Idolatry has always been a snare for God's people. Early in Bible history we read about Aaron making a golden calf to represent God before the Israelite idolaters. In spite of Jehovah's clear command, not long after the Jews entered into the Promised Land they began to worship baal images and sacred poles.
Even the wisest man of his day, Solomon, foolishly built temples for his foreign wives to worship their deities. After Israel became divided into two nations idolatry became institutionalized in the Northern Kingdom when Jeroboam set up calf worship at two locations for the convenience of his subjects, so that they might not feel compelled to travel to Jerusalem to worship. In time, however, even Jehovah's temple in Jerusalem became defiled with all sorts of idolatrous images.
The early Christians were similarly commanded to abstain from idolatry; however, idolatry can take on very subtle forms. For example, Paul wrote to the Colossians and exhorted them to deaden their body members in order to abstain from immoral sexual appetites and covetousness, which as Paul said, was idolatry. Idolatry is not necessarily bowing before an image of some sort, but ultimately, idolatry is putting human desires ahead of God's will. For a Christian, anything that comes between them and their absolute devotion to God is idolatry.
At times, the apostles and other prominent ministers became the object of reverence. Because of the miraculous powers the apostles at time employed, at times they were hailed as gods. Following men can also be a form of idolatry. Paul had to counsel the Corinthian congregation because they were placing too much emphasis upon men. Some claimed to belong to Paul; others to Apollos; still others claimed to belong to Peter.
Even to this day the worship of the saints is prominent in Christendom. Christians have failed to give heed to the closing verse in the letter of First John. It reads: "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." Ironically, even the writer of that inspired warning, John himself, attempted to prostrate himself before an angel after receiving the Revelation. The angel strongly cautioned him not to do so.
By just a brief overview of a few Bible accounts, it should be apparent that idolatry is a snare that Christians can very easily fall into.
But has the practice of idolatry been eradicated in the modern history of Jehovah's Witnesses? No, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot make such a boast. While the original International Bible Students rejected the overt adoration of Christendom's familiar saints and images (except for the use of the crucifix early on as part of Bible Students' worship), the charismatic Founder of the Watchtower inadvertently became a cult figure to many. Although he never personally made the claim, it was the opinion of many of the early Bible Students that Charles Taze Russell was "the faithful and discreet slave." Consequently, upon Russell's sudden death in 1916, approximately half of those associated with the Watchtower refused to recognize the leadership of J.F. Rutherford. To this day, there are those who still claim to belong to Charles Russell.
No figure has cast such an imposing shadow over Jehovah's people since the death of Charles Russell – not even the combative "Judge" Rutherford. Since the death of the scholarly Fred Franz in 1992, the Watchtower Society has been distinguished by the absence of any dominating figure. It looks as if the cult of personality has at last been conquered.
But in view of the inclination that all imperfect humans have towards idolatry, can anyone honestly claim to have conquered such tendencies? While there is no imposing, charismatic figure casting his shadow over Jehovah’s Witnesses presently, it seems as if the tendency to admire men has merely been transformed into an even more insidious and subtler form of idolatry. Instead of a recognizable human face, it appears now as if the Watchtower Society itself has gradually come to occupy a more prominent place in the hearts and minds of Jehovah's Witnesses than Jehovah himself does. If such is the case, that constitutes idolatry.
“OTHER MASTERS,” BESIDES JEHOVAH
It is undeniable that the Watchtower determines all aspects of the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Equally undeniable, conforming to a growing body of organizational policies and mandates has gradually become the measure of the worship of the witnesses of Jehovah. And while the Bible's teachings are the foundation of faith, the Watchtower has assumed the sole prerogative to determine how God's Word is to be understood by all of Jehovah's Witnesses. For the past 25 years the Watchtower has even required all persons submitting themselves to baptism to declare that they recognize that their baptism brings then into association with Jehovah’s “spirit-directed organization. Indeed, Jehovah’s Witnesses belong to the Watchtower. The situation is even as the prophet long ago stated: “O Jehovah our God, other masters besides you have acted as owners of us.”
While the faithful and discreet slave is responsible for feeding God's household with spiritual food at the proper time, it appears as if the institution of the Watchtower has gone far beyond the simple mandate that Christ gave his slaves.
When Pastor Russell started the Watchtower back in 1879, originally it was merely a publication that endeavored to give thinking Christians food for thought. The congregations that sprung up as a result were only loosely associated with each other, being tied together spiritually, as were the first century congregations. Now, though, the Watchtower organization has become a multi-billion dollar institution with vast property holdings and a small army of lawyers deployed to protect the Society's interests around the globe.
In recent years, Brooklyn Bethel, the Wallkill printery and Patterson education facilities, and other branches around the world, have become like holy Meccas, where the faithful make their pilgrimages. There are even private companies run by Jehovah’s Witnesses that cater to Bethel tourists. (Bethel Coach Tours and Bethel Tours.com and Bethel Tours Vacations.com)
Consider this, for example, as to how faith in the organization is considered to be paramount, even transcending faith in Jehovah and Jesus: If one of Jehovah's Witnesses were to confess to an elder that he had lost faith in God and the Bible, likely every effort would be made to restore that person's faith. If, however, that same person were to admit that they no longer believed that the Watchtower is Jehovah's organization, or that they do not believe some teaching of “the faithful slave,” even though they may still believe the Bible, such a person would likely be accused of apostasy and perhaps expelled from the congregation. One member of the Governing Body is quoted as saying that even thinking thoughts counter to the teachings of the Watchtower Society constitutes unfaithfulness.
The prevailing attitude, that the Society can do no wrong, was expressed by a sister in conversation once, who voiced her disgust that someone had dared to question a particular teaching of the Watchtower. She was overheard to say: "Why, to question the Watchtower is like questioning Jehovah!" Obviously, she did not realize that her seemingly innocent remark was not merely equating the Watchtower with Jehovah, she was actually exalting it above God. How so? Well, Jehovah allows himself to be questioned by his worshippers. For example: The occasion when Abraham questioned the appropriateness of God's judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. Also, Jesus Christ allowed himself to be constantly questioned by both his disciples and the Pharisees. Is the Watchtower more exalted than Jehovah and Christ?
The opinion that has been cultivated among Jehovah's Witnesses is that the Watchtower will explain whatever Jehovah wants his people to know. The Witnesses have come to trust the Watchtower to such an extent that they assume that by following the program laid out by the Society they are worshipping Jehovah God with their whole heart, mind, and soul. Thus, the attitude has developed that anything that may tarnish the image of the Watchtower is to be avoided at all costs. That prevailing sensibility has, for instance, led the Watchtower to conceal and downplay the extent of child abuse in order to protect the organization's image as being a spiritual paradise.
So, on the one hand God solemnly charges his shepherds to protect the fatherless boy from abuse, but on the other hand the Watchtower’s legal desk has many times ordered elders not to report crimes committed against children; and by so doing, have shielded pedophiles from exposure – all under the guise of protecting the name of Jehovah from being reproached. But alas, Bethel’s policy of shielding pedophiles from exposure has brought far more reproach upon the name of God than the actual crimes committed. But that is an example of how the Watchtower has usurped the place of God.
The brothers have shown themselves more than willing to resort to deception in other areas as well in order to falsely present the Watchtower Society as an unfailing beacon of light.
What would seem to be an odd, if not disturbing fact, though, is that while the Watchtower has been so vigorous in exposing the idolatries of Christendom and the spiritual dangers of venerating national emblems and such, Jehovah’s Witnesses have never once been cautioned about placing too much importance upon the Watchtower itself. It seems that the die has already been cast for the final judgment to challenge all of Jehovah's Witnesses to more directly demonstrate our loyalty to Jehovah God.
"WAS I NOT KEEPING SILENT AND HIDING MATTERS?"
When Jehovah himself says that before his glory is revealed every lofty thing must become low, what are we to conclude as regards the future of the all-imposing Watchtower organization? Is not the Society a lofty thing in the eyes of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or, expressed another way: What might happen to the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses if the Watchtower were to be exposed to public disgrace and even destroyed? How would each Witness respond if it becomes apparent that the Watchtower has misled them in some way? Will their faith in God and Christ be devastated? These are not hypothetical questions. There are very real tests that lay ahead, for which the Watchtower has not specifically prepared Jehovah’s Witnesses. The tests that must inevitably confront each Christian will not be surmounted by adhering to mere organizational policies, but only by an individual demonstration of each one's unbreakable faith in the saving power of Jehovah and Christ Jesus.
“Enter into the rock and hide yourself in the dust because of the dreadfulness of Jehovah, and from his splendid superiority. The haughty eyes of earthling man must become low, and the loftiness of men must bow down; and Jehovah alone must be put on high in that day. For it is the day belonging to Jehovah of armies. It is upon everyone self-exalted and lofty and upon everyone lifted up or low; and upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are lofty and lifted up and upon all the massive trees of Bashan; and upon all the lofty mountains and upon all the hills that are lifted up; and upon every high tower and upon every fortified wall; and upon all the ships of Tarshish and upon all desirable boats.” – Isaiah 2:10-16
Unfortunately, while idolatry is still very much prevalent among Jehovah's people up to the present time, Jehovah has foretold in Scripture how he intends to cure the age-old problem of idolatry, once and for all.
Isaiah, the 48th chapter, explains that Jehovah has concealed a considerable body of Scriptural truth from his people until a future time. Isaiah 48:6-7 speaks from a future time when God will reveal, as if from a time capsule, what he has kept on reserve up until then. It reads: "You have heard. Behold it all. As for you people, will you not tell it? I have made you hear new things from the present time, even things kept in reserve, that you have not known. At the present time they must be created, and not from that time, even things that before today you have not heard, that you may not say, 'Look! I have already known them.'"
Isaiah 57:11 explains the present situation: “Whom did you become frightened at and begin to fear, so that you took up lying? But I was not the one that you remembered. You took nothing to your heart. Was I not keeping silent and hiding matters? So you were in no fear even of me.”
What purpose could possibly be served by Jehovah “keeping silent and hiding matters”? The 5th verse explains that it is in order "that you might not say, 'My own idol has done them, and my own carved image and my own molten image have commanded them."'
Since it can be reasoned that the above judgments of Isaiah have not occurred yet, for they come during the time of Jehovah's anger when his servants are thrown into the smelting furnace of affliction, the idol that Jehovah makes reference to must be the Watchtower Society. Since the Watchtower presumes to reveal all of God's truth to Jehovah's household, that is why God has seen fit to withhold vital revelations. During the period of distress and affliction, Jehovah then becomes God and King in the fullest sense by repurchasing his humiliated servants and revealing the things held in reserve directly to them.
That Jehovah withholds light from his people in order to discredit the Watchtower idol is evident from the 11th verse, which goes on to say: "For my own sake, for my own sake shall I act, for how could one let oneself be profaned? And to no one else shall I give my own glory."