Written by: Joel B. Groat
Jehovah’s Witnesses. Almost everyone knows of their aggressive door-to-door proselytizing. The organization they represent, known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTB&TS), emphasizes end time prophecy and has unsuccessfully predicted the end of the world many times. The WTB&TS exercises rigid control over Jehovah’s Witnesses and forbids their participation in such common activities as taking blood transfusions, celebrating birthdays or holidays (including Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day), voting, flag saluting, and military service. Through these restrictions, the WTB&TS builds a wall of isolation between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the rest of society.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society boldly claims to be the only organization God is using today to teach His truth and speak for Him.1 According to the WTB&TS, all non-Jehovah’s Witnesses will be destroyed at Armageddon, an event of divine judgment it threatens is just around the corner. The Watchtower Society prints over 15 million copies of its magazines every week into 120 languages, and has over 5 million active Jehovah’s Witnesses (“publishers”) spreading its doctrines in 230 countries. What follows are some essential facts everyone should know about the history and beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Borrowed Beliefs and Doctrines
Charles T. Russell (1852-1916) founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement. As a teenager he rejected his Presbyterian roots, joined a more liberal Congregational Church, then left this group as well.2 He denied the deity of Christ and the biblical teachings on hell and eternal punishment. Russell had no formal Bible training, but borrowed and built upon various teachings that were popular at the time. For example, Adventism influenced his denial of hell, and a splinter Adventist group led by N.H. Barbour aroused his interest in end time prophecies. From Barbour he borrowed the belief that Christ returned invisibly to the world in 1874, and that 1914 was the year the world would be destroyed and the Millennium would begin.
In 1879 Russell started his own magazine, Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (now known as The Watchtower), to promote his doctrines. People were drawn to Russell’s sensational end time predictions, and the organization grew.
In spite of his lack of formal training in theology or biblical languages, Russell claimed to be the only one with the truth, and he vigorously condemned all other Christian religions. As a result, ministers of various denominations began exposing Russell’s false teachings and questionable character.
When an organization like the WTB&TS claims to be the only true religion and the sole source of correct Bible teaching, we must carefully examine its beliefs. If its doctrines are true, they will be found in the Bible, and its teachings will be consistent and unchanging year after year. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, deny or twist many of the Bible’s basic teachings, and their beliefs conflict with those held by orthodox Christians down through the centuries. Consider the following comparisons.
The Nature of God. The Bible teaches that there is only one true God (Isa. 43:10-11; 44:6,8). Father, Son and Holy Spirit are identified as distinct Persons within the one Triune Godhead (Matt. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 13:14). Throughout the New Testament the Son and the Holy Spirit, as well as the Father are separately identified as God. The attributes and prerogatives of Deity are ascribed to each (Son: Mark 2:5-12; John 20:28; Heb. 1:8; Holy Spirit: Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 3:17-18).
By contrast, the WTB&TS denies the triune nature of God and teaches that such a belief is inspired by Satan. It teaches that Jehovah, the name of the one true God, corresponds only to God the Father. The Society also denies that Jesus is God (see next point). They deny the Holy Spirit is a person, and instead teach he is merely God’s active force, analogous to electricity.
Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh, and is the Creator of all things (John 1:1-3, 14; Col. 1:16). While never less than God, at the appointed time He laid aside the glory He shared with the Father and took on a human nature (John 17:3-5; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:9). Following his death, Jesus Christ rose bodily from the grave, appeared to and was recognized in his body by over 500 people. This fact was crucial to both the preaching and faith of the early church (Luke 24:39; John 2:19-21; 1 Cor. 15:6, 14).
By contrast, the WTB&TS denies the deity of Jesus Christ and teaches that Jesus is a created being. He first existed as Michael the archangel then later was born as a perfect man. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that after Jesus was buried, God disposed of his physical body. Jesus was raised a spirit creature and “materialized” a fleshly body to make himself visible. Now in heaven he is again known as Michael the archangel.
Salvation. The Bible teaches that the atoning work of Christ alone provides the solution for man’s sin problem. Jesus Christ took the personal sins of all men — past, present and future — in his own body on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24), and as perfect God and perfect man he fully met the demands of Divine justice for us (Rom. 3:22-26). Therefore, any and all who receive him by simple faith (John 1:12; Acts 16:31), can be forgiven, declared righteous and restored to fellowship with God (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:24-26).
By contrast, the WTB&TS teaches that only an elite group of Witnesses, known as “the 144,000,” or the “anointed ones” are presently credited with Christ’s righteousness. Only the 144,000 are born again and expect to reign with Christ in heaven. For the vast majority of remaining Jehovah’s Witnesses, known as the “other sheep” or the “great crowd,” the atoning sacrifice of Christ only provides a chance at eternal life on earth.
The Bible also teaches that we are saved by grace alone apart from any self-righteous works; salvation is God’s gift. There is nothing we can do to contribute to our salvation because apart from Jesus Christ we are “dead in our sins” (Eph. 2:1-9).
By contrast, the WTB&TS teaches that we must earn our own salvation; salvation will “depend on one’s works.” A person must first “come to Jehovah’s organization for salvation” and then comply with everything they teach. In this way, a relationship with the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, rather than a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is presented as the basis of salvation.
The Human Spirit & Eternal Punishment. The Bible teaches that the human spirit continues to exist consciously after death (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8; Philippians 1:23-24; Rev. 6:9-11). Those who have rejected God’s gift of eternal life will suffer conscious eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41,46; Rev. 14:10,11; 20:10,15).
By contrast, the WTB&TS denies eternal punishment and teaches that man does not have a spirit that survives the death of the body. Witnesses believe that death ends all conscious existence. Hell refers to the grave, and those who are ultimately judged by God will be annihilated and simply cease to exist.
The Bible. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit’s anointing enables individual Christians to understand God’s Word and properly apply it to their lives (John 16:13; 1 John 2:27).
By contrast, the WTB&TS teaches that the Bible can only be interpreted by the Watchtower Society, and no individual can learn the truth apart from them.
In light of the preceding facts, do we dare trust the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society? It has falsely prophesied the end of the world at least 6 times and used these predictions to intimidate its followers. The Bible warns us that many false prophets will come claiming to speak for God (Matthew 7:15; 1 John 4:1). Thankfully, it also provides a practical test for identifying false prophets. In Deuteronomy 18:21-22 we are told that anyone who claims to speak as a prophet of God and predicts something that does not come true is a false prophet.
You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him (NIV).
According to the Bible, one false prophecy makes the speaker a false prophet. By this test, the Watchtower Society’s failed prophecies concerning 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925 and 1975 prove beyond a doubt it is a false prophet.
This group has also repeatedly changed its doctrines and contradicted previously held beliefs, all while claiming that it alone has the truth. Is this consistent with God’s perfection and holiness?
We do not intend to ridicule or belittle individual Jehovah’s Witnesses; they are generally sincere, dedicated people. In one sense they are more like lost sheep than ravenous wolves, for they have been deceived by an organization with a history of false prophecies and false doctrines. Jehovah’s Witnesses truly believe that if they leave the Watchtower Society they will be destroyed at Armageddon. They need our love and compassion. Our desire for them, as for everyone else, is that they come to a true knowledge of what the Bible teaches, and the understanding that salvation is God’s gift to us. Only by entering into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will any of us be guaranteed forgiveness and eternal life.