“Go, Therefore, and Make Disciples” – Study 2020/01

“Go, therefore, and make disciples …. , baptizing them.” – Matthew 28:19

[From ws 1/20 p.2 Study Article 1: March 2 – March 8, 2020]

This study article is based on the new year text, which per paragraph 1 is “OUR YEARTEXT FOR 2020: “Go, therefore, and make disciples . . . , baptizing them.”​—MATT. 28:19”

Out of all the subjects and scriptures that could be used for a theme for the year, the Organization has chosen to use this theme and scripture.

The first issue appears in paragraph 3 which reads: “Read Matthew 28:16-20. At the meeting that Jesus organized, he outlined the vital work that his disciples would accomplish throughout the first century​—the same work that we are accomplishing today. Jesus said: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”.

How can we say that the Organization is not accomplishing the same work today? For many reasons, but one vital one will suffice for now as many have been given in our reviews.

  • Notice Jesus asked his disciples to make disciples “make disciples of people of all the nations”. Is this really what Jehovah’s Witnesses are doing today? In China and India and other parts of the Far East and Middle East, very few Witnesses baptized come from non-Christian backgrounds. In the western world the background is predominantly Christian. Almost all Witnesses baptized come from other Christian religions or are brought up by Witness parents and so are already disciples of Christ, possibly just with a few differences in some beliefs.
  • Also notice that Jesus said to be “teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you”. What very important thing did Jesus command them to do? 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 states “For I received from the Lord that which I also handed on to YOU, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was going to be handed over took a loaf 24 and, after giving thanks, he broke it and said: “This means my body which is in YOUR behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” 25 He did likewise respecting the cup also, after he had the evening meal, saying: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood. Keep doing this, as often as YOU drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as YOU eat this loaf and drink this cup, YOU keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” Therefore, by teaching those whom the Organization terms “the great crowd”, which is all but a handful of Witnesses, to merely observe and pass on the bread and the wine, the Organization stops these ones from proclaiming the death of the Lord. This goes contrary to Christ’s command of “teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you”. It also goes contrary to Jesus asking his disciples to “keep doing this …. In remembrance of me”.

Paragraph 4 tries to make the case for all to be preaching (according to the Organization’s definition of preaching). In doing so it gives the following reason. It tries to insist that women were there in Galilee, saying, “were only the apostles present when the command to make disciples was given on that mountain in Galilee? Recall that the angel said to the women: “You (Bold theirs) will see him [in Galilee].” So faithful women must also [bold ours] have been present on that occasion”. Yet regarding seeing Jesus in Galilee the scripture only says “the eleven disciples went into Galʹi·lee to the mountain where Jesus had arranged for them, 17 and when they saw him they did obeisance, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:16-17). It is pure conjecture and speculation to claim otherwise. Faithful women may or may not have been there.

Additionally, the angel did not say “You will see him [in Galilee]” (Bold theirs). Matthew 28:5-7 tells us “But the angel in answer said to the women: “Do not YOU be fearful, for I know YOU are looking for Jesus who was impaled. 6 He is not here, for he was raised up, as he said. Come, see the place where he was lying. And go quickly and tell his disciples that he was raised up from the dead, and, look! he is going ahead of YOU into Galʹi·lee; there YOU will see him. Look! I have told YOU”. The normal understanding of this passage in its context is that the Angel said you are looking for Jesus. He is going to Galilee, if you go there you will see him. Tell this to the disciples as well. If for any reason, whether because of bad health, old age or a decision not to go to Galilee then they would not see Jesus. The key emphasis on the scripture is not on the women (you) but on where Jesus can be seen (there).

In this paragraph we also see that despite they seem to be desperate to make Jesus command apply to more than the 12 apostles, they overlook a possible way of translating 1 Corinthians 15:6 to support their idea that women were there in Galilee. The Greek word translated “brothers” is “Adelphios” and can be translated brothers and sisters as it can refer to the whole congregation according to the context. Now one could speculate that this oversight is due to (a) a lack of knowledge of Greek, and/or not having or being allowed to use Interlinear resources, or (b) while they can accept a few privileged women disciples may have been there, it would upset a male centered ideology to accept a wider understanding of “brothers” in 1 Corinthians 15:6. However, we will not choose either speculation as they could both be right or wrong.

Paragraph 5 claims “he could have done that in Jerusalem instead of asking them and the women and others to meet him in Galilee”.

The only ones specifically asked were the Apostles. The word “Apostle” means “one sent forth, particularly by God or Christ”. There is no mention of women present when Jesus spoke the words in Matthew 28:19-20. Also, nor is there mention of what Jesus said to the 500 others who saw him in Galilee (1 Corinthians 15:6), only that he appeared to them. It is only speculation to say these 500 were there and were given the instructions of Matthew 28:19-20.

Furthermore, if all Christians were to be evangelizers, why did the Apostle Paul say the following in Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers”?

Another reason given for the necessity that all have to preach is suggested in paragraph 5. It is that by meeting on a Galilean mountain Jesus allowed for more than the 11 apostles to be present. While meeting on a Galilean mountain would allow more to hear, it was also more private and somewhere safe Jesus could meet his apostles. Yet again it is speculation and conjecture to say it was to have a large audience. Therefore, their claim does not necessarily hold any water that “If Jesus wanted to instruct only the apostles to preach and make disciples, he could have done that in Jerusalem instead of asking them and the women and others to meet him in Galilee.​—Luke 24:33, 36”.

Paragraph 6 claims a third reason “Jesus’ command to make disciples was not limited to Christians living in the first century. How do we know? Jesus concluded his instructions to his followers with the words: “I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:20)”. Now this claim could be true, but it assumes that “ the conclusion of the system of things”, was referring to Armageddon rather than the end of the Jewish system of things that occurred in 70CE. However, this is the only reason that has some validity. Furthermore, a careful reading of the instruction in Matthew 28:18-20 also shows it is talking about making disciples and teaching to observe what Jesus taught, not specifically preaching, especially from door to door. We could make disciples by setting the example in our actions and having conversations on a one to one basis.

Now, does all this mean that in this review we are arguing that there is no necessity to preach and teach? No, it does not. But the three reasons given, the mountain for numbers (speculation), the women (speculation) and the 500 brothers being with the apostles (speculation that it was at the same time), do not stand up under scrutiny to support the requirements put upon Witnesses still in the Organization.

Such a poorly founded argument smacks of desperation to make a point, rather than relating one or two well founded facts.

The sparse evidence provided in the Watchtower article does mean that the insistence by the Organization that all Christians need to preach from door to door is severely flawed. As proven before in a previous Watchtower review, given that a high proportion of the population of the Roman world were slaves (typically 50%) and how slaves were treated, a slave asking the master or mistress to have time off to go preaching door to door or to meetings each week, was simply not an option, otherwise it would have meant their immediate death. There is no evidence that slaves on becoming Christians effectively committed suicide in this way. Indeed, Christianity would not have spread so quickly if this was the case. However, slaves could treat one another better and talk personally to those in whom they came in contact with and their personal example and changed personality would be persuasive with others (1 Peter 2:18-20).

The Organization then makes a preposterous claim that “True to Jesus’ words, today the disciple-making work is in full swing. Think of it! Nearly 300,000 people each year get baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses and become disciples of Jesus Christ” (par.6).

No comparison with other religions to show how much better the Organization is (or is not) at making disciples. Also, no discussion about quality I.e. about their retention rate. The 2019 and 2018 service year reports show that 2018 Peak Publishers were 8,579,909 and 2019 Peak Publishers were 8,683,117 only a net increase of 103,208, meaning 67% of the increase was lost. The net increase of 1.3% is barely above the annual world population increase. At this rate it will never even begin to compare with the spread of early Christianity in the first century, condemning billions to die at Armageddon even if it comes in a 100 years time.

Paragraphs 8-13 have the theme “Try to reach the Heart”.

We will list the suggestions in the order presented in the study article.

  1. Use the books “What Can the Bible Teach Us?” and “How to Remain in God’s Love.””, (par. 9)
  2. “Start the study session with prayer”, (par.11)
  3. “Teach your student how to pray” (par.12)
  4. “Invite your Bible student to attend the meetings as soon as possible” (par.13)

Did you spot the following?

  • “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and [their] marrow, and [is] able to discern thoughts and intentions of [the] heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
  • “become an example to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
  • “Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all [persons]. 16 Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Timothy 4:15-16)

Is not using God’s word directly and setting the example ourselves the best and most persuasive way to reach anyone’s heart? Yet the Organization’s priorities are to push their publications, pray and bring them to religious meetings. Is not something seriously wrong here with the priorities as set by the Organization?

Paragraphs 14-16 cover the theme “Help your Student grow spiritually”.

The main points given here are:

  • Your study wanting to help others? “When the time is right, do not hold back from mentioning the privilege of supporting the Kingdom work financially”. (Par.14)
  • What to do when problems with brothers arise? “either forgive the brother or, if he cannot let the matter go, approach the person kindly and lovingly with the goal of ‘gaining the brother.’”, (par.15).
  • Your study wants to speak to others? “Show him how to use the JW Library app, the Research Guide for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and jw.org to learn practical ways to deal with the situation”, (par.15).
  • Your Student not making the progress you want? Bring in the heavy weights to intimidate them. “Invite others from the congregation​—and the circuit overseer when he visits the congregation—​to sit in on the study”, (par.16).

How will any of the above really help any Bible student to grow spiritually? Following those suggestions will help the student progress in the ways of the Organization, but not in Christian qualities, or deeper knowledge of the Bible. For that they would fare far better if they did personal research on information that builds up one’s confidence in the Bible record. Such subjects as that of the flood, or creation or how early Christianity spread. They could also work on a particular quality of true Christians and see how it benefits both themselves and others.

Paragraphs 17-20 deal with something also pushed heavily shortly before 1975, and in the 1990’s. Paragraph 18 suggests “Consider this scenario: Your student has completed a study of the Teach Us book and has perhaps even started the Remain in God’s Love book, but he has not yet attended a single congregation meeting​—not even the Memorial! And he often cancels the study for trivial reasons. In such a case, you would do well to have a frank talk with the student”.

What will that “frank talk” include? Paragraph 20 states, “We may find it hard to tell a person that we will stop studying with him. However, “the time left is reduced.” (1 Corinthians 7:29) Rather than spend more time conducting an unproductive study, we need to find someone who gives evidence that he is “rightly disposed for everlasting life.”​—Read Acts 13:48.”

Why this suggestion? Could it be because they want more baptisms in short order because the flush of youngster baptisms is running dry and they will no longer be able to try the numbers game with the total annual baptisms?

Finally note concluding paragraph 21 states “During 2020, our yeartext will help us to focus on improving the quality of our disciple-making work”. In a subtle way it betrays the thinking of the Governing Body.

The Organization wants us to

  • Get lots of disciples, [for the Organization], but do not worry too much about them being quality Christians.
  • Get them donating
  • Get them attending prescribed meetings
  • Get them prepared to put up with any abuses levelled at them.
  • But do not worry about building up their faith so it can stand without the Organization, and
  • do not worry about them developing Christian qualities and or helping others in practical ways other than preaching.

What did Jesus want when he gave the apostles that instruction?

  • Quality Christians, not numbers. (Matthew 13:24-30, fine wheat amongst weeds)
  • To help each other, no donations for an Organization, only to help other Christians. (Acts 15:26)
  • Association with like-minded individuals (James 2:1-4)
  • Faith in him and his promises (John 8:31-32)
  • Show real love to one another as identifying mark (John 13:35)

July 2022 Postscript: This article was reviewed shortly before the Covid pandemic hit the world. Since March 2020, the preaching word, particularly from door to door has ground to a halt. If God is behind this Organization, why did he not warn them, so they could prepare articles about postal witnessing and the like? If they are not aware of future events like this with a few months notice, on what basis can they claim to know we are living in the very last day of the last days? Surely that is something of much greater importance to prepare us for. As it is, the global pandemic was nowhere near as deadly as the Spanish Flu of 1918, it did not herald Armageddon and nor did the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, which was also pointed to as heralding the nearness of Armageddon. Now the news in most countries has moved on to domestic troubles. However, at the time of writing, the door to door preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses had not resumed some 2.25 years after it was halted in most countries.

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