These things and more I learned and so came to the point where I had to decide which I loved more—the Organization or The Truth. These two had always been synonymous, but now I saw that I had to choose. Given the testimony of 2 Thessalonians 2:10, there could only be one answer for me. However, embracing truth leads to an inevitable question for anyone coming from a Jehovah’s Witnesses background.
Virtually every one of us comes to the point when we ask, “Where else can I go?”
A non-JW reading this might find the question trivial. “Just go to a different church; one you like,” would be his answer. Such a response ignores the fact that the reason we are even considering leaving our organization—which means potentially leaving friends and family—is that we love truth. Through our preaching work we have been exposed to pretty much every other religion and have come to see that all teach falsehoods. If we are going to abandon ship so to speak, it had better be for a religion that teaches truth, otherwise there is no point in going through the trauma. We would view it as merely jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.
And there’s the rub!
Let’s illustrate it this way: I have been taught that to survive Armageddon into the New World, I need to stay inside the ark-like organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“We have been pulled from the dangerous ‘waters’ of this wicked world into the ‘lifeboat’ of Jehovah’s earthly organization. Within it, we serve side by side as we head for the ‘shores’ of a righteous new world.” (w97 1/15 p. 22 par. 24 What Does God Require of Us?)
“Just as Noah and his God-fearing family were preserved in the ark, survival of individuals today depends on their faith and their loyal association with the earthly part of Jehovah’s universal organization.” (w06 5/15 p. 22 par. 8 Are You Prepared for Survival?)
I’d always believed that my “lifeboat” was headed for shore while all the other boats in Christendom were sailing in the opposite direction, toward the waterfall. Imagine the shock of the realization that my boat was sailing right alongside the rest; just one more ship in the fleet.
What to do? It made no sense to jump into another boat, but abandoning ship and jumping into the sea didn’t seem like an alternative.
Where else could I go? I couldn’t come up with an answer. I thought of Peter who asked the same question of Jesus. At least, I thought he asked the same question. As it turns out, I was wrong!
Asking the Right Question
The reason I was asking about “where to go” was that I had the JW-imposed mindset that salvation was associated with a place. This thought process is so embedded into our psyche that every witness I’ve come across asks the same question thinking it is what Peter said. In fact, he didn’t say, “Lord, where else shall we go?” What he asked was, “Lord, whom shall we go away to?”
“Simon Peter answered him: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.” (John 6:68)
Jehovah’s Witnesses are trained to believe that to get to the shores of the New World they have to stay inside the Organization Ark with the Governing Body at the helm, because every other ship is heading in the wrong direction. Abandoning ship means drowning in the turbulent waters of the sea of humanity.
What this mentality overlooks is faith. Faith gives us a way off the boat. In fact, with faith, we don’t need a boat at all. That’s because by faith we can walk on water.
Have you ever thought about why Jesus walked on water? It is a type of miracle set apart from all the others. With his other miracles—feeding the masses, quieting the storm, healing the sick, resurrecting the dead—he benefited others. Those miracles demonstrated his power to provide and protect his people and gave us a foregleam of what his righteous rule will do for humankind. But the miracle of walking on water and that of cursing the fig tree stand apart. Walking on water might appear uncharacteristically showy, and cursing the fig tree seems almost petulant; yet Jesus was neither of these things. (Mt 12:24-33; Mr 11:12-14, 19-25)
Both these miracles were restricted to his disciples. Both were intended to demonstrate the incredible power of faith. Faith can move mountains.
We don’t need an organization to guide us to shore. We just have to follow our Lord and exercise faith in him. That’s what we need.
“But what about the meetings?” some will ask.
“And let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, 25 not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as YOU behold the day drawing near.” (Heb 10:24, 25)
We have been raised with the idea that meetings are vital. Until recently, we met three times a week. We still meet semiweekly, and then there are the regional conventions and circuit assemblies. We enjoy the sense of security that comes from belonging to a large crowd; but do we need to belong to an organization to gather together?
How often did Jesus and the Christian writers tell us to meet? We have no direction on this. The only direction we have comes from the book of Hebrews and it tells us that the purpose of meeting together is to incite one another to be loving and perform fine works.
Is that what we do at the Kingdom hall? In your experience, in a hall of 100 to 150 people, sitting quietly for two hours all facing front, listening to someone sound down instruction from a platform, how do we incite one another to love? To fine works? Through commenting? To a point, yes. But is that what Hebrews 10:24, 25 is asking us to do? Inspire through a 30 second comment? Sure, we may chat after the meeting for five or ten minutes, but can that be all the writer had in mind? Remember, this methodology isn’t exclusive to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Every Organized Religion on the planet uses it. Do you see other religions abounding in love and fine works because of the meeting procedures?
If it ain’t working, fix it!
The sad thing is we once had a model that worked. The good news is that there’s nothing keeping us from going back to it. How did first century Christians gather? They had large numbers like we do today. For example, there were three thousand souls baptised on Pentecost alone, and shortly after that, the Bible says that five thousand men (not counting women) became believers after listening to the teaching of the apostles. (Acts 2:41; 4:4) Yet, with such large numbers there is no record of congregations building special meeting halls. Instead, we read about congregations meeting in the homes of believers. (Ro 16:5; 1Co 16:19; Col 4:15; Phm 2)
As It Was in the Beginning
What is keeping us from doing the same thing? One thing is fear. We are working as if under ban. Meeting with others could become known to the authorities in the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meeting together outside of the arrangement of the Governing Body would likely be seen as a threat to their authority and there could be serious repercussions. The first century congregation was persecuted by the authority of the Jews at that time, because they saw the growth as a threat to their place and position. Likewise today, a similar attitude will prevail. So great caution and respect for the confidentiality of all concerned is called for. Nevertheless, this is an excellent way to build each other up in faith and love.
In my area, we have found a number of local brothers and sisters who have awakened to the truth of God’s word and want to meet together for mutual encouragement. We recently had our first gathering in the home of one of the group. We plan to continue on a monthly basis for now due to the distances involved. About a dozen of us were present, and we spent a very encouraging hour discussing the Bible. The idea we’ve formed is to have a sort of round-table discussion based on reading a Bible passage and then letting everyone contribute his or her thoughts. All are allowed to speak, but we have one brother designated as moderator. (1Co 14:33)
Finding Others in Your Area
One of the ideas we are considering, with the support of our virtual congregation, is to utilize the site as a means for brothers and sisters around the world to locate one another and arrange meetings in private homes. We do not have the resources to do this yet, but it is definitely on the agenda. The idea will be to provide a means to seek out like-minded Christians in any given area while protecting the anonymity of all. As you would expect, this is a challenge, but we believe it is a very worthwhile endeavour.
How Can We Preach?
Another question involves the preaching work. Again, we have been raised with the mentality that only if we engage in the door-to-door preaching work on a weekly basis can we find God’s favor. One of the common “proofs” raised when challenged about our alleged status as the only organization Jehovah is using today is that no other group is preaching the vindication of God’s Sovereignty. We reason that even if we leave the Organization, we must continue preaching from house to house if we are to gain God’s favor.
Is the House-to-House Ministry a Requirement?
This is a major concern for Witnesses considering getting off the boat. The reason is that we have been taught that the house-to-house preaching is a requirement from God. By it we sanctify God’s name by making the nations know he is called “Jehovah”. We are separating sheep and goats by means of it. People will live or die based on how they respond when we show up at their door. It even helps us develop Christian qualities such as the fruitage of the spirit. If we fail to do it, we become blood-guilty and will die.
All of the above is taken from our publications, and we will show that it is specious and unscriptural reasoning before the end of the article. However, for now let us look at the real issue. Is the house-to-house work a requirement?
Did Jesus tell us to engage in a particular form of preaching? The answer is no! What he told us to do is this:
“Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded YOU” (Mt 28:19, 20)
Make disciples and baptize them. He left the method up to us.
Are we saying that we shouldn’t engage in the house-to-house preaching? Not at all. Each of us has been given a mandate to make disciples. If we want to do that by going from house to house, then why not? If we choose to go about the disciple making work in another way, then who’s to judge us? Our Lord left the method up to our discretion. What he is interested in are the final results.
Pleasing Our Lord
Jesus gave us two parables to reflect upon. In one, a man journeyed to secure kingly power and left ten slaves with equal amounts of money to grow for him. In another, a man is travelling abroad and before leaving gives three slaves different amounts of money to invest for him. These are respectively the parables of the minas and the talents. (Lu 19:12-27; Mt 25:14-30) You will notice in reading each parable that the master gives the slaves no instructions on how they are to invest the money.
Jesus didn’t specify what the minas and talents represent. Some claim they represent the disciple making work; others say it is the Christian personality; still others point to the declaration and publicizing of the Good News. The exact application—assuming there is only one—is unimportant to our discussion. What is important are the principles embodied in the parables. These show us that when Jesus’ invests his spiritual possessions with us, he expects results. He doesn’t care that we use one method over another. He leaves the method for getting the results up to us.
Each slave in the parables is allowed to employ his own method for growing the master’s money. He doesn’t appoint one over the rest. Some gain more, some less, but all get their reward save for the one who did nothing.
With that in mind, is there any justification for one of the slaves to exalt himself over the rest and demand that all employ his particular method for investing the master’s resources? What if his method is not the most effective one? What if some slaves wish to employ another method they feel is more advantageous but this one self-important slave prevents them? How would Jesus feel about that? (Mt 25:25, 26, 28, 30)
To bring this question into the real world, consider that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was formed about fifteen years before Russell first began to publish the Watchtower magazine. At a time when we proudly boast of 8 million members internationally, the Seventh-day Adventist Church lays claim to 18 million baptized adherents. While they also do house-to-house work, it is minimal compared to the time we spend on that work ourselves. So how did they grow to more than twice our size in basically the same time period? They obviously found a way to make disciples that didn’t involve knocking on people’s doors.
If we are going to please our Lord Jesus Christ, we have to divest ourselves of this idea that only by regularly going in the house-to-house ministry can we find favor with God. If that were truly so, the Christian writers would have made it very clear that this requirement was crucial for all Christians. They did not. In fact the entire argument advanced in the publications is based on two Scriptures:
“And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.” (Ac 5:42)
“…while I did not hold back from telling YOU any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching YOU publicly and from house to house. 21 But I thoroughly bore witness both to Jews and to Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Ac 20:20, 21)
If we are to suggest that the house-to-house witnessing as we practice it is mandated by these two Scriptures, then we must also acknowledge that we should be preaching in temples and other places of worship as well as in the public squares. Like Paul, we should stand up in the marketplace, perhaps on a soapbox, and start crying out the word of God. We should enter into synagogues and churches, and present our point of view. Paul didn’t go into a public area with a cart and a literature display and stand quietly by himself waiting for people to approach him. He stood up and proclaimed the good news. Why do we lay a guilt trip on our membership claiming that if they don’t go from door-to-door, they will be blood-guilty, while not giving equal importance to the other preaching methods mentioned in these two Scriptures? In fact as you read through Acts you will find many accounts were Paul preaches in the synagogue and in public places. Far more than the two references to preaching from house to house.
Further, there is considerable debate as to whether the phrase kata oikos (literally, “according to house”) used at Acts 20:20 refers to actually working down a street by going from door to door. Since Paul is contrasting kata oikos with “publicly”, it could well refer to his preaching in the houses of Christians. Remember that congregation gatherings were held in the homes of people. Also, when Jesus sent out the 70 he said,
“Wherever YOU enter into a house say first, ‘May this house have peace.’ 6 And if a friend of peace is there, YOUR peace will rest upon him. But if there is not, it will turn back to YOU. 7 So stay in that house, eating and drinking the things they provide, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Do not be transferring from house to house. (Lu 10:5-7)
Rather than working door to door down a street, it appears the 70 followed the methodology later used by Paul, Barnabas and Luke of going to the public places and finding a favorable ear, then accepting lodging with that householder and using their home as a center for their preaching work in that town or village before moving on.
The power of decades of indoctrination is considerable. Even with all the above reasoning, brothers and sisters still feel guilty when they don’t go out in the door-to-door work regularly. Again, we’re not suggesting it is wrong to do so. Quite the contrary, the door-to-door work can be effective in certain situations, for example opening up a new territory. But there are other methods that are still more effective in performing the work Jesus gave us to do of making disciples and baptizing them.
I am not a proponent of anecdotal evidence. Nevertheless, I would like to relay the facts of my personal life to see if perhaps it mirrors what many others have experienced. I have a feeling that will be the case.
As I look back over the last 40+ years of active preaching, I can count almost 4 dozen individuals that my wife and I have helped toward baptism. Of those we can think of only two that came to know about our version of the good news through the door-to-door preaching work. All the rest were contacted by some other means, usually family or workmates.
This should make sense to all of us since we are asking people to make a drastic, life-altering decision. Would you change your life and risk everything that you hold dear because some stranger knocked on your door? Not likely. However, if a friend or an associate whom you’ve known for some time were to talk with you convincingly over a period of time, that is far more likely to have an effect.
In an effort to deconstruct the indoctrination that has so strongly affected our thinking for years, let us go over a typical publication reference used to justify the emphasis we place on this particular preaching method.
We have this from the 1988 Kingdom Ministry under the subtitle “What the House-to-House Work Accomplishes”.
3 As indicated at Ezekiel 33:33 and 38:23, our house-to-house preaching activity plays an important part in the sanctification of Jehovah’s name. The good news of the Kingdom is set squarely before individual householders, giving them opportunity to show where they stand. (2 Thess. 1:8-10) Hopefully, they will be moved to take their stand on Jehovah’s side and receive life.—Matt. 24:14; John 17:3.
4 Regular house-to-house work also strengthens our hope in God’s promises. Our ability to use the Bible effectively is enhanced. We are aided in overcoming the fear of men. Greater empathy can be cultivated as we note firsthand what people suffer because of not knowing Jehovah and not living by his righteous standards. We are also helped to develop the fruitage of God’s spirit in our own lives.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
Let’s break down the 1988 kingdom ministry article thought by thought:
“As indicated at Ezekiel 33:33 and 38:23, our house-to-house preaching activity plays an important part in the sanctification of Jehovah’s name.”
Ezekiel 33:33 says: “And when it comes true—and it will come true—they will have to know that a prophet has been among them.” If we are sanctifying Jehovah’s name by the truthfulness of our prophetic preaching work, then we have failed utterly. Prediction after prediction has failed. The great tribulation was to begin in 1914, then 1925, then likely sometime in the 40s, and again in 1975. We have redefined the generation prophecy on average once every ten years. Based on this, our house-to-house preaching has brought reproach on God’s name, not sanctification.
Ezekiel 38:23 says: “And I will certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.” It is true that we have made the translation of YHWH as “Jehovah” very well known. But this is not a fulfillment of Jehovah’s words through Ezekiel. It isn’t knowing God’s name that counts, but understanding the character that the name represents, as demonstrated by Moses’ question to Jehovah. (Ex 3:13-15) Again, not something we have accomplished by going from door to door.
“The good news of the Kingdom is set squarely before individual householders, giving them opportunity to show where they stand. (2 Thess. 1:8-10) Hopefully, they will be moved to take their stand on Jehovah’s side and receive life.—Matt. 24:14; John 17:3.”
This is yet another example of eisegetical interpretation. Using Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, our publications imply that the householder’s response to our doorstep preaching is a life-and-death matter. If we read the context of Paul’s words we understand that the destruction comes upon those who have been making tribulation for Christians. Paul is speaking about enemies of the truth who have been persecuting Christ’s brothers. That is hardly a scenario that fits every man, woman and child on the planet. (2 Thess. 1:6)
“Regular house-to-house work also strengthens our hope in God’s promises. Our ability to use the Bible effectively is enhanced. We are aided in overcoming the fear of men. Greater empathy can be cultivated as we note firsthand what people suffer because of not knowing Jehovah and not living by his righteous standards. We are also helped to develop the fruitage of God’s spirit in our own lives.—Gal. 5:22, 23.”
There was a time that this paragraph would have made sense to me. But I can now see it for what it is. The house-to-house work puts us in close proximity with our brothers for long periods of time. The conversation naturally turns to our understanding of God’s promises which have been skewed by the warped teaching of the other sheep, causing us to believe that everyone but us will die at Armageddon for all time, and that we’ll end up with the whole planet to ourselves. We know exactly what Jehovah has planned for us, ignoring Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 13:12.
As for using the Bible more effectively, how often do we even take it out at the door? In a Scriptural debate, most of us would be lost in trying to find a rebuttal Scripture. And as for overcoming the fear of men, the truth is the complete opposite. To a very great extent we go out in the door-to-door work because we are afraid of men. We are afraid that our hours will be too low. We feel guilty for bringing the congregation average down. We worry that we may lose privileges in the congregation if our hours don’t measure up. The elders will have to talk to us.
As for greater empathy being cultivated as a result of the door-to-door work, it is hard to understand how that can be the case. When a publisher out in a car group points to a beautiful home and says, “That’s where I want to live after Armageddon”, is he showing empathy for the suffering of people?
In describing Jesus as the perfecter of our faith, the writer of Hebrews states: “For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
What did he mean by “despising shame”? To understand that better we should look at Jesus’ own words at Luke 14:27 which reads: “Whoever does not carry his torture stake and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
According to verse 25 of that passage, Jesus was speaking to large crowds. Those people did not know he was going to die on a torture stake. So why would he use that metaphor? To us, the torture stake (or cross, as many view it) was simply the means by which Jesus was executed. However, to his Hebrew audience the phrase, “carry his torture stake”, would conjure up an image of a person of the worst sort; one despised and rejected by family, friends, and society. It was the most shameful way for a person to die. As Jesus said in the preceding verse, we have to be willing and prepared to give up everything we hold dear, even “father and mother and wife and children”, to be a disciple of his. (Luke 14:26)
For those of us who have come to the realization that we can no longer in good conscience continue to promote the teachings and interests of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are facing – perhaps for the first time in our lives – a situation where we too must carry our torture stake, and like our Lord, despise the shame that will be heaped upon us by family and friends who will come to view us as a hated apostate.
The Pearl of Great Value
“Again the Kingdom of the heavens is like a traveling merchant seeking fine pearls. 46 Upon finding one pearl of high value, he went away and promptly sold all the things he had and bought it.” (Mt 13:45, 46)
I used to think this applied to me because I had found the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Well, I didn’t really find it. I grew up in it. But still, I held it is a pearl of great value. Over the last few years I have come to appreciate wonderful truths of God’s word that have been opened up to me through personal Bible study and the association with all of you through these websites. I have truly come to understand what the pearl of great value means. For the first time in my life I have come to realize that I too have the hope of sharing in the reward Jesus extended to all those exercising faith in him; the reward of becoming a child of God. (John 1:12; Romans 8:12) There is no material possession, no personal relationship, no other reward of greater value. It truly is worth selling all we own to possess this one pearl.
We do not really know what our Father has in store for us. We do not need to know. We are like the children of an extremely wealthy and exceedingly good and kind man. We know we are in his will and that we have an inheritance, but we do not know precisely what it is. Nevertheless, we have such trust in the goodness and justness of this man that we are willing to risk everything on the belief that he will not let us down. That is the essence of faith.
Moreover, without faith it is impossible to please God well, for whoever approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him. (He 11:6)
“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” For it is to us God has revealed them through his spirit, for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God.” (1Co 2:9, 10)