QUESTION: As a long time reader of what you’ve shared through the years, I’m curious as to your view of Paul’s words to the followers of Jesus living at Rome: Rom 16:17 “Now I beg you, brothers, look out for those who are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and turn away from them.” —Rom 16:17. My question is this: given the growing record and evidences of the Watchtower organization’s leadership causing not only the stumbling of brothers and sisters because of policies such as child sex abuse and the “two-witness rule,” but also causing causing divisions within the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by silencing those brothers and sisters who would speak out as fellow believers to the wrongness and injustice, not to mention the imposition of doctrines such as “1914” — how are we to understand Paul’s counsel and apply it to ourselves, on both a congregational as well as organizational perspective?
That question hits home with me since I was disfellowshipped back in 2005 on the grounds that I was causing divisions among Jehovah’s Witnesses. And how could I deny it? Originally I mailed something like 8,000 letters to elders throughout the English-speaking world to inform them of the Watchtower’s duplicitous treachery in connection with their secret, decade-long NGO association with the United Nations. It was the truth. The elders could not dispute the facts. Nevertheless, unity is valued more highly than truth. And I accept that. After all, I am not a promoter of lawlessness. I recognize the authority of the congregation elders and Governing Body. My perspective is the same as the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians: “Now we pray to God that you may do nothing wrong, not that we may appear approved, but that you may do what is fine, even if we may appear disapproved. For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth.” —2 Corinthians 13:7-8
Although I may appear to be disapproved, I believe Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the truth, as the expression goes. I recognize that God has a purpose and Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of his grand purpose. Jesus –the head of the congregation — is the agent that Jehovah is using to accomplish his purpose. In the first century the followers of Jesus were grouped in various congregations throughout the Middle East, Asia Minor and as far as Rome. The purpose of the congregational arrangement was for the building up of the body of Christ so that they could accomplish their ministry, because it is God’s will that the good news be preached. It is the same today.
Satan is the adversary. He tried to kill Jesus when he was just an infant and ultimately succeeded when the time came for Jesus to sacrifice his life. Leading up to his death the Devil used one of Jesus’ own handpicked apostles to betray Christ. After the congregations began to be established the Devil employed the same strategy, infiltrating the congregations with his own agents in order to corrupt and mislead Jesus’ disciples, if possible.
One of the most divisive issues in the first century was circumcision. Some militant Jewish Christians were intent on imposing Jewish customs upon gentile believers. Even the apostle Peter was misled into briefly separating from non-Jewish brothers, which was no doubt an enormous potential stumbling block for others. That is why the apostle Paul publicly reproved Peter. He did not allow loyalty to his fellow apostle to cloud his judgment. So, everything was not as it should have been even with the apostles. The point is, unity is the ideal but not the reality.
Satan was evidently able to achieve limited success in the Corinthian congregation, where the superfine apostles presided, whom Paul outed as being phony ministers of righteousness who had merely taken on a Christian disguise in imitation of Satan disguising himself as an angel of light.
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul exhorted them to speak in agreement —reminding them that there should not be divisions. But the counsel was obviously given because there were divisions and disagreements. Again, unity and agreement is the ideal.
Ironically, though, in his second letter wherein he exposed the superfine apostles, in that instance Paul was intent on creating a division, some separation if possible, since apparently many of the Corinthians was not aware of the evil influence that they had come under. That is why Paul expressed his concern that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent, their minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and chastity due the Christ. And mind you, the potentially corrupting influence Paul was alluding to was within the Corinthian congregation. (2 Cor 11)
Unfortunately, we do not know the outcome of that situation, which may be intended; for it is as if the same condition persists to this day within congregations and the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So, while Christians are under obligation to not promote divisions or give cause for stumbling others, the fact of the matter is, divisive influences and stumbling blocks are inevitable and unavoidable —at least as long as Satan is allowed to slither around. Jesus himself said as much at Luke 17:1, saying: “It is unavoidable that causes for stumbling should come. Nevertheless, woe to the one through whom they come!”
But stumbling blocks will not always exist. According to Jesus’ harvest illustration in the 13th chapter of Matthew, at the conclusion of the Christian era the master will dispatch his angels “and they will collect out from his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling and people who practice lawlessness, and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace.”
In this instance the “Kingdom” is Christ’s congregation. So, the situation that developed in the first century beginning with Judas and the superfine apostles will prevail in some fashion up until the conclusion. But as in the first century, Christ will assuredly accomplish his purpose in spite of the stumbling blocks and discord. Hence, the artificial unity imposed by the Watchtower is necessary to accomplish the worldwide preaching work before the conclusion of the system.
Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses are laboring under the delusion promoted by a man of lawlessness that the conclusion began in 1914, and that for some reason Jesus removed all the stumbling blocks from Christendom, or whatever. The Watchtower’s nonsensical interpretations aside, we can be sure that Jesus has not sent forth his angels to uproot the weeds. But when it begins Christ will create a schism, a decisive division between the faithful slaves and the wicked slaves —ultimately, dividing the sheep from the goats, the good fishes from the unsuitable.
Once the stumbling blocks and imposters are removed, then truth and unity will prevail, at last. Until then the best we can hope for is to keep our faith intact and not allow ourselves to be stumbled or stumble others.