The Watch Tower Society originally used the term “governing body” in a strict legal sense, and in fact, used the term quite sparingly. As stated in the Watchtower, it was not until “the year 1944 the Watchtower magazine began to speak about the governing body of the Christian congregation (italics theirs).” (Watchtower, Dec. 15, 1971, p. 755) Since the 1950s, the term would frequently be used to refer to the first century, making assertions such as, “The apostle Paul belonged to the governing body in the first century” (Watchtower, April 15, 1951, p. 235 par. 7) without citing any scriptural backup. On the other hand, the magazine described the modern day “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, [as] the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (Watchtower, Jan. 1, 1950, p. 10 par. 2)
Election of Leaders by Congregation Voting. In the Early Church, brethren met in various cities—Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Thessonalica—and even in homes (Acts 11:22:13:1; 1Corinthians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15). Each ecclesia (church group) was autonomous electing its own leaders, its own “Elders—those not necessarily advanced in age, but mature in character.
Acts 14:23 “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
How did they “ordain” their leaders? The Greek for “ordained” is “cheirotoneo from a comparative of NT:5495 and teino (to stretch); to be a hand-reacher or voter (by raising the hand).” (Strong’s #5500). Early Christians had the responsibility of voting for their Elders by the stretching forth of their hands!
Twelve Apostles not Succeeded in Authority. The twelve Apostles were chosen directly by Jesus, but they had no replacements except, of course, Paul replaced Judas. Just as Jesus selected the original twelve, he selected Paul as a replacement (Acts 9:15). The other Apostles were well meaning, but premature in selecting the replacement Apostle themselves (Acts 1:26). Inspired by God, they were the “twelve stars” crowning the head of the Early Church (Revelation 12:1); also identified the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem (Acts 21:14). It would be hard to imagine that Paul as the greatest of the Apostles, would not be numbered among this special group of twelve. There was no “apostolic succession” of any kind for a body of leadership authority through the Christian Age.
The only time one ecclesia recommended a ruling to the brethren at large was when a Jerusalem counsel decided that the Gentile brethren should not be forced to circumcise. And, of course, at that time, there were actual Apostles in the ecclesia of Jerusalem making that recommendation [decree] to “abstain from meat offered to idols…” (Acts 15:22-29).
The independence of the Early Church is attested to by the fact that there were factions among the Corinthian brethren, some following either Paul, Peter or Apollos. Paul said in 1 Cor 3:6-7, “I planted, A-pol’los watered, but God kept making it grow; so that neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow.” NWT. Paul humbly said that He and Apollos were not anything. Paul did not rule over the brethren. In 1 Thes 2:7 he said, ” we became gentle in the midst of YOU, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” NWT
Alas, as prophetically predicted, very soon the Christian Church evolved into dividing between “clergy” and “laity.” (Acts 20:29; Matt 13:25; Rev 2:20; 1 Jn 2:18; 2 Thes 2:3) On the one hand, some grasping for power took advantage of those ready to let go of their responsibility of electing their own leadership. Gradually a tower of authority built up with priests, bishops and finally a “pope.” Again, the responsibility for decisions and authority to choose leader in the Ecclesia rests with the congregation.
Qualifications for Leadership as Basis for Voting. While the Apostle Paul said the Ecclesia is to submit to and obey those which have “rule over you” (Hebrews 13:7, 17)—Paul also laid guidelines for selecting and voting for those who in the first place would be acceptable leader as an overseer!
When Paul gave Titus the responsibility for instructing new Ecclesias in Crete for organizing their leadership—he certainly was consistent with what he arranged earlier (Acts 14:23). “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain (elect) elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5).
Each congregation was responsible for electing Elders who qualified. He then laid out the qualifications for evaluation by the Ecclesia members quite clearly:
- Above reproach (Titus 1:6);
- Husband of one wife with children not unruly;
- Not self-willed, quick-tempered or addicted to wine;
- No striker; not given to filthy lucre (Titus 1:7);
- Hospitable, sensible, just, self-controlled (Titus 1:8);
- Holding fast the faithful word; able to exhort in sound doctrine (1:9)
In his letter to Timothy, Apostle Paul similarly lines up the qualifications for voting for overseers:
- Blameless, the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:1,2):
- Vigilant, sober, of good beheaviore, givento hospitality:
- Apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2);
- Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre;
- Patient, not a brawler, not covetous (1 Timothy 3:3);
- Having his children in subjection with all gravity (1 Timothy 3:4);
- Not a notive (1 Timothy 3:7);
- Of good report of them which are without (1 Timothy 3:7)
Individual Responsibility for Raising the Hand in Voting. Thus, the Ecclesia is given criteria for voting wisely and determining Jehovah’s will for the the selection of their teachers and instructors. Congregations do NOT need to have an outside authoritative body of leaders to tell them what to do and what to think and what to change for “new light.”
Each member is responsible for attempting to determine the LORD’s will and expressing it in voting by the raising of his/her hand. So Bible Students base their leadership selection—as well as activity selections—by the voting of the Ecclesia.
MORE ON ELECTION OF ELDERS BY VOTE
According to the Bible, the election of elders was practiced in the Early Church. The eventual elimination of this practice gradually led to Elders becoming the Lord’s of the Church, rather than its servants and opened the way for the development of the Antichrist system.
Paul and Barnabas went around to all the churches and conducted the election of Elders.
Acts 14: 23 – And in every Church, after prayer and fasting, they selected Elders by show of hands, and commended them to the Lord on whom their faith rested. – Weymouth
Rotherham and Young’s Literal translation say, “appointed to them by vote elders in every assembly.”
RVIC Revised Version Improved and Corrected says, “elected elders.”
In 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of a brother who was elected by the churches to travel with him:
2 Cor 8:19 – … he is the one who was chosen by the vote of the Churches to travel with us… – Weymouth
In another example, we recall that the Apostles asked the Jerusalem Church to select seven deacons.
Acts 6:3 Therefore, brethren, pick out from among yourselves seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, and we will appoint them to undertake this duty. Weymouth
Who would have challenged the Apostles had they exerted their influence to appoint deacons themselves. Yet instead they humbly asked the Ecclesia to make this selection.
OUR LIBERTY IN CHRIST
Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand. – NWT
2 Tim 2:7 – 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. – NKJV
Gal 5:1 – Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. NKJV
Gal 5:13 – For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. NKJV
2Co 3:17 – …where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. NWT
John 8:31, 32 – And so Jesus went on to say to the Jews that had believed him: “If YOU remain in my word, YOU are really my disciples, and YOU will know the truth, and the truth will set YOU free. NWT
DO BIBLE STUDENTS HAVE A GOVERNING BODY?
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