Jehovah's Witnesses and the WatchTower Society:
A Study Into Their History and Theology
With Emphasis on Biblical Evangelization
by Gord Vandeburgt
Introduction & Historical Background
Indoctrination and Mindset
The purpose of this study is to understand the organization, doctrine, theology and belief system of the Jehovah Witnesses and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. We shall attempt to understand the trap and circle these people find themselves in, and forward a defense of the Christian faith against their attacks with the intent to lay the seeds of conversion. We'll try to find a way in which they can understand us as we communicate with them without enflaming their preconceived notions. The Jehovah Witnesses (JW's) are an amazing group of people who are well recognized for their passion to evangelize their vision of the world. Their press in Brooklyn, New York pumps out a significantly larger volume of literature than the all of mainstream American Christianity. They spend a significant amount of time in the pursuit of others in an attempt to convince them of what they know. It strikes me as compelling, the passion displayed in the knocking of doors and the standing at street corners. Yet they are as misled as the Pharisees of Christ day.
We must come to grips with
understanding them and learning to communicate for they are, just as much as you and your
other neighbors, for whom Christ died. We will first go through their historical
background, then their indoctrination and mind set, and finally their doctrine and our
The founder of this sect is Charles Taze Russell of Pennsylvania, USA. Although his parents were Presbyterians Russell was influenced and evangelized by the Christadelphean theology which denies the Trinity and God in the flesh. Russell also rejected the idea of eternal torment and subsequently entered a career denying organized religions.
At the age of 18 (in 1870) he organized a bible class and 6 years later was voted its 'pastor'. During the 2 years that he played pastor he was also an editor for a monthly magazine. He left the magazine in 1878 over a religious controversy. A year later, he founded the Herald of the Morning which announced Jehovah's kingdom. This later developed into today's Watchtower magazine. From the initial 6,000 issues, it has grown to 17.8 million copies per month in 106 languages.
In 1884 he incorporated the Watchtower Bible and Tract society in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and 2 years later he published the first of his world famous series of seven books. These are called the Studies in the Scriptures.
Personally, Russell was frequently in court and often found in the wrong. In Ontario in 1913 he perjured himself, and later his wife was given a decree of divorce because he was too egotistical and arrogant to live with. In the same year he took the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (a newspaper) to court alleging libelous statements written, but again lost. He was also involved in fraud as a salesman of phony 'miracle wheat'.
He had all this against him but yet was successful because, although he was not educated or a theologian he had a personal magnetism that could hold peoples attention. His theology, although not scriptural, sounded rational to many. He died on October 31 1916.
Joseph Franklin Rutherford gave the eulogy at Russell's funeral, and in the following year (January 6) was proclaimed the new president. Rutherford, a lawyer and a former judge, had been the society's legal adviser since 1907. In 1917 he published the last book of the volume of Russell's Studies in the Scriptures called the Finished Mystery. Some followers left the society after this event.
The government came in in 1918 and not only seized many publications of the Watchtower, but in May took 8 prominent officials into custody for alleged un-American activities. Rutherford and associates remained in jail for 9 months until Mar 1919. This period in jail only served to harden Rutherford and followers against the government and organized religion. This is so even today, as JW's consider any resistance to them as persecution.
October 1919 found Rutherford writing 'The Golden Age' which has now become the famed Awake magazine. He had many conventions and rallies and on October 9 1931 the present name of Jehovah's Witnesses was adopted based on Isaiah 43:10.
(Isaiah 43:10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.) KJV
Rutherford died in 1942 and made his greatest mark by the large number of books and magazines that he wrote.
Rutherford's successor was
Nathan Homer Knorr of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He followed in the his predecessors steps
and in 1943 established the Gilead Missionary Training School for the training of
followers in the faith. He also published the New World translation of the bible in 1955.
Knorr died in June of 1977 and was replaced by Frederick W. Franz.
INDOCTRINATION AND MINDSET
We ask then, what is the process JW's use to convert others to their faith. According to Schnell their is a seven step program of indoctrination into the Watchtower system. They are:
1 - Begin by getting literature into the hands of the prospect
2 - Continue through a process called back calling
3 - Instigate book study
4 - Attendance at a kingdom hall
5 - Attendance at a service meeting
6 - Become active in publishing: passing out tracts
7 - Become baptized
To the JW's conversion provides important psychological rewards because they are working for the earthly kingdom.
Rogerson asks , 'what sort of people choose to become JW's?'. One answer to that is that they in large part are disillusioned church members from Christianity. They are religious people searching for answers as to why their is evil, and why are they here. We quite well know that evil exists because of the fall of man and we are here to glorify God, but many cults and sects try to provide answers that are more satisfying to the rational mind.
Newly converted Witnesses are expected to adopt a new personality and interact with society differently than before. This is why they react so differently when you talk with them. They are trained to think in terms of kingdom and Armageddon and while you may be familiar with these words their definitions are much different than yours.
When dealing with them we must keep in mind that these people are used to 'persecution', so that anything said against them or their faith is considered persecution. Because the mind set is that way, criticism will get you nowhere and proof virtually means nothing to them. Why? Because they are trained to think and react a certain way. They all say the same thing, read the same literature, and are under an organization that speaks with absolute authority.
In other terms, you can say that in the area of religion, they are in an altered state of consciousness. Socially they still buy their fruit and veggies like you and me, but religiously they don't act the same. For example, they do nothing outside of themselves except evangelize. Even their children are discouraged from higher learning. They say, and I quote, " most parents feel the potential benefits of a university education are not worth the possible horrendous costs, especially when children would have to go unsupervised to another city or country" (WT July 1982). Only practical training is valued. This shows the walls they build around themselves so that no human can get through to these people. God the Holy Spirit can, and your greatest weapon in the arsenal of heaven is prayer and the Word.
They are this way because they are mentally blind, spiritually dead and lost in transgression and sin. That's what it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4.
(2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.) RSV
They are lost because Satan has blinded them. Let me illustrate this with an example.
Imagine leading a blind man
across a major street in a traffic jam and all of a sudden the traffic begins to break up.
You and the blind man are caught in the middle of traffic now whizzing by at break neck
speed with horns honking and tires squealing. The blind man can't see it and is terrified,
but you pull him along to safety. The blind man looses his reason and hits and abuses you.
Frustrated, he yells at you, but you get him to the other side. Now even though your flesh
is bruised and your pride hurt, you can forgive him because he is blind and couldn't
handle his surroundings. In the same way JW's attack Christianity about the Trinity and
the resurrection etc., but forgive them for Jesus sake. Love them and persevere.
What is their doctrine and what do they believe that makes them so different from Christianity. In short this is what they believe:
1 - Jehovah God is the only divine being from eternity.
2 - Jesus Christ is a god, the beginning of the creation of Jehovah God. He was made human as the man Jesus and suffered death to produce the redemptive price for obedient man. (this suggests that Jesus was not God and man, just man) He is now Michael the archangel just as he was before.
3 - The Holy Spirit is an active force and has no personality
4 - The Bible is the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God as it was originally given. (this implies the right to alter it as it suits to what they think the original says)
5 - Those who follow Jesus faithful to death will inherit the heavenly kingdom with him. Men of good will who accept Jehovah and his theocratic rule will enjoy the new earth and all others will be annihilated. (this suggests that man has a good will and that their will be two tiers in the kingdom of God: heavenly and earthly)
6 - The man Jesus was resurrected a spirit creature (more later)
7 - The soul of man is not immortal but mortal. Animals also have souls, but man has preeminence by special creation (Job 14:22, Genesis 35:18 clearly state otherwise)
8 - Hell does not exist. It is a common grave where the departed sleep until the resurrection (read Luke 16:23-31 for the counter)
9 - Eternal punishment does not mean eternal torment of living souls, but rather annihilation
10 - Jesus Christ returned to earth in 1914. (this too is a lie, read Matthew
They have been wrong on his return date at least 5 times
DEFENSE AND CONVERSION
So we know that they are all wet when it comes to their theology. How in the world are we ever going to reach these people? Here are some guidelines, including the first subject of which you should speak to them on. The reason for this subject is because it is the cornerstone on which Christianity stands. Everything else will either stand or fall on this result: Whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead in his own body . If he did not rise from the dead in his own body, then your faith is in vain and you are still lost in sin.
(1 Corinthians 15:16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.) RSV
(John 2:21 But he spoke of the temple of his body.) RSV
1 - Be constant in silent prayer
( Proverbs 15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. James 5:16 ...The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. 1 Peter 3: 12 For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.) Whether they come to your door or you meet them on the street, pray for the opening of the eyes of the blind. You are the instrument to plant and water the seed to be spread. It is God's desire that all who are His, obtain everlasting joy. Therefore we cannot judge whether or not it is that persons time to enter into the joy of his salvation through repentance. Fulfill your role, for God will do the rest.
(2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.) RSV
2 - Don't teach them anything! They are only programmed to be taught from one source. The act of teaching will close the door of opportunity.
3 - Let them try to teach you. They are taught to teach. Use this capacity as a vehicle to your reaching them. Just make sure you are picking the topics.
4 - You ask the questions. If they want to teach, don't disappoint them. Don't ever let them change the topic or your control of the subject.
5 - Do not attack the Watchtower or their personality.
6 - Have them read every text to you. The Word of God speaks better than you and is sharper than a two edged sword. The sword of the Spirit will cut straight through their theology. Your goal remains seed planting.
7 - At the beginning of your conversations with them start on common ground. Have your conversation friendly and neighborly.
Let's attempt to go through this guideline in a real situation to show its purpose and effectiveness. Our conversation begins as you approach each other. You begin with:
"Hello ... so your from the Jehovah's Witnesses. Say, I met one of your people in Australia last winter when I was there (place and circumstance to establish familiarity and friendliness). He was from the US and we had an enjoyable time. (This is my true story which established a non confrontational, non religious personable opening) You know, we talked about a lot of things, and their is one thing that I've been troubled about. (Ding, Ding) I've really been bothered by it, (Ding, Ding) and maybe you could help me (DING, DING)."
Bells and whistles are blowing off everywhere in their mind. You've got the questions, and they want to answer big time. Let them.
"I read in your literature that Jesus was raised as a spirit creature"
They will agree and proceed to tell you that it says in such and such, but stop them right there. It time to implement guideline number eight: Disarm them
"I'm not trying to argue with you. I'm not trying to prove something to you. Maybe you can help me and explain this to me.
In your disarming you create the urgency of need and proceed to open up
Jesus has just cleansed the temple and the Jews are angry. Have them read the passage out loud to you. At verse 18 stop and ask them, "what does it mean ' by what sign do you show us' ". They will answer or should be coached to reply that Jesus was asked by what authority he had to prove that what he had just done was right. Your response should be an understanding one where you realize that they were looking for proof of his previous actions. You read further together and ask them what temple he was talking about in vs 19. They will answer that it would be the temple in Jerusalem ('this temple'). You reply, "oh, I see, so Christ is going to destroy that building and put it together in three days". Well, 'not really', will be the response.
You continue, "let's read the next verse". Have them read it. Continue praying that the Lord will open their eyes as they read '... and they were speaking of the temple of his body'. Hopefully they have the positive response of not having read that before. Just ask, "does that mean that Jesus rose in his own body"?
If they realize they've been had they will direct the conversation else where from the text. They may do this with statements regarding the purpose of Christ being in heaven with his own body. Just agree that Jehovah can do whatever he wants that agrees with His character.
Guideline #9 Face saving technique
Do not pester them further on this text. Now that the seed has been planted use some tact and move on to another one of your questions and lay some more seeds. Let them know that it is difficult to understand some of these things and not everything is easily comprehended. That is why you have a difficulty with
The two people who saw Christ after his resurrection had gone to Jerusalem to tell his disciples what had happened on the road. As they (disciples and the two) were talking, Jesus appeared to them. When you get to verse 37 ("they were startled and frightened thinking they had seen a spirit"), ask them: "Isn't that what you think?. They made the same conclusions as you seem to make". Following to verse 39, let them read that a spirit has not flesh and bone. Explain how Jesus corrected the error of his disciples. They believed he was a spirit, but they were WRONG! A spirit does not have flesh and bone, and Christ was raised an immortal body. Do not get to bogged down in the discussion. Point out the facts, lay the seed, and bring them around to the fact that Jesus might just be Jehovah God. They will resist, but lead them to
Thomas is doubting and wants the absolute truth of Christ's existence beyond the grave. Christ responds to him by saying 'behold my hands, touch me and believe'. Thomas replies (verse 28) 'my Lord and my God'. Let them here you well when you say, 'see not only did He rise from the dead in his own body, but He is God'.
Their answer for this will be that what Thomas said was an expression. Well, if that was the case you can explain to them that in Exodus it says that we are not to take the name of Jehovah God in vain. In that context, Thomas must have blasphemed God, and Jesus would have rebuked him for doing so. Well, he didn't say 'Thomas don't ever take God's name in vain again', he responds by saying,
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET BELIEVE !!!
The seed laying is finished for this time, and should the light come on may the Lord provide you with the wisdom to handle the situation with grace. More than likely the challenge will be returned or the topic diverted. One should always be watchful for those who don't cease to pervert the ways of the Lord (Acts 13:10). As many JW's are followers who are acting in zealous ignorance, display the fruits of the spirit in your conduct (Galatians 5:22). In no way let them control the dialogue for you will hear many a prepared speech and will thwart your objective.
Some have been swallowed by the Watchtower only later to come to the true knowledge of God and his plan of redemption (Thirty years a Watchtower Slave William J. Schnell).
It is a difficult thing to
do, but with good Christian tact, constant prayer, and the power of the Spirit you may get
to the end of this three fold seed planting. You are not doing any converting, you are
merely the instrument in the hand of God. Be sensitive to whom you are speaking (the JW
also made in His image), in whose presence you are making you discussion (God) and what
your role and place really is (humility and love). Prayer is a defining weapon in the
arsenal of heaven and God your ultimate source.
Texts for the defense of your faith when confronted with Jehovah Witnesses
Bodily Resurrection: John 20:19-29, John 2:21
The Deity of Christ: John 10:30, John 14:10, John 1:1, John 17:5, John 6:20 (I AM), John 4:26 (I AM), 1 John 5:20, Acts 2:36, Psalm 110:1, (Matthew 22:44), Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2
Personality and Godhead of the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 2 Corinthians 3:17, Hebrews 3: 7, Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 12:1, Acts 5:3 , Psalm 139, Psalm 104:30
Hell (It's eternal existence): Mark 4:42-49, Luke 16: 23
The two natures of Christ (God and Man): John 1:1, Rom 1:3, 4, Romans 9: 5, Galatians 4:4, Luke 2:7
Christ's second coming: Acts 1:11, Philippians 3:20-21, Hebrews 9:28, Matt 24:23, 27, 30
Man's Soul: Genesis 35:18, Job 33:22, Psalm 88:33, Proverbs
23:13, 14, Ecclesiastes 3:21, Matthew 10:28