There have been three stages in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the days of C.T. Russell and the Bible Students, the organization was democratic. In the days of J.F. Rutherford, the first stages of a theocratic arrangement could be seen, and in the days of N.H. Knorr, the organization became fully theocratic. In the 21st century, the members of the Governing Body gradually gave themselves more and more power, until the organization today is dictatorial.
In this article, I will particularly discuss the way from the introduction of the elder arrangement in 1972, when the bodies of elders to a great degree were independent of the Governing Body, until the situation today when the nine members of the Governing Body have unlimited power and function as dictators.
THE FREEDOM INTRODUCED BY THE ELDER ARRANGEMENT
From the time of World War II, The Watchtower Society organized the different sides of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It published The Watchtower and Awake! and different books and booklets, and it made the programs for the meetings and the assemblies. There were branch offices in different countries, and the branch offices sent circuit servants who visited different congregations for one week at a time.
The circuit servants were the liaisons between the branch office and the congregations. They gave talks to the congregations, worked together with the members of the congregations in the preaching work, and they discussed different issues with the congregation servant, who was the leader of each congregation, and with the ministerial servants. At the end of the visit, the circuit servant sent a report to the branch office, where he commended different sides of the work of the congregation, and he made some recommendations as to what the congregation could do better.
The members of the congregations viewed the circuit servant as a mature brother who could help them in different ways, and they looked forward to his visits. But the circuit servant also had power because he would recommend to the branch office which brother should serve as congregation servant and which brothers should serve as ministerial servants. If there were some problems in a congregation, the circuit servant would help to solve these problems.
THE FREEDOM OF THE BODIES OF ELDERS
In 1970, there was a review of the whole organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the result of this review was that a Governing Body was created for the first time in 1971, and the arrangement with one body of elders in each congregation was introduced in 1972. How was the sharing of power between the Governing Body and the bodies of elders? I saw the first signal of the new power structure at the in the year 1972.
I started as a circuit servant in the spring of 1965, and in the first part of 1972, all the circuit servants got a letter telling us that we no longer had the responsibility that we had before. From now on, we were only traveling full-time servants who could give advice to the congregations we visited, only when asked for it. And we should no longer make recommendations to the branch office about which brothers should be appointed as congregation servant and ministerial servants in the congregations. The circuit servants lost all their power, and when the elder arrangement was introduced, the full responsibility for each congregation rested with the body of elders.
These bodies of elders had a level of authority that the congregation servant and his assistants did not have before the new arrangement. The elders were encouraged to look for opportunities to give public talks at places other than the Kingdom Hall. They were encouraged to consider which subjects would fit their territories and make their own outlines for public talks in connection with these subjects. They were encouraged to find new ways to preach the good news. And they were also encouraged to use a part of their elder meetings to discuss deep Bible truths. The congregation members, at the recommendation of the body of elders, decided whether to build or rent a Kingdom Hall. This was a local matter, and the branch office had nothing to do with it. The situation was that the bodies of elders had considerable freedom to make their own decisions in several areas. And there were only a few areas where the Watchtower Society made decisions on behalf of the congregations.
The congregations followed the same meeting program provided by the branch office, and the branch office appointed the elders. But apart from this, the bodies of elders were, to a great extent, independent of the Watchtower Society. One important side of the new arrangement was that even though the elders had different personalities and different knowledge of the Bible, they were equals. That was also the reason why the positions of the elders, such as presiding overseer and theocratic school overseer, rotated each year. But this arrangement of rotation lasted less than ten years.
The circuit assemblies lasted three days, and much of the program discussed local needs. The circuit overseer decided what should be discussed at the service meeting. A part of the program consisted of role plays, and for these, there were only short outlines. The circuit overseer used several days to design the role plays. In contrast with present circuit assemblies, where the whole program is predesigned, the program at the three-day circuit assemblies was, to a great extent, made by local brothers.
In the 1960s and to the middle of the 1970s, the circuit servant (overseer) gave four talks when he visited a congregation. The branch provided the outline for the public talk, but the subjects of the other talks were decided by the circuit overseer. He also had two meetings with the servants in each congregation, and there were no outlines for these meetings. Today, all the outlines except one talk by the circuit overseer are made under the direction of the Governing Body.
The organizational arrangement in 1972 was close to the arrangement that we find in the Bible. The book Qualified to Be Ministers (1955) page 351, said regarding the congregations in the first century CE:
The early congregation was definitely organized in a theocratic way. . . . Although all were brothers, on the same level, and there were no clergy and laity classes, and those who were of the governing body and who performed duties of special responsibility were workers, yet the congregation was in no way democratically operated, neither was it communistic, and certainly not dictatorial. (My italics.)
This description of the congregation in the first century CE also fitted congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1972, when the elder arrangement was introduced. My experience was that the brothers at headquarters who took the lead behaved like brothers on the same level as all others, and they showed that they were workers and not governors, even though they had special responsibilities.
THE FREEDOM OF INDIVIDUAL WITNESSES
The Watchtower of October 1, 1972, page 589, shows that in the year when the elder arrangement was instituted, the Watchtower Society still admonished individual Witnesses to make decisions based on their consciences:
DIFFICULT DECISIONS OF CONSCIENCE
Thus there are many, many acts and practices that are specifically approved or condemned in the Bible. Many, many others are clearly in harmony with, or in violation of, principles contained therein. Yet, particularly in the modern, complex society that has developed in many parts of the earth, there remain situations and circumstances where personal decision, based on the individual conscience of the one involved, is required. So many things in life are a matter of degree. The difference between a gentle pat and a vicious blow is a matter of degree of force. The difference between simple respect—as, for example, respect to a ruler or a national emblem—and reverential worship is also a matter of degree. Where extremes are involved there is no real question. It is when the matter comes within what might be called a ‘gray area,’ approaching the borderline between what is clearly right and what is clearly wrong, that questions arise. The closer to such ‘borderline situation’ the matter comes, the greater the part the individual’s conscience must play in his decision. Faced with such circumstances, what should we do?
Jehovah God expects us to use our faculties of intelligence, our knowledge, understanding and judgment, and to do conscientiously what our faith points us to do. God does not place us under the conscience of some other human in such matters. We must each make our own decision in harmony with conscience—conscience molded by God’s Word. We must also take the consequences of our own decisions, not expect someone else to make the decision and bear that responsibility for us.
It would therefore be wrong in such matters to try to extract from someone else, from a body of elders or from the governing body of the Christian congregation, some rule or regulation that ‘draws the line’ on matters. Where God’s Word does not itself ‘draw the line,’ no human has the right to add to that Word by doing so. God in his wisdom allows us to show what we are in the “secret person of the heart,” and the decisions we make in such personal cases may reveal this. True, we may err at times without wrong motive, and God, who reads our hearts, can discern this.
|Where God’s Word does not itself ‘draw the line,’ no human has the right to add to that Word by doing so.|
The words in the frame are particularly important. When these words are followed, neither the elders nor the Governing Body can or will make rules that the individual Witnesses must follow. As an example of this, the book, Questions in Connection with the Service of the Kingdom (1961) lists only seven disfellowshipping offenses. Today, there are 48 disfellowshipping offenses, 11 based on the Bible and 37 invented by the Governing Body.
THE FREEDOM BEGINS TO BE RESTRICTED
I have shown that both the individual Witnesses and the elders had great freedom to make personal decisions based on their understanding of the Bible and their consciences when the elder arrangement was introduced in the year 1972. I will now show how the freedom of both groups began to be restricted.
THE BODIES OF ELDERS HAVE GRADUALLY LOST THEIR POWER
We have seen that all the power of the circuit servants was taken away in 1972, including the duty of recommending responsible brothers that should be appointed by the branch office. The book Organization for Kingdom-Preaching and Disciple-Making (1972), page 61, says:
Appropriately, therefore, in each congregation of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, once a year, about September 1, those who are already appointed elders prayerfully consider whether any additional brothers who are active in service on behalf of the congregation now qualify to become elders…if there are some who now qualify for appointment, the body of elders makes a written recommendation to the governing body, sending it to the branch at its address in their country.
This shows that the body of elders had the full responsibility of the congregation, and the circuit overseer (his new designation) had nothing to do with considering brothers for increased responsibility.
However, a letter dated August 1, 1976, that was sent to the bodies of elders, indicated that the circuit overseers now would get more responsibility. It said that from now on, the circuit overseer could be present when the body of elders discussed if a brother was qualified to become an elder. The letter said:
Even though the circuit overseer will not say anything when the elders make their final decision and will not have any part in the final decision in each case, he will give his opinion when he sends the recommendation on the forms that are made for this purpose.
Gradually, the circuit overseers received the power they had before, and this means that the Governing Body gave themselves more power because the circuit overseers represented the Governing Body. The circuit overseers would participate in the discussion when new elders were considered, and they would make their recommendations to the branch office. This means that the bodies of elders had less and less power in connection with the recommendation of new elders. Today, it is the circuit overseers who appoint new elders and notify the branch office of whom he has appointed.
It was also in 1976 that the congregations got a letter saying that only outlines for public talks made by the Watchtower Society could be used by public speakers. And all meetings had to be held in the Kingdom Hall. More and more of the tasks of the bodies of elders were taken away from them and transferred to representatives of the Governing Body. Today, the areas of responsibility of the bodies of elders are greatly restricted compared with the year 1972. I assess that the elders today receive ten times as many letters from the branch office than they did in 1972, and through these letters and through the circuit overseer the Governing Body is governing the congregations and the bodies of elders.
THE FREEDOM OF INDIVIDUAL WITNESSES HAS GRADUALLY BEEN RESTRICTED
I take the wise words that were written in The Watchtower of October 1, 1972, page 589, as a point of departure, and I quote the following:
It would therefore be wrong in such matters to try to extract from someone else, from a body of elders or from the governing body of the Christian congregation, some rule or regulation that ‘draws the line’ on matters. Where God’s Word does not itself ‘draw the line,’ no human has the right to add to that Word by doing so.
In chapter 2 of my book My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body, I show that there is no evidence in the Christian Greek Scriptures that there was a governing body over the Christian congregations in the first century CE and that there should be a governing body in the time of the end. The worldwide Christian community must of course have leaders who can arrange for all that is needed and make rules regarding organizational matters. But such a group should behave in accordance with the words quoted above. But unfortunately, the members of the Governing Body have gone in the opposite direction of the quoted words. They have made a great number of laws and rules that must be followed by all Witnesses, but which are not based on the Bible. In a great number of cases, they have drawn the line with no basis in the Bible. I will give some examples:
THE PROHIBITION AGAINST FACTOR VIII — 1972
Between 1972 and 1974, I was district overseer, and when one round of assemblies was finished, my wife and I spent some months at the branch office. In 1972, I was asked to answer a letter from a Norwegian hemophiliac regarding the use of cryoprecipitate, which includes factor VIII that can stop bleeding. The correspondence guidelines at the branch said that taking cryoprecipitate was a violation of the sanctity of blood. And this I wrote in my letter.
Later I was informed that the view of the Governing Body was that taking factor VIII one time was a matter of conscience. But taking it two times was forbidden. However, the members of the Governing Body realized that this prohibition was wrong, and they reversed their decision. That the decision was reversed was not published in the Watchtower literature. But an indirect reference to the reversal was found in The Watchtower of June 15, 1978.
Cryoprecipitate and Factor VIIII are not mentioned in the Bible, and therefore the members of the Governing Body drew a line when they had no authority to do so. The problem with this decision is that if hemophiliacs cannot take Factor VIII and they are bleeding, they may have great pain, and they may even die.
THE PROHIBITION AGAINST THE USE OF TOBACCO — 1973
The Watchtower of 1942, page 205 said:
The use of tobacco is extremely filthy, regardless of the form in which it is used… To be sure, the Society has no power or authority or desire to say that a person who wishes to use tobacco may not do so. Nor can it say, “You may not witness for the Kingdom.”
Because tobacco is not mentioned in the Bible, this is the correct Christian viewpoint. Several articles in The Watchtower said that the use of tobacco was a bad habit and everyone who wanted to serve God was advised to quit the habit. But The Watchtower of June 1, 1973, page 343 said:
22 What, then, of those who in the past were baptized while still using such addictive products as tobacco, other drugs, or who are on some treatment such as the “methadone program” and who continue in such practice? They may now be given a reasonable period of time, such as six months, in which to free themselves of the addiction. So doing, they will show their sincere desire to remain within Jehovah God’s clean congregation of dedicated servants… If persons already baptized are not willing to abandon their addiction to damaging and enslaving products, what then?… They should therefore be removed from the congregation due to such conduct unbecoming a Christian.—1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 12:15, 16.
Persons who must stop using tobacco will not feel pain or die, as in the case of hemophiliacs who could not take factor VIII. But tobacco is not mentioned in the Bible, and therefore the members of the Governing Body drew a line when they had no authority to do so.
THE PROHIBITION AGAINST METHADONE — 1973
If a Witness has become addicted to heroin or other hard drugs and he wanted to quit the habit, this is extremely difficult. He needs full support from his family and friends and from a doctor. And when he has quit the habit, the use of methadone can help him against relapses.
However, The Watchtower of June 1, 1973, page 336, said:
But what of persons who may be on some government-sponsored program where controlled doses of a product (such as that known as methadone) are given in substitution for a more dangerous drug, like heroin? Persons on such government programs may say they are doing nothing ‘illegal’; that they do not experience the hallucinations so characteristic of drug addiction; that they are able to function as a ‘working part of society.’ What if they seek to become recognized, baptized members of the worldwide congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses? Should they be accepted for baptism?
These questions have come up for prayerful consideration. From the Bible’s viewpoint it appears clear that those on such programs do not Scripturally qualify, since they may rightly be considered as still addicted to drugs.
Methadone does not make the person intoxicated, and in Norway a person who takes methadone is allowed to drive a car. So, there is no biblical reason why the use of methadone should be forbidden. This is confirmed by the fact that in 2013 the members of the Governing body reversed their decision from 1973, and now the use of methadone was no longer a disfellowshipping offense. However, during the 40 years when methadone was prohibited, thousands of brothers and sisters who were addicted to hard drugs had to give up their fight to quit their addiction because of the prohibition against methadone. And many of them died. The members of the Governing Body have a responsibility in connection with this bad situation. Methadone is not mentioned in the Bible, and therefore the members of the Governing Body drew a line when they had no authority to do so.
THE PROHIBITION AGAINST ORAL AND ANAL SEX INSIDE MARRIAGE — 1974
In Classical Greek, the word porneia can refer to many different forms of sexual immorality. But in the Christian Greek Scriptures porneia only refers to sexual intercourse between persons who are not married to one another. The members of the Governing Body have not understood this, and they have applied the word to many different immoral actions. In 1974, two more actions were added to their definition of porneia, namely anal and oral copulation inside marriage. The Watchtower of November 15, 1974, page 703, said:
As to Jesus’ statements about divorce, they do not specify with whom the “fornication” or por·nei’a is practiced. They leave the matter open. That por·nei’a can rightly be considered as including perversions within the marriage arrangement is seen in that the man who forces his wife to have unnatural sexual relations with him in effect “prostitutes” or “debauches” her. This makes him guilty of por·nei’a, for the related Greek verb porneu’o means “to prostitute, debauch.”
Hence, circumstances could arise that would make lewd practices of a married person toward that one’s marriage mate a Scriptural basis for divorce.
Because oral and anal sex inside marriage were defined as porneia, these actions could also dissolve the marriage. Many marriages were dissolved because of the new definition of porneia, and men, women, and children were suffering. This new definition of porneia is not found in the Bible, and therefore the members of the Governing Body drew a line when they had no authority to do so.
Three and a half years after the prohibition was introduced, the decision was reversed, and oral and anal sex were no longer viewed as porneia. Because of this, marriages could no longer be dissolved because of oral and anal sex, but oral and anal sex were viewed as disfellowshipping offenses. The Watchtower of February 1978, page 31, said:
A careful further weighing of this matter, however, convinces us that, in view of the absence of clear Scriptural instruction, these are matters for which the married couple themselves must bear the responsibility before God and that these marital intimacies do not come within the province of the congregational elders to attempt to control nor to take disfellowshipping action with such matters as the sole basis.
This is the Christian view. When there is no clear Scriptural instruction, neither the Governing Body or anyone else has the right to draw the line.
. A detailed discussion of the issue is found ín my article, “The implementation of the elder arrangement was a blessing — the creation of the Governing Body has been a disaster” in the category “The Governing Body.”
. See the article, “The use of tobacco — A disfellowshipping offense not based on the Bible” in the category “Gross uncleanness with greediness.”
. See the articles, “Methadone and disfellowshipping” in the category, “Reversed view of disfellowshipping offenses,” and “Shunning — the ultimate failure” in the category “Disfellowshipping.”
. See the article “The Word porneia (“sexual immorality”) was applied inside marriage” in the category “Reversed view of disfellowshipping offenses.”
. See the articles, “Methadone and disfellowshipping” in the category, “Reversed view of disfellowshipping offenses,” and “Shunning — the ultimate failure” in the category “Disfellowshipping.”
. See the article, “The Word porneia (“sexual immorality”) was applied inside marriage” in the category “Reversed view of disfellowshipping offenses,” and the article, “Sexual immorality (porneia)” in the category, “The eleven disfellowshipping offenses.
FROM THEOCRACY TO DICTATORSHIP
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines “theocracy” as “government by divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.” Because about 90% of the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses are directly based on the Bible, and all Witnesses have great respect for the Bible, the Witnesses view The Watchtower and other literature published by the Watchtower Society as true information.
When the Governing Body oversees the writing of articles in the Watchtower literature admonishing all Witnesses to follow the Bible, this is an example of theocratic governing, because this is based on the instructions of God that are found in the Bible. And when the bodies of elders from the year 1972 onward took the lead in their congregations and helped the members of the congregations to live according to Bible principles, this is again an example of theocratic governing, as we read in Hebrews 13:17:
17 Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among YOU and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over YOUR souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to YOU.
The theocratic instruction for the members of the congregations to be obedient to the elders, would be for the best of everybody in the congregation. But Peter points to a possible problem in 1 Peter 5 1-3:
1Therefore, to the older men among YOU I give this exhortation, for I too am an older man with [them] and a witness of the sufferings of the Christ, a sharer even of the glory that is to be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God in YOUR care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; 3 neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.
When the elders follow the instructions of God that is found in the Bible, they will be “examples to the flock.” And this is the same as theocratic governing. But there may be a situation where the elders leave the theocratic governing and go in an autocratic direction. This happens when the elders are “lording it over those who are God’s inheritance.”
When the elders follow the instructions of the great Theocrat, Jehovah God, this is the same as theocratic governing. But if the elders elevate themselves as lords over the members of the congregations, this is not theocratic governing. How can this happen? I use the words of The Watchtower of October 1, 1972, to illustrate the situation. The magazine said: “Where God’s Word does not itself ‘draw the line,’ no human has the right to add to that Word by doing so.” When the elders draw the line when God’s Word does not draw the line, then they are lording it over the members of the congregations. They have left the previous theocratic governing, and now the governing is dictatorial.
I have given four examples of this dictatorial governing, by forbidding the use of Factor VIII, tobacco, and methadone, and by giving new definitions of the Greek word porneia. And the Governing Body went so far as to demand that those who did not follow their human commandments should be disfellowshipped. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were a few more human commandments where the Governing Body drew the line when the Word of God did not draw the line. But as I will show, the organization as a whole was still theocratic.
THE POWER STRUGGLE INSIDE THE GOVERNING BODY IN THE 1980S AND 1990S
After the Governing Body was created in 1971, and the members of this Body gave laws that were not based on the Bible, and these laws were binding for all Witnesses, as I have shown above, the organization was steering in a dictatorial way. But still, during the 1970s, there was much freedom for the elders and the other members. So, the organization was still theocratic.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a situation arose that temporarily stopped the movement from theocracy to dictatorship. During these years, there was a power struggle inside the Governing Body. On one side was Theodore (Ted) Jaracz, who was a hardliner. He was strongly against higher education and against intellectual brothers and sisters. On the other side was William Lloyd Barry, who was university educated, and he was against extra laws and regulations. Jaracz actively sought to acquire more power inside the organization, but he was kept in check by Barry, who had no such personal agenda.
How much had the organization moved from being theocratic in the direction of becoming dictatoric in the 1980s and 1990s?
In the spring 1965, when I started as a circuit servant, I received the book Questions in Connection with the Service of the Kingdom (1961). This book was written for judicial committees, and was designed to help them to answer questions about right and wrong conduct. This book included seven disfellowshipping offenses. In the last part of the 20th century, some new disfellowshipping offenses were invented, and in the book for elders, “Pay attention to yourself and to all the flock” (1991) I count 19 different disfellowshipping offenses. This means that in addition to the 11 disfellowshipping offenses that are based on the Bible, eight other disfellowshipping offenses that were not based on the Bible were invented and introduced between 1961 and 1991.
However, because most of what happened in the congregations in the 1980s and 1990s was built on the Bible, the examples where the Governing Body drew the line when God’s word did not draw the line, did not make the organization dictatorial. On the basis of the data and on my experience, I will say that the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the last part of the 20th century was still theocratic. But now the situation changed
THE WAY TO DICTATORSHIP IN THE 21ST CENTURY
The development from theocracy to dictatorship that is fulfilled today evidently was based on a particular theory.
In 1999, the restraints on Jaracz to follow his hardline philosophy were removed when Barry suddenly died. This allowed Jaracz free reign to secure more power inside the Governing Body to the point of becoming an intimidating and dominant personality of the Governing Body, influencing the decisions of the other members. When new members were added to the Governing Body, Jaracz hand-picked brothers who were hardliners like himself. The organization was now at full speed steering from theocracy toward dictatorship.
Jaracz’ hardline philosophy can be seen in his leadership. One issue was higher education. In The Watchtower of November 1, 1992, there was an article on higher education that was written by Lloyd Barry. This was a balanced article where the basic point was that each family had to decide how much education the children should have. And no one should criticize this decision. From the year 2000, there were signals in the literature indicating that a new view of higher education was developing. And in 2005, a crusade against higher education started, and this crusade is still going on. Tens of thousands of young brothers and sisters have not pursued the higher education that they wanted, because of the pressure from the Governing Body.
Jaracz died in 2010, and in the new Shepherd book from 2010, there are 29 new disfellowshipping offences that are not based on the Bible. Most of these new disfellowshipping offenses were introduced on Jaracz’ watch. The members of the Governing Body had now full control of the doctrines, and over all the other new rules that were made. But in order to have full dictatorial control of the organization, several things were lacking. The work they now started was evidently based on a particular theory. I will first quote Matthew 24:45-47:
45 “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. 47 Truly I say to YOU, He will appoint him over all his belongings.
For many years, the interpretation of The Watchtower had been that the faithful and discreet slave was all the anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses, men and women, and the food at the proper time that this slave would give, was the literature published by the Watchtower Society. The theory on which the members of the Governing Body built their plan to get full control over everything that belonged to Jehovah’s Witnesses, was based on the last part of verse 47 that is marked in blue script.
The Watchtower of February 15, 2009, page 26, gave the following interpretation:
9 Moreover, Jesus Christ has appointed the faithful and discreet slave “over all his belongings”—all Kingdom interests on earth. (Matt. 24:47) Included among these belongings are the facilities at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, at branch offices in various lands, and at Assembly Halls and Kingdom Halls worldwide. Included too is the work of Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making. Would anyone assign someone he did not trust to keep and use his valuable things?
At this time, each Kingdom Hall belonged to one or more congregations. The money of the congregations belonged to the members of the congregations, and the money could only be used when all the members of a congregation agreed to the particular use. In order to have dictatorial power, the Governing Body had to get control over the Kingdom Halls, the Assembly Halls, and the money of each congregation. The plan to achieve this was now initiated.
An important step was to change the interpretation of “the faithful and discreet slave.” The Watchtower of July 15, 2013, page 22 said:
10 Who, then, is the faithful and discreet slave? In keeping with Jesus’ pattern of feeding many through the hands of a few, that slave is made up of a small group of anointed brothers who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food during Christ’s presence. Throughout the last days, the anointed brothers who make up the faithful slave have served together at headquarters. In recent decades, that slave has been closely identified with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Note, however, that the word “slave” in Jesus’ illustration is singular, indicating that this is a composite slave. The decisions of the Governing Body are thus made collectively. (The author’s italics)
In the same article where the faithful and discreet slave was identified as the members of the Governing Body, there also was a new interpretation of the words. “He will appoint him over all his belongings” on pages 24 and 25. These words will be fulfilled when the members of the Governing Body become a part of the Kingdom of God at their heavenly resurrection. However, paragraph 17 shows that “all his belongings” does not exclude his earthly belongings that are mentioned in the Watchtower of February 15, 2009. So, the plan to get full control of all the earthly belongings proceeded.
In the 20th century, the members of each congregation would decide if they should build or buy a Kingdom Hall. All the members together owned the Kingdom Hall, and they decided what to do with the Kingdom Hall. However, a new system leading to the takeover of the Kingdom Halls were now created with the following steps:
- Building Committees of experts were created. When a Kingdom Hall should be bought or renovated, these could be asked for help. (2006)
- It was mandatory to ask the building committee for help in connection with the building of renovating of a Kingdom Hall. The committee, and not the elders or the members of the congregation, made the decisions and not the congregation. (2008)
- The committees took over the responsibility for Kindom Halls that were built or renovated. They decided what to do with the Kingdom Halls.
- Tenants who rented flats or rooms in the Kingdom Halls were asked to move out. (2013)
- The ownership of the Kingdom Halls was taken over by the Branch office without asking the members of the congregation that owned the Kingdom Hall for their consent.
- Kingdom Halls were sold without asking the members of the congregation who owned the Kingdom Hall for their consent. The branch office took the money for the sales.
Money is needed for the expenses of the congregations, and the Organization book from 1972, page 148, said:
Within each congregation there are expenses that must be met. No collection is ever taken, nor is there any assessment of dues, but contribution boxes are provided at our meeting places so that each one can have a part “just as he has resolved in his heart.”—2 Cor. 9.7. (My italics.)
This money is used principally to provide a Kingdom Hall in which the congregation can meet, and to care for its upkeep. If there is more money than is needed to care for these expenses, the body of elders may discuss how these funds can best be used to further the work of preaching and disciple-making. Then they present to the congregation a written resolution containing their recommendations.
This shows that the Watchtower Society had never solicited money. The money in the contribution boxes were the property of the congregation members, and they decided how to use the money. However, a letter from the branch office of March 29, 2014, said that a new arrangement for financing and building Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls had been instituted.
In every congregation, all the members were asked how much they could contribute every month. They wrote the sum anonymously on a piece of paper, but still, it was a pledge. Based on these notes, the elders made a resolution saying that the congregation would send a certain sum of money every month. Moreover, the branch office had written that if a congregation had sent the promised sum of money to the branch office, and the congregation had more money than the normal expenses for three months, the surplus should be donated to the branch office.
In my view, this new system is something between donation plates that are sent around at religious services and tithing. That this new system is effective is shown by the fact that about 100 million kroner were sent from Norway to the account disposed of by the Governing Body last year. Because of this system, all the money of the congregations worldwide are now under the control of the Governing Body.
|During the last five to ten years, the members of the Governing Body have had absolute and unlimited power over the doctrines, the properties, and the money of Jehovah’s Witnesses.|
. See the article, “The power struggle inside the Governing Body in the 1980s and 1990s” in the category, “The Governing Body.”
. Organization for Kingdom-Preaching and Disciple-Making, page 104.
. Organization for Kingdom-Preaching and Disciple-making, page 149.
. More details are found in my book, My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body, pages 148-157.
THE DICTATORIAL ORGANIZATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY
The word “dictatorial” refers to one or more rulers with total power. And there can be no doubt that this word fits the nine members of the Governing Body because they have unlimited power over every side of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was shown in a court case in California in 2012. The background of this case was that three elders in the Menlo Park congregation in the USA were removed as elders. They took the issue to court, and Calvin Rouse, the counsel of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said according to the court transcript:
And I say “organization.” I am general counsel for the National Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses out of Brooklyn, New York. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be here, but this is one of our 13,000 congregations in the United States. We are a hierarchical religion structured just like the Catholic Church. And when the order from the Pope comes down in the church defrocking a priest and kicking him out, he no longer has any say in any matter in the local parish priest [sic.] — in the parish. The same is the situation here.
The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is much more dictatorial than the Catholic Church. Different opinions on religious issues are, for example, tolerated in the Catholic Church. But this is not the case among the Witnesses. The book Correspondence Guidelines (2007), page 10, which is written to help the branch committees in different countries answer questions says regarding apostasy:
If a baptized person associated with the Christian congregation deliberately spreads (stubbornly holds to and speaks about) views and teachings contrary to Bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses, this may be or may lead to apostasy.
We note the words “Bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses,” which refers to any interpretation published by the Governing Body. A brother or sister who disagrees with the Governing Body can be disfellowshipped.
THE THEOCRATIC ORGANIZATION VERSUS THE DICTATORIAL ONE
Three issues have been discussed, the doctrines, the property, and the money, and I will now discuss each at a time in relation to the power structure of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE OF THE THEOCRATIC ORGANIZATION
The word “democracy” is defined as “a government by the people,” and during the 20th century, democracy was practiced by the Witnesses in connection with property and money. If a congregation needed a Kingdom Hall, the elders would study the issue together with competent members of the congregation. Then they would arrange a meeting with the congregation to present the possibilities. At this meeting, the members of the congregation could ask questions. If there was the important issue of building a Kingdom Hall, the elders would ask the congregation members to consider the issue, and at a later meeting, the congregation members would vote over the possibilities that had been presented. When one suggestion got more than 50 % of the votes, the issue was settled, and the elders would do what the majority wanted. The best times for the weekly meetings could also be voted over by the members of the congregation.
I have already shown that neither the Watchtower Society nor the congregations were soliciting money. The members of the congregation put money into the contribution box, and this money was used for regular expenses. The elders paid these regular expenses without any vote from the congregation members. However, if the elders saw there was a need to buy something in addition to the regular expenses, they made a resolution, and the congregation members would vote for or against this resolution. In most congregations, the money that was put in the contribution box amounted to more than the expenses of the congregation. Some congregations could send a part of this money as a gift to the branch office. But several congregations put the surplus in a bank in order to have money for a future renovation of the Kingdom Hall or for buying a new Kingdom Hall.
The word “theocracy” has the meaning “government of a state by immediate divine guidance.” Applied to Christianity, it means that Christians are guided by God’s laws and principles that are found in the Bible, and not that there is a Christian government that make laws that are binding for all members. I have already discussed the following important principle: “Where God’s Word does not itself ‘draw the line,’ no human has the right to add to that Word by doing so.” Because there are no rules for the use of property and money in the Bible, the democratic procedures that I have mentioned above accord with theocratic governing and the Word of God.
When the Governing Body has canceled the mentioned democratic procedures and taken control of the money and the property themselves, this is a power grab that violates several principles in the Bible. And this is one thing showing that the Governing Body today is not theocratic but dictatorial.
THE DOCTRINAL SIDE OF THE THEOCRATIC ORGANIZATION
A person cannot just read through the Bible, and voila, he knows the truth about God. In all kinds of subjects that we want to learn, we need teachers who are more experienced than we are. This is particularly the case with the Bible, which is much more intricate than most other subjects. In my book, My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body, pages 320-329, I show that because Jehovah’s Witnesses was the only religion that believed that the Bible was inspired by God, the leaders of the Witnesses were the only teachers that could teach me the real truth about God. But how can we distinguish between teachers and dictators? There is a clear distinction between the behavior of teachers and dictators, as well as between how they view themselves.
How did the leaders in the 20th century present their teaching, and how did they want others to view this teaching? In other words, how should those who read The Watchtower view this magazine? I quote Acts 17:11:
11 Now the latter were more noble-minded than those in Thes·sa·lo·niʹca, for they received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.
In connection with the right view of the teachers, Acts 17:11 was quoted many times in the Watchtower literature. We read from The Watchtower of May 15, 1951, page 320:
Would one of Jehovah’s witnesses be wise to say he accepts as from the Lord and true each issue of The Watchtower even before he opens it? or should he say it is provided by the “faithful and discreet slave” but he will prove everything in it before accepting it?—L. P., Montana.
If the heavenly Father would not give a stone or serpent or scorpion to a child who asked for bread or fish or an egg from him, and if The Watchtower is a gift from Jehovah through Christ by the “faithful and discreet slave”, are we to take each issue of The Watchtower into our hands as if we were going to be bruised by a stone or bitten by a serpent or stung by a scorpion? (Matt. 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13, NW) Are we to be doubtful and suspicious about each succeeding issue? The Beroeans first “received the word with the greatest readiness of mind”, and then they went to “carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so”. (Acts 17:11, NW) So we should receive The Watchtower as an instrument that is always endeavoring to bring us the truth, if our past experience with it warrants that, and then, not in a combative spirit, we should Beroeanlike prove by the Scriptures what it says. That is what we want you to do, that you may be convinced and make these things your very own.
This is a quotation that is representative of how the teachers wanted the readers to look at the teaching material. The point is that if the readers previously had found The Watchtower to contain Bible truth, they should view a new issue of The Watchtower in a positive way. And then they should follow the example of the people in Beroea, studying the Bible so they could be certain that what they read was the truth.
It is interesting to see that the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses militated against authoritarianism (belief in authority). We see this in The Watchtower of December 1, 1977, page 723:
23 When we advise others we should use reason and scriptures, not demanding compliance because of a position we might have. (Phil. 4:5) We should be like Paul, who did not use his position as an apostle to pressure people. Instead, he commended them for checking to see whether his teaching was based on the Bible. “They received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so. Therefore many of them became believers.”—Acts 17:11, 12.
The point here is that we should not believe anything because it is written in The Watchtower, or if it is said by a leader that we respect. But we should be checking everything we read and hear with the Bible.
How shall we view the advice that we see in the two last quotations? These quotations are excellent examples of theocratic thinking. These expressions refer to divine guidance, which is the meaning of the word “theocracy.” The teachers are not authorities. But they refer to the guidance of God that is found in the Bible. And these viewpoints accord perfectly with the maxim I previously have discussed: “Where God’s Word does not itself ‘draw the line,’ no human has the right to add to that Word by doing so.”
THE DOCTRINAL SIDE OF THE DICTATORIAL ORGANIZATION
There is a very strong contrast between the theocratic viewpoints and the theocratic organization in the 20th century and the dictatorial viewpoints of the dictatorial organization in the 21st century.
I have been a Witness for Jehovah since the year 1961, and I have served as an elder for 57 years. And I can say that the organization today is very different from the organization in the 20th century. In the 20th century, there was no focus on the leaders who were working at the Watchtower Society in the USA. But these leaders focused on the Bible, as we see from the two last quotations. Today the members of the Governing Body are focused upon when they regularly give talks at the Watchtower Broadcasting.
One basic advertising principle is that if a subject is mentioned over and over again, the message connected with this subject will influence the public. A language usage analysis of the Watchtower literature shows that the Governing Body and the faithful and discreet slave are mentioned over and over again, with a much greater frequency than previously. And not only that, but the Governing Body and the faithful and discreet slave are mentioned in a way indicating that they have the final say in everything, and they are the leaders whom all of us must obey.
I have seen a clear shift in the view of the Governing Body to the point where the members almost are seen as prophets. The view among the members of the congregations is that the members of the Governing Body are directed by God, and everything they say and write is the spiritual food that God wants his witnesses to have at this particular time. While Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 20th century had one authority, the Bible, in the 21st century, the Witnesses have two authorities, the Bible and the Governing Body, and the Governing Body is the most important authority.
On April 24, 2023, a new video was added at JW Broadcasting. It contained a talk entitled “Jesus’ Yoke is Kindly” (Matthew 11:29, 30)” by Kenneth Flodin, the audio/video manager at Watchtower Patterson. He said:
The Governing body could be likened to the voice of Jesus, the head of the congregation. So, when we willingly submit to the faithful slave, we are automatically submitting to Jesus’ authority and direction.
These are not extreme words. But they reflect the sentiment of many or most Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is no advice to check every teaching with the Word of God, as the people did in Beroea. This is pure authoritarianism, and the words show that the nine members of the Governing Body serve as dictators both in connection with spiritual and all other matters.
. The Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of San Mateo. Case No. CIV508137, February 2012, page 4.
In the days of C.T. Russell, the congregations were democratic. In the days of N.H. Knorr the organization was theocratic, and in the 21st century the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been dictatorial.
The nine members of the Governing Body have unlimited power over the doctrines, the property, and the money of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And the words of Kenneth Flodin, that the Governing Body can be viewed as the voice of Jesus, and that those who willingly submit to the faithful and discreet slave are automatically submitting to Jesus’ authority and direction is a viewpoint that most Jehovah’s Witnesses have. Thus, the members of the Governing Body serve as dictators.