The year was 1971, and I was five years old. The place was Sacramento California. Early that year a lovely older sister called at our house and successfully placed a book entitled "The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life" (published by The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society) with my mother. In short order she began studying with her, and was taken by such teachings as a paradise earth - something that was quickly received by a mother who had mostly known a great number of difficulties since her childhood. Needless to say, this "teaser" of a paradise soon to be realized has been the link strongly employed to bring a vast number of people to the organization. By the end of the year she got baptized. I remember holding the hand of my two sisters (the youngest, a babe in arms) to and from the Kingdom Hall just a couple of blocks away. We would walk along our street, lined with beautiful olive tree's, past the cemetery, and into the Kingdom Hall. We always sat in the front right row. As we sat quietly, I remember looking at the flagstone-style rocks lining the wall just in front of us and imagining the individual rocks in to some sort of ship, or airplane, and even a face. Soon thereafter, we began attending conventions and circuit assemblies. I have very fond memories of working in the tents behind the stadium helping to chop lettuce and other minor duties available to young children.
As the years passed, I recall signing up for the ministry school. The school was educational, however even at a young age it felt very uncomfortable and embarrassing receiving counsel in front of others. My mother explained that everyone received the counsel and it was part of learning humility. We had the conversation many times. It never escaped my notice, even at a young age, that some people received a "W" ("Work on this") repeatedly. That often made me upset. It made me feel that they were being selected out unkindly, or because of some personal difference the overseer may have had with the person. I once heard a sister get very upset and say, "He always gives me a W!" This same overseer always gave her a w... we all knew that.
Eventually the procedure for "public" counseling was done away with (as many recall). I always thought that the leadership of the Governing Body was unusually slow at "catching up" or "getting a clue" on a number of different things. Even from a young age, I had always thought that the meetings in no manner were even slightly set up to appeal to children, or teenagers. In fact, it wasn't until the 2000's that the Governing Body really started to design meetings to make them somewhat more enjoyable for the younger audience. Though they had likely received decades of complaints about this, they took an extreme amount of time to make badly needed changes. But since we were all conditioned to believe that God himself were guiding the very manner in which all these things were being delivered to us, to even think of anything outside the scope of the current status quo of things was tantamount to questioning God. It is no understatement how many times through my younger years I thought about how Jehovah God cared very little for us young ones!
As part of growing up in the organization, I remember all to well how to do "this" was wrong, or to say "that" was wrong. These included and certainly not limited to such things as: Saying the word "lucky," going to any school (post high school), growing a beard, saying "bless you" if someone sneezed, not saying "thank you" if someone wished us a happy birthday, not celebrating a birthday, watching an "R" rated movie. And much, much more!
It wasn't until I was much more mature (well in to my 30's) I realized that these were nothing more than stigma's that were created by men who lead by control. Many of these are still existent but far less emphasis on them as before. But even today, there are so many stigma's, a person can hardly breathe. Do not toast, you will be counseled, it is judicial. Not reporting time on schedule is considered as a trespass of "theocratic order" (a term absent the sacred scriptures).
A few other stigma's of recent I can think of were within the last several years. First, about five years ago a couple congregations South of Olympia, Wa (an hour or so distance) got together for a 1940's party, whereas all attendee's were invited to wear attire reflective of that era. I heard some talk about it a couple weeks after the event and understood it went really well with no problems. However, a couple month's later a talk was given at the circuit assembly in Puyallup, Wa addressing the occasion. The talk made it clear that it was inappropriate to dress in a manner that gives our approval of the styles of the world (was the essence of the talk), verbally referencing the event as well. I recall many being very disappointed that the leadership found an issue with it. But as is the case with most things, the event did not get overlooked by the "powers to be." They had to stamp out the little enjoyment a few had. "Must keep to the Law," type premise. Though these many things (and vast many others) may not be readily found written down as laws, they are laws in that they are argued against by attempting to use scriptures to reason on "why" they think they are inappropriate for Christians. Thus, the conscience of everyone is dismissed as necessary for Christians by passing the unwritten (or written) law of the Governing Body.
There were those (after the assembly), I heard express, that they believed the talk correctly addressed the matter, that is, that we should not be reflecting the style of the world. While their expressions, at first glance, appear scriptural in its reasoning, what they are doing is nothing more than raising their hand in agreement to the authority... for God's word admonishes christians to remain "separate" from the world. Such separateness is scripturally meant to be representative of our christian way of life. How so? By following our Lord and Master Jesus, conducting ourselves in a manner befitting a Christian in regard to our morals, and living in harmony with scriptural principles. But nowhere does our Lord Jesus, or our Father interfere with our humanity, or indicate involvement in the things that are personally important to us (such as the event described above) when it comes to that humanity, especially as long as it does not violate God's written word! The occasion mentioned above was simply a gathering (which is not only wholesome, but scripturally encouraged). There may have even been ones there that were older and recall dressing that way, and very well may have been a very delightful occasion for them to be part of. To them, it may have been a very enjoyable opportunity to reminisce over fond memories associated with their past. Whatever the case, there is no indication that it, in any manner, it violated the scriptures, nor their Christian consciences, for that matter! Back to topic:
The second example of a recent stigma took place closer to our town, Olympia. There was a festival/parade but on downtown Olympia in which the community put together their artistic ability to create an "animal parade." The parade was a big hit and showcased large depictions (in way of paper- mache, cardboard, chicken wire, etc.) of a number of different animals, including exotic tigers and such. The Thursday meeting before, a pioneer stood amidst other friends and proclaimed such a festival "creature worship," in its design. I remember she said, "You won't find our family there!" I decided to look up the event and found it to be quite honorable in its intent, and could find nothing unscriptural about it. The sister/pioneer was simply voicing the stigmatic-type echo of disapproval she no doubt learned, (as the rest of us), through the leadership of the organization. As mentioned earlier, its the "this is wrong," and "that is wrong" mentality that has swept the organization like wildfire since the late 60's.
Several years back, an elder and his wife decided to do something wholesome and encouraging for the congregation. They put on a talent show with music held at a local rental grange-like facility. It was very warmly decorated with wicker brooms, acorn squash, and many other delightful things. It was about a week later my wife and I were at meeting and heard some of the friends talking about how inappropriate it was, it being so close to the Thanksgiving holiday season. The show was put on end of September. Evidently there was complaining to the elder body by a few friends. My wife and I were very upset. The friends need these kinds of things, to bring us together in joy and a spirit of love. But it was ruined by several through their complaining. The elder who put in on was devastated. Note: When I read of the humility that some are spoken about in God's word, I quickly think of this dear older elder (around 75 yo). He is easily the most heartfelt, soft-spoken and humble man I have ever known. He teared up when we spoke of it in the car group later. His wife was devastated also. But again, what the friends were doing was exactly a reflection of how they have been trained by men who believe in law. So, is the influence from the Governing Body evident in these examples? Certainly it is! Not only is it noticeable, it is pandemic! Their stigmatic and intolerable behavior toward passing the letter of the law is not only far reaching, it is hurtful!
Good thing our dear Father doesn't stick with the letter of the law.......... we would all be dead! Fortunate for us, his "goodness" doesn't allow him to.
Another example would be something that happened to me personally a few years ago. We had a new circuit overseer visiting our congregation, and my wife and I arranged to work with him for the first time. Maybe the third or fourth door I decided to use the bible only instead of the Watch Tower and Awake!, something I have been doing for many years (a few houses here, a few there). I got a return visit out of it. When we got back to the sidewalk, the circuit overseer asked, "Why didn't you use the offer?" He was blunt and very straight-faced. I almost couldn't believe his comment/question. I simply told him, "I like to use the bible periodically to keep my memory on scriptures more clear." He said, "You should be using the offer!" Imagine that. I was counseled for using God's Word the bible. In his estimation, I was not following theocratic order as established by the leadership. As a representative of the Governing Body, he was speaking for them. Needless to say, I never worked with him again. Yes, a violation of theocratic order is seen as equal to rebelliousness, and lack of concern for God's way of doing things! Yes... I used our Father's Holy Word the bible in my ministry and got called to account. I wonder if this is what C.T. Russell had envisioned?
I also think of an expression a pioneer sister made in a car group while in the ministry some time ago. She made a remark about the pagan symbol of the cross being attached to almost all churches around the world. The others agreed with her. The field ministry has always been an opportunity to bring a kind of "strength" to everyone by highlighting the faults of so many religions. While much of it rings true, I by now had identified severe doctrinal error's in our own. Anyway, after making the remark about the pagan symbol of the cross accentuating most of the churches of Christendom, I thought about how the Romans were very pagan. Was it any wonder that they would impale our dear Lord and Savior on such an instrument, if he was crucified on a cross. The fact remains that none of us were there. Perhaps we will find out some day that he was impaled on a cross, and not a pole, or stake. Personally, after a measurable amount of time on the subject, it is my own opinion that he likely died on a stake. But the import is that he died, plain and simple! I remember reading a while back that there were times when the Romans would put a pole in to the ground, at which time it was appropriately defined as "stauros," then later, perhaps days later, erect a transom over the top to create a cross for crucifying people.
This is just another stigma. Demonizing churches and congregations because they have a cross on the outside of their church, which simply identifies it as a place of worship. Certainly, those congregants do not view it as "pagan." They are no more pagan than you or I. It is interesting to note that there are a vast sum of automobile marquis, clothing store logo's, and product logo's that have pagan origins, or are tied to astrology. This doesn't mean WE are pagan by purchasing them, driving them, or wearing them, any more than those worshipping in a church. The cross adorning a
church is simply an indication it is a place of worship. It doesn't identify the congregants as pagan.
And that is the beauty of the freedom under
our Lord Jesus. If it disturbs our Christian conscience when it comes to a certain thing, then we should obey our conscience, but we should not be trying to affect the conscience of others. In the organization, we have little room to use our conscience! The majority of everything is decided on a "body of law," with parameters that violate that freedom. And those "parameters" are the leadership answer's to what we may or may not do! This is not holy. Notice Paul's admonition: "For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you." (2 Cor 1:12). However, we are not given biblical authority to have the mastery over other's consciences, or influence them against something that disturbs us, but very well may be okay with our Father, Jehovah.
So, while all these things are certainly stigma's invented by authoritarian-types, they also become "law." Now, there may be no written rule by the organization on some of them, but they are law nonetheless since one may be counseled. But to the surprise of the reader, there is a vast systematic body of laws that literally exist at the high levels of organizational structure. Raymond Franz, a previous Governing Body member released proof of this "body of law" in his book "Crisis of Conscience." He identified a book that was written (but released only to branches) entitled, "Aid To Answering Branch Office Correspondence." He identified a section within the pages of this book called, "Body of Laws." Ray Franz had an original copy of the law's contents from A-Z listed in his book. The laws were quite extensive. But perhaps the most incredible feature of the laws was that they were all worthy of counseling and even judicial action of one sort or another. In Spring of 2017, a revised version of this book was made available on pdf by someone working within the scope of one of the branches. The title of the body of law was now, "Correspondence Guidelines" (Revised 2009).
How many times have we suggested, "We are not under law!" Not long ago, one of my sisters made the statement. I believe at one time or another in our Christian lives (as Jehovah's Witnesses), we have said this. How incredibly mistaken we were! And guaranteed, if you ever made the statement in front of a circuit overseer, or even a Governing Body member, they would readily agree with you! For we all associate "under law" as referencing the Mosaic law. However, there is one simple rule when it comes to this matter. And what is it? LAW IS LAW, RULES ARE RULES! No matter what form they come in. There were 613 laws in the ancient Talmud with sub categories of instruction known as "tractates." One website I visited, by an informed brother, listed the current count of laws at approximately 1000 total. I never have an issue with minor rules being made on congregational levels (of all faiths) as it respects the sanctity due a holy arrangement (i.e. kids running in a place of worship, parking, certain details associated with performance of ecclesiastical duties, etc). But legislating worship by means of law, and strict law at that, is something entirely unholy for any congregation on earth claiming to represent Christ's interests.
The above cited scripture (under title) helps us appreciate how Paul felt about law. Now, when Paul speaks, WE LISTEN. Not that we don't listen to the other writer's of the holy scriptures, clearly. But Paul was especially chosen by Christ as a mouthpiece. How so? Because he was the one selected by the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit that led Paul into the missionary work, out of Antioch, back to Antioch, etc. So when Paul speaks of such things, we should place strong emphasis on its importance!
In Romans 1-8, Paul repeatedly talks about law. Not only did he associate law with "nullifying," or in some translations "rejecting" the grace of God, but he stated in Romans 4:15, "for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation." Yes! The law is only good for one thing, and that is to create room for trespass! How intelligently worded. After Christ died all Christians on earth were now under a new law. What was it? Yes, we were now under the "law of the Christ." Notice what Paul says: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4). All those interested in pursuing a relationship with our Master Jesus were now free of law. Why was that? The law of the Christ is love, compassion, mercy, loving-kindness, loyal love, etc. If we allow these things to become manifest in us, there is no need for law. We will work, as his sheep, to exhibit these qualities in all aspects of our lives. Is it any wonder that the scriptures remind us that there would be evidence of one who worships God, and one who does not!
The Governing Body (present and past) has created a haven for law! They feel that a massive body of law is acceptable in an attempt to "keep the congregation clean." I would challenge any member of the Governing Body, or any witness on earth to point to the scriptures to support such a thing. But it cannot be done. How is it that the leadership thinks it knows better than our Master? And since our Master Jesus is operating in a capacity that exemplifies his Father, we must admit (without hesitation) that what he does is approved of by our Father, Jehovah.
How is it we can expect God's holy spirit to operate on congregations earth wide that has readily adapted to such law, thus nullifying his grace? We are in effect saying, "Father, we are fine without your grace (or loving-kindness, mercy, and loyal love), for since we have law, we are clean before you!"
This is the EXACT statement that the Governing Body, including EVERYONE of us are making by accepting and adhering to this legislating of worship! There is no way around it!
Really, the fact is, is you cannot legislate worship. People must be able to prove on their own, without figurative lines drawn in the sand all about us, and with overseer's ready at moment's notice to counsel when trespass is observed, where their heart is. We must be able to prove without law that the law of the Christ is written on our hearts by the way we live. It is an honest statement when I proclaim that there is a real tangible fear by all to trespass. The fear of being called in the back room by overseer's who want to question you over a matter, whether serious or not in its scriptural nature. Then the unnerving feelings one experiences in waiting for a decision if there will be a committee formed. And if a committee is formed, the process of incredible invasiveness in to your personal life by men who have likely, as many faults as you. In some cases perhaps (as proven over many times by those identified as molesters), are themselves guilty of serious sin, yet judging you. An appointment that belongs to our High Priest, Jesus. And there are many examples in which the entire matter rested upon a situation that in no manner violate scriptural principles, or laws, yet found yourself being counseled. Take for example, toasting. This could eventually lead, if practiced a few times, to judicial action. All on a system of a strict body of law.
And more often than not, there exists an uncanny and convoluted system of law (as sanctioned by the leadership) that opposes itself by a restriction on some things, but lenient on others. Though they in essence may be very similar in nature, one may carry a harsh penalty while the other remains acceptable. For example, in The Watchtower Feb 15, 2007 article on toasting, it reads, "Many people today who share in toasts may not think that they are requesting response or blessing from some god, but neither can they explain why they raise their glasses heavenward. Nevertheless, the fact that they do not think the matter through is no reason for true Christians to feel obliged to imitate their gestures." Again in the 2008 "Keep Yourselves in God's Love" book, it says (in part) that raising of the glass to heaven (toasting) may be viewed as a request from "heaven" for a blessing "in a way that does not accord with that outlined in the Scriptures."
If engaging in such a thing were repeated, it could lead to judicial action. If not reproved or disfellowshipped, one could find themselves suddenly stripped of privileges in the congregation. By contrast, notice what the organization leadership says on piñata's found in the Awake! Sept 22, 2003 The Piñata - An Ancient Tradition: "A main concern is, not what the practice meant hundreds of years ago (italics ours), but how it is viewed today in your area." This statement was made in light of the fact that the play of striking a piñata was early on practiced and encouraged by orthodox religions, including Catholicism. The striking of the piñata (which originally began with a seven or nine pointed star) represented the temptations of man as lured by Satan. Striking the piñata was represented by the releasing of blessings (the candy) by those who defeated the devil's temptations. Yet witnesses are free to do so if their conscience permits it. Perhaps it is a one of only a very few examples in which the leadership is saying, "we will allow you decision based on your Christian conscience, this one time."
The fact is, is that the Governing Body wants to legislate the faith of all people's, and feel they have the right to do so, in spite of scriptural counsel to the opposite. There are many examples of this form of convoluted teaching's by the leadership. Yes, the Governing Body loves power. It doesn't matter how sincere, or humble they may be. Proof is in the pudding. It is the authority, and it better not ever be questioned! For them, it literally is all about the law. It is my fair argument that they have literally created themselves (primarily beginning with J.F. Rutherford) as the most powerful body of men since Adam and Eve, with exception to the leadership of the early church during the inquisition. How so? The men comprising the Governing Body literally rules over millions of people to one extremity of the earth to the other, with the power at their finger tips to remove people and separate families the world over. And this, even on some minor accounts, that violate their established "theocratic order" of things, (a term which means "LAW"). And this is accompanied by an unholy demonizing of the friend's by a removal of privileges, reproof, or even disfellowshipping by something that God's word is silent on - but trespasses their law! And all this even though such offense may not disturb the conscience of the lover of God. It is an unholy authority to completely remove the freedom from true Christians and lover's of truth! And again, it is an unholy attempt to replace the grace of God by its very foundation of control.
The apostle Paul understood the importance of not allowing such men in to the congregation. As Jehovah's Witnesses, not only have we allowed it, we invite it in to our lives as something holy. In Galations 2:4 he stated clearly: "But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage." What was the liberty Paul was referring? Yes... it was the freedom under Christ from such law! Some commentaries state that these "false brethren" were not only working to re-introduce certain specific parts of the Moasic law on the congregations, but their own set of standards and rules as well. What did Paul say about this? He added (verse 5): "But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you." So by his words Paul was recognizing that these false brethren did not have the "truth." To allow them to pass law, would have meant to compromise the truth, and yield to man's way of doing these. And by accepting such law, they submitted to "bondage." And if that is what the members of the congregation wants, that is, to be under law... they must be prepared to be "judged by law." (Romans 2:2)
When we separate ourselves from the organization (as I thus did in 2016), I did so to demonstrate my uncompromising desire to follow my Master Jesus, and the way of the truth as a person free of the legislating of worship by law. And many are doing so the world over. The Governing Body, have attached a label to such ones by suggesting that they having an "independent spirit," and a "rebellious spirit." What attempt at control and invoking of fear in the innocent congregants. I agree that I do have an independent spirit from the law of man when it comes to my worship. However, I now also have a complete dependent spirit on my Lord and Master Jesus like I never thought possible! I can now live my life without all the figurative lines drawn in the sand around me. It is a feeling of liberation from our Lord and our Father Jehovah that cannot be replaced. The feeling is absolutely indescribable. But here is where the essence of what is truly Christian comes in to play. Now that I have been set free from law, I must depend on prayer, bible reading, and my ministry (a ministry that goes far beyond this website, but engaging peoples with the word of truth with only the bible) more than ever before. And I am doing so successfully. Should I fail in some way unexpectedly, I can approach my heavenly Father through our High Priest, and beg for forgiveness, not through a body of men who are ready to pass the law and judge you accordingly. This is the very freedom that was given to us by our Father by our Master's sacrifice. It is a gift beyond compare! It can't be beaten with a stick........ or by law, for that matter!