Jehovah's Witnesses –
A Closer Look
R G Schmitt
(Investigator 2, 1988 September)
Being one of Jehovah's Witnesses satisfies two very basic human needs – to belong to a group of peers with common identity and mutual support and acceptance while at the same time standing out as different to, and in some way better than, the rest of the seething masses of humanity.
The Witnesses present an attractive message which satisfies these needs and creates a sense of meaning and urgency in the lives of potential converts. Superficially they appear not only harmless but a positive asset to any community.
Nevertheless in keeping with the Bible writer's admonition to "test everything", we would do well to take a closer look. (1 Th 5:21) In the words of the proverb, "It is a snare for a man to say rashly, 'It is holy!' and after the vows to make inquiry." (Prov 20: 25)
Of course in taking a closer look we need to be conscious of our preconceived ideas, biases and latent prejudices. There have been many critiques of the Watchtower Society which have simply attacked Witness dogma indiscriminately while extolling the cherished beliefs of the writer or the church system to which he belongs.
When subjected to the keen eye of objective scrutiny, Jehovah's Witnesses display some rather disturbing characteristics. They pay a very high price for their worldwide 'unity' as do those who dare to fall out of line. The Watchtower is imbued with a highly elitist spirit. The Witnesses sincerely believe that they, and they alone, are chosen by God for salvation. Thus everyone who hasn't been baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses when the Great Tribulation begins, will be judged by Jesus Christ as worthy of eternal destruction.
Are such extravagant claims backed up by rock-solid evidence? Predictably this is not the case. The Witnesses rely upon three main lines of evidence to convince potential converts that they are indeed specially chosen of God.
Firstly, they cleverly contrive a very positive picture of themselves based on their extreme and arbitrary interpretation of Bible prophecy. At the same time all other professed Christians, collectively labelled "Christendom", are portrayed in the worst possible light.
Secondly, they appeal to their record of worldwide preaching activity which they believe fulfils the prophecy at Matthew 24:14. It should be acknowledged that the Witnesses do display commendable zeal for their proselytizing work and deserve due credit, but this does not justify their self-congratulatory attitude. Other Christian groups can also claim to be sharing in this work while not to the same degree perhaps. On the other hand, there are areas of Christian ministry where the Witnesses are negligent while others serve outstandingly.
Thirdly, Jehovah's Witnesses point to their international unity and the uniqueness of their doctrines. Unity by force is regimentation. True Christian unity is a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God's people. It can be encouraged but not demanded. (1 Cor l:10; Eph 4:1-3, l1-16)
In denying traditional church doctrines such as the trinity, the immortal soul, and hellfire, the Witnesses are not unique. Once again, other groups can be cited that take the same or a similar stand on these issues. Even their creditable position of political neutrality and non-violence is shared by other Christian pacifist groups. If the Watchtower definition of true religion is correct, ie that all its teachings be in complete harmony with Scripture, then by their own definition they are disqualified. As already mentioned, the Watchtower has made numerous changes to its doctrinal position over the past 100 years.
The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses believes that it represents the "faithful and discreet" slave of Mat 24:45 and as such has been appointed over all the master's belongings since the year 1919. (The parallel account of this parable at Luke l2:42 does not comport very well with this presumptuous interpretation.) It also claims to be God's mouthpiece or prophet commissioned in the same year by Jehovah to warn the world of its impending doom. ("The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah" Pgs 56-70)
In this role it likens itself to a modern-day Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Isaiah, drawing parallels in the oganization's history with the lives of these ancient Hebrew prophets. However, unlike these faithful prophets, the Watchtower Society has a dismal record when it comes to predicting future events. God willing, more will be said on this in later articles. The Governing Body effectively performs a quasi-priestly function. It exerts total control over the organization determining the policies and doctrinal standards by which all Jehovah's Witnesses must abide. There is no room for differences of personal understanding. Organizational unity is paramount.
Does such an attitude amount to mere harmless eccentricity? I believe not. Through a process of continuous positive affirmation the rank and file are encouraged to think of themselves as Jehovah's special 'name' people, the New World Society. The rest of the world, including all other professed Christians, are considered to be under the umbrella of Satan the Devil.
This position can only be supported by extreme use of special pleading. Salvation, according to the Witnesses, is dependent upon the individual acquiring the correct understanding of a complex body of doctrine, an understanding that only they possess. Thus it becomes necessary for one seeking salvation to be baptized into the Watchtower organization. This is despite the fact that the Watchtower has regularly changed its understanding of these doctrines throughout its relatively short history. It is their elitist view of salvation that makes Jehovah's Witnesses a real danger to the unwary as this article will soon demonstrate. Such a view bears no resemblance to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. (Jn 3:16; Rom l0:9; Gal 1:8, 9)
The spirit of elitism can produce devastating consequences. It often leads to the sincere individual facing a crisis of conscience, a choice between loyalty to one's religion or loyalty to God. Since there is no room for the expression of a doctrinal viewpoint different to the Society's present understanding, the dissenter has to either keep his views strictly to himself or almost certainly be expelled or disfellowshipped from the movement.
Having chosen the latter course, his motives and character are maligned, his conscientious desire to put God's word before man's word is portrayed as the product of ambition, rebellion, pride and sin against God and Christ. He is labelled an 'apostate', the most serious accusation for a Christian, and is totally ostracised by his fellow Witness friends, who in all likelihood are the only friends he's got.
Even close relatives are told to avoid having social contact with him. The "apostate's" spouse and children are expected to cease engaging in 'spiritual' dialogue with the offending family member. Those who disobey these rules, risk being excommunicated themselves. For the victim, there is an overwhelming sense of disbelief, a feeling of, "what have I done to deserve all this?"
I can speak from personal experience. On September 15th 1983 I was disfellowshipped for 'apostasy'. It is difficult to convey the degree of pain and divisive pressure that gripped my family from that moment onward. With my wife struggling to continue participating as a loyal Witness of Jehovah, it wasn't long before we were virtually living two separate lives. Under such conditions it is not hard to see how marriages begin to crumble. Four years after the disfellowshipping, tragedy finally struck when my wife and I separated.
It needs to be emphasized that my experience is not an isolated example. In the light of Jesus' command at Mat 19:6, this is an extremely serious state of affairs. As a direct result of the Watchtower Society's elitist policies, families are being divided and members on both sides of the division are suffering from acute depression and/or other forms of mental illness. A few even go as far as taking their own lives.
Sadly, most Witnesses, particularly new converts, remain totally ignorant of this situation. Obedience to organizational regulations ensures that they are kept well insulated from the heart-ache and grief of the unfortunate victims. Potential converts studying with the Witnesses are not informed of the dire consequences of having second thoughts after their baptism. Should they find themselves unable to agree on even minor points of doctrine, they face the prospect of spiritual exile and isolation. Indeed, to even think differently constitutes an apostate spirit according to Watchtower definition.
J Ws ARE GROWING WORLDWIDE
1900 2,000 1960 916,000 1920 8,000 1980 2,272,000 1940 95,000 1987 3,396,000
[Note: The author, Gary Schmitt, is from Western Australia. A report about JWs' treatment of him, titled OUTCAST – a Witness to doubt, appeared in The West Australian, December 15, 1984, page 16]
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