Throughout all human history men have fought and died for freedom, political freedom, economic freedom, and spiritual freedom. We as Christians are especially interested in spiritual freedom. Most of us have belonged to an authoritative religion that permits little in the way of Christian freedom. It is something some of us are starting to experience or at least realize what true Christian freedom is. It is not license or the right to do anything we want without any restraint. It is freedom to follow our bible-trained conscience. It is freedom from tradition and unbiblical man-made rules. It is freedom to not be inflexible legalists. Notice some pertinent bible texts:
Gal. 5:1 -“For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.”
Gal. 5:13 – “YOU were, of course, called for freedom, brothers; only do not use this freedom as an inducement for the flesh, but through love slave for one another.”
James 1:25 – ” But he who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in [it], this [man], because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing [it].”
James 2:12 – “Keep on speaking in such a way and keep on doing in such a way as those do who are going to be judged by the law of a free people.”
John 8:32 – “and YOU will know the truth, and the truth will set YOU free.”
2 Cor. 3:17 – “Now Jehovah is the Spirit; and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”
Romans chap 14 in its entirety
The Watchtower organization has reams of rules and so-called “counsel” which must be obeyed or you will be looked down on as an unspiritual person. This past Service Meeting we had the extremely repetitive reminders or rules on how to act at the District Convention. There are rules on what to do when you check in, how to use the pool, how to use the ice machine, how much tip to leave the maid and waitress, how to dress after the sessions, what size cooler to bring, where to eat during intermission, what type of shoes to wear etc. etc. etc. The outward appearance that the JWs give to the host city is very important to the organization.
This is just a small taste of the rules and “counsel” that all JWs live with. If you want to show someone that the Society is a legalistic org. ask them to show you in the bible what blood components or fractions are acceptable for a JW and which are not. Or where does the bible indicate how many meetings we must attend? Beards? Birthdays? Tattoos? Reporting field service? The organization book is full of organizational rules. The elders book has many more that publishers are unaware of. Those who have responsibilities at district conventions receive a thick booklet of additional rules.
*** w63 5/15 p. 300 par. 25 Do You Belittle Discipline? ***
“So it is that by the New World society’s application of the stated Scriptural commands, examples, rules and principles to the issues and problems of life, a great body of theocratic law is being built up”
That “great body of theocratic law” certainly has been built up over the decades. It has made the publishers victims of legalism. What are some of the effects of legalism?
Legalism fosters an attitude of self-righteousness, intolerance, being judgmental and critical, placing lots of emphasis on how one looks to others. Legalism is oppressive, demanding, insensitive and lacks compassion. What do we see in those who suffer from legalism?
It causes guilt and frustration. Some JWs perhaps think ” What’s the use? I’m not good enough. I’m not doing enough. Since I can’t please God, I might as well do anything I want.” Adding unnecessary burdens on the brothers causes guilt, depression, self-loathing etc. Because of these extra rules some may leave God thinking that the’re just not good enough. One JW confessed to me when he had had a life threatening experience that the thought he wasn’t good enough to be resurrected flashed in his mind. Perhaps one begins to think of God as a taskmaster that is never satisfied.
Legalism promotes hypocrisy or putting on a show of compliance. Many JWs feel obligated to do things they really would rather not (for example auxiliary pioneering, shunning DFed family members etc.) This creates the habit of putting on a performance on the outside but not doing it with the whole heart. This habit can make Jesus words in Matt 15:8,9 applicable to us – “‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their heart is far removed from me. 9 It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.”
Legalism also promotes the habit of getting by with the least possible effort, or obeying the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit. For instance, I had a young, single friend that would work full-time at a job all night. Since the pressure to pioneer is great for young JWs, he also regular pioneered. What was the result? He would spend a good portion of his service time asleep in the back seat of the car. He could say he put a certain amount of hours in, he was a pioneer, but he in reality was just playacting. By not allowing the brothers to use their conscience it never gets a chance to mature. Many JWs feel that if the Society doesn’t say something is wrong then it is alright. This is spiritual immaturity. It is a direct cause of having rules instead of conscience govern the lives of the brothers.
Legalism also promotes a shallow relationship with God, and spiritual complacency. One may feel if he is obeying all the rules of the organization, he has a good relationship with God. This obscures the fact that God looks at the heart. Mechanical actions to obey rules have no value in His eyes.
The multiplying of rules or legalism is on one end of the spectrum. We could say license or the belief that a Christian has the right to do anything because of God’s undeserved kindness is on the other end of the spectrum. These are both extreme viewpoints and unchristian. In the middle we find Christian freedom. We have all heard that with freedom comes responsibility. That is what Christian freedom is all about.
Romans 14:10 – “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God”
Romans 14:12 – “So, then, each of us will render an account for himself to God.”
We will all have the responsibility to stand before YHWH’s appointed judge, Jesus, and give an accounting for our actions and thoughts. While exercising our Christian freedom we always want to have this in mind.