The public ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses is so common in the realm of Christendom that it has become part of the landscape, so-to-speak. Most homes have had visitations from witnesses. In most areas in the USA it is typical that each congregation would work their assigned territory about twice per year. And, of course, in recent years cart witnessing has become a common sight on city streets.
But in the year 2020 all of that is over. The public ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been suspended —shut down by the Coronavirus pandemic. Not only that, but all public conventions have been canceled and every kingdom hall has been shuttered. Ironically, not too many years ago the Watchtower was sternly warning JW’s to stay off the Internet; now though, the Watchtower only exists on the Internet. What a dramatic turn of events!
Of course, it is not just Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been stopped from meeting together and going about their work. Millions of people have had their daily routines of work and school disrupted. Stores, factories, schools, and churches were shut down too. However, at the four-month mark in the COVID crises, things are opening back up. With the presidential election in the USA this November there is a political motive that is a factor for prolonging the shutdown, but in spite of that life is gradually getting back to normal.
In the USA it appears that the COVID virus has infected a little more than 1% of the population. For certain, less than one person in 50 has contracted the virus. Perhaps the lockdown and social distancing practices have helped keep the infection rate low.
Of the small percentage of persons who have contracted the virus about 4% have died as a result. Most of the deaths have been elderly people and those with underlying health issues —co-morbidities, so-called.
With the states guardedly opening back up, the question is: Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses not returning to their kingdom halls and public ministry?
According to a spokesman of the Watchtower (video below), the reason the Governing Body is keeping the suspension in force is because it is simply not worth the risk.
It is understandable why the regional conventions have been canceled. Gathering thousands of people into a stadium or convention center certainly makes social distancing difficult. And that is not to mention the problems that would arise from lodging and dining and all of that. But why not meet in the kingdom halls? After all, churches, mosques, and synagogues are open now. Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses still locked out of their local kingdom halls?
Surely, elderly brothers and sisters and those with pre-existing health issues could attend virtually. Perhaps large congregations could be temporarily split in order to allow smaller numbers to practice social distancing in the auditoriums. Or, what about resurrecting the disbanded home book study arrangement? After all, the original Christians met in private homes and so did some of the first Bible Students back in the early days of the Watchtower.
As for the legality of meeting together, in America the First Amendment of the so-called Bill of Rights prohibits any law that restricts the practice of religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses know very well that no state or local government can place restrictions on worship. They have tried in the past and the Watchtower has won numerous Supreme Court decisions upholding those rights. So, there is no legal issue that prevents Jehovah’s Witnesses from gathering together as formerly.
For years and years, the Watchtower lectured Jehovah’s Witnesses on the importance of attending all the meetings. How many JW’s have quit jobs that may have been too demanding, causing them to miss meetings? The WT’s yearbooks are full of experiences of the great sacrifices JW’s and newly interested persons have made to attend meetings. Some have traveled great distances, risking life and limb, crossing wild rivers, through dense jungles, skirting through war-torn areas, just to go to a convention or meet at a faraway kingdom hall.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have always sought to honor the apostle’s exhortation not to forsake gathering together no matter the danger or sacrifice involved. It was always recognized as God’s will. But now a virus that has affected 1-2% of the population poses too great a risk? What is going on?
As for the public ministry, where is the danger of setting up an information cart on a public street corner? Although not required outside, the witnesses could wear masks and surgical gloves to make the public feel safer.
The Watchtower’s spokesman stated that love of life and love of neighbor is the underlying motive for not meeting together. Oddly, for the past century love of life and love of neighbor has been the prime motive for doing the exact opposite —meeting together and going out in service.
It is disturbing that the Watchtower now places life above a Christian’s duty. How many of Jehovah’s Witnesses have risked their lives to avoid taking a blood transfusion? How many have actually sacrificed their lives in order to abstain from blood? Why does Covid-19 now pose too great a danger? What did Jesus say? Something about whoever seeks to save his life will lose it?
I am reminded of the apostle Paul and what an impressive service record he had. Because he was demeaned by the superfine apostles, Paul was compelled to write about his experiences and the risks he faced. At 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul wrote: “I have done more work, been imprisoned more often, suffered countless beatings, and experienced many near-deaths. Five times I received 40 strokes less one from the Jews, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the open sea; in journeys often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own people, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers, in labor and toil, in sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, frequently without food, in cold and lacking clothing.”
It is inconceivable that the apostle Paul would have considered the risk of contracting some illness to be too great to continue his ministry. Paul exhorted his protege, Timothy, to be about preaching the word with a sense of urgency, in both favorable times, and in troublesome times. Jehovah’s Witnesses have always sought to follow that admonition too —until now, that is. Where are Jehovah’s stalwart witnesses now in this troublesome season? Writing letters while sheltering in place? Calling people on the phone like common solicitors?
Apostasy is defined as standing away from God. It is a rebellion against divine authority. An apostate may not necessarily teach a different doctrine. Apostasy may be manifest as a refusal to obey Christ on the part of those who had been obedient.
Jehovah’s Witnesses well know that Jesus Christ commanded his disciples to go preach and teach and make other disciples. Meeting together is also a commandment of one of Christ’s foremost apostles. I cannot speak for the situation in other parts of the world, but in America at this point, there are no government restrictions upon meeting together —at least in groups of 50 or less; nor is there any law preventing Jehovah’s Witnesses from engaging in the public ministry. And besides, even if there was, as previously stated, it is unconstitutional. The shutdown imposed upon the worldwide work and public meetings is solely from the Governing Body.
The question for Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider is: Who gave the Governing Body the authority to countermand the Lord Jesus?
For the past 20 years I have come to understand that the apostasy that must come first —first before the return of Christ —will come from the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Watchtower’s illicit 10-year partnership with the United Nations certainly woke me up to the treachery the Governing Body is capable of. But the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses were and still are oblivious to the fact that they were unwittingly used to distribute propaganda promoting the UN. And, besides, the WT dissolved that partnership. But this is different. All of Jehovah’s Witnesses know that Christ commanded his followers to go preach and teach and make disciples. So, no one can claim to be ignorant of God’s will in this matter.
Perhaps the Watchtower will stand down and allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to obey Christ. If so, fine. If not, then we can be sure that the Devil has used the circumstance of the global pandemic to induce Bethel to disregard Christ, giving rise to the foretold apostasy. Time will tell.