A Review of the Watchtower article “Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?” (Watchtower Sept 2015)
by James Broughton
In an article which spans five parts, the Watchtower Society appears to invite the reader to form a greater understanding of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although they already have several brochures and leaflets about themselves, it seems they want this information to gain a wider acceptance by publishing it in the Watchtower magazine.
Who Are Jehovah’s Witnesses? (p.3)
The article begins with some common misunderstandings from a Watchtower point of view of what JWs are not.
“I had known Mike for years. He is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But his religion always baffled me. Who is Jehovah? Why don’t Witnesses celebrate the holidays? Was Mike mixed up in a cult?”—Becky, California, U.S.A.
“When my neighbors started to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I wondered: ‘What does that name, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mean? What a strange name for a religion!’ ”—Zenon, Ontario, Canada.
“My wife and I thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses called to prey on our guilt feelings because we weren’t at church. And we figured that if the mainline churches didn’t have what we were looking for, a weird sect like Jehovah’s Witnesses couldn’t have it either.”—Kent, Washington, U.S.A.
“I honestly didn’t know who they were and what they stood for.”—Cecilie, Esbjerg, Denmark.
Notice how the words sect, cult, weird, strange, prey on, guilt feelings etc. are used no doubt to counteract what the reader (a potential convert) may already be feeling. Also, as there is so much negative comment on the internet, the Witnesses are under pressure to provide answers. Notice also how they distance themselves from “mainline churches” which elsewhere in their literature they are quick to demonize, yet happy to use quotations from when it suits their purpose. Allowing for the fact that the information they supply is only an overview, it is still worth-while challenging some of the points that are expressed and also directing the reader to information that the Watchtower does not want him/her to find out until it is too late.
The reader is then invited to “receive truthful answers” from a Watchtower Society perspective. It includes topics such as finance, motivation as well as beliefs. The first section ends with a quote from Proverbs 14: 15 “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps”. It is, however, only a part picture as we shall see.
Q Which is the only “channel of communication” that God is using today?
You have likely seen them preaching from door to door or in a public place, distributing Bible-based literature and offering free Bible studies. You may have received this magazine from one of them. Still, you may wonder who Jehovah’s Witnesses really are. Perhaps your thoughts are similar to one of those quoted above. If you have such questions and concerns, where might you go for answers? How can you learn what Jehovah’s Witnesses really believe, how their ministry and places of worship are financed, and why they call at your home and approach you in public places? “I read a lot about Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Internet,” says Cecilie, quoted earlier. “I heard some rumors, and I listened to a great deal of prejudiced talk. As a result, I formed a very negative view of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Later, however, she spoke to Jehovah’s Witnesses directly and found satisfying answers to her questions. Would you like to receive truthful answers to your questions about Jehovah’s Witnesses? We encourage you to turn to the most knowledgeable source—Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves, who publish this magazine. (Proverbs 14:15) We hope that the following articles will help you to see who we are and what we believe as well as to understand the work we do.
After the introductory remarks the reader is directed towards the composition of the group and what distinguishes it from all others. They quote from the Nová Svoboda newspaper to show how different they are, and also their “tremendous moral strength”. They even quote a former German bishop who singles out their stand during the Second World War as conscientious objectors.
What Sort of People Are Jehovah’s Witnesses? (p.4)
We are an international organization unaffiliated with other religious groups. Although our world headquarters is in the United States, the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses live in other countries. In fact, some eight million of us teach people the Bible in over 230 lands. We do so in response to Jesus’ words: “This good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.”—Matthew 24:14. Regardless of where we live, we conscientiously obey the law. Yet we endeavor to remain politically neutral. This is because we observe Jesus’ direction for Christians to be “no part of the world.” Thus we do not take part in political issues and activities or support warfare. (John 15:19; 17:16) In fact, during World War II, Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned, tortured, and even worse because they would not compromise their neutrality. A former German bishop wrote: “They can rightfully claim to be the only major conscientious objectors in the Third Reich.” Still, we do not isolate ourselves. Jesus prayed to God regarding his followers: “I do not request that you take them out of the world.” (John 17:15) Therefore, you may see us as we work, shop, and go to school in the local community.
“[Jehovah’s Witnesses] have tremendous moral strength. We could use such unselfish people even in the highest political functions—but we are never going to get them there. . . They recognize governmental authorities but believe that only God’s Kingdom is capable of solving all human problems.” —Nová Svoboda newspaper, Czech Republic
No doubt for some readers this will present a positive image. However, the Society fails to tell the public that it was one of the first religious groups to try to compromise with Hitler in 1933. Joseph Rutherford, the second president of the Watchtower Society formulated the Magdeburg Declaration which was approved by an assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Berlin giving the German leader its support. Also, they claim not to be isolationist, but is that actually the case? They quote John 17:15 but then totally ignore its implications by refusing to get their hands dirty, in a manner of speaking. It is one thing to remain neutral in a time of war but is it right to abdicate one’s duties as citizens by refusing to vote, for example?
Q How do JWs actively engage with the local community?
The article then moves on to the section about belief, including the Bible, the name of God, Jesus, and future destiny..
What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe? (p.5)
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that “all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial.” (2 Timothy 3:16) We use the Bible as a practical guide to learn about the Creator and to live meaningful lives. The Bible says: “May people know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:18) Therefore, we worship only Jehovah God, and as his Witnesses, we endeavor to make known his personal name.—Isaiah 43:10-12. As Christians, we believe that Jesus, “the Son of God,” came to earth and became the Messiah. (John 1:34, 41; 4:25, 26) After he died, Jesus was raised to heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4) Later he became King of God’s Kingdom. (Revelation 11:15) That Kingdom is a real government that will restore Paradise to the earth. (Daniel 2:44) “The meek will possess the earth, and they will find exquisite delight in the abundance of peace,” says the Bible.—Psalm 37:11, 29. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Bible principles can benefit people even today. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) Therefore, we adhere closely to those principles. For example, because the Bible warns us to avoid practices that pollute our minds and bodies, we do not smoke or misuse drugs. (2 Corinthians 7:1) We also avoid practices specifically condemned in the Bible, such as drunkenness, sexual immorality, and stealing. —1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The Bible also refers to Jesus as “the only-begotten Son of God” because he was the first and only direct creation of Jehovah.—John 3:18; Colossians 1:13-15.
“When they read in the Bible, they believe God is talking to them. Whenever problems appear in their lives, they take God’s Word and search in it for a solution. . . . For them, God’s Word is still alive.” —Catholic clergyman Benjamin Cherayath, Münsterländische Volkszeitung newspaper, Germany
Q What are the consequences of being disfellowshipped?
They accept the Bible as the inspired word of God and seek to follow its principles. No problem there. Where the problem occurs is insisting that Jehovah is God’s name. Most Bible dictionaries state that the correct name is Yahweh. Even allowing for the fact that Jehovah is used in other Bibles, albeit in certain places, it is never used in the Christian Greek New Testament, even in quotations from the Hebrew Old Testament. Their own Kingdom Interlinear Translation will confirm that. They also claim to worship Jehovah as the only true God. Yet Hebrews 1:6 clearly shows that all the angels will worship Jesus, as some of the earlier versions of their own New World Translation showed.
Indeed, the downgrading of Jesus is a key element in their teaching. They do this by claiming that Jesus was created, quoting John 3:18 and Colossians 1:13-15. Christ is “firstborn” (pre-eminent) by virtue of the fact that he is Deity, and by virtue of the fact that he is the first one to rise in a glorified body. He is therefore pre-eminent over all creation, and through his power all things consist or hold together. He is not one of the “things” but he is the Creator of all things, the eternal Word who possesses the very nature of God.
It is God’s will and purpose that humankind should have the opportunity of coming into a living relationship with his Son, not on a Paradise earth but in heaven, which is not restricted to a relative handful of people.
Q Which is the name that the apostles constantly seek to uplift?
How Is Our Ministry Financed? (p.6)
This section is quite revealing. JWs are normally very reticent about publishing their accounts. It is not entirely true that all ministers are “unsalaried members of a religious order”. Certain members are given an allowance to enable them to fulfil their ministry. Also the “disaster relief” is usually given to support Witnesses and not the needy population in general.
Each year, we print and distribute hundreds of millions of Bibles and pieces of Bible literature. We build and operate branch offices and printeries around the world. Tens of thousands of congregations meet in modest yet attractive places of worship called Kingdom Halls. Who pays for all of this? Our work is supported entirely by voluntary donations. (2 Corinthians 9:7) In 1879, the second issue of this magazine stated: “‘Zion’s Watch Tower’ [as this magazine was then called] has, we believe JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support.” We have not wavered from that policy. Donations are sent directly to one of our branch offices or placed in a contribution box that is located in each Kingdom Hall. But we never tithe, take up collections, or charge a fee for our services or publications. We are not paid to preach, to teach in the congregation, or to help build places of worship. After all, Jesus said: “You received free, give free.” (Matthew 10:8) All ministers at our branch offices and at our world headquarters, including those making up the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, are unsalaried members of a religious order. Donated funds are also used for disaster relief. The early Christians were pleased to share in relief measures for victims of adversity. (Romans 15:26) We likewise assist the afflicted by rebuilding their homes and places of worship and by providing food, clothing, and medical treatment.
“As is the case with all the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, religious funding is handled on a voluntary basis, each one personally determining the amount and frequency of his religious ‘donations.’ ” —European Court of Human Rights, 2011
Jehovah’s Witnesses the world over continue to digest a recent “historic” JW Broadcasting episode, in which the Governing Body admits to having a shortfall in funds and asks Witnesses to give their “valuable things” to compensate. A video has emerged indicating that Stephen Lett, one of its members, even have his eyes on children’s ice cream money.
The video, which is intended to be shown during the 2015 series of Witness conventions, shows Sophia (from the “Become Jehovah’s Friend” cartoon series) day-dreaming about spending her pocket money on an ice cream while at the kingdom hall.
But when Sophia sees her mother putting money in the contribution box, her thoughts turn to kingdom halls, literature carts and bethel buildings, and she decides to forgo her ice cream and put her dollar in the contribution box for Watchtower’s “worldwide work” instead. The Governing Body must surely understand that, despite the launch of JW.org and the metropolitan witnessing initiative (i.e. literature carts), most adults in developed lands are simply not interested in joining a cult with a horrendous online reputation of failed prophecies, shunning, child abuse and refusal of certain medical treatments.
Q Why has finance taken on such a significant role?
Why Do We Preach? (p.7)
Jehovah’s Witnesses have always taken great pride in their preaching work. The Society impresses on all its members that they should do this because some one came to them in the first place. Once a person is convinced that this is the only organisation that God is using today, he/she will be willing to work for it. New recruits will have been warned that Satan opposes the preaching of this ‘good news’ and therefore at some time in the work opposition is bound to confront them. Taking all this on board and dedicating themselves to serving Jehovah they will begin to find the ten hours a month suggested as a minimum that should be spent on the doors or canvassing from their portable trolleys.
Perhaps nothing distinguishes us as much as our extensive preaching work—from house to house, in public places, and wherever people are found. Why do we do it? Jehovah’s Witnesses preach to glorify God and to make known his name. (Hebrews 13:15) We also want to obey Christ Jesus, who commanded: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19, 20. Moreover, we love our neighbor. (Matthew 22:39) Of course, we realize that most people have their own religious beliefs and that not everyone is interested in our message. Still, we feel that Bible teachings are lifesaving. That is why we continue “without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ,” as did the first-century Christians. —Acts 5:41, 42. Most readers of our literature are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. And millions who study the Bible with us belong to other religions. Yet they are grateful that Jehovah’s Witnesses call on them. Of course, you may have other questions about Jehovah’s Witnesses. We invite you to learn the answers by ˙ Asking one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. ˙ Visiting our website, www.jw.org. ˙ Attending our meetings, which are free and open to all.
Sociologist Antonio Cova Maduro wrote of “the effort and trouble to which Jehovah’s Witnesses go, to the point of exhausting themselves . . . , so that the sacred text reaches the farthest corner of the earth.”—El Universal newspaper, Venezuela
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not immediately tell those to whom they preach the whole story of what it means to be in their religion. One example of this is that they do not explain that membership in “good standing” requires a special type of maintenance.
Retaining a “good standing” as a Witness requires maintaining a social distance from unbelievers. Before you can even join you’ll be expected to change your standards as regards relationships, and keep it that way.
What Witness preachers neglect to mention early on is that joining them could very well mean breaking ties with friends and family. That crucial information does not come in until much later.
In the beginning, they’ll say a simple home Bible study under their tutelage, using only their literature, will answer all of life’s big questions. It is going to be quite some time before they start to list the “bad associates” you must avoid if you wish to make progress.
Q Should we not investigate any organisation which claims to be of God?