Jehovah’s Witnesses are trained to be calm, reasonable and respectful in their public preaching work. Even when they meet with name calling, anger, dismissive responses, or just the plain old door-slammed-in-the-face, they strive to maintain a dignified demeanor. This is laudable.
On those occasions when Witnesses are on the receiving end of a door-to-door visit—by Mormons, for instance—they usually respond respectfully, though they are likely to challenge what the visitor is preaching. That’s okay too. Whether they are calling on others, or being on the receiving end of a preaching call, they willing engage in dialogue because they are confident they have the truth and that they can defend their beliefs using God’s inspired Word, the Bible.
This all changes, however, when the source of the preaching is one of their own. Should a fellow Jehovah’s Witness disagree with some doctrinal teaching, or point out some flaw or shortcoming in the Organization, the demeanor of the average JW changes entirely. Gone is the calm and dignified defense of one’s beliefs, replaced by charges of disloyalty, character attacks, a refusal to engage in dialogue, and even threats of judicial punishment. For those outsiders accustomed to the persona they see at their doorstep, this may come as a shock. They may find it hard to believe that we are talking about the same people. However, having been on the receiving end of such discussions time and again, those of us who frequent these sites can attest that these responses are not only real, but common. Witnesses view any insinuation that their leadership is teaching falsehood or acting incorrectly as an attack on God himself.
This is similar to the environment in Israel for Christians in the first century. Preaching then meant being shunned by all one’s peers, disfellowshipped from the synagogue and ostracized by Jewish society. (John 9:22) Jehovah’s Witnesses rarely meet this type of attitude outside of their own organization. They can preach to the community at large and still conduct business, speak freely with anyone, and enjoy the rights of any citizen in their country. However, inside the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the treatment for any dissenter is similar to that experienced by Jewish Christians in first century Jerusalem.
Given that we must face such obstacles, how are we to carry out our commission to make known the Good News of the Christ when preaching to unawakened Jehovah’s Witnesses? Jesus said:
“YOU are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when situated upon a mountain. 15 People light a lamp and set it, not under the measuring basket, but upon the lampstand, and it shines upon all those in the house. 16 Likewise let YOUR light shine before men, that they may see YOUR fine works and give glory to YOUR Father who is in the heavens.” (Mt 5:14-16)
However, he also warned us not to throw our pearls before swine.
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, neither throw YOUR pearls before swine, that they may never trample them under their feet and turn around and rip YOU open.” (Mt 7:6)
He also said that he was sending us out “as sheep amidst wolves” and that we should therefore prove ourselves “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves”. (Mt 10:16)
So how do we let our light shine while obeying Jesus’ other directives? Our goal in this series—“Reasoning with Jehovah’s Witnesses”—is to open a dialogue on finding ways to preach effectively, discretely, and safely with those who would often resort to outright persecution as a means to silence any who disagree. So please feel free to use the Commenting feature of each article as it is published to share your own thoughts and experiences with a view to enriching the whole of our brotherhood with knowledge of effective witnessing techniques.
Admittedly, no amount of finesse will win over all listeners. No proof, no matter how overwhelming and incontestable, will convince every heart. If you could walk into a Kingdom Hall, extend your hand and cure cripples, restore sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, many would listen to you, but even such overwhelming manifestations of God’s hand operating through a human would not be enough to convince all, or sad to say, even the majority. When Jesus preached to God’s chosen people, the vast majority rejected him. Even when he breathed life into the dead, it was not enough. While many put faith in him after he resurrected Lazarus, others plotted to kill both him and Lazarus. Faith is not a product of incontrovertible proof. It is a fruit of the spirit. If the spirit of God is not present, faith cannot exist. Thus, in first century Jerusalem, with such overwhelming manifestations of God’s power to bear witness to the Christ, the Jewish leaders were still able to control the people to the point where they called for the death of God’s righteous Son. Such is the power of human leaders to control the flock; a power that apparently has not waned over the centuries. (John 12:9, 10; Mark 15:11; Acts 2:36)
Therefore, it should not surprise us when former friends turn on us and do everything the law of the land allows to silence us. This has been done before, notably by the Jewish Leaders in the first century who used similar tactics in an attempt to silence the pestilent Apostles. (Acts 5:27, 28, 33) Both Jesus and his followers posed a threat to their power, place, and nation. (John 11:45-48) In a similar way, the ecclesiastical authority of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Governing Body on down through its traveling overseers right to the local elders exercises power, has a place or status among its people, and acts as a sovereign over what they themselves describe as a “mighty nation”.[i] Each individual Witness has a huge investment in the Organization. For many, this is a life-time investment. Any challenge to this is a challenge not only to their worldview, but to their own self-image. They view themselves as holy, set apart by God, and assured of salvation because of their place in the Organization. People are bound to protect such things with great tenacity.
What is most revealing is the means they use to protect their values and beliefs. If these could be defended using the two-edged sword of God’s Word, they would happily do so and thus silence their opposers; for there is no greater weapon than the truth. (He 4:12) However, the fact that in such discussions they virtually never employ the Bible is, in itself, an indictment of their tenuous position, just as it was for the Jewish leaders in the first century. You will recall that Jesus often quoted Scripture, and his opposers retaliated by quoting their rules, their traditions, and by invoking their own authority. Not much has changed since then.
Identifying the True Religion
Given all the foregoing, on what basis or foundation can we even think to reason with such an entrenched mentality? It may surprise you to realize that the Organization itself has provided the means.
In 1968, the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (now more commonly referred to as JW.org) published a book which was colloquially named “The Blue Bomb”. The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life was intended to provide an accelerated study program to take the Bible student to the point of baptism in only six months. (This was during the lead-up to 1975.) Part of that process was the 14th chapter titled “How to Identify the True Religion” which provided five criteria to help the student quickly determine which religion was the only true one. It was reasoned that true Christians would:
- be separate from the world and its affairs (p. 129)
- have love among themselves (p. 123)
- have respect for God’s Word (p. 125)
- sanctify God’s name (p. 127)
- proclaim the kingdom of God as man’s true hope (p. 128)
Since then, each study aid published as a replacement to The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life has had a similar chapter. In the current study aid—What Can the Bible Teach Us?—these criteria have been somewhat blurred and a sixth one has been added. The list is found on page 159 of that tome.
THOSE WHO WORSHIP GOD
- do not get involved in politics
- love one another
- base what they teach on the Bible
- worship only Jehovah and teach others his name
- preach that God’s Kingdom can solve the world’s problems
- believe that God sent Jesus to save us[ii]
(These two lists have been reordered and numbered for easier cross reference.)
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that these criteria establish Jehovah’s Witnesses as the one true religion on earth today. While some other Christian religions might meet one or two of these points, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and teach that only they meet them all. Additionally, Witnesses teach that only a perfect score qualifies as a passing mark. Miss just one of these points, and you cannot claim your religion as the one true Christian faith of which Jehovah approves.
It is widely acknowledged that turnabout is fair play. When the spotlight is turned on the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, do they really meet each of these criteria points? This will be the foundation for a series of articles in which we will be analyzing whether JW.org meets its own criteria for being the one true faith God has chosen to bless.
These articles are intended to be more than a dry recitation of facts. Our brothers have strayed from the truth, or more accurately, been led astray, and so what we are looking for are ways to convey the truth so that we can reach hearts.
“My brothers, if anyone among you is led astray from the truth and another turns him back, 20 know that whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save him from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jas 5:19, 20)
There are two parts to this process. The first involves convincing a person they are on the wrong road. However, this is likely to leave them feeling insecure even lost. The question arises, “Where else will we go?” So the next part of the process is to provide them with a better destination, a superior course of action. The question isn’t, “Where else can we go?” but “To whom can we turn?” We must be ready to provide that answer by showing them how to return to Christ.
The following articles will deal with step one of the process, but we’ll tackle the important question of how best to lead them back to the Christ at the end of this series.
Our Own Attitude
The first thing we must deal with is our own attitude. As angry as we may feel after discovering how we have been misled and betrayed, we must bury that and speak always with graciousness. Our words must be seasoned so as to be more easily digested.
“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Col 4:6 NASB)
God’s grace on us is exemplified by his kindness, love, and mercy. We must imitate Jehovah so that his grace works through us, pervading our every discussion with friends and family. Belligerence in the face of obstinacy, name-calling, or sheer pig-headedness will only reinforce the opinion opposers hold of us.
If we think we can win over people by reason alone, we are bound to be disillusioned and to suffer unnecessary persecution. There has to be a love of truth in the first place, or little can be accomplished. Alas, this appears to be the possession of only a few and we have to come to terms with that reality.
“Go in through the narrow gate, because broad is the gate and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are going in through it; 14 whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are finding it.” (Mt 7:13, 14)
In our next article, we will deal with the first criterion: True worshippers are separate from the world and its affairs; do not get involved in politics and maintain strict neutrality.
[i] w02 7/1 p. 19 par. 16 Jehovah’s Glory Shines on His People
“At present this “nation”—the Israel of God and more than six million dedicated “foreigners”—is more populous than many of the world’s sovereign states.”
[ii] The sixth point is a recent addition. It seems odd to include it in this list since every Christian religion teaches Christ as the Savior. Perhaps it has been added to address the oft-heard accusation that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in Christ.