Labeling the Apostate
by Meleti Vivlon | Jun 11, 2014 | Apostasy, Judicial Matters | 20 comments
[This post continues our discussion on the issue of apostasy – See A Weapon of Darkness]
Imagine you are in Germany circa 1940 and someone points at you and cries out, “Dieser Mann ist ein Jude!” (“That man is a Jew!”) Whether you were a Jew or not wouldn’t matter. The German public had been so indoctrinated against Jews by that stage that just applying the label would be enough to have you running for your life. Now let’s move forward ten years to the United States. People were being labeled “Reds” and “Commies” sometimes for little more than having attended a communist party meeting years earlier. This resulted in much hardship, loss of work and ostracism. What their actual political views were did not matter. Once the label was affixed, reason flew out the window. The label provided a means for summary judgment and condemnation.
A label can be a powerful control mechanism in the hands of an oppressive authority.
Why is this? There are a number of reasons.
Labels are often useful things which help us to make sense of the world around us. Imagine going to your medicine cabinet to get something for a headache and finding all the drug labels had been removed. You could still find your favorite pain medication, but it might take some time and effort. As inconvenient as no labeling might be, it is vastly preferable to mislabelling. Now imagine if the label for that pain medication had been misapplied to a bottle of strong heart medication?
It follows then that we depend on the labeling authority not to deceive us. You trust the pharmacist to correctly label your medication. If he gets it wrong, even once, would you ever trust him again? You might still go to him, but you would verify everything. Of course, your local pharmacist has no way of punishing you if you question him, or worse, stop buying from him. However, if those who label things for you have real power over you—like the Nazis that wanted the German people to accept their view of Jews, or the Republicans who wanted the American people to hate anyone they labeled a commie—then you have a real problem.
The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses through its branch offices and circuit overseers and right down to the local elders wants you to unconditionally accept its labeling system. You are not to question the labeling. Do that and you may be the next one labeled.
Here’s how it works. Someone commits a sin, or what is considered a sin based on our judicial system. For example, he may believe that some of the teachings of the Governing Body are unscriptural, teachings such as the 1914 invisible enthronement of Jesus in heaven, or the 1919 appointment of the Governing Body to rule over the congregation of Christ, or the two-tier system of salvation. Meeting in a secret session to which no outside parties are allowed, a three-man committee of local elders decides to disfellowship the individual in question. Perhaps you know the man. Perhaps you consider him a man of integrity and his disfellowshipping puzzles and distresses you. However, you are not allowed to speak with him; to question him; to hear his side of the story. You must accept the label which has been affixed.
To support this unscriptural procedure and the equally unscriptural requirement to share in shunning the former brother, we often quote 2 John 9-11. In Western society, saying a greeting is simply a matter of saying “Hello” to an individual. For a Westerner, saying “Hello” is the first thing we say when meeting someone, so if we can’t say that, the implication is no speech is possible. Are we correct in applying an interpretation steeped in Western culture to a Bible admonition penned almost two thousand years ago in the middle East? In the middle East, to this day, a greeting takes the form of wishing peace to be with the individual. Whether voicing the Hebrew Shalom or the Arab assalamu alaikum, the idea is to wish peace upon the individual. It seems that first century Christians were admonished to take the greeting a step further. Paul often directed them to greet one another with a holy kiss. (Ro 16:16; 1Co 16:20; 2Co 13:12; 1Th 5:26)
It is unlikely that anyone would dispute the assertion that Satan is the greatest apostate of all time. One cannot countenance the idea of greeting Satan with a holy kiss, nor of wishing him peace. It is therefore no surprise that Jesus never did this. He would have understood the principle long before John penned it: “For the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works”.
Nevertheless, does the injunction against greeting the apostate preclude all speech? Jesus is the model for all Christians to follow, so let us be led by his example. Luke 4:3-13 records Jesus speaking to the Devil. He counters each of the Devil’s temptations quoting Scripture. He could have simply turned away, or said, “Sorry, you’re an apostate. I can’t talk to you.” But instead he instructed Satan, and in so doing both strengthened himself and defeated the Devil. One cannot oppose the Devil and make him flee by remaining silent or by running away. Yet, if a congregation member were to imitate Jesus’ example by talking with a disfellowshipped brother or sister, he could be accused of having “spiritual fellowship” with the individual; giving the elders grounds for his own disfellowshipping.
The conclusion is that there is only one reason for our complete ban on even speaking with a brother labeled as apostate: Fear! Fear of the corrupting influence. “Nonsense”, some would say. “We are not afraid to speak to people of any religion because we have the Bible and truth is on our side. With the sword of the Spirit, we can defeat any false teaching.”
Right! Absolutely right! And therein lies the basis for our fear.
If the people we preach to in the territory were really versed in the Bible and knew how to attack those teachings of ours which are not Bible based, how long do you think the average honest-hearted, truth-loving JW would last out in field service? I have preached in five countries on four continents over a period of sixty years and have never had anyone use the Bible to challenge me about our unscriptural teachings, such as the 1914 presence of Christ, the 1919 appointment of the faithful slave, or the division between the “other sheep” and the “little flock”. So I was able to go on, secure in the hubris that I belonged to the only true religion. No, the apostate[i] is a dangerous individual for any religion that is based on the rule of man. This type of apostate is an independent thinker. Not independent from God, for he bases his learning and understanding on God’s law. His independence is from the thought control of men.
Given how dangerous such individuals are to the carefully hewn authority of the Governing Body—or for that matter, the authority of any ecclesiastical hierarchy in any organized religion—it is necessary to create a system of informants to police the doctrinal integrity of the whole. We do this by creating a climate where any statement suggesting even mild discontent with the established norm is seen as a an act of disloyalty to God, one that must be reported to the competent authorities. Unfortunately, our claim that all our laws are Bible-based creates a conundrum, because a system of informants runs counter to everything we can learn about Christianity from Scripture.
What follows is an object lesson on how easily the application of a single Bible passage can be subverted and redirected to new ends. All that is really needed is for us to turn off our critical thinking and put our trust in men.
In the October 1987 Watchtower we begin this misdirection under a subtitle “Applying Bible Principles”, leading us to the expectant conclusion that what follows are Scriptural principles properly applied.
w87 9/1 p. 12 “A Time to Speak”—When?
What are some basic Bible principles that apply? First, anyone committing serious wrongdoing should not try to conceal it. “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
The unstated application of this—already long ingrained in the minds of all Witnesses—is that this confession must be done before men. This misapplication is the jumping off point for what follows. However, if the confession here referred to is to God and not men, then the reasoning that follows loses its all-important foundation.
Since this scripture is taken from Proverbs, we are discussing confession in Israelite times. Back then if a man sinned, he had to make a sacrifice. He went to the priests and they offered his sacrifice. This pointed to the sacrifice of Christ by which sins are forgiven once for all time. However, the Israelite did not sit down with the priests to make confession to them, nor were they charged with judging the genuineness of his repentance and pardoning or condemning him. His confession was to God and his sacrifice was the public token by which he knew he had been given God’s forgiveness. The priest was not there to grant forgiveness nor to judge the sincerity of repentance. That was not his job.
In Christian times, there is likewise no requirement to make confession to men so as to receive God’s forgiveness. Consider the hundreds, if not thousands of column inches we have devoted to this subject over the years in our publications. All of this direction and the extensive judicial procedures and rules we have created and codified are all based on the misapplication of one Bible passage: James 5:13-16. Here the forgiveness of sins is from God, not men and is incidental. (vs. 15) The prayers for and healing of the individual were because he was sick and were to occur whether he had sinned or not. The exhortation to confess sins found in verse 16 is “to one another” and refers to the unburdening one does by getting the crushing weight of guilt and remorse off one’s chest. What is depicted is more akin to a group therapy session than a court of law.
Building on the false premise that sins must be confessed the elders, we now extend the application to get the cooperation of the entire congregation in supporting our judicial procedures.
w87 9/1 p. 13 “A Time to Speak”—When?
Another Bible guideline appears at Leviticus 5:1: “Now in case a soul sins in that he has heard public cursing and he is a witness or he has seen it or has come to know of it, if he does not report it, then he must answer for his error.” This “public cursing” was not profanity or blasphemy. Rather, it often occurred when someone who had been wronged demanded that any potential witnesses help him to get justice, while calling down curses—likely from Jehovah—on the one, perhaps not yet identified, who had wronged him. It was a form of putting others under oath. Any witnesses of the wrong would know who had suffered an injustice and would have a responsibility to come forward to establish guilt. Otherwise, they would have to ‘answer for their error’ before Jehovah.
So an Israelite man has suffered some wrongdoing. Perhaps he’d been robbed, or a family member had been sexually abused or even murdered. By publicly cursing the perpetrator (whether known to him or not) this man was putting any actual witnesses to the crime under obligation before Jehovah to come forward and serve as witnesses.
Now notice how we take this singular requirement and misapply it to support our cause. As you read what follows, notice that no scriptures are cited that actually support this extended application.
w87 9/1 p. 13 “A Time to Speak”—When?
This command from the Highest Level of authority in the universe put the responsibility upon each Israelite to report to the judges any serious wrongdoing that he observed (a) so that the matter might be handled. While Christians are not strictly under the Mosaic Law, its principles still apply in the Christian congregation. Hence, there may be times when a Christian is obligated to bring a matter to the attention of the elders. True, it is illegal in many countries to disclose to unauthorized ones what is found in private records. But if a Christian feels, after prayerful consideration, that he is facing a situation where the law of God required him to report what he knew despite the demands of lesser authorities, (b) then that is a responsibility he accepts before Jehovah. There are times when a Christian “must obey God as ruler rather than men.”--Acts 5:29.
While oaths or solemn promises should never be taken lightly, there may be times when promises required by men are in conflict with the requirement that we render exclusive devotion to our God. When someone commits a serious sin, he, in effect, comes under a ‘public curse’ from the One wronged, Jehovah God. (c) (Deuteronomy 27:26; Proverbs 3:33) All who become part of the Christian congregation put themselves under “oath” to keep the congregation clean, (d) both by what they do personally and by the way they help others to remain clean.
(a) Leviticus 5:1 is specific to a public call for help by an individual who had been wronged. It was not a carte blanc requirement for all Israelite to become state informants. To turn one’s back on a fellow brother in his hour of need when one had the evidence that would help him was wrong and a sin. We are taking this and saying that it required all Israelite to report all wrongdoing of any kind to the Judges. There is no evidence that such a system of informant ever existed in the nation of Israel nor was it called for in the Mosaic law code. But we need to believe this to be true, because we are now going to apply it to the Christian congregation. The fact is, if such was a requirement for all Jews, then Joseph the husband of Mary was a sinner.
“During the time his mother Mary was promised in marriage to Joseph, she was found to be pregnant by holy spirit before they were united. 19 However, because her husband Joseph was righteous and did not want to make her a public spectacle, he intended to divorce her secretly.” (Matthew 1:18, 19)
How could Joseph be considered a righteous man if he was knowingly intent on concealing the sin of fornication—for such he thought it to be before the angel set him straight? By our application of Leviticus 5:1, he should have immediately reported the alleged wrongdoing to the judges.
(b) Imagine a sister is working in a doctor’s office as an administrative assistant and sees from the confidential medical records of a fellow Christian that the patient is being treated for a venereal disease or has received treatment which conflicts with our doctrinal position on blood. Even though she is breaching the law of the land, she must “obey God as ruler rather than men” in this instance and report the wrongdoing to the elders? Acts 5:29 is a valid Bible principle, one to live by. But how is informing on one’s brother obeying God? Where does God say we have to do this? The paragraph making this statement exhorting our brothers to civil disobedience provides no scriptural support whatsoever. Not even misapplied Scriptures. Nothing; nada, nichts!
Clearly, Joseph, a righteous man of God’s own choosing would not ignore such a legal requirement if such actually existed.
(c) We now cast Jehovah in the role of the Israelite engaging in public cursing as he seeks to motivate his fellows to serve as witnesses. How ludicrous this picture is! Jehovah, the one wronged, publicly cursing the perpetrator and calling out for witnesses to come forward!
Jehovah has no need of witnesses. The Elders need witnesses if they are going to root out secret sin. So we cast Jehovah in the role of the wronged individual standing in the public square calling out for witnesses. The picture we paint is demeaning to the Almighty one.
(d) The reason for all this is the obligation we all supposedly have to keep the congregation clean. At other times, when we witness wrongdoing on the part of the elders or the Governing Body by the perpetration of false teaching, we are told to “wait on Jehovah” and to “not run ahead”. Yet here, we don’t wait on Jehovah to clean the congregation, but take matters into our own hands. Fine! To those placing this requirement upon us we humbly ask to please show us the scripture that places this obligation upon us. After all, we don’t want to be accused of running ahead of Jehovah.
Truly, while disdaining the Catholic confessional, we have our very own version, but ours comes with a big stick. We say that it is not for elders to extend forgiveness; that only God forgives. The elders’ only job is to keep the congregation clean. But words are lies when the deeds speak of a different practice.
Let us not be fooled. The real purpose for all this perversion of Scriptural principles is not to support God’s law, but Man’s authority. The informant system makes it virtually impossible to discuss Bible truth unless that “truth” conforms to official JW dogma. If this seems like a shocking assertion, allow me to illustrate.
Country A is a country where people uphold the law. For example, if these people hear a woman’s cry for help or witness a man being attacked by another or see a group of gang members break into a house, they will immediately call the police then raise the local alarm calling on other neighbours to assist in preventing the crime. If called upon to bear witness for something they saw or heard, these brave citizens do so unhesitantly. When there is wrongdoing at any level of government, these citizens are free to discuss it and even to openly criticize.
Country B is also a country where laws are enforced so citizens feel safe going out at night. Moreover, everyone is expected to inform on their neighbour for any infraction no matter how minor. Even infractions that harm no one directly and are private in nature are to be reported to the authorities. Citizens are not allowed to deal with such infractions on their own or with friends, but are required to report everything to the authorities for official assessment. Additionally, no criticism of the authorities is tolerated and even voicing complaints can land one in serious legal trouble. Even voicing legitimate concerns when wrongdoing by the authorities is observed is label as “murmuring”, a crime punishable by exile and even death. If there are problems with the way the bureaucracy functions, citizens are expected to pretend that all is well, and that greater wisdom is at work. Any challenge to that notion is also to be reported.
Would it be safe to say that we’d all like to live in Country A, but would consider life in Country B to be a nightmare? There are nations that aspire to be like Country A, though few if any achieve that aspiration. On the other hand, nations like Country B are ever present.
For Country B to exist there must be an active and robust informant system. If such a system is in place, it is virtually impossible for any country, nation, or organization under a central human authority not to descend into what we would describe as a police state. Any human authority that implement such a state reveals itself to be insecure and weak. Not being able to maintain control by virtue of good government, it holds on to power through mind control techniques, fear and intimidation.
Historically, any organization, institution or government that has descended into a police state has eventually collapsed under the weight of its own paranoia.
[i] “Apostate” is here used in the generic sense of one who “stands away from”. However, from a Scriptural viewpoint, there is only one type of apostate that matters—the one who stands away from Christ’s teachings.