In the February, 2017 issue, the Watchtower article, “Who Is Leading God’s People Today?” teaches that after Jesus ascended to heaven the apostles constituted “a visible body under an invisible Leader.”
It states: “As a governing body, they gave direction to all the congregations. – Acts 15:2.”
But was the early church structured as a top down organization headed by a governing body, as the Watchtower is?
Let’s look more closely at what happened in Acts 15. The first two verses of that chapter tells us: “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”
Notice that the Christians at Antioch didn’t simply obey what these men from the Judean “headquarters” taught them. Paul and Barnabas sharply disputed and debated with them and the local congregation appointed them to go to Jerusalem to discuss it with the apostles and elders.
Here is how Paul describes what happened: “As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message.” (Galatians 2:6).
Does that sound like Paul regarded the apostles as a Governing Body whose approval he needed to obtain? Did they impart truth and direction to him?
Galatians 2:9-10 says: “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
Notice that he didn’t say that James, Peter, and John were the core of a Governing Body. He says that they “were reputed to be pillars.” Did they give him orders as to how to proceed? No, they asked him to remember the poor.
Rather than meekly submitting to directives from Jerusalem, Paul confronted anyone to his face when he was wrong. Galatians 2:11-14: “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’”
Who was it that was in the wrong? The apostle Peter and certain men who came from James! One of Jesus’ inner circle and men who came from Jesus’ half-brother, James, the man who presided over the Acts 15 meeting!
Did Paul submit to their authority? No, he knew they were leading people astray, so he opposed them to their faces. And this took place, not privately as part of a meeting in Jerusalem of a “governing body,” but at the congregation in Antioch in front of all the believers who were there.
So what should we do when someone of supposed organizational importance promotes false doctrine or practice? Humbly obey and wait for God to straighten them out or refuse to go along and instead take a public stand for what is right?
Have you challenged the Watchtower view of the apostles as a top down, organizational hierarchy? How did the Witnesses respond?
Share your thoughts in the comments.