The New England Institute of Religious Research A Closer Look at Jehovah's Witnesses
By Eric Francke
In Brooklyn, NY, there is a complex of building stretching several blocks known to many as "Bethel". It is the headquarters to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (aka the Watchtower). It is the base of operations for the organization we know as the "Jehovah's Witnesses."
The Watchtower is an incredibly prolific publishing house. It churns out more than a million pieces of literature a day, for it's six million adherents and their missionary work. The Watchtower claims that it annually adds 200,000 members to its ranks worldwide, most of those new members being won through their extensive door-to-door witnessing. Over the course of the year, it is estimated that Jehovah's Witnesses spend over a billion hours knocking on doors.
Although they are a relatively recent organization (Click here for a Chronology ), their most distinctive theological trait, namely their beliefs about Christ, are closely akin to the 4th century teaching known as Arianism, which is considered a heresy. They further assert that Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel and that the Holy Spirit is not a "person" in the proper sense. In answer to this charge of heresy, the Watchtower published "Should you Believe in the Trinity" as an attempt to demonstrate that the doctrine of the Trinity is an adaptation from paganism, and that the early church fathers did not believe in the Deity of Christ. Click here for a detailed analysis of this topic.
One particularly sore spot in the history of the Jehovah's Witnesses has been the preponderance of "date-setting" for the Second Advent of Christ, or other end-time events, and the subsequent reversals of those "revelations". Two such documented examples would be the founder Charles Taze Russell's "Great Pyramid" scenario and his successor, Judge Rutherford's "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" publication. There are scores of other such examples with dates being set up until 1975. One method that the Watchtower has dealt with this problem is by constantly rewriting the literature in question, so as to edit out the evidence that it ever set the dates to begin with. In many cases, they have had to do this with doctrinal issues too, such as the reversal the Watchtower has done three times on whether the unrighteous of Sodom will be resurrected. In the near future, we may be witness to a public reversal of the Watchtower's stand against blood transfusions. It has been noticed that they recently approved a product for transfusions called "Hemopure" which is derived from cow's blood. Even more significant was a statement by Olle Hjarpe, the Watchtower spokesman in Sweden, who said that ''To receive blood is a question of personal conscience. Earlier members were disfellowshipped if they accepted a blood transfusion. This is not the case now.'' If the policy on transfusions is reversed, one can expect that much of their literature will be revised to insinuate that they never absolutely "forbade" transfusions. Although that would be a welcome change, it is little consolation to the families who have needlessly lost loved ones because they were told they would be forfeiting their eternal life if they were complicit in allowing a transfusion to take place.
In 1950, the Watchtower published their own translation of the New Testament, and in 1961, finished the last section of the Old Testament and published all the works together as the New World Translation. This translation has been scrutinized by many, cited as having arbitrarily inserted the name Jehovah in the New Testament, as well as many irregularities in the translation, particularly suited to uphold the major points of Watchtower doctrine.
From a sociological point of view, Jehovah's Witnesses are considered a high-control group. Members are forbidden to read "apostate" literature, and to question the organization's teachings is a serious error (sometimes referred to as "independent thinking") that could warrant disfellowshipping from their local Kingdom Hall. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that their organization is the only "Theocratic" (governed by God) group on the earth. They view Christendom (i.e.. other churches) as participants in the "whore of Babylon" which is slated to be destroyed by God at Har-maggedon.
Witnessing to the Witnesses
As with dealing with any individual or group, there is no magic formula approach. Preparation by prayer and study go without saying. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are presented with the opportunity of a couple from Kingdom Hall at your door.
a) Welcome them into your house. They are completely accustomed to having the door slammed in their faces. As a matter of fact, if the occupants of the house treats them disrespectfully, that only further confirms their presupposition that those "outside" of Jehovah's organization are loveless and cruel. Treat them with the same respect that you would hope to get if it were you sharing your faith door-to-door. (Note: the prohibition in 2 John 7-11 about not "receiving into your home" one who does not bring the doctrine of Christ is not applicable here; in context, that was a warning about not supporting Gnostic teachers that had infiltrated the church.)
b) Don't Fire the First Volley: Many Christians make the mistake of dictating to Jehovah's Witnesses what they think Jehovah's Witnesses believe, and then making the attempt to refute those beliefs. The problem is that there is the distinct possibility that we might be misunderstanding any particular belief, and thus only demolishing a strawman. They will tell you what they believe soon enough. Even if one accurately enunciates Watchtower belief, then refutes it, they are most likelier to have created an atmosphere of defensiveness and antagonism. It is quite possible to win the battle, but lose the war.
c) Don't get caught playing "proof-text ping-pong": Jehovah's Witnesses spend dozens of hours every month studying and role playing to be prepared to give a quick response to what you may have thought was a bullet proof argument from the Bible. Rather, we need to be asking leading questions, approaching the pertinent texts as fellow "seekers of truth". By asking questions, not only does it help you keep control of the conversation, but it also gives the chance for the Witness to think through his answer in a non-confrontational manner.
The most effective approach begins with probing questions about the organization, rather than debate over doctrine. The New England Institute of Religious Research has been training individuals for years in effective approaches with Jehovah's Witnesses. If you are interesting in training material, or would like first hand resources that will help, please e-mail us or call us at 508-947-9571.
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