Monday, June 23, 2008

Jehovah's Witnesses and "This Generation" -- Evaluating the Latest Change

"Truly I say to you that this generation will be no means pass away until all these things occur." — Matthew 24:34 (New World Translation)

During the week of April 14-20, 2008, congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide studied the article Christ's Presence — What Does It Mean to You? contained in the February 15, 2008 issue of The Watchtower.

This article contained the second significant shift in the explanation of the identity of "this generation" presented to Jehovah's Witnesses.

This essay will address three main topics:

1. A brief history of the explanation given from at least as early as the 1950s with respect to the identity of "this generation" as well as the first significant shift in this explanation as presented in 1995.

2. This author's view of the real significance of the second and most recent change.

3. Some thoughts on how easily this change became part of JW doctrine, particularly when analyzed against previous statements made on this subject.

It is not the goal of this essay to debate Biblical exegesis, for example The Watchtower's interpretation of original Greek words such as "parousia." Many other essays available on the web discuss such topics. Instead, the goal of this essay is to explain and feature the practical effect of changes in the explanations given with respect to "this generation."

"This Generation" — A Brief History
For many years throughout the 20th century, the group that Jesus referred to by the expression "this generation" was explained to be comprised of those both alive and old enough to have witnessed the historic events of 1914. Since "this generation" was not to "pass away until all these things occur," it was taught that—while Jesus did say that no one would know "that day and hour"— a general time period and limit could be reasonably calculated.

Consider the following published quote from 1952:

w52 9/1 p. 543 Questions From Readers
Some persons living A.D. 1914 when the series of foretold events began will also be living when the series ends with Armageddon. All the events will come within the span of a generation. There are hundreds of millions of persons living now that were living in 1914, and many millions of these persons could yet live a score or more years. Just when the lives of the majority of them will be cut short by Armageddon we cannot say. (Italics mine)

Twenty-eight years later, in 1980, the basic view was still the same. In fact, by this time, the expression "the generation of 1914" had begun to be used in the publications of Jehovah's Witnesses, as evidenced by the following quote:

w80 10/15 p. 31 Questions From Readers
. . . What, then, is the "generation" that "will by no means pass away until all these things occur"? . . . It is the generation of people who saw the catastrophic events that broke forth in connection with World War I from 1914 onward.

. . . if the wicked system of this world survived until the turn of the century, which is highly improbable in view of world trends and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, there would still be survivors of the World War I generation. However, the fact that their number is dwindling is one more indication that "the conclusion of the system of things" is moving fast toward its end.

. . . Yes, there was a generation of people that was living in 1914, and that saw the major historical changes from an era of comparative tranquillity to the present era of war, lawlessness and ruination. . . . We can be happy, therefore, for Jesus’ assurance that there will be survivors of "the generation of 1914"—that this generation will not have completely passed away—when the "great tribulation" rings down the curtain on this wicked world system. (Italics mine)

By the 1990s, however, the age of a person born in 1914, much less old enough to have witnessed the events of that year with any understanding, was becoming problematic for the existing explanation. In the November 1, 1995 issue of The Watchtower, the first significant change in the explanation of "this generation" was presented. Here is a short excerpt from the article A Time to Keep Awake, which presented the new explanation:

w95 11/1 pp. 19-20 A Time to Keep Awake
Let us examine more closely Jesus’ statement at Matthew 24:34, 35: "Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away." Jesus’ words that follow show that ‘nobody knows that day and hour.’ Far more important, he shows that we must avoid the snares surrounding us in this generation. Thus Jesus adds: "For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be. For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be." (Matthew 24:36-39) Jesus here compared the generation of his day to that of Noah’s day.—Genesis 6:5, 9; footnote.

. . . In Noah’s day "all flesh [that] had ruined its way on the earth" and that was destroyed at the Flood was "this generation." In Jesus’ day the apostate Jewish people that were rejecting Jesus was "this generation."—Genesis 6:11, 12; 7:1.

Therefore, in the final fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy today, "this generation" apparently refers to the peoples of earth who see the sign of Christ’s presence but fail to mend their ways. In contrast, we as Jesus’ disciples refuse to be molded by the life-style of "this generation." Though in the world, we must be no part of it, "for the appointed time is near." (Revelation 1:3; John 17:16) The apostle Paul admonishes us: "Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments, that you may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you are shining as illuminators in the world." —Philippians 2:14, 15; Colossians 3:5-10; 1 John 2:15-17. (Italics mine)

In connection with the above adjustment, emphasis was shifted away from the concept of defining "this generation" in terms of a calculable time period but rather towards a "generation" of people who were familiar with—as opposed to necessarily having to have been eyewitnesses of—the events of 1914 but who had become increasingly corrupt.

Analysis of the 2008 Change
In paragraph 17 of the article referenced at the beginning of this essay, the following statement was made: "Our understanding of the meaning of Christ's presence helps us to intensify our feelings of urgency."

That comment is most interesting in light of that fact that the accompanying change in explanation presented elsewhere in the article—particularly when taken together with one other key change—in fact would allow the time period covered by "this generation" to extend far longer than any previous explanation. How so?

Put simply, the revised explanation is that the expression "this generation" refers to "Christ's faithful anointed brothers." These, it was explained, are the only ones who have correctly recognized the sign Jesus gave and acted accordingly.

To arrive at this conclusion, it was first explained that it was only Jesus' disciples in the first century who drew accurate conclusions about "all these things" that were to occur at that time. Others, it was explained, saw the very same events but did not understand or act on them. Therefore, paragraph 13 states, "Jesus must have been referring to his disciples when he made the statement: "This generation will be no means pass away until all these things occur.""

Relating that application to our time, here is the full text of paragraph 15:

Those without spiritual understanding today have felt that there has been no "striking observableness" with regard to the sign of Jesus' presence. They reason that everything is continuing on as it did in the past. (2 Pet. 3:4) On the other hand, Christ's faithful anointed brothers, the modern-day John class, have recognized this sign as if it were a flash of lightning and understood its true meaning. As a class, these anointed ones make up the modern-day "generation" of contemporaries that will not pass away "until all these things occur." This suggests that some who are Christ's anointed brothers will still be alive on earth when the foretold great tribulation begins.

Now look closely at the last sentence of that paragraph. At first glance, that statement might appear to make the timing of the "great tribulation" more imminent, given the understood age of "Christ's anointed brothers." However, there was a significant shift in understanding of this point presented just one study issue earlier. Previously, it was always explained that the calling of the anointed ended in the 1930's. Any additions since that date were explained as being attributable to replacements being selected for some who had become unfaithful. However, notice this changed view in The Watchtower of January 15, 2008. Here are two paragraphs in their entirety from that issue:

Even so, over the years since the 1930's, a few individuals have been called to a heavenly hope. Why? In some cases, it could be that they replaced individuals previously called who had become unfaithful. (Compare Revelation 3:16.) Paul even spoke of personal acquaintances who had left the truth. (Phil. 3:17-19) Whom would Jehovah call to serve as such replacements? Of course, that is his decision to make. Still, it would seem reasonable that he would call, not newly converted ones, but individuals who--like the disciples to whom Jesus spoke when he initiated the Memorial observance--have already proved their loyalty to an extent. -- Luke 22:28

It seems, however, that not all who have been called to a heavenly hope since the 1930's are replacements for ones who have fallen away. Jehovah has evidently made sure that we will have anointed Christians among us all through the final days of this system of things until the destruction of "Babylon the Great." (Rev. 17:5) And we can be confident that the full number of 144,000 members will be completed in Jehovah's due time and that all will eventually take their place in the Kingdom government. We can also believe that the ever-growing great crowd will as a group continue to prove itself faithful. Soon it will "come out of the great tribulation" brought upon Satan's world and will joyfully move on into God's new world. (Italics mine) -- The Watchtower, January 15, 2008, page 23, pars. 15, 16.

The significant change, then, is the concept that Jehovah may well still be selecting original—as opposed to replacement—members of the 144,000. So, these individuals could therefore be expected to be relatively young in age. With that in mind, compare the statement above that "Jehovah has evidently made sure that we will have anointed Christians among us all through the final days of this system . . ." with the statement in the "generation" article that "As a class, these anointed ones . . . will not pass away until "all these things occur."

If new members of the anointed may well be selected even now and into the future, how much time might be allowable, then, before "all these things occur"? That, it seems, is the question of the day.

Is there further evidence, though, which seems to lend additional weight to the concept that the potential time period for "this generation" is in fact being extended, perhaps significantly? Consider this. In that same "generation" article, a highlighted box was published entitled "Can We Calculate the Length of "This Generation"? Here, reproduced in its entirety, is the text of that box:

Box: Can We Calculate the Length of "This Generation"?
The word "generation" usually refers to people of various ages whose lives overlap during a particular time period or event. For example, Exodus 1:6 tells us: "Eventually Joseph died, and also all his brothers and all that generation." Joseph and his brothers varied in age, but they shared a common experience during the same time period. Included in "that generation" were some of Joseph's brothers who were born before him. Some of these outlived Joseph. (Gen 50:24) Others of "that generation," such as Benjamin, were born after Joseph was born and may have lived on after he died.

So when the term "generation" is used with reference to people living at a particular time, the exact length of that time cannot be stated except that it does have an end and would not be excessively long. Therefore, by using the term "this generation," as recorded at Matthew 24:34, Jesus did not give his disciples a formula to enable them to determine when "the last days" would end. Rather, Jesus went on to emphasize that they would not know "that day and hour." --2 Tim 3:1; Matt 24:36 (Italics in original text)

Think of the implications of the first statement in that box: "The word "generation" usually refers to people of various ages whose lives overlap during a particular time period or event." That would seem to allow for the possibility that newly-selected members of the anointed whose lives overlap with those alive earlier in the time period could extend, perhaps even significantly, the period covered by "this generation."

The Ease of Change
The last questions I propose to consider in this essay are these: How does this revised explanation compare with previous explanations of this same topic in The Watchtower? And, if it differs, how much effort had to be expended to explain the difference?

It is noteworthy that the answer presented in the February 15, 2008 issue of The Watchtower was specifically rejected as late as the November 1, 1995 issue of The Watchtower that presented the first major shift in understanding. In that issue, a Questions From Readers item was presented that asked this question: At 1 Peter 2:9, the "King James Version" calls anointed Christians "a chosen generation." Should this affect our view of Jesus’ use of "generation" recorded at Matthew 24:34?

The answer given was quite lengthy and detailed. It discussed differences between the Greek word ge' nos as used by Peter and the Greek word ge-ne-a' as used by Jesus, provided references both in Watchtower publications and other Bible handbooks, and used other points of logic to argue that the basic answer to the question presented was "no." Here is the key paragraph from that discussion that seems relevant for purposes of this essay:

As discussed on pages 10 to 15, Jesus condemned the generation of Jews of his time, his contemporaries who rejected him. (Luke 9:41; 11:32; 17:25) He often used qualifiers such as "wicked and adulterous," "faithless and twisted," and "adulterous and sinful" in describing that generation. (Matthew 12:39; 17:17; Mark 8:38) When Jesus used "generation" for the last time, he was on the Mount of Olives with four apostles. (Mark 13:3) Those men, who were not yet anointed with spirit nor part of a Christian congregation, certainly did not constitute either a "generation" or a race of people. They were, though, very familiar with Jesus’ use of the term "generation" in referring to his contemporaries. So they logically would understand what he had in mind when he mentioned "this generation" for the last time. The apostle Peter, who was present, thereafter urged Jews: "Get saved from this crooked generation."—Acts 2:40.

It might also be noted that a similar thought to that quoted above was also expressed in 1978 in response to another Questions From Readers:

w78 10/1 p. 31 Questions From Readers
However, some Bible commentators have failed to appreciate the dual aspect of this prophecy. So they have held that by the term "generation" Jesus meant a race or people, such as the Jewish people or the class of wicked humans existing through the centuries. They might even refer to 1 Peter 2:9, which, in the Authorized Version, speaks of the anointed Christian congregation as "a chosen generation." However, Bible scholars now recognize that the Greek word in 1 Peter 2:9 should be rendered "race" and is different from the word rendered "generation" in Matthew 24:34.

Unless this writer is missing something, it would appear that the explanation presented in 2008 is the same one that was summarily rejected in 1995 and 1978. What I find so fascinating is that no lengthy or torturous exegetical exercises were judged necessary to explain the reversal. The explanation was simply changed.

Summary and Conclusion
Clearly, each reader of this essay must evaluate the accuracy and relevance of my words for themselves. I would not think to ask any more than that. Upon personal evaluation, some may accept my conclusions, others may reject them.

But I do suggest that such an evaluation—whatever your personal conclusions—has great relevance with respect to personal decision-making. As just one example, in recent months increasing pressure has been brought to bear for younger ones among Jehovah’s Witnesses to avoid university education. The same logic prevalent prior to the easing of the position on education in 1992—namely that a 4-year time investment to obtain a degree is a waste of valuable time—is once again alive and well. How, though, might a thoughtful evaluation of this most recent “generation” change affect parents who need to provide responsible guidance for their children? That same question could also apply to all manner of other decisions that need to be made depending upon one's individual circumstances, involving matters such as health care, whether to rent or buy a home, how to chart one's course with respect to secular employment and financial and retirement planning, and the like.

In closing, in considering any matter of this importance, and no matter who writes the words being considered, Jesus' words at Matthew 24:15 take on great meaning: "Let the reader use discernment."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Read God's Word the Holy Bible Daily

NOTE: For historical context, this post was originally published in 2001

For decades now, those words have appeared atop one of the Watchtower Society’s buildings in New York City.

That exhortation may never have been more needed by Jehovah’s people themselves than it is today. Recent posts have asked good questions regarding what can or will sustain individual Jehovah’s Witnesses who do truly love God, but who may be disheartened by various things they have seen in the organization.

It is clear to me that many Witnesses spend far more time reading the Society’s publications than God’s Word itself. One reason sometimes given is that the preparation and research has already been done for you, thus making it easier.

This may be true. But easier isn’t always better, is it? Do you get the complete flavor and impact of a great literary classic simply by reading the “Cliff Notes” version? At our meetings, we regularly consider scriptures such as Hebrews 10:24, 25; 1 Cor. 15:33; and Mt. 24:14 and 28:19, 20. But the Bible, in its entirety, contains such a wealth of information which augments, and balances, those scriptures.

From another perspective, how could an individual Witness determine whether what was being asked of him by the organization was genuinely Biblical, or was instead simply a human or organizational demand? Or, whether the way he or she was being treated was modeled after the Christ, or was not?

To me, the answer is simple. It’s right on top of the Society’s building in New York.

I don’t want to drag this on too long, but allow me to present a few brief examples of what I mean.

The Account of Lot (Genesis 19)
Jehovah’s Witnesses constantly hear emphasis on doing things “just so.” For example, it is often highlighted that, in response to God’s instructions, Noah “did just so.” (Gen 6:22) And it is true that one would expect a genuine Christian to make conscientious efforts to follow God’s instructions to the best of his or her ability.

However, Jehovah’s Witnesses often feel a great deal of pressure here. It is sometimes implied that, unless they are doing “just so,” they will feel the heat of God’s disapproval. As one example, comments have been made in the publications, and certainly in assembly and congregational meeting parts, that imply that were a Christian not to be doing everything he could in the field ministry, Jehovah might actually hold this against him at Armageddon, with possible adverse affects. To what can this lead? Here’s what one sister said:

w95 12/1 12 Do Not Give Up!

“I had felt that unless it hurts, you must not be
doing enough,” admitted one Christian.

A careful reading of the account of Lot, as recorded in Genesis 19, might prove helpful in restoring balance as to whether God expects virtual perfection from us.

Lot was clearly told that God intended to destroy Sodom. And, it appears that he understood at some level what he had been told, for he conveyed it to his sons-in-law. (vs. 14) However, the next morning, when the angels visiting Lot urgently told him to leave, the account says that Lot “kept lingering.” Though the account is not specific as to why this was the case, we read that “in the compassion of Jehovah upon him, the man seized hold of his hand,” and essentially dragged Lot and his family out of the city. (vs. 16)

But it doesn’t stop there. Lot is specifically told to “escape to the mountainous region.” (vs. 17) Does our hero Lot energetically and joyfully do “just so?” Verses 18-21 tell us what happened next:

Then Lot said to them: “Not that, please, Jehovah! 19 Please, now, your servant has found favor in your eyes so that you are magnifying your loving-kindness,which you have exercised with me to preserve my soul alive, but I—I am not able to escape to the mountainous region for fear calamity may keep close to me and I certainly die. 20 Please, now, this city is nearby to flee there and it is a small thing. May I, please, escape there—is it not a small thing?—and my soul will live on.” 21 So he said to him: “Here I do show you consideration to this extent also, by my not overthrowing the city of which you have spoken. (Bold mine)

In this account, we see Jehovah manifesting love and compassion to a man who was far from perfect. A man who, previous to this, had manifested a measure of selfishness when parting with his uncle Abraham, by virtue of selecting a superior geographic location for himself, his family, and his herds. Who, at the very least, showed himself somewhat lackadaisical in taking action in response to Jehovah’s urgings. Yes, a man who even “begged off.” And yet, Jehovah obviously saw something in that man which made him worth saving.

Might he also, then, see something good in us, even in our weaknesses?

Examples From the Life and Teaching of Christ
One could devote a very lengthy essay to similar things that could be learned from the life course and model of Christ. For example, one could consider just the following passages:

1. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – John 4:1-30
2. Jesus and the Woman Known to Be a Sinner – Luke 7:36-50
3. The Tax Collector and the Pharisee – Luke 18:9-14
4. The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32
5. The Widow’s Mite – Mark 12:41-44

In each of these cases, Christ either did or taught things that stood in stark contrast to that commonly taught at the time. He clearly revealed his Father’s love and care for the “little ones,” at the same time showing that those who set themselves up as guides and judges were often on very tenuous ground.

For Jehovah’s Witnesses who find themselves in an environment that puts heavy emphasis on how they are “performing,” it might be worth noting that, from an external perspective, none of the individuals in the five examples listed above were “performing” very well, from the standpoint of visible “works.” Yet, there was either hope or commendation held out for all of them.

The above examples are just a few of many such that could be cited.

But they bear out how important, and beneficial, it can be for individual Witnesses to take the time to actually read God’s Word directly. Doing so can help one keep clearly in focus what Jehovah really expects. And it can help one sort out genuine demands of Christianity from additional burdens that may be placed by a man or men, even if well-meaning. It can bring a measure of calm and peace the next time a Circuit Overseer gives a blistering talk which denigrates the friends for being “below the national field service average,” or for “poor meeting attendance,” as his words can be evaluated in an accurate Biblical context.

Yes, the Society is right. Each individual should take the time to “Read God’s Word the Holy Bible Daily.”

Mention of Jesus vs. F&DS in Public Prayers at JW Meetings

This post is not seeking to make some huge doctrinal point, rather to simply offer a brief comment on what can happen, almost subliminally, in the accepted culture of a religion.

If you listen to the prayers offered at public meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses, you will hear some mention of the "faithful and discreet slave" or the Governing Body in a significant percentage of them. Granted, praying for those in positions of oversight or leadership is not wrong in itself. For example, in both 2 Thessalonians 3:1 and Hebrews 13:18 Paul requests that his brothers "carry on prayer" for them. Based on that, given JW belief, I see nothing wrong with prayerful requests for God to guide or bless the efforts of the Faithful and Discreet Slave or the Governing Body. One could construe such requests as sincere, respectful and honest pleadings that God direct them in rendering decisions concerning any one of a number of weighty and serious matters that affect the brotherhood of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Often, however, the prayers are not of that nature. Instead, they tend to be laudatory expressions such as "how grateful we are that you have provided the . . ." or "thank you for the provisions of the . . ." or "how grateful we are for the counsel and direction of . . ." and so forth.

In contrast, I have found it comparatively rare to hear any acknowledgment of all of Jesus in such prayers. For the fact that he is our ransomer, and the wonderful acts of love in connection with that gift. For the fact that he is our model and that, by virtue of his life course and teachings, we come to know the Father. (1 Peter 2:21; John 14:9) Or, any reference to the fact that, ultimately, he is our leader. (Matthew 23:10) If asked, I would estimate the ratio of F&DS references vs. references to Jesus in prayers at public meetings, assemblies, or conventions to be 10-to-1 at the very least, possibly even higher.

What I find most fascinating about all this is that I believe the average JW would immediately take notice if they walked into a Catholic church and heard similar prayerful references expressed with respect to "the Pope" or "the College of Cardinals." They would likely be critical of the adulation awarded a man, or group of men. But, I have never once heard a comment from a fellow Witness with respect to such references in the public prayers at our meetings.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Congregation Book Study Adjustment - A Marvelous Benefit for Jehovah's Witnesses

Readers of this blog will note articles that present for critical examination certain teachings, guidelines and procedures of the Watch Tower Society, as they affect the people known as Jehovah's Witnesses. However, it is my belief that fair coverage must acknowledge the good along with criticizing the bad. It is in that spirit that this essay is written.

On April 27, 2008 (or some time during that week), a letter from the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses was read to all congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses. In most congregations, this immediately followed the normally scheduled Watchtower Study for that week. Slightly modified arrangements were made to have the letter read to those congregations that had a Circuit Overseer visit, or were attending a Circuit Assembly or Special Assembly Day. In essence, the letter stated that the Congregation Book Study is to be renamed the Congregation Bible Study, and incorporated into one overall meeting with the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting. The new Congregation Bible Study will be 25 minutes in length, the Theocratic Ministry School will be reduced to 30 minutes, and the Service Meeting to 35 minutes. In total, including songs and prayers, the new combined meeting will be 1 hour and 45 minutes in length, exactly the same as the present Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting arrangement.

Make no mistake that this is a watershed change in the history of Jehovah's Witnesses. I know for a fact that this change has been talked about for at least several years, perhaps even a decade or more. But, largely having to do with the very issue of control, no action was taken. It is my belief that this change is a genuinely benevolent move on the part of the Governing Body. Frankly, I wasn't sure that I would see it in my lifetime.

Various theories have been propounded on certain forums as to possible ulterior motives for this move, but I have a hard time accepting these.

For example, it has been proposed that the move could have been due to potential liability with respect to child molestation. I have no knowledge of whether any attempt at child abuse has ever been made at an actual Congregation Book Study meeting. However, such a thing seems rather far fetched, given the number of people present. Further, a word search of the entire series of court records documented by Barbara Anderson did not unearth any instances of an allegation of child abuse occurring specifically in connection with any Congregation Book Study. Finally, it is likely that meetings for service may well continue in this format, although that remains to be seen.

A second example is that this move was actually undertaken to tighten control. This theory proposes that too much "independent thinking" was taking place at the Book Study, and that this can be reined in at the Kingdom Hall. Here's my question: What is to stop all the "independent thinkers" from now getting together on the former Book Study evening and having even more "independent" discussions, now free of any control or censorship?

In contrast, whatever one thinks of the Watch Tower Society, if one still has any love for the people known as Jehovah's Witnesses, this must be acknowledged as a good change. Here are just a few of the benefits that immediately come to mind.

Less Travel Time and Cost - Let's be honest. For many Witnesses this is not an issue. Many in the USA and other developed countries live within 5 - 10 minutes of their Book Study location. It must be remembered that, by design, Book Study locations are in most cases closer to a publisher's home than the Kingdom Hall. However, in rural areas, publishers still often have to travel great distances to attend. Many Bethelites have for years endured long subway commutes to their Book Study locations, depending on which congregation they are associated with. Even more challenging are the circumstances in developing or third-world countries, where it is not at all uncommon for publishers to walk, sometimes literally for hours. All for a one-hour meeting. What a marvelous change this is for such Witnesses.

Ability To Access Further Education - Readers of other posts on this blog will quickly discern my interest in this topic. This opens up one more mid-week evening on which a Witness can take advantage of an evening course, whether classroom-based or online, to obtain necessary education to maintain, enhance, or possibly even attempt to change his secular employment. Of course, the letter from the Governing Body clarified that family heads might well use this time to ensure they conduct a family study. However, it has always been the suggestion that this take place. So, many families already have a family study on another evening, thus genuinely freeing the former Book Study evening for other uses. It is my hope that many Witnesses ponder this concept, as opposed to simply watching television one more evening.

Less Employment Conflicts In an Increasingly 24x7 World - One of my concerns for many years about the existing meeting schedule is that in so many areas it limits the employment options for faithful Witnesses, particularly those who are not highly educated. Witnesses have long been told that--if they truly trust in Jehovah--they will turn down employment that conflicts with scheduled congregation meetings. Much work these days does not fall within the hours of 9-to-5. Witnesses who must rely on alternate shifts and the like now only have one weeknight evening they have to work around. This, of course, may still prove problematic. But certainly less so than before. It will also lessen the number of meetings that Witnesses who are occasionally required to travel for work will be forced to miss, with all the attendant negative implications.

Less Demands on Congregation Elders - It can easily be forgotten how heavy are the demands that congregation elders carry. The shortened Bible Study, and the arrangement for rotation of conductors, will help here. Also remember that elders have to travel as far and spend as much on fuel as everyone else, so these benefits accrue to them as well.

More Time For Families - As outlined earlier, nothing in this post should be taken to minimize the suggestion that family heads conduct a family study. The benefit, though, is that an additional evening has been freed for this time. Another reality is that homework loads have increased for students in many learning environments. This also frees additional time for parents to provide additional assistance to their children. Or, families can engage in simple family bonding, a "pizza and ice cream" night out, or so many other possibilities.

In summary, this writer, and most everyone he knows among Jehovah's Witnesses, welcome this change and are deeply grateful to whatever combination of forces and influences were able to bring this to reality.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Farm

NOTE: This post was originally written for the Hourglass2 Outpost Forum on October 1, 1999.

There once existed a farmer who started a farm. It was a new farm, full of fresh and wonderful ideas.

As the farm offered something new and exciting, many animals flocked to it. Many aspects of the countryside outside the farm were unappealing, even dangerous, and the farm seemed to offer a place of refuge, or sanctuary. The farmer, while not perfect, seemed to genuinely care for and nurture the animals. For the most part, peaceful conditions prevailed. The animals on the farm worked hard, but they were treated well, both in terms of their physical provisions, as well as the dignity and respect given them. Occasionally, an animal or two would become disenchanted with some aspect of farm life, and elect to leave. On the whole, though, conditions were good, and many animals lived full and satisfying lives on this farm.

In time, the original farmer died, and the administration of the farm changed hands. In many ways, the succeeding farmers were very talented. One had a great legal mind. Another was a great organizer and administrator, and the farm grew immensely in its physical size, as well as the number of animals.

At the same time the farm was prospering, however, the quality of treatment the animals received began to suffer. Their work conditions at times became very difficult. Virtually every aspect of farm life began to be covered by some type of rule, even in areas which had nothing to do with the success of the farm, but were more personal things that each animal could have decided for himself. Some of these were not even written, but were merely the whim of the supervisor in charge of a particular section of the farm. Slowly, and at times almost imperceptibly, life on the farm became worse. Most of the animals did not really notice this taking place, but a few of the sharper ones did. Occasionally, one of these would speak up and voice his opinion about certain conditions prevailing on the farm. However, not much changed. As he was merely an animal, his opinion did not carry much weight with the administration. Faced with this, some animals stayed. Others left. Occasionally, if an animal made too much of a fuss, he found himself expelled from the farm, and left to fend for himself in the countryside.

As time progressed, another problem began to develop. Certain decisions made by those in charge actually began to hurt the farm. It wasn't that the farmers were bad men, but the combination of the isolation of the farm, rigidity of thought, and lack of dissenting voices led to problems. The farm began to lose respect in the eyes of the community, and many did not want to deal with the farm. Some of the smarter animals, though, began to notice that the farm was no longer growing and prospering, and started to wonder why this was the case.

As they were quite isolated on the farm, kept extremely busy by their farm work, and not exposed to animals from other farms - even animals from different sections of their own farm - most of the animals had no real idea of the issues and challenges being faced by their farm. Some of these issues were a real threat to their farm, and the owners of the farm had successfully kept most of the animals unaware of these, so as to minimize any dissatisfaction and dissent. Certain of the animals who had earlier left the farm were very well aware of, and even spoke about, the issues faced by the farm. But as the animals still on the farm were kept from contact with these, by and large, their ignorance remained.

But then a new communication medium - FarmNet - was created, and became popular. It allowed open communication between animals of all farms, and even between animals in various sections of the farm. This was troubling to the administration, for some of the animals were becoming aware of the difficult issues the farm had been dealing with all these years. For the first time, they became aware of ideas from other farms. Some also talked with animals from other sections of their own farm, and discovered that problems they had thought were unique to them were, in fact, shared. They started to realize that some issues had never truly been addressed, but rather simply evaded or sidestepped.

And so the administration decided they should do their best to keep the animals away from FarmNet. They hoped to maintain the status quo. They hoped for an environment where the animals would keep to themselves. One where they would not be exposed to issues from outside, nor communicate excessively amongst themselves. In an attempt to do this, they issued directives with respect to communication on FarmNet.

But alas, it was failure. The farm did not recover, instead it continued to decline. For while the directives of the administration were successful in keeping some of the animals on the farm in a state of blissful ignorance, two larger problems developed.

The first was that the directives of the farm administration did not influence animals on the outside of the farm. From their vantage point on the outside, they could see clearly that they did not wish to join the farm. While animals from the farm attempted to persuade them to join, it became obvious to the animals on the outside that they knew more about the issues facing the farm than did the farm's own animals. They could see the issues, and they could also see that they were not being dealt with. And so the farm attracted no new animals to its folds.

The second was that the strongest, and most capable, of the animals in the farm were no longer dissuaded by the directives of the administration. They saw firsthand the issues. They asked that something be done. When the administration failed to deal with the difficult problems, and instead demanded that all the animals accept things as they were, some of the animals slowed down in performing their farm work. They became embarrassed to promote their farm to other animals on the outside, because they were unable to answer many of the questions asked by those that they were attempting to attract to the farm.

Some of the strongest animals even began to leave the farm. This was a very sad situation for the farm, as these strong animals had been its backbone, what made it great. And that left only the weakest and sickest animals remaining on the farm. The fields began to go unplowed. The quality of its products grew very poor. The farm started to decline within the larger community, as it had very little of value to be sold in the markets, or to merchants. Town historians later recounted a time when the farm, and what it did, actually became irrelevant in the eyes of the larger community.

This was truly a shame. For the farm, at one time, had been a good farm.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The "Great Crowd" -- Another Looming Time Problem for Jehovah's Witnesses?

NOTE: For historical context, the below essay was originally written in 2004.

“After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . . And in response one of the elders said to me: “These who are dressed in the white robes, who are they and where did they come from?” So right away I said to him: “My lord, you are the one that knows.” And he said to me: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation” – Revelation 7:9, 13, 14
In the November 1, 1995 issue of The Watchtower, two study articles were published which presented what, for Jehovah's Witnesses, was a huge change in teaching. For years--yes decades--prior to this, Jehovah's Witnesses taught that Jesus' prophetic words: "This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur" had application to the generation that included those who saw the beginning of the "time of the end", in 1914. Over the years, this led to all sorts of calculations, speculations, and estimates as to reasonable chronological constraints on the day by which the "end" must surely come.

In one stroke of the pen, this Watchtower changed all that. While not altering the basic teaching that the "last days" began in 1914, it effectively "de-linked" the "generation" of Jesus' prophecy from a chronological tie to 1914, thereby not limiting the date at which Jehovah could bring the "end" to some mathematically plausible date with the year 1914 as its anchor.

This change in doctrine did not go unnoticed by the rank and file. While individual Jehovah's Witnesses may express varying thoughts, ranging from "the end is still right around the corner" to "I'm not so sure," it has become evident over the ensuing years that a fair number are by their actions "hedging their bets." Meeting attendance in many lands has fallen. In some cases, this is because secular or educational requirements conflict with these, and Witnesses are sensing the need to balance providing for themselves and their families with adherence to all the directives emanating from Brooklyn.

I have not, though, heard much discussion among fellow Witnesses concerning what seems to me to be another looming time-based problem. It has to do with the understanding of the "great crowd" of Revelation 7. Jehovah's Witnesses teach that these individuals comprise a certain group that manifests itself during the "last days" who have the hope of living, not in heaven, but forever on the earth. However, there is a feature of how this group is described in Revelation that involves a time constraint. What is it? The Watchtower explains:

Technically speaking, is there a difference between the Biblical terms “other sheep” and “great crowd”?
. . . Now, what can be said about the identity of the “great crowd” mentioned at Revelation 7:9? Well, look at verse 13 and the question, “Who are they and where did they come from?” We find the answer at Revelation 7:14: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation.” So the “great crowd” is composed of those who come out of, or survive, the great tribulation. As verse 17 says, they will be ‘guided to fountains of waters of life’ on earth.

. . . In summary, we might remember “other sheep” as the broader term, encompassing all of God’s servants having the hope of living forever on earth. It includes the more limited category of sheeplike ones today who are being gathered as a “great crowd” with the hope of living right through the impending great tribulation. -- Anonymous, Questions From Readers, The Watchtower, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. 1995 4/15: 31. (Bold added)

A further quote from the book Reasoning From the Scriptures states this even more clearly. After quoting the relevant verses from the Revised Standard Version, the book states:

To “come out” of something a person must go into it or be in it. So this great multitude must be persons who actually experience the great tribulation and come out of it as survivors. -- Anonymous, Reasoning From the Scriptures, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. 1989: 315 (Italics in original text)
Many more citations could be provided, but these should suffice to make the point that Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that a defining characteristic of the “great crowd” is that its members would entertain a realistic hope of never dying, but rather of passing alive through the “great tribulation.” Similar to the former teaching concerning a “generation” tied to the year 1914, the timing of the manifestation of this group would impose a time constraint as to when the “great tribulation” must occur if they are to “come out” of it. What is taught with respect to such timing?

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that this “great crowd” actually began to manifest itself early in the 1930’s. The book Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom states:

Meetings for Worship, Instruction, and Encouragement
Particularly beginning in the 1930’s, prospective members of the “great multitude,” or “great crowd” of other sheep, began to manifest themselves. (Rev. 7:9, 10, KJ; John 10:16) These were at that time referred to as Jonadabs. -- Anonymous, Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. 1993: 243
The Watchtower of May 15, 2001, comments on the defining moment when “a brilliant flash of understanding” occurred with respect to this group:

A Brilliant Flash of Understanding
The understanding of Revelation 7:9-17 was about to shine forth in sparkling brilliance. (Psalm 97:11) The Watchtower had expressed the hope that a convention scheduled for May 30 to June 3, 1935, in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., would be “a real comfort and benefit” to those pictured by Jehonadab. And that it proved to be!

In a stirring talk on “The Great Multitude,” delivered to about 20,000 conventioners, J. F. Rutherford presented Scriptural proof that the modern-day “other sheep” are identical with that “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9. (John 10:16) At the climax of this talk, the speaker asked: “Will all those who have the hope of living forever on the earth please stand?” As a large part of the audience stood up, Rutherford declared: “Behold! The great multitude!” There was a hush, followed by loud cheering. On the following day, 840 new Witnesses of Jehovah were baptized, most of these professing to be of the great crowd. -- Anonymous, Behold! The Great Crowd!, The Watchtower, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. 2001 5/15: 14-15

Thus, 840 individuals are identified as being baptized on that dramatic day in 1935, with most professing to be of the “great crowd.”

Three years later, in 1938, the numbers of those identifying themselves as part of the “great crowd” had grown substantially:

Meetings for Worship, Instruction, and Encouragement
For the first time, in its issue of February 15, 1938, The Watchtower specifically invited them to be present at the Memorial, saying: “After six p.m. on April 15 let each company of the anointed assemble and celebrate the Memorial, their companions the Jonadabs also being present.” They did attend, not as partakers, but as observers. Their presence began to swell the number of those on hand at the time of the Memorial of Christ’s death. In 1938 the total attendance was 73,420, while those who partook of the emblematic bread and wine numbered 39,225. -- Anonymous, Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. 1993: 243
So, by 1938, 34,195 individuals are identified as being part of the “great crowd” by virtue of declining to partake of the bread and wine at the annual Memorial observance.

Finally, there is a famous quote attributed to Joseph F. Rutherford some time before his death in January, 1942:

The Great Crowd to Live in Heaven?
During the next five years, as the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses grew, those who partook of the emblems at the annual Memorial of Christ’s death gradually declined in number. Still, the influx of the great crowd was not as rapid as what Brother Rutherford had expected. At one point he even said to Fred Franz, who became the Society’s fourth president: “It looks as if the ‘great multitude’ is not going to be so great after all.” -- Anonymous, Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. 1993: 171
In summary, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the “great crowd” has been continuously gathered since the 1930’s. Since an individual baptized as one Jehovah’s Witnesses today is taught to be of this group, it is true that much time could elapse before this new disciple, especially if young, would be in any danger of dying, and thus not “coming out” of the great tribulation. It might, then, be argued that representatives from the “great crowd” do indeed “come out of the great tribulation.” Further, it is undeniably true that some individuals from this group have died as a result of “time and unforeseen circumstance” and I don’t argue that this would detract in any way from the identification of the overall group as one that survives the “great tribulation.”

However, to have any real meaning as a teaching of dramatic note, would not the “great crowd” need to include at the very least a representative sample of those earliest members, from that day in 1935? If none of the group of 840 baptized that day who professed to be members of the “great multitude” actually “come out of the great tribulation,” then how can J. F. Rutherford’s dramatic statement be construed to be correct? Further, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that a new disciple can have one of only two hopes. If an individual is not of the “great crowd,” by definition that individual must be of the anointed, or the 144,000. We do not teach a third option. How would this affect the concept that the gathering of the “anointed” had all but ceased by that date?

References to the “aging anointed and their loyal great crowd companions” are made quite frequently in the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Almost subconsciously, this leaves a general impression of the “anointed” as being aged, and the “great crowd” as young and vibrant. What tends to get obscured unless one really stops to think about it is that the early individuals identified as part of the “great crowd” are themselves now very, very old. In this year 2004, sixty-nine years removed from that spring day in 1935, how much more time is left for these ones? It must be remembered that this announcement was an answer to the concerns of Jehovah’s Witnesses of the day who had concluded that they weren’t entirely comfortable with the hope of going to heaven. If it is reasonable to conclude that these would have been mature adults, individuals who were at least in their 20’s, such ones would be approximately 90 years old today. Even if that group included a few 10-year-olds, baptized as children, these would be close to 80 years of age.

This, then, can be looked at two ways. It could be added to the lines of evidence already presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses that the “great tribulation” must be extremely close.

On the other hand, if the understanding of this scriptural passage is incorrect, then--similar to the 1914 dilemma--if a certain date passes where this ceases to be a realistic scenario, some revised explanation of this topic will need to be published. I will be extremely interested to see what such an explanation might be, and how it will be accepted.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses and Education - The Credibility Dilemma

"It is only the ignorant who despise education" - Publilius Syrus, Moral Sayings, first century B.C.E.As quoted in Awake! of March 8, 1998

The special September 2006 issue of Awake!, entitled "Is There a CREATOR", exposes, perhaps unwittingly, one of the dilemmas with respect to the current tightening position with respect to education. (For more on the history of this issue, please see my post "Jehovah's Witnesses and Education - A Brief History" here:

On pages 21-23 of this Awake!, there can be found an article entitled "Why We Believe in a CREATOR." In this article, 5 different Jehovah's Witnesses are interviewed as to why they personally believe in the existence of a Creator.

The first point that may jump out at the thinking reader is that it happened to be five highly-educated Witnesses who were selected to be interviewed. While their specific educational credentials are not listed, it seems safe to assume that individuals actively working in the fields of genetic mutation in plants, laser physics, planetary geology, molecular biology and microbiology, and theoretical physics--and for the employers listed--are the possesors of college degrees, possibly even advanced degrees. At the very least, it could be considered a badge of honor within the Witness community to be directly quoted in an issue of Awake!, particularly a special issue such as this one. At least in this instance, a quality education led to this privilege.

But it seems to me that there is another underlying issue that should be mentioned. Some time back, speaking to a group of assembled elders, a senior Bethel representative went to great pains to explain that the Society was not anti-education. He clarified that individuals could take trade courses, technical courses, all manner of things to pick up skills. However, the Society seemed to take the position that it was the process of obtaining "a four-year degree," with all of the associated general education and other requirements, that should be considered undesirable. (See paragraph 6 of the article Parents—What Future Do You Want for Your Children? in the 10/01/05 issue of The Watchtower)

The "credibility dilemma," however, is that in many fields it is precisely the acquisition of such a degree that makes one employable, that opens the door to opportunities in the field.

In this Awake! issue, there isn't one carpenter, janitor, truck driver, landscape maintenance technician, or similar included in the article referenced above. Why? Because they lack the credibility needed to make the point the article wished to make. And it's not necessarily a matter of intelligence, or understanding. It's a matter of credibility. For example, it is entirely possibly that there is a brillant truck driver among Jehovah's Witnesses. This man (or woman) may have a keen mind, a fascination with the question at hand, may have done extensive personal reading, and be quite able to converse eloquently on the topic.

But, for the goal the article was trying to accomplish, and the target audience it was attempting to reach, such a person would simply not have had the necessary credibility.

If the writers of Awake! felt they needed a level of credibility to reach their target audience, why ask a young person to invest the time taking courses to develop a skill, but not follow it through to the extent of obtaining the very thing necessary to be credible to their target audience?