The first Christian congregations were organized in a theocratic way. In each congregation, there was a body of elders, and these elders were appointed by traveling elders when that was possible. Paul’s words in Titus 1:5 are:
I left you in Crete so that you would correct the things that were defective and make appointments of elders in city after city, as I instructed you.
In contrast with the claim of the present Governing Body there is no evidence that there was an ongoing sitting governing body consisting of the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem. The distances were great, and so the contact between Jerusalem and other cities were limited. While the apostles took the lead in Jerusalem, the bodies of elders took the lead in each congregation. And most of the decisions in connection with the congregation were made by the elders. The members of the congregations were admonished to be obedient to those taking the lead. (Hebrews 13:17)
However, in issues in connection with the worship of Jehovah, each individual Christian had to “carry his own load” (Galatians 6:5), and each Christian had his own Christian freedom. (Galatians 5:1, 13). This means that a theocratic arrangement functioned in the congregations. But the elders had no right to dictate to members of their congregation or introduce human commandments that others had to obey.
. See chapter 3 in my book My Beloved Religion—And The Governing Body, third edition.
FROM A THEOCRATIC TO AN AUTOCRATIC ORGANIZATION IN OUR TIME
In our time, the elder arrangement was introduced in 1972, and at that time, the organization was theocratic. The bodies of elders were quite independent of the Governing Body that was formed in 1971. They were encouraged to arrange meetings outside the Kingdom Hall and make their own outlines for public talks. The circuit overseers were only traveling pioneers and had no authority over the bodies of elders. Very few letters were sent from the Governing Body to the bodies of elders. The excursus shows that we tried to spread the good news as much as possible.
. See My Beloved Religion —And The Governing Body, third edition, pages 138-141.
EXCURSUS: PREACHING TO THE NORWEGIAN KING
In the early 1970s, we looked for new ways to preach the good news of the kingdom. And I thought, “What about king Olav V?” So, I sent a letter saying that as a representative of 3,500 of his subjects, Jehovah’s Witnesses, I asked for an audience.
I was participating in the field service in a congregation in Oslo, and a telegram was sent to me from the officer who was the secretary of the king. I did not answer the telegram because I did not get it. When I came to the family where my wife and I were invited for lunch, I got a state telegram of highest priority, and it said that I had to confirm the audience within three hours, or else the audience was canceled. I called the palace and said that I would be happy to speak with the king.
The audience occurred on Thursday, May 4, 1972. One hour before the audience, I walked around in the park around the palace, praying to Jehovah and thinking about what to say.
The officer instructed me about the etiquette of the audience. He would open the door, and I should walk until I saw the king. I should bow my head as a greeting, and the king would then ask me to sit down. When the audience was over, the king would signal that. I should raise, turn my back to the king and walk toward the door. When I reached the door, I should turn around and bow my head as a greeting, and the officer would open the door for me.
I was told that I should address the king as “Your Majesty” and that he would lead the conversation. The king started by saying that he knew very little about Jehovah’s Witnesses, and during the 20-minute conversation, he stopped several times because he did not know what to say. So I took the opportunity to preach to him about the kingdom of God. I knew that he was interested in history, and I gave him Aid to Bible Understanding and “Your Will Be Done on Earth”, which discusses the prophecy of Daniel.
The man who was in charge of those who shall protect the king is a brother. He worked as a police officer during World War II, and because of his actions, he became a war hero. After the war he he was called to the palace. He was on vacation when I had the audience. Later I spoke with him, and he told me that when he came back to the palace, one of the servants said to him: “There are so many Jehovah-books on the desk of the king. From where did they come?” I do not know if the king read the books. But in any case, he did not throw them away.
In 1976, some power was taken from the bodies of elders and transferred to the Governing Body. This continued, and in the 21st century, the Governing Body has all power over the doctrines, the assets, and the money. And the bodies of elders have very little power. This means that the organization has become autocratic. Some years ago, a brother working at the branch office complained about the system, saying that even if a small carpet had to be changed in an office at the branch, that could not be done before the permission had come from the Governing Body.
In a worldwide theocratic organization, there must be persons at the top who make decisions in a great number of situations. And it is expected that the members of the organization accept these decisions. However, when the persons at the top make almost all decisions, and they also make human commandments in life-and-death situations, such as in connection with disfellowshipping, the organization has become autocratic. Below I will show how the autocratic nature of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has prevented progress.
EXAMPLES OF THE PREVENTION OF PROGRESS
Between 1970 and 1972, I was the circuit servant (overseer) in the Oslo circuit. At that time, the organization was still theocratic. Milton G. Henschel visited Norway as the zone servant, and he wanted to speak with one circuit overseer about the preaching work and whether the Branch office did a good job, and I was chosen. Henschel was a kind brother, and we had a good dialogue. I spoke positively about the brothers at the branch office, and I had no complaints.
In 1970, we had started a new kind of preaching in Oslo. Six hours every Thursday, we had a table at the campus of the University of Oslo with publications and two placards with slogans such as, “The bulk of the scientific data speaks against evolution” and “Millions now living will never die.” Brothers and sisters stood around the table and had conversations with the students, and others walked around on the campus and spoke to the students they met. This was a very effective way of preaching, and during one month, 500 or more books were placed.
I mentioned this new way of preaching to brother Henschel. But he was negative. “This is not the way we preach,” was his comment.. I will not say that brother Henschel prevented the progress of the preaching work. For he did not tell us to stop our new way of preaching. But it shows that it was not so easy for the leaders of the organization at that time to accept new ideas from others.
Aftenposten is the biggest newspaper in Norway, and in 1980, one of its journalists wrote 20 negative articles about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many friends became a little depressed, and they could not understand why we did not answer the negative articles. The branch committee would not write an article because the policy at that time was not to answer any attack against us. But at last, the branch office allowed two of us to write a rebuttal.
During this time, one elder in our congregation suggested that several congregations should do group witnessing with the magazines in the streets of Oslo. In this way, people would see that we were alive and still were very active in our preaching work. I called the other presiding overseers in Oslo and suggested that we do street work on the next Saturday. Seven or eight hundred publishers were flooding the streets, and everyone was very enthusiastic and encouraged. One month later, I again called the presiding overseers, and we did the same street work with the magazines with great success.
After this, I spoke with one of the members of the branch committee and asked if we should continue with group preaching on the streets and how this work should be organized. I suggested that the city overseer should organize the street work, and this he did. However, after the next successful street work campaign, the city overseer got a letter from the branch committee with a strong correction. He was told that he had no authority to organize this work—such organized work in the streets was not a part of the arrangement of the Governing Body. So this had to stop. I wrote a letter to the branch informing them that one member of the branch committee had authorized that the city overseer organized the work. The city overseer was exonerated, but this very fine work that was encouraging to everyone was stopped.
This was clear prevention of a very fine service. And the reason evidently was that the branch committee was afraid of doing something that the Governing Body had not authorized, even when this was a boost of the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom. This shows the bad effects when the persons at the top demand that they shall make all decisions, even the small ones.
When My wife and I moved to Oslo in autumn 1975, we continued with our preaching at the campus of the University of Oslo. This was a fine service for the young brothers and sisters, and they enhanced their ability to use the Bible and reason with students. After the elder arrangement was instituted in 1972, we were encouraged to make our own outlines for public lectures, outlines that would fit the people in our territory. But this was discontinued around 1978 when we were told to use only outlines made by the Watchtower Society.
The interest among students at the university was growing, and our body of elders decided to invite students to four different public lectures in the Kingdom Hall. To make our own public lectures was against the rule. But this was a special situation, and in accordance with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, we saw the opportunity to try to help some students to see the truth.
None of the outlines from the Society would wet the appetite of students for Bible study, so we made our own outlines. They were entitled: “Can we trust the Bible?”, “The Bible accords with science,” “The prophecies of the Bible,” and “What does the Bible teach?” For several days we used flyers at the campus and invited the students to the lectures. They were also told that they could ask questions after the lectures. Several students attended the lectures. And after each lecture, the students and others were invited to a room in the Kingdom Hall beside the central room, and they had the opportunity to ask questions.
Not long after the last lecture, the body of elders received a letter from the branch office where we were criticized and we were told never to do something like that again. In this case, we did not follow the rules; to give lectures based on our own outlines was against the instruction of the Governing Body. But what we did was the best way to reach a group that was not easy to meet from house to house. So adherence of the rules prevented the progress of the truth.
We continued with our presence at the campus for six hours every Thursday. But a new rule was introduced. The rule said that offering literature from a table at the campus would require that we were members of a student “club.” I was employed at the University, and there were several Witness students. We asked the branch office if we could register a “club” for students who were witnesses. Such a “club” would not violate any biblical principles, but the answer was No. So, our preaching work at the University was terminated.
The principle of interactive learning indicates that those who are being taught must have a part in the teaching process. In an effective organization, the persons at the top delegate power to the persons below them, and these persons delegate power to those who are below them. In this way, there will be good cooperation, and the qualifications of each member of the organization will be fully used. If a small group of leaders insists on deciding everything, and the persons below them only have to follow the rules that those at the top have made, that will be an ineffective organization.
But this is the way the organization of JW functions today. The GB decides everything, and very few decisions can be made by the elders and the congregation members. This situation prevents progress because the qualifications and skills of the members are not developed and used. And this affects the teaching of the members of the congregation.
The public lectures represent one example of the low quality of teaching that has resulted. A great number of the outlines for public lectures made by the GB were made in in the 1970s. At that time, each lecture lasted 60 minutes. The outlines were adjusted to lectures of 45 minutes and then to lectures of 30 minutes. But the basic points are the same. Two of the present outlines are based on public lectures given by the circuit servants in the late 1960s. So, for several decades the same lectures have been given over and over again. And frankly speaking, public lectures generally are boring, and very little can be learned from these lectures by the brothers and sisters, except admonitions and exhortations that have been repeated many times.
Allowing the elders in the congregations to make their own outlines and teaching them how to do it would enhance the quality of the teaching greatly. And the same is true in many other areas. Teaching the brothers and sisters how to use their natural abilities in Jehovah’s service and giving them the freedom to do that would produce very fine results. But that is not possible as long as the eight men on the GB insist of making all the decisions.
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