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.
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.
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.
Tom Irregardless and Me No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash