Who Is Leading God’s People Today?
“Remember those who are taking the lead among you.”
1, 2. After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, what might his apostles have wondered?
JESUS’ apostles stood on the Mount of Olives, gazing at the sky. They had just seen their master and friend, Jesus, lifted up and obscured by a cloud. (Acts 1:9, 10) For some two years, Jesus had taught, encouraged, and led them. Now he was gone. What would they do?
2 Jesus had given his followers a commission: “You will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) How could they possibly complete that assignment? True, Jesus had assured them that they would soon receive holy spirit. (Acts 1:5) Still, an international preaching campaign required direction and organization. To direct and organize his people in ancient times, Jehovah used visible representatives. Hence, the apostles might have wondered, ‘Will Jehovah now appoint a new leader?’
3. (a) After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, what important decision did the faithful apostles make? (b) What will we consider in this article?
Acts 1:15-26) Why was this selection so important to them and to Jehovah? Matthias filled a vital organizational need. * Jesus had selected his apostles not merely to accompany him in his ministry but to play a crucial role among God’s people. What was that role, and how did Jehovah through Jesus equip them to fill it? What similar arrangement exists among God’s people today? And how can we “remember those who are taking the lead” among us, especially those who make up “the faithful and discreet slave”?
A VISIBLE BODY UNDER AN INVISIBLE LEADER
4. What role did the apostles and other elders in Jerusalem play in the first century?
4 At Pentecost 33 C.E., the apostles began to take the lead in the Christian congregation. On that occasion, “Peter stood up with the Eleven” and shared lifesaving truths with a large crowd of Jews and proselytes. (Acts 2:14, 15) Many of them became believers. Thereafter, these new Christians “continued devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles.” (Acts 2:42) The apostles managed the financial resources of the congregation. (Acts 4:34, 35) They cared for the spiritual needs of God’s people, stating: “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4) And they assigned experienced Christians to advance the evangelizing work in new territories. (Acts 8:14, 15) In time, other anointed elders joined the apostles in administering the affairs of the congregations. As a governing body, they gave direction to all the congregations.
5, 6. (a) How did holy spirit empower the governing body? (See opening image.) (b) How did angels assist the governing body? (c) How did God’s Word guide the governing body?
5 Christians in the first century recognized that the governing body was directed by Jehovah God through their Leader, Jesus. How could they be sure of this? First, holy spirit empowered the governing body. (John 16:13) Holy spirit was poured out on all anointed Christians, but it specifically enabled the apostles and other elders in Jerusalem to fulfill their role as overseers. For example, in 49 C.E., holy spirit guided the governing body to make a decision regarding the issue of circumcision. The congregations followed their direction and “continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number day by day.” (Acts 16:4, 5) The letter conveying that decision also reveals that the governing body manifested the fruitage of God’s spirit, including love and faith.
6 Second, angels assisted the governing body. Before Cornelius was baptized as the first uncircumcised Gentile Christian, an angel directed him to send for the apostle Peter. After Acts 11:13-18) Moreover, angels actively promoted and accelerated the preaching work that the governing body was overseeing. (Acts 5:19, 20) Third, God’s Word guided the governing body. Whether they were settling doctrinal issues or they were giving organizational direction, those spirit-anointed elders were led by the Scriptures.
7. Why can we say that Jesus led the early Christians?
7 Although that governing body had authority in the early congregation, they acknowledged that their Leader was Jesus. “He [Christ] gave some as apostles,” wrote the apostle Paul. “Let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.” (Eph. 4:11, 15) Instead of naming themselves after a prominent apostle, “the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.” (Acts 11:26) True, Paul acknowledged the importance of “holding fast the traditions,” or Scripturally based practices, given by the apostles and other men who took the lead. Nevertheless, he added: “But I want you to know that the head of every man [including every member of the governing body] is the Christ; . . . in turn, the head of the Christ is God.” (1 Cor. 11:2, 3) Yes, under his Head, Jehovah God, the invisible and glorified Christ Jesus was leading the congregation.
“THIS IS NOT MAN’S WORK”
8, 9. Beginning in the late 19th century, what important role did Brother Russell play?
8 In the late 19th century, Charles Taze Russell and some of his associates endeavored to reestablish true Christian worship. To help them disseminate Bible truth in various languages, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was legally incorporated in 1884, with Brother Russell as president. * He was an outstanding student of the Bible, and he fearlessly exposed as false such doctrines as the Trinity and the immortality of the soul. He discerned that Christ would return invisibly and that “the appointed times of the nations” would end in 1914. (Luke 21:24) Brother Russell devoted his time, energy, and money unsparingly to share these truths with others. Clearly, at that pivotal time, Brother Russell was used by Jehovah and the head of the congregation.
9 Brother Russell did not seek glory from humans. In 1896, he wrote: “We want no homage, no reverence, for ourselves or our writings; nor do we wish to be called Reverend or Rabbi. Nor do we wish that any should be called by our name.” He later stated: “This is not man’s work.”
10. (a) When did Jesus appoint “the faithful and discreet slave”? (b) Relate how the Governing Body has been progressively distinguished from the Watch Tower Society.
10 In 1919, three years after Brother Russell’s death, Jesus appointed “the faithful and discreet slave.” For what purpose? To give his domestics “food at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45) Even in those early years, a small group of anointed brothers who served at headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, prepared and distributed spiritual food to Jesus’ followers. The expression “governing body” began appearing in our publications in the 1940’s, when it was understood to be closely connected with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. However, in 1971, the Governing Body was distinguished from the Watch Tower Society
11. How does the Governing Body function?
11 The Governing Body makes important decisions collectively. How so? The members meet weekly, which fosters close communication and unity. (Prov. 20:18) Each year, they rotate chairmanship at those meetings, since no member of the Governing Body is considered to be more important than the other members. (1 Pet. 5:1) Each of the six committees of the Governing Body rotate chairmanship in the same way. And each member of that body views himself, not as the leader of his fellow brothers, but as one of the “domestics,” fed by the faithful slave and subject to its oversight.
“WHO REALLY IS THE FAITHFUL AND DISCREET SLAVE?”
12. Since the Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible, what questions arise?
12 The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction. In fact, the Watch Tower Publications Index includes the heading “Beliefs Clarified,” which lists adjustments in our Scriptural understanding since 1870. Of course, Jesus did not tell us that his faithful slave would produce perfect spiritual food. So how can we answer Jesus’ question: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave?” (Matt. 24:45) What evidence is there that the Governing Body is filling that role? Let us consider the same three factors that directed the governing body in the first century.
13. How has holy spirit helped the Governing Body?
13 Evidence of holy spirit. The holy spirit has helped the Governing Body to grasp Scriptural truths not previously understood. For example, reflect on the list of beliefs clarified that was referred to in the preceding paragraph. Surely, no human deserves credit for discovering and explaining these “deep things of God”! (Read 1 Corinthians 2:10.) The Governing Body echoes the apostle Paul, who wrote: “These things we also speak, not with words taught by human wisdom, but with those taught by the spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:13) After centuries of apostasy and spiritual darkness, can anything other than holy spirit explain the rapid increase in spiritual understanding since 1919?
14. According to Revelation 14:6, 7, how do angels assist God’s people today?
14 Evidence of angelic assistance. The Governing Body today has the colossal task of overseeing an international preaching work involving over eight million evangelizers. Why has that work been so successful? For one, angels are involved. (Read Revelation 14:6, 7.) In many cases, publishers have called on individuals who had just been praying for help! * The overall growth of the preaching and disciple-making work despite fierce opposition in some lands has likewise been possible only with superhuman assistance.
15. What contrast exists between the Governing Body and Christendom’s leaders? Give an example.
15 Reliance on God’s Word. (Read John 17:17.) Consider what occurred in 1973. The June 1 issue of The Watchtower asked the question: “Do . . . persons who have not broken their addiction to tobacco qualify for baptism?” The answer was: “The Scriptural evidence points to the conclusion that they do not.” After citing several relevant scriptures, The Watchtower explained why an unrepentant smoker should be disfellowshipped. (1 Cor. 5:7; 2 Cor. 7:1) It said: “This represents no effort to act in an arbitrary, dictatorial manner. The strictness really proceeds from God, who expresses himself through his written Word.” Has any other religious organization been willing to rely fully on God’s Word, even when doing so presents a real challenge to some of its members? A recent book on religion in the United States notes: “Christian leaders have regularly revised their teachings to match the beliefs and opinions gaining support among their members and in the larger society.” If those of the Governing Body allow God’s Word rather than popular opinion to guide their decisions, who is really leading God’s people today?
“REMEMBER THOSE WHO ARE TAKING THE LEAD”
16. What is one way to remember the Governing Body?
16 Read Hebrews 13:7. The word rendered “remember” can also be translated “mention.” Therefore, one way you can “remember those who are taking the lead” is by mentioning the Governing Body in your prayers. (Eph. 6:18) Reflect on their responsibility to supply spiritual food, to oversee the global preaching work, and to manage donated funds. Surely they need our persistent petitions in their behalf!
17, 18. (a) How do we cooperate with the Governing Body? (b) How does our preaching support the faithful slave and Jesus?
17 Of course, remembering the Governing Body involves not just words but also cooperation with its direction. The Governing Body provides the direction given in our publications and at our meetings, assemblies, and conventions. In addition, it appoints circuit overseers, who in turn appoint congregation elders. Circuit overseers and elders remember the Governing Body by sticking closely to guidelines given to them. All of us show respect for our Leader, Jesus, by being obedient and submissive to the men he is using to direct us.
18 Another way that we remember the Governing Body is by exerting ourselves in the preaching work. After all, Paul urged Christians to imitate the faith of those taking the lead among them. The faithful slave has exercised outstanding faith by zealously promoting and spreading the Kingdom good news. Are you one of the other sheep who supports the anointed in this vital work? How happy you will feel when your Leader, Jesus, says: “To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
19. Why are you determined to follow our Leader, Jesus?
19 When Jesus returned to heaven, he did not abandon his followers. (Matt. 28:20) He knew firsthand how much the holy spirit, the angels, and God’s Word helped him to take the lead when he was on earth. Therefore, he has supplied the faithful slave today with the same assistance. As anointed Christians, the members of that slave “keep following the Lamb no matter where he goes.” (Rev. 14:4) As we follow their direction, therefore, we follow our Leader, Jesus. Soon, he will lead us to everlasting life. (Rev. 7:14-17) And no human leader can promise that!
^ par. 3 Evidently, Jehovah purposed to have 12 apostles form the future “12 foundation stones” of New Jerusalem. (Rev. 21:14) Thus, there was no need to replace any faithful apostle who later finished his earthly course.
^ par. 8 Since 1955, that corporation has been known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.