End of the Home Book Study Arrangement
For many decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses met weekly in private homes for the "book study" arrangement, until its termination in January 2008. This one hour meeting in a follower’s house most closely resembled how first century Christians met.
Each congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses is divided into groups of around 20 people. Until 2009, Jehovah’s Witness meet three times a week to discuss Watchtower literature, twice as a congregation and once in these smaller groups at private homes.
The Book Study arrangement was presented as important for keeping spiritually strong, a vital protection during times of ban and during the Great Tribulation.
"Then followed another meaty five-part symposium: “The Value of the Congregational Book Study.” Strategic location is important because of its being a service center; its conductor must set a good example in field service and be kind and patient. It serves as a training ground for new ones, to start out in the field and speak up at meetings. It is of special value in times of bans when only small groups can come together.” Watchtower 1953 Oct 1 p.591
The importance of the Book Study was regularly discussed in articles up until 2007, such as “The Congregation Book Study—Why We Need It” (Our Kingdom Ministry 2004 June), and “How the Congregation Book Study Arrangement Helps Us" (Our Kingdom Ministry 2007 June).
Less than a year later, the Elder's Letter of 2008, April 14 announced to the congregation that the home Book Study was to change. No longer was it to be held in private homes, rather it would be held at the same time as the Service meeting, hence at the Kingdom Hall. The Congregation Book Study would also be renamed the Congregation Bible Study
“Commencing January 1, 2009, the Congregation Book Study will be held at the same time as the Theocratic Ministry School and the Service Meeting. The name of the Congregation Book Study will be changed to Congregation Bible Study.” Elder's Letter 2008, April 14
Our Kingdom Ministry 2008 October contained the article "New Congregation Meeting Schedule," quoting the elders letter with the same announcement.
"During the week of April 21-27, 2008, the worldwide brotherhood heard an exciting announcement. “Commencing January 1, 2009, the Congregation Book Study will be held at the same time as the Theocratic Ministry School and the Service Meeting. The name of the Congregation Book Study will be changed to Congregation Bible Study.” Our Kingdom Ministry 2008 Oct
The letter suggested two reasons for dropping the home Book Study:
- Increasing petrol prices
- To allow time for a family study night
Elder's Letter of 2008, April 14
Neither of these two justifications have any validity, as will be explained.
To do away with the book study, which had long been presented as important in training for salvation, on the basis on increasing petrol prices, is an excuse that made little sense. Oil prices had decreased and fuel efficiency of cars improved over the preceding decades. For example the cost of oil in 2008 was lower than it had been in 1980, once adjusted for inflation (see Historical Oil Prices 27 Aug 2018), and the fuel efficiency of cars had made dramatic improvements.
At what cost does travel to meetings outweigh the benefit, if meetings are a vital part of earning salvation? For decades, Watchtower has praised the hardship brothers have made to attend meetings in poor countries, such as having to wade through rivers and travel for hours to attend a meeting. Attendance through hardship was considered exemplary, at least when not affecting the hip pocket of North Americans.
"In Mexico ... “some walk 17 kilometers [10 miles] to attend meetings on Sunday and have to leave the meeting in a hurry in order to get back for roll call. Walking quickly, it takes over two hours to get back.” Watchtower 1997 Feb 15 p.24
"Some circuit overseers travel over 600 miles [1,000 km] between congregations. Many drive automobiles, but others get from one place to another by public transportation, by bicycle, on horseback, or on foot. One African circuit overseer even has to wade through a river with his wife on his shoulders in order to reach one congregation. On his missionary trips, the apostle Paul had to cope with heat and cold, hunger and thirst, sleepless nights, various dangers, and violent persecution. He also had “anxiety for all the congregations”—an experience common to traveling overseers today." Watchtower 1996 Nov 15 pp.10-11
"Sometimes rivers were too wide to be bridged. The brothers would then remove everything from the Land-Rover—portable generator, projector, films, bed—and wade across the river, while I was transported on the sturdy shoulders of one of the brothers. Two sisters would carry Joyce across. Some rivers were too deep. These we crossed on a makeshift ferry made up of a strong plank platform on eight to ten large drums. Two ferrymen would then pull us across by rope. The Malawi brothers were extremely helpful and kind and treated us with deep respect." Watchtower 1990 Jun 1 p.23
The comment about Family Study night was also deceitful. For as long I can remember, the Family Study has always been a requirement for Witness families, recommended for Monday night. Family Study is not a replacement for the Book Study night.
"Family study sessions are ideal occasions for such teaching. Indeed, a regular, upbuilding, happy family Bible study is a mainstay of family spirituality. Christian families around the world delight in such studies, making use of the literature provided through Jehovah’s organization and tailoring the study to the needs of the children." Watchtower 2005 Jun 15 p.21
"When can family study be done? In imitation of Bethel families around the earth, many households schedule their family study on Monday evening." Watchtower 1999 Jul 1 p.16
"The family Bible study plays an essential role in the spirituality of every Christian family. When do you have your family study? If it is left to chance or to a spur-of-the-moment decision, then it is likely infrequent at best. Togetherness in family study requires a regular, set schedule." Watchtower 1993 Sep 1 p.16
The Book Study was not being replaced with family night as indicated; removing the Book Study meant one less night of religious study for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
What I find particularly offensive about how this change was presented is the lack of respect the Governing Body demonstrates towards the intelligence of its members. The 2008 Kingdom Ministry that did away with the Book Study pitches the Family Study as vital for surviving the Great Tribulation. With sickening conceit, the Governing Body describes its "deep concern for the welfare" of its followers, as the "dark clouds of the great tribulation draw closer," and how important Bible study is for a relationship with Jehovah, right after reducing the amount of Bible Study required for Jehovah's Witnesses. Not only did the Governing Body lie to its members about the reason to stop the home Book Study, it then went on to present the arrangement as if it was part of their concern for the everlasting salvation of their followers.
Staffing & Legal Issues
Without the Governing Body presenting an honest representation of why the home Book Study was abandoned, the real reasons can only be assumed. There are a number of likely reasons that were the culmination of this change.
The Book Study was the meeting that suffered the lowest attendance rate of any of the 5 weekly meeting sessions. Over a century of failed claims of Armageddon's imminence has led to burn out of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Watchtower is constantly having to try and impress younger brothers into reaching out, as there has been difficulty in getting brothers for positions of oversight. This has led to a shortage of qualified men to conduct the Book Study, which required a number of conductors when split into small groups, but only one conductor once it was consolidated at the Kingdom Hall.
There are also a number of legal issues regarding public meetings in private houses. There is the potential of injury at a house and since it was unlikely the homeowner had insurance, there was the risk of the congregation being sued.
Other legal concerns regard the requirement of permits in some states. For instance, California City Fines Couple for Holding Bible Study in Their Home, shows home book studies are “in violation of municipal code 9-3.301, which prohibits “religious, fraternal or non-profit” organizations in residential neighborhoods without a permit.”
Of pressing concern regards child abuse. Watchtower has been forced to pay for a string of charges related to the cover up of child abuse by elders, and this is more likely to occur at a private residence than a kingdom hall.
The book study arrangement was the closest to that of early Christians, who used to meet in personal homes.
1 Cor 16:19 "Aqʹui·la and Prisʹca together with the congregation that is in their house greet you heartily in the Lord."
There was still some difference, as first century Christians read from Old Testament Bible texts and letters that later went on to form the New Testament, rather than study by rote the endless string of ever changing interpretative publications printed by the Watchtower. But at least this meeting contained the personal element of first century meetings that is missing from the Kingdom Hall.
Watchtower claims to be an imitation of early Christianity, yet bares little resemblance. The one area that was similar had been meeting in private homes, yet this is the first meeting to be dissolved. The manner in which this was done shows Watchtower leaders hold little regard for followers, releasing publications praising the importance of the book study at the same time as planning for its demise. Rather than being upfront in explaining the change, Watchtower treated followers like fools, releasing a statement that was plainly dishonest.
Written Aug 2018.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2021