by Ronald Fisher
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a fast-growing cult. Shall we avoid them, slam the door in their faces, or what? This author says that with the right approach they can be reached for the Lord. His steps are applicable to missionaries in any part of the world.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a fast-growing cult. Shall we avoid them, slam the door in their faces, or what? This author says that with the right approach they can be reached for the Lord. His steps are applicable to missionaries in any part of the world.
Commenting on the remarkable activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in recent days in England, a Christian worker there is said to have remarked, "I’ll be glad when everyone in England is a Witness. Then when I witness door-to-door, I won’t have to explain that I am not a Jehovah’s Witness, and can get right to the gospel."
This perhaps facetious remark in fact suggests three points that should be kept in mind if we are to respond positively and effectively to this movement. The first is to recognize that the Witnesses are probably the fastest growing cult in the world, and a serious threat to Christian missions. The second is that they are essentially no different than any other non-biblical movement, whether it be Communism or Roman Catholicism. The third follows hard on the second, that is, like all other lost people, Jehovah’s Witnesses should be evangelized.
The Watchtower Society’s official statistics boast an annual membership gain of 15 percent, the fastest growth of any religious sect.1 And this is not limited to North America, where the movement was born. In France alone, that bastion of agnosticism and anti-American sentiment, baptisms were up from 6,476 in 1973 to 8,679 in 1974, an increase of over 30 percent.2 Thoroughly indigenized, and with 40,000 "Bible studies" being held in homes,3 it is no secret that the Witnesses have established a strong base in France. They are even stronger in Italy. One student of church growth concluded that to his knowledge "no church anywhere has achieved the growth rate maintained by Italy’s Jehovah’s Witness."4
The movement in Italy also shows what a threat the Witnesses are to Christian missions. They claim the title "evangelical," producing confusion in the minds of the unsaved, and even some evangelicals are said to see no difference between themselves and the Testimoni di Geova.5 Many "Christians," including some evangelicals, are misled by their claim to be Bible-based. An article about them in an American newspaper says, "You could call them people of the book."6
In fact, they are people of their books, but because they do not speak of other books as being inspired by God (in contrast with the Mormons, Christian Scientists, and others) they seem to be Bible-centered. This gives them entrance into homes of people interested in the Bible, even evangelicals, who are impressed by their zeal, sincerity, and apparent Bible knowledge. In Indonesia they get into homes of new Christians ostensibly to help them with domestic chores, but soon are indoctrinating these babes in Christ in the Watchtower doctrines. In areas where the Witnesses are active, new Christians (and older ones as well) need to be taught in advance as a protection against this false teaching that they will inevitably be exposed to,7 or many more may be subverted.
SIMILAR TO OTHER CULTISTS
Are the Witnesses somehow uniquely emissaries of Satan, to be considered in a special category? Upon reflection it becomes clear that this cult is not so different from other non-evangelical movements. It is deeply anticlerical, and has capitalized on the bitter disillusionment of many people raised in a "Christian country" who are repelled by the emptiness of Liberalism, the superstition of Catholicism, and the apathy and apostacy of organized Christendom in general. Indoctrinated Witnesses know of no other kind of Christianity. The have much the same attitude of revolt as do Communists in the face of the hypocrisy and impotence of the professing churches.
At the same time, the Watchtower promulgates a system very similar in mentality to that of the Roman Catholic Church. It insists on absolute obedience to the central authority in Brooklyn (not Rome); a handful of men write all the literature and make all the decisions, which are not to be questioned by the rank and file. Witnesses are counseled to read only approved literature; the Watchtower "Index" generally rejects anything that is not issued by the Society.
Every effort is made to guarantee uniformity of thought and action at the expense of personal and spiritual liberty. Their catechetical method teaches doctrine by the use of special literature rather than getting people into the Word for themselves. A thorough "grid" is placed between the faithful and their Bibles, so that they read the Bible through Watchtower glasses. Salvation is by faith plus works, and consequently the faithful do not assume they are saved, with the inevitable necessity of constant effort. All are convinced that salvation is impossible outside of their organization, which is God’s instrument on earth. Is it any wonder that the Witnesses ‘are most effective in traditionally Roman Catholic populations?8
Witnesses are similar to other cultists as well.9 They are supreme rationalists, yet attach superstitious importance to the "divine name" and the Watchtower Society and its publications. They view the New Testament through the Old, and build doctrines upon speculation. They think of themselves as wholesome, God-fearing people, clean livers and good citizens. Many pass through personal crises before being attracted to the Watchtower Society. (The J.W.’s have ways of getting names of people who have lost loved ones or recently been divorced.)
They were touched by the personal interest shown by their dedicated visitors, and were encouraged by the hope which these visits generated. Now their convictions and zeal stem from a thorough indoctrination, and also from a feeling that they are a persecuted minority holding to God’s truth against an antagonistic world system. Most have left another religion and believe they now serve God to a degree formerly impossible to them in their previous faith. This conviction that they are serving God fills a basic God-given need and desire, so that even though they are deceived, they feel that they have an overwhelming purpose in life and are right with God.
Witnesses pride themselves on being more dedicated and active than Christians, and are confident they can win any debate with a non-Witness. They have risen in the organization as lay ministers, and have "a piece of the action. " Having invested a good portion of their waking hours in Witness activities, they have much to lose if they leave the movement. All their effort would have been for nought, the former friends and colleagues would suddenly and irrevocably turn their backs on them. It would be a crushing blow to have to admit that they had again been deceived by a false religion. Are they then so very different from other cultists?
Should we view the J. W.’s as unreachable, to be avoided at all costs? One colleague once shrugged off the problem by saying, "After all, they have Satan with them. " The immediate response to this is: "Who then, do we have with us? Is not God greater than Satan?" To be sure their system is more I pleasing to the world than is God’s truth, but it is to our shame that so many evangelicals are incapable of coping with these deceived and deceptive "ministers." In many cases a defeatist strategy is followed. Avoid them, slam the door in their faces, keep a big dog to ward them off, etc. Indeed, one converted Witness said that in the ten years he was visiting door-to-door, only three people ever took the time to kindly explain to him the biblical way of salvation.
Should we not on the contrary see the Witnesses as a mission field? These are people who are ready to invest their lives for the truth, who believe in the Bible, and home studies, who desire to serve God and enjoy hardship for him. Would that more of our believers had their dedication and zeal. Paul persisted in evangelizing Jews, in spite of their antagonistic and resistant spirit. He was driven by compassion (Rom. 9:1-3) and a recognition that they had a 66 zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:1-4). Even though they sought to establish their own righteousness, he sought to call them to true salvation by faith. We should determine to prepare ourselves to effectively witness to these false Witnesses. We should be reaching these people before they get fatally enmeshed in the Watchtower doctrine.
Persons already contacted by the Witnesses are not lost causes. Often this contact has challenged them to inquire seriously and to search the Scriptures. Neophyte Witnesses are also reachable, and some "old hands" have also been converted by the grace of God. As the movement grows, "Party discipline" weakens. Several converted Witnesses have written books about their conversions.10 One writer has received letters from 7,918 converted J.W.s.11 Another estimates that as many as 50 percent of the Society’s members have later left the movement.12 The Watchtower Society itself admits in a 1969 article that 200,000 Kingdom Publishers had between 1949 and 1968 "lost their faith and quit preaching."13 Gruss estimates that by now the total would be 400,00014 How wonderful it would have been if these had all heard a positive witness to the saving power of our Lord.
HOW TO WITNESS TO THEM
Probably the biggest problem is knowing how to witness to J.W.s. There is no need to seek them out; they will come to your door! But how should one proceed from there? Here are some suggestions:
Ask your visitor to wait while you get your Bible. This will give you time to pray briefly, collect your thoughts, and gain the victory over various emotions that hinder our testimony to the Witnesses. When you return to the door with a well-worn Bible, your caller will realize that you take the Word seriously, as you will be able to confirm by your use of the Word during the conversation. This will surprise him, and is part of our testimony. He is probably unaware that there are non-Witnesses who love the Word of God.
Next, allow him to present his "line," showing respect for his convictions and his desire to serve God. During this presentation, you may chose to "pin him down" on some points by turning to the Scripture reference and asking questions about the context and the real meaning of the verse. This is one way of "derailing" his memorized presentation and exposing his lack of true biblical understanding. Others prefer to let him present his "spiel," then begin with their own approach.
In either case, it is essential not to allow him to establish the basis of the ensuing discussion. This is why he will succeed in the "debate." He lays the ground rules, and has already won the "debate." Falling into this trap only leads either to a logical defeat or anger, which is also a defeat. Your calm, firm, and loving attitude will surprise him and is essential to effective Christian witness (Titus 3:9; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Even if you make no headway with him, he will leave with a positive impression of Bible-believing Christians that may prepare him for the ministry of another believer later on. It takes time to overcome the negative image that J.W.s have of "Christendom."
Other things to avoid: Do not take any literature. Tell him the Bible is all you need, and that it is an open book to you. Avoid discussing the doctrines of the Trinity and hell (at least until you have been able to establish other key truths to which he is more open). He can be saved without having grasped either truth, and our initial goal is to win him to Christ, not convert him to a different doctrinal system. There must be no feeling of debate, where one either wins or loses. It is a matter of perceiving God’s truth, not winning a battle.
Approach him as you would any unsaved person. Once he finishes, change the subject entirely by sharing with him enthusiastically what the Lord has done in your life. Start where he is. Tell about what you were before you came to Christ (keeping in mind the characteristics of J.W.s cited above). Identify with him in his attitudes and aspirations, and show how the Lord worked in your life. Tell how he meets your needs, how the Scriptures became an open book, all that would help him to see the reality of God in your life.
Let him know that evangelicals witness door-to-door, oppose apostate Christianity and all false religion, and separate themselves from this world system. Give a positive testimony of your salvation as you would with anyone else, only adapting it as much as possible in light of what you know about Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you were disillusioned with false Christianity, say so, and tell how you found the true. But always go on to a positive word of love, joy, truth, and fulfillment in the Lord.
Your visitor is accustomed to doctrinal debates. He cannot cope with personal experiences of a transformed life. It is completely out of his realm. He may think you daft, but he will not be able to debate with you. You will have demonstrated "witnessing" as it was practiced in the New Testament (cf. John 9). He may leave immediately, but as Schnell, points out, just think of the effect if Witnesses received this kind of testimony at every Christian home they visited.15 Always pray for your visitor after he has left.
A LONGER DISCUSSION
If your visitor lingers, you may want to invite him in. If he is willing to listen, these three subjects should be presented, in the following order: the new birth, the name of Jesus, and the role of the Holy Spirit. He will probably be amazed to find that a non-Witness is capable of presenting and defending his doctrines.
Remember, your goal is to lead him to Christ. He needs to be born again to see that salvation is only in Christ, and that only by the Holy Spirit may one understand the things of God. Your goal is to communicate the essentials of salvation in the brief time he allows you. Whether he accepts Christ or not, he will have heard the gospel, and the Lord may use it later on. You will have had the joy of witnessing for the Lord, and can follow up the discussion by prayer after he leaves. Witnessing is never a waste of time!
Ask him if he is born again. This is probably new to him. You will already have testified of the change in your life; now explain from Scripture briefly what happened. Show him John 3, so he sees that no one can know anything about the Kingdom of God ("see" the Kingdom) if he is not born again. (J.W.s should not question that "see" means spiritual perception, since that is their explanation of "see" in Rev. 1:7.)
Ask him how he could meet in a "Kingdom Hall" and spread news about the Kingdom without being born again. (If he responds with the official explanation that only the 144,000 are born again, you would need to show scripturally the error of the idea of two "classes" of believers.) Give positive testimony of how you (and others) were born again in simple obedience to God’s word. Show him John 1:12-13, that this is a universal offer, and explain that in addition to believing on Jesus’ name, it is necessary to receive him. Give the comparison of a young person who claims to love a girl, but refuses to marry her. Saving faith, like true love, involves not only appreciation of the other, but also a life commitment, a lasting oneness that comes through a personal decision. Those who commit themselves to Christ become children of God, being born of God into his family. They are saved by faith, and do good works not to win salvation but because God is now in them (Eph. 2:8-10).
Having mentioned the name of Jesus, show that it is his name that is central in the New Testament. In the book of Acts it was in his name that the disciples healed (4:10), baptized (2:38; 10:48; 19:5 – putting Jesus’ name on a par with the Father and the Spirit, cf. Matt. 28:19-20), taught (5:28) and spoke (5:40; 9:27). Indeed, all the Jewish authorities demanded was that the disciples cease to teach in Jesus’ name (5:17-20). The whole issue was the name of God, as the Jews recognized. (Cf. John 8:58-59, where Jesus applied the name Jehovah – "I AM" – to himself.)
The early Christians presented Jesus Christ as God and Savior, and it was this that provoked Jewish opposition. Salvation (4:12) and forgiveness (10:43) were only in the name of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2:9-11, Paul affirms that Jesus has the name which is above every name, and that all will bow to the name of Jesus, quoting from Isaiah 45:23, but replacing the name of God (Isa. 45.21) by the name of Jesus. Paul knew he was to bear the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:5 with 9:15). To honor Jesus is to glorify the Father (cf. John 5,:23), for they are one (John 10:30). It is no wonder that God’s greatest witness, the apostle Paul, said that to him to live is Christ (Phil 1:21; cf. 3:8-10 and other Christocentric passages which center our eyes on him). The early Christians published and honored the name of Jesus Christ. 16
Next, show briefly that these truths are understood as we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us (I Cor. 2:9-16). (You might note that man is body, soul, and spirit- 1 Thess. 5:23, Heb. 4:12 – three aspects in one indivisible unity.) Here "the spirit" of a man is shown parallel with the Spirit of God. Without his revelation of the secret things of God, they seem to the natural man but "foolishness" (illogical, fantastic). Not until the Spirit guides his thinking will other truths like the Triune Godhead become clear. This Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4) and is a person (Eph. 4:30 – he can be grieved). He speaks to men (Acts 13:2;21:11) and has his own will (16:6). Anyone who blasphemes him will never have God’s pardon (Matt. 12:31).
The truths of the new birth, that Jesus Christ is the name above every name, the Triune Godhead, and in fact the rest of God’s truth remain foolishness to those who are not taught by the Holy Spirit. You might suggest that you pray together to God the Father to ask that he be open to the teaching of his Spirit.
While it normally takes much teaching to free a J.W. from his erroneous system, so that ultimately you will want to spend much time with him in systematic Bible study, at least you will have sown the seed of the true gospel, backed by your sincere personal testimony and prayer. That is what the Lord expects of us in relation to all unsaved people. You will have pointed him to Christ, and left the responsibility with him to decide. You have shown your convictions from God’s word in love.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Should he still be willing to talk more, you might ask him three questions suggested by a former J.W.17 They are: (1) Have you ever had any doubts about J.W. doctrine? (2) Have you ever questioned the trustworthiness of the Watchtower Society? (3) If you are shown from the Bible that God reveals himself in three persons, would you accept this as truth? This will help you see what he is open to. Only then should you say anything negative about the New World Society and its doctrines, or make direct reference to the Triune Godhead.
Be sure to be well-informed before launching into these subjects. There is much available in English to prepare you for such studies. But the Society is constantly covering up past embarrassments and inconsistencies, seeking biblical passages to cope with attacks on the system, so a knowledge of the current position is important. Books written by former J.W.’s help one to understand their position and mentality. Using their translation is possible and may be more effective, but you must be very well prepared.
When you have established a relationship with a Witness, and he is willing to study with you, you have an open door. But remember that you must avoid argumentation and random discussions. He is not accustomed to Bible studies as such. Schnell remarks that "Jehovah’s Witnesses have one overriding weakness. They believe with all their hearts in book studies."18
Whether or not you choose to use a book as the basis of your study, it is important to have a plan. If possible, use printed material that is available in his language (such as Navigators’ studies) if he is willing. A programmed, printed presentation is needed; search for something in his language that will be the basis of your discussions, and that he can read and prepare on his own. But be sure that it is turning him to the Word of God, which brings light.
If possible, get his address and call on him. This turns the tables on him, which is most disconcerting, and enables you to see his home situation. Perhaps others in his family are more open than he. Be prepared to spend months with him regularly before you see any change. He has been indoctrinated over a period of years, and it may take just as long to win him to Christ.
Bring him into contact gradually with other believers in his area so he can see the bond of fellowship that exists between true believers, and so that he can establish a new circle of friends. Do not push him to attend public meetings; let him come when he is ready. Be careful about referring him to an already converted J.W.; that may put undue pressure on both of them for various reasons. It usually takes time for Witnesses who have seen the truth in Christ to make the break after so much indoctrination and so many years. Above all, pray and allow the beauty of the Lord to shine through you.
The error of the Watchtower is especially evident when one considers all the false hopes generated by repeated date-setting. We know of a Witness who had a nervous breakdown when Christ did not come at the appointed time. There must be many others who might have been reached at this moment of disillusionment. The latest of several predictions for the return of Christ was 1975. The faithful were told, "The seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E….It would not be by mere chance or accident…for the reign of Jesus Christ…to run parallel with the seventh millenium."19 Though the statement is a bit guarded, there is no doubt that the Witnesses expected his coming last year.
We eagerly await Christ’s coming, but meanwhile may we seize this opportunity to evangelize these needy people. Though he may tarry in coming, we have a wonderful opportunity to lead them to him personally, so they may know him immediately and have the assurance of their salvation here and now.
1. Whether the J.W.s are the fastest growing sect is debatable. See Edmond G. Gruss, We Left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, A Non-Prophet Organization (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1974), p. 5, where it is argued that their growth is "matched by the expansion of other sects." In general, however, the J. W. statistics are dependable . They have a penchant for exacting statistics, claiming for instance, that every minute 15 more people become Witnesses.
2. ”The Watchtower," Vol. 95, No. 24, Dec. 159 1974, pp. 745-747. (Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 117 Adams Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201).
4. Roger Hedlund, The Protestant Movement in Italy (William Carey Library, South Pasadena, California) p. 164.
5. Ibid., P. 162.
6. Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Sunday" magazine, June 22, 19759 p. 6. Ironically, one of the photos accompanying the article shows the seven colorful books used in their indoctrination process.
7. Evangelical audiences have indicated on numerous occasions by a show of hands that over 95 percent have been contacted by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
8. Ted Dencher, a converted J.W., estimated on a radio broadcast that 50 percent of the Witnesses are former Roman Catholics, and 25 percent were Lutherans.
9. Anthony Hoekma’s The Four Major Cults (Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.) is one of several books that treats the mentality of cultists.
10. See for example, William Schnell, Thirty Years a Watchtower Slave; Ted Dencher, Why I Left the Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Edmond C. Gruss, We Left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, A Non-Prophet Organization.
11. William Schnell, How to Witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1975), P. 18.
12. Ted Dencher, on a radio broadcast in Baltimore in March, 1975.
13. Cited by Gruss, Ibid., p. 11.
15. Schnell, Ibid., p. 20. This is a helpful book, especially Chapter One.
16. You may want to present the many passages showing the deity of Christ. Bickersteth’s The Trinity is very complete.
17. Suggested by Ted Dencher on a radio broadcast in Baltimore in March, 1975.
18. Schnell, Ibid., p. 25. He recommends his work Into the Light of Christianity as the best means of conducting a study with a J.W. To our knowledge, no such book study for evangelizing J.W.s exists in other languages. This is a needy project.
19. Freedom of the Sons of God (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1966), pp. 29-30.
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