OBEY! Part 2: A Conversation With A Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer
I do not know if this is an accurate quote, but it is an interesting thought.
This is a continuation from the conversation posted yesterday August 25 th , 2014. To get the context, read here first.
JW1: We all know that that’s not the case. We know that they are imperfect as well and that they are going to make mistakes, but the fact is, they are taking the lead.
KW: Are you telling me that it is better to listen to them and follow their direction, even if it is a mistake?
There was an awkward pause and then I got a very honest answer.
JW1: Yes, it is.
KW: That is scary.
JW1: It is because of this scripture right here (Hebrews 13:17).
Folks hear me out here. It is never okay for you to blindly follow orders. I think so many former Witnesses and Mormons are turned off by expectations like this (as they should be), but then they make the mistake of thinking that all religions are that way. It isn’t true. My pastor will be the first to tell you that if he wants me to do something that I think is wrong, it ain’t happening.
As Christians we are called to obey our leaders, but that does not give them the license to use and abuse us. We are first called to follow Christ and if following our leaders is in conflict with following the clear example of Scripture, then we are not to follow our leaders. Paul himself said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” On first notice, it might come as an arrogant thing for Paul to say, but I think Paul is giving us a limit. In other words, we are to follow him as he is following Christ and not follow Paul when he is not following Christ.
I thought it ironic that we just got done talking about Paul and how humble he was in that he did not expect people to believe him just because he is an apostle. The Bereans made sure what he was saying was true because they compared it to the Scriptures. If Paul had the same idea that my Witness friend was advocating, he would not have tolerated the Bereans questioning him at all.
JW1: Was it wrong for Abraham to take Isaac up to the mountain?
KW: No, it wasn’t.
JW1: It’s not wrong to kill your son?
KW: There’s more to the story and I’ll tell you why. Do you remember my trip to Israel?
JW1: Hang on a sec. Did Abraham know that God was going to stop him?
JW1: What did he know?
KW: He knew God was going to resurrect him.
We kept arguing back and forth about if what Abraham did was right or wrong. There was something I learned from my trip to Israel a few months ago that I so desperately wanted to tell him, but he didn’t want to hear it.
JW1: Abraham had to follow direction even though it made no sense to him whatsoever.
Hearing my Pioneer friend say that reminded me of a recent Watchtower that had a scary quote. The November 15, 2013 Watchtower said on page 20, “At that time, the lifesaving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not.”
Really? Witnesses are expected to obey any instruction that comes from the Watchtower, even if it doesn’t make sense? Here is my question. If this is not an example of blind obedience, then what is it? How would blind obedience look any different?
KW: Actually, it did make sense to Abraham and that is what I wanted to tell you earlier.
JW1: Alright, go ahead.
I attempted to explain what I had learned, but he wasn’t open to hearing it. Instead of listening to me and trying to understand what I was saying, he interrupted me and attempted to refute what he thought I was going to say. I literally laughed out loud when he did that. It was either that or take the conversation into a direction that would have been much more difficult to recover. He was being argumentative so I decided to put him on the defensive.
JW1: There are times when we have to follow direction, even if we don’t understand why we are receiving the direction. Now, that doesn’t mean that we are going to jump off a cliff just because someone says to jump off a cliff.
KW: Why doesn’t it mean that? Whoever these people are that you trust. If they use the Bible to say, “Abraham was going to kill his son and so now we need to do the same thing,” and then they give you all kinds of Biblical references for the reasons why, are you not supposed to question them?
JW1: No, it’s not that we don’t question or reason or analyze for ourselves.
KW: But you have to obey. It doesn’t matter what you come up with on your own. You either obey or get kicked out.
JW1: Well, Abraham obeyed.
KW: So that is what you would do. You would obey.
JW1: Yes, I would.
KW: So if these people in this magazine (I picked up a Watchtower magazine) told you to kill your son, you’d do it.
Now he started listening to what it was that he was actually saying.
JW1: Well… uh.. the answer to that is not a cut a dry as you put it.
KW: It should be. Either you obey or you don’t.
JW1: If I perceived that Jehovah wanted me to kill my son, well, how far are you willing to go for what you believe? So I would say yes.
KW: You are really starting to scare me.
I don’t scare easily. When people try to intimidate me, I laugh. I literally laugh in their face. I think it is funny that someone thinks they can bluff me into doing what they want me to do through intimidation, but this was different. When someone tells me that they would do evil deeds in the name of religion and their eyes do not lie, that scares me. When people blindly accept admittedly fallen and failed leaders as if they are speaking for God, that scares me. When I am sitting in a restaurant with someone who admits that they would kill a loved one if they believe God told them to, that scares me because it makes me wonder what they would do if they thought God wanted them to kill me.
JW1: Well, look at what Jehovah did. Look at what Abraham did.
KW: Again, I’ve tried to explain that to you, but you aren’t letting me.
JW1: I don’t think you are acknowledging the principles that are important here.
KW: Here is the only principle I hear. “OBEY!” It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t matter what you know. It doesn’t matter what you study. It only matters what you obey.
JW1: Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assured expectation of what is hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities that are not seen.”
KW: But where are you placing your faith?
JW1: Hang on. It says in verses 17-19 that Abraham had evident demonstration that Jehovah would resurrect Isaac. That is what allowed him to follow that direction, the evident demonstration. So it wasn’t blind faith, it was evident demonstration. So there is always evidence and reason behind it. He reasoned that God could raise him up again.
KW: What if Abraham didn’t have the evidence or reason? Would he still have to obey?
Now he started back-tracking. When he saw my facial expression, he changed his tune really fast. He began to tell me that our instruction needs to make sense and that we aren’t expected to blindly obey. I decided to change the direction of the conversation.
KW: So what is the evident demonstration that says I can’t smoke a pipe once a week?
JW1: The reason I trust the governing body and the direction they give is because I have seen through the course of history the benefit of following their direction and they have never once done anything to harm their people. They have a long track record.
I know some former Jehovah’s Witnesses who are screaming right now after having read that last statement. Countless Witnesses have died because of disallowing blood transfusions and other policies that have lead to death.
JW1: There is a trust there. It is like a personal relationship, a trust. That is the evident demonstration.
I so wanted to tell him that it is better to have a personal relationship with Jesus than it is an organization head quartered in Brooklyn New York, but the sad fact is, he isn’t ready to hear that yet. However, I did say this;
KW: I don’t put that kind of trust in anyone but God alone.
JW1: They have consistently shown that they are following God’s direction, that they have our best interests at heart and that the direction they give is trust worthy.
KW: This is going to seem like an unrelated question, but I think you’re going to understand where I am going with this. What role does the Holy Spirit play in your life?
JW1: A huge role.
That’s all he said. No explanation or example, just that the Holy Spirit plays a huge role in his life. It wasn’t very convincing. I decided to tell him a story about how the Holy Spirit helped me in making a decision.
I was once faced with a decision that I needed to make. I knew what needed to be done because I had done all of the research and talked to others about my problem. I was under the authority of some respected people and they counseled me to wait and see what would happen with the situation. I just wanted it done and knew how to end it quickly.
I was frustrated because I wanted to honor those to whom I was accountable, but I also wanted to do what I thought God wanted me to do. In this instance, I believe they were at odds. Mind you, this wasn’t an issue of sin or anything like that, but it was competing council. I decided to do what I thought was right and disobey the council I was given by those in authority over me. I was literally backing out of my driveway, when I yelled out loud, “God, if you don’t want me to do this, please stop me!” That could be a dangerous prayer to make while driving.
I was less than 100 yards away from my home when my phone rang. I pulled over and it was another person who called to confirm what I knew was right and that I didn’t need to wait to take care of it. The pressure I felt was immediately lifted from off of my shoulders. I continued about my errand and took care of business knowing that God was just fine with me “disobeying” my authority and doing what I knew as right. I ended my story by asking this;
KW: If I am supposed to just read in a magazine what these guys in Brooklyn, New York say, then where is the role of the Holy Spirit in my life?
JW1: Excellent, excellent question. Excellent question. And there is a clear and direct answer to that. Uh… umm… first of all, there are the Scriptures. The scriptures are a result of holy spirit.
KW: Sure, but the Bible doesn’t address my specific issue and someone could have pulled Hebrews 13:17 out on me and told me to obey my leaders.
He laughed because he had nowhere else to go. He continued to talk about the Bible, but had no practical explanation of exactly how the Holy Spirit would have a role in my life if I ever became a Witness.
I looked over at JW2 and he was in shock. I told him that JW1 and I have deep discussion like this all the time and even though we have some heavy disagreements, we will get along pretty well with each other. JW1 laughed and agreed so JW2 looked relieved.
My Witness friend took us back to Acts 15 and talked more about the issue of circumcision that arose in the first century Church. He showed in me verse 28 which says that the Holy Spirit was involved in the decision that the older men in Jerusalem made. He then likened it to the Holy Spirit acting upon the men in Brooklyn, New York to help them make wise decisions, based on Scripture. I asked again;
JW: But what role does the Holy Spirit play in your personal life?
JW1: What I’ve learned from the Bible and and from what has been published by the Watchtower has made my life 10 million times better than it was before. I follow the direction and my life is better. That is a result of holy spirit. Again, inspired by holy spirit, directed by holy spirit. It takes holy spirit to be able to understand scripture. Now in my day to day life, I try to make my decision based on what the Bible says. and by what the Slave says.
KW: The Slave?
He wasn’t recognizing that he was putting the directions of the organization on the same level as God’s directions.
JW1: The Faithful and Discreet Slave. It is kind of a tangent that we probably don’t have time for right now, but that is the way that Jesus described the modern day organization that we have today. We’ll talk about that later.
He wasn’t avoiding the subject because he knew I had to leave soon. He just didn’t want to start another subject he knew we did not have time to discuss in-depth. I had told them earlier that I had to leave soon so we started wrapping up.
KW: Okay, but just so you know, I’m being intrigued here.
JW1: (Laughing) I know you are! Essentially, it is the same idea we have here in Acts 15. Men taking the lead and distributing direction to the Christians. So as I make my decisions in every day life, I ask myself, “What does the Bible say? What does the Slave say?” I direct my decisions based on that. Because holy spirit has directed them, I am being steered by the holy spirit.
KW: So the Bible is not enough?
JW1: The fact is, I couldn’t understand the Bible without the help of the Slave.
KW: Then how can you ever know if they are telling you the right thing?
JW1: Well, because it’s…
He started laughing. I knew what he was going to say when he stopped short because he recognized the circular reasoning. He was going to say that it all lines up with the Bible. I jumped on it immediately.
KW: If you can’t understand the Bible and they tell you what the Bible says, then there is no way for you to know if they are wrong because you can’t understand the Bible.
He was lost, but amused at how simple it was to fall into that circular trap. He was trying to figure out a way to get out.
JW1: Let’s see. How do I explain this? They help me to understand the Bible. They don’t tell me what the Bible says. They help me to understand it.
KW: But you don’t have an objective standard to compare it to.
JW1: Oh, I absolutely do. The Bible itself.
KW: But you don’t understand the Bible so you can’t compare what they say to the Bible.
There was that trap again.
JW1: But I do now.
KW: Only because of what they told you! That is circular reasoning.
JW1: The Bible interprets itself.
I started laughing.
KW: Then why can’t you understand the Bible without the Slave?
JW1: Ahh! Uh…, well… just tell me when you have to leave.
I laughed so hard I risked offending him. He was frustrated, but not agitated. It was more of the type of amusing frustration that comes from trying to figure out a riddle and you know that you can figure it out, but the solution keeps escaping you.
KW: You know what? Maybe we should stop here.
I continued to laugh as he tried to redeem himself. It wasn’t a disrespectful laugh and he understood that. I knew the answer to the riddle and he was trying to figure it out. We were both having fun. He brought up the Bereans again and said that they carefully examined the Scriptures daily to make sure these things were true.
KW: But how could they do that if they can’t understand what the Bible said?
He was fumbling again, but this time, he was convincing himself that his answer was better. I let him continue unchallenged, because I really did need to leave. He said we need to be careful because there were many false prophets in the world. I heartily agreed.
KW: Oh, yes! I have so many questions and no time to ask them! I know you are probably really frustrated with me. I am sorry for that.
JW1: No, no, no!
My pioneer friend started laughing and then JW2 finally spoke up.
JW2: This has been really interesting actually. It has been fun to listen to, really.
KW: Are you sure?
JW1: I know I get flustered when we have these conversations, but I really do appreciate your questions and I do encourage you to keep asking them.
I just smiled and said;
KW: Okay. I promise you that I will do that.
JW1: (Laughing) I have no doubt that you will. This has been like a workout! Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself, but when you have discussions like this, you are forced to examine the things that you believe and that is good, it is healthy for us. Sometimes when I have studies like this with people and the person says, “Uh, Yeah. The paragraph says, ‘Blah, blah, blah.’” This is not about what the paragraph says. This is about what the Bible says and if you understand what the Bible says. Conversations like that are way worse than this! Uh, that’s not what I meant.
I started laughing and then jokingly said;
KW: It is even worse than YOU!
We all started laughing again. This was an awesome conversation. It went from me being scared of what this guy could do in the name of Jehovah to him getting caught in a circular reasoning trap about understanding the Bible and… liking it. I really enjoyed what he said about how conversations like this forcing us to examine our own beliefs and that it is healthy for us. This was a confirmation for me that this type of long term witnessing can be much more effective than immediately arguing the Trinity with a Witness who shows up at your door. That is a HUGE thing for a Jehovah’s Witness to say. The best part about it was that he was applying it to himself.