The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are adamant in saying that all true Christians must believe everything they teach.
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We need to guard against developing a spirit of independence. By word or action, may we never challenge the channel of communication that Jehovah is using today.
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To hold to the headship of Christ, it is therefore necessary to obey the organization that he is personally directing. Doing what the organization says is to do what he says. Resisting the organization is to resist him.
One reason why the Governing Body speaks in this way is because all Christians should believe the same things. That is, there should be no disagreements, debates, sects, denominations, etc. What if the Governing Body teaches something you believe is unbiblical? Should the faithful Christian speak up? Or should he remain quiet and “wait on Jehovah” to correct the Governing Body? Apparently, some Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Ephesians 4:11-16 teaches that unity trumps the perfection of understanding. That is, even if you believe something is true, you should either believe the Governing Body or wait until the Governing Body changes their perspective. The contrary would be to openly, but respectfully criticize the teachings of the Governing Body that you consider to be false. Unfortunately, this is forbidden to the faithful JW.
With that said, let’s go through Ephesians 4:11-16 verse by verse and see if it teaches what the Watchtower claims it does.
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,” (Ephesians 4:11)
Both JW’s and non-JW’s alike are in agreement that there are no inspired Apostles around as there were in the first century. Where we disagree is where we draw the line in our cooperation to those taking the lead, whether it be local elders or a “Governing Body.” Before we get into this, let’s see what the Watchtower has to say about those who take the lead according to Ephesians 4:11:
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7 Our heavenly Shepherds, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, expect us to be obedient and submissive to the undershepherds whom they have placed in positions of responsibility within the congregation. (1 Peter 5:5)
What the Watchtower claims about obedience and what the Bible claims are two different things. See THIS POST for an excellent discussion of Hebrews 13:17 and what it means to “obey” or “submit.” Interestingly, the Watchtower affirmed these ideas to some extent in the same article,
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Bible scholar R. T. France explains that in the original Greek, the word here translated “be obedient” is not “the normal term for obedience, but literally ‘be persuaded,’ implying a willing acceptance of their leadership.” We obey the elders not only because we are directed to do so in God’s Word but also because we are persuaded that they have Kingdom interests and our best interests at heart. We will certainly be happy if we willingly accept their leadership.
This is fine as far as it goes, but the same article describes what should happen once you are “persuaded” of the Governing Body’s leadership:
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9 What, though, if we are not convinced that in a certain case the elders’ direction is the best way of doing things? That is where submission comes into play. It is easy to obey when everything is clear and we agree, but we will show that we are truly submissive if we yield even when we do not personally understand the direction provided. Peter, who later became an apostle, showed this kind of submission.—Luke 5:4, 5.
This is both a poor Scriptural example and poor exegesis. Is the Watchtower implying that we should accept the elder’s or Governing Body’s decision even when we aren’t convinced that they are correct? How is Luke 5:4-5 a parallel when Jesus is the one Peter is submitting to? Is submitting to and putting your faith in Jesus the same thing as obeying the elders or Governing Body? Interestingly, the Watchtower has very recently implied some very strong words of the JW elders,
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Elders do not go beyond the things that are written in the Bible. And by extension, they do not go beyond the Bible-based counsel written in the publications of the faithful and discreet slave.
If elders “don’t go beyond the things that are written,” does this mean that the elders are always right?
Thus far, we are off to a poor start in going beyond anything Ephesians 4:11-16 has taught us. All Ephesians 4:11 has articulated is who Jesus has provided to, “equip the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (4:12) These ones are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Notice, it is all these ones who are involved in equipping the saints; not just a centralized handful of men with exceptional authority.
Moreover, the Watchtower has assumed a particular authority to a fictitious “Governing Body” that isn’t even mentioned in the text. And through this assumption, the Watchtower will continue to insert their beliefs into the remainder of the passage as we will soon see.
“…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)
What does Ephesians 4:12 teach us? In context with v. 11, it is all apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers who are to build up the body of Christ. That is, Paul does not give any instructions for believers to look to the teachings of a “Governing body” and leave it to them to equip all Christians with proper teachings. Instead, he leaves it to those who are gifted and rely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to build up and encourage other believers.
“…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
Instead of relying on Scripture to guide their theological view, the Governing Body uses Ephesians 4:13 to justify their demand for absolute unquestionable obedience of all Christians worldwide:
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First, since “oneness” is to be observed, a mature Christian must be in unity and full harmony with fellow believers as far as faith and knowledge are concerned. He does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding.
Unfortunately, the Watchtower doesn’t provide us with the full picture. Of course, we don’t agree with Christians who have mere “personal opinions” to Bible understanding, for that would be eisegesis. But what about Christians who exegete the Scriptures properly and prayerfully seek the Holy Spirit for guidance? What should this Christian do when he is convinced that he is interpreting a text properly and was led by the Spirit in doing so? Should he abandon his convictions because the Governing Body teaches something different?
Apparently, this Christian should abandon his conclusions and instead, believe what the Watchtower teaches. But why shouldn’t it be the other way around? Why doesn’t the Governing Body accept correction? The simple answer is because the Governing Body has already assumed a position that demands correction of the subjects. Therefore, by default, all interpretations that differ from theirs are to be dismissed as “personal opinions” or “private ideas.” Yet, do we see anything in Ephesians 4:13 which assumes this level authority to anyone? Instead, the faithful exegete should determine someone’s beliefs to be unbiblical before referring to these as “personal opinions.”
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Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and “the faithful and discreet slave.” By regularly taking in the spiritual food provided “at the proper time”—through Christian publications, meetings, assemblies, and conventions—we can be sure that we maintain “oneness” with fellow Christians in faith and knowledge.—Matthew 24:45.
Again, there is nothing in Ephesians 4:13 or the context that says anything of the kind. Here, the Governing Body assumes their interpretation of Matthew 24:45 and reads it into Ephesians 4:13 without justification. That is, they suppose that “unity” equals all Christians agreeing with them. Interestingly, the Watchtower is telling us to have “complete confidence” in their teachings and cites Matthew 24:45. Yet, for decades the Watchtower has admittedly taught a false interpretation of Matthew 24:45. Of course, some Jehovah’s Witnesses cite the Governing Body’s willingness for readjustments as evidence of their “complete confidence.” Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses will then cite Ephesians 4:14 to display their confidence for a contradictory reason as we will soon see. Either way, whether stagnant or changing in their teachings, the JW’s would still display their confidence in the Governing Body.
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Second, the expression “the faith” refers, not to the conviction that each individual Christian professes, but to the totality of our belief, “the breadth and length and height and depth” of it. (Ephesians 3:18; 4:5; Colossians 1:23; 2:7) In fact, how can a Christian be in oneness with fellow believers if he only believes or accepts a certain part of “the faith”? This means that we must not be content with knowing just the basic teachings of the Bible or having just hazy or partial knowledge of the truth. Rather, we should be interested in taking advantage of all of Jehovah’s provisions through his organization to dig deeply into his Word. We must endeavor to gain as accurate and as full an understanding of God’s will and purpose as possible. This includes taking the time to read and study the Bible and Bible publications, to pray to God for his help and guidance, to attend Christian meetings regularly, and to have a full share in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work.—Proverbs 2:1-5.
For JW’s, “the faith” equals “everything the Watchtower teaches.” Therefore, the JW must accept everything they teach. This is how they must be unified. So again, we see an eisegetical insertion of something that is not taught in Ephesians 4:13. Nowhere does it advise Christians to be unified by accepting teachings from a centralized group of men. Nor does it teach us anything about “private interpretations.” So what does Ephesians 4:13 tell us?
First, notice that the unity of the faith has not happened yet. We know this because the body of Christ has not fully matured in having a full knowledge of Christ, “to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Even the Watchtower has to admit that they aren’t there yet. In addition, they have to admit that they don’t have perfect theological knowledge. They make mistakes and will continue to do so.
This is why Paul is commanding Christians who are gifted to continue to encourage, teach, and build up believers for service until they get to that maturity of full knowledge of Christ (Colossians 2:3). What will this look like?
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Paul isn’t providing a solution for unity by telling Christians to obey the Governing Body. Instead, the solution is with believers themselves to take initiative and build up the body of Christ by pointing them to Christ and the Scriptures.
“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14)
This Scripture is quite interesting as it relates to the Watchtower because it flies in the face of their history. First, JW’s place their trust in the Governing Body because they believe they are teaching truth. Yet, they also place their trust in them because they sometimes admit when they have taught something false.
But we must question whether Ephesians 4:14 actually applies to the Watchtower. Are they being “tossed around” with their teachings? A quick glance at their sloppy history in formulating fictitious chronologies or their life threatening teachings regarding medical practices would reveal this to be so. To the outside observer, the Watchtower is obviously being “tossed around” by “every wind of doctrine.” Therefore, would it not be within the faithful Christians conscience to use Ephesians 4:14 to abandon their association with the Watchtower and begin to fellowship with believers who don’t appear to be identified with this verse? If we’re really looking for “unity” in this passage, it seems that this would be the more unified choice.
“but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:15–16)
Notice that “unity” and “growth” are identified with Christ. We are to grow up through unity in Him and to encourage others to do the same. Instead of applying this, the Watchtower instead seeks to define “unity” by obedience to everything they teach. Ephesians 4:11-16 says nothing of the kind.
In addition, we are to “speak the truth in love.” What is the truth and how do we come to such knowledge? For Jehovah’s Witnesses, “the truth” is whatever comports with Watchtower teaching (which they obviously believe to be biblical). Yet, the Watchtower admits they teach things that are false and are capable of doing such for decades. So how can you really “speak the truth” when you are to abandon what you think is truth for the sake of “unity.” In other words, even if you think that your conclusion is more Scriptural than the Watchtower’s, you should abandon your “private interpretation” for the Watchtower’s. This is neither truthful or loving and will not grow you in “all aspects into Him who is the head.”
To conclude, we have seen nothing in these texts which speak to “unity” in the way that the Watchtower demands. JW apologists may suggest that “sects” are condemned by God because they aren’t “unified.” Yet, Ephesians 4:11-16 doesn’t provide us with the solution that JW’s think it does; that is, to resolve “sects” by obeying a “Governing Body.” Instead, the resolution to sects is to continue to have those gifted teachers and evangelist build up the body of Christ by pointing them to Christ and His Word. Thus, according to Ephesians 4:11-16, when Christ returns in glory, only then will we have full doctrinal unity. Therefore, the work of building up and equipping believers will continue until that time.