Does Jehovah require an Organization?
Jehovah does not need an organization, nor has he used an organization for most of human history. For 2,500 years, from Genesis until the Israelites, there is no mention of any organization; God dealt directly with individuals. From the death of the Apostles until the 1800's, Watchtower cannot identify any group as representing God's organization. Yet the most important concept behind being a Jehovah's Witness is that you need to follow the Watchtower organization for salvation.
If Jehovah has always had an organisation, why didn't Russell join it, instead of starting a new one?
Watchtower makes the claim that "Jehovah has always guided his servants in an organized way." (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth p.192) If that is the case, how were they guided and organised during the dark ages? What group represented God's organization immediately prior to the formation of the Watch Tower Society in the 1884 by Charles Russell, and why didn't Russell just follow them?
The Watch Tower Society, in its many forms, is promoted as representative of Jehovah's modern day organization. To be part of Jehovah's Organization requires identifying as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, following the directions coming from the Watch Tower Society. Whilst there may be ambiguity around whether the Watch Tower Society is a legal or theocratic instrument, Watchtower quotes show that Watch Tower and Jehovah's Organization is used interchangeably.
Watchtower makes this a critical issue by saying being part of their particular Organization is an essential requirement of salvation.
"Come to Jehovah's organization for salvation" Watchtower 1981 Nov 15 p.212
The earthly leaders of this organization, the Governing Body, are said to be appointed by Christ and the only means by which he directs his true followers today.
"Consider, too, the fact that Jehovah's organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God's holy spirit or active force. (Zech. 4:6) Only this organization functions for Jehovah's purpose and to his praise. To it alone God's Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book." Watchtower 1973 Jul 1 p.402
"However, the Governing Body are appointed through the holy spirit under the direction of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ." Watchtower 1990 Mar 15 p.18
"These overseers faithfully seek to apply instructions received from Jehovah God and Jesus Christ by means of the faithful and discreet slave and its Governing Body." Watchtower 1990 Mar 15 p.20
"Christ thus leads the congregation by means of the spirit-anointed "faithful and discreet slave" and its Governing Body." Examining the Scriptures Daily 2007 p.34
"Jehovah’s visible organization can use you, but can get along without you too. But you cannot get along without it. Fruitless ones are eventually pruned off and never missed as new ones are grafted in. Pruned-off branches soon wither and die, being cut off from the circulating, life-giving sap." Watchtower 1950 Jan 15 p.26
The word "Organization" does not appear in the Bible.
This is the most significant concept behind being a Jehovah's Witness. Believing in God is not what makes a Witness unique, as a large portion of people believe in God. Trusting in the Bible is not the key factor to being a Witness, as billions of people believe they follow the Bible. It is belonging to the "Organization" that distinguishes one of Jehovah's Witnesses and makes them feel solely worthy of salvation.
This raises the following questions;
- Is membership of an organization essential for salvation?
- Has Jehovah always operated through an organization?
Throughout this site, I use the term "Watchtower" to refer to the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses as a whole, including the parent corporation that overseers the religion, The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, founded in 1884, along with the numerous other legal entities used by Jehovah's Witnesses, with the Governing Body as the leaders. The role of the Governing Body has experienced ongoing change ever since inception, both spiritually and legally. To avoid argument over semantics, I use "Watchtower" to refer to Jehovah's organisation, and "Governing Body" as the human leaders of Watchtower.
Requirement of Salvation
The word "organization" never appears in the Bible, yet organization appears 16,789 times on the 2006 Watchtower Library CD. This is because belonging to an organization is not a Scriptural requirement, but rather a common concept amongst high control groups as a technique of building a member's high degree of conviction and uniformity.
Watchtower claims that belonging to an organization is essential for salvation.
"To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it." Watchtower 1983 Feb 15 p.12
It is not stated in either the Old or New Testaments that membership of an organization is a requirement of salvation. The Scriptures repeatedly state that it is faith in Jesus and the Father that results in everlasting life.
"... obtain the salvation that is in union with Christ Jesus along with everlasting glory." 2 Timothy 2:10
"For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life ... He that exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life." John 3:16, 36
"And yet YOU do not want to come to me that YOU may have life." John 5:40
"I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved, and he will go in and out and find pasturage." John 10:9
"This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ." John 17:3
"Hence let no one be boasting in men; for all things belong to YOU, whether Paul or Apol'los or Ce'phas or the world or life or death or things now here or things to come, all things belong to YOU; in turn YOU belong to Christ; Christ, in turn, belongs to God." 1 Corinthians 3:21
To appreciate the level of adulation Watchtower followers are expected to have for the organization, it is revealing that the Watchtower April 2013 study article titled "Make Sure of the More Important Things" uses the term "organization" 24 times, but Jesus only 18 times. The following article then contains an image outlining the composition of the organization that does not even include Jesus, but rather the Governing Body directly below Jehovah on his throne.
The Watchtower 1975 Sep 1 p.531 asks "Where could we turn if we would leave God's organization today? There is nowhere else! (John 6:66-69)". This quote refers to John for support that there is nowhere other than the Organization. However, John makes a very different point:
"Simon Peter answered him: "Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life."" John 6:68
One cannot help but wonder how Jesus feels having Watchtower applying this Scripture to themselves, rather than to him.
Does God require an Organization?
As the word "organization" does not appear in the Bible, the Watchtower uses 1 Corinthians 14:33 - "God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace" - to indicate that an Organization is necessary. However, the existence of an organization does not guarantee order, nor is an organization a prerequisite for orderliness. This does not mean that organization is not necessary. People need to be organised for efficient operation of congregations and preaching. Rather, it is unquestioning allegiance to the leaders of an Organization that is not supported Scripturally.
Early Christians were organised into congregations, as are Christian religions today. For the spread of Christianity it has been necessary to create organizations. For example, in modern times religious groups often need to establish legal entities or organizations in order to purchase halls to meet in and for the publication of literature.
In an attempt to enforce the authority of the Watchtower Society, articles claim God has always operated though a single organization.
"The Bible shows that Jehovah has always guided his servants in an organized way. ...
The nation of Israel was called "Jehovah's congregation." (Numbers 20:4; 1 Chronicles 28:8) If you were a true worshiper of Jehovah back then, you had to be part of that congregation of worshipers, not separate from it. Did Jehovah ever use more than one organization during any period of time? In Noah's day only Noah and those with him inside the ark had God's protection and survived the floodwaters. (1 Peter 3:20) Also, in the first century there were not two or more Christian organizations. God dealt with just the one. There was just the "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." (Ephesians 4:5) Likewise in our day Jesus Christ foretold that there would be only one source of spiritual instruction for God's people." You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth p.192
Bible history proves that this is not the case. For the majority of history God has not used any organization. He predominantly has operated through individuals, and has regularly dealt with more than one group at a time.
Originally God dealt directly with Adam and Eve. He continued to deal directly with Abel, and also directly with the unrighteous man Cain. (Gen 4:15) For the next 2000 years there is no mention of any organization or intervention by God, except for when God deal with two individuals; Enoch and Noah.
After the flood, Jehovah continued to deal with individuals rather than with an organization. He concurrently dealt separately with individuals such as Lot and Abraham.
There is only one period of time during which it can be claimed that God dealt with an organization. This was not until 2,500 years after the creation of mankind, with the formation of the Nation of Israel under Moses. Yet even whilst he dealt through this group, he continued to deal with individuals and other groups.
During the time of the nation of Israel, Jehovah dealt with individuals not associated with the Israelites. For example, it was during this time that Jehovah was involved directly with Job, a man "blameless and upright, and fearing God and turning aside from bad the greatest of all the Orientals. (Job 1:1-3)
After many decades, Jehovah instituted a King in Israel. This was not will, but because of their insistence on requiring a visible king. This desire for a human leader was considered a rejection of Jehovah, who stated:
"… it is I whom they have rejected from being king over them." 1 Samuel 8:7.
During the history of Israel, God did not deal only with the King. In fact Saul, the very first king, attempted to kill David and so David fled to live in the apostate land of Philistia with Achish the king of Gath, all the time protected by Jehovah. Jehovah also operated through Levites, the Priests and a variety of Bible writers of diverse stations. He regularly rose up independent prophets to chastise his erring kingly representative. Generally these individual prophets were sent by Jehovah to condemn the Israelites. What cannot be overlooked is that from the first leader and for most of its history, Israel were apostate rejecters of Jehovah.
At the death of only the third king Jehovah foretold "Here I am ripping the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and I shall certainly give you ten tribes. And the one tribe is what will continue his for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel." (1 Kings 11:31-32) After Solomon's death God proceeded to split the Israelites into two separate nations, each with their own priestly class. Until the destruction of Israel, Jehovah dealt with the Northern kingdom separately from the Southern kingdom.
For a short time after the fall of Jerusalem, God continued to deal directly with individuals, such as Daniel. After the release from Babylon, God was with Ezra and Nehemiah and was involved with the rebuilding of the temple. Then a period of 500 years ensued with no record of any intervention from God until the time of Jesus, no evidence that God actively dealt through this visible organization.
When Jesus arrived, the priesthood was still God's representative. The Jews were considered to be God's Nation until the the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. However Jesus and his disciples stood up against that organization and publicly condemned the Priests, in effect setting up a second rival organization to the one still representing God.
While this second group was following Jesus, the Bible shows that there were individuals unattached to Jesus followers whose worship was also considered acceptable.
"John said to him: "Teacher, we saw a certain man expelling demons by the use of your name and we tried to prevent him, because he was not accompanying us." But Jesus said: "Do not try to prevent him, for there is no one that will do a powerful work on the basis of my name that will quickly be able to revile me; for he that is not against us is for us. For whoever gives YOU a cup of water to drink on the ground that YOU belong to Christ, I truly tell YOU, he will by no means lose his reward. But whoever stumbles one of these little ones that believe, it would be finer for him if a millstone such as is turned by an ass were put around his neck and he were actually pitched into the sea." Mark 9:38-42
Here Jesus shows that a person could belong to him without following the group of apostles. Belonging to an organization was not as important as it was to "belong to Christ."
After Jesus death, his disciples actively went against the nation of Israel and the high priest, even whilst they were still considered God's earthly representative. Acts 5:27-29 describes such an occasion:
"And the high priest questioned them and said: "We positively ordered YOU not to keep teaching upon the basis of this name, and yet, look! YOU have filled Jerusalem with YOUR teaching, and YOU are determined to bring the blood of this man upon us." In answer Peter and the [other] apostles said: "We must obey God as ruler rather than men."
During all this time, early Christianity was loosely structured, unlike the Watchtower organization today. There was no formal incorporation and no multibillion dollar property empire of kingdom halls and Bethel buildings.
"But in reply he said: "I tell YOU, If these remained silent, the stones would cry out."" Luke 19:40
Presuming that God needs an earthly organization shows lack of faith in his ability to operate through individuals. Early Christians were not directed by an organization but by the words of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
"I have many things yet to say to YOU, but YOU are not able to bear them at present. However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide YOU into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to YOU the things coming." John 16:12-13
John 4 contains a discussion between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Samaritans and Jews, both descendants of Abraham, had differing opinions of who represented God's organization. Jesus explained, “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. ... Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshippers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for indeed, the Father is looking for ones like these to worship him." True worship is spiritual, it is not about fleshly organizations.
Jesus promised that he would direct his followers no matter how few were gathered together.
"Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst!" Matthew 18:20
It was under the guidance of Holy Spirit that followers of Jesus accomplished their work.
"... with the power of signs and portents, with the power of holy spirit; so that from Jerusalem and in a circuit as far as Illyricum I have thoroughly preached the good news about the Christ." Romans 15:19
Acts 2:1-4 describes the Holy Spirit speaking truth through 120 disciples and Acts 4:31 says;
"… they were one and all filled with the holy spirit and were speaking the word of God with boldness."
Christian congregations met in houses with like minded people worshipping Christ. Paul explained this was for "upbuilding" each other (1 Corinthians 14:5). Holy Spirit appointed mature older men to overseer (Acts 20) whilst the older women were teachers of good (Titus 2:3, 4).
There was freedom within congregations to discuss different points of view without fear of retribution, as shown by open discussion on circumcision. Consensus was reached at Acts 15 that circumcision was not required, but that it was necessary to abstain "from things sacrificed to idols (v29)". Yet even this statement was not binding regulation, since Paul later explained at 1 Corinthians 8 that food sacrificed to idols need only be avoided if eating it would cause a brother to stumble.
The formation of congregations indicates order, but does not imply an elite group of specially directed leaders in a position to demand unquestioning obedience.
An organization or corporation can be useful in maintaining order. They may be necessary in fulfilling the legal requirements involved in running a religion. For instance, the Proclaimers book mentions the "Peoples Pulpit Association" as:
"A New York corporation formed in 1909 in connection with the Society's moving of its principal offices to Brooklyn, New York." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.73
However, the Proclaimers book goes on to discuss how members from this male dominated corporation were also involved in electing the next Watchtower leader following the death of Russell. It was not until 1971 that the Watch Tower Society members stopped being part of the process to "vote in members of the anointed Governing Body." (w2001 1/15 p.29)
This cross pollination of church, corporation and organization does not parallel with any Scriptural structure. This is a typical corporate approach without any demonstration of spirit guidance, despite how the Watchtower leadership try to mystify their role as spiritually appointed leaders that must not be questioned.
When Russell started publishing Zion's Watch Tower, he was not a link in an unbroken chain extending through history as Jehovah's organization. He had turned his back on organized religion and gone out alone. He promoted this rebellion against organization, writing:
"(2) Beware of "organization." It is wholly unnecessary. The Bible rules will be the only rules you will need. Do not seek to bind others' consciences, and do not permit others to bind yours. Believe and obey so far as you can understand God's Word today, and so continue growing in grace and knowledge and love day by day."
Watchtower 1895 Sep 15 reprints p.1866.
Being a genuine Christian was what was important.
"We are in fellowship with all Christians in whom we can recognize the Bible as the only standard. We do not require, therefore, that all shall see just as we do in order to be called Christians, realising that growth in both grace and knowledge is a gradual process." Watchtower 1882 Apr reprints p.344
"The test of membership in the New Creation will not be membership in any earthly organization, but union with the Lord as a member of his mystical body;" Millenial Dawn - The New Creation (1904) p.74
However, as time went on, Russell started to promote the importance of his own writings as essential to learning truth. Thirty years after he started publishing, he was being referred to as Pastor, accepted the title of Faithful Slave and wrote that his books were essential for an understanding of the Bible, in fact more important than to read the Bible alone.
"Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years - if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had earnest heed to the opportunities for service and consider that merely read the SCRIPTURE STUDIES with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures." Watchtower 1910 Sep 15 reprints p.344
Whilst this concept that Watchtower publications are essential for knowing truth continues to this day, the reality is that anyone holding to Russell's teachings is considered apostate by Jehovah's Witnesses.
Following Russell's death, Rutherford proceeded to enforce an organisational structure upon Watchtower followers. In 1919, congregations were to "register as a service organization within the Society..." (Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose p.95), moving congregational control under international direction. In 1920, it became a requirement to report participation in witnessing. Direction of the preaching work became the reasoning behind a stricter organisational structure.
"The efficiency with which the witness must be given of necessity depends largely upon the organized efforts made in the field." Watchtower 1922 Dec 15 reprints p.389
In 1932, Rutherford changed the elder arrangement, stating it was "not according to the principles of the great Theocrat, who rules his sanctuary from the top down." (Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose p.127). The concept of a theocratic organization was not introduced until 1938.
"Continued advancement brought them the understanding that both Jehovah and his enemy, Satan, have an invisible organization. .... It was in 1938 that The Watchtower published an article on organisation that showed how God's organization should be theocratic." Watchtower 1965 Jul 15 p.428
Far from Jehovah always using an organization, Watchtower sprung onto the scene, and then took many decades to morph into the tightly controlled organization it is today that accepts no dissonance.
Whilst pushing that belonging to Jehovah's organization is essential for salvation, it claims the opposite when preaching against other religions that try to say the same.
"We must seek to be genuine Christians in every sense of the word. Does that mean we have to join a church organisation in Christendom? Ask yourself now, Did Christ Jesus, who set our example and told us to follow his example to gain life, join any church organization in his day? No, God does not require us to do that; but he requires us to worship him, to preach the good news of the Kingdom, to be Christians, to follow the example Jesus set, living in unalterable devotion to Jehovah God; to praise God and respect his supremacy, to resist all efforts to turn us from decency and to endure in faith. We have the Bible to show us the right way. Certainly it is not necessary for a person to become a member of a church to gain everlasting life." Watchtower 1953 Mar 1 p.143
Whilst Watchtower says Jehovah has always had an organization and leader, that is not the case at all. According to the Bible, God has had a chosen people that he directed for a very small part of recorded human history, and that group has been inaccessible to most humans. The coverage of the Israelites and Early Christians encompassed just a small part of the human population.
Watchtower describes itself as Jehovah's "wife" and "earthly instrument".
"However, what we see exemplified in God's woman, his heavenly universal organization, we should look to see in his visible organization. Why? Because his higher, greater universal organization uses it as her earthly instrument. That is why we do see those motherly traits, those traits and acts of a virtuous woman, in the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and in the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, because these profess to represent and serve God's woman. We thank God for providing and using them. So we stand up respectfully and bless his faithful organization, his queenly "woman" in heaven which makes all these loving provisions for us as children of God." Watchtower 1950 Oct 1 p.348 "
Referring to Watchtower as Jehovah's earthly organization creates an air of divine authority. Personification as a motherly woman creates fear of displeasing "her". In reality, the Watchtower Society is a standard company with a Charter incorporated in America. It is a worldly corporation run by progression of men. Like any company, its foremost concern is ultimately growth and financial viability, achieved through book sales and donations.
In The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian & the Risk of Commitment (InteVarsity Press, 1986, 1992) pp.29-30 Professor Daniel Taylor warns:
"The primary goal of all institutions and subcultures is self-preservation. Preserving the faith is central to God's plan for human history; preserving particular religious institutions is not. Do not expect those who run the institutions to be sensitive to the difference. God needs no particular person, church, denomination, creed or organization to accomplish his purpose."
The concept of Jehovah having one single organization that he directs by means of a Governing Body is used to support the concept that being a Jehovah's Witness is essential for salvation. Though the Bible consistently says it is faith in Jesus that is important, the Watchtower shifts attention to the Organization with statements such as "we must uphold the truth of that organization." (Watchtower 1961 May 1 p.276) The Governing Body uses this principle to set itself as a spiritual authority above the Bible, such as when stating:
"Thus the Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian congregation as an organization, not to individuals, regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can interpret the Bible. For this reason the Bible cannot be properly understood without Jehovah's visible organization in mind." Watchtower 1967 Oct 1 p.587
Though an organization is never mentioned by Jesus, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that all other Christian religions will be destroyed by God, because they do not follow Watchtower defined truth. Jesus said "He that believes has everlasting life"(John 6:47) and "I know my sheep and my sheep know me"(John 10:14). When a Jehovah's Witness reads passages like these they are trained to understand "whoever believes what the Watchtower says about Jesus may have everlasting life", and "the sheep know me, only by means of the Watchtower Society". This is not unique; it is common that "the cult and its beliefs become the only true path to salvation." (Combating Cult Mind Control, Hassan, p.202).
It is apparent that for most of the history of the Bible, Jehovah did not have a visible organization. Even during the short period that he used the Nation of Israel, he regularly dealt with individuals in preference to the leaders of that nation. This was also the case during early Christian times. Furthermore, belonging to these groups was no guarantee of being acceptable to God, as from the start both the Jews and early Christians were plagued with corruption and apostasy.
Related to the topic of an Organization are the articles:
- Was there a first century Governing Body?
- Who are the Faithful and Discreet Slave?
- Have there Always Been Jehovah's Witnesses?
Written 2007. Latest update May 2018.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2020