Questions From Readers

Questions From Readers

How are elders and ministerial servants appointed in each congregation?

In the first century C.E., the apostle Paul told the elders who served in the congregation in Ephesus: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) What role does holy spirit play in the appointment of elders and ministerial servants today?

First, holy spirit moved the Bible writers to record the qualifications for elders and ministerial servants. Sixteen different requirements of elders are listed at 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Further qualifications are found in such scriptures as Titus 1:5-9 and James 3:17, 18. Qualifications for ministerial servants are outlined at 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12, 13. Second, those recommending and making such appointments specifically pray for Jehovah’s spirit to direct them as they review whether a brother meets the Scriptural requirements to a reasonable degree. Third, the individual being recommended needs to display the fruitage of God’s holy spirit in his own life. (Gal. 5:22, 23) So God’s spirit is involved in all aspects of the appointment process.

But who actually appoints such brothers? In the past, all recommendations involving the appointment of elders and ministerial servants were sent to the local branch office. There, brothers appointed by the Governing Body were assigned to review these recommendations and to make appropriate appointments. Next, the branch office would notify the body of elders. The elders, in turn, would inform the newly appointed men of their appointment, asking them if they were willing and actually qualified to accept the assignment. Finally, an announcement was made to the congregation.

But how were such appointments made in the first century? At times, the apostles made specific appointments, such as at the time they appointed seven men to care for the daily food distribution to widows. (Acts 6:1-6) However, those men may already have been serving as elders, that is, before being given this additional assignment.

Although the Scriptures do not explain in detail how every appointment was made back then, we do see some indication of how this was done. We are told that when Paul and Barnabas were on their way back home from their first missionary trip, “they appointed elders for them in each congregation, offering prayer with fasting, and they entrusted them to Jehovah, in whom they had become believers.” (Acts 14:23) Years later, Paul wrote to his traveling companion Titus, saying: “I left you in Crete so that you would correct the things that were defective and make appointments of elders in city after city, as I instructed you.” (Titus 1:5) Likewise, Timothy, who traveled extensively with the apostle Paul, appears to have been given similar authority. (1 Tim. 5:22) Clearly, then, these appointments were made by traveling overseers, not by the apostles and older men in Jerusalem.

With this Biblical precedent in mind, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has adjusted how the appointments of elders and ministerial servants are made. As of September 1, 2014, appointments are being made as follows: Each circuit overseer carefully reviews the recommendations being made in his circuit. During his visits to the congregations, he will try to get to know those who are recommended, working along with them in the ministry if at all possible. After discussing the recommendations with the local body of elders, the circuit overseer has the responsibility of appointing the elders and ministerial servants in the congregations in his circuit. In this way, the arrangement is closer to the first-century pattern.

Elders discuss a brother’s Scriptural qualifications with the circuit overseer (Malawi)

Who handle the various roles in this process? As always, “the faithful and discreet slave” has the primary responsibility of feeding the domestics. (Matt. 24:45-47) This includes searching the Scriptures, with the help of the holy spirit, in order to provide direction on the practical application of Bible principles that have a bearing on the way the worldwide congregation is organized. The faithful slave also appoints all circuit overseers and Branch Committee members. In turn, each branch office provides practical assistance in implementing the direction given. Each body of elders has the solemn duty to review thoroughly the Scriptural qualifications of the brothers they recommend for appointment in God’s congregation. Each circuit overseer has the serious responsibility to consider carefully and prayerfully the recommendations made by the elders and then to appoint the men who qualify.

When we understand how appointments are made, we appreciate more fully the role of holy spirit in this process. We then have greater confidence in and respect for those who have been appointed in the Christian congregation.​—Heb. 13:7, 17.

Who are the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation chapter 11?

Revelation 11:3 speaks of two witnesses who would prophesy for 1,260 days. The account then says that the wild beast would “conquer them and kill them.” But after “three and a half days,” these two witnesses would be brought back to life, much to the amazement of all onlookers.​—Rev. 11:7, 11.

Who are these two witnesses? The details of the account help us to identify them. First, we are told that they “are symbolized by the two olive trees and the two lampstands.” (Rev. 11:4) This reminds us of the lampstand and two olive trees described in the prophecy of Zechariah. Those olive trees were said to picture “the two anointed ones,” that is, Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua, “standing alongside the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zech. 4:1-3, 14) Second, the two witnesses are described as performing signs similar to those performed by Moses and Elijah.​—Compare Revelation 11:5, 6 with Numbers 16:1-7, 28-35 and 1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-45.

What is the common denominator that links these references? In each case, the account refers to God’s anointed ones who took the lead during a difficult time of testing. So in the fulfillment of Revelation chapter 11, the anointed brothers who took the lead at the time of the establishment of God’s Kingdom in heaven in 1914 preached “in sackcloth” for three and a half years.

At the end of their preaching in sackcloth, these anointed ones were symbolically killed when they were thrown into prison for a comparatively shorter period of time, a symbolic three and a half days. In the eyes of the enemies of God’s people, their work had been killed, causing those opponents much joy.​—Rev. 11:8-10.

However, true to the words of the prophecy, at the end of the three and a half days, the two witnesses were brought back to life. Not only were these anointed ones released from prison but those who remained faithful received a special appointment from God through their Lord, Jesus Christ. In 1919 they were among those who were appointed to serve as a “faithful and discreet slave” to care for the spiritual needs of God’s people during the last days.​—Matt. 24:45-47; Rev. 11:11, 12.

Interestingly, Revelation 11:1, 2 links these events to a time when the spiritual temple would be measured, or evaluated. Malachi chapter 3 mentions a similar inspection of the spiritual temple, followed by a time of cleansing. (Mal. 3:1-4) How long did this inspection and cleansing work take? It extended from 1914 to the early part of 1919. This period of time includes both the 1,260 days (42 months) and the symbolic three and a half days referred to in Revelation chapter 11.

How happy we are that Jehovah arranged for this spiritual refining work to cleanse a special people for fine works! (Titus 2:14) Additionally, we appreciate the example set by the faithful anointed ones who took the lead during that time of testing and thereby served as the symbolic two witnesses. *

^ par. 15 For more information, see The Watchtower of July 15, 2013, page 22, paragraph 12.