The Jehovah’s Witnesses
One of the most prevalent religious sects active in our province today is the self-styled Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW). They are active in 240 lands with a claimed 120,053 congregations. As of 2017, they had 8,457,107 active members. Their yearly “Memorial of Christ’s Death” was attended by 20,175,477 people last year, and in excess of ten million home studies were conducted. These are impressive figures, but who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses?.
The movement was started by Charles Taze Russell, who was born into a Presbyterian home in Pennsylvania in 1852. Early in life, he became a Congregationalist before distancing himself from orthodox Christianity completely. He began to deny and despise Bible doctrines such as predestination and eternal punishment. In 1870, he began organising small Bible classes in Pittsburgh; and, by 1879, he was publishing a magazine entitled “Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence”. This magazine became known as “The Watchtower”. In 1886, Russell published the first volume of a series of books called “Studies in Scripture”. By 1908, Russell had moved the headquarters of his new society to Brooklyn in New York. During that time, his integrity was called into question following his separation from his wife and his conviction in court for perjury. Russell died in 1916 and was replaced by Judge Rutherford, who claimed in 1931 that an angel visited him instructing him to change the name of the society from “The Dawn Bible Students Association” to “The Jehovah Witness Movement”. Isaiah 43.10-12 was cited as confirmation for the change of name. Rutherford took the position of authority over the movement. The next leader was Nathan Knorr who replaced Rutherford in 1942; and, under his leadership, the movement grew to over two million followers. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be the sole custodians of truth. This claim of superiority and exclusivity is ever the mark of a cult.
The only Bible the movement recognises is its own “New World Translation”, which was published in 1961. JWs believe that only the Watchtower Society can properly interpret the Bible. Essentially, ‘The Watchtower’ takes the place of the Holy Spirit. Russell’s “Studies in Scripture” are also viewed as being authoritative. Speaking of them, the Watchtower stated on September 15th, 1910, “they are not mere comments on the Bible, but they are practically the Bible itself… people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself”. JW publications like ‘The Watchtower’ and ‘Awake!’ magazines are viewed as revelations from God.
The history of the JW movement is littered with false prophecies. It has predicted that Christ would return in 1874, then 1914, then 1925, then 1975; and some within the movement suggested the year 2000 for the Second Coming. Clearly, none of them was true.
The Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 18:22, highlights the mark of a false prophet being “if the thing follow not, nor come to pass”. On 1st April 1972, The Watchtower claimed to be God’s prophet on earth: “Does Jehovah have a prophet? The prophet was a body of men and women… known as “International Bible Students”, today they are known as “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
What does this sect teach regarding the fundamentals of the Christian Faith?
The Bible presents to us one God revealed in three distinct persons. It speaks of God the Father (John 6.27), God the Son (Hebrews 1.8) and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5.3, 4). These three persons constitute the Triune Godhead (Deuteronomy 6.4, Acts 17.29, 1 John 5.7). The Watchtower denies the Trinity. It claims, “The Trinity… an idea of pagan imagination” (Truth That Leads To Eternal Life p22) “The Trinity… a false doctrine promulgated by Satan” (Rutherford, 1937)
The Holy Spirit
JWs view the Holy Spirit as a mere force or influence, void of attributes and personality. However, from John chapters 14 to 16, our Lord Jesus Christ described the Holy Spirit as “He” and “Him”. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit guides, leads, teaches, shows, grieves, and comforts. These are characteristics that can only be attributed to a person. Charles Russell said in volume 5 of ‘Studies in Scripture’ that “the Holy Spirit is NOT a person in the Godhead. There is no personal Holy Spirit”.
The Jehovah Witness’s Jesus is NOT the Christ of the Bible. The Watchtower society teaches that He is the same person as Michael the Archangel (Watchtower, May 15th, 1963). They assert that He is not eternal but is “Jehovah’s first creation”, not God but a perfect man. They teach that His resurrection was not physical but spiritual, “the man Jesus is dead, forever dead” (Studies in Scripture, Vol. 5). The Bible sets forth the deity of Christ (John 1.1, Revelation 1.10-18) AND His bodily resurrection from the grave (1 Corinthians 15.4, 12-17).
The organisation claims to be “God’s sole collective channel for the flow of biblical truth to men on earth” (Watchtower, July 15th, 1960). This is an indicator that, as far as JWs are concerned, there is no salvation outside of their society. They believe in two categories of believer: (i) The Elect: 144,000 who will be in heaven. (ii) The Majority Earth Class who won’t be in heaven but will live on Jehovah’s earth.
Most JWs do not expect to be in heaven. They believe that salvation is by works, consisting of obedience to the organisation (Aid To Bible Understanding p197), water baptism (Watchtower 1979) and “declaring” or being an active witness. The Word of God is abundantly clear that salvation is a free gift, bestowed by grace and received through faith (Ephesians 2.8, 9, Titus 3.5).
JWs teach that death for those outside their society is annihilation (to be put out of existence). In their publication Is This Life All There Is? (p. 96, 97, 119) they state, “teaching of a fiery hell is a teaching of demons… those teaching hellfire doctrine are saying blasphemous things against God”. However, Christ spoke about hell and eternal punishment more than anyone else in the Bible (Matthew 23.33, 25.30, 41, 46, Luke 16.19-31).
Salvation is not found in any system of organisation. It is found in and through the person and work of Christ alone (Acts 4.12).
Rev Roger Higginson
(Coleraine Free Presbyterian Church.)