Showing posts with label witnessing to the witnesses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label witnessing to the witnesses. Show all posts

Thursday, May 17, 2012

W2W: History Lessons

***This post is part of my Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses series, abbreviated W2W.***

In my last post in this series, I addressed the importance of loving our Jehovah's Witness neighbors, all of whom are made in God's image and are of infinite worth to Him.  Today's post will give some historical background on the Watchtower Society and the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Early Years: Adventist Influences and C.T. Russell

The group now known as Jehovah's Witnesses was begun in the late 1870's under the direction of Charles Taze Russell.  Russell was interested in the Adventist teachings initiated by William Miller several decades before.  Miller and the those in the Adventist movement concentrated on prophesying the Second Coming of Christ (ergo, adventist), which they did based on Biblical passages from the Book of Daniel. 

Russell published a book in 1877 with Adventist preacher Nelson H. Barbour called Three Worlds and the Harvest of this World.  In it, they articulated their shared beliefs, including the invisible return of Christ to earth from Heaven in 1874, the expectation that God would be "harvesting" all the saints to Heaven by 1878, and the idea that all humans would be resurrected to earth for the opportunity to live an everlasting perfect life.  In 1879, Russell and Barbour split over doctrinal issues, and Russell began publishing the Zion's Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence monthly magazine on his own.  Russell began his meetings of the then-called Bible Student movement during the same year.  In 1881, Russell formed the Watchtower Society under the name Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society for the purpose of distributing his religious literature. 

Over the next several decades, Russell continued to preside at meetings of the Bible Students and disseminate his Watchtower publications. He also oversaw the activities of thousands of traveling preachers.  His doctrinal development reached its completion in 1904, when he published The New Creation.  In it, he asserted that Revelation 7 delineated between two classes of eternal life for Christians -- 144,000 who would reign with Christ, and another "great company" who would be perfected on a lesser plane.  He refined his teaching that Christ had returned to earth in 1874 and had begun ruling in 1878.  He gave the year 1914 as the date for Armageddon, after which all of humanity would be resurrected in reverse order (i.e. Adam and Eve would be last) for the chance to prove themselves during the Millenial Age, which he said had begun in 1874.  At the end of a thousand years of proving his or her worthiness, each person would enter his or her ultimate destiny of eternal life or death.  Russell died in October 1916.  For years after his death, the Watchtower Society referred to him as the "faithful and wise servant" described in Matthew 24:45-47.

Rutherford's Leadership

The following year, the Watchtower Society elected its legal counsel, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, to succeed Russell as president.  Rutherford made substantial doctrinal and organizational changes during his presidency, which lasted until 1942.  He announced in 1920 that Christ's reign would begin in 1925, ushering in a time of earthly paradise.  In 1925, Armageddon was redefined as a battle between God and Satan, which would culminate in the overthrow of earthly governments and heathen religion.  During the next few years, the Society discarded remaining copies of Russell's books and stopped printing them; Watchtower publications ceased referring to him as the "faithful and wise servant."   Rutherford announced in 1929 that the vindication of God's name (when millions of unbelievers were annihilated at Armageddon) was the primary doctrine of Christianity.  In 1931, Rutherford officially changed the name of the group from the Bible Students to the Jehovah's Witnesses.  In 1938, Rutherford began using the term theocracy to describe the Watchtower Society's administration, despite Russell's earlier insistence that the society itself was not a religious organization, but a literature-distributing legal entity.

Watchtower teachings on the timing of Christ's return also changed; by 1933, the date had been moved from 1874 to 1914.  In 1935, it was announced that the "great company" of believers not included in the 144,000 would actually be survivors of Armageddon, who would be put to the test for a thousand years to qualify for everlasting life in a paradise earth.  By 1939, it was announced that those spared would only be in God's "organization" (the Watchtower organization, of course).

Some of the more well-known peculiarities of Jehovah's Witness adherents were established during this time: they stopped celebrating Christmas in 1928 on the grounds that it was a "pagan" holiday; in 1935, Witnesses were instructed not to salute the flag, sing the national anthem, or accept alternate military service offered to conscientious objectors; in 1936, Watchtower publications stopped referring to the cross or the crucifixion, asserting that Christ had actually died on a torture stake.

Knorr's Leadership and the 1975 Anticipation

Rutherford was succeeded as president by Nathan Homer Knorr in 1942.  Under Knorr's leadership, the Society progressed toward corporate leadership, and ended the practice of acknowledging individual authorship of any Watchtower publication, instead attributing them to an anonymous writing committee.  Knorr expanded the central operations (headquartered in Brooklyn, NY since 1908), expanded printing production worldwide, organized international assemblies and initiated significant training programs.  He also commissioned a new translation of the Bible, released in sections beginning in 1950 (and as a complete work in 1961 as the New World Translation).

Witnesses were prohibited from obtaining blood transfusions in 1945, and starting in 1951, birthday celebrations were considered "objectionable."  Emphasis on disfellowshipping as a disciplinary measure was also increased under Knorr's leadership.

Beginning in 1966, Watchtower publications indicated that Christ's thousand-year reign would begin in 1975.  The Witnesses were highly anticipatory of that year, and although the Society never explicitly stated that Armageddon would absolutely occur during 1975, the implication was obvious in Watchtower literature.  The number of JW baptisms skyrocketed in anticipation of this event, from 59,000 in 1966 to 297,000 in 1974.  When 1975 came and went and Armageddon didn't come, disappointed Witnesses were told that their hopes had been based on "false premises."

Governing Body Leadership

In 1976, the organizational structure of the Watchtower Society changed; beginning then, the Governing Body has retained authority over the doctrines, publication materials, and administration of Jehovah's Witness congregations.  Subsequent presidents of the Watchtower Society have had considerably less influence and authority than did Russell, Rutherford, and Knorr.  In 1980, the Watchtower Society admitted some responsibility for the frenzied anticipation of the end times in 1975.  During the same year, a major housecleaning occurred within the upper-ranks of the organization, when it was discovered that some of the core members of the hierarchy disputed some of the chronology doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses (such as Christ's invisible return in 1914).  Many of the Governing Body members were expelled and labeled as "spiritual fornicators," "mentally diseased," and "insane."  This only hardened the attitude of the Society toward disfellowshipped members who dissented with JW teachings.

Jehovah's Witnesses
History of Jehovah's Witnesses
Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses 
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

W2W: First Things

***This post is part of my Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses series, abbreviated W2W.***

A couple weeks ago, I invited Peggy, the Jehovah's Witness who distributes literature around my neighborhood, to come to my house so we could talk about the Trinity.  Toward the end of our talk, I asked her how she liked going door-to-door (I believe the JW word for her role is "pioneer").  She told me that she enjoyed it, because she cared about the work and she loved meeting and talking with people.  She said that most people are nice to her, even if they don't engage in conversation for long.  And she said that "when people are rude, I know I shouldn't take it personally; they're not rejecting me, they're rejecting God's message."

I affirmed that she should indeed not take rudeness personally.  (I did not agree that rude folks were rejecting God's message, since I do not believe that the Watchtower Organization's beliefs or publications contain it.)  But I reflected on her answer after she left, and I considered what it would be like to be in her shoes.  Was I rude to her the first time she visited, when I was tired and frustrated?  I don't think I was outwardly unkind or hostile, although I was certainly irritated on the inside.  Was I irritated with the content of the publications she was giving me?  Or was my frustration focused on the woman handing them to me?  Reflecting on this inspired me to think of a few guidelines for evangelizing to JW's.

1. Always treat Jehovah's Witnesses with dignity and respect.  I think it's crucial whenever we're evangelizing to anybody -- which is all the time, since actions speak louder than words -- that we remember to focus on the people themselves.  Focusing solely on their beliefs or practices (some of which may be trying of our patience) will dehumanize them immediately in our minds. 

Fellow Christians, don't let us ever forget what we believe.  We believe that each human is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), a unique, unrepeatable soul.  Marc Barnes, take it from here:
As Christians we are called to see our brothers and sisters with the eyes of God, and thus with the eyes of Love. We are called to see their immense value, not for what they do — Heaven knows we can be a vindictive, spiteful bunch — but for who they are....[W]e should allow the wonder, the mystery and the beauty of life — that unrepeatable, ever-new gift — to fill us every time we are with our fellow man. This is his commandment, that we love one another, that we see each other in the light of day, that our joy may be full.    
God knew us before forming us in the womb (Jer 1:5); we are each of infinite worth to Him.  Jesus Christ, true God and true man, suffered a horrific death on a cross for the salvation of each and every human ever created (John 3:16, John 1:29, Matthew 26:28).  He died for me, he died for you, and he died for every person who has ever hurt you, disappointed you, been cruel to you, or inconvenienced you by showing up at your doorstep while you're trying to cook dinner.  That doesn't mean we can't disagree, but it certainly means we shouldn't be rude.

Remember that the JW's ringing your doorbell don't have it easy.  I'm sure that even the most extroverted among them aren't immune to feeling intimidated or hurt during the course of their door-to-door ministry.  Dig into the depths of your heart and be a balm of charity for them.

2. Stay close to God in prayer.  Pray for the JW's who visit you, and for everyone in their organization.  Pray that their eyes and ears and hearts will be opened to the Truth.  And don't forget to pray for yourself.  I always rush to the Holy Spirit when I'm trying to evangelize.  My favorite prayer for these occasions is the beginning of the "Come, Holy Spirit":
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of thy love.
3. Put on Christ (Romans 13:14).  Evangelizing is trying and difficult; we cannot do it (or anything else, for that matter) of our own volition. Spreading Love and Truth and Goodness and Beauty requires dying to self and allowing our hearts to be transformed by God Himself.  One of my favorite verses to meditate on is Galatians 2:20: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

4. Remember that they are giving us an opportunity to learn.  Strange as it may sound, delving into the teachings of the Watchtower Society, almost all of which are contrary to Christian teachings, has been nothing short of a Godsend.  My research has inspired me to learn more about authentic Christian doctrine; it has also led me to spend a lot more time reading the Bible.  It has been, and continues to be, a deeply enriching experience.  Learning about God is a thankfully unending process -- there's always more to know about the Eternal and Infinite. 

Observing the JW pioneers in my neighborhood has given me a lot of food for thought about evangelizing. Even though it may sound incredible to the many of us who have no interest in joining their fold and/or are irritated by their door-to-door campaigns, they win people over all the time, people who are searching for Truth.  The Watchtower Society offers them a counterfeit, but they accept it as the real thing.  How many times have we encountered someone who was searching, seeking, hungry and thirsty for supernatural life (John 6:35), and yet failed to lead them in the Light of Truth?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Introducing the W2W Series

In my last post, I wrote about my recent experiences discussing faith with a Jehovah's Witness woman who distributes literature in my neighborhood.  My research and discussions have inspired me to write a series of posts on giving a Christian witness to Jehovah's Witnesses.  I plan to use this post as an index page for all of the posts I write for this series.  I'll be abbreviating the series W2W for "Witnessing to the Witnesses."  The first post should be up in the next day or so.

1. First Things 
2. History Lessons 
3. What Do They Believe?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses

It was a Monday morning in the middle of July, and I was baking cookies.  I don't think I had a particular reason to bake them, except that I wanted to have cookies around.  And I was baking them in the morning because it was one of the hottest weeks of the year, and to have the oven on in the afternoon would be more uncomfortable than the cookies would be delicious.

I was still wearing my pajamas, and Elise was acting up, because she's a baby, and babies act up.  And the oven was going off and she was complaining and I was raising my voice and out of nowhere, the doorbell rang.  Oh, and those pajamas I mentioned 2 sentences ago?  Summer pajamas.  Okay for your family to see, not really okay for anybody else to see.

So I scurried to the other side of the house to dig out my robe; all the while, Elise continued to cry.  The doorbell rang again.  "I'm coming!" I shouted in frustration.  I hastily threw on my robe, observed my unkempt hair and tired face in the mirror, and opened the front door to see two smiling, nicely-dressed women, who wanted to share "God's message" with me.

Needless to say, our first encounter didn't last long.  I took their pamphlets, bid them well, shut the door, and paged through the material, observing all the heretical and nonsensical teachings therein.  It figures! I thought.  Tired, hot, undressed, frustrated, and who comes a-knockin'?  A couple Jehovah's Witnesses!

At that time, I knew very little about the JW's (I'll refer to them that way for brevity's sake), except that they weren't actually Christian (they deny Jesus is God), they don't celebrate birthdays or holidays, and they don't accept blood transfusions. 

They came back every month or so, or rather, one of the women did (Peggy); she always brought a different "sister" along.  After going through the motions of a minute or two of small talk and then chucking the pamphlets in the trash after they left a few times, I decided to start reading up on them, in the hopes that I might understand how better to reach them myself.  I reasoned that these are well-intentioned, earnest people who love God and want to do His will, yet they have fallen in with a cult that has brainwashed them into believing doctrines that are entirely pernicious and unChristian.  Why should they do all the talking?  I believe with my entire heart and soul that true Christianity teaches the divinity of Christ (and the Holy Spirit), the immortality of the soul, the bodily Resurrection, the hope of living eternal life in union with God Himself...I could go on and on.  I realized that these women would not have been on my doorstep if God had not willed it to be so.  The opportunity to share my faith was literally knocking on my door.

So I read.  I learned about the history of the Watchtower organization, their false prophecies, their twisted interpretations of Scripture and their controlling structure.  To my frustration, each time Peggy came by, there was one reason or another I couldn't talk with her -- one time, I was in the middle of cooking Elise's lunch; a couple months ago, I was spending a very rare afternoon shopping while Colin watched Elise.  The week before Easter, I came home from an outing to find an invitation to the annual "Commemoration of Jesus' Death" held at the local Kingdom Hall.  Blast, I thought, I've missed her again!

Then, last Tuesday, I was hanging out with Elise during the morning, piddling around doing this chore and that, wearing my jammies and robe.  A few minutes before ten, the doorbell rang.  I wasn't expecting any UPS packages or visitors.  So I prayed to the Holy Spirit and answered the door with a smile.  (I don't include that detail to sound holier-than-thou.  We all need the Holy Spirit to have any hope of evangelizing; I'm just thankful that my poor bum self actually remembered to ask for help this time.)  Of course, it was Peggy -- alone this time.

She handed me the typical monthly publications ("The Watchtower," which focuses on JW's teachings of faith, and the mostly-innocuous "Awake!", which contains articles on how to live your daily life).  She asked me if I had any questions.  So I asked if the JW's believe in the Resurrection.

Peggy told me they do, which is technically false, since they deny the bodily Resurrection.  But she warned me that Easter is a holiday with "pagan origins," pointing out the etymology of Easter is related to the pagan fertility goddess "Ishtar" (which it's not).  I couldn't remember all the details of why this isn't true, but I remembered enough to remind her that in many other languages, the name for the Easter feast is related to Passover (like "Pasqua" in Italian).  She seemed surprised by the answer.

By then, I realized that not only was Peggy on my doorstep, but my landlords were milling around the yard, looking at the trees they'd planted a few years ago, and my still-pajama'd daughter was playing outside with a stick she'd found on the stoop.  Meanwhile, I was in pajamas and a ratty old robe, I had not run a brush through my hair (my very thick hair gets some impressive bed-head), and I had no makeup on.  I was a mess.  But I honestly didn't even care (which I totally attribute to God's help, because typically I would have been beyond mortified and irritated).

I pressed on.  "Do you believe Jesus is God?" I asked, already knowing the answer.  "No," she replied with a smile.  "We believe He is God's Son."  (So do we: Trinity, yo!)  But then she went on to say that Jesus was God's first creation, which I emphatically denied.  She showed me a few Scriptural passages in an effort to back up her claims.  I asked her if she'd like to come in and talk about them.  She said she didn't have time then, but she offered to come back.  We decided to meet again on Thursday to discuss the Trinity specifically.

She did come back.  We had an almost two-hour discussion last Thursday, and this past Thursday, she came back for almost two more hours.  Behind the scenes, I spent a possibly embarrassing number of hours reading even more about the teachings of the Watchtower Society, the proof-texts Witnesses are taught to use when attacking true Christian teachings (which, of course, they consider false), and Scriptural passages and explanations to use when evangelizing to the Witnesses.  I had many pages of notes.

Are you breathlessly awaiting the outcome of our meetings?  Well, so am I, and frankly, I'll probably never know.  We went back and forth the whole time for both sessions; she ceded no ground, even when confronted with Scriptural passages which were obviously contrary to JW beliefs.  The Watchtower Organization works as a cult: Witnesses are never allowed to question, and risk being shunned ("disfellowshiped") by family and friends if they do.  So I'm not surprised that Peggy didn't suddenly abandon her beliefs -- even someone who hasn't been brainwashed is unlikely to do that!

But I do believe the Holy Spirit planted a seed, and I believe the time I invested in learning about the JW's and praying for guidance was worthwhile.  I'm going to start a series of posts highlighting some of the best resources I've found and some of the specific lines of questioning that I thought were most fruitful.  I hope that these posts are helpful to anyone who feels called to provide an authentic Christian witness to the Witnesses.