We Serve the God Who is Rich in Mercy – Study 2021/41
“Jehovah is good to all, and his mercy is evident in all his works.” – Psalms 145:9
[Study 41 from ws 10/21 p.8, December 13 – December 19, 2021]
What is this article really about?
Is it really about serving a merciful God?
Or is it about being punished by an unmerciful Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
This is a very important distinction.
There is no question about whether God is merciful. The theme scripture is just one of many that either directly states how merciful God is, or describes an action he has or will take which is merciful.
The case the Organization has to prove is that the so-called firm discipline as practiced by the Organization is indeed merciful as it claims. Claiming it is so, does not make it so.
Paragraphs 9-15 consisting of a good half of the study article are devoted to supposedly answering the question “Can Firm discipline be Merciful?”. So, does the Organization prove its case?
Arguably, no. If you want to prove a case, then you should start by establishing the terms of the case. This requires defining the key terms. In this case: “firm”, “discipline”, “merciful”.
The study article defined merciful in the opening paragraphs as “someone who is kind, warmhearted, compassionate and generous” (para 1). Also, not dealing with us according to our sins. (Psalm 103:10).
There is no definition of the key word “discipline”.
However, Proverbs 13:24 is cited which is translated in the NWT (2013) as “Whoever holds back his rod hates his son, But the one who loves him disciplines him diligently.” The Hebrew word translated as “discipline” is ‘musar’ which means “discipline, chastening, correction.” Literally translated this verse should read “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him corrects or chastens him promptly.” When we think about the wording of this sentence it is contrasting two things as so many Proverbs do. In this verse it is contrasting the delay in taking action with the promptness in taking action. Delay shows a lack of love, correction shows love. The emphasis is on the speed of action, not on how one takes action.
Yet, this scripture still is and has so often been taken out of context to justify physical or corporal punishment by means of rods, sticks, whips, etc, etc.
The Israelites were very familiar with sheep as many were shepherds. Even today an essential piece of equipment for shepherds is a crook (a long and sturdy stick or rod with a hook at one end) or a rod. What do they use the rod for? To facilitate the recovery of fallen animals by getting the hook around the sheep’s neck or legs or guiding the animals. As a result the crook is used as a symbol of care, in ancient times by Pharaoh’s and in the Bishop’s crosier. The shepherd’s crook was not used as a symbol of punishment or firm discipline. The shepherds never used the crook to strike their sheep, only to assist them out of a problem or guide them.
Red Herrings. It is so, because the Organization claims it so, not because it is really so.
Can you spot the parallels in the following two statements.
- “Is the moon made of cheese? Yes it is. It is round like cheese, it is yellow like a cheese, some of it’s surface is pocked like cheese, therefore it is cheese.”
- “Is disfellowshipping really an expression of mercy? Yes it is. To withhold discipline [disfellowshipping] from someone who needs it is not wise, merciful or loving. (Proverbs 13:24) Can getting disfellowshipped help an unrepentant sinner change his course? It can. Many … have found that the firm action the elders took gave them the very jolt they needed to come to their senses.” (para 9).
Does either statement give evidence to prove its point? Clearly not! They only make assertions, which are not backed up with stated indisputable facts. Even if you did not know that the surface of the moon was made of a high content of silicate minerals, a reasonable person would not accept the so-called logic of the sentence. So why accept the false logic of the quote from the study article? Both are examples of fallacious reasoning. They are also both a figure of speech called a “red herring”. They are both logical fallacies, seemingly plausible, intended to lead the reader toward a false conclusion.
Paragraph 10 contains an illustration about quarantining a sick sheep from the other sheep, even if that upsets the sick sheep and the rest of the flock of sheep. At first glance the illustration makes sense, but it too is a “red herring”. How so? Quarantining a sick sheep is not an identical situation to disfellowshipping. Quarantine is because of a physically infectious disease. Disfellowshipping is because of an undesired difference in thoughts or deeds. True, there are similarities, but neither situation takes into account the inbuilt natural resistance to infection, whether physical infection by disease or being affected by attitudes. In addition if a sheep is quarantined does the shepherd muzzle it and and also muzzle the other sheep to stop them from communicating with it? It would be unthinkable. The rest of the flock of sheep bleating to the sick sheep reassure it that they are concerned for their sick member of the flock. They want to be reunited as soon as possible.
Jesus Christ, as head of the Christian congregation is the shepherd of the flock (See John 10:1-17). Therefore, another point to consider with the illustration given in the study article is that it is only Jesus that could enact the quarantine of the sick sheep. The shepherd would not allow other sheep to enforce the quarantine, yet this is the case in the Organization. While elders are referred to as shepherds by the Organization, the only one with any authority over the congregation is Jesus Christ, who was given that authority by God. Jesus does not communicate directly or indirectly with elders today about the state of health of any of his sheep.
Furthermore, we need to keep in mind that disfellowshipping from the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses can occur for far more many reasons than a clearly defined scriptural reason. The secret elder’s handbook, “Shepherd the Flock of God” contains many scenarios with rules as to whether to disfellowshipping is necessary in that situation or not.
James 5:14 – Spiritual or Physical Sickness?
Paragraph 11 further tries to support the illustration by citing James 5:14 as referring to a Christian being sick in a spiritual sense. But this is another scripture the Organization continually takes out of context. In doing so it applies a meaning to the scripture that was never intended by the Apostle James.
The Greek work translated “sick” in James 5:14 is ”astheneo”, which means “I am weak, (physically), without strength”. When the Bible writers meant spiritually sick, they qualified the sickness as such by adding the type of sickness. (For example, see Romans 4:19 “having become weak in the faith”). There is no such qualification of the sickness in James 5:14. It is therefore wishful thinking and frankly very wrong, therefore, to apply this scripture to spiritual weakness.
What about the reference to applying of oil? Oils of various kinds have been used from time immemorial to treat wounds and sick people. Today, there is the practice of aromatherapy, the use of oils and scents to improve a person’s health and feeling of well-being. The ancient Greek soldiers took ointment of Myrrh into battle to counter infections from wounds. Coconut oil has anti-bacterial properties, etc. A Greek surgeon at a school for gladiators known as Galen gathered a vast knowledge of plants and their medicines and it is reported that not one gladiator died of his wounds while Galen was the surgeon. In the context both of James 5 and the environment in which it was written, we have no choice but to conclude that the advice in James was literal referring to literal sickness not spiritual sickness. While the elders applied literal oil (which could help physically heal) and massaged the sick Christian thereby helping him physically to get better, they could also encourage him by praying with him, as a positive outlook always assists recovery.
Then the claim is made in paragraph 14 that “Spiritual sickness, like some forms of physical illness, can be quite contagious.” That is a carefully worded statement, because it says nothing about whether the spiritual sickness will affect those in contact with it. Only that it can be contagious.
If a sheep has a strong immune system it will be able to strongly resist any sickness affecting it. Likewise, anyone “spiritually strong” (how does one define that?) would have a strong spiritual immune system, able to reject any such spiritual sickness and not become infected or affected. Only those who are spiritually weak (again, how does one define them?) run the risk of succumbing to the spiritual sickness. Therefore, why should the sick sheep suffer deprivation because of maybe a handful of other weak sheep? Is it not better to fortify the health of those other spiritually weak sheep.
1 Corinthians 5:1-13 – Disfellowshipping and Curtailing Association. Is there a difference?
Paragraph 13 then makes the claim that the Apostle Paul directed the Corinthians to disfellowship a man who was living scandalously even for the immoral non-Christian Corinthians based on 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. But that is misleading.
Disfellowshipping as currently practiced by the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses includes shunning and not talking to disfellowshipped ones. The apostle Paul’s direction (which incidentally the Corinthian congregation were at liberty to ignore, without consequences!) was that they were to quit mixing with him. That is very different to refusing to speak to someone at all. The Greek word translated “associate with”  means “to mingle together with, keep company with”. Seeking out the company of such a one and staying in company with that one as if nothing had happened is very different from cutting that one off from all human interaction, which is what is practiced in the Organization.
Even when the reviewer was a diehard Witness, he made a special effort to say something encouraging to disfellowshipped ones who attended the meetings, so as to encourage them to continue to come. This was to communicate to them that their efforts had been noticed, even though this was against the Organization’s direction. Why did the author do that? Because he always believed that the extreme shunning that most Witnesses practice is counter productive. Also, it made no sense to emotionally blackmail those disfellowshipped in to returning to the congregation so as to have association with their family and friends when their heart was clearly not in it.
Did the Apostle Paul Direct or Entreat?
Paragraph 14 discusses what happened when the Apostle Paul learnt that the wrongdoer was repentant. The study article then states that the Apostle Paul “directed them: ‘Kindly forgive and comfort him’”. Note the suggestion of authority again, to try to keep the authority of the Governing Body and the Organization. According to the Organization, the Apostle Paul directed the disfellowshipping and directed the forgiveness. But did he direct anything?
- 1 Corinthians 5:11 merely has the Apostle Paul stating “but now I am writing to you to quit keeping in company with”. Writing is not the same as Directing.
- 2 Corinthians 2:8 tells us Paul’s words to the whole Corinthian congregation, “I therefore exhort you to confirm your love for him”. The Greek word here translated as “exhort” means “to entreat, beg, beseech, comfort”. That is the very opposite of “directing” as claimed by the Organization. Exhorting is the opposite to Directing.
Also, it is interesting to note that only the majority of the Corinthian congregation rebuked this wrongdoer, it was not everyone according to 2 Corinthians 2:6. Nor is there any mention of or threat of sanctions against those who did not rebuke the wrongdoer. This again is in direct contrast to today in the Organization.
Does the Organization Direct or Entreat?
- 1 Corinthians 5:11 : The ***w81 9/15 pp. 25-26 par. 27 Disfellowshiping—How to View It *** tells us that the Elders would admonish someone keeping company with a disfellowshipped person “and, if necessary, ‘reprove him with severity.’ They want to help him remain ‘in God’s holy mountain.’ But if he will not cease to fellowship with the expelled person, he thus has made himself ‘a sharer (supporting or participating) in the wicked works’ and must be removed from the congregation, expelled.” i.e. disfellowshipped as well. The threat and direction is, obey the Organization or suffer the consequences. Yet as we discussed just above, the Apostle Paul instead wrote to the congregation asking them not to keep company with no threat or even hint of a threat of similar treatment as the sinful person.
In relation to determining whether a judicial committee should be formed, the latest edition of the “Shepherd the Flock of God” secret elders handbook (October 2021 edition, Chapter 12, paragraph 17) directs that “Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated nonrelatives despite repeated counsel would warrant judicial action.—Matt. 18:17b; 1 Cor. 5:11, 13; 2 John 10, 11; lvs pp. 39-40.
If a publisher in the congregation is known to have unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives who are not in the household, elders should use the Scriptures to counsel and reason with him. Review with him information from the Remain in God’s Love book, page 241. If it is clear that a Christian is violating the spirit of the disfellowshipping decree in this regard and does not respond to counsel, he would not qualify for congregation privileges, which require one to be exemplary. He would not be dealt with judicially unless there is persistent spiritual association or he persists in openly criticizing the disfellowshipping decision.”
Comparing this latest direction to elders to the w81 quote appears to show the strong stance has been reduced a little, but the rank and file Witness will not be aware of this, especially when recent video’s from the Organization show parents throwing a teenager out of the house, and refusing to take their phone call.
- 2 Corinthians 2:8 : Confirming love for the repentant one is not dependant on the whole congregation seeing the changes and accepting that one again, but rather for the judicial committee to sanction it. Further the reinstatement process according to the “Shepherd the Flock of God”, secret elders handbook, states that “The committee should be careful to allow sufficient time, perhaps many months, a year, or even longer, for a disfellowshipped or disassociated person to demonstrate that he is genuinely repentant. (See 16:6-17.) The committee should be especially cautious in some cases.” (Shepherd the Flock of God, October 2021 edition, Chapter 19, paragraph 6.)
Company and Contact – What is the difference?
Keeping Company with:
- This is defined as – “being with others in a way that provides friendship and enjoyment, someone regarded as pleasant to be with”. This is what the Apostle Paul recommended should be the temporary treatment of this scandalously immoral man.
Having Contact with:
- This is defined as – “action of communication or meeting – in order to give or receive information”. The Organization directs us to not even have contact with someone disfellowshipped. The w17 October p. 16 par. 19 The Truth Brings, “Not Peace, But a Sword” article states : “we must avoid normal contact with a disfellowshipped family member by telephone, text messages, letters, e-mails, or social media.”
Public or Secret?
One other very important point we must not forget.
1st Century: Public
- In the first century, the issue was public, everyone in the Corinthian congregation knew why the Apostle Paul suggested such an action. The practices of the man in question was creating serious scandal even in the immoral city of Corinth, bringing disrepute to the Christian way of life.
21st Century: Secret
- By contrast, today, in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the majority of cases of disfellowshippings most of the congregation are unaware of the wrongdoing. The cases are certainly not usually causing serious scandal in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the decision to disfellowship is taken in secret by a 3 man judicial committee (who never excuse themselves due to conflict of interests, or possible bias against the accused). In addition, the reasons for their decision are not made public.
It is a sad reflection on a religion the reviewer once believed to be God’s chosen organization, that the few cases that do cause public scandal, such as child sexual abuse, are actually hushed up even more than adultery or fornication. Instead of following the first century Christians example and sending a clear message to “the world” that these practices are truly detestable and not to be tolerated the reverse occurs.
Take for example the Organization’s stance regarding child sexual abuse. The judicial committee process is so badly skewed in favor of the accused abuser that it makes honest hearted ones wonder why the Organization continues to try and hide behind blatant misinterpretation of a handful of scriptures. Would it not be far better instead, to report such cases directly to the authorities at the first opportunity. The Organization clearly ignores the practices of the first century Christians when it chooses.
The Case for “Can Firm Discipline being Merciful?” – Found to be without Grounds
In summary of paragraphs 9-15 of the study article, while there are some limited attempts by the Organization to justify the claim that firm discipline i.e. disfellowshipping and shunning, can be merciful, the claim is not upheld by the evidence supplied as has been discussed above. Nor is there an attempt to explore other solutions to either rule them out as not a viable solution or better still to adopt the solution as a better solution.
Merciful is “kind, warmhearted, compassionate and generous”. How can being cutoff from normal family relations be defined as kind or warmhearted? Unkind and coldhearted would be a better description. Compassionate to strip someone of support from family and friends when arguably they need it most? Hardly, uncompassionate is a better description. Generous to withhold normal human interaction with family? Hardly.
From scripture we should not seek out the company of ones practicing scandalous wrongdoing clearly against God’s law, but that is very different to completely shunning them by refusing to speak to them.
Based on the current practices of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses and most of the Witnesses, they would rather speak to Hitler, Himmler, and other similar mass murderers rather than one of their own flesh and blood who has taken a wrong step, (and who it is unlikely has engaged in mass torture and murder). How sad, and surely a twisted set of values and not from the God of Love or his Son who gave his life for all mankind.
Given all the above points discussed at length can the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to “serve the God who is Rich in Mercy?”.
Surely not. They pay lip service to mercy. Did not the Apostle James warn “For the one that does not practice mercy will have judgment without mercy” (James 2:13).
See also the recent article https://awakenjw.com/when-a-loved-one-leaves-jehovah-study-2021-39