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

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Who're You Calling a Cult? Part 2

Jehovah's Witnesses don't fit the traditional definition of cult, but they do fit the new and improved definition [people we don't like] devised by Evangelical Christians and Evangelical Atheists, two overbearing groups who otherwise have nothing in common. If a website is run by members of either group, therefore, you can be sure we are a 'cult'.

Of the two groups, atheists are, at least, not hypocritical. Look, they don't like God; they're real clear on that. God is a delusion, they say, and worship a sham. So it's wholly consistent that a group like Jehovah's Witnesses, who agency, would cause them to use the C-word worship seriously, and in a manner influenced by biblical interpretation of a human governing 
 
Not so with evangelicals. There is hypocrisy here, or at least, Bible ignorance. If they were organized in a Christian manner themselves, they would not be calling JWs a cult....they would be imitating them.
 
Doing his utmost to goad me, one character (alas...I no longer recall just where) wants to know what I would do if I disagreed with JWs about something. Would I keep it to myself? Or would I speak out? I can start a debate club at my church, he tells me. Can ya, Tom Sheepandgoats, huh?? Well, can ya? Or would ya be scared?!
 

It's axiomatic to him that the Church be patterned on Western values, and in the West we have RIGHTS! First and foremost is the right to free speech. Robust debate! Can anything be more healthy? Wasn't it Patrick Henry who declared: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it!" How American! Mom! Baseball! Apple Pie! Flags a'flying! Surely that must be in the Bible!
 
Each time the Watchtower says something modeled on Bible principles, but not ideals of the West, it prompts vicious attacks from those who assume Western values ought to be the template of Christianity. But Patrick Henry was not one of the Twelve Apostles. He might not agree with verses like:
 
"It is necessary to shut the mouths of [self-styled authorities], as these very men keep on subverting entire households ..." Titus 1:11
 
...stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer    1 Tim 1:3
 
How's that for free speech? How's that for robust debate?
 
You cannot read the New Testament without being struck by the apostles' efforts to prevent sects, divisions, dissention, and at the extreme, apostasy. Christianity started in unity. They wanted to keep it that way. It's a constant theme:
 
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. 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.  1 Cor 1:10-15
 
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.    Acts 20:29-30
 
I [the Apostle John] wrote something to the congregation, but Diotrephes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us 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. Also, not being content with these things, neither does he himself receive the brothers with respect, and those who are wanting to receive them he tries to hinder and to throw out of the congregation.   3 John 9-10
 
Now....you know, and I know, that it's not human nature to agree. Furthermore, small disagreements quickly widen into large disagreements. Yet, Jesus disciples were to be "one flock, one shepherd." So there was a human governing agency in the first century congregation, consisting first of the apostles, and it was through this agency that Christian unity was preserved. Every Christian was encouraged to know the scriptures, even before they were all assembled into a 'Bible.' The earliest Christians had known Jesus personally. All this worked toward unity and agreement, to be sure. But as Christians increased in number from 12 individuals to congregations throughout the contemporary world, do you really think unity would remain unmarred without a human authority to explain, interpret, and settle disagreements? And if so then, all the more so today when congregations exist around the globe.
 
If Jehovah's Witnesses seem "authoritarian," it's mostly because churches, reflecting general society, have tired of authority and have cast it aside. Consumerism reigns in most churches today, so says Haddon Robinson:
 
"Too often now when people join a church, they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches we have a consumer mentality."
 
There's a price to pay for casting aside discipline in favor of consumerism: people cater to and start to spread their own novel interpretations, their own ways of doing things, their own outlook on what it means to be a Christian, and before long 2 Pet 2:1-2 comes to pass:
 
"...there also came to be false prophets among the [Old Testament Israelites], 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

I vividly recall circuit overseers and the like pointing out that "50 years ago the difference between Jehovah's Witnesses and churchgoers in general was doctrinal, not moral." Time was when there was little difference between the two groups as regards conduct. Today the chasm is huge. Can internal governing not be a factor?
 
I don't even like that question posed up there in that 4th paragraph: 'could I start a debate group if I disagreed with this or that teaching?' I don't like the premise. Christians aren't inclined to debate. They've signed on to a manner of thinking that holds truths aren't established that way. They tend to reflect the "wisdom from above," which "is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey..."  Jas 3:17. They allow themselves to be 'readjusted" through the influence of humans, as one might expect from reading Eph 4:11-13:
 
And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ...
 
They respond, even when "not favorably disposed," to a teaching style such as Paul encouraged Timothy to cultivate: "....a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed....."  2 Tim 2:24-25
 
Think of it as riders on a bus. Ideally, everyone's happy as can be. Singin the camp song and all. In practice, though, not all are that way. They fret and grumble about their schedule. They don't feel all that great. The weather outside sucks. The passenger next to them has some annoying ways. The bus is too hot or cold....ya wanna adjust the temp controls? And....couldn't the driver have avoided that pothole? Did he really mean to take that last turn? That's really the best way? It's not so serious as to warrant getting off the bus (always an option), mind you....after all, they didn't have to get on in the first place, but there can be minor murmurings about this or that.
 
All this is human. All this is easily absorbed by the congregation. It's not ideal, but it's life. You can do these things. What you can't do is grab the wheel of the bus. You can't stand up in the aisle and yell "fire!" You show reasonable decorum. If I disagree with this or that point, I say to myself: am I really so immodest as to think what is needed in the brotherhood is 7 million carbon copies of ME? I allow myself to be 'readjusted.' If I can't fully get into something, I don't fully get into it. I wait, pending a possible time when I can, submitting myself to godly instruction in the meantime. (1 Cor 16:16, Heb 13:17)
 
Some won't like this illustration. "There is no driver," they'll grouse. "There is no bus. It's just me 'n Jesus." But the verses above show otherwise. There is authority in the Christian congregation. Human authority. Surely you can accede to that without being a "cult".

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Tom Irregardless and Me      No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

 

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Who're You Calling a Cult? Part 1

 

Serving humanity, websites like CultBeGone.com keep us up to date on who the cults are, so we can watch out. Lately, trying to make me mad, they've started including us! My people! Jehovah's Witnesses! They never used to do that. They used to just call us a religion, albeit an oddball one. Cults used to be Jim Jones or Waco or that Japanese Subway Poison Gas gang....groups that physically isolate themselves, fall under control of some highly charismatic character, and act downright weird....I mean, socially destructive...so much so as to trigger a shoot-out with the Feds or a mass suicide. But in recent years, the ranks of those who track such groups have swollen beyond mere religious academics to include folks with an agenda, most notably evangelicals and atheists. To the former, anyone rejecting the Trinity is a cult. To the latter, anyone not rejecting God is a cult, save only the mainest of the mainstream faiths. So here we are stuck between these two overbearing factions, just like our Lord impaled between two thieves. Both readily throw the cult label at us, altering the traditional definition so as to include whoever they don't like.

If you don't like a group, it is a sect. If you really don't like it, it is a cult. Is it really that different from the first century, the birth-century of Christianity? Representing the new Christian faith, Paul, a former Jewish leader, checked into the synagogue at Rome to see what sort of slanderous reports they'd heard from opposers: "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)

The whole of Christianity was a "sect." And it was "everywhere spoken against."

Ironically, during the time we might conceivably have been called a cult, at least by one measure, we weren't. Joseph "Judge" Rutherford, second president of the Watchtower Society, was the outspoken public voice of JW publications throughout his term. A larger than life character...a man of pure charisma. His was the booming voice of Enemies. I don't accept the 'cult' label for even back then, mind you, but at least by that one measure...having a charismatic leader...we qualified.

But Nathan Knorr succeeded Rutherford as WBTS President in 1942, and he was plain vanilla, no razzle-dazzle at all. Brother Knorr was the visiting Bethel convention speaker one summer here in Rochester....I think in the late 1970's. As he spoke at the War Memorial  (since renamed Blue Cross Arena) the bright lights overhead showed up clearly the wrinkled mess of a suitjacket he wore. Probably from sitting in those arena seats, when you'd take your jacket off because the AC back then was temperamental, and it would slip to the back of the seat where it was promptly scrunched into a wad....I've had it happen to me often enough. Trust me....we were glad to hear from him knowing his role and responsibility....but he was not charismatic.

In the 1970's, duties were divided up among a governing body, men with equal rank, the number varying, from what I've heard, between 9 and 18. Now...it wouldn't be kind to call them colorless. But they didn't stand out. If one of them came to town you'd probably go hear him speak, but that's only because you were with the program. They had no drawing power in themselves. Though I'm sure their pictures have been published, I wouldn't recognize one were he to knock on my door....they just don't strive for prominence. They live in modest circumstances at Watchtower worldwide headquarters. Paradoxically, they resemble (I'm sure not by design) Plato's philosopher-kings, described in The Republic. As outlined in Michael Hart's The 100:

Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.

Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher -kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.

Anyone familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses will realize at once that this description fits the governing body almost to a "T". Only the "mates in common" does not apply.

They're not known to be especially riveting speakers. Maybe some a bit like Paul? who was a little.....ahem....dull in speaking, or at least rough. He summed up his own reputation: "For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible."    (2 Cor 10:10)   Paul even killed a person with his late night speech: "Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead." [!] (Acts 20:9  NIV) Fortunately for him, his is one of a handful of resurrections reported in the NT. As it should be. If you're going to bore someone to death, you ought to at least be able to raise him up again. But that might not happen today.

No they have no star power, these GB members, neither then or now. "Unlettered and ordinary," is how the Jewish high court described Christian leaders of the first century. (Acts 4:13) It's not so different today.

GB member Maxwell Friend (now deceased) actually showed up one evening at a Service meeting, much to my surprise. Turned out he was personal friends with someone in the sister congregation, which met in our same Kingdom Hall. His visit was a bit distressing to me, since, as a Ministerial Servant, I'd been assigned a Q&A part that night, and didn't feel optimally prepared. Great...just great! I fretted...I'm going to be stumbling and stammering in front of a governing body member! But the part went well. Brother Friend sat in the audience like everyone else, and raised his hand....I called on him....and he made some ordinary comment...not some Great Profound Biblical Truth comment.... just a regular comment like anybody else. Nobody made a great fuss over him. He didn't put on airs in any way.

I crossed paths with another one of that group, sort of. By odd coincidence, one of my pals has the same name, Christian and surname, as this other governing body member. Only the middle initial is different. My friend entered Bethel himself around 1980, and while at Bethel, he married. Mrs Sheepandgoats and I sent him a card on his first wedding anniversary and it was the governing body member who replied! (I discovered later they get their letters crossed all the time) He thanked us for our kind wishes, he related what he and his wife had been doing lately...how they'd been to Australia for the District Convention, and then Africa....boy, he sure gets around for being just a year at Bethel, said I to Mrs Sheepandgoats. But the wives' first names didn't match. Hmmm. Maybe the name we had was just a nickname, we mused, but then the truth dawned on us. And blew us away. Here is a GB member taking time to respond to an anniversary card....writing a few chatty paragraphs to people he did not know, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings...I mean, these are not pretentious people.

Jesus once said to his disciples: "You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave."  (Matt 20:25-27) In my experience, this description fits very well members of the JW governing body. Not cult-like at all.

 

[Edit  11/3/11   A brother emailed me to say that, although Max Friend had been in Bethel forever and ever, and had done many things, he was never on the governing body.  Naw....can't be, I said. But then I checked and....sure enough, it was true. Where did I ever get this idea in my head? Gasp.....does this mean I could also be wrong on other things?]

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me              No Fake News buy Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Watchtower, the Church, and the Nazis

Wowwheee! Did this guy ever get pilloried!
 
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Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose mother survived the death camp at Auschwitz, said yesterday that only Jews persecuted during the Nazi reign should be honored at a Holocaust memorial in Brooklyn.
 
Hikind said even though 5 million people from other groups -- including gays, the disabled and Jehovah's Witnesses -- were killed along with 6 million Jewish people during the Holocaust, the memorial in Sheepshead Bay should be for Jews only.
 
He said he is not against a memorial to honor the other groups -- as long as it is somewhere else.
 
"These people are not in the same category as Jewish people with regards to the Holocaust. It is so vastly different. You cannot compare political prisoners with Jewish victims."    New York Post, June 2009
 
.......................................
 
This blogger, for example, went so far as to bestow upon the Assemblyman his "Idiot of the Day" award! (I didn't check to see who the year's other 364 idiots were.)

 
This one called him a "jerk" and a "hypocrite."

 
This one called him (ahem) "a real dick."

 
I suppose I should join in the chorus, but somehow I can't get my heart into it. I know where this fellow is coming from. Should he not be given a free pass on account of his mother alone? Oh, I suppose if this memorial is publicly funded, like the Holocaust Museum, you should include all groups. But, if you identify with one of the groups, as Hikind does, I see his point. You can't compare political prisoners with Jewish victims.
 
As it turns out, I also identify with one of the groups, in fact, I identify with two of them. Everybody knows that I've worked closely with the developmentally disabled. I've written posts about them here, here, and here. They are my people. Life hasn't dealt them a very good hand, and perhaps if I had been dealt the same hand, I would not have played it as well. So if they (or their advocates) were to put up a memorial for their disabled holocaust victims, it wouldn't bother me for a moment that Gypsies weren't included, or gays, or Jews, or Jehovah's Witnesses, or political prisoners. You really can't compare them with these other groups. True, as one blogger pointed out, they were all murdered, but - from the Bible's point of view- all who have ever died have been "murdered," by Adam at least, if not also by some more immediate villain. Why not put up a memorial for all dead people and be done with it?
 
Of course, the other group with whom I identify is Jehovah's Witnesses. Here again, to extend the Assemblyman's reasoning, you cannot compare Jehovah's Witnesses with Jews or Gysies, or Poles, or gays, or the disabled, or anyone else. Unique among all holocaust victims, Jehovah's Witnesses were able to write their ticket out at any time. All they had to do was sign a statement renouncing their faith and pledging support to the Nazi regime. Only a handful obliged - a fact that seventy years later I still find staggering.
 
In the face of those who would deny the Holocaust, Jews are ever vigilant to keep the record clear and unambiguous. See Prime Minister Netanyahu's address before the U.N. 64th General Assembly, for example. Wow! Did he ever pin their ears back! (Unfortunately, did anyone listen?) Even watering down the Holocaust record makes them bristle. I've no problem with that. I understand it. We do the same.
 
There are any number of serial gripers on the internet who are alarmed at any favorable mention of Jehovah's Witnesses, and who immediately attempt to negate such praise. Some of these characters strive with all their might to denigrate Jehovah's Witnesses' stand during the Holocaust. Of course, this is not easy to do, because the stand is among the most courageous actions of the past century. But they try. Generally, they feign applause for the astounding courage and faith of individual Witnesses, but then take shots at their organization, as if it was entirely separate. Yes, those Witnesses were amazing, they say. Too bad they were sold out by an oppressive, self-serving, uncaring Watchtower central machine.

Man, that steams me!! Any Witness will tell you, it's because, not in spite of, the support and direction of their organization, that they withstood Hitler. Nazi troops overran Watchtower branch offices in lands they controlled; their occupants were arrested and imprisoned alike with the rank and file. Meanwhile, the mainline churches refrained from criticizing the Nazis, lest there be reprisals. "Why should we quarrel?" Hitler (correctly) boasted. "The parsons....will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable little jobs and incomes." [The Voice of Destruction, Hermann Rauschning, 1940, pp. 50, 53.] The major churches received large state subsidies throughout the war.
 
Not so with Jehovah's Witnesses. After the war, Genevieve de Gaulle, niece of latter French President General Charles de Gaule wrote: "I have true admiration for them. They ....have endured very great sufferings for their beliefs. . . . All of them showed very great courage and their attitude commanded eventually even the respect of the S.S. They could have been immediately freed if they had renounced their faith. But, on the contrary, they did not cease resistance, even succeeding in introducing books and tracts into the camp.”
 
Would that Catholics and Lutherans, who comprised 95% of the German population, were similarly "sold out" by their respective churches. The Hitler movement would have collapsed!
 
After the war, Catholic scholar and educator Gordon Zahn examined the records and, diligent though he was, could find just one among 32 million German Catholics who conscientiously refused to serve in Hitler's armies. He found another 6 in Austria. Why so few? He reports that his extensive interviews with people who knew these men produced the “flat assurance voiced by almost every informant that any Catholic who decided to refuse military service would have received no support whatsoever from his spiritual leaders."
 
Instead, Pope Pius XII, in 1939, directed chaplains on both sides of the war to have confidence in their respective military bishops, viewing the war as "a manifestation of the will of a heavenly Father who always turns evil into good," and “as fighters under the flags of their country to fight also for the Church.”*
 
*quoted from the December 8, 1939 pastoral letter, Asperis Commoti Anxietatibus, and published in Seelsorge und kirchliche Verwaltung im Krieg, Konrad Hoffmann, editor, 1940, p. 144.
 
One might imagine that, chastened by their shameful WWI record, the clergy would have resolved to do better come the next crisis. Didn't happen. See the article Pope Pius XII and the Nazis—A Fresh Viewpoint, from the Feb 22 1974, Awake magazine (from which most of this post's detailed quotes are taken). No, it was not Jehovah's Witnesses who were sold out by their organization.
 
Now, seventy years later, along comes Ragoth- good old analytical Ragoth, who can always be depended upon for substantial comments - Ragoth, meaning no harm whatsoever, who "would also point out the Confessing Church during World War II, a la Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Granted, most of them were put to death, Bonhoeffer for spying for England and being involved with the plot to assassinate Hitler, but they stood their ground in opposition to the Nazi take-over of the German church. Now, also granted, they didn't take a pacifist stance. Bonhoeffer and Barth originally started that way, but Bonhoeffer became convinced that as evil a thing as it would be, he would have to suffer the consequences in the afterlife to help the Brits, and, eventually, to become involved in the assassination plot.....they were a relatively small group, but, I just wanted to throw in there were some other religious groups openly and constantly opposed to Hitler and the Nazi party, even in the face of death threats and directly against the rest of the churches out of which they came from."
 
Ragoth has a point. Not everyone in the German churches supported Hitler. Perhaps 10% of German Protestants took a stand against the Nazis. Doubtless Catholics as well. The point is, though, that they had to defy their church to do it. They were an embarrassment to their respective churches, from whom they received "no support whatsoever." So some of them banded together into schisms of their own - such as the Confessing Church. Others acted independently as renegades. These were the "political prisoners" mentioned before, no doubt. I have nothing but admiration for these persons. Ragoth is absolutely right to recognize and honor them. They were extraordinary people.
 
But not everyone is extraordinary. Most people are quite ordinary. It's true with Jehovah's Witnesses. Some are extraordinary, but most are just regular folk. Jehovah's Witnesses did not have to stand against their own religious organization or form a new one because theirs had betrayed its values. We stood against Hitler largely because of our religious organization. Those others stood against Hitler in spite of theirs.
 
People benefit from organization, even though "organization" has become practically a dirty word today. Even the minimal organization of family is too much for many these days. You should hear how often the terms "brain-washing" and "mind control" are applied to us. But without leadership from a genuine principled organization, only 10% of Germans were able to resist the greatest atrocity of all time. With leadership from a principled organization, virtually all were able to resist. If there really is a God, why would he not be able to provide some sort of organization so that believers are not tossed about like seaweed on the surf?
 
No, I don't want to hear bellyaching about the manipulative Watchtower. It's nonsense. It comes only from those who despise all of Jehovah's Witnesses. After the fall of France in 1940, the Vatican’s Cardinal Eugène Tisserant wrote to a friend that “Fascist ideology and Hitlerism have transformed the consciences of the young, and those under thirty-five are willing to commit any crime for any purpose ordered by their leader.” It's an extreme case, but it illustrates how people are. They run in herds, overwhelmed by national, economic, social or class concerns of the day. The then-current generation ever imagines they are the first to break the trend. When the dust settles, though, they're seen to be subject to the same laws of human nature as everyone else. It takes a loyal God-centered organization to cut through the murk, and keep moral principles ever before its people, as happened in WWII and as happens today.
 
......................................
 

This excerpt comes from the United States Holocaust Museum Memorial, regarding Jehovah's Witnesses.

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Tom Irregardless and Me        No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Rationalism, the Third World, and Bible Principles

At first it appeared the countries suffering the most would be the "guilty" countries - the ones whose banks invented the super leveraged credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations - the ones whose governments and citizens were head over heals in debt - the ones whose people had replaced the Bible with Consumer Reports. "Responsible" countries, those operating a surplus, whose citizens were frugal, such as China, Japan, and Germany - would emerge relatively unscathed. Ah, but it was not to be! The latter countries have suffered as much or more. Their strong balance sheet comes from exports, and now who remains to buy their goods?

But the really innocent countries - the third world countries - fare the worst by far. There, the downturn doesn't mean tarnished golden years. It means lives lost. Seldom are cause and effect linked so clearly - most often there is sufficient disconnect so that the connivers on top can remain oblivious to the havoc they wreak below. But not this time.

Economist this week considers the plight of Africa, (The Toxins Trickle Downward, 3/14/09) where in recent years, millions have inched their way above the poverty line, only to be shoved firmly beneath it again. Such countries are impacted in three ways: 1) credit market are closed to them, as they are riskier borrowers, and financial aid from wealthier countries wither, 2) commodity prices have collapsed, and commodities are usually their primary exports, and 3) remittances from citizens working abroad have dried up. The World Bank reckons these three factors will account for 200,000 - 400,000 lives lost, all children.

It's rare that the failure of human rule is shown in such stark relief, with consequences so directly traceable. How damnnable that people nonetheless prefer it to God's rulership as outlined in the Bible, as advertised by his Witnesses, and as practiced by the Christian organization. Here's an excerpt from someone who has left God - our God, no less - Jehovah, to embrace atheism. He gushes effusively about his new "rational worldview" (I have greatly condensed certain remarks, and to be fair, you might want to see them in their context here. The author includes a number of his gripes about Jehovah's Witnesses - mostly exaggerated drivel, in my view, that I may respond to if asked - likely in a separate post.):

 

Rationalism for me means a life of pure freedom. ..... But this means that this life that you’re living now is the most precious thing you’ll ever have. .... Because there is no Big Daddy to appease or suck up to, or be afraid of, you should be nice to people because it’s nice! You should treat people like you want to be treated! You should not steal or murder because it hurts people, and hurting people is wrong. Always. No one needs a god to tell them this.....

Being a rationalist....If you say something irrational or realise the error in your own thoughts, a red flag immediately raises. .....rationalism is a worldview with no drawbacks, and only positives. It encourages honesty and truth.....It promotes interest in the common good...

 

How lofty and soaring the words sound! How much crap they are in reality! As the "African" example shows, people use their "pure freedom," to grind others into the dirt, and not to "treat people like you want to be treated!" (an exclamation mark, no less....oh, the joys of rationalism!) They are not "nice to people." They "hurt people," two to four hundred thousand of them, even though "hurting people is wrong." Plainly, we do need a "big Daddy to appease" and a "god to tell" us how to live.

If you had had a son or daughter high up in the banking world, who was devising the complex financial instruments that would ultimately ruin us all, you would have carried on about how well junior was doing for himself, how respected he was in the business world, and so forth. Even experts in the field had not a clue they were playing with dynamite; if they had, they would have cashed out their investments before the markets plunged.

The fact is that humans were not designed to rule themselves. It's an ability they do not have. Whether through greed, ignorance, pride, or some mix of the three, the record of human rule aptly illustrates Jeremiah's words:

I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step   Jer 10:23

A major theme of the Bible is that God has designed rulership which will one day replace human rule. He will bring it about himself, and those who have sided with him will be mere bystanders. In the meantime, these latter ones declare this government by God:

And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.    (Matt 24:14)

Today, the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses govern their affairs in accord with Bible principles, which provides a hopeful foregleam of life under that Kingdom rule. It's well known that racial and tribal divisions - the ones tearing apart the world - utterly fail to divide Jehovah's Witnesses. It's well known that when natural disaster strikes, (for example, Katrina) teams of volunteers promptly care for their own, rebuilding homes while governments are yet twiddling their thumbs. It's well known that Kingdom Halls in the third world are often the most impressive building in town, far more than what the locals could afford - due to a sharing of resources and building talent from wealthier countries.

All this provided through an organization which counsels, which directs, which disciplines its own, which insists on members living by Bible principles. Grousers, such as one may find online, launch blistering attacks at this, for it seems to impede their freedom, and this they will not tolerate, even in trivial matters. But our "economy" works to the good of third world countries, rather than trampling them underfoot.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

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

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Beijing and Real World Unity

As the $40 billion dollar Beijing Olympics romped through closing ceremonies, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth gushed with emotion. Two weeks of persons from all corners of the earth mingling, smiling, and learning about each other’s cultures! No battling, save only that of sports, and that done amidst mutual respect and good will. Maybe….maybe….I mean, it’s probably pie-in-the-sky, he conceded, but maybe…..if they could do it for two weeks, then what about three weeks? And then  what about a month? And then a year? And….oh, utopian dream come true!….why should the party ever stop? Can’t we all just get along?

Of course, kids can also behave pretty well for the two weeks prior to Santa's Christmas arrival, or at least, I was generally able to manage it. It is pie-in-the-sky Cris…..but then, he knows it…..everyone was moneyed and pampered and well-fed for those two weeks. Stress-free, really. And weren’t they all pretty upper crust? Excepting perhaps the poor relations of some of the athletes, and these must have seemed to be in material fairyland for those 17 days.

Still, a glimpse of unity is real impressive, even if it’s temporary, even if it’s artificial. It speaks to a yearning deep within most of us. Is not the world breaking into more and more independent factions, all of whom resist cooperation with anybody else? So every once in a while there will be some circumstance to evoke a contrasting taste of unity (sometimes the circumstances are those of tragedy) and people like Cris wax poetic. It always makes me scratch my head because seven million Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoy such unity daily, as a matter of course. In all circumstances, our people of all races, nationalities, socioeconomic classes, and educational levels mingle freely and without strife. Wars, riots, and social upheavals do nothing to mar the peace. We tell people of this unity…doubtless we’ve told Cris…but by and large they want no part of it. Peace and unity….yeah, that’s great, it’s what they want….but not at the price of adopting a screwy religion like Jehovah’s Witnesses!

But it only seems screwy because JWs have renounced attitudes that make unity impossible and embraced those that facilitate it. This the general world has failed to do. Alas, it is not just a few teeny tiny tweaks that need be made so as to achieve unity. No, but a massive overhaul of thinking and behaving is required, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have done that. But that revised viewpoint makes us seem very strange to general society and not especially palatable. Nonetheless, surely it is beliefs that will get to the crux of why people can or cannot get along, and what institution in life is credited with molding a person’s beliefs? Where does morality come from? Surely it’s not found in higher education. If we’re SOBs, going to college usually just makes us smart SOBs, but it’s through spiritual growth that a person’s conduct can change for the better.

The peace and unity typifying Jehovah’s Witnesses is so well attested that even detractors….we have quite a few of them…..don’t deny it. Instead, they sometimes attribute it to (gasp!) LANDRU.

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Captain James T. Kirk and the Star Trek boys came across the Landru clanwhen they were way, way out there, on the very fringe of the galaxy. (Was it only me who was disappointed that, no matter how far they traveled, whatever aliens they found looked just like us, save for raised eyebrows, different skin color, pointy ears, peculiar dress and grooming, etc? Where are the evolutionists when you need them?)  This was a nauseating race of folk with syrupy smiles who carried on trancelike and greeted each other with slogans like May you have peace…Joy to you, friend, and…Landru gives blessings, and so forth. Tranquility prevailed, but none of them could really think for themselves. Kirk couldn’t stand them, but then he found out why they were the way they were. Boss man Landru had brainwashed them and stolen their souls! He’d come across them when their world was about to self-destruct and given them peace though mind-control! Now….all was joy!  And Landru wasn’t even a person, but a machine (that should please the evolutionists) which the aging Landru had designed (that should displease them) to carry on after he died. And above all things, you were not  to step out of line. If you did, why….there were enforcers to zap you into oblivion. The Enterprise crew was so distressed at this society that they violated their Prime Directive [Mind Your Own Business] to short circuit the computer and free the people. Having done so, they cruised on, leaving the citizens raping and pillaging like in the good old days.

Mind controlled zombies! Just like under Landru! That’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses are so peaceful, charge guys like Tom Barfendogsand Tom Sowmire! But their unity is really not so weird or hard to understand. It just seems that way because that quality is unheard of in today’s world.

Jehovah’s Witnesses share a common vision and purpose. Moreover, they defer to God Jehovah as their lawgiver. That’s really all there is to it. They’ve voluntarily made the choice, and so encounter a Christian formula for achieving practical unity. They find the Bible’s way of life to be not oppressive, but rather like a highway with guardrails. Nobody gripes about the guardrails in real traffic….they serve a purpose. Everyone knows that. Moreover, they neither infringe meaningfully on your freedom nor stifle your personality. On the contrary, they help you become all you can be. Just like in chess. Once you decide to abide by the rules you can do amazing things on the board, but you can’t do any of them until you follow how the game is played.

One of the public talk outlines currently in circulation spends considerable time contrasting unified and uniform. They’re not the same. Human organizations tend to squeeze persons into common molds, stifling individuality, often literally slipping them into uniforms. But unity based upon observing Bible standards is different. The apostle Paul likened it to the human body:

For the body, indeed, is not one member, but many. If the foot should say: “Because I am not a hand, I am no part of the body,” it is not for this reason no part of the body. And if the ear should say: “Because I am not an eye, I am no part of the body,” it is not for this reason no part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the [sense of] hearing be? If it were all hearing, where would the smelling be? But now God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now they are many members, yet one body.             1 Cor 12:14-20

Note that the eye, ear, hand, foot, and so forth cooperate seamlessly and yet do so without sacrificing any individuality or uniqueness. They don’t all become the same. Rather, they each bring their own contributions, for the benefit of the entire body. It’s much the same with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are fully individuals, with unique likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, assets and liabilities. You will like some of them; others may not be your cup of tea, just like anywhere else. In cooperating towards a common theme, they lose none of what makes them unique, but they carry on free from the endless divisiveness that characterizes the world today. It’s a very appealing aspect of JW society which newcomers tend to recognize quickly. Not like Landru at all!

There! Another ill report disposed of! And now….

May…you…have….peace …friend.    Joy….blessings….and tranquility!

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Watchtower Lightens Up in Brooklyn Heights

When their buildings were unconnected, Bethelites might walk sidewalks six-abreast at "shift changes," sweeping passerby into the street. So Watchtower connected buildings via underground tunnel, but this made them a "secretive cult," attempting to isolate their folk from the real world.

Watchtower owns 30 buildings in the Brooklyn Heights vicinity. They’ve been there since 1909. Brooklyn Heights was then, and remains, world headquarters for the organization.  Over the years, and especially in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, as neighboring properties became available, Jehovah’s Witnesses snapped them up to accommodate growth. Of course, they didn't buy indiscriminately...they looked them over closely. When the Hotel Margaret went up for sale, Watchtower kept their distance. With its all wood interior, surely it was a fire trap. A few years later the building burned to the ground! Our people, directly across the street, had to evacuate. The June 22, 1980 Awake! magazine relates the fire, and a subsequent issue highlights an excerpt from With New York Firefighters, the firefighters' house magazine:

“And, we would be remiss, indeed, if we neglected to mention those members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who, from their headquarters across the street from the Hotel Margaret, provided food and shelter for our firefighters during the entire operation. On behalf of the entire fire-fighting force, warm and sincere appreciation is extended to these kind and dedicated people.”

It's a challenge for any neighborhood to bear that much tax-exempt property, even if the tax-exempt organization was responsible for keeping the area respectable during harsher times. So it’s probably a win-win that Jehovah’s Witnesses are lessening their presence….selling off a few buildings….so as to consolidate all U.S. printing in rural upstate New York. Some of the printing presses they use…newfangled jobs….require straight-line paths greater than the Brooklyn properties can physically accommodate. So the buildings have sort of become obsolete. And if the printing operations move, then you don’t need the residential buildings to house the workers, do you? Last year (2007) the Watchtower put six of it’s eighteen Brooklyn Heights properties up for sale. (the other twelve properties are in the nearby DUMBO (whatever that stands for) neighborhood)

These six aren’t the first to go. The year before, the Sliver building was sold. I have fond memories of the Sliver building, since Tom and Pam Oxgoad, Bethelites for many years, used to live there.

Tom Oxgoad hails from near Rochester. He’s a pal, and many years ago he was accepted as a Bethel volunteer. He met Pam while at Bethel. We‘ve been down to visit a few times over the years. Once we spent the whole day roaming Manhattan, which is easy to do when you have a native guide. Many hours we spent at the Metropolitan Art Museum. (or was that on another visit?) Come evening, we bought some wine and cheese and holed up in their tiny Sliver building apartment. Didn’t it have a bed that folded down from the wall, or have I just embellished its compactness in my head? What I positively do remember was their view of the Manhattan skyline…absolutely breathtaking!

The Oxgoads had had their eye on the Sliver building for some time, waiting for a vacancy.  At Bethel, there is a seniority system when it comes to housing, but you have to be alert to new openings as well. Pam had been on the ball. She'd learned of an opening at the Sliver, the couple had applied and slipped in before anyone else knew which end was up.

The Oxgoads adjusted well to city living. Visiting speakers from the hills would show up for the Sunday public talk, Tom once told me. They’d rail against wicked big cities and how Nimrod founded Babylon and how Jehovah would flatten them all and so forth. Tom and Pam would wince….New York City, after all, was their home, and most of us grow fond of our homes, same as I've grown attached to Rochester and even see fit to write nice thingsabout it. Alas, their Manhattan view was not to last. No sooner had they settled in, when they were reassigned to rural Patterson NY. One day their window view took in Manhattan; the next day it was grazing cows.

The timing is favorable for selling off some buildings. Brooklyn Heights is hot right now and properties command top dollar. "[Jehovah’s Witnesses] bought their buildings for their own use, not looking to cash out, at a time when the market was dead and you couldn't give real estate away in this area," said Andy Gerringer, managing director of Prudential Douglas Elliman Developments. "I don't know if it was savvy investing, luck or divine intervention."

Nor do I.

Everyone says the Witnesses have been good neighbors, though they’ve not mixed much with the greater community. “If families start moving in, it’ll probably get a bit livelier around here,” said one man. “They didn’t really interact with everyone around them.”

Like I say, it’s probably a win-win. But if we’ve been good neighbors to Brooklyn Heights, they also have been to us. The Oxgoads miss it a lot.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Plato and the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses

In general, Jehovah's Witnesses don't know a whole lot when it comes to ancient Greek society. We are happy when the visiting speaker pronounces Socrates with three syllables, and not "So crates." Oh, the Greeks are back there in our school days somewhere. After all, they lived in a window of time in which civilization got its act together long enough for some privileged persons to think deep thoughts and record them for our benefit. But we don't consider knowledge of them indispensable for enriched life. The rapidly ascending Chinese and Indian populations most likely are completely ignorant of Greece....the root of Western civilization, but not theirs....and don't bemoan the loss.

Nonetheless, there is this atheist fellow I've been conversing with lately who throws Greeks at me right and left. He's even assumed a Greek moniker....Moristotle....and he's prompted me to consider changing my own name to Tom Sheepandgoaticus so as to win some respect. So it behooves me to read up on those Greeks. What do we find, for example, when we do some research on Plato?

Plato put into writing his concepts of ideal government. He advocated rule by "philosopher-kings." Several times in Moristotle's blog I've read the term. (If his blog has a search feature, I'd provide links. C'mon, Moristotle, get with it!) Plato favored monarchy, but not hereditary monarchy. Instead, his rulers were to be selected (by already existing rulers) on the basis of merit. This would follow a lengthy period of education designed to separate the wheat from the chaff.....so lengthy that it seems nobody under age 50 would be eligible for consideration.

Consider this excerpt from The 100, an intriguing book by Michael Hart, which undertakes to rate the one hundred most influential persons of history: (Plato is #40)

Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.

Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher -kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.

Anyone familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses will realize at once that this description almost exactly describes their "governing body," the agency that governs members of the faith. Only the "mates in common" does not apply.

Compare Plato's dream government with this depiction of the Watchtower organization, submitted by a reader to the Gary Halbert letter(which appears to be a Kiplinger-style newsletter, and which may include some sort of a sales pitch....I'm not familiar with it):

They are the most non-profit of non-profit organizations I've ever seen. All of their workers are voluntary. *All* of them. From the top down, the way the entity is structured, even the executives of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, NY (headquarters of their worldwide organization) donate their time in exchange for very modest room and board. I've toured a few of their facilities in the Brooklyn, Wallkill and Patterson, NJ areas. I've seen it with my own eyes.

Everyone who works at their printing facilities (where they print bibles and bible literature for their worldwide bible education work) works for room and board and they get a very small allowance (somewhere around $120/mo.) for personal items. This entire organization is supported by means of voluntary donations. And it's amazing......I mean, these people are not driving around in fancy cars and getting rich pocketing donations by any means.

They spend their money on maintaining their printing facilities, printing bible literature, housing & feeding their voluntary workers (who all live in an apartment-like community maintained by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), supporting voluntary missionaries around the world, language and reading programs (where they teach illiterate people to read), DISASTER RELIEF....I could go on.

But the bottom line is that NONE of their money is used to line pockets of greedy execs. *

This organization is duplicated in the one hundred or so branch organizations that exist around the world.

Of course, one may object: Plato's recommendation is for the government of nations. Jehovah's Witnesses are a religion. But the similarities are more striking than the differences. Worldwide, Jehovah's Witnesses number between seven and seventeen million, depending on the criteria you use in counting. That's more than the population of a great many nations. Moreover, Jehovah's Witnesses are correctly viewed as a moral, decent, and law-abiding people. This is no mere accident, nor is it explained solely by their belief in the Bible as the source of divine instruction. It is also the result of effective administration, governing if you will, since there are ever so many groups who claim to follow the Bible but whose lifestyles beliethat claim. Jehovah's Witnesses are unified in a common goal and purpose, as the above letter points out. They would appear to be Plato's dream come true.

Author Hart actually allows for a religious setting when discussing the application of Plato's ideal. He suggests "there is a striking similarity between the position of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe and that of Plato's guardian class." I assume he is referring to the Church before the Inquisition. Otherwise, Hart acknowledges, Plato's ideals have never been adopted by any human government.

Oh, this is too rich! Here is Plato, poster boy of the modern atheist rationalists, devising a system of government which none of them have come close to reproducing, but which is adopted, without fanfare, by a group they can't stand, Jehovah's Witnesses! The reason, of course, is that Plato's system depends on persons who are neither ambitious nor materialistic nor overly proud. It's not that such persons can't be found among the general population. It's that the values of this world are such that these persons can't rise to the top. Indeed, they are often dismissed as impractical nuts (as with Jehovah‘s Witnesses).

By the way, what happens when atheists themselves try to adopt Plato's ways? Hart continues: "The role of the Communist party in the Soviet Union has also been compared with that of the guardian class in Plato's ideal republic. Here, too, we see a self-perpetuating elite whose members have all been trained in an official philosophy."

Aren't communist systems atheist, indeed the only governments officially atheist? Yes....and when the atheists try to implement Plato, their creations are hijacked by bullies and mass-murderers: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, and so forth. Look at these guys crossways and you do ten years hard labor.

No, those atheists are unable to implement the ideals of their hero. Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, have done so. Okay, I guess it is too much of a stretch to suggest that if Plato were somehow to appear today on the world stage he would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I don’t suggest it. But I can picture the highly educated “wise-in-their-own-eyes” elite rushing to embrace him as one of their own, and he, upon accessing how they have failed to implement any of his ideals, wanting nothing to do with them. Meanwhile, he could not help but be appreciative toward the one sizable organization on earth that has managed to transform his dream into reality.

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Tom Wheatandweeds of the Whitepebble Institute submitted the above item. I told him not to gloat, it's not becoming.....I strictly warned him....but he could not resist. His communication included the following, which I have deleted from my published edition:

"Ha ha ha ha ha ho ho ho haw haw ho ho ho ho ho yiiiiii....THUD!

ow...........(he he)"

He never had an ounce of dignity, that Wheatandweeds. That's why I'm the blogmaster, not him.

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*It should be noted that the writer to the Halbert letter incorrectly recommends that one may donate to the Watchtower as an efficient way of providing disaster relief to post-Katrina New Orleans. In fact, JW disaster relief is a sideline, aimed mostly at getting their own people on their feet again so that they may resume normal Christian activity. The disaster relief teams are almost entirely individual JWs using vacation time or taking unpaid leaves of absence. They are not in position to do a general rebuild of the city and have never represented themselves that way.

 

More on Governing Body here.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Four Suggestions to Clean up the Evangelicals

Just as Daniel apologized for his countrymen, though he himself had little share, so Ronald J. Sider bemoans America’s evangelicals, saying it all in his 2005 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Sure, they believe the Bible, as they are quick to tell you. But they don’t practice the Bible. They don’t apply it in their personal lives. Some do, of course. Some are upright, but no greater a percentage than is true of people in general.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way, a point which chapter two, The Biblical Vision, makes painfully clear. That chapter is as concise and comprehensive a discussion of the subject as you will see anywhere. Taking each NT book in succession, Mr. Sider highlights scripture after scripture to show that Christians were (and are) expected to live under Christ’s law, and that doing so would produce a people who lived so decently that their lives, not just their words, would be a drawing card for the faith.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.         1 Peter 2:12    NIV

Here is Paul at Gal 5:19-21:  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“If Paul is even close to being right about what it means to be a Christian, one can only weep at he scandalous behavior of Christians today,” Mr. Sider states. “….How many preachers today speak that clearly about the sins of greed, adultery, and slander?”

He cites Peter as well: For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.      1 Pet 4:3-4

Apparently, the countercultural lifestyle of these early Christians was obvious to outsiders, notes Mr. Sider. Not so today among the evangelical community. “Our disobedient lifestyles crucify our Lord anew.”   Pg 96

After reviewing the evidence, “we have seen the stunning contrast between what Jesus and the early church said and did and what so many evangelicals do today. Hopefully that contrast will drive us to our knees, first to repent and then to ask God to help us understand the causes of this scandalous failure and the steps we can take to correct it.”  (pg 53) Mr. Sider has done just that and offers some remedies. You cannot read these remedies without noting they are the very building blocks integral to the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And they do, to a considerable degree, solve the woes Mr. Sider describes. Alas, they earn us ridicule, particularly the ones having to do with obedience and submission. Don't many evangelicals join in the ridicule?

First, says Mr. Sider, the Western world’s obsession with independence must end, to be replaced with recognition that Christians are a community belonging to, and having responsibility for, each other. Paul goes so far as to say Christians ought to be slaves to one another.  Galatians 5:13 literally reads “be slaves to each other,” yet most popular translations, Mr. Sider notes, dilute the verse to a more independence-savoring “serve one another in love.” (but not so the New World Translation, used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It reads “through love slave for one another.”)

Many churches today trumpet that they are “independent Bible believing,” yet the very notion is “heretical,” says Mr. Sider. To be part of the body of Christ, a church must align itself with a larger structure to give “guidance, supervision, direction, and accountability.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses have exactly such a structure in their governing body. Soreheads and malcontents rail against such organization as “mind control.”

Second, Mr. Sider suggests, any congregation with over fifty members ought to arrange its people into small groups, where oversight and encouragement can more effectively be offered.

They’re called book studies. Since as long as anyone can remember, perhaps from their outset, Witness congregations have made use of such small groups.

Make it harder to join, is a third suggestion. Evangelical Conscience points to early Anabaptists and Wesleyans, as if no modern examples existed. These groups took their time in admitting new members, ensuring that their conduct as well as words lined up with Christ’s teachings. They did not just settle for the silly and surface “confess the Lord and be saved.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known for requiring an extensive period of Bible study as a prerequisite to baptism..

Lastly, “parachurch” organizations, groups like Youth for Christ that transcend the larger church structure, have, by definition, no accountability to anybody. “Many of the worst, most disgraceful actions that embarrass and discredit the evangelical world come from this radical autonomy,” says Evangelical Conscience. Somehow such groups have to be brought into tow, though the author admits that he has no clue as to how to accomplish this.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do. They strongly discourage any such activity not under the oversight of the central governing body. You should hear guys like Barfendogs carry onabout such “strong-arm” methods! But one can’t help feeling Mr. Sider would approve.      

To be sure, Mr. Sider and Jehovah's Witnesses are poles apart doctrinally, yet organizationally we are his dream come true - a peculiar irony, if ever there was one.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)