Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Friend Goes to a Kingdom Hall

My good friend Nick and his roommate Ray, also a dear friend of mine, took a trip to a Kingdom Hall in their area today. Both of them are outstanding Christian apologists in the making, and seminarians to boot, and while they typically specialize a bit more in evangelical-LDS dialogue, they saw fit to branch out somewhat here. I'd encourage all of my readers--okay, that's probably about zero, but still...--to read Nick's account here. He raises some very insightful points regarding spontaneity, music, and the use of Scripture. Much of what he says is also reflected in my own experience. For the most part, spontaneity is anathema; absolute uniformity in the guise of "orderly worship" is the rule; and things must above all be simple. As Nick writes:
At Mormon meetings, there is at least some spontaneity. You do not know exactly what will happen, but when the Witnesses follow in their books, they really follow in their books. 95% of the time, you can tell what the answer to the question is going to be because they are getting it right out of the book. I realized at that point why our Witnesses are so surprised with the answers my roommate and I give. We treat them as discussion topics. The Witnesses do not.
To this I have only to say that I think 95% is a generously low figure! As Nick goes on to say, the material is all roughly at a sixth-grade reading level. Now, if you ask one of Jehovah's Witnesses about this, they'll say that the goal is to keep the gospel message pure and simple so that even the simple can grasp it. And you'll probably get a few anecdotes about cases in which people whom they met in their door-to-door ministry found even these simplified materials to be vastly over their head. The sad thing is, that's probably true! It's a demonstrable fact that, if you follow the progression of their "Bible-based study aids", they get more and more dumbed down as time goes on. "Millennial Dawn"/"Studies in the Scriptures" were VASTLY more complex; even Let God Be True was leaps beyond, e.g., What Does the Bible Really Teach?. And while I can understand the need to have a simple presentation for those who can only receive milk, as it were, there are two important points. First, the questions don't need to be this ridiculously simple! Where's the challenge? There isn't any, and by sticking so close to the text of the study aid, there ceases to be any need for actual thought. The answer flows directly from the paragraph through the person and out of their mouth. But there can scarcely be much growth unless somewhere in the middle, some processing occurs--analysis and synthesis of ideas and data, critical reflection, anything! And second, while it seems that the milk approach is wise towards new initiates, what of those with greater capacity and hunger? Where's their meat? It certainly won't be soon forthcoming from the "faithful and discreet slave class", from the looks of things. This is my criticism of many churches today, and it applies equally here: nothing beyond the milk. The problem is that many, both orthodox Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses, have been fooled into believing that curdled milk IS meat.

Nick also offered some interesting reflections on the musical quality there. Now, for my part, I've heard a lot of their music by this point. I even have the lyrics for the current songbook on CD-ROM (which means that if Nick can recall the song numbers or titles, I'd be glad to provide him with the content). So far, I can't say I've noticed that the music has any particular brainwashing effect, any more than hymns... but the music does have a peculiarly canned quality. Perhaps Ray could provide some details of the analysis; he's the musician out of the three of us, after all. And Nick's right that the song titles scarcely reflect Jesus, although admittedly Jesus is prominent in the lyrics to many. Indeed, it's rather famously known that Jehovah's Witnesses actually boast in this subversion:
In the songbook produced by Jehovah's people in 1905, there were twice as many songs praising Jesus as there were songs praising Jehovah God. In their 1928 songbook, the number of songs extolling Jesus was about the same as the number extolling Jehovah. But in the latest songbook of 1984, Jehovah is honored by four times as many songs as is Jesus. This is in harmony with Jesus' own words: "The Father is greater than I am." (John 14:28) Love for Jehovah must be preeminent, accompanied by deep love for Jesus and appreciation of his precious sacrifice and office as God's High Priest and King. (Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, p. 36, box)
Nick also makes strong points about the way Jehovah's Witnesses approach the Scriptures. As I've noted previously, it seems often that the "study aid" is dominant, not the Bible. True, Scriptural reference does saturate their writing through and through, but this approach allows the "faithful and discreet slave" to completely direct them. And while Jehovah's Witnesses would undoubtedly see that as a good thing, it poses serious problems because it decidedly subordinates Scripture to the "new light" from Brooklyn. You will never see one of Jehovah's Witnesses sit down to do a Bible study on a book of the Bible unless the Watchtower has already provided a commentary--and even then, the study aid takes precedence. Now, it is true that Jehovah's Witnesses cover a wide range of Scripture. Where many evangelical churches will have difficulty keeping a fairly even range, I find that Jehovah's Witnesses do manage to avoid falling prey to that particular problem. And from that we can perhaps learn something. But they escape one snare only to find another problem--or, to express it more Scripturally:
It will be darkness and no light, just as when a man flees because of the lion, and the bear actually meets him; and [as when] he went into the house and supported his hand against the wall, and the serpent bit him. (Amos 5:18b-19, NWT)
Now, I will say that I am perhaps more optimistic than Nick when it comes to the possibility that Jehovah's Witnesses will, in the end, be saved after all. They are, for sure, a heretical sect who teach a number of false doctrines and fail to sufficiently honor Christ and the Scriptures. Might they still be saved? I think it quite possible. I wouldn't wager $20 on it... but I have hope. But that false doctrine must still be denounced, and I think it would be a spiritually healthy decision--to say the least!--for any of them to depart from the Kingdom Halls and enter instead the orthodox faith.

Nick ends on a note of challenge, and I can do no better than quote his words:
These people are going door-to-door constantly. They are always training for this. What are you going to do? Are you going to be ready to give them the good news when they come. The news that they need to learn that is contrary to what they heard of what they must do to remain in Jehovah’s love? Are you ready to be as true to the true gospel as Jehovah’s Witnesses are to a false gospel?
May God's people answer with a resounding "Yes, and more so!" Amen, Lord. Amen.

So yes, please go read Nick's account.

1 comment:

  1. Petrus CaietanusJuly 12, 2010 at 1:11 AM

    ok, JB, I did read Nick´s account.