by Craig Branch – The introduction to Areopagus Journal Vol. 5 No. 4, July-August 2005.
You know them as Jehovah’s Witnesses. The official name of their organization is the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, abbreviated Watchtower Society (hereafter WTS). Most Christians only know them as occasional nuisances who come knocking on their doors, usually on Saturdays. Occasionally, one can see their literature on tables in hospital waiting rooms or other public places.
In this issue of Areopagus Journal, we will introduce you to this cult. W e will ask the question, “Are these people really witnesses for Jehovah?” The answer, as you will see, is no.
A GROWING DANGER
The WTS is one of the largest pseudo-Christian cult s in the world. As of the beginning of 2005, the WTS has 96,894 congregations and an active presence in 232 countries. They have 6,513,132 active members (called publishers because they go out distributing their materials to the public). They had 16,760,607 attend their annual “Memorial Meal” (which reflects the number of people with some involvement or attachment to the WTS).
The number of WTS “publishers” has grown to its present amount from 4,709,889 in 1993, quite a dramatic surge. Of some comfort is the fact that the number of new baptisms has declined from 314,818 worldwide in 1994, to 262,416 in 2004, having reached its peak in 1997 at 450,000. In the United States, however, just over 1 million Jehovah’s Witnesses went door-to-door and baptized 30,576 new convert s in 2004. Altogether Jehovah’s Witnesses logged in more than 1 billion, 282 million hours in “witnessing.”
The WTS is the single largest publisher and purveyor of religious literature in the world. They publish in 410 languages. Their two primary publications, Watchtower and Awake magazines, number 26.4 and 22.8 million copies respectively. Since 1995, they have printed over 100 million copies of their introductory textbook used in home study programs, Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life.1
These numbers represent an overall pattern of growth, due in part to the Christian Church’s failure to educate and equip their congregations in sound doctrine and practice, as well as our neglect in focusing on cults as a mission field.
Barriers to Engaging JWs
So what are the barriers that hinder the body of Christ from effectively engaging Jehovah’s Witnesses? There are several. Our schedules are too full-we think we do not have time. Or we do not know how. We do not share our faith in general, so surely we won’t attempt the specialized approach needed for reaching cultists. Or we do not know doctrine well enough to correct their errors and defend our own. These are common excuses, but the real reasons are that we do not care enough about them and we lack firm commitment to our Lord.
One unnecessary hindrance we’ve found is a faulty understanding of 2 John 7-1 1. At first glance, the passage appears to instruct Christians to refuse to engage false teachers who come to their houses, or even to greet them. Sometimes well-meaning pastors, who realize that most of their church members are too immature to risk getting confused or deceived, find it easier to interpret this passage this way in order to protect their flocks. There is a valid point here since the general warning is given in verse 8: “Watch yourselves that you might not lose what we have accomplished.” That is why Christians need to have close accountable relationships within the local church so they can be supported, encouraged, corrected, and edified if need be.
But when one applies basic rules of biblical interpretation, the position of total avoidance cannot be maintained. Our call to preach the gospel is not restricted to non-cult members. John 3:16 does not say, For God so loved the world-except for those in cults-that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him except for cult members-shall not perish but have everlasting life. The Great Commission does not say “As you are going, make disciples of all the nations-well, except for those in cults” (Matt. 28:19).
Looking at the context and interpreting Scripture with Scripture, we can understand that the warning in 2 John 7-11 is about disallowing false teachers from preaching in local congregations (not in individual homes) (cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:5), and about not providing hospitality (i.e., room and board) to false teachers (cf. Luke. 9:3-5). The command to not even greet them had to do with refusing to acknowledge that the false teachers were Christian brothers (cf. 1 Cor. 16:20; Rom.16:1-16). But there is nothing in this passage that tells us not to engage cultists evangelistically and apologetically.
Surely we are to engage these people in dialogue with love. In fact, the instructions are clear in 2 Timothy 2:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 9:16-24. God teaches us that we have all been given a responsibility to share the gospel with a wide range of adherents to different belief systems and cultures. God tells us to intentionally learn how to communicate with people from different theological and cultural perspectives (e.g., to Jews, to Gentiles, to those who are weak). We are to “become all things to all people so we may by all means save some,” doing “all things for the sake of the gospel.”
In our modern context we could apply this text thus: “To the Mormon, I became as a Mormon to win them; to the Jehovah’s Witness I became as a Jehovah’s Witness” to win them. In other words, it is necessary for us to: (1) prioritize our time to become a servant to the lost (1 Cor. 9:19), (2) invest the time to learn about their belief systems and mindsets so as to correct and teach them, and (3) communicate love and care to them, engaging in argumentation without being argumentative.
Though God instructs us to enter into dialogue with those deceived by false religious views, we are also to avoid ignorant speculations or controversies (i.e., stick to the important matters of faith and appeal to the authority of Scripture) (v. 23). We are commanded not to quarrel, but instead to rest in the power of the Holy Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit (vv. 24-25). We are told that the dialogue should consist of being able (1) to teach the truth and (2) to correct false views-again resting, trusting in the Holy Spirit to open their eyes and bring them to faith (vs. 24-25; cf. 1 Pet.3:15). When we grasp the truth of v. 26-that the unbeliever is deceived and held captive by Satan-it ought to help us have deep compassion for him/her and exercise faith that God will enable him/her to repent.
IN THIS ISSUE
This issue of Areopagus Journal will significantly accelerate your learning curve on effective witnessing. But, keep in mind that it is still a process. Like all of us, you will make mistakes, but that is normal for any aspect of Christian growth. Do not think that you have to have all the answers before you begin to engage the JW or you will never start. Just be faithful to share and learn. Some sow, some water, some reap, as Jesus reminds us, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together (John 4:36).
Our first article, “Who Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses?”, by Clete Hux and myself, lays out the history and distinctive doctrines of the WTS, showing how they deviate from Christian orthodoxy. This article is followed by three in- depth apologetic responses to the key areas that are most important in seeing Jehovah’s Witnesses converted to the true Jesus through the true gospel.
Next is an article by Apologetics Resource Center’s Keith Gibson, “What Must a Jehovah’s Witness Do to Be Saved? An Evaluation of the Watchtower Doctrine of Salvation.” He points out the mission impossible system of works-salvation espoused by the WTS and contrast s it with the biblical gospel of grace.
The next article is by ARC’s Clete Hux, “The End that Wasn’t: The False Prophecies of the Watchtower.” Clete demonstrates how the WTS has set themselves up as a biblical prophet, but has failed not only the Bibles test for a prophet but (ironically) their own as well.
Dr. Ron Rhodes contributes our last article, “Defending the Deity of Christ and the Trinity against Jehovah’s Witnesses.” He presents the JW objections to these crucial doctrines of the faith and provides a biblical response.
In the brief space that we have here, we cannot address every question the reader might have about JW’s. For more information and analysis, we encourage you to look up the resources mentioned in the endnotes of each article and to ask us to send you a free information packet on specific topics.
OPENING THE CLOSED MIND
For those of you who have honestly tried to engage a JW in apologetic dialogue, you have probably encountered some frustrating roadblocks. In the remaining space, I will share some insights on overcoming the schemes of the evil one to prevent the Jehovah’s Witness from honestly testing or examining our responses to his beliefs.
When you invite a JW into your home, you should first ask him about his family, and then probe into how long he has been with the WTS, how he got into it initially, and what were some of the most import ant factors for affecting his decision.
Be sure to tell him that you love God and His Word, and that you believe it is import ant to share your faith. Tell him also that you have studied a little in comparative religions (don’t say “cults”) and have come to learn that the WTS teaches a number of doctrines that are incompatible with what you have learned from the Bible (e.g., the WTS’s teachings on God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the message of the gospel, and who has the authority and understanding to correctly interpret the Bible is radically different from biblical teaching). Point out that both of you cannot be right, and that one of you will spend eternity separated from God and not dwell in the new heavens and new earth. They ought to have no trouble agreeing with this.
The Jehovah’s Witness is conditioned by fear not to question the WTS’s Governing Body and their publications. They are paranoid about being exposed to what they call apostate literature (written by an ex-Jehovah’s Witness). Since this is such a vital subject, explain that you are willing to spend the time necessary to determine which view is true. Say that you care about him and hope that he cares enough about your eternal life to agree to such an examination. Then be sure to tell him that you went to a seminar on comparative religions (or read a journal on Jehovah’s Witnesses-then you can open and quote directly from our Journal), and was excited to learn that the WTS has given permission for its members to freely investigate both sides of an issue. For example, one of their authoritative books says,
We need to examine not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. Are its teachings in full harmony with Gods Word, or are they based on the traditions of men? If we are lovers of the truth, there is nothing to fear from such an examination.2
Elsewhere, the WTS writes,
Every man should be persuaded in his own mind, and no man should permit himself from being deterred from examining a question based upon the Bible because a clergyman or anyone else makes the unsupported assertion that it is dangerous or unworthy of consideration. Error always seeks the dark while truth is enhanced in the light. Error never desires to be investigated. Light always courts a thorough and complete examination.3
Moreover, the Watchtower states, “It is not a form of religious persecution for anyone to say and to show that another religion is false. It is not religious persecution for an informed person to expose publicly a certain religion as being false, thus allowing persons to see the difference between false and true religion.”4 And finally in one of the WTS’s major instructional books, we find a section on argumentation which explicitly instructs the member what to do if encountering even someone
“opposed to the Kingdom message [who] is on hand to prevent good-will persons from hearing. In either case we want to apply the principles of good argumentation. . . .First, get a plain, clear statement of proposition. . . .Second, get definitions and terms clear, be sure each understands just what the other means. . . .Third is analysis. . .the burden of proof should be on the one who makes the assertion that a thing is true.”5
Tell the JW how much you agree with these statements because they coincide with the Bible’s teaching that we should not reject prophetic statements but instead “examine everything carefully and hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:19-20), and with the noble attitude of the Bereans who sat the apostle Paul down and tested what he said by the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). You might even say that you would be suspicious of any group that did not honor these criteria since they would seem to have something to hide, and perhaps were attempting to stop the evaluation processes of their members (i.e. brainwashing).
It is also important to stay on one of the three essential subjects: the Trinity/Deity of Christ, the gospel of grace, and the authority/prophethood and the WTS. If the JW attempts to change the subject, merely say that the crucial, essential issues for you in determining the truth about the WTS are those three.
Craig Branch is the Director of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama.
1 These statistics are documented at www.jw-media.org and www.watchtower.org/statistics/worldwide_report_statistics.htm.
2 The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society [hereafter WTS], 1981), 13.
3 Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Brooklyn, NY: WTS, 1920), 13.
4 The Watchtower (November 15, 1963): 688.
5 Qualified to Be Ministers (Brooklyn, NY: WTS, 1967), 197-198.