Updated: Aug 3, 2020
"Your Leader is one, the Christ." - (Matthew 23:10)
How would you answer that question? According to the Scripture quoted at Matthew 23:10 the answer seems self evident, Christ. Yet if Jesus is in heaven, how does he lead his congregation? The Watchtower explains:
"Christ used his authority by actively leading his congregation on earth. He did this by means of the holy spirit, the angels, and the governing body made up of the 12 apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem congregation.” (w87 8/1 pp. 10-15)
And how is this leadership manifest today? Another Watchtower states:
"As in the first century, a small group of qualified men from among the anointed overseers now serve as the Governing Body, representing the composite faithful and discreet slave. Our Leader uses this Governing Body to appoint qualified men - whether spirit-anointed or not - as elders in the local congregations. In this regard, the holy spirit, which Jehovah has given Jesus authority to employ, plays a pivotal role.” (w02 3/15 p. 14-15 par#7)
Understanding how Jesus is leading the congregation is of the utmost importance to us as his disciples. Jesus admonished us on many occasions to exercise considerable caution when individuals claimed to have his authority. On one occasion he said: “If anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise - - - so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones. Look! I have forewarned you. Therefore, if people say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” (Matthew 24:23-26)
Jesus made it clear to his disciples that he was their one leader and that they should be very cautious in dealing with anyone invoking his authority. Let's take a closer look at the first cited Watchtower quote. Are there any 'misleading' statements in that explanation of how Christ's leadership was expressed in the first century congregation?
We might start by examining how the expression “governing body” is used. Notice that when it is used in reference to those in the first century it is lower case, and when used in reference to the “Governing Body” today it is capitalized? The expression “Governing Body” is used in today's congregation as a title that these men have bestowed upon themselves, which has no Scriptural basis. It should also be noted that the apostles are referenced in Scripture as having a very unique position in Jehovah's arrangement. They are spoken of as the “12 foundation stones” of new Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:14) However, by referring to the apostles as members of a first century “governing body”, and then saying that they are the “Governing Body” today, are they not putting themselves into a position of equal prestige in Jehovah’s arrangement?
It should also be noted that the apostles were present in Jerusalem when the congregation was first formed. However, within the first two decades all of the apostles had since moved out of that city, and were no longer part of any elder body in Jerusalem. (See study note for Acts 21:18 in NWTSE) There is only one account in the inspired record of that “body” providing any direction to the congregation as an expression of Christ's leadership, and it should be specifically noted that the apostles including Paul, were present on that occasion. (Acts 15:6-12)
So how was Jesus leading the first century congregation? Was Jesus leading the brothers directly through the holy spirit? Yes, as can be seen by considering the cited Scriptures as examples. (Acts 8:39, 10:19, 11:12, 13:2, 4, 16:6, 21:11) Did Jesus dispatch angles to direct the brothers? Yes. (Acts 5:19, 8:26, 10:3, 7, 22 11:13, 12:7-11, 23, 27:23) Did Jesus lead the congregation through his chosen apostles? Absolutely. The apostles were inspired to write many letters directly to the various congregations throughout the earth, and they have been preserve by Jehovah as part of the inspired record given to us today.
Did Jesus lead his disciples through a first century “governing body”? As already mentioned there is only one account of leadership being manifest to the congregations through what the Watchtower has described as a “governing body”, and as was emphasized the “body” on that occasion had the direct oversight of the apostles. Nevertheless, the inspired letter by Jesus brother James may perhaps be viewed as something originating from that “governing body”. While the title “governing body” does not appear in the Scriptures the group referenced by the Watchtower was known as “James, and all the elders”. (Acts 21:18) Hence, if there was a “governing body” back then, James was apparently the chairman of that group.
So how is Jesus leading the congregation today? The second Watchtower quote begins by saying “as in the first century”, and then proceeds to focus attention on the “Governing Body”. As it was just established, there were three primary ways that Jesus lead his congregation in the first century.
1) Holy spirit
3) Apostles (including Paul)
Even if we acknowle that Jesus used a “governing body” in the first century, it must be recognized that it had the least significant role in comparison to the other three avenues that have been firmly established in Scripture.
Is Jesus leading the congregation today the same as he did in the first century? It would seem so. Holy spirit has a fundamental role in the daily life of each member of Christ's congregation. The spirit was what Jehovah used to draw each of us to his son in the beginning of our relationship with him. (John 6:44) The spirit helps us to comprehend and extract insight from his Word, and directs us in our ministry. Angels always have an interactive role in Jehovah's activity. While we have no specific record of any angelic interaction with members of the Christian congregation at this time, we can be confident that they are actively involved with Jesus leading his disciples today. We should also be mindful that they are closely observing our conduct as Paul said: “we have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels and to men.” (1 Corinthians 4:9)
Is Jesus still using the apostles to lead his congregation today? While all of the apostles are gone, each of us in the congregation today has more direct counsel from the apostles than any member of the first century congregation ever did. How so? By means of the technology at our fingertips today, we have access to the inspired Scriptures which include; 14 letters written by the apostle Paul to 6 different congregations, 2 regions, and 3 different brothers; 2 letters from Peter; and 3 letters from John. We also have a detailed account of all that the apostles did through the disciple Luke's record, and a Revelation by God given to the congregation through the apostle John. Additionally we have two first hand accounts of Jesus ministry by the apostles Matthew and John.
As Jesus expressed at Matthew 23:10, he is our one and only Leader. While there may be brothers in the congregation that take “the lead”, they are not our leaders. (Hebrews 13:7) These brothers are commissioned by Christ to set an example in their faith worthy of imitation. As the apostle Peter warned them they, have no authority to be lording over the congregation but, must be examples. (1 Peter 5:3) Jesus as our leader also gave specific admonition to his apostles “Jesus called them to him and said: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This must not be the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27) Are the elders in your congregation acting as your 'ministers and slaves'? If they expect to be used by Jesus as he leads the congregation then they “must be”.
What about brothers that profess to be "anointed"? Until they receive authority as kings they are not our leaders. Unfortunately, from the first century down to today some seem to feel this undeserved gift gives them some special authority over the congregation. Paul specifically addressed these brothers saying“who makes you different from another? Indeed, what do you have that you did not receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not receive it? Are you already satisfied? Are you already rich? Have you begun ruling as kings without us?” (1 Corinthians 4:7,8)
Until the time comes when the “sons of God” are revealed, "anointed" persons have no special authority over the congregation. (Romans 8:19) We would be disrespecting them if we tried to ingratiate them in any way. We show them the same love we accord to all our brothers. Conversely, any who try to assert authority over the congregation dishonor the body. We all serve Jehovah “shoulder to shoulder” while we await our Lord's return. (Zephaniah 3:9) As we do so all of us unitedly look to him as our one and only Leader.