The Memorial: The Partakers

I stumbled across an old Watchtower[1] that spoke about the annual figures in the Yearbook, namely, how these numbers should be understood. Naturally, it addressed the partakers of the annual Memorial. This aspect intrigued me.

As discussed in a previous article, compared to the global community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Memorial partakers are relatively few. Nevertheless, the partakers have somewhat increased over recent years; and it’s interesting to see how the organisations (the “Governing Body”) has addressed this issue – the discrepancy – when the organisation has insisted that, in fact, one of the key evidences that we are living in the Last Days is that the number of “anointed” partaking at the Memorial are decreasing.[2] A fascinating situation, to be sure.

That said, to do justice to this observation, I find that a history lesson is in order.

Background on Watchtower’s Anointed

Frederick Franz, fourth president of the Watchtower (19771992), who I like to think of as the “Wizard of Oz” simply because he was the man behind the curtain when it came to several of the organisation’s earlier doctrines, that is, post-Russell – and what an imagination Franz had – said some rather interesting things on the subject of the anointed. Especially if you’re a newly-minted Witness, one who knows “the truth” very well, if you would but peruse those earlier beliefs, you’ll undoubtedly be visited by a feeling that you’re not in Kansas anymore. [laughing]

Briefly stated, it was first believed that there were two tiers of Christians destined for heavenly life: 1) the 144 000 (“Bride of the Lamb”), and 2) the Great Multitude (“Great Crowd”) (“Bridesmaids”).[3] The former, thought to be natural circumcised Jews, would have a superior position in heaven by virtue of the “new covenant,”[4] while the latter, “because they had been negligent about obeying God,” would secure a lesser place in heaven.[5] Then, in 1923, the “sheep” in  Jesus’ parable of the “Sheep and Goats” were identified as an “earthly class” that would survive Armageddon – the so-called “other sheep.”[6] Then , in 1932, “Jehovah revealed” that the new covenant applied, not to natural Jews, but to “spiritual Israel.”[7] Then, in 1934, it was understood that the “other sheep” pictured the non-Israelite man Jonadab, thus, the “other sheep” were then spoken of, interchangeably, as the “Jonadabs” or the “Jonadab class.”[8] Then, in 1935, it was established that the “Great Multitude” and the “Jonadabs” were, not two separate entities, but, in actual fact, one and the same group, a group that was destined, not for heaven, but for earth.[9]

Thus, the two-tier heavenly class was dismantled; the conclusion being that only 144 000 “spiritual Jews” would go to heaven, while the remaining Christians would survive Armageddon and remain right here on earth in what would then become “a paradise.” This is the version that has survived to this day. And, accordingly, now that these two categories of Christians had become neatly defined, the remaining, and concomitant, question was: How does one know which of these two groups one belongs in?

1935: End of the Heavenly-Calling

As already mentioned, in 1935 a new understanding was presented, namely, that the “Great Multitude” (the “Great Crowd”) of Revelation 7:9, was, not a secondary heavenly class as initially believed, but, in fact, one and the same group as the “other sheep” that Jesus had spoken of, the ones destined to inherit the earth.

Thus, particularly from 1966, it was believed that the full number of the 144 000 had received its preliminary seal by the year 1935 – “preliminary” in the sense that the sealed candidates had yet to remain faithful until death, at which time the seal would then take on a more permanent form as envisaged by Revelation 7:1-4 (prior to such death, if a candidate proved unfaithful, he would be replaced by a different candidate who would essentially be shortlisted from the “other sheep,” which candidate would then similarly have to satisfy the aforementioned requirements for permanence).

There had been, however, other dates previously proposed for the end of said heavenly calling, i.e. 1881[10] and 1931.[11] In fact, in a Gilead Graduation programme, March 8, 1970, the then vice-president, Frederick Franz, asked whether there still remained a deficit in the total figure of the “remnant” (the “144 000”), he answered:

“No, no more additions! That call ended way back there in 1931-35. There are no more additions. Who, then, are the newly associated ones who are partaking of the Memorial emblems? If they are of the remnant, they are replacements! They are, not additions to the ranks of the anointed, but replacements for those who may have fallen away.”[12]

This idea was re-affirmed four months later in The Watchtower:

“Does this mean that, since about 1935, those already resurrected to heaven together with the spirit-begotten remnant yet on earth have made the full number of 144 000? Yes, that is the conclusion to which evidence points. The general call for such ones has ceased to go out.”[13] [Italics mine]

Notice, however, how this viewpoint was subsequently changed as recently as 2007:

“Without a doubt, if one of the anointed unrepentantly fall away, Jehovah does call another individual to take his place. However, the number of genuine anointed ones who have become unfaithful is likely not large. On the other hand, as time has gone by, some Christians baptized after 1935 have had witness borne to them that they have the heavenly hope. Thus, it appears we cannot set a specific date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends.”[14] [Italics mine]

Now, I may be reading this wrong, but the way the above quotation is written seems to suggest that, all this time, the organisation was of the view that any “replacement candidate” had to have been baptised before, or at least by, 1935 to be eligible; meaning, the original pre-‘35 candidate falls away, right, then a pre-’35 baptised candidate steps in as a replacement. But that cannot be.  Many of the 20th century Governing Body members were not even born in 1935, let alone baptised, or, worse yet, anointed, by that year. In fact, the oldest Governing Body member presently (2016), Samuel Herd, was born April 14, 1935. The rest were not born, let alone baptised in 1935. That said, I’ll accept if I’ve perhaps misunderstood that statement, but, nevertheless, I submit that such confusion is not unwarranted.

In any event, the position now held is that “original anointees” – as opposed to “replacement anointees” – are still being selected today; meaning, the full number of the 144 000 was not consummated, that is, did not receive its complete “preliminary sealing,” back in 1935 and, consequently, Frederick Franz was, mirabile dictu, incorrect in exclaiming: “No, no more additions!”

This final understanding was confirmed by The Watchtower of January 2016:

Jehovah chooses when in history he will select anointed ones. […] During the last days, Jehovah has continued to select those who will make up the 144,000. If he chooses to wait until late into that period to select some for that privilege, who are we to question his wisdom? We must be careful not to react like the disgruntled workers who complained about the way their master dealt with the 11th-hour workers.”[15] [Bold mine]

In other words, there still remain fresh and untouched seats available in the 144 000 bus. Thus – if the Almighty sees fit – he can select an “original anointee” the day before Armageddon if it so pleases him. So, if you’re an anointed who has been serving God for several years and have endured many hardships during that time in order to remain faithful, and, here, just moments before the shit hits the fan at Armageddon (the “eleventh hour”), God decides to anoint a “stranger in Moscow” to join to the 144 000 “club,” don’t feel cheated, don’t go moping about it, a’ight. Jehovah knows best. Now hou op, asseblief.

But still, the question remains: How does one know if they belong in heaven?

How Do You Know You’re Anointed?

To determine if one is anointed, and, thus, a rightful partaker, a series of self-reflective questions were proposed back in a 1961. The Watchtower said:

“To determine whether one should partake of the bread and wine of the Lord’s evening meal or not he should ask himself the following questions:

Am I a spiritual Israelite, begotten by God’s active force to become a spiritual child of his with a spiritual destiny? Have I become one that is in this new covenant made with spiritual Israel? Furthermore, am I in this Kingdom covenant? Do I, like Paul, have the firm conviction that I am going to have a heavenly resurrection, to be joined with the Lord Jesus in the heavenly kingdom? Since the spirit of God itself bears witness, there should be no doubt about it. Am I in that relationship with God and Jesus Christ even as were those eleven apostles back there with whom Jesus instituted the Lord’s evening meal? Am I convinced that I have this heavenly calling, this hope? Do I make it a subject of my prayers, my thoughts, my longings?

If you are a married man and your wife is not in this covenant for the Kingdom, you must ask yourself: Am I prepared to die with the consciousness that I am leaving her never to join her again on earth, but to join Jesus Christ and leave her on this earth? Or if you are a wife and mother you must ask yourself: Am I prepared to leave my children behind and never mother them any more and never associate with them throughout all eternity? Does my being a member of the bride of Christ take precedence over my being the wife of a husband on earth? Do I want to be with Jesus more than with that dear man, and that for all eternity?

These are some of the things to think about, to know what we are doing, to know what our destiny will be. Then we can be certain of what course of action we should take at the Lord’s evening meal, whether we should partake of the bread and wine or not.”[16]

In 1968, the book “The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life” (predecessor of “What Does the Bible Really Teach”) was published. Under the subheading “How One Knows Whether He is of the Little Flock?” it attempted to shed light on this most fascinating question. However, short of rehashing Romans 8:16, 17, the book doesn’t really shed any meaningful workable clarity on the subject; instead, it tenders a very sanitised version of: “It’s a gut feeling.”

“Members of the little flock know that God has called them to heavenly life. How? By means of the operation of God’s spirit, which implants and cultivates in them a hope for heavenly life. […] The operation of God’s spirit changes the entire outlook of such a person, so that his thoughts and prayers are centered upon the heavenly hope in view.”[17]

As recently as 2009, The Watchtower has maintained a similar view:

“How does a Christian know if he or she has the heavenly hope and is included in this remnant of spiritual Israelites? […] Simply stated, these individuals are anointed by God’s holy spirit and receive a heavenly ‘calling,’ or ‘invitation.’ This personal invitation is from God. They, in turn, respond at once without question or doubt or fear in accepting this begetting as God’s sons. They do not select this hope for themselves, but Jehovah puts his seal, or holy spirit, upon them.”[18] [Italics mine]

However, in 1973, William Pratt Heath, Jr.,[19] who served as a member of the board of directors for Watch Tower, and who professed this heavenly calling, described such calling in an interesting way, a way I’ve never quite heard before; he said: “I got an invisible directive from God. It’s something you feel.”[20] [Italics mine]

The Evangelical Beacon (1973)

William Pratt Heath, Jr. describes the heavenly-calling as an “invisible directive” from God. – The Evangelical Beacon August 21, 1973 page 2.

Invisible directive.

I quite prefer Heath’s description, I must add, albeit a very corporate manner of speaking that. There’s something very honest about the wording. It’s something you feel.

I had dinner with the late Guy Pierce[21] once, when he came to South Africa to dedicate our newly-built “twin” Kingdom Halls; we spoke about many things, but I neglected to ask him how he came to know that he was anointed, you know, what his personal experience was. Although, admittedly, it was more etiquette than “neglect” that prevented me from asking. Would have been cool to hear, though, in light of my own experience.

The Emotional Partaker

Whenever the subject of the anointed comes into play, the issue of “emotional partakers” is often lingering in the same neighbourhood, that is, those who partake, not as a directive from God, but as a consequence of emotional prodding and such. To that end, in 1968, the aforementioned Truth book stated:

“We must look to the scriptures for guidance and not let emotions, or background of unscriptural beliefs, confuse our thinking. Those who receive heavenly life are not persons who choose it for themselves; God is the one who does the choosing.”[22] [Italics mine]

In 1970, The Watchtower said:

“Recently in various parts of the earth there have appeared some who profess now to be of the remaining ones who have hope of being Kingdom heirs, although having only recently dedicated themselves to Jehovah God. Whether they are in truth and in fact of these prospective Kingdom associates or ‘remnant’ is not for others to judge. It is a matter between the individual and Jehovah God, and time will tell. All who make this claim, however, would do well to ask themselves if their conviction is a holdover from the Babylonish teaching that all good persons go to heaven; or whether it could be due to a misconception, emotionalism, or even a misguided seeking for prominence.”[23] [Italics mine]

In speaking of replacements, the same article stated:

“Accordingly, should one of these yet on earth prove unfaithful, his position would have to be filled by a replacement. By whom? It could be by a newly baptized person […]. We cannot limit God or Christ Jesus in such selection.”[24] [Italics mine]

In 1996, The Watchtower said:

“Those who have this spirit-anointing know it with certainty. It is not a mere wish or a reflection of an emotional and unrealistic view of themselves. […] Over the years some, even newly baptized ones, have suddenly begun to partake. In a number of cases, after a while they acknowledge that this was an error. Some have recognised that they partook as an emotional response to perhaps physical or mental strain. But they came to see that they really were not called to heavenly life.”[25] [Italics mine]

In 1998, The Watchtower said:

“Former religious views, strong emotions arising from the death of a loved one, hardships now associated with earthly life, or the feeling of having received some special blessing from Jehovah might lead some to assume mistakenly that heavenly life if for them.”[26] [Italics mine]

In 2016, The Watchtower said:

Jehovah knows those who belong to him. […] Some who at one point started to partake of the emblems late stopped. Others may have mental or emotional problems that lead them to believe that they will rule with Christ in heaven.”[27]

This last one made me laugh somewhat; not only does it mention emotional partaking, but it now brings a person’s psychology into the mix: “mental problems” (as opposed to simply “mental strain”). With suggestions like this, them Kingdom Hall “analysts” will always have new material to support their private views. Uh, he’s mental that one. Obviaas! Paragraph 13. [laughing]

Keep in mind, however, that the above-mentioned “emotional partaking” is contrasted with what the organisation (the “Governing Body”) refers to as the unmistakable witness of the spirit.[28]

Unfortunately, however, there exists no litmus test for this “unmistakable witness.” Such being the case, a thinking person may wonder how it is exactly that the sitting Governing Body selects new members – the fundamental pre-requisite of which is “anointed.” With what certainty exactly? I mean, is it unthinkable that they might erroneously select said mental or emotional partakers and cloak such ones with the now “venerable” title of Faithful and Discreet Slave? I mean, when you hear some of the preposterous statements that come from some of the members of the Governing Body, one can be forgiven for wondering.

In any event, if this whole “anointed” thing does exist, that is, in the way that Jehovah’s Witnesses have fashioned it, then I doubt that Rutherford cut muster (certainly not by the time he kicked the bucket); because if did, then, man, this Jehovah’s got a great sense of humour.

Mark Sanderson: The Fresh Partaker

The Memorial: The Partaker

Mark Sanderson. The youngest “anointed” member of the Governing Body (“Faithful and Discreet Slave”).

Mark Douglas Sanderson is the latest and youngest member of the Governing Body, appointed September 1, 2012. His is an interesting story. He was born February 4, 1965. Then, five days after his 10th birthday, February 9, 1975, he was baptised.

Mark Sanderson

Mark Sanderson‘s appointment to the Governing Body announced in The Watchtower (July 15, 2013, page 26).

Did you notice? 1975!

Yes. That75. That one!

Now, if put to task, Witnesses may plead otherwise, but, in practice, the default position is that, as God’s sole channel of communication, anything that comes from the Governing Body (the “Faithful and Discreet Slave”) is practically from God – hence this constants reference of being “in the truth.”

That said, I would not be surprised if Sanderson’s baptism in 1975 was borne of the overwhelming climate of that time; young though he was, the atmosphere among the Witnesses at that time was that 1975 was a significant year, most likely the end of the world – Armageddon. So, it would not be far-fetched to say that the events of 1975 influenced the timing of Sanderson’s baptism; it certainly isn’t unthinkable.

Keep in mind, too, that, post-’75, there nevertheless remained this deep conviction that the end would come any day now. After all, the overarching belief at the time was that the generation that saw, or was born, in 1914 would not completely die off before the “great tribulation” and Armageddon came.[29]

Now, unfortunately, it’s not known when exactly lil’ Sanderson started partaking, but, for argument’s sake, let’s be generous and assume that it happened at the ripe age of 25 – so in 1990.[30] By the logic of that time, then, Sanderson was either a replacement or he was the proverbial emotional partaker.

If experience is anything to go by, I suspect that the vast majority of Witnesses who were privy to his initial partaking would have thought him the latter, especially living so deep in what was then believed to be the very last of the Last Days, and, not to mention, Sanderson’s living in the midst of stalwarts the likes of Frederick Franz, Lloyd Barry, Daniel Sydlik, Albert Schroeder, John Barr – some of whom crossed paths with Charles Taze Russell himself. Why, by comparison, Sanderson was just a laatie (“a little boy”); there were undoubtedly scores of older Witnesses who had performed far greater works of sacred service over a longer span of time than lil’ Sanderson but never professed being anointed. Most assuredly, there were those who thought the boy was loco to think himself anointed. Not that people’s private views are relevant, but it does demonstrate a re-occurring theme.

Now, fast-forward to September 2012, Sanderson is now a Governing Body member. Back in 1969, when Sanderson was only four, the organisation told young Witnesses who were of university age, not to pursue higher education. Why? It said:

“You […] need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this system of things […] because all of the evidence in fulfillment of bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years. […] Therefore, as a young person, you will never fulfill any career that this system has to offer.”[31] [Italics mine]

But, of course, ’75 came, ’94 came, 2000 came, 2014 came. The “emotional” – and, perhaps, once laughable – partakers of yesteryears are now starting to look credible; some of them are even Governing Body members. How things done turned. It certainly stands to follow that the “mental” partakers of today will perhaps be the Governing Body of tomorrow. And the only thing that has secured this continuity is the constant scriptural overhaul – of epic proportion, mind you – that is borne of “New Light.”

New Light

It seems to me that New light has nothing to do with actual truth, it’s all about the Governing Body; it’s a mechanism for ensuring their survival, a mechanism for securing their future. As it is, only they are the Faithful and Discreet Slave, [32] and so anything they say is cloaked in divinity.

That which is hailed as the truth today will be wiped out by the Governing Body of tomorrow. Rutherford wiped out Russell. Franz wiped out Rutherford. The Governing Body of the late 20th century wiped out Franz. The Governing Body of today disenfranchised Russell and also the bulk of every cherished belief before that. It’s a pattern. But, whatever the current belief happens to be, that is “the truth” that Jehovah’s Witnesses will preach. And if any active member challenges “the truth,” they will incur severe sanction; friends, family, siblings, mothers, parents, husbands, wives, children, these are all collateral damage as far as the Governing Body is concerned in their tireless effort at maintaining the status quo.

Year Book: Annual Partakers

The latest report for 2015, as reflected in the Yearbook (2016), states that the annual number of partakers was 15 177. This figure keeps increasing annually – unfortunately – when, in fact, it is supposed to be on the decline if organisation understanding is anything to go by. The organisation (the “Governing Body”) has subsequently had to address this dilemma by explaining what “partakers,” as referenced to in the annual yearbooks, actually means:

The Memorial Partakers

The Watchtower (August 15, 2011) discussing how annual Memorial figures are to be understood.

As recently as 2016, they’ve had to repeat their sentiments about the increasing numbers:

“In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of those partaking at the Memorial. […] Those taking the count at the Memorial cannot judge who truly have the heavenly hope. The partakers include those who mistakenly think that they are anointed. Some […] may have mental or emotional problems. […] Therefore, the number of partakers does not accurately indicate the number of anointed ones left on earth.”[33] [Italics mine]


So, we’ve managed to trace the history of the proverbial partakers, from as far back as the 19th century; from Russell, to Rutherford, to Franz, to the current Governing Body. We’ve seen how doctrinal shifts have impacted on the partakers; from the new covenant, to spiritual Israel, to the Great Crowd, to the “other sheep,” to the Jonadabs. From the cut-off date for the heavenly calling being in 1881, to 1931, to 1935, to somewhere in between, to undisclosed. From “replacement anointees” to “brand-new anointees.” From bona fide partakers to mental, or emotional, partakers. From the end of this system being in 1914, to ’75, to the 20th century, to any day now.  From the Faithful and Discreet Slave being all of the anointed, to it being only the Governing Body. The common denominator in all of these has remained the same: the partakers.

The organisation (the “Governing Body”) has invested so much into the “Faithful and Discreet Slave” doctrine, by streamlining all of the relevant scriptures to it. This doctrine is the source of their authority, and, naturally, they have to give attention to the partakers who might otherwise destroy this masterpiece of theirs. In any event, suffice is to say that the concern the Governing Body displays over the increasing number of partakers has more to it than simply “madness” or hubris on the part of the partakers.


[1] “Question From Readers: How are We to Understand the Figures in the Annual Report?” The Watchtower August 15, 2011, page 22.

[2] The Watchtower January 15, 2000 page 13.

[3] “Identifying the Present-Day Beneficiaries” The Watchtower February 15, 1966 pages 116-123 para. 2. (This is part of the reason, I suppose, why Charles Taze Russell, et al, thought that the end of this world was due in 1914. It would certainly have been more plausible then to confine the number to 144 000. But, alas, time went on and the membership figures increased, making the original argument untenable).

[4] Ibid note 3 para. 9.

[5] Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (1993) page 166.

[6] Ibid note 3 para. 8.

[7] Ibid note 3 para. 16.

[8] Ibid note 3 para. 19.

[9] Ibid note 3 para. 23.

[10] The Watch Tower January 1881; “How Long, O Lord” The Watch Tower January 1881.

[11] The Watchtower November 15, 1933; “Our Treasure in Earthen Vessels” The Watchtower February 1, 1999 box on page 19; and “Question From Readers: When Does the Calling of Christians to a Heavenly Hope Cease?” The Watchtower May 1, 2007 pages 30, 31.

[12]  Ibid The Watchtower February 1, 1999.

[13] “Question From Readers” The Watchtower June 15, 1970 pages 383.

[14] Ibid note 6 The Watchtower May 1, 2007.

[15] “We Want to Go With You” The Watchtower January 2016 page 26, paras. 15-16.

[16] “Should you Partake of the Lord’s Evening Meal” The Watchtower March 15, 1961 pages 167-168.

[17] The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life (1968) page 78, para 8.

[18] “The Faithful Steward and its Governing Body” The Watchtower May 15, 2009 pages 22-23, paras. 12-13.

[19] Heath’s father, Dr. Heath, Sr., was one of the original Coca-Cola formula inventors, particularly in the carbonic-water field. See

[20] “Coke Heir as Jehovah’s Witness ‘Assured of Heaven’ “The Evangelical Beacon August 21, 1973, page 2. (PDF)

[21] Guy Pierce was a member of the Governing Body, from October 2, 1999 up until his death in March 18, 2014. He was appointed the same time with David Splane, Samuel Herd and Stephen Lett.

[22] The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life (1968) page 79, para. 12.

[23] Questions From Reader The Watchtower June 15, 1970 pages 383-384.

[24] Ibid page 383.

[25] Questions From Readers The Watchtower August 15, 1996 page 31.

[26] “Glorious Freedom Soon for the Children of God” The Watchtower February 15, 1998 page 22, para. 17.

[27] Ibid note 10 page 25 para. 13.

[28] “Our Treasure in Earthen Vessels” The Watchtower February 1, 1999 page 19, para. 21.

[29] “ ‘The End of the World’ is at Hand!” You Can Live in Paradise Forever (1982) page 154, paras. 7-8.

[30] It is understood that Sanderson started partaking in his 20s, so, at the very least, at the infancy of 1995. Also, a certain Robert King claims to have spent time with Sanderson back in 1985 and that a few years later he heard the “buzz in the congregation grapevine that [Sanderson] had started ‘partaking.’” Thus, if King’s story has currency, we can assume that Sanderson‘s maiden voyage as a partaker took place somewhere between ’85 and ’95. Last accessed at on April 9, 2016.

[31] “What Future For the Young” Awake! May 22, 1969 page 15. (PDF)

[32] “Who Really is the Faithful and Discreet Slave?” The Watchtower July 15, 2013 page 22, para. 10.

[33] Ibid note 14 pages 25-26, paras. 12-13.