They resumed with full vigor their preaching campaign, and, in fact, intensified it. We see the result as the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Of course, we view the movement as not brand new, but a restoration of first century Christianity, following a foretold period of “sleep:”

Another illustration he set before them, saying: “The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man that sowed fine seed in his field. While men were sleeping, his enemy came and oversowed weeds in among the wheat, and left. When the blade sprouted and produced fruit, then the weeds appeared also. So the slaves of the householder came up and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow fine seed in your field? How, then, does it come to have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy, a man, did this.’ They said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go out and collect them?’ He said, ‘No; that by no chance, while collecting the weeds, you uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the harvest season I will tell the reapers, First collect the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up, then go to gathering the wheat into my storehouse.’”  Matt 13:24-30

But all that’s mere background for the post at hand. We’re dealing here with the backwater eddy that was Nelson H. Barbour. Rochester Central Library archives list his Church of the Strangers at the address 86 Williams Street* in Rochester.

No way!!! That’s not 100 yards from the old Irondequoit Kingdom Hall! (which is now a dentist’s office) I used to live in that Hall, in a downstairs apartment, when I pioneered back in the 70’s. Let me tell you, this is weird. It almost makes me feel like a bad Elisha, having caught the cloak of a bad Elijah. Of course, he missed by 100 yards, but that is what a bad Elijah would do. And I hate to think of the implications for this blog!

Sheesh! I’m almost sorry I asked.

*It is possible that the Williams St of today, at the very edge of Rochester City limits, is not the same Williams St. of 100 years ago. But I’ll leave matters as they are. How often does a guy get to end a sentence with three exclamation marks?

 


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The Rochester Union and Advertiser for October 5, 1895, page 12 offers the following article on Nelson Barbour:

The 57th installment of the Union’s Series of Saturday articles on Rochester pastors is devoted to the Rev Nelson H Barbour, pastor the Church of the Strangers, located on Williams St.


"Nelson H. Barbour was born at Toupsville, three miles from Auburn, N. Y., in 1824. At an early age the family moved to Cohocton, Stueben County, N. Y. From the age of 15 to 18, he attended school at Temple Hill Academy, Genseco, New York; at which place he united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and began a preparation for the ministry under elder Ferris. Having been brought up among Presbyterians, however, and having an investigating turn of mind, instead of quietly learning Methodist theology he troubled his teacher with questions of election, universal salvation, and many other subjects, until it was politely hinted that he was more likely to succeed in life as a farmer than as a clergyman. But his convictions were strong that he must preach the gospel even if he could not work in any theological harness. And at 19, he began his life work as an independent preacher. Since which, all that is worth reporting in his life is inseparable from his theological growth. He could not believe in an all wise and loving Father, permitting the fall; then leaving man's eternal destiny to a hap-hazard scramble between a luke-warm Church and a zealous devil. On the contrary he believed the fall was permitted for a wise purpose; and that God has a definite plan for man, in which nothing is left to chance or ignorance.
"Mr. Barbour believes that what he denominated the present babel of confusion in the churches is the result of false teaching and the literal interpretation of the parables.
"The Church of the Strangers was organized in 1879. Mr. Barbour has preached in England, in several Australian colonies, in Canada, and many states of the Union. For the past twenty-two years he has published the Herald of the Morning in this city; claiming that in his 'call' to preach, he confered [sic] not with flesh and blood. Nor was he called to convert the world; but independent of creed, to search for the truth 'as it is in Jesus,' the 'second man Adam,' believing that the restored faith is a precurser [sic] of the millenium [sic] and 'Times of restitution of all things.'"

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Tom Irregardless and Me          No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 


Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Paul

 

When Paul's visit sparked a riot in Ephesus, the Romans came and took him into protective custody. Not too protective, though. The Roman officer in charge wanted to know why all the ruckus and figured he’d beat it out of Paul. But Paul was a Roman citizen and, as such, had certain rights.

But when they had stretched him out for the whipping, Paul said to the army officer standing there: “Is it lawful for you men to scourge a man that is a Roman and uncondemned?” Well, when the army officer heard this, he went to the military commander and made report, saying: “What are you intending to do? Why, this man is a Roman.” So the military commander approached and said to him: “Tell me, Are you a Roman?” He said: “Yes.” The military commander responded: “I purchased these rights as a citizen for a large sum [of money].” Paul said: “But I was even born [in them].” Immediately, therefore, the men that were about to examine him with torture withdrew from him; and the military commander became afraid on ascertaining that he was a Roman and that he had bound him.      Acts 22:22-29

Paul never came out from under house arrest.  He appealed his case to Caesar. The book of Acts from this chapter on relates his travels to Rome. Along the way he met a bevy of officials, some petty, some major, and he pitched Christianity to each one. They all ran for cover, same as folks do today. They all had their reasons, same as folks do today.

First off was provincial governor Felix:

Some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla his wife, who was a Jewess, and he sent for Paul and listened to him on the belief in Christ Jesus. But as he talked about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and answered: “For the present go your way, but when I get an opportune time I shall send for you again.”     Acts 24:24-25

What was it that made him sweat? All was fine until Paul brought up “righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come.” Felix wasn‘t really that great of a guy:

 [Wikipedia on Antonius Felix:" Felix’s cruelty and licentiousness, coupled with his accessibility to bribes, led to a great increase of crime in Judaea. To put down the Zealots he favored an even more violent sect, the Sicarii ("Dagger-men"), by whose aid he contrived the murder of the high-priest Jonathan. The period of his rule was marked by internal feuds and disturbances, which he put down with severity."]


We run into that a lot, too. Sure, the truth promises a world without war…who wouldn’t want that? And a world without sickness, or even death. An earth made beautiful…..same as God originally intended it….sure does sound appealing. If only it were not for that “righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come!” We live in a time in which people want to do exactly what they want to do. The title of a current JW publication says it all: “What Does God Require of Us.” Surely when man and his Creator meet up, it won’t be the man telling God how things should be done. (though you'd never know that to hear certain ones bellyache on the web. Just like at Ezekiel 18:25: And you people will certainly say: “The way of Jehovah is not adjusted right.” Hear, please, O house of Israel. Is not my own way adjusted right? Are not the ways of you people not adjusted right?) He does require certain things of us...adjustments in our  thinking and ways and of living.... otherwise life would already be panacea, all problems would be readily solved and we wouldn’t need him.

Felix didn't release Paul. He handed him off to the next governor, Festus. (Unlike, Felix, the internet has very little to say about Festus of the Bible, but a great deal to say about Festus Haggen, the scruffy sidekick of Marshall Dillon in Gunsmoke. Such is today's culchure.) Festus heard Paul out and thought he would make for great entertainment when his crony king Agrippa rolled into town. Over after-dinner drinks, perhaps, Festus briefed Agrippa on Paul’s plight:


“There is a certain man left prisoner by Felix, and when I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the older men of the Jews brought information about him, asking a judgment of condemnation against him. But I replied to them that it is not Roman procedure to hand any man over as a favor before the accused man meets his accusers face to face and gets a chance to speak in his defense concerning the complaint. [actually, he replied just the opposite. He was more than ready to hand Paul over………….Acts 25:9-11] Therefore when they got together here, I made no delay, but the next day I sat down on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. Taking the stand, the accusers produced no charge of the wicked things I had supposed concerning him. They simply had certain disputes with him concerning their own worship of the deity and concerning a certain Jesus who was dead but who Paul kept asserting was alive. So, being perplexed as to the dispute over these matters, I proceeded to ask if he would like to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. But when Paul appealed to be kept for the decision by the August One, I commanded him to be kept until I should send him on up to Caesar.”

Here Agrippa [said] to Festus: “I myself would also like to hear the man.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.” Therefore, on the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with much pompous show and entered into the audience chamber together with military commanders as well as men of eminence in the city, and when Festus gave the command, Paul was brought in. And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all you men who are present with us, you are beholding this man concerning whom all the multitude of the Jews together have applied to me both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I perceived he had committed nothing deserving of death. So when this [man] himself appealed to the August One, I decided to send him. But concerning him I have nothing certain to write to [my] Lord. Therefore I brought him forth before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, in order that, after the judicial examination has taken place, I might get something to write. For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner and not also to signify the charges against him.”


Agrippa said to Paul: “You are permitted to speak in behalf of yourself.” Then Paul stretched his hand out and proceeded to say in his defense: “Concerning all the things of which I am accused by Jews, King Agrippa, I count myself happy that it is before you I am to make my defense this day, especially as you are expert on all the customs as well as the controversies among Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.

Paul gives an account of his past and how he came to be where he was. Some of it is a bit much for Festus.....a man can only stand so much religion, after all.... who interrupted:

Now as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice: “You are going mad, Paul! Great learning is driving you into madness!”    Acts 26:24

That, too, we get a lot. Though its not generally phrased that way. Usually it’s less respectful, more along the lines of “you've got your noses stuck in that Bible so much that......" and so forth. But “great learning” back then centered on spiritual or philosophical things, and Paul did center his life there, as do Jehovah's Witnesses today.

Paul wasn’t put off in the slightest. Rather, he homed in on Agrippa:

Paul said: “I am not going mad, Your Excellency Festus, but I am uttering sayings of truth and of soundness of mind. In reality, the king to whom I am speaking with freeness of speech well knows about these things; for I am persuaded that not one of these things escapes his notice, for this thing has not been done in a corner. Do you, King Agrippa, believe the Prophets? I know you believe.” But Agrippa said to Paul: “In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.”

Whoa! Back off, fella! Needless to say, we get that a lot, too.

At this Paul said: “I could wish to God that whether in a short time or in a long time not only you but also all those who hear me today would become men such as I also am, with the exception of these bonds.”   vs. 29

Nothing great about the bonds! All else was good, though. His efforts to persuade in behalf of Christianity may have met with resistance, but Paul did establish his innocence of the charges against him:

And the king rose and so did the governor and Bernice and the men seated with them. But as they withdrew they began talking with one another, saying: “This man practices nothing deserving death or bonds.” Moreover, Agrippa said to Festus: “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.”             vs. 30-32

Paul’s appeal took him to Rome soon enough. His custody was relaxed and he had much freedom to move about. He went to the senior Jewish leaders to explain himself. Maybe they’d heard bad reports about him?

They said to him: “Neither have we received letters concerning you from Judea, nor has anyone of the brothers that has arrived reported or spoken anything wicked about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”              Acts 28:21-22

Boy, do we ever get that! “Everywhere it is spoken against.” If that was a trademark of real Christianity back then, it is just as much so today. We’re sort of used to it, and in fact, would wonder what was wrong if it wasn’t the case. Christianity and “the world” are not supposed to be on friendly terms:

Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.       James 4:4

The final verses of the book of Acts shows how Paul spent his final days in Rome.

So he remained for an entire two years in his own hired house, and he would kindly receive all those who came in to him, preaching the kingdom of God to them and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with the greatest freeness of speech, without hindrance.      vs. 30-31

We kind of hope for that too, to be able to preach with freeness of speech and without hindrance. Sometimes that is the case. Sometimes not.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

 

 


Reining in the Parachurch

I knew he’d have a field day with this, but I didn’t know when that day would start. The ink wasn't dry on that September Kingdom Ministry when Tom Barfendogs was peppering my blog with comments, haranguing me. It’s a good thing I can screen comments. Otherwise, he’d write on my blog more than I do.

“Did ya see it, Tommy? Hah, did ya? It’s right there in the question box, Tommy! Did ya see it?”

There was an article about some of our people grouping together to explore deeply this or that spiritual topic, delving where no one had delved before. They’d done extra research, released their own extra findings, to augment material coming from the existing JW organization. They’d held conferences, published books, and hosted web sites where collaborators from all over could contribute their own research. The faithful and discreet slave didn’t like the idea….didn’t like it at all, and strongly discouraged it. They cited a few scriptures, such as:

Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.      1 Cor 1:10

Might not independent research groups pose a danger to the unity Paul spoke of? In fact, there were some lone rangers back in the first century, which produced the following results:

For the disclosure was made to me about you, my brothers, by those of [the house of] Chloe, that dissensions exist among you. What I mean is this, that each one of you says: “I belong to Paul,” “But I to Apollos,” “But I to Cephas,” “But I to Christ.” The Christ exists divided. Paul was not impaled for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.      vs. 11-15

Barfendogs likes the scriptures well enough, but not ones that get in his way. “It’s mind control, Tommy! A cult! ‘Don’t’ think for yourself; we’ll tell you what to think!’ That’s what they’re saying, Tommy! When’re you going to wake up?! When’re you going to free your head?! Better shut down this blog, Tommy, before they catch you! You‘re not allowed on the internet!” And I admit, even Tom Pearlsenswine seemed a little put out. He read the article over and over, grumbling as he read. I’m starting to worry about Pearlsenswine. You don’t think he’ll be the next to go bad, do you? With a name like Pearlsenswine, one never knows. He’s been engaged in top-secret Trinity research for years now. It seemed straightforwardand clear-cut at one time, but it just drags on and on.     (1 Jn 5:6,7)

Western society puts such a premium on independence, even to the point of belligerence, that any notion seen as “pulling in the reins” seems suspect, as if motivated by megalomania. But consider Ronald Sider’s observations about the evangelical community, a community which, he laments, makes a shambles of living the faith, though they do well at talking the faith. What causes does he identify?

Two are relevant. The first is today’s nirvana of independence, so prized by Barfendogs. It is anathema to the Christian congregation: “The notion - and practice - of an independent congregation with no structures of accountability to the larger body of Christ is simply heretical,” Sider writes in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. “How can an independent “Bible church” claim to be biblical when its very refusal to submit to a larger church structure of accountability defies the essence of a biblical understanding of being the church?     Pg 111

Doesn’t that dovetail with Watchtower’s discouragement of meetings, literature, or web sites which are not produced or organized under its own oversight?

The second is what Sider calls “parachurch” organizations, groups like the Billy Graham Crusade, the Youth for Christ, groups that transcend established church organization. They accomplish a lot of good, Sider feels, but they have no accountability, and thus provide an umbrella for the scandalous conduct Sider says is endemic in the evangelical community. “Frankly, I do not know how to solve this problem,” he admits.  Pg 112

The faithful and discreet slave does. But it takes guts to implement, and it earns them taunts and abuse from soreheads like Barfendogs. Are there even some evangelicals who join in with the catcalls?

So the Christian congregation adjusts to oversight from the parent Watchtower organization, which steps on the toes of a few (ouch!) whose motives not only are not bad but are often noble, yet whose unchecked projects might, over time, lead to the mess Mr. Sider describes. But now they are being checked. Nobody is saying not to do research. But there is a clear distinction regarding plain old research and organized efforts to augment the direction given congregations today. Even this (gulp) blog comes in for soul-searching. But at present, the author consoles himself that it’s contents do not match what is being discouraged. This blog is not a collaborating spot for Witnesses, there’s no “new truths” being unearthed, and posts that touch on religion are essentially no different than what the author might say in person were he to show up on your doorstep. (which he someday might do) Alas, there may be some overlap, however.

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Tom Irregardless and Me      No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Assembling the Puzzle

Learned society today strives so mightily to trash Scripture that you may have to reestablish its authority before people will even agree to investigate. But not always. Sometimes you can persuade them to suspend doubt. Not to be confused with taking a "leap of faith," for they don't discard doubt, they only suspend it.

Mathematicians do this all the time. Assume such and such a condition is true. Follow the logical thread. What deductions can be made? If the results are just so much horse manure, then just take back the assumption. No harm done.

But sometimes it pans out. Valuable math has been discovered this way. And not just math, but also science, since much scientific research these days is done by means of mathematics, the subjects of research being too tiny (atomic) or too huge (galactic) for human instruments to do the job. Scientists take advantage of the remarkable power of mathematics to describe the physical world.

Jehovah's Witnesses are known for the offer of a free home Bible study. Sometimes people agree to it even though they doubt that the Bible is what it claims to be. But they do as the mathematicians. They suspend their doubt on its authenticity; it can always reinstated later. Having done so, the person (ideally) comes to appreciate the Bible is, not an incoherent hash as he may have once supposed, but a book that makes a lot of sense, a book in which loose ends are tied up, and in which all verses contribute towards a unified theme. Important questions of life are convincingly answered. What happens when we die? Why do we grow old and die? Why does God permit evil and suffering? What is the meaning of today's worldwide chaos? What is God's purpose with regard to the earth, with regard to humanity? Satisfied on these points, our seeker revisits his original assumption about Bible authority and finds it not so compelling as he once imagined.

You might liken it to how you felt last time you completed a jig saw puzzle. There is the completed picture. Holes are filled in. No pieces left over. All is well. Should someone come along and suggest that your result is merely your interpretation of the data, it is hard for you to take him seriously, especially since his puzzle is still in the box. And when some learned puzzologist declares that the puzzle can't be solved and that trying is a waste of time, same reaction on your part. What a surprise when everyone accepts his view! You just shake your head in dismay. You look back at your completed puzzle. Yes, there it is. And yet people will not attempt the puzzle, although the invitation and path to go about it could not be easier, because the puzzologist says "no." Instead, they gobble up the puzzologist's books on the nature of the puzzle pieces and the reasons they're nonsense!

Yes, temporarily suspending doubt, so as to make an investigation, can lead to good results. In my own case, it played out well.

When I first came across the ideas of Jehovah's Witnesses in my college years, I was floored to think I had found people who actually believed in Adam and Eve! They didn't look stupid - well, maybe a few of them, but in no greater proportion than greater society. Yet all my life I had believed that only the most ignorant of the rednecks rejected evolution. A fellow from the Kingdom Hall lent me a book on the subject, now out of print, replaced by a superior version. I didn't like it. It seemed poorly written and it took some cheap shots. But everything else I was learning made much sense, so I decided to shelve the matter for the time being. Later I was able to resolve it. The evidence favoring evolution is nowhere near as compelling as its advocates would have one believe, but we are emotionally conditioned to think a certain way, and are slow to change, regardless of the evidence.

Call it the noble-minded model, neither closed-minded nor gullible.

"Now the latter were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica [where the disciples were run out of town!], for they received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so."    Acts 17:11

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Organization and the Internet

Much as Sheepandgoats appreciates the internet and uses it as his unlimited library card, it is an destructive force to organization of any stripe....religious, business, or political. Isn't there some UTube video floating around that shows John Edwards obsessively primping his hair? Does it really matter now what the man stands for? The primped hair jets through cyberspace at lightning speed. No longer will we focus on the man's positions (because that's hard). Instead, we'll zero in only on the ridicule (because that's easy). Who knows if he wasn't just hamming it up for pals?

All of us have full potential to say/do something asinine or inconsistent. With the internet, we can now be assured that the gaffe will be transmitted instantly to everyone and that they'll all draw snap conclusions at gut level. The truth of anything requires thought. Some find thought foreign. Some simply don't have the time. But all can drink in a quick byte of so-and-so making an ass of himself.

Is there any example anywhere of organization that has been aided by the internet? Maybe some fledgling politician, someone too small to be noticed by traditional means, and also too small for the internet to rip him apart as it's built him up. Finding instances where the internet has built up organization is a challenge. Finding instances where it tears apart we can do in our sleep. With even a horrible organization it's usually well to have a viable replacement before you tear the existing order apart. Ask them about that in Iraq.

If Christianity were simply some do-what-feels-good-at-the-moment movement, then it might be aided by the internet. But it's not. Christianity's predicated on the belief that we need guidance from a source beyond ourselves and that there is a specific channel through which that guidance comes.

Just as most everything today is desperately flawed and on life support, there are some who try to sell me on the notion that Watchtower, too, is overdue for change and that the powerful internet is just the means for such change, at long last giving "little people," a voice, and so forth. I doubt it.

In the same vein it's mentioned that letters are deluging Brooklyn for greater change. Well, I suppose they are. But when have they not? Is today's generation the first to know how to write letters? I suspect back in the days when Watchtower was constantly before the Supreme Court, letters (proportionate to population) poured in more than today. Are we to assume that the Society simply carted all letters to the dumpster until today, when their sheer weight demands attention? I don't think so. Letters from individuals have never been the primary driver of Christian policy. But neither have they ever been merely ignored. They are a source of feedback and always have been.

The Society was more regimented in days past when people were more regimented. For whatever reason, people in past generations were less fragile than they are today and enjoyed greater self-esteem. You could give your counsel blunt without their falling apart. They could take, not just the good, but also the bad without undue complaining. People are different today. Probably due to decaying society, individuals are much less secure. So an added emphasison "principles not rules, love not punishment, flexibility not unreasonableness" comes into being to meet changing times. And I'm glad to see it. But does it all come about only because Watchtower hardliners are being outmaneuvered by progressive new people with "subversive" ideas? Hogwash! Every new person brings something unique to the table, obviously, and old timers never lose sight of the tried and true. But the only model today's world can imagine is "power struggle among unyielding titans." It does not fit the Witness organization.

Because we live in a democracy and prevailing mindset is that democracy tops everything else, we get used to the idea that we should have a say in things. And as people become more individualistic, we become more insistent that our say should be heeded. But the Christian congregation is not organized that way, as it was not in it's first century beginning. The apostles sought to maintain unity and to forestall the endless sects and divisions that were to come. Thus, the Bible mentions the necessity of an older man to "reprove those who contradict" [Titus 1:9] and deal with those "wanting to be teachers of law, but not perceiving either the things they are saying or the things about which they are making strong assertions."  (1 Tim 1:7) Lots of people make "strong assertions" today and lots of people "contradict." It's a function of the unsettled times we live in, and is aided by the internet.

Not all of Jehovah's Witnesses today are 100% behind the program. Many are puzzled over this or that aspect of theocracy and many entertain their own pet ideas of how more of this, less of that, modification of this tactic, and so forth, would be beneficial. Some make suggestions via letter or traveling overseers. There's nothing new, earthshaking, or unnatural about that. It's not evidence that the organization is at some unprecedented crossroads. But in the final analysis we realize that the burden of directing things does not rest with us, but with a non-democratic channel which God has provided. We're not presumptuous. We cooperate as best we can.

The first century apostles lost that battle to maintain Christian unity. The "wheat" was oversown with "weeds," as Jesus foretold. (Matt 13:24-30) It would have happened much sooner had the internet existed back then.

As many know, Jehovah's Witnesses maintain we are in the last days of human rulership. God's rulership over the earth is soon to come, preceded by a public preaching campaign to that effect. Not everyone agrees, I realize. But looking at the state of affairs today, it clearly is not laughable that God might find human rulership lacking. Watchtower is doing their best to maintain Christian unity in the face of a increasing divisive world. And they're doing well, despite overwhelming forces to the contrary. They contrast with most churches, where unity is generally slight and rough and tumble politics is the order of the day.

I made the above remarks to some fellow who replied that he indeed understood how groups wishing to control information flow like [insert sarcasm] the Communist and the fundamentalist middle east governments wished the internet didn't exist.

Yes, that is how many think today: tyrants have abused authority so the answer is to eliminate authority. Fire all cops. Fire all teachers. Let us all live on love and self-discovery.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Barfendogs Blows a Gasket

I had to read that Watchtower paragraph twice. (May 1, 2007) Some Christians baptized after 1935 have apparently been given the heavenly hope. Looks like we can’t set a date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends, the article said!

This is new. Until recently, there was a such a date: 1935.

This kind of thing used to send Tom Barfendogs, that perennial apostate, into orbit. You could just look at him, see him slowly redden, and then he'd explode into a tirade of.....ring!....ring!.......hello?

It was Barfendogs!

Did ya see that? Tommy, he screamed. They flipflopped! See that? Didya? What about 1935, huh?! They just changed it! Just like that! When you gonna open your eyes, pal?! When you gonna smell the music? Hah? When you gonna see....

So help me, I don't know why I give this guy the time of day. He's got an axe to grind so big it would scare off Paul Bunyan.

Actually, I don't give him the time of day. I put down the phone, and went off to check the mail, made some coffee, put a load in the wash, and cleaned out the cat litterbox. When I returned, he hadn't noticed a thing.

False prophets! That's what they are, Tommy, like I try to tell ya if ya'd just listen. But no! You'd just rather be led by the nose and just like that.....

I hung up the phone, but it made no difference! I could still hear his shrill voice!

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

They didn't flipflop at all. Nobody ever said adjustments like this wouldn't happen. In fact, we've been assured many times that they would, in accord with scriptures such as this:

"And as for you, O Daniel, make secret the words and seal up the book, until the time of [the] end. Many will rove about, and the [true] knowledge will become abundant."    Dan 12:4

Jehovah's Witnesses do believe we're in the "time of the end," and that "true knowledge will become abundant" during that time. With regard to prophetic matters, it's progressive. It happens by degrees.  The Watchtower has stated this innumerable times. Illustrating it with this scripture, for example:

But the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established. (Prov 4:18) Just like how at dawn you can't make out too much, maybe only shapes, but as the day progresses the details steadily become more clear.

So adjustments in understanding are to be expected, same as how it happened in the first century.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

When Jesus' disciples began their ministry, they spoke to no one but Jews. Why would they not? Jesus was a Jew. They themselves were Jews. Jesus, they believed, was the Messiah foretold in the Jewish scriptures. And Jews kept their distance from non-Jews. They didn't mingle.

Early congregation growth was explosive. (Acts 2:41; 4:4) Acts, the history of early Christianity, tells us:

Consequently the word of God went on growing, and the number of the disciples kept multiplying in Jerusalem very much; and a great crowd of [Jewish] priests began to be obedient to the faith.  (Acts 6:7)

Later...

Then, indeed, the congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace, being built up; and as it walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit it kept on multiplying.   (Acts 9:31)

It all happened within the Jewish community.

The first disciples to tell the Kingdom message to non-Jews had some explaining to do. Should they really be doing that? Weren’t they stepping out of bounds? The matter was not settled by scripture. It was settled by holy spirit, and scripture was bought in afterwards to support what holy spirit was already doing. Specifically, believing non-Jews were receiving gifts of the spirit (healing, speaking in other languages, (tongues) prophesying) just like the Jewish believers. So who were those disciples to forbid what God was obviously approving?

Now the apostles and the brothers that were in Judea heard that people of the nations had also received the word of God.  So when Peter came up to Jerusalem, the [supporters] of circumcision [Jewish believers] began to contend with him, saying he had gone into the house of men that were not circumcised and had eaten with them.  At this Peter commenced and went on to explain the particulars to them, saying.......when I started to speak, the holy spirit fell upon them just as it did also upon us in [the] beginning. At this I called to mind the saying of the Lord, how he used to say, ‘John, for his part, baptized with water, but you will be baptized in holy spirit.’ If, therefore, God gave the same free gift to them as he also did to us who have believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should be able to hinder God?” Now when they heard these things, they acquiesced, and they glorified God, saying: “Well, then, God has granted repentance for the purpose of life to people of the nations also.”    Acts 11:1-18

Something similar can be seen in the present day. From the standpoint of the governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses, only two centuries count: the first and the twentieth (plus a few years). The ones in between suffer the apostatizing of "primitive" Christianity and then witness its gradual re-awakening. The last days spoken of in the Bible are seen to have started in the early 20th century....with a bang....with World War I, and continue to the present amidst ever-worsening conditions.

As in the first century, the governing body tracks specific developments with regard to Kingdom increase today. And they make statements based on what holy spirit appears to be accomplishing, just as was done in the first century. For example, the heavenly calling, the call of certain Christians to rule with the Christ in his heavenly kingdom (manifested in their partaking of the emblems at Memorial time) has long been thought to have ceased in 1935.

Now, I freely confess it sounds weird to link a specific year to a heavenly event. Yet, it was in that year that the "great crowd" of Revelation 7:9 was identified. This is the group that survives the end of this system and lives right on under Kingdom rule on earth. There's really no point in gathering this group beforehand, since by definition, they must live long enough to survive the "great tribulation."

Prior to the 1930's, nearly all congregation members professed the heavenly calling. But in time, folks began packing in who simply didn't feel that the heavenly calling applied to them. They just didn't identify with it. Instead, the scriptures about living forever on earth is what rang true to them.

...and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.    Rev 5:10

They began to identify, not with the ones who would rule, but with the ones who would be ruled over, living forever on earth.

Revealing the identity of the great crowd (Revelation 7:9) cleared in all up, and all these ones instantly found their place. Did this all take place at the lead of the holy spirit? Today, it is rare for one of Jehovah's Witnesses not to have the earthly hope.

Since the great crowd was identified at a summer convention in 1935, that year has long been thought to be the date in which the heavenly calling ceased, since the number of that group, while large, is finite. (unlike that of the great crowd)     (Rev 7:4-10)

So in more recent years, when someone began partaking of the emblems, people didn't know what to make of it. Maybe they were nuts! Or at least unbalanced. Or presumptuous, thinking the heavenly call would give them special prestige. Some of them were genuine, no doubt, since an anointed member who falls away would have to be replaced. But, realistically, how often would that be? Not very. And you'd expect a replacement to come from the ranks of those who had served God for many decades. So if a new partaker came along who didn't fit the profile, you'd sort of scratch your head and shelve the matter, curious how it would all play out.

We still don‘t know, but that latest Watchtower advances things a bit, and the adjustment process will continue to run its course. It always has. It will continue to.

Furthermore, adjustments of understanding must always be taken in context. The essential teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, the foundational points, have remained unchanged since the movement began in the late 1800's. What is God's Kingdom? What will it do for humankind? What happens at death? Where are the dead? Why do we die? Why does God permit suffering and evil? Who is God? How may we fit in with his purpose? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the Holy Spirit?

These are the basic building block teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, the answers to which have not essentially changed in 100 years.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me            No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash