Here’s the scenario. Let’s say you have a Bible study with, say, a Catholic. You show him from Scripture that the Trinity, hellfire, and the immortality of the human soul are false teachings. (Yes, I believe the Trinity, hellfire, and the immortal soul are all false teachings. Some of you will disagree with me on that, but bear with me. We’ll get into those topics on another occasion. 😊 ) So you ask your Catholic student if it makes sense to remain in a religion that teaches false doctrine, and he answers, “Maybe the Church is wrong about some Bible teachings, but it’s not for me to interpret Scripture. Christ appointed the Pope as his Faithful and Discreet Slave, so if he’s wrong, it’s up to Jesus to correct him.”
Later in your study, you come to the question of neutrality—that Christians are to be no part of the world. Maybe you even discuss the United Nations Organization as the wicked wild beast of Revelation, pointing out that the Catholic Church is a member of the organization.
Your Bible student agrees, but states that it is important to wait on God, to give him time to fix the Church.
In a final effort, you talk about the scandal of child sexual abuse within the church, and how the the leadership of the Church covered up these crimes and did not report them to the authorities.
That should do it, you think. Yet, he remains unmoved. He dismisses these claims as exaggerations and attacks on the Church by haters and opposers. Pedophiles are everywhere he counters, but the church’s mishandling is not due to wickedness, but just the imperfection of men.
When you push him a bit more to reason on these things, he says, “Remember, God has chosen the Catholic Church as his earthly organization. It is the oldest Church. The first Church. If the Church hadn’t been preaching the good news around the world, we would not now have a third of the world declaring itself as Christian. Surely this could not have been accomplished without God’s blessing!”
Do you think the false teachings of the Church of Rome are merely a question of good-hearted men who, through imperfection, have made some mistakes? When a true lover of Christ makes a mistake that results in teaching some falsehood, or in conduct that is unbecoming of a follower of Christ, how does he react when another Christian points out his error? Does he correct his teaching, and/or apologize for his misconduct? Does he takes steps to correct himself and undo the damage caused? Or does he lash out against the one who lovingly corrected him, calling him names to discredit him? Does he persecute that one trying to set him straight?
If the latter, then it is not imperfection at work, but wickedness.
Witnesses condemn all other religions as forming part of Babylon the Great, because they teach false doctrines, engage in sinful conduct, and persecute true worshippers. (Jeremiah 51:45; Revelation 18:4)
But what happens when we put the shoe on the other foot? What response do we get when we apply the exact same reasoning—every last point of it—to the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
I got an email recently from a reader detailing his discussion—it went on for 45 pages—with a long-time friend who is an elder. When confronted with Scriptural reasoning and hard evidence that the Organization teaches false doctrine , has violated Christian neutrality by a 10-year affiliation in the UN, and has failed to report thousands of suspected and confirmed pedophiles to the authorities, this elder’s response was almost verbatim to what I’ve heard personally in my discussions with friends.
Here are a few excerpts.
“Why are you not with Jehovah’s spirit-led organized people for his name anymore.”
“I will continue to feed from the Faithful Slave.”
“Yes, I have many questions like you, but I patiently endeavour to wait for the answers as they come from the right channel, the Faithful Slave. It’s all about obedience to God-given authority and the headship arrangement.”
“I’ve come across many apostates that spent so much time researching our material so as to strike the hand that fed them like serpents.”
“Try and see that this is a fast-moving organization as it must gather all righteously disposed for everlasting life.”
“Suppose I abandon the worldwide Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses today, what would I become?”
“Back in the times of Israel, if I left Jehovah, I would be termed apostate just as were the Jews each time they abandoned Jehovah.”
“So, who are Jehovah’s witnesses today? Tell me that there’s a religion out there who bear God’s name and who a re not Trinitarian. Who do not believe in Hell, eternal torment, or immortality of the soul? Do you know of any followers of Jesus who do not believe in the trinity? Who believe that Jesus actually is the Son of Jehovah and that Jesus is obedient to the Father and does only what the Father wills.”
“What is the point of quoting stuff from the WT or scripture to prove that the only instrumentality used on earth to further God’s will is untrustworthy.”
“Do you think that God is pleased with Babylon the great. Why the warning to get out of her?”
In the mind of most Jehovah’s Witnesses it boils down to this: We can’t be wrong, because we are the chosen of God, and because we are the chosen of God, we must be right.
And round and round we go.
This reminds me of the scene from a classic Walter Matthau film, A New Leaf.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are trying to cash a cheque on an empty bank account. They fail every criterion that they themselves have laid down to evaluate whether a religion is true or false, approved by God or condemned by Him. Yet they still believe that God will cash their cheque.
If you are watching this video, you have probably come to the realization that the Organization’s spiritual bank account is empty and their cheque is NSF.
We might compare ourselves to an animal that has just freed himself from a trap, a snare.
“Religion Is a Snare and a Racket.”
Back in 1938, the third president of the Watchtower Bible & Track Society (WBTS), J.F. Rutherford, launched a preaching campaign with the slogan, “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket. You may find fault with much of what Rutherford taught and did, but on this one item, I think we can find agreement. Well, almost…
Rutherford didn’t apply this aphorism to the organization he had just created. In a classic example of projection, he accused all others of the very thing he was guilty of. But everyone could see that Jehovah’s Witnesses were just as much a religion as was any other denomination; so after he died, the publications made the following distinction:
The Triumph of Clean, Undefiled Worship (w51 11/1 p. 658 par. 9)
“The reproach now falling on the religion of both Christendom and heathendom is therefore not without cause; it is deserved. It was with this religion in mind that the slogan was first raised in London, England, in 1938, “Religion is a snare and a racket. Serve God and Christ the King.”
So now Witnesses speak of true religion and false religion. I do believe that there is true worship and false worship. However, I do not believe that the true vs. false distinction applies to religion. I believe all religion is false and opposed to God. I’ll attempt to explain why I take that view, and see if you agree or not. But first, let’s break down Rutherford’s campaign slogan.
The Snare of Religion
A snare is “a trap for catching birds or animals, typically one having a noose of wire or cord.” What does a snare do? It deprives a creature of its freedom. Jesus told us that if we ‘remain in his word…we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free.’ Religion does not set us free, but binds us within a system of rules imposed by men.
In Israel, the Governing Body of the day, the religious leaders—priests, scribes, Pharisees—imposed many rules of men. Jesus said of them, “They bind up heavy loads and put them on the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Mt 23:4)
You have to bait a snare to get the animal to put its head or foot in the noose. There has to be something appealing about any religion you join, some bait to get you in. It is usually based on Bible truth. The best lies are based on truth. The promise of everlasting life is very alluring. The snare is the belief that you have to obey the rules of men and remain in the religion to gain that life.
Religion Is a Racket
The work “racket” has a good number of diverse meanings. You use a racket to play tennis. It can also refer to a “confused, clattering noise or a social whirl or excitement”. However, the definition that most fits our discussion is:
- A fraudulent scheme, enterprise, or activity
- A usually illegitimate enterprise made workable by bribery or intimidation
- An easy and lucrative means of livelihood.
We’ve all heard the term ‘racketeering’ used to describe the protection racket which the Mob and criminal gangs are known for, but are we suggesting that religions are guilty of this?
The Catholic church accepted money called “indulgences” to “save” souls trapped in purgatory. Some televangelists enrich themselves through the con of “seed money”. I could go on and on describing the many ways religions have enhanced their power and lined their pocketbooks with fraudulent and illegitimate rackets, but I’ll confine myself to two methods currently in use within the organization I’m most familiar with.
This week’s Watchtower Study is titled, “Buy Truth and Never Sell It”. The message is, ‘You are in the truth if you remain in the Organization. If you leave the Organization, you will die.’ You may say, “That sounds more like a snare than a racket.” True, but here’s where it migrates over the line to become a racket. What you don’t know when you join the Organization is that if you leave, they will see to it that you are cut off from all your family and friends. There is no Scriptural basis for that, but it clearly fits the definition of an “illegitimate enterprise made workable by…intimidation”.
Lately, another racket has been spawned. In 2012, the organization seized control of all locally owned Kingdom hall properties and since 2016 has been selling off thousands of them. Halls that were fully paid for and conveniently located were sold out from under the legitimate owners, the local publishers, and these were then required to relocate, often to distant meeting places. Their approval was not sought, nor were they consulted; and they never saw a penny from the sale of the property.
Is All Religion Bad?
Let’s start by looking at the meaning of the word, “religion”. Like so many common words in English, this one has a variety of meanings and nuances. I do not want us to get lost in a fog of blurred definitions, so for purposes of this discussion, I would like to focus on the meaning that comes to mind most readily when we hear someone use the term. To illustrate, if a person says “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious”, we take that to mean he or she does not belong to any particular religion but still believes in God, at least in some vague sense. To say, “I am religious”, immediately begs the question, “What religion do you belong to?”
Merriam-Webster gives as a simple definition of ‘religion’
“An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.”
The key word there is “system”. Another way of putting it is , ‘a framework of rules by which a person worships some God’.
A system of worship. A framework of rules, rituals, rites, or procedures, all to worship God supposedly in a manner God finds acceptable.
But…whose rules? Whose framework? The leaders of Christendom’s churches would say, “God’s rules as laid down in the Bible.” But if that is the case, why are there so many different Christian religions? So much division, often resulting in hatred, violence, even war.
“It is in vain that they keep worshipping me, for they teach commands of men as doctrines.’”” (Mt 15:9)
According to this, any system of worship crafted on the basis of the rules of men, leads to God’s disapproval. Since all religions are based on the rules and interpretations of men, we can simplify this statement to say, “All religion is condemned by God.” Why? Because it replaces the rule of God with the rule of men, and we know from Ecclesiastes 8:9 that ‘Man dominates Man to his injury.’
Do you know who agrees with me on this? (If you’re a Jehovah’s Witnesses, you’re going to be shocked by this.) Charles Taze Russell!
Russell Gets It Right
This here is volume 3 in the series Studies in the Scriptures.
This volume is titled Thy Kingdom Come. It was published in 1907. At that time there was no organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the decades leading up to that year, independent groups of Bible students in various countries had gathered together to study the Bible free from the doctrinal constraints of mainstream religions. Many used Russell’s writings as the basis for their Bible study, though they were not restricted to those publications. Russell didn’t rule over them. He ran a publishing company and many individuals in those congregations bought shares in that company. The beauty of this arrangement was that, while taking the benefit of Russell’s research, any group could accept what they wanted and reject what they didn’t. For example, Russell believed that the great pyramid of Giza had some prophetic significance, but not everyone agreed with him. Still you could disagree with him and still gather together and study the Bible in your particular congregation of Bible students.
It was Rutherford who succeeded in putting an end to that. Reportedly, by the 1930s, 75% of all the Bible Student groups that had been affiliated with Russell through the WBTS left Rutherford, but with the remaining 25% he centralized authority and created the organization we know of today
That makes what I’m about to read, while not prophetic, certainly prescient. Let’s turn to page 181:
Let such consider that we are now in the harvest time of separation, and remember our Lord’s expressed reason for calling us out of Babylon, namely, “that ye be not partakers of her sins.” Consider, again, why Babylon is so named. Evidently, because of her many errors of doctrine, which, mixed with a few elements of divine truth, make great confusion, and because of the mixed company brought together by the mixed truths and errors. And since they will hold the errors at a sacrifice of truth, the latter is made void, and often worse than meaningless. This sin, of holding and teaching error at the sacrifice of truth is one of which every sect of the Church nominal is guilty, without exception. Where is the sect which will assist you in diligently searching the Scriptures, to grow thereby in grace and in the knowledge of the truth? Where is the sect which will not hinder your growth, both by its doctrines and its usages? Where is the sect in which you can obey the Master’s words and let your light shine? We know of none.
I find it so sad that the organization to which I have devoted almost the entirety of my life fits precisely with this 100-year-old description. And now more so than ever before. You do not even have to promote teachings that are contrary to those found in the publications. Indeed, simply asking questions is now enough to get you invited into the back room of the Kingdom Hall to be questioned as to your loyalty to the Governing Body.
Back to the book:
If any of God’s children in these organizations do not realize their bondage, it is because they do not attempt to use their liberty, because they are asleep at their posts of duty, when they should be active stewards and faithful watchmen. (1 Thess. 5:5,6) Let them wake up and attempt to use the liberty they think they possess; let them show to their fellow-worshippers wherein their creeds fall short of the divine plan, wherein they diverge from it and run in direct opposition to it; let them show how Jesus Christ by the favor of God tasted death for every man; how this fact, and the blessings flowing from it, shall “in due time” be testified to every man; how in “the times of refreshing” the blessings of restitution shall flow to the whole human race. Let them show further the high calling of the Gospel Church, the rigid conditions of membership in that body, and the special mission of the Gospel age to take out this peculiar “people for his name,” which in due time is to be exalted and to reign with Christ. Those who will thus attempt to use their liberty to preach the good tidings in the synagogues of today will succeed either in converting whole congregations, or else in awakening a storm of opposition. They will surely cast you out of their synagogues, and separate you from their company, and say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for Christ’s sake. And, in so doing, doubtless, many will feel that they are doing God service.
My, oh, my, but what far-sighted reasoning! Replace “synagogues” with “Kingdom halls” and you have an accurate description of what the awakening Children of God are experiencing in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Continuing…
Surely all know that whenever they join any of these human organizations, accepting its Confession of Faith as theirs, they bind themselves to believe neither more nor less than that creed expresses on the subject. If, in spite of the bondage thus voluntarily yielded to, they should think for themselves, and receive light from other sources, in advance of the light enjoyed by the sect they have joined, they must either prove untrue to the sect and to their covenant with it, to believe nothing contrary to its Confession, or else they must honestly cast aside and repudiate the Confession which they have outgrown, and come out of such a sect. To do this requires grace and costs some effort, disrupting, as it often does, pleasant associations, and exposing the honest truth-seeker to the silly charges of being a “traitor” to his sect, a “turncoat,” one “not established,” etc. When one joins a sect, his mind is supposed to be given up entirely to that sect, and henceforth not his own. The sect undertakes to decide for him what is truth and what is error; and he, to be a true, staunch, faithful member, must accept the decisions of his sect, future as well as past, on all religious matters, ignoring his own individual thought, and avoiding personal investigation, lest he grow in knowledge, and be lost as a member of such sect. This slavery of conscience to a sect and creed is often stated in so many words, when such a one declares that he “belongs” to such a sect.
If this not an accurate description of the current situation within the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, then I don’t know what is.
Rutherford was right—though not in the way he meant—“Religion is a snare and a racket.” But he was also right about the next part of that preaching campaign slogan: “Serve God and Christ the King.”
The Weeds and the Wheat
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses who wake up continue associating with the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They do this because of the Organization’s racket to punish dissenters by cutting them off from family and friends. So, they remain quiet and suffer in silence.
Others leave the organization but long for the fellowship they had within the community of JWs. Some seek to find that by associating with other religious groups.
However, bear in mind that Russell’s words still apply.
What many now seek are groups of worshipers that do not impose a system of rules. There are small nondenominational groups springing up these days just as there were toward the end of the 19th century. As long as these groups follow the lead of Jesus and not the doctrines of men, they are not classifiable as religions. That is good, because Hebrews 10:24, 25 commands us to gather together, and so we should, if at all possible. But caution must always be exercised. Eventually—almost inevitably—small groups grow and someone sees the opportunity to become a leader. The moment you start to see the interpretation and rule of men rear its ugly head, know that the snare has been laid. Soon the racketeering will begin. Let us be guided by these words of our Lord:
“But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, and all of you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called leaders, for your Leader is one, the Christ. But the greatest one among you must be your minister. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23:8-12)
I was asked recently, “Where do we find true religion?” The answer in my humble opinion is, “You can’t. True religion is a contradiction in terms. Religion is ultimately, the rule of men, not God.”
However, if you’re trying to find true worship, look no further than yourself.
“Therefore, everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does them will be like a discreet man who built his house on the rock. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and lashed against that house, but it did not cave in, for it had been founded on the rock. Furthermore, everyone hearing these sayings of mine and not doing them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and struck against that house, and it caved in, and its collapse was great.”” (Mt 7:24-27)
You will notice that he does not speak of churches, congregations, organizations. He says “everyone”. This rule applies to individuals. You do not need a group to worship God. You only need Jesus.
Russell had this wisdom to impart on that subject:
But no earthly organization can grant a passport to heavenly glory. The most bigoted sectarian (aside from the Romanist) will not claim, even, that membership in his sect will secure heavenly glory. [Author’s note: I might add that nevertheless, Witnesses preach that membership in and obedience to the Organization will secure earthly glory.] All are forced to admit that the true Church is the one whose record is kept in heaven, and not on earth. They deceive the people by claiming that it is needful to come to Christ through them—needful to become members of some sectarian body in order to become members of “the body of Christ,” the true Church. On the contrary, the Lord, while he has not refused any who came to him through sectarianism, and has turned no true seeker away empty, tells us that we need no such hindrances, but could much better have come to him direct. He cries, “Come unto me”; “take my yoke upon you, and learn of me”; “my yoke is easy and my burden is light, and ye shall find rest to your souls.” Would that we had given heed to his voice sooner. We would have avoided many of the heavy burdens of sectism, many of its bogs of despair, many of its doubting castles, its vanity fairs, its lions of worldly-mindedness, etc.
He speaks further, though unwittingly, on the awakening we are now experiencing in the Organization.
Many, however, born in the various sects, or transplanted in infancy or childhood, without questioning the systems, have grown free in heart, and unconsciously beyond the limits and bounds of the creeds they acknowledge by their profession and support with their means and influence. Few of these have recognized the advantages of full liberty, or the drawbacks of sectarian bondage. Nor was the full, complete separation enjoined until now, in the harvest time.
In other words, many like myself who have been raised in the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses are only now coming to know the true freedom of the Christ.
However, some are still unsatisfied and want a more definitive answer. They ask, “Where must I go to find the truth.” Such ones are not unlike the Israelites of old who came to the prophet Samuel and insisted, “No, we are determined to have a king over us.” (1 Sa 8:19) They are uncomfortable making their own determination of things and want someone to lead them—someone visible, not Jesus.
To them I say, you do not find the truth. It finds you.
In Spirit and In Truth
Jesus once met a woman who, like the Jews, thought that true worship was connected with a place. He told her:
“Believe Me, woman,…a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem….But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him. (John 4:21, 23)
Notice, not “with truth”, as if one has to have that to delight the Father, but “in truth”. The first refers to a possession, but the latter to a state of mind. No one has all the truth. Indeed, the purpose of everlasting life is the ongoing acquiring of truth about the Father and the Son.
“Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent.” (John 17:3 Contemporary English Version)
Worshiping in spirit and in truth means loving truth and yearning for more while humbly acknowledging our own ignorance. The Father is searching for those with such an attitude. So, in that sense, if we are seeking truth, the truth through holy spirit will find us.
Notice that those who are condemned by God in 2 Thessalonians 2:10 are not condemned for lacking truth but for refusing to love truth.
You may be associating with a group of fellow believers. That is good and in keeping with Hebrews 10:24, 25. However, you must never belong to that or any other group, organization, or religion. Why? Because you, individually, already belong to someone. You belong to the Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
If you choose to continue associating with JW.org as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or if you choose to associate with those of another mainstream Christian denomination, that is your choice. Just be mindful that there will likely come a time when your allegiance to the Christ will be tested.
“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32, 33)
Many who break free from the snare of religion are so disenchanted by the experience that they lose faith in God and Christ. They are “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”? The Bible shows that there can be no true freedom without the Christ. However, many do not believe that to be so. As a consequence, they look elsewhere for freedom. Some become agnostic, while others become full-on atheists. They turn to scientists who promote evolution and scholars who teach that the Bible is just a book written by men.
Paul warned the Colossians:
“Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” (Col 2:8)
I love freedom and I no longer want to become a slave to others, be they religionists, scientists, philosophers, conspiracy theorists or what Paul calls “the spiritual powers of this world”. Having developed the ability for critical thinking, let us continue to exercise this power to protect ourselves from the many snares that lie hidden out there in the world.
In my next video, we’ll take a critical look at evolution.