True Christians Respect God’s Word
“Your word is truth.”—JOHN 17:17.
LOOK FOR THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS:
What was the difference between the meeting in Jerusalem in the year 49 and church councils after that?
Who were some of the men who defended God’s Word after the time of the apostles?
How did faithful Christians study the Bible in the late 1800’s? Why was this a good way to study?
1. When you first talked to Jehovah’s Witnesses, what was one important thing you noticed that was different about them?
THINK about the first time you had a conversation with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What do you remember about it? Many of us would say that the one thing we remember is that the Witness used the Bible to answer all our questions. How happy we were to learn about God’s purpose for the earth, what happens when we die, and the hope for our dead loved ones!
2. What are some of the reasons why you value the Bible?
2 But as we continued to study, we realized that we can learn much more from the Bible than just the answers to our questions about life, death, and the future. We started to value the Bible because it is the most helpful book in the world. The advice from the Bible has always helped people. Those who carefully follow it will be happy and do well in life. (Read Psalm 1:1-3.) True Christians have always accepted the Bible, “not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) A brief review of how people in the past either used the Bible or ignored it will show the difference between those who truly respect God’s Word and those who do not.
A DIFFICULT PROBLEM IS SOLVED
3. What problem put the unity of the Christian congregation in danger? Why was this a difficult problem to solve?
3 Thirteen years passed after the first uncircumcised Gentile, Cornelius, was anointed. Many more Gentiles had become Christians. During this time, a problem arose that put the unity of the Christian congregation in danger. Should the Gentile men be circumcised according to the Jewish tradition before they could be baptized? That was a difficult question for a Jew to answer. Jews who obeyed the Law would not enter a Gentile’s home. If they would not even do that, they certainly would never treat a Gentile as a brother! Jewish Christians were already greatly persecuted for leaving the Jewish religion. If they now welcomed uncircumcised Gentiles as their brothers, this would only cause more persecution for the Christians. It would also separate Christians from those of the Jewish religion even more.—Galatians 2:11-14.
4. Who gathered together to solve the problem? What questions could someone have had about this discussion?
4 In the year 49, the apostles and older men in Jerusalem, who were themselves circumcised Jews, “gathered together to see about this affair.” (Acts 15:6) Their meeting was, not a boring religious argument about unimportant details, but an exciting discussion about Bible teachings. Everyone involved in the discussion gave his opinion. How would they solve the problem? Would they allow someone’s preference or prejudice to influence their decision? Would the responsible older men wait until the situation in Israel improved for the Christians and then make a decision? Or would they agree to something that they did not really believe was right just so that a final agreement could be made?
5. In what important ways was the meeting in Jerusalem in the year 49 different from church councils?
5 At church councils, or meetings of church leaders, it is common for these leaders to accept ideas that they really do not agree with just so that there can be a final agreement. It is common for some of the leaders to try to make others vote for their ideas. But nothing like that happened at the meeting in Jerusalem. Still, the apostles and older men were able to make a decision that everyone at that meeting agreed with. How could that be? It is because even though they had different opinions, all who were there respected God’s Word, and they used the Scriptures to solve the problem.—Read Psalm 119:97-101.
6, 7. How did the apostles and older men use the Scriptures to solve the problem about circumcision?
6 It was the words at Amos 9:11, 12 that helped to solve the problem. These words are quoted at Acts 15:16, 17. It says: “I shall return and rebuild the booth of David that is fallen down; and I shall rebuild its ruins and erect it again, in order that those who remain of the men may earnestly seek Jehovah, together with people of all the nations, people who are called by my name, says Jehovah.”
7 But someone may argue that this text does not say that Gentiles who became Christians did not have to be circumcised. That is true. But Jewish Christians would have understood it that way. Why? Because Jewish Christians thought of circumcised Gentiles as brothers, not as people of the nations, as the scripture says. (Exodus 12:48, 49) For example, Bagster’s version of the Septuagint says at Esther 8:17: “Many of the Gentiles were circumcised, and became Jews.” “Those who remain of the men” were those who remained of the house of Israel. This included Jews and circumcised proselytes. The Scriptures said that they would become one people for God’s name together with “people of all the nations,” that is, uncircumcised Gentiles. So the answer from the Scriptures was clear. Gentiles who wanted to become Christians did not have to be circumcised.
8. Why did Jewish Christians need courage to make the decision that they made?
8 God’s Word and his spirit helped those sincere Christians to agree on a decision. (Acts 15:25) Even though the decision would probably cause more persecution of the Jewish Christians, those who were faithful followed that direction based on the Bible.—Acts 16:4, 5.
THE DIFFERENCE BECOMES VERY CLEAR
9. What is one important reason why false teachings corrupted true worship? What important Christian teaching was corrupted?
9 The apostle Paul foretold that after the death of the apostles, true worship would be corrupted by false teachings. (Read 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7.) Even some of those who had responsibilities in the congregation would reject true teachings. (2 Timothy 4:3) Paul warned elders in his time: “From among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:30) The New Encyclopædia Britannica tells us one main reason why false teachings were allowed. It says that some Christians who had training in Greek philosophy began to use this philosophy to explain their Christian beliefs. This made them feel good about their own knowledge, and they thought that it could help educated pagans to accept Christianity. An example of an important Christian belief that they corrupted with a pagan idea is the doctrine, or teaching, about who Jesus Christ is. The Bible calls him the Son of God, but those who loved Greek philosophy taught that he is God.
10. Where could church leaders have found the answer to the question about the identity of Christ?
10 Later, church leaders argued about this doctrine at several church councils. They could easily have found the answer to the question about the identity of Jesus Christ if they had looked in the Scriptures. But most of them did not think that what the Bible said was important enough. In fact, most of them had made their own decision even before their councils started, and nothing could change their opinion. The decisions made at these meetings rarely said anything about the Bible.
11. On whose authority did church leaders base their decision? Why did they do that?
11 Why did church leaders not use the Scriptures more when they made decisions? Scholar Charles Freeman explains that it is because what the Bible says did not agree with their idea that Jesus is God. Jesus’ own words show that God is greater than Jesus. Because these leaders could not deny his words, church tradition and the opinions of men became more important for them than the Gospels. Even today, many church leaders think that the sayings of those whom they call the Church Fathers are more important than the Word of God! If you have ever discussed the Trinity doctrine with a student of religion, you have probably noticed that.
12. What influence did the emperor have?
12 The Roman emperors had a great influence on these meetings. For example, Professor Richard E. Rubenstein wrote about what happened at the Council of Nicaea. He says that the new emperor, Constantine, had made the bishops very rich. In less than a year, he had given them back all that had been taken from them, such as their churches, their jobs, and their titles. He had given the bishops the special treatment that the pagan priests had received before them. As a result, Constantine was able to have a strong influence on the decisions made at the Council of Nicaea, perhaps even to change them. And Charles Freeman wrote that after that meeting, the emperor started to have more influence in the church. He gave power to the church and influenced its teachings.—Read James 4:4.
13. Why, do you think, did church leaders not accept the clear truths from the Bible?
13 Church leaders could not accept that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but many of the common people thought differently. That is because the common people clearly understood and accepted what they read in the Scriptures. But the church leaders instead wanted the money and power that the emperor could give them, so they ignored the Bible. Gregory of Nyssa, who was a religious leader during this time, made a critical comment on how the common people, such as clothes salesmen, money changers, grocers, and servants, talked about religion. Gregory did not like that many of the common people explained that the Son is different from the Father, that the Father is greater than the Son, and that the Son was created out of nothing. The common people were able to explain these truths by using the Bible. This is something that Gregory of Nyssa and the church leaders were not doing. They should have listened to the common people!
“WHEAT” AND “WEEDS” GROW TOGETHER
14. How do we know that there have always been some true anointed Christians on earth from the first century on?
14 What Jesus said in one of his parables tells us that from the first century on, there would always be some true anointed Christians on the earth. He compared them to “wheat” that grew among “weeds.” (Matthew 13:30) Of course, we do not know for sure which men or groups were part of the anointed class. But we do know that there have always been some who had the courage to defend God’s Word and to speak against the false teachings of the church. Let us talk about a few examples.
15, 16. Who were some of the men who respected God’s Word?
15 Archbishop Agobard of Lyons, France, who lived between the years 779 and 840, spoke against the worship of idols, churches dedicated to saints, and church practices and worship. Bishop Claudius, who lived at the same time as Bishop Agobard, also rejected church tradition and did not approve of prayers to saints and the worship of objects. In the 11th century, Archdeacon Berengarius of Tours, France, was excommunicated, or expelled from the church, because he rejected the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation. He also believed that the Bible is a greater authority than church tradition.
16 Peter of Bruys and Henry of Lausanne, who lived in the 12th century, were two other men who loved Bible truth. Peter of Bruys stopped serving as a priest because he believed that the Catholic teachings of infant baptism, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, and worship of the cross did not agree with the Scriptures. In 1140, Peter was burned to death because of his beliefs. Henry, who was a monk, spoke against corrupt practices and wrong worship in the church. He was arrested in 1148 and was in prison for the rest of his life.
17. What important things did Waldo and his followers do?
17 About the time that Peter of Bruys was killed, a person was born who would later have great influence on the spread of Bible truth. His last name was Valdès, or Waldo. * (See footnote.) He did not have religious training like Peter of Bruys and Henry of Lausanne, but he valued God’s Word so much that he gave up his material things and had parts of the Bible translated into a language that many common people in southeastern France spoke. Some were so happy to hear the Bible’s message in their own language that they too gave up their material things and used their lives to speak about Bible truth with others. The church leaders did not like that at all. In 1184 these zealous men and women, who were later called the Waldenses, were excommunicated by the pope and were not allowed by the bishop to go back to their homes. This actually helped spread the Bible’s message to other areas. In time, in many parts of Europe, there were followers of Waldo, Peter of Bruys, and Henry of Lausanne as well as others who separated themselves from the church. In later centuries, others defended Bible truth: John Wycliffe (who lived from about 1330 to 1384), William Tyndale (who lived from about 1494 to 1536), Henry Grew (who lived from 1781 to 1862), and George Storrs (who lived from 1796 to 1879).
“THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT BOUND”
18. How did sincere Bible students in the 19th century study the Bible? Why was this a good way to study?
18 Enemies of the Bible have not been able to stop Bible truth from spreading. At 2 Timothy 2:9, we read: “The word of God is not bound.” In 1870 a group of sincere Bible students began to search for the truth. How did they study? First, someone asked a question about a certain subject. Then, they talked about it. Next, they read all the scriptures that were about that subject. When they agreed on how these scriptures related to one another, they decided on an answer and wrote it down. This was a good way to study because it followed the example of the apostles and older men in the first century. It is encouraging to know that these faithful men in the early history of Jehovah’s Witnesses made sure that their beliefs were based completely on God’s Word.
19. What is the yeartext for 2012, and why is it appropriate?
19 Our beliefs are still based on the Bible. That is why the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has chosen Jesus’ words at John 17:17 as our yeartext for 2012: “Your word is truth.” Everyone who wants to have God’s approval must live according to the truth. So we should all continue to do our best to be guided by God’s Word.
^ par. 17 Valdès has sometimes been called Pierre Valdès or Peter Waldo, but we cannot be sure of what his first name was.
SOME EXPRESSIONS EXPLAINED
If we respect God’s Word, we think of it as the highest authority on all matters and base all our beliefs on it
Circumcision: Removal of a man’s foreskin. The Law of Moses required all males to be circumcised. Usually, Gentiles were not circumcised. They were uncircumcised
Proselyte: Proselytes were Gentiles who had converted to the Jewish religion. They accepted the God of Israel and the Law of Moses, and males were circumcised
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The apostles and older men in Jerusalem respected God’s Word
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Our yeartext for 2012: “Your word is truth.”—John 17:17
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