Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses are established by the Governing Body, which assumes responsibility for interpreting and applying scripture. Prior to the reorganization of the Governing Body in 1976, matters of doctrine were decided by the President of the Watch Tower Society. The Governing Body is described as the representative of and "spokesman" for God's "faithful and discreet slave class" (the approximately 10,800 remaining "anointed" Jehovah's Witnesses), which Witnesses believe is used by Christ as a channel for God's progressive revelations and to direct Christians on biblical matters. In practice the Governing Body seeks neither advice nor approval from any "anointed" Witnesses other than high-ranking members at Brooklyn Bethel when making decisions or when producing material for publications and conventions.
Watch Tower publications claim that doctrinal changes and refinements result from a process of progressive revelation, in which God gradually reveals his will and purpose. Watch Tower literature has suggested such enlightenment results from the application of reason and study, the guidance of holy spirit, and direction from Jesus Christ and angels. However the Governing Body makes no claim of infallibility or divine inspiration. All Witnesses are expected to abide by the doctrines and organizational requirements as determined by the Governing Body. Watch Tower publications strongly discourage Witnesses from formulating doctrines reached through independent Bible research. Members who promote privately-developed teachings contrary to those of the Governing Body may be expelled.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God uses an organization both in heaven and on earth, and that Jehovah's Witnesses, under the direction of their Governing Body, are the only visible channel by which God communicates with humanity. The organization is said to be theocratic, "ruled from the divine Top down, and not from the rank and file up". Witnesses teach that people must choose between God’s organization and Satan’s.Watch Tower publications teach that the Bible is an "organizational book" that does not belong to individuals and that the Bible cannot be properly understood without guidance by "Jehovah's visible organization".
Witnesses undergoing baptism are required to publicly confirm that they are associating themselves "with God's spirit-directed organization",thereby submitting themselves to its direction and judicial system. Watch Tower publications urge Witnesses to demonstrate loyalty to the organization without dissent, even at the cost of family ties. Loyalty to the organization is said to require a full involvement in public preaching and regular meeting attendance.
When a Governing Body committee investigating high-level members at the religion's Brooklyn headquarters in a 1980 purge of dissidents issued a summary of "wrong teachings" being promoted as "new understandings", its first item of concern was the suggestion that God did not have an organization on Earth. Former Governing Body member Raymond Franz, who was expelled as part of the purge, has subsequently criticized the Watch Tower concept of organization, which posits that God does not deal with individuals apart from an organization. Franz claims the concept has no scriptural support and serves only to reinforce the religion's authority structure, with its strong emphasis on human authority. He has claimed The Watchtower has repeatedly blurred discussions of both Jesus Christ's loyalty to God and the apostles' loyalty to Christ to promote the view that Witnesses should be loyal to the Watch Tower organization. Sociologist Andrew Holden has observed that Witnesses see no distinction between loyalty to Jehovah and to the movement itself and other researchers have claimed that challenging the views of those higher up the hierarchical ladder is regarded as tantamount to challenging God himself.
Meetings for worship and study are held at Kingdom Halls. Witnesses are assigned to a congregation in whose "territory" they reside and are expected to attend weekly meetings as scheduled by congregation elders. The meetings are largely devoted to study of the Bible and Witness doctrines; traditions of mysticism, glossalalia, creed recitation or periods of silent meditation common in other Christian denominations are absent. During meetings and in other formal circumstances, Witnesses refer to one another as "Brother" and "Sister".Sociologist Andrew Holden claims meetings create an atmosphere of uniformity for Witnesses, intensify their sense of belonging to a religious community and reinforce the plausibility of the organization's belief system. He says they are also important in helping new converts adopt a different way of life.
The form and content of the meetings is established by the religion's Brooklyn headquarters, with the content of meetings in any week largely identical around the world. The week's two meetings are divided into a total of five distinct sections, lasting a total of about four hours, with meetings opened and closed with hymns and brief prayers delivered from the platform. Witnesses are urged to prepare for all meetings by studying Watch Tower literature from which the content matter is drawn. The Kingdom Halls are typically functional in character, and do not contain religious symbols. Each year, Witnesses from a number of congregations that form a "circuit" gather for one-day and two-day assemblies; several circuits meet once a year for a three-day "district convention", usually at rented stadiums or auditoriums. Their most important and solemn event is the celebration of the "Lord's Evening Meal", or "Memorial of Christ's Death".