The book study or examining organizational material is of the utmost importance when it comes to any group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Book of Mormon, Ellen G. White books). I try to shy away from using the term “cult” but one of the characteristics of a cult is this according to the University of California-Berkley in the “Programming Phase”: Intense Study-Focus is on group doctrine and writings. Bible, if used at all, is referred to one verse at time to "prove" group teachings. This was prevalent since the early days of Russell with the following quote:
Here’s what was said, If the six volumes of SCRIPTURE STUDIES are practically the Bible topically arranged, with Bible proof-texts given, we might not improperly name the volumes-- the Bible in an arranged form. That is to say, they are not merely comments on the Bible, but they are practically the Bible itself, since there is no desire to build any doctrine or thought on any individual preference or on any individual wisdom, but to present the entire matter on the lines of the Word of God. We therefore think it safe to follow this kind of reading, this kind of instruction, this kind of Bible study.
Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the Divine Plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years --if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the SCRIPTURE STUDIES with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.
The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. September 15, 1910 Reprints Page 4685
Here are some parallels:
Topical bible examination. Started under Charles Taze Russell, still done to this day.
The writings of fallible man is equal with the infallible word of God.
The organization’s writings have a greater emphasis then the Bible itself.
Without the organization, you are going into darkness.
With this in mind, I went ahead and looked at the newest version of the What Does the Bible Really Teach? book published in 2005, 2014 edition. This is the latest “introductory book” to get people interested in the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
I won’t go over the verses, you can do that on your own. However, we see the influence of Russell today. There is much by what the Watchtower says and there is an occasional sprinkling of scripture. One thing I did find interesting is the following quote:
2 Timothy 3:16: Page 7 says-You will quickly become familiar with the Bible by looking up the scriptures cited in this publication. Also, why not start a program of daily Bible reading? By reading three to five chapters a day, you can read the entire Bible in a year.
If you are under the auspices of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, how many times have you actually read through the entire bible? There are numerous ways to do this.
Regardless, the overall trend is this:
To get one interested, they “paint the picture” of a future without sorrow. This is not unusual.
To build confidence in the Bible, they do mention some attributes of God.
Then it starts to go downhill from there to build up confidence within the organization. The Watchtower language, in words and/or phrases ever so subtly, is integrated. Reproved is one example I saw. This is where cults have a similar vocabulary to mainstream Christianity, but their own dictionary.
Spirit creature and firstborn on page 41.
How Jesus died on page 52 versus John 20:25.
Proof texting such as Ecclesiastes 9:5 on page 57
Due to time, look more at the Appendix of that publication since the Watchtower needs that to further ingratiate perspective members to their way of thinking. With this in mind, let’s take a look back at some publications and what they say regarding the book studies.
With that in mind, let’s look at things from the historical perspective:
Show how congregation book study is valuable meeting that Jehovah has arranged.
Kingdom Ministry. May 1975 p. 2
What we have is something that Jehovah himself has arranged. Is something like this specifically mentioned in the Bible? If not, would this be considered going a violation in I Corinthians 4:6 which says (New World Translation), Now, brothers, these things I have applied to myself and Apollos for your good, that through us you may learn the rule: “Do not go beyond the things that are written,” so that you may not be puffed up with pride, favoring one against the other. Why is this not specifically mentioned in the bible that a certain book should be studied?
Let’s read on.
Consider some of the following benefits of the book study arrangement of which all of us can take advantage: (1) The groups are smaller, with better opportunities for close fellowship. (2) It is easier for all to comment freely since the material to be covered is not too lengthy and the group is small; also, we can get answers to questions on points not entirely clear from our personal study. (3) It provides a convenient center for organizing field service where this can be arranged during the week. (4) Conductors can get to know you better and are in a good position to assist with personal problems, give training in field service and help you with Scriptural questions.
Kingdom Ministry. December 1978 p. 3
Personally, I am in agreement with Watchtower when it comes to small group interaction. Large groups will have a few attempt to dominate the conversation. However, Christianity was spread without a specific plan in place. When you read the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, there is no implication that it says go in an organized fashion.
Those who regularly attend the book study are convinced that it has Jehovah's blessing.
Our Kingdom Ministry. January 1983 p. 7
Again, we have an affirmation that it is positive and Jehovah blesses it.
The Congregation Book Study plays a vital role in the spiritual development of Jehovah’s people.
Our Kingdom Ministry. July 1991 p. 3
I’m going to read two verses-II Timothy 3:16, 17 (New World Translation): All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,17 so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.
So the question is this, what would you choose for spiritual development: Congregation Book Study or the Bible?
The Congregation Book Study has been designed to help us study and apply God’s Word and in this way grow in wisdom and spiritual comprehension. Regularly attending the Congregation Book Study, therefore, should be an integral part of our personal program for acquiring wisdom.—Prov. 4:7-9.
Our Kingdom Ministry. August 1991 p. 7
A simple question, prior to the Watchtower instituting the Congregation Book Study, how did one acquire wisdom?
Again, we have a provision delivered directly from Jehovah.
Our Kingdom Ministry. October 1991 p. 8
Yet again, we have another affirmation that Jehovah provided the book study.
What a blessing the Congregation Book Study is! This loving arrangement from Jehovah helps us maintain our sure spiritual footing during the challenging times in which we live.
Our Kingdom Ministry. August 2007 p. 8
In January 2009, the Congregation Book Study began to be held on the same evening as the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting. One reason for this adjustment was to give families an opportunity to fortify their spirituality by scheduling a specific evening each week for family worship. Each family was encouraged to move its family study to the night formerly used for the book study, if practical, and to use this time for unhurried Bible discussion and study tailored to the needs of the family.
Our Kingdom Ministry. January 2011 p. 3
Unceremoniously, this provision by Jehovah himself used for spiritual development and acquiring wisdom was now discarded without a mention by Jehovah. Here’s part of a verse that came to mind: For I am Jehovah; I do not change. Malachi 3:6 (New World Translation). So what we have is something instituted that didn’t exist. Was used and is now no longer used.
Let’s look at one verse that would counter this: Ecclesiastes 12:12 which says in the (New World Translation): As for anything besides these, my son, be warned: To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.
Consider how much studying of Watchtower material alone you do. There is a special section on the organization’s website for “Meeting Workbooks.” The interesting thing here is that yes the organization claims to have “unity” in that whenever there is a Watchtower meeting, everyone is being taught the same thing all around the world. I would contend that it is nothing more than uniformity. However, this is to assume that the organization is a spiritual paradise. Early church problems are readily seen throughout the New Testament. They are summarized in the second and third chapters of Revelation where each church is addressed. They receive a specific type of commendation or condemnation.
Another point of consideration is this, where in the Bible does it say that all are to study the exact same thing at the same time. John 4:24 refers to “worship in spirit and in truth” which isn’t limited to being taught and/or singing the exact same thing wherever you are. There can be a great variety. Look at nature and you can see it demonstrated. It’s time you stop being wearied by studying Watchtower material continually like a hamster on the wheel and read God’s word alone. You will definitely make more progress than those who stay within this organization.