|It's like clockwork. Mid-morning on New Year's Day I've come to expect a certain knock at the door: "Good morning! We're from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society … the Jehovah's Witnesses." Been there? The folks at the door will say that Christianity is fragmented, with churches teaching conflicting messages, while the Watchtower Society is God's lone voice presenting a unified doctrine. |
Not surprisingly, you'll have a hard time finding evidence to support that claim. The organization's website simply says that it was established in the "late 19th century," and keeps information about founders Charles T. Russell and Nelson Barbour to a minimum. I find that curious. Russell, outspoken in his rejection of doctrines regarding the Trinity and hell, was the primary organizer of the movement. Both men taught that the existing church was corrupt, that other churches and ministers were "tools of the devil" and that God would soon set up His true kingdom on earth. They predicted Christ's return in 1873 and again in 1874. To cover their tracks, they later claimed that Christ had returned in 1874—invisibly—but that the world literally would end in 1914.
The Watchtower's doctrines deviate from classical orthodoxy on nearly every major point yet may appear convincing to those not solidly grounded in a knowledge of the Bible—especially when pop culture icons such as Prince and tennis' Williams sisters serve as ambassadors for the sect. For one thing, the Jehovah's Witnesses base salvation on human effort, so no one can know for sure if they have done enough good works to earn their eternal reward. Orthodox Christianity and Jehovah's Witnesses also differ on the nature of God, the content of the Bible, the identity and work of Jesus, and the message of salvation.
Interestingly, scholars date key verses proclaiming Christ's identity and mission (such as Acts 2:22-36, 1 Cor. 15:3-5 and Phil. 2:5-11) to within three to seven years after the cross. Those passages were probably recited by the earliest believers as a means of teaching doctrine. Even so, we have no record that any of the early Christians ever held teachings resembling those of Jehovah's Witnesses.
If you feel led to engage a Jehovah's Witness, I recommend having a mature brother or sister in Christ partner with you, since the folks at the door usually travel in pairs. Don't feel pressured to witness to them on the spot. Politely schedule a follow-up meeting that allows you to spend time in prayer and research their beliefs. And when the appointed time arrives, try to guide any dialogue so that three things are accomplished:
The Witness will only consider Christianity once they see that the Watchtower Society is fallible. Be aware that their New World Translation of the Bible may sound familiar in places, but it has undergone hundreds of revisions since its introduction in 1950, and remains incompatible with every other published edition of the Scriptures. To defend New World distortions of passages that affirm Christ's deity (including John 1:1 and 8:58), editions prior to 1971 contained impressive-sounding footnotes. However, respected Greek scholars pointed out that many of the supposed "tenses" cited by the Witnesses didn't even exist, and the footnotes were eventually dropped.
Emphasize God's Identity:
The Bible is clear about the reality of God and the identity of Jesus. Impress on the Witness that the Scriptures describe one eternal God (Deut. 6:4) who has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All are presented as eternal, co-equal, fully divine yet one. Helpful verses include Phil. 2:11, Acts 5:3-4 and John 13:13.
Defend Scripture's Integrity:
Explain that God may be personally known and His Word trusted. Many compelling lines of evidence verify that the Bible as we have it was not only inspired but has been preserved. Point out that the church's earliest statements about Jesus Christ staunchly defend His deity and resurrection, as well as God's triune nature. (For more, read the article "Inspired, Preserved, Timeless.")
As I indicated earlier, prayer is the first step in any outreach endeavor, and we need to study in order to be effective (2 Tim. 2:15). Don't become argumentative or abrasive with Witnesses. They aren't the enemy; they are simply prisoners of war. Remember that, apart from God's grace and the Holy Spirit's work, we too would be lost and in darkness. An estimated 6.4 million Watchtower adherents live in diligent obedience to a false religion.
Prepare now for that inevitable knock on the door. Lovingly explain to them that Christianity is true and understandable, and that Christians may know conclusively that we are forgiven and have everlasting life in Jesus Christ.
Alex McFarland is Plugged In's teen apologetics expert. For more on his ministry and speaking schedule, visit alexmcfarland.com.
Published January 2007