Faithful and discreet slave
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The faithful and discreet slave is the term used by Jehovah's Witnesses to describe the religion's Governing Body in its role of directing doctrines and teachings. The group is described as a "class" of "anointed" Christians that operates under the direct control of Jesus Christ to exercise teaching authority in all matters pertaining to doctrine and articles of faith.
The concept is a central doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses' system of belief and is based on their interpretation of the Parable of the Faithful Servant in Matthew 24:45–47, Mark 13:34-37 and Luke 12:35-48.
The doctrine has undergone several major changes since it was formulated in 1881 by Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Bible Student movement. Russell initially applied it to the "church"—the "little flock" of 144,000 who would go to heaven—but five years later explained that it was an individual who would act as a sole channel or agent for Christ, dispensing "food", or new truths, for God's "household". Bible Students consequently regarded Russell as the "faithful and wise servant" of the parable. In 1927 the Watch Tower Society announced that the "servant" was not in fact an individual, but was made up of the entire body of faithful spirit-anointed Christians; by 2010 that group numbered about 11,000 Witnesses from around the world. In 2012 the society announced an "adjustment" of the doctrine, explaining that the slave was now understood to be synonymous with the Governing Body, a small group of anointed elders serving at the religion's world headquarters. The announcement also marked a change in belief about the timing of the slave class's appointment by Christ: it was said to have taken place in 1919 rather than in apostolic times, as previously believed.
Watch Tower Society publications teach that Jesus uses the faithful and discreet slave "to publish information on the fulfillment of Bible prophecies and to give timely direction on the application of Bible principles in daily life" as the only means of communicating God's messages to humans. It is referred to as God's "prophet" and "channel", and claims to provide "divine" direction and guidance. Jehovah's Witnesses are told their survival of Armageddon depends in part on their obedience to the slave class.
Governing Body members are said to act in the role of the faithful and discreet slave class when arriving at decisions on doctrines, activities and oversight of Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide, including making appointments to positions of responsibility.
Origin and history
The parable on which Jehovah's Witnesses base their doctrine of the "faithful and discreet slave", as rendered in the King James Version, reads: "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods."
Watch Tower publications assert that Christ, the "master" in the parable, returned in Kingdom power in 1914 and at that date identified those associated with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society as the only group still faithfully feeding his followers. (Earlier publications apply different dates to this event. The date of Christ's inspection has previously been identified as 1919, though publications have also suggested Russell's group passed God's test of fitness 40 years earlier, using The Watchtower as his principal method of spreading Bible truth from 1879. Publications had claimed the slave class began using the Watch Tower Society as its legal instrument in 1884.) Christ, in fulfillment of the parable, subsequently appointed anointed Christians associated with the Watch Tower Society "over all his belongings". The "belongings" are said to today include Jehovah's Witnesses' Brooklyn headquarters, branch offices, Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls worldwide as well as the "great crowd" of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Development of doctrine
In 1881, an article in Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence by the magazine's editor Charles Taze Russell identified the "faithful and wise servant" as "that 'little flock' of consecrated servants who are faithfully carrying out their consecration vows—the body of Christ ... the whole body individually and collectively, giving the meat in due season to the household of faith—the great company of believers."
In 1895, Russell's wife Maria claimed that Russell himself was the figure referred to in the parable at Matthew 24:45-47, though Russell initially declined to accept the personal application of the title, suggesting that it should apply to the Watch Tower rather than its editor. In 1897 Russell agreed that Christ would have made a "choice of one channel for dispensing the meat in due season [emphasis in the original]" and while he did not refer to that "one channel" as an individual, Russell did apply to it the personal pronoun "he" (for example: "if unfaithful he will be deposed entirely"), and noted "whoever the Lord will so use, as a truth-distributing agent, will be very humble and unassuming" and "he would not think of claiming authorship or ownership of the truth."
In 1909, in an unsigned article, the Watch Tower mentioned that the "application to us of Matthew 24:45" had come "some fourteen years ago", or about 1895. The article went on to say "the Society's literature was the channel through which the Lord sent them practically all that they know about the Bible and the Divine purposes." [emphasis added]
Thousands of the readers of Pastor Russell's writings believe that he filled the office of "that faithful and wise servant," and that his great work was giving to the Household of Faith meat in due season. His modesty and humility precluded him from openly claiming this title, but he admitted as much in private conversation.
The Watch Tower Society's official history of Jehovah's Witnesses states that Russell "did not personally promote the idea, but he did acknowledge the apparent reasonableness of the arguments of those who favored it."
In 1917, the publisher's preface to the book, The Finished Mystery, issued as a posthumous publication of Russell's writings, identified him as the "faithful and wise servant" appointed by Christ; as late as 1923, the Watch Tower repeated the same belief about his role, declaring: "We believe that all who are now rejoicing in present truth will concede that Brother Russell faithfully filled the office of special servant of the Lord; and that he was made ruler over all the Lord's goods ... Brother Russell occupied the office of that 'faithful and wise servant'."
In 1927, Watch Tower Society president Joseph Rutherford reverted to Russell's original viewpoint, announcing that the "servant" was not an individual, but was made up of the entire body of faithful spirit-anointed Christians.
A 1950 issue of The Watchtower appeared to assign to the "mother organization"—in reference to the Watch Tower Society—the task of feeding Christians "meat in due season"; in 1951 the magazine defined the "faithful and discreet slave" as a class of people whose teachings were imparted through a theocratic organization.
Watch Tower Society publications had taught that the "faithful and discreet slave" class had had a continuous uninterrupted existence since being appointed by Christ at the time of Pentecost AD 33, when the first 120 people upon whom holy spirit was poured out began "feeding" Jews with spiritual food. As new disciples came in, they filled the role of "domestics" and joined in feeding others. The Apostles and other early Christian disciples who wrote the books of the New Testament were also part of the "slave" class providing spiritual food to Christians.
The Watchtower claimed members of the "slave" class were a close-knit body of Christians rather than isolated, independent individuals, and that one generation of the "slave" class fed the succeeding generation to maintain the unbroken line for more than 1900 years, providing the same spiritual food to Christians worldwide. Watch Tower publications did not identify the groups filling the role of the "slave" class between the close of the Apostolic Age and the early 20th century, suggesting it disappeared from "clear view", but they implied they might have included the Lollards and the Waldensians (the latter movement described by The Watchtower as "faithful witnesses of Jehovah ... who sought to revive true worship of Christianity").
A series of talks at the 128th annual meeting of the Watch Tower Society in New Jersey on 6 October 2012 made further changes to the doctrine about the identity of the "slave". The society's report on the meeting said that "the faithful and discreet slave was appointed over Jesus' domestics in 1919. That slave is the small, composite group of anointed brothers serving at world headquarters during Christ's presence who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food. When this group work together as the Governing Body, they act as 'the faithful and discreet slave.'" The report said the slave "logically" must have appeared after Christ's presence began in 1914.
Following his expulsion from the organization in 1981, former Governing Body member Raymond Franz claimed the description of the slave in the parable as a "class" of Christians was unsupported by scripture and was used to emphasize the concept of the slave being connected to an organization, diminishing its application to individuals in encouraging the qualities of faith, discretion, watchfulness and individual responsibility. He argued that if the application of figures in Jesus' corresponding parables as members of a class were consistent, there would also be a "ten-mina class" and "five-mina class" relating to Luke 19:12-27 and a "many strokes class" and "few strokes class" arising from Luke 12: 47-48.
Franz claimed the religion employs its interpretation of the "faithful and discreet slave" parable primarily to support the concept of centralized administrative authority in order to exercise control over members of the religion by demanding their loyalty and submission. He said the "anointed" remnant, which at that time was claimed to comprise the "slave" class, had negligible input into Watch Tower Society doctrine and direction, which were set by the Governing Body.
Franz also argued that the Watch Tower Society and its doctrines were built on the independent Bible study of its founder, Charles Taze Russell, who neither consulted any existing "faithful and discreet slave" class for enlightenment, nor believed in the concept taught by the Society. He concluded: "In its efforts to deny that Jesus Christ is now dealing, or would ever deal, with individuals apart from an organization, a unique 'channel', the teaching produces an untenable position. It claims that Christ did precisely that in dealing with Russell as an individual apart from any organization." Franz also claimed that Jehovah's Witnesses' official history book, Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, misrepresented Russell's view of the "faithful steward" by emphasizing his initial 1881 view that it was the entire body of Christ, without mentioning that he altered his view five years later.
Note that during Russell's lifetime, the phrase "faithful and wise servant" was used, quoting from the common English Bible. But in 1950 the Watchtower Society published the New World Translation of the New Testament, in which the phrase was translated "faithful and discreet slave." Thus the term used depends on the time frame in which it was quoted.
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- The Watchtower, March 15, 2002 pp. 13-14 paragraph 4
- Watchtower August 1, 2001 p. 14 paragraph 8, "A mature Christian ... does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and 'the faithful and discreet slave.'"
- "Jehovah, the God of Progressive Revelation", Watchtower, June 15, 1964, page 365, "The abundance of spiritual food and the amazing details of Jehovah's purposes that have been revealed to Jehovah's anointed witnesses are clear evidence that they are the ones mentioned by Jesus when he foretold a 'faithful and discreet slave' class that would be used to dispense God's progressive revelations in these last days ... How thankful we should be for the provision God has made of this slave class, the modern spiritual remnant, as they faithfully dispense the revealed truths of Jehovah! ... Jehovah's faithful witnesses have been progressively brought to an understanding of Jehovah's purposes, which are clearer now than ever before in history."
- Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed. University of Toronto Press. p. 160. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3.
- Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed. University of Toronto Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3.
- The Watchtower, February 15, 1927, page 55, paragraph 38.
- Watch Tower, 1927, as referenced by Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, Watchtower Society, 1993, page 626.
- Report of Annual Meeting, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, October 6, 2012.
- Hoekema, Anthony A. (1963), The Four Major Cults, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, pp. 246–247, ISBN 0-8028-3117-6
- Organized to Do Jehovah's Will, Watch Tower Society, 2005, p. 16.
- The Watchtower April 1, 1972, p. 197.
- The Watchtower August 1, 2002, p. 13 paragraph 17.
- "Do You Discern the Evidence of God's Guidance?", The Watchtower, April 15, 2011, pages 3-5.
- "Do You Discern the Evidence of God’s Guidance?", The Watchtower, April 15, 2011, "Jesus Christ is the assigned Leader of the congregation. He has delegated some authority to a faithful slave class, made up of faithful spirit-anointed Christians. That slave class, in turn, appoints overseers in the Christian congregation."
- "Do You Take the Lead in Showing Honor?", The Watchtower, October 15, 2008, page 23, "It is Scriptural for “the faithful and discreet slave” through its Governing Body to appoint men to positions of responsibility, and some men are appointed to exercise authority over other appointed men."
- Overseers and Ministerial Servants Theocratically Appointed", The Watchtower, January 15, 2001, page 15, "The Governing Body appoints qualified brothers at the branches to represent it in making appointments of elders and ministerial servants. Care is taken that those acting representatively on behalf of the Governing Body clearly understand and follow the Scriptural guidelines for making such appointments. Hence, it is under the direction of the Governing Body that qualified men are appointed to serve in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide."
- Organized To Do God's Will, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 2005, page 16.
- Hoekema, Anthony A. (1963), The Four Major Cults, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, pp. 300–301, ISBN 0-8028-3117-6
- Beckford, James A. (1975), The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah's Witnesses, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, p. 109, ISBN 0-631-16310-7
- "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism”, The Watchtower, September 15, 1983, page 19, paragraph 19.
- Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1959, page 22, "... in many ways the evidence was beginning to accumulate that, of all the early voices heard, Jehovah had chosen the publication we now call The Watchtower to be used as a channel through which to bring to the world of mankind a revelation of the divine will and, through the words revealed in its columns, to begin a division of the world's population into those who would do the divine will and those who would not. For this reason 1879 was a turning point in the work. This little group, headed by C.T. Russell, had now been tested and had been found fit to undertake the great preliminary campaign leading up to the climax expected in 1914."
- "Willingly Expand Your Ministry", The Watchtower, June 1, 1963, page 338.
- Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, October/November 1881.
- Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1993, page 142.
- Watch Tower, July 15, 1906, Watch Tower Reprints, page 3811, As Retrieved 2009-09-23, page 215.
- Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed. University of Toronto Press. pp. 33–37. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3.
- The Battle of Armageddon (Part IV, "Studies in the Scriptures") by C. T. Russell, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1897, page 613.
- Watch Tower, October 1, 1909, Watch Tower Reprints, page 4482, As Retrieved 2009-09-23, page 292
- "Testing and Sifting From Within", Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, Watchtower Society, 1993, page 626, "According to Brother Russell, his wife, who later left him, was the first one to apply Matthew 24:45-47 to him. See the Watch Tower issues of July 15, 1906, page 215; March 1, 1896, page 47; and June 15, 1896, pages 139-40."
- Watch Tower, December 1, 1916, Watch Tower Reprints, page 5998, As Retrieved 2009-09-23, page 357
- "Testing and Sifting From Within", Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, page 626, "Many ... clung to the view that a single individual, Charles Taze Russell, was the "faithful and wise servant" ... Particularly following his death, The Watch Tower itself set forth this view for a number of years. In view of the prominent role that Brother Russell had played, it appeared to the Bible Students of that time that this was the case. He did not personally promote the idea, but he did acknowledge the apparent reasonableness of the arguments of those who favored it."
- Publisher's Preface, Studies in the Scriptures, Series VII: The Finished Mystery, Peoples Pulpit Association, Brooklyn, NY, 1917.
- Watch Tower, March 1, 1923, pages 68 and 71, as cited by Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience, Commentary Press, 2007, page 63.
- Watch Tower, 1927, as referenced by Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, Watchtower Society, 1993, page 626.
- The Watchtower, September 15, 1950 p. 326|"The Father is the great Provider of spiritual food, and he delegates to his organization the duty of preparing and serving this life-sustaining 'meat in due season'. The table is the Lord’s, he sits at the head, and the children seated at the table are waited on and served and helped by the mother organization."
- "Release Under Way to the Ends of the Earth", The Watchtower December 15, 1951, page 749, paragraph 4|"Christ Jesus approved of his remnant as a 'faithful and discreet slave' and set this "slave" class over all his earthly belongings. Then by the theocratic organization Jehovah led them from one truth to another, opening the eyes of their hearts and the ears of their understanding to see and hear these truths."
- The Watchtower, May 15, 2008, page 29
- "Seek God's guidance in all things", The Watchtower, April 15, 2008, page 11.
- "How Are Christians Spiritually Fed?", The Watchtower, January 15, 1975.
- "Do You Appreciate the “Faithful and Discreet Slave”?", The Watchtower, March 1, 1981, page 24.
- Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1945, page 307.
- Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. pp. 128, 129. ISBN 0-914675-17-6.
- Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed. University of Toronto Press. pp. 179–183. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3.
- Insight In The Scriptures volume 1, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1988, p. 805-806.
- Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. pp. 165–167. ISBN 0-914675-17-6.
- Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. p. 125. ISBN 0-914675-17-6.
- Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. pp. 153–164. ISBN 0-914675-17-6.
- Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. pp. 130–134. ISBN 0-914675-17-6.
- Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, as cited by Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience, Commentary Press, 2007, page 67.