Thoughts Gleaned from the Midweek Meeting of September 23-29, 2019

One young woman at the congregation meeting last night identified with the “missing drachma” parable of Jesus, saying: “When I put my hand in my back pocket and find some money there....Whoa! it is a big deal!” (“Betty Davis style” is how Bob Dylan said it.) I must admit that it inspired me to do the same, slipping a dollar into my back pocket, pulling it out and exclaiming: “Whoa! Look at this!”

It was this illustration at Luke 15 that got her going: “What woman who has ten drachma coins, if she loses one of the drachmas, does not light a lamp and sweep her house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma coin that I had lost.’”

There is a not-so-hidden rebuke in Jesus’ words summarizing a similar parable: “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous ones who have no need of repentance.”​ Well, they did—have need of repentance that is. Otherwise they would have been out searching for the missing sheep themselves:

“What man among you with 100 sheep, on losing one of them, will not leave the 99 behind in the wilderness and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he gets home, he calls his friends and his neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”​

The context was that of the Pharisees sneering at the common people that they should have been tending to, even employing the pejorative term “amhaarets”—“people of the dirt.” Straying a little off-topic, but still fair game, the conductor of that Bible-study portion explored how you wouldn’t want to come across that way in your own ministry:

Bible principles are good and with them people mess up their lives much less than they would otherwise. Sometimes it works at the other end, and they succeed much more than they would otherwise. It depends upon one’s starting point. At any rate, come across someone in the ministry with a host of problems, and realize it could well be you in the absence of Bible principles—I mean, it is no basis for ever feeling superior, as those Pharisees did without even mastering the godly ways.

Again, not part of this particular study, but certainly in the same vein, was Jesus’ rebuke to those same religious leaders on another occasion: “But when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they began saying to his disciples: “Does he eat with tax collectors* and sinners?”  On hearing this, Jesus said to them: “Those who are strong do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”

Sometimes those who dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses try to paint it that they have a higher proportion of ones mentally ill. I have no idea whether this is true or not, for mental illness defines the times that we live in, but I don’t even kick back at this anymore. Instead, I say that, if true, it is exactly what one would expect. I quote Jesus’ words that he came to call, not on those who do not need a physician, but on those who do. “Spiritually sick” is what he is talking about, but if spiritually sick, then maybe emotionally or mentally sick as well—sickness tends to overflow its banks. The people you have to wonder about, in my view, are not those who experience emotional difficulties in the face of the present world, but those who do not—those who sail past atrocities on every side and remain undisturbed.

The two Bible chapters up for review in that mid-week meeting were Hebrews 12 and 13. Discipline was a theme, in view of 12:7. “You need to endure as part of your discipline,” the verse says. There was a video of a circuit overseer taking counsel from his wife as discipline. He was upset over someone he thought had treated him badly, and his wife said: “Well, that’s because he is a yo-yo. But so are you. Get over it.” [precise words mine, not hers] He told of how he had received a letter from the branch telling how he had botched something or other, and he counted that, too, as discipline. Sometimes we get counseled over various things.

Still, the overall sense of Hebrews 12:7 is that even if no one ever says a word to you about anything, simply to pursue the Christian course in a world that either wants to change that course or have nothing to do with it is a “discipline.” The lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses might be described as ones of delayed gratification; they go light or even abstain from certain aspects of life that they would otherwise engage in for the sake of laying hold to a greater prize. That takes self-discipline. Delayed gratification is usually seen as a responsible thing, even by Witness opposers, just not in this case.

That just pursuing the Christian course in the face of an indifferent or even hostile world is in itself a form of discipline is plain from surrounding verses, as well as the overall context of the Book of Hebrews itself. Those members of the Jerusalem congregation were tiring of holding the line. They “ought to be teachers in view of the time but they again need someone to teach [them] from the beginning the elementary things.” (5:12) Hopefully, they would be encouraged by the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding them—not to mention Christ’s own example, so as to “not get tired and give up.” (12:1-3)

“In your struggle against that sin, you have never yet resisted to the point of having your blood shed.  And you have entirely forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, nor give up when you are corrected by him;  for those whom Jehovah loves he disciplines, in fact, he scourges everyone whom he receives as a son.” You need to endure as part of your discipline. God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  But if you have not all shared in receiving this discipline, you are really illegitimate children, and not sons. Furthermore, our human fathers used to discipline us, and we gave them respect. Should we not more readily submit ourselves to the Father of our spiritual life and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time according to what seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit so that we may partake of his holiness.  True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but it is painful; yet afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen the hands that hang down and the feeble knees.” (12:4-12)

Don’t be a lout and don’t miss the point of God’s undeserved kindness [“grace,” many transactions say, but the New World Translation says “undeserved kindness,” since the former term just conveys to the modern man that God is not clumsy and doesn’t topple over things]: “Carefully watch that no one fails to obtain the undeserved kindness of God, so that no poisonous root springs up to cause trouble and many are defiled by it; and watch that among you there is no one who is sexually immoral nor anyone who does not appreciate sacred things, like Eʹsau, who gave up his rights as firstborn in exchange for one meal. (12:15-16)

He is shaking the very heaven and the earth. He is not shaking the congregation directly, but it is sure to feel the aftershocks—hence the heightened need for the discipline of endurance: “Now the expression “yet once more” indicates the removal of the things that are shaken, things that have been made, in order that the things not shaken may remain.  Therefore, seeing that we are to receive a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us continue to receive undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably offer God sacred service with godly fear and awe.  (12:27-28)

(thoughts gleaned from the midweek meeting of September 23-29, 2019)

*Tax collectors were the lowest of the low in popular esteem back then because they were not unknown to shake people down for, not just the required tax, but whatever they could get in addition.

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“YOU read it and decide if it was a "quid pro quo" conversation, worthy of bringing down a U.S. President.

It is a reference to the transcript of a call from the U.S. president to the Ukrainian president. It dominates the news on this 26th day of September, 2019. It contains the raw material that may lead to impeachment—such is the talk of the day.

“YOU read it and decide if it was a "quid pro quo" conversation, worthy of bringing down a U.S. President,” comes the challenge from someone (not me) with an opinion. 

Some do. Some don’t.

I think the key point to take away from this is that, not only can people not agree on what to do in light of the facts, but they cannot even agree on what the facts are.

Pew Research puts it this way: 

“Nearly eight-in-ten Americans say that when it comes to important issues facing the country, most Republican and Democratic voters not only disagree over plans and policies, but also cannot agree on basic facts.

The Bible puts it this way:

But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here.  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal,  having no natural affection, not open to any agreement,slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness,  betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God,  having an appearance of godliness but provingfalse to its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

The same circumstance of being at loggerheads over basic reality is seen in any number of  areas today—in what is science and what is not, and how much it should be relied upon, for example. It is seen in disputes over the basic mores of human nature—of what makes people tick—is another example. It argues poorly for those who think humans are going to ultimately triumph with their “critical thinking.” They can’t even agree on what reality is.

However, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not from us,” says 2 Corinthians 4:7.

The “treasure” is the Christian ministry, irrelevant for this discussion. But the “earthen vessels” are us, so that the “earthen” quality that would sabotage the ministry were it not for reliance upon God also sabotages human ability to solve and even to properly assess problems. 

This is so even when we are at our sharpest, and yet we are seldom at our sharpest. Generally we are distracted with 100 distractions—some having to do with responsibilities of life and some having to do with where we go when we are not grappling with the responsibilities of life. Few on break use their mental powers to evaluate the problems of the day. They watch TV instead. During commercials, they find something on Twitter that agrees with what the already think and they retweet it.

There is nothing easier than to mislead “earthen vessels.” There is nothing more foolish than the “earthen vessels” thinking that they can overcome their “earthenness” or triumph irrespective of God.

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The New Covenant vs Old, as Explained in the Letter to the Hebrews

Few things aggravate like being in service and the householder tells you how you can’t earn salvation through good works. Say: “Well, the good works can’t hurt, can they?” Let him try to assert that they do. If they get truly condescending, sloughing you on the basis that they’re Christian (as though you are not), I have even been known to say: “Only a Christian would do what I am doing. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that you are not doing it yourself.” Watch that smug smile fade. I mean, it is fine to decline conversation—more people do than don’t—just not on that basis.

It’s a little dicey. Use it very sparingly, only when richly deserved, and probably not even then, for it is not exactly an example of turning the other cheek. Duh. Every Witness knows that they are not earning anything in their house-to-house ministry. But it is like the mirror that you put under the nose of someone lying prostrate. If that mirror doesn’t fog up, I don’t care how many people tell me that the person is alive—he’s dead. It is the same way with faith.

Besides, it is been there/done that as regards trying to earn life. That is what the Mosaic Law was all about. “You must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions; anyone who does so will live by means of them,” said God of that Law. (Leviticus 18:5.) You could even say that God had set them up for failure, since it was not possible for imperfect persons to keep that perfect law, and he knew it. Of course, you don’t say it, because the purpose of that Law was to direct them to something better—that they would not have seen the need for before. It was setting them up for the real life. That’s what Paul means about the Law being a tutor:

“However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law...looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed.  Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ,that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.” - (Galatians 3:23-25)

As they trod a path back and forth to offer up sacrifices for their sins, it would occur to a remnant of them that something more permanent would be nice. They couldn’t earn life by following Law. They were flawed. It was beyond them. What they needed was forgiveness for sin, not a just a continual reminder of them via their price tag. As to being “guarded under law,” the Law gave them plenty to do and kept them off the streets where they might get into mischief with the rowdy neighbors.

And so there is the New Covenant, to replace the old Law Covenant [Old and New Testaments, in most Bibles] The old covenant is between God and Israel, mediated by Moses, and inaugurated through the sacrificial blood of animals. The new is between God and spiritual Israel, mediated by the Son, and inaugurated through his own shed blood. The name “Israel’ is even retained—only the identity of those who occupy the slot has changed—those who “contend with God,” as the name means.. It is now “the Israel of God,” (Galatians 6:16) since “not all who descend from Israel are really ‘Israel.’” (Romans 9:6)

Paul waits until he writes to Christians in Jerusalem [Letter to the Hebrews] before he draws all the parallels. They were at “ground zero.” They were in the host city. Three pilgrimages took place there each year—there occasions when the magnificent temple and even the entire city would be abuzz. Meanwhile, the Christians there were meeting in private homes, not the big glorious temple. Did they suffer an inferiority complex?

If you had been a believer anywhere else, you would not have had that contrast for someone to rub into your face, but in Jerusalem you did have it. It took its toll. After a furious spurt of early activity, the ministry of those Christians had cooled off. “For although by now you should be teachers, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have gone back to needing milk, not solid food,” the apostle writes at Hebrews 5:12.

They are in some spiritual danger. If you don’t keep forward motion on the bicycle, you fall off. “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God...so that none of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin. For we actually become partakers of the Christ only if we hold firmly down to the end the confidence we had at the beginning.” (3:12-14)

Paul draws upon their knowledge of mutual history. Sure, God, led the forefathers out of Egypt, he says, but he afterwards cast off those “testing” him, those “provoking” him, those “always going astray” despite their having seen his works for 40 years—those who gave in to “lack of faith” and became “disobedient.” (3:7-19)

He ups the ante significantly when he speaks of those who accept, but then reject, the free gift: “For as regards those who were once enlightened and who have tasted the heavenly free gift and who have become partakers of holy spirit  and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but have fallen away, it is impossible to revive them again to repentance, because they nail the Son of God to the stake again for themselves and expose him to public shame.” (6:4-6)

Not to worry, though. He is talking tough, but it isn’t to them: “But in your case, beloved ones, we are convinced of better things, things related to salvation, even though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name by ministering and continuing to minister to the holy ones.” (6:9-10)

He just hopes that they will pick up the slack: “But we desire each one of you to show the same industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (6:11-12)

He helps them as he points out that the fantastic temple and the high holidays are not the real thing—they are things that go hand in hand with the Law that has become “obsolete,” is “growing old,” and is, in fact, close to “vanishing away”—which it did, just a few years later when Romans destroyed that temple in 70 C.E. It never had been the real thing. It had been the pattern of the real thing.

These “men [the Jewish priests] who offer the gifts according to the Law—[they] are offering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.” Those Christians in Jerusalem had the real thing—big temple notwithstanding. Even “Moses, when about to construct the tent, was given the divine command....‘See that you make all things after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.’” (8:4-5)

They had the New Covenant, not the Old. Paul refers to how it was foretold through Jeremiah (31: 31-34): “Look! The days are coming,’ says Jehovah, ‘when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant.... I will put my laws in their mind, and in their hearts I will write them....And they will no longer teach each one his fellow citizen and each one his brother, saying: “Know Jehovah!”...I will be merciful toward their unrighteous deeds, and I will no longer call their sins to mind.’” (8:8-12)

 

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The Loaded Words - Infallible, Inspired, and Perfect

It is revealing to me that those who taunt JWs endlessly over just how “inspired” are the ones at the helm today seem to take for granted that there should be ones who are that way. It gets even more crazy when words such as “infallible” are thrown in. “Perfect” makes matters worse. 

“Look at what Brother Jackson said,” they gloat. “Guess he’s not so infallible after all, is he?” they say. They take for granted that for the Christian life to have validity in modern times, there should be ones who ARE infallible, who can and SHOULD spoon-feed members, so there is a lessened need for faith, and hopefully (from their point of view) none at all.

These ones wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in the first century, when the ones taking the lead were manifestly not that way. A local speaker with a dramatic flair enacted a fictional encounter with an irate householder from back then, a forerunner of today’s “apostates.” “What! You’re going to tell me about love?” he hammers the visiting brother. “Look, I was there at that meeting of Paul and Barnabas after John took a leave of absence! You see those two kids there? [motioning to his young children playing on the floor] They do not fight as I saw those two grown men of yours fight! Why don’t you learn love yourself before you come here to lecture me about it!”

(For his part, Barnabas was determined to take along also John, who was called Mark.  But Paul did not think it proper to be taking this one along with them, seeing that he had departed from them from Pam·phylʹi·a and had not gone with them to the work.  At this there occurred a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other; and Barnabas took Mark along and sailed away to Cyprus. - Acts 15:37-39)

For that reason, I shy away from such loaded words as “infallible.” Maybe the insistence on infallibility is a holdover from the Catholic Church, which for centuries insisted that the Pope was that way. “Inspired” will also blow up in your face, because you end up doing backflips in translating just what the word should effectively mean now—or even then, when the “leading men” fought like kids. I even put the word “apostates” in quotes, increasingly, because it comes in many varieties and it means different things to different people.

It is enough to say that the written record, which includes the dealings and interactions of imperfect ones at the first-century helm, is deemed “inspired:“ All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,  so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

This is so even though it includes the account of Peter’s astounding cowardess (given his leadership role at the time) of changing his association once the Jewish-based brothers came on the scene—before they did, he mixed freely with the Gentile-based Christians; after they did, he “withdrew” from them.

(However, when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him face to face, because he stood condemned. For before the arrival of certain men from James, he used to eat with people of the nations; but when they arrived, he went withdrawing and separating himself, in fear of those of the circumcised class.  The rest of the Jews also joined him in putting on this pretense, so that even Barʹna·bas was led along with them in their pretense.  But when I saw they were not walking straight according to the truth of the good news, I said to Cephas before them all: “If you, though you are a Jew, live as the nations do, and not as Jews do, how is it that you are compelling people of the nations to live according to Jewish practice?” - Galatians 2:11-14)

It is still “inspired.” It is enough for us to go on. It is enough to make the Christian “fully competent” and “completely equipped for every good work.” Even though it includes the blunderings of the “uneducated and ordinary” ones that were the leaders back then—and the leaders today hold to that pattern—that is still the case. It is not at all what opponents today think that it should be—a true and unfailing human anointed one to wipe away every tear and smooth the path, removing all pebbles so that the people of God can sail along blithely without really having to develop faith. 

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We Should be Proud of our Apostates—Ours Are the Best.

What surprises me as I go through the sequential schedule of Bible reading, now focused on the letters of Paul, is how well they anticipate current “anti-cultist” complaints—about being brainwashed, misled, duped, and so forth. What would appear to be a brand new scenario is just history recycled, today intensified by modern viral methods of communication. Given that the following was said then, when the only communication was word-of-mouth, it is not at all surprising that it would be so prolific today:

“We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one,” says the apostle at 2 Corinthians 7:2, as though the accusation of those things was commonplace.

“Nevertheless, you say, I was “crafty” and I caught you “by trickery,” he says again at 2 Corinthians 12:16. For sure, Solomon had a point: “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccles 1:9)

Do “apostates” proliferate today, as though something new? It appears to be the oldest game in town. “For there are many—I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping—who are walking as enemies of the torture stake of the Christ. Their end is destruction, and their god is their belly, and their glory is really their shame, and they have their minds on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19)

“Having their mind on earthly things” is where it is at today, and there are endless people who obsess over petty freedoms at the expense of totally missing the real ones. Their “critical thinking” has sold them down the river; they have shipwrecked whatever faith they once had—just like Paul says about two actual malcontents in the first century, when he advised Timothy to “go on waging the fine warfare, holding faith and a good conscience, which some have thrust aside, resulting in the shipwreck of their faith.  Hymenaeus and Alexander are among these, and I have handed them over to Satan so that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 3:18-19)

What exactly is it to be “handed over to Satan?” The only other use of the expression (1 Corinthians 5:5) makes clear that it is expulsion from the congregation. Today Hymenaous’s and Alexander’s counterparts on social media loudly decry that discipline.

They decry another sort of discipline as well. “Just as I encouraged you to stay in Ephesus when I was about to go to Macedonia, so I do now, in order for you to command certain ones not to teach different doctrine, nor to pay attention to false stories and to genealogies. Such things end up in nothing useful but merely give rise to speculations rather than providing anything from God in connection with faith.” Today the ones so “commanded” would hop on social media to rail that you can’t even breathe a word different from the tyrannical men on top to be muzzled at first transgression, and ejected at second.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult if and only if the Bible is a cult manual.

Nobody has apostates like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nobody has apostates more prolific, more determined, and in some cases, more deranged—I mean, if someone so much as farts at Bethel, there is one of these yo-yos to start a thread on it, and that thread is not ignored, but is joined in by countless persons in sympathy, some of whom are coherent and some of whom are pure loons.

It is as it should be. We should be proud of our apostates. Nobody else has anyone like them. What if they did not exist? Would you not have to wonder why? No writer of the New Testament fails to deal with them. What if there were no mention of them today? Would it not indicate that the faith had strayed so far from its roots, to embrace contemporary thinking, that there was little to apostatize from?

I will admit that the only apostates that interest me are the ones that go atheist, which partly accounts for my take on the 2 Thessalonians “Man of Lawlessness.” Having learned the man-made origins of Trinity and the immortal soul, and having come to appreciate the damage these teachings do to to a close relationship with God, can one really go back to them? Often the “believing” apostates do not—they simply become ambiguous on such doctrines, thinking that they hardly matter—to each his own. Essentially, they want to retain God, but they acquiesce to the greater world molding their thinking as to outlook, goals, and morals. They want to “throw off all restraint” and in no time at all, they have lost whatever unity they once had. When they can be distracted from attacking their former roots on social media, they are to found attacking each other over differences in matters scientific, medical, climate, politics, etc.

 

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If Hymenaeus and Alexander go bad on you, to be sure, it is a downer, but it does not destroy faith and a good conscience.

I think he means that with Jehovah’s Witnesses there is a combination of pure teachings that are found no where else. Some of them are individually, but the combination is not. They involve such things as the Name, the kingdom, no immortality of the soul,  no Trinity, the reason for suffering, the preaching work, the need to keep watchful, transformed personalities, and so forth. The Christian ministry is a treasure, however it is a treasure carried in “earthen vessels”—that is, people, who are not unflawed. “However, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves,” Paul says at 2 Corinthians 4:7. Context reveals that he is speaking of the ministry, which he regards as a “treasure.”

Although a certain malcontent fights so much and so bitterly with the bus driver that I can’t imagine why he doesn’t just leave—it would make the driver happier, the bus company happier, the passengers happier, and one would think, him happier—yet he does not do it, probably for the above reasons. (except for the ministry, and the nearness of the end, which he doesn’t seem to think is so)

People are a collection of their experiences, both those that have happened to them, and those they have manufactured. I have called him a loon. Maybe he is not, but he so closely resembles one that I cannot tell the difference. My bad.

As much as he carries on about worshipping the GB, he cannot seem able to understand that it is factors in the first paragraph that form a Witness’s faith, and following the direction of the GB is no more than not fighting with the traffic cop or the coach or the mentor. 

Let us humor him for a moment. Let us grant his dream come true, that malfeasance will someday be uncovered ....gasp!’....high up in the ranks. So? It would hardly affect one’s faith. They are men—everyone knows that. There have been many times in the past when the earthly organization was shaken practically into rubble—in America during WWI, in Axis countries during WWII, in Russia now—and as soon as the heat is off, God’s people rebuild like ants, because their faith was never in human arrangements—those just exist to facilitate and enhance spiritual things—their faith was in the spiritual things themselves.

Many times in the past brothers in responsible positions have proven unfaithful, sometimes even duplicitous, hiding who they are, and when discovered, have been removed and replaced. So says 1 Timothy 5:24: “The sins of some men are publicly manifest, leading directly to judgment, but as for other men [their sins] also become manifest later.” Sometimes it is now. Sometimes it is “later.” Still, I would have to see some evidence before buying in. The fact that opposers “accuse them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10) does not count, for that has never not been the case.

It happens. Even GB members have been removed—sometimes with fanfare and sometimes not. Faith itself continues. It was never in human arrangements. It was in spiritual things. Enemies of the faith make the same mistake here that they do in Russia. Failing to grasp spiritual things, they imagine that if the shut down the earthly coordinating organization, the faith will collapse. Instead, it is like stomping on the anthill. The ants run for cover, but almost immediately they commence rebuilding. Their faith was never in the anthill—that was just their to magnify their ant-life.

The Bible reading last week in 1 Timothy 1:18 encourages ones (Timothy) to hold “faith and a good conscience, which some have thrust aside, resulting in the shipwreck of their faith.  Hymenaeus and Alexander are among these, and I have handed them over to Satan so that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” As long as you hold faith and a good conscience, you are fine—and the faith is with regard to God and his Son, as accurately represented by the factors of the opening paragraph

If Hymenaeus and Alexander go bad on you, to be sure, it is a downer, but it does not destroy faith and a good conscience. 

......

Likely they will say of these courtroom battles, as they did of Russia banning the entire organization within its borders, that it is an area of “concern” but not “worry.” They don’t get overly attached to things, even things of their own construction. They put it all on the line routinely as they do their best to advance kingdom interests, not cowering before their enemies. They plow where they plow as they apply their view of the Bible, unconcerned, sometimes unaware, of the quicksand that may get them into, confident that, should that happen, God will somehow get them out of it.

They do not deliberately court opposition, but they do expect it. The king makes a law and Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den. He makes another law and his friends are thrown into the furnace. Another king makes another law and the entire nation of Jews faces extermination until Esther the queen opens his eyes to the murderous scheme he has been maneuvered into. It happens to their spiritual descendants to this day. The modern Witness organization expects no less. They are “insular,” separate from the world, and the latter finds no end of reasons to oppose them for it.

From “TrueTom vs the Apostates!”

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A Review of a Review of the Scorah Book - Leaving the Witnesses

Something is greatly off-base about the New York Times review of Amber Scorah’s new book ‘Leaving the Witnesses’ and it is not Amber. It is the reviewer, C. E. Morgan, who tackles her task with a humanist fervor that merits a review in itself.

She teaches at Harvard Divinity School, per the NYT byline. One wonders what she could possibly teach, or what might be the outcome for students who attend her class—students who presumably went there because they want to learn about God. Her lavish praise of Ms. Scorah’s book: “She teaches us how integrity is determined....by enduring the universe as we find it — breathtaking in its ecstasies and vicious in its losses — without recourse to a God” surely should give those students pause—are they truly in the place they thought they were? Or did they somehow get shunted off into the Atheist Academy? There is such a thing as truth in advertising. 

Ms. Scorah herself, as presented by the Ms. Morgan, is more conventional. Hers is one of the oldest stories of time—of someone disillusioned with her present life, so she reaches out for another, which upon seizing, she finds exhilarating. It is a coming-of-age story, albeit belated. It is a staple of literature.

Since she is ‘leaving the Witnesses’—Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group of Bible-believing Christians—one must at least consider how the Witnesses themselves might have phrased her departure. That can be found in the words of the apostle Paul addressed to Timothy: “Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present world.” Demas himself would not have put it that he “forsook” anyone. He would have presented it as a matter of his eyes at last being opened. “We are regarded as deceivers, and yet we are truthful,” says Paul at 2 Corinthians 6:8. Demas would have been one to say that he had been deceived.

Ms. Morgan cannot be expected to put it as did Paul, but since she teaches at the Divinity school, one might at least expect her to be cognizant of that point of view. Instead, Amber’s departure is a tale of pure heroism for her—that of escape from an “extreme” religion—even worse than a “fundamentalist” religion in her view—and it is “most valuable as an artifact of how one individual can escape mind control.”

“We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one,” says the apostle again. (2 Corinthians 7:2) Demas might have said he had been victimized by all those things. Nevertheless, you say, I was “crafty” and I caught you “by trickery.” (2 Corinthians 12:16) Demas might have said exactly that. Truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccles 1:9)

It would appear that any denomination of Christianity would be fundamentalist in Ms. Morgan’s eyes—at least that would be so of any that haven’t interpreted away the resurrection of Christ into oblivion. “The anti-intellectualism of these [fundamentalist] authoritarian movements, their staunch refusal to cede ground to reason and empiricism, often confounds nonbelievers,” and it is hard to believe that she does not count herself as chief of the nonbelievers—never mind what her teaching title might suggest. “How can people devote the totality of their lives to the unseen, the unevidenced?” she laments, seemingly unaware that such was commonplace until relatively recently. Isaac Newton, oft called the father of science, wrote more about religion that he did about mathematics and science combined. “How can faith subsume thinking?” she continues. Her frustration could not be more clear—‘We have fired everything we have at them and yet they keep standing!’

As bad as fundamentalism is, however, it is not as bad in her eyes as an “extreme religion” like Jehovah’s Witnesses. To establish that she has done her homework, she relates that from its 1870 inception, the faith “rejected Christian doctrines it deemed extratextual, including trinitarianism and hell,” as though providing further evidence of descent into superstition, rather than the advance into rationality that it is—early Witness leader C. T. Russell was known within his lifetime as “the man who turned the hose on hell and put out the fire.” The Witness description of death: “extinction or non-being,” is exactly the rationalist view of today, and it is ‘tarnished’ only by their added take of a future resurrection from the dead.

The notion that Christianity should return to its default state Morgan finds “dubious,” as though the inventors of something couldn’t possibly have known what they were doing. Witnesses have a “hierarchy,” as though no other organization does, their publishing constitutes an “empire,” as evidenced by the fact that it still exists, and they have a following who “actively proselytize, warning of an imminent Armageddon,” as though it is wrong to even suggest that an earth carved up into 200 eternally squabbling nations is not exactly what God had in mind.

In short, she found has people—ordinary people for the most part—who disagree with her, and she oozes disdain for them. Children raised in such religion “experience a totalizing indoctrination that so severely limits the formation of an adult psychology that many don’t ever achieve maturity in the way secular society conceives of it...” Necessarily this means that she thinks the adults of that faith are largely immature children. The patronization is simply too much. Any time someone leaves one culture for another, there is some catching up to do—say, in the case of a person migrating from one country to another. Would Ms. Morgan similarly find it necessary to crow her superiority over the country and culture of emigration—where Islam is practiced, perhaps, or Spanish is spoken? She would recoil at the thought, but when it comes to religious views that stray from her worldview, it is as natural to her as breathing air. Let her “world” prove itself reasonably “free from sin” before she casts stones on those who have come to see things differently,

“Witnesses are forbidden to socialize outside the organization,” she says. How enforceable can such “forbidding” be when people live, school, and work in the general community, as Witnesses do? The forbidding amounts to no more than counsel to choose one’s friends wisely—counsel that should hardly be a shocker. It is surprising that the she does not escalate “higher education is discouraged” also into an ironclad rule. When Witnesses partake of the offerings of “higher education,” they usually prefer to take it a la carte.

For all that she might carry on about “mind-control,” it is her environment of higher education that employs a classic tool of it: cut a student off nearly 24/7 from former stabilizing influences to minimize resistance to the absorption of whatever philosophies are taught. It is her environment that normalizes such a drastic shift as no more more remarkable than pursuing health care. Study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, and there is truth in packaging—you know full well that you are going off the grid of standardized thinking. Still, one remains in the most stabilized environment possible—one’s normal routine and surroundings are entirely undisturbed—the “safest” setting in which to give any new ideas a trial run. It is the very opposite of how one “brainwashes” people.

“Questioning doctrine is an offense punishable by disfellowshipping, or shunning,” she says. It is a matter of degree. Each side of societal uproar that we see on the television news presents itself as merely “questioning” the premises of the other. Amber ran out on a “loveless marriage,” Ms Morgan states, and the implication is clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses think loveless marriages are the bee’s knees, since she presents love as the balm that finally wakes Ms. Scorah up. Seemingly to her, there is no way on earth that love that could be found within the repressive religion. Few cheerleaders are unbiased and Ms Morgan is clearly is not an unbiased reviewer.

“The bravery of [the book] cannot be overstated,” she gushes. I suspect that, not only it can be, but it is. Certainly it pales next to the bravery of a migrant who arrives in a strange country with no money, no common language, and often without family. Ms Scorah, on the other hand, has a new-found partner—the same one who introduced her to her new worldview, and who will presumably be there to give support. 

Notwithstanding that anything with which you agree is “highly readable” on that account, I will take for granted that Ms. Scorah’s book is as it is said to be—an “earnest one, fueled by a plucky humor and a can-do spirit that endears.” Perhaps one day I will read it. And yet it does not completely satisfy the reviewer—it shows too much the “the remnants of a Christian modesty not well suited to the task of memoir.” ‘Come on, SPILL!’ one can all but hear Ms. Morgan urge. ‘Blow this “juvenile” “fundamentalist” tripe out of the water!’ as she totally redefines “miracle” as “enduring the universe as we find it — breathtaking in its ecstasies and vicious in its losses — without recourse to a God.” What will be the subject of her next lesson at the Divinity School?

But she has not yet come to the most gripping part. When she does, she foresees another book. “Many readers know Scorah through her viral article in The New York Times about the death of her son on his first day of day care....” she writes. “This, one senses, is her brutal but beautiful route into a new book — a shorter, wiser one, sharp and devastating. Here she reveals a chastened existence, steeped in grief and unknowing without recourse to pacifying religious answers.” THAT is the book I will read even before this one. Ms Scorah has exchanged a backdrop of: “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death, so that you may not sorrow as the rest do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) for one that reads: “Stuff happens. Pick up the pieces and carry on if you can.” Ms. Morgans reckons that exchange an unmitigated triumph of the human spirit. Is it? The apostle would have reckoned it as “shipwreck of a faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19)

- Tom Harley is a practicing Jehovah’s Witness in the United States.  He does not teach anywhere, but has written the ebooks “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,” and “TrueTom vs the Apostates!”

 

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The Man of Lawlessness in the 21st Century

Yes, I know, I know. The application of the Man of Lawlessness is to the emergence of the clergy class in the early centuries. That point was repeated in the discussion of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians at the midweek meetings.

But is there anyone other than me that thinks a modern application would be more to the emergence of a modern-day atheist class, today’s apostasy, that turns upon the theocratic organization under the guise of “protecting people” from its “mind-control?”

2 Thessalonians 2:3. Let no one lead you astray in any way, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction. 

4  He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god. 

5  Do you not remember that when I was still with you, I used to tell you these things?

6  And now you know what is acting as a restraint, so that he will be revealed in his own due time. 

7  True, the mystery of this lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who is right now acting as a restraint is out of the way. 

8  Then, indeed, the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence. 

9  But the lawless one’s presence is by the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and wonders 

10  and every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth in order that they might be saved. 

11  That is why God lets a deluding influence mislead them so that they may come to believe the lie, 

12  in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.

Verse 4 fits an atheistic Man better than it does a clerical Man. Also verses 9 and 10–with the powerful works and wonders being the application of science, which enthralls them to the point that they forget all about God.

It certainly fits better with the line of Paul from the next chapter: 

Finally, brothers, carry on prayer for us, that the word of Jehovah may keep spreading rapidly and being glorified, just as it is with you,  and that we may be rescued from harmful and wicked men, for faith is not a possession of all people. 

It is not those with faith—even a skewed faith that might be ascribed to a clergy class—that most seek to further the “cult” meme today. It is those without faith.

it is all spot-on to identify the Man of Lawlessness with the emerging clergy class in the first century, with all the infusions of Babylonian and Greek philosophies that it embraced and spread. But today that Man is much weakened. He is casually respected as long as he stays in his place, but his place is much reduced. In the old days his place was anywhere he wanted it to be. He limps along trying to insist that he is relevant, and more and more people doubt that is the case.

The verses of 2nd Thessalonians remind me more today of an atheistic Man than of a religious Man.

~~~***~~

There were some who thought I was trying to change space and time, what with a new interpretation of the Man of Lawlessness. I wasn’t. They pointed out that atheism came about because the clergy class of those early centuries wrestled away the wheel but then didn’t drive people anywhere, so that some became disillusioned. 

They are right, of course, as regards the overall picture. 

“Yes, in her [Babylon the Great] was found the blood of prophets and of holy ones and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.”  Rev 18:24

“All those who have been slaughtered” is a big category, and it is especially huge if we equate slaughter to death, since no one would have died at all were it not for rebellion back in Eden. Most die, not due to acts of commission, but due to acts of omission. The Man of Lawlessness does not teach biblical truth, and the sheep, as a consequence, are found roaming the hills, and land themselves into all sorts of mischief, atheism being one of those mischiefs. Had they not been force-fed a diet of spiritual junk food, they might not have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, asserting that not only are the doctrines untrue, but also is God.

So the origin of the Man of Lawlessness may be correct, but I am not sure that we keep up with its modern evolutions. Sometimes I think that we do the equivalent of railing about Egypt or Assyria, and don’t grasp that other heads have emerged in the seven-headed wild beast. The “apostates” that cause us trouble today are overwhelmingly atheistic. The media people, be it print or video, who “accuse the brothers day and night before our God” are almost always atheistic, Every general needs to know the enemy. We do ourselves a disservice if we imagine that today’s enemy is religious. It leads to miscalculations as to how to oppose him. Sometimes, for example, we imagine that explaining doctrine clearly will serve to rectify things.

 

The clergy class still rears its ugly sting to inflict vindictive damage on true servants of God if possible (See the Russian affair).”

I don’t think that’s true, and it is a good case in point. Buy too much into this and it would appear that if the clergy were to disappear, attacks against us would be over. In fact, the clergy has practically disappeared from the standpoint of influence, and attacks come upon us full-throttle. 

 Nobody believes me on this. They just assume that the Russian Orthodox Church is behind the ban. They have said that they are not. I am inclined to believe them. To be sure, most there squealed with delight when the ban on Witnesses went into effect, like kids on Christmas morning, but the thinkers among them don’t like it. They think that the same legal reasonings being used against us could also be used against them. They also regard themselves as the true church, and THAT is now illegal under the new laws first applied to Witnesses.

The centerpiece of my “theory” is articles such as this one in the Daily Caller:

We fixate on the Russian Orthodox Church because we have not moved on from the days of the Roman Catholic Church in 1950s Quebec, and 1940s America and Europe, when religion truly did orchestrate the mischief. The anti-cult movement of today that would take out ALL religion starts with the biblical faith that is most clearly “no part of this world,” but it is hardly friendlier with other types. We should know the enemy.

Recently in field service a woman answered my companion’s knock and said she wouldn’t speak with us since she “follows the Word of God.” Thus, she drew “battle lines,” and it was hard to not respond in kind. My companion began to go where we so often go, where I used to go, and a silly little contest begins of searching for chinks in her “armor,” since we are loath to leave an “objection” such as hers unanswered. After all, we also think that we are following the Word of God.

After a time, I interrupted to say: “Look, you believe in God and you think we’re doing it all wrong. We believe in God and we think you’re doing it all wrong. We will steal sheep from your church if we can and you will do the same to us. Let’s just accept that as a given. Either way it is a search for God and a desire to worship him.” With that, I made a point about the “shocking disregard for Jesus” prevalent in the world today, and a brief defused conversation ensued. We parted with her thinking that we were, at least in some respects, on the same page. And we were. We both have a common enemy who is on the ascent.

The Western clergy is licking its wounds these days. It is the atheists who are riding tall. It may be correct to identify the Man of Lawlessness with a religious faction—it certainly was that way in the early centuries—but its latest manifestation is not religious and has no use for God, having elevated other concerns to that status.

 
 

 

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Talk: (5 min. or less) w04 5/1 19-20 ¶3-7—Theme: How Were Certain Christians “a Strengthening Aid” to Paul? (Col 4:11, ftn.) (th study 7)

“I know several people who rose in their employment far beyond what their qualifications and education would have seemed to permit. When I investigated, I found that it was because they had deliberately made themselves indispensable. 

“Aw, man, I can’t believe I left my parchments at my apartment,” someone would say. He (or she) would volunteer to get it. “Rats, I left my cloak in the car,” another would say. “I’ll get it,” was his reply.

Of course, those are Bible examples from 2 Tim 4:13, the gist of such will be revisited presently. What they would actually volunteer for is some pain-in-the-neck spreadsheet that had to be done but nobody wanted to do it.

So it is that five obscure characters rose in the ranks in the apostle Paul’s eyes. “Only these are my fellow workers,” he says of Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, almost as though they formed a cabal. He describes them as a “strengthening aid” (“source of great comfort” - 2013 NWT) and the Greek root word is peregoria, used only once in scripture, which generally has medicinal connotations, hence the two acceptable renderings. Going back several decades, there was the English ‘peregoric,’ an over-the-counter medicine. It had opium in it. It was good for whatever ailed you.

Paul comes across as almost superhuman in his endurance—recall Mark Sanderson at the Gilead gradation referring to the list at 2 Corinthians 11:23 and observing that just one of those experiences would have floored most of us—yet he surely could have used “strengthening” from time to time. Like when enemies try to pin the charge of ‘sedition’ on him—as they did with Jesus—as they have done with Jehovah’s people today—and, far from according him respect as a driving force of an important religion, dismiss him as a “pest” promoting a “sect.” (Acts 24:5)

If someone is described that way—especially if they are under (house) arrest, as was Paul—there is a tendency to keep one’s distance, lest the unsavory accusations rub off. If someone is charged with sedition, you think twice before you say, “That’s my buddy!” If someone is written off as a “pest,” you show whose esteem you are trying to court by whether you identify with that person or not.

Similarly, “they will say every sort of [wicked] thing about you,” Jesus says of his disciples. And ‘if you see how they treat me, then you know how they will treat you.’ (Matthew 5:11, John 15:20) There is a tendency to back away from anyone of whom “every sort of wicked thing” is said, and these five cabal Christians would not do it. It is hard not to think of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia right now. As some are being led off to courts andimprisonment, after having personal property confiscated, their brothers, far from laying low, are publicly identifying with them. There is even a scene somewhere of the friends clapping in the aftermath of a trial, as the “guilty” member is being led away. It plays a little odd from a distance, but the idea is to recognize and support those keeping integrity under trial. It is hardly just Russia, however. Everywhere “every sort of wicked thing” is said about Christians, affording ones opportunity to gather round or distance themselves.

Qualifications were not unreachable for those whom Paul would later recognize as a “strengthening aid,” or “source of great comfort”—just stick with him under censure and don’t run like a chicken. One of them even DID run like a chicken at one time (arguably) —Mark, but he later got his act together and identified with Paul in hard times—so if we are chickens, there is yet hope.

The others: “Tychicus, my beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you so that you will know how we are and that he may comfort your hearts. He is coming along with Onesimus, my faithful and beloved brother, who is from among you; they will tell you all the things happening here.Aristarchus, my fellow captive, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barʹna·bas (concerning whom you received instructions to welcome him if he comes to you), and Jesus who is called Justus, who are of those circumcised. Only these are my fellow workers for the Kingdom of God, and they have become a source of great comfort to me.” (Colossians 4:7-11)

Tychicus made himself a conduit and a go-for. Onesimus is the former slave that the educated Paul hung out with—probably freed at his request, since his owner had also become a Christian. Aristarchus—all that is known about him is that he was a jailbird with Paul, and incurred the same slander. Mark, as mentioned, is the reformed chicken. Justus—virtually nothing is known about him. These are not high-profile people and their high praise as Christians is not unreachable for anyone.”

That is how I ended the talk, by observing that anyone could attain that status and that I hoped to be described that way myself someday.

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photo: Jwilli74 

 

 

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The Russian Brothers are Doing Very Well, Thank You Very Much

What Witness of Jehovah could not think of their brothers in Russia when reviewing Philippians, this week’s Bible reading?

The imprisoned Paul writes: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that my situation has actually turned out for the advancement of the good news,  so that my prison bonds for the sake of Christ have become public knowledge among all the Praetorian Guard and all the rest.  Now most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence because of my prison bonds, and they are showing all the more courage to speak the word of God fearlessly.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

It is the case with Witnesses in Russia, isn’t it? They are holding up pretty well, by all reports—it can be seen in the public support they give to ones punished by the state for their worship of God. As in the first century, “most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence,” trial-some though their circumstances are. We are proud of them, and even wonder whether we would do so well ourselves. ‘Don’t think that you can do it on your own strength,’ comes the answer, ‘and you will do fine.’

The anti-cultist mastermind, Alexander Dvorkin, did not foresee it happening this way. Just after the ban went into effect in April 2017, he was “absolutely convinced that after a few years, the number of members of the organization will decrease dramatically, two or three times, because, when one cuts off its financial foundation, its ability to freely, without hindrance, recruit other people, to rent large halls and so on, then, in fact, people will lose interest and will very quickly disperse.” Now, two years is not “just a few years,” but it is not so far apart. He did not say “generations.” He expected his results rather quickly, and it is not turning out that way at all.

One is reminded of Satan’s taunt: “Is it for nothing that Job has feared God?  Have you not put up a protective hedge around him and his house and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock has spread out in the land. But, for a change, stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your very face.” (Job 1:9-11) It isn’t working out that way. Our brothers in Russia are doing us proud.

Human rights advocates widely predicted that this would happen—it is not a circumstance solely of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but of people in general who are concerned with spiritual things. Similar fortitude is shown in other faiths as well. It is Dvorkin who, fleshly man that he is, totally misjudges the power of spiritual things to motivate. “But a physical man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually,” says the apostle again at 1 Corinthians 1:14.

He drinks too much of his own Kool-Aid, and thus, when things fail to turn out as he anticipated, it is due to his own self-deluded assumptions. Dvorkin is playing the role outlaws of religion have played from before he was born, using state apparatus to squash enemies, and doing so under a guise of People’s Protector. His premise is wrong: that individual Witnesses are being “manipulated” by an evil corporate outside class. Instead, the ‘outside’ class IS them, merely in the organized form that members know is necessary to best implement the faith that they have chosen. They are not like the munchkins of his imagination, delighted that the wicked witch is destroyed. They recognize his attack as the attack on Christianity that it is.

We see this all the time—enemies impose their own standards on spiritual things, and then draw wrong conclusions when things do not turn out as they have anticipated. It is seen when they make the self-determination that religious things cannot change, as secular and scientific things do, and that should Witnesses see that some teachings have “flip-flopped,” they will be outraged at having been “misled.” How can people be so nuts? They change all the time—it is called “tacking” and the “ever brightening light”—completely above board and nobody has ever said otherwise.

Still, the changes that are made are analogous to details, roughly akin to looking at the map anew and rereading it. It happens all the time with science. Somehow, physical people have decreed that it cannot happen with spiritual things. Of course it can. It is their own presumption of everything religious being autocratic, ironclad, and unyielding, that stymies them. It may not be so fluid—‘to each his own!—as the world they have chosen, but it is far from inflexible.  Moveover, the essential building blocks of the faith—defusing the ‘immortality’ of the soul, establishing the non-Trinitarian nature of God, the reason as to why he allows suffering and evil, along with the Name that he says he wants sanctified—these things have been firmly in place for over a century.

The Russian brothers are doing very well, thank you very much—“in no way being frightened by [their] opponents. This very thing is a proof of destruction for them, but of salvation for you; and this is from God.” (Philippians 1:28)

Surely the people are but green grass. The green grass dries up, The blossom withers, But the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) So. Dvorkin thinks he will kill off the green grass, like a dog peeing on it? Time will tell. So far his dream is not coming true.

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photo: persecution 2, by dr zoidberg 

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