President, but not Leader? The Watchtower, an Organization Without Leaders
By Bob Waldrep
Can a person be the president of an organization and not be recognized as its leader? It would seem the answer is yes, if that organization is the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, otherwise known as the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the president is J.F. Rutherford. This is the position clearly taken by the Society regarding Rutherford, their second president, who served from 1917-1942. The Watchtower's recent publication, Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, states, "Although Brother Rutherford served for twenty five years as president of the Watchtower Society and devoted all his energy to advancing the work of the organization, he was not the leader of Jehovah's Witnesses, and he did not want to be." (p. 220)
Rutherford himself was known to state during public meetings, "If you who are here believe that I am just one of the servants of the Lord, and we are working shoulder to shoulder in unity, serving God and serving Christ, say yes." (Ibid., pp. 220-221)
This is just another example of Watchtower doublespeak. Typical of Watchtower rhetoric, they hide the truth of the power and authority wielded by the President of the Watchtower Society behind a projection of false humility and servant-hood.
The implication here is that the terms "leader" and "servant" are mutually exclusive; if a person is a leader that one cannot be a servant, or if a servant that person cannot be a leader. They appeal to Scripture quoting from the Jehovah's Witnesses New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, "Neither be called 'leaders' for your Leader is one, the Christ." (Matthew 23:10) However, putting Matthew 23:10 in context we find: "But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call nor father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant."
Based upon Witness reasoning, not only was Rutherford not a leader but he also could not have been a teacher, nor could he have been a father. Once again, by filtering the Scripture through Watchtower doctrine, they have missed the point; Jesus does not say we must not be leaders, but rather, in our leading, to be servants, an example for others.
Why is the Watchtower splitting hairs over these terms? In their collective mind they now do not have to deal with any evidence of false prophecy, easily brushing aside any seeming error as a misunderstanding by one who himself was admittedly not a leader. Are the Witnesses being honest?
What does one find when looking beyond the Witnesses interpretation of a leader to how Scripture uses this word? According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, the Hebrew word sar translated "official; leader; commander; captain; chief; prince; ruler" appears about 420 times in the Hebrew scriptures. Certainly this would indicate that the inspired writers of the Old Testament did not have a problem with the term.
Quoting from Vine's, "In several passages, sar refers to the task of 'ruling.'" Moses tried to break up a fight between two Hebrews and one of them asked him, "Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?" (Exodus 2:1) In such a context, sar means "leader," "ruler," and "judge": "Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. (Exodus 18:21) Certainly a Jehovah's Witness would agree that this passage would be a good description of the men who serve on the governing body of the Watchtower Society.
The Greek word hodegeo used in the New Testament means "to lead the way" and is used literally as "guide"; (KJV, "lead"), as"guiding" the blind; (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39) as "guiding" unto fountains of waters of life; (Revelation 7:17) and figuratively, (John 16:13) of "guidance" into the truth, by the Holy Spirit, of the interpretation of Scripture. (Acts 8:31) (Vine's)
Here again, this would describe the work of the governing body. In speaking of the "faithful discreet slave class," from which come the members of the Jehovah's Witnesses Governing body, the Watchtower publication Qualified to be Ministers states, "But since the Lord's return, their responsibilities have been enlarged. The 'slave' class has been appointed over all the Master's belongings here on earth." (p.381) The Proclaimers book states, "Even as the congregations in the first century recognized the governing body in Jerusalem, so today the congregations would not prosper spiritually without central supervision." (p. 219)
The appeal the Society makes for the Jerusalem Council being the very basis for the Watchtower Governing body makes their claim to not be leaders all the more ludicrous. Were these men in the early Church, to which they compare themselves, not leaders? Can anyone giving an honest reading to Scripture imagine James, Peter or Paul standing before the church and saying, "I am an apostle but I am not a leader?" Of course not!
While the book provides a large amount of history for all the Society's Presidents, it is only of Rutherford that such great detail is given to his not being a leader. Why is this the case? The answer seems to lie in the fact that many Witnesses, when confronted with the false prophecies of the Rutherford years, are responding by stating he was never, and never claimed to be, the leader of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Witness then usually states that although he was president of the Society, Rutherford was just a Bible student studying with others. As proof, the Proclaimers book is brought out or referenced to substantiate that Rutherford himself claimed he was not the Watchtower leader but simply a servant.
Rather than examine this revisionist history put forth by the Proclaimers book, a closer look should be given as to how contemporaries of Rutherford viewed him. The following excerpt was taken from an article written by Olin R. Moyle, former counsel for the Witnesses, who was expelled from the Jehovah's Witnesses just two months after publication of this article. It should be pointed out that he was not expelled for anything in this article, but rather for writing a letter to Rutherford calling him to task for unseemly behavior and treatment of the members at Bethel, the Jehovah's Witsses' headquarters. Moyle wrote:
"Judge J.F. Rutherford, a former Missouri attorney, is the visible director of the Jehovah's Witnesses. He doesn't claim to be a prophet nor does he fit the ordinary idea of a prophet... Some years ago he gave up his law practice to use all his time in proclaiming the 'Kingdom message.' His writings have reached the tremendous circulation of two hundred seventy nine million, a record unequaled by any publication except the Bible.... He is the chief contributor to the Watchtower, a semi-monthly periodical, and oversees the activities of the organization from one end of the earth to the other." (Fact Digest, June 1939, Vol. VIII, No. 2)
Just Another False Prophet
Two points must be noted: First, "he doesn't claim to be a prophet nor does he fit the ordinary idea of a prophet," and second, "he...oversees the activities of the organization from one end of the earth to the other." Certainly Rutherford does not fit the definition of a true prophet, but what about a false prophet? Examine the following statements written by Rutherford in Watchtower publications:
"The second presence of the Lord began in 1874." (Prophecy, p. 65)
"We may confidently expect that 1925 will bring the return of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the prophets of old..." (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, pp. 89, 90) "We should expect Abel, Enoch, Noah etc. shortly after 1925..." (The Way to Paradise, p. 224)
"The year 1925 is here. With great expectation Christians have looked forward to this year. Many have confidently looked forward to this year. Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during this year." (The Watchtower, 1 January 1925, p. 3)
"All we predicted did not come to pass, but Armageddon is now at hand." (Vindication, Book One, pp. 146, 147) "The Kingdom is here, Armageddon is just ahead." (The Messenger, 1 September 1940, p. 6)
Does Rutherford meet the test of a prophet? Was he guilty of false prophecy? Let the Watchtower speak for itself:
"True, there have been those in times past who predicted an 'end to the world,' even announcing a specific date.... Yet, nothing happened. The end did not come. They were guilty of false prophesying." (Awake!, 8 October 1968, p. 23)
"But it may be asked, how are we to know whether one is a true or false prophet? If he is a true prophet his message will come to pass exactly as prophesied. If he is a false prophet, his prophecy will fail to come to pass.... The difference between a true and a false prophet is that the one is speaking the word of the Lord and the other is speaking his own dreams and guesses." (The Watchtower, 15 May 1930, pp. 154, 155)
This last quote is particularly telling as it was published during Rutherford's presidency. Certainly, by examining Rutherford's predictions using their own writings, one must conclude he was a false prophet. The second point made by Moyle's article also must be considered by Witness and non-Witness alike. Rutherford was clearly viewed as "overseeing the organization's activities from one end of the earth to the other." Can the Witnesses today honestly say that a man can be designated as the overseer of such a broad territory as the entire earth and still not be considered a leader?
Why must the Watchtower continue to put forth such baseless and irrational teachings to its members? This is nothing more than another of the many teachings designed by the Governing Body to control their "followers," using Watchtower instructions to manipulate them so they cannot think for themselves. The facts are clear, the evidence irrefutable: J.F. Rutherford was a leader, despite the assertions by the Proclaimers book.
The Governing Body may continue to deceive the Witnesses with their false claim of not being leaders, but they cannot deceive Christ. There is no question from Scripture that Jesus views them as leaders and would say of them, "they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." (Matthew 15:12-14)
Rev. Bob Waldrep, MRE, serves as State Director—Alabama at Watchman Fellowship’s Birmingham, AL office. Bob is also an ordained Southern Baptist Minister and serves as Lay Pastor for the Church at Brook Hills. You can email Bob by clicking here.