(WDGR LESSON 4: “Who is the Devil?”)
Are personal opinions and independent thinking condemned by God? How can Christian unity exist in a religion that allows its members to disagree on spiritual issues? Do true Christians need the guidance of an organization to understand the Bible? What are the mental manipulation techniques of a cult?
CINDY: Hi Karen, how was your week?
KAREN: Oh, it was all right. It’s just that my mom is giving me a hard time because I’m studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I guess she’s afraid that I’m going to end up in a cult.
CINDY: Karen, we hear that a lot from people who don’t understand our religion. Just like usual we’ll be studying today in the Watchtower brochure, What Does God Require of Us?. “Satan may use persecution or opposition to get you to leave Jehovah.” As you are seeing, Karen, “Some of your loved ones may become very angry because you are studying the Bible.…Satan wants to frighten you so that you will stop learning about Jehovah.”1. You won’t let Satan win by listening to your mom, will you Karen?
KAREN: Cindy, my mom is not upset that I’m studying the Bible. It’s just that she’s worried that I’m studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. She thinks that the Jehovah’s Witness religion is a cult and she doesn’t want me to end up in it.
CINDY: Karen, do you know what a “cult” is? A few years ago, in the February 15, 1994 issue of The Watchtower, the Society described what a “cult” is. Let me read some of the things they said in that article: “Cult leaders are known to use manipulative methods to control the minds of their followers. Is there any evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses do this?.…Outstanding is a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. It declared that the Witnesses should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and that they have the right to speak about their faith and teach it to others. This would hardly be the case if Jehovah’s Witnesses…used manipulative methods to control the minds of their followers.”2. Karen, you see what we are like. Do you think we use “manipulative methods” to control your mind?
KAREN: I’m not sure, Cindy. My mom said that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to question any of the doctrines and policies of the Watchtower organization and that if they don’t believe absolutely everything the Society teaches, they will be disfellowshiped from the organization. She said that fear of being rejected by the organization, manipulates many Witnesses into not accepting blood transfusions,3. refusing any kind of political activities,4. and not participating in anything that is disapproved of by the Watchtower organization. Is this true that the Watchtower manipulates its members in this way?
CINDY: I wouldn’t call it “manipulation,” Karen. The Watchtower Society doesn’t tell us what to believe. Based on our conscience, we make our own personal decision in regard to blood transfusions and politics.
KAREN: Really, Cindy? You are allowed to make your own personal decision? So what happens if the conscience of a Witness permits him to vote; are you saying he wouldn’t be disfellowshiped for such an action?
CINDY: Well, no, Karen. He would be disfellowshiped if he persists in this action because a Jehovah’s Witness must believe and act in harmony with the Watchtower organization.
KAREN: Then are you saying, Cindy, that a Witness’ personal conscience is determined by the Watchtower organization’s doctrine and policies?
CINDY: Well, I guess so. . .
KAREN: Listen to this Watchtower article and tell me how this is not mental “manipulation” in controlling what people think and believe. The Society said: “…Satan called into question God’s way of doing things. He promoted independent thinking.…How is such independent thinking manifested? A common way is by questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible organization.…Why is it so dangerous? Such thinking is an evidence of pride.…Really, can we get along without the direction of God’s organization? No, we cannot!”5. Cindy, when personal judgment of determining Scriptural truth is viewed as pride against God, how can this not be a means of controlling what people believe? If a person is not allowed to question the doctrines of an organization, how can he follow the Biblical command to “make sure of all things”?6.
CINDY: That’s a good question, Karen, but once we prove that this is Jehovah’s organization, we must not question its doctrines any longer. Jesus told us that we must be “one” even as he and the Father are one,7. and the apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers to: “all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions” so that they would be “united in the same…line of thought.”8. So in order to have unity of thought, we must not question the counsel provided by the organization.
KAREN: Cindy, is unity the same thing as uniformity or is there a difference?
CINDY: What do you mean by is there a difference between unity and uniformity? Aren’t they the same thing, Karen?
KAREN: Not exactly, Cindy. Let me explain. Notice that in the passage you referenced, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul does not tell the believes to have uniformity of belief, but rather, as he put it, to be: “united in the same…line of thought.” Do you think it is possible for a group of people to be “united in the same…line of thought” without having absolute uniformity in beliefs? For example, Cindy. Suppose you and your husband were to have a disagreement on whether you should eat apples for breakfast. Now the Bible says that husbands and wives, by being united in marriage, are as “one,” but does this mean that you are required to like apples as much as your husband does?
CINDY: Of course, not, Karen. I’m in unity with my husband, but that doesn’t mean that we do not have our differences of opinion on certain issues. He may like certain kinds of food or clothing that I’m not particularly fond of, but that doesn’t affect our relationship. We exercise unity in our marriage by working together in spite of our differences. When an issue comes up that we don’t see eye to eye on, I defer to his leadership and support him in his decision, even if I disagree with his viewpoint. Is this what you mean by the difference between unity and uniformity?
KAREN: Yes, Cindy, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. What you just described about your relationship with your husband, is a beautiful picture of what being “one” in unity is all about. While uniformity requires absolute conformity in every aspect of life and thought; unity, on the other hand, is more concerned about working together in the midst of diversity. Given the context of the passage in which the Corinthian believers were so divided that they could not work together, can you see why Paul exhorted the believers to lay aside their differences in order to unite for the cause of the Kingdom?
CINDY: Yes, I see your point Karen, but I don’t understand how Christians can work together in unity if they disagree on spiritual issues?
KAREN: Cindy, do you remember how the Corinthian believers had a dispute over whether a Christian should be allowed to eat meat that was offered in sacrifice to idols? What was Paul’s advice to the believers? Did he make the eating of idolatrous meat used in false worship a disfellowshiping offense?
CINDY: No he didn’t, Karen. In fact at 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10, Paul seemed to be more concerned about offending the conscience of a weak brother, than he was about settling the dispute by an organizational policy.
KAREN: You are right, Cindy; and look at how Paul addressed this issue at Romans 14:1-3: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinion. One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him.”9. Did you notice, Cindy, how Paul specifically told the Christians not to judge a brother who has a different opinion on an issue?
CINDY: Yes, that’s a good point. Oh, and look at verse five! It says: “One [man] judges one day as above another, another [man] judges one day as all others, let each [man] be fully convinced in his own mind.”10. Is this saying that Christians have the freedom to disagree on what days to regard as holy?
KAREN: That’s right, Cindy. Some of the believers observed all of the Jewish holidays and others didn’t. Paul’s response to this was to “let each [man] be fully convinced in his own mind.” Can you see how, far from enforcing organizational conformity to a uniform system of beliefs, true Christianity allows for freedom on peripheral issues as long as there is unity on the central teachings pertaining to the Kingdom?
CINDY: Yes, I see your point Karen.
KAREN: Since the Watchtower organization does not allow for freedom in disagreeing with any of its doctrines and policies, can you see why my mom is concerned that the Watchtower organization is a cult?
CINDY: I can see why she’d be concerned, Karen, but I wouldn’t be so quick to view Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cult. There are many other points the Society examined in that 1994 Watchtower article. Could we discuss the others next week?
KAREN: Sure, Cindy. I’ll be here.
Friends, Colossians 2:16-17 warns: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” 11.
1. What Does God Require of Us?, 1996, p. 9:7
2. The Watchtower, February 15, 1994, pp. 4, 6
3.The Watchtower, January 15, 1961, p. 64
4. The Watchtower, November 1, 1956, p. 648
5. The Watchtower, January 15, 1983, pp. 22, 27
6. 1 Thessalonians 5:21, New World Translation
8. 1 Corinthians 1:10, New World Translation Bible
9. New American Standard Bible
10. New World Translation
11. New International Version