Congregations ErrNot every individual and not every congregation fulfills the law of love. As the scriptures make clear, every congregation has its own personality and sometimes a whole congregation may fail to live up to the standards in the Scriptures. (Acts 17:10-11; Revelation 2:1-29, 3:1-18) In fact, some congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses have been disbanded for that very reason.
I have attended many congregations in two different states, and I know that each congregation is unique. It can be affected by local circumstances, the size and isolation of its community and the attitude of its elder body, which itself may be strongly influenced by the opinions of a single respected elder. An elder body that is overworked or mismanaged may overlook some individuals or be too strict with another or even simply be judgmental. One should not get sidetracked into believing that this is the attitude of the entire organization. Human weakness and imperfection should be overlooked, especially since each of us is not perfect. (Matthew 6:12; 18:21-22)
Errors in Understanding DirectionYes, the organization has had some poorly applied statements in the past. For instance, when they instructed that individuals attend their local congregations and not congregations outside their territory. This was never stated as a disciplinary offense. In some congregations, individuals who did not comply may have been made to feel unwelcome. Maybe the congregation saw this as "winging" rather than a lack of love. The purpose of attending a local congregation is so that the individual can get as much care as possible from the elder body. Thus, the congregation's reaction may be beyond the counsel given. The organization does not instruct its members to shun anyone for attending a congregation other than the one in whose territory they reside.
GossipSometimes discipline has been inappropriately shared with others in the congregation. Such sharing is itself a disciplinary offense on the elder's part. (Proverbs 20:19) Being a gossip and busybody in other people's affairs is also a disciplinary offense. (1 Timothy 5:13) Yes, an elder can be asked to step down for breaking the confidence of the disciplined individual and it may be a long time before they are reinstated. But was that elder's sharing the fault of the organization? No. The organization has never instructed anyone to share confidential talk. Such is considered reprehensible. (Proverbs 11:13; 25:9-10)
DisciplineHowever, disciplinary action often does require a talk be given, and through that talk, some may be able to discern that an individual fits the counsel, though no one is ever named or implied in the talk. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15) The talk told the congregation about what behavior to look for and to avoid personal association with those demonstrating it until they change their ways, so the only person one has to blame in that instance is their self, because they have been careless and disregarding counsel. Such talks are given during the service meeting, so if someone misses the service meeting, and they come to the next meeting to find people avoiding them, they should not automatically assume that an elder blabbed. They should assume, instead, that a talk has been given marking them and that their own behavior is what has identified them.
Personal ChoiceIn fact, I always avoid anyone whose words or conduct seem to me to indicate that they are walking disorderly, and I have expected the same from others at times that I knew that I was not living up to my dedication. But on the other side of that coin, I am also always on the look out for those who are examples that I can emulate, especially those I would feel comfortable around. I have always been a very private person, so avoiding others comes easy for me, but drawing close to someone is very hard. The same may go for many others. And still others may be very judgmental, and it is a quality they have to work at changing. They may often find offense with individuals or the congregation. The key to being a forgiving person is being able to look past these human failings and seek to become an example to others in forgiveness and in reaching out and to look to the example of others with positive qualities worth emulating. (1 Timothy 4:12-16; Titus 2:6-8; Hebrews 13:7)
Publications Err in WordingThe organization has also had catch-22 statements. For instance, in the 60's, they instructed that Bible studies should be kept to six months or discontinued, but once discontinued, this sort of instruction preempts their ability to pick up studying again later. And some who were simply slow to learn or slow to find the motivation were not given enough of a chance, and what if the Bible study was frequently rescheduled? So while the governing body was nobly trying to keep from wasting the time of the Bible teachers, they made a mistake in being definitive. Perhaps it was even the article writer's mistake apart from the governing body. (I do not know.) But what we can be certain is that to have a Bible study for more than six months was never declared a disciplinary offense. This statement on a time limit was later adjusted and Bible teachers were encouraged to use their own judgment, but six months is still encouraged, but not set in stone. Thus, the mistake was amended.
Being Duped By Those On the OutsideTo be duped by those who are not Jehovah's Witnesses is something that all of us have to deal with, even the organization itself. The organization is not a person, but is a collection of people acting together to operate it. Sometimes some of those people make mistakes. Sometimes they don't check their sources. Sometimes they get affected by worldly shysters. These end up being opportunities to learn lessons. But should we assume that the organization should be incapable of making mistakes for the very reason that it is not a fallible human? We must remember that even if it is not a person, it is run by fallible human beings whose decisions can reflect badly upon the organization. Just because those mistakes become public does not mean they were orchestrated by committee. Mistakes get through because committees have to rely upon individuals, and individuals err.
Speakers ErrBut then there are those who go beyond the words in Jehovah's Witness publications. A speaker may claim something is wrong to do, or instruct the audience to do something, but the organization has never made the same statement. Individuals may in turn view the words of a speaker as direction from the organization, when it is not. Each of us needs to be familiar with the publications enough to be able to know when a speaker is saying something beyond the things published by the organization. If something we hear from the platform does not sound right, we should do research in the publications to find out what the organization teaches on the subject, particularly the latest information.
Elder Bodies ErrMembers should also be well-informed about what the Bible teaches about free will and be informed about what the organization states is a disciplinary matter. If something is not a disciplinary matter and a brother or sister receives discipline for it, that one needs simply to ask those disciplining them to show where the organization's publications say a matter is a disciplinary matter. If there is nothing that says it, then one cannot be disciplined for it.
Being obedient to those taking the lead does not mean being blindly obedient to congregation elders. In addition to obedience, one must make sure that those giving the counsel are also being obedient and applying fair judgment. If they are going beyond the things written, then they are not demonstrating proper obedience. However, if they insist on enforcing their own mandate, then the one affected may state their grievance in an appeal to the local headquarters through the congregation. In the meantime, the affected one should fulfill the direction of that congregation until the matter is resolved, unless the elder body is acting contrary to the Scriptures or the publications. (Acts 5:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; Hebrews 13:17) Such is the path of humility and shows strength of character. (James 4:7-10)
Individual Elder's ErrSometimes an elder may get a little over-zealous in encouraging others to be submissive to the counsel of the faithful and discreet slave. For example, I acquired a contact online. In an attempt to be obedient to the direction of the faithful and discreet slave, I directed him to his local congregation to ask them his questions. But he said he had already had contact with another Witness that did not go well and he was confident in my ability to answer his questions based on what he read on this blog. So I did my usual effort of testing him to see if he was legitimate, stating my feelings on apostates and my loyalty to the faithful and discreet slave. But he persisted in his questions undaunted, based largely upon apostate lies he had come across and he was continually amazed at how I handled his questions. After several months I was finally able to convince him to have a Bible study with someone in a local congregation, but he still did not want to break off contact with me because of the respect he had for me, so I said I'll handle the big questions to take the load off his local Bible teacher. Well, after several more months he progressed to the point of being given a Bible reading assignment in the midweek meeting and was finally approved for the ministry.
However, when I spoke about this with an elder whom I respect very much, (In fact, a mentor,) the elder gave me counsel to beware of online contacts, as he should. He then gave me a copy of the Kingdom Ministry article about if we manage to acquire a contact online, we should hand them off to a local congregation in their area because we have no way of knowing if someone online is who they say they are or not; they could be an apostate pretending to be an interested person or student (You would not believe how common that is,) or a criminal or other individual trying to entrap you. Now, this is certainly wise counsel, but the next day my online Bible student sent me a video of his first talk in his congregation for the assignment that week, which was undeniable proof that he was exactly who he said he was. In fact, the whole idea of cutting off contact was striking my conscience, as my student and I had developed a bond that often occurs between a student and their Bible teacher, and I had personal experience with the personal trial that can occur when a Bible teacher does not maintain that relationship. It can be very damaging to the student.
However, when I mentioned it to my elder friend, he went a step over the line. The article did not say that it must be applied in all circumstances and did not say it was a matter of congregational discipline if we did not apply it. But the elder in question tried to say that I was under obligation to be obedient to the direction in that article no matter what, implying that if I did not, it would be a matter of discipline. So I spelled this fact out to him, making it clear that neither the article nor the faithful and discreet slave said that not doing it was a disciplinary matter, but that if the local body of elders determined that it was a matter of discipline for me specifically to obey in this instance, then I would happily comply. So I asked him if obedience to the article was an official request from the local body of elders. I also highlighted that such requirement could be damaging to my student, whom I had drawn to the truth by proving through our articles that we are not the high control religion that our apostates make us out to be. With that, he was humbled and backed down. I do not ever like having to stand my ground, and I normally accept counsel, even when I do not agree, but in this case, it was necessary to maintain the freedom that we have.
That week, there was an article in the Watchtower speaking on the very subject of free will and allowing others to make their own choices. At the end of that meeting, when the very last question in the article from the extra questions was being answered, several comments were made that drove the point home with a 30 lbs. sledgehammer. (I refrained through the whole meeting from trying to make the point myself. I did not want to make it about me or him.) So I think Jehovah disciplined him to the proper degree by means of others, and I did not have to point him to any material myself. So sometimes elders will make mistakes and need correction. In more extreme cases, an elder may even commit an egregious sin, but we need to remember that they are no more perfect than we are. We are all descendents of Adam, born into sin.
Jehovah's Witnesses are People TooDespite the fact that we have higher standards, Jehovah's Witnesses are still just people. They are not perfect. Each has their own level of obedience to Jehovah and their own figurative demons to battle as to temptations, personalities and bad habits. When we come into the organization, we carry our pasts with us, which includes former addictions, anti-social tendencies and boundary issues. Some are able to overcome such things and never look back. For others, however, they have to battle such things on a daily basis, and some are more successful at it than others.
A witness may even commit a crime of one kind or other. Some people may even seek to attach themselves to the organization because they see it as their own personal victim pool, because many of Jehovah's people are more trusting of others they believe to be Jehovah's people. (2 Corinthians 11:12-15) Then there are some, such as myself, who have a hard time trusting anyone, even my own brothers and sisters, because it is a hard habit to break. It can end up making the person look aloof, judgmental or even snobbish.
Jehovah's Witnesses also bring with them pre-existing and genetic conditions that can lead them to say and do things others might think offensive. For instance, I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with predominant inattentiveness (ADHD-PI), as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from prolonged childhood traumas, which both resulted in my developing my Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD), resulting in situational anxiety that shuts down my thinking. These things can lead me to appear to be disinterested, aloof, uncaring, forgetful, haphazard, lazy, disrespectful, curt, moody, threatening, opinionated and overbearing. I have to fight these tendencies constantly by establishing habits to compensate for memory problems, by learning to apply love, constantly thinking about how love is supposed to be applied at any given time, and by kicking myself hard when I fail someone. So I have to rely heavily on Jehovah's forgiveness because I can tend to leave quite a wake behind me.
But where I, and others, fail, it does not mean that Jehovah's Witnesses do not have Jehovah's holy spirit. As I pointed out in a comment on another post, holy spirit does not work like that. It does not make people perfect. Perfectionism is not one of the fruitages of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) It is going to be a long time before we all become perfect, but we are going to have a thousand years to get there, and even then "perfect" does not mean we will never make mistakes. It only means we will be perfectly obedient and apply love perfectly. (Hebrews 5:7-10; Matthew 5:43-48) Really, though, should we all be held accountable for the actions of a few? Should the faithful and discreet slave be held accountable because some members of the organization do not apply their counsel?
We All Err
The worst mistake anyone could make is thinking that they are somehow above reproach, that their judgment is somehow superior to another's or to the organization's. (Romans 12:3) As individuals, we do not have the authority to withhold forgiveness for mistakes against us or to judge others for their mistakes, because we are all guilty of sin. (Romans 1:28-32, 2:1-2; 3:23; James 4:11-12) Sometimes we are not going to receive the outcome we hope for, and maybe an event demonstrates a lack of right judgment or is contrary to what we personally believe to be scriptural; whatever the case, Jehovah expects us to be forgiving because no one we know is perfect, not even ourselves. But if a person wants forgiveness from Jehovah through Jesus Christ, they are going to have to show that they are worthy of it by being forgiving their self. (Matthew 6:14) A person particularly jeopardizes their own salvation when they demonstrate spite and disobedience. (Zephaniah 2:2-3)
Speculating that the entire organization is responsible for one person's, or one family's or one congregation's actions is without merit or knowledge. (Proverbs 18:15; Ecclesiastes 7:9; Galatians 6:4-5)