Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Reply to Mark Hunter

On 12 February 2010, I received a comment under the Frequently Asked Questions section. The remarks were offered by Mark Hunter, a former Jehovah's Witness elder who, having converted from their group to orthodox Christianity, is now affiliated with FreeMinds and blogs on their site at Watchtower Teachings; he tells a few elements of his personal exit narrative here. I hope he posts more soon; he hasn't done so since this past August, and I enjoy reading his material. His comment here contained a number of points deserving response, and now that I have the opportunity, I'd like to offer a reply. I'll quote the entirety of his comment first:

I wonder if you really see what the problem with the Watch Tower Society actually is?

They claim to be chosen by God and that they alone speak for Him on earth. All other Christians are branded as "so called" and are slurred in Watch Tower publications as being "false" and "evil doers".

At communion everyone is encouraged to refuse the sacraments.

Jesus is reduced to a mere created messenger boy.

What I find surprising in your blog is the number of times you find their teaching unobjectionable. You also found the Memorial enjoyable.

I know you've researched Russell and Rutherford. Surely you can see the demonic influence these men were under when they came up with their "unique teachings". The Watch Tower Society is a Christ-denying, high control religious group who claims to speak for God. I'm sure you know about the lives that have been lost due to the prohibitions of vaccines, organ transplants, and blood transfusions.

Our battle isn't against flesh and blood. The Kingdom is not a matter of talk. Scoring points against JWs intellectually helps no one. They need prayer and the breakthrough of the Holy Spirit, not theological debates.

While I've found your blog interesting, sadly I'm disappointed that you don't talk more about praying for the JWs. You mention you pray before they arrive. What do you pray for? Their salvation or your ability to show off your theological knowledge?

And now to the response, which I'll strive to offer in an irenic manner. To a great extent, I concur wholeheartedly with what he's said. One of the greatest problems with the Watch Tower Society is their strong sectarian attitude, their claim to uniquely be Jehovah's chosen people to the exclusion of all other Christians, who are dismissed as being unfaithful to God. And that is a serious problem, not something trivial. Their take on communion reflects a class system in which only the 'elite', the 144,000, are in the New Covenant--and that is not only a grave theological error, but a spiritual trainwreck, because all Christians are in the New Covenant, without exception. Only in the context of that grave error is their approach to the eucharist even intelligible; and to encourage any Christian to abstain from the table of the Lord for any reason other than being spiritually unprepared (i.e., having unrepented sin) is absolutely outrageous. And while describing the Jehovah's Witness view of Jesus as a "mere [...] messenger boy" is a bit of a caricature, Jehovah's Witnesses do not do justice to the honor that Christ deserves, as their boast about minimizing songs devoted to him shows quite clearly. It does no good to 'damn with faint praise', as it were, by extolling Christ as the highest created thing, the instrumental cause of the cosmos, and the ruler of God's theocratic domain; Jesus is no less than the almighty and uncreated God the Son, the efficient cause of the cosmos, and the absolute Lord of heaven and earth. To quote three verses from one of my favorite Wesleyan hymns:

See there! The newborn Savior see,
By faith discern the great I AM;
'Tis he! The eternal God! 'Tis he
That bears the mild Immanuel's name.
The Prince of Peace on earth is found,
The child is born, the son is given;
Tell it to all the nations round,
Jehovah is come down from heaven!
Jehovah is come to raise
Dying creatures from their fall,
And all may now receive the grace
Which brings eternal life to all.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, regardless of how much they get right (when contrasted with, e.g., the Islamic repudiation of Jesus as the unique Son of God or as the ultimate and final self-revelation of God to mankind), profoundly fail to do adequate justice to Christ.

Now, Mark next expresses a note of surprise at "the number of times [I] find [JW] teaching unobjectionable", and that I even "found the Memorial enjoyable". And I can see the reason for this surprise. However, one of my goals when engaging in interfaith dialogue is to be as charitable as reasonably possible. I want to understand Jehovah's Witnesses on their terms, not merely my own, and to appreciate everything that can be said in their defense. And so I seek to be generous. (Besides, I have to note that many of the criticisms I have of their group - other than their heresies and the authoritarian hierarchy - are valid criticisms of a number of evangelical groups.) Much of what they teach is unobjectionable. (And, I will add for the sake of making myself perfectly clear, a great deal of what remains is dangerous heresy.) I suppose that it would make for a more productive dialogue about the topic if Mark were to point out an instance in which I found something unobjectionable where, in his opinion, I should have objected. As for my enjoyment of the Memorial service, yes, I did enjoy it, as I mention in my account of the eighteenth 'study' meeting. Mostly, however, this was the enjoyment of an observer studying a religious movement from the outside. The spiritual significance I derived from it was only because communion itself is such a moving thing; however, because of the manner in which Jehovah's Witnesses have perverted it, that power was remarkably blunted, as I noted in my account of the Memorial.

Mark next says that "surely [I] can see the demonic influence [Russell and Rutherford] were under when they came up with their 'unique teachings'". "Demonic influence"? Possibly. I'm not one inclined to see demonic involvement in most places (Todd Bentley excepted...). A number of the "unique teachings" of Jehovah's Witnesses that originated in the Russell era were derived from streams of thought present within sectarian Anglo-American Protestantism, as thoroughly documented by M. James Penton in his Apocalypse Delayed. A number came from George Storrs; as Penton notes:
An examination of the Bible Examiner indicates clearly that Russell earned the doctrines of the ransom atonement of Christ and the restitution of mankind to a paradise earth directly from Storrs and his associates plus, of course, the doctrine of conditionalism. It is evident, too, that the practice of celebrating the Memorial of the Lord's Supper once a year on the supposed date of the Jewish Passover, 14 Nisan, as is done by Jehovah's Witnesses today, was learned by Russell from the editor of the Bible Examiner. Then, finally, Russell's negative feelings towards churches and religious organizations may have come directly from Storrs. (Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, pp. 16-17)
Russell's heretical deviation from the physical resurrection of Christ most likely came from Joseph Seiss, a Lutheran minister from Philadelphia, whose Prophetic Times was very prominent in the millenarian milieu in which Russell's theology was formed; and Russell took his understanding of the parousia of Christ from the Emphatic Diaglott, while some of his early thought on Revelation was rooted in interpretations by Adam Clarke and Isaac Newton. Russell's chronological speculation came largely from Nelson Barbour, who himself modified a great deal of it from John Brown's 1823 book Even-Tide, which put the fall of Judah in 604 BC and hence calculated that the end of the Gentile times would occur in AD 1917, which Barbour pushed back to 1914. And, of course, Russell's anti-Trinitarianism is hardly anything new; such movements have been around for quite some time, and Unitarianism has had a sadly important role in the history of American religious thought. Perhaps Russell and Rutherford were under demonic influence; I would hesitate to pronounce a verdict either way. But it is clear that they, as flawed men, adopted many errors from their predecessors in Anglo-American millenarianism and added further errors unto them. And while calling the Watch Tower Society "Christ-denying" might be a bit strong, there's no doubt that the Watch Tower Society has serious problems and has, through their pronouncements on various medical issues, caused untold death and suffering among its followers. Whether this is proportionately greater than similar issues in various orthodox Christian ecclesial bodies, I don't know, but the blood transfusion issue is founded on a ridiculous misunderstanding on their part, while the vaccine and organ transplant issues are merely further nails in the coffin of the Watch Tower Society's credibility.

Mark finally ends with a few paragraphs challenging me, suggesting that perhaps I value "scoring points against JWs intellectually" over their salvation. Allow me to dispel that notion quickly. I must first, of course, add the caveat that I don't think that all Jehovah's Witnesses are outside of the body of Christ; or, at least, I see no reason that their heresies should of necessity exclude them from salvation. Nevertheless, the Watch Tower Society is more of an obstacle than a help for them, and they profoundly need the truth of God. And I do pray before I meet with them--not a prayer that I'd trounce them or have a rhetorical advantage or anything of the sort, but that God would send his Spirit to work in their hearts and to open their eyes to the truth of the faith delivered once for all to the saints, and that they would if at all possible be led out of their heretical sect and into the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. It's not about me or anything that I can do; it's all about God and what he can do in their lives, if they'll not harden their hearts against him and if they'll show a willingness to abandon their teachings in exchange for the pure truth of the Scriptures. True, I don't usually go into the details of my prayers before they arrive, though I may try to do so a bit more often now. The reason is mostly that it would be about the same on every occasion, and since it also transpires before they arrive, I generally omit it from the account, which I typically begin with their arrival.

Let there be no mistake: Jehovah's Witnesses do need prayer. Not prayer for a merely human triumph, as though they were the opponent, but prayer for their deliverance from grave error and instead turn more fully to Christ. And I hope that this response to Mark Hunter has both been seasoned with grace and dealt with his concerns about what he's read here; and, of course, I thank him for his counsel.


  1. With all due respect, and if I may, I find it fascinating that we as Jehovah's Witnesses are ridiculed for what we believe. I have been googling the internet looking for sites that Jehovah Witnesses may post about the myriads of denominations out there. I can't find any. It is unfortunate that those who once served Jehovah go out and demean what Jehovah Witnesses believe. I can definitely understand if persons once serving Jehovah decide that it isn't for them anymore, what is the purpose in talking against Jehovah's Witnesses? I would like to know. Personally, it will never matter how much Jehovah Witnesses are talked against, I will never stop serving Jehovah. I think we all need to do is pray for one another no matter what you believe. Thank you very much for reading.

  2. re: Anonymous JW poster: For my part, I would never WANT you to stop serving Jehovah; I serve Jehovah too! You might say, perhaps, that I'm one of Jehovah's witnesses, but not one of Jehovah's Witnesses, in the same way that I'm a catholic Christian and an orthodox Christian, but not a Catholic Christian or an Orthodox Christian, in the way that those terms denote a particular ecclesial body.

    If by "talking against Jehovah's Witnesses", you mean something along the lines of criticizing the group for various reasons, I suppose I can't speak for others, but I have one reason that you might like to consider: truth. If I genuinely believe that the message of Jehovah's Witnesses is faulty at certain points, should I keep quiet? That doesn't seem to be giving much honor to the God of truth (Psalm 31:5) whose servants must worship him in truth (John 4:24). In like manner, when Jehovah's Witnesses believe, for example, that the Trinity is a false doctrine taught by Satan - which is (I think) as unbiblical an assertion as it is offensive to orthodox Christians - I don't expect Jehovah's Witnesses to keep quiet about their views. (For documentation of that assertion in JW literature, see Russell's The Atonement Between God and Man, p. 61; Rutherford's Reconciliation, pp. 101, 137, and 187; Rutherford's Riches, p. 188; and also Let God Be True, pp. 101, 111. Also please note the insulting caricature that the Trinity is "a complicated, freakish-looking, three-headed god"--Let God Be True, p. 102--and the claim that Trinitarians worship, not Jehovah, but one of the "millions of other gods [who] are worshiped by humans"--United in Worship of the Only True God, p. 15.) If that assertion is true, then those who believe it have a responsibility to spread the message far and wide and to warn people about the dangers of ecclesial groups that teach it. And I'd also like to note that I have relatively little interest in "ridicul[ing Jehovah's Witnesses] for what [they] believe", and much greater interest in learning about what you believe, comparing it with reason and the Bible, and pointing out anywhere I see it falling short, in the hopes that you, too, will be enlightened by the truth of God.

    [To be continued]

  3. [Now continued]

    Incidentally, I can think of several key reasons why you can't find sites by Jehovah's Witnesses posing about "the myriad of denominations out there". First of all, publishing information on the Internet is typically viewed among Jehovah's Witnesses as the Society's job, and so individual Jehovah's Witnesses are probably unlikely to get their own websites, save for a few more independent-minded ones. Second, Jehovah's Witnesses DO criticize "the myriad of denominations out there", but they do it by lumping all other Christian ecclesial bodies together as "Christendom", part of "Babylon the Great", with the often explicit implication that God will soon obliterate all of those denominations, which Jehovah's Witnesses denounce as unfaithful to God, teachers of false doctrine, and tools of Satan whose preachers are money-grubbing and egoist. If we want to talk about criticism levelled by one group at the other, I'd say that Jehovah's Witnesses have been pouring the same vituperation, if not more harshly, on orthodox Christians as the latter have on the former.

    Finally, I do agree that prayer for one another is a wonderful thing. I pray for Jehovah's Witnesses, and I know Jehovah's Witnesses who pray for me. However, there seems to be a grammatical ambiguity in your second-to-last sentence there. If you mean that "all we need to do is pray for one another no matter what you believe", then that would be a radically peculiar stance for a Jehovah's Witness to take, since the whole point is to publicly give witness that Jehovah is God and that the grand climax is at hand in which this system of things will be overturned by divine intervention and the theocratic kingdom will be established in perfect rule over paradise earth. Saying that "all we need to do is pray for one another" omits what Jehovah's Witnesses have recognized from the beginning: the necessity of bearing witness to the truth, just as Paul urged us to always be speaking the truth with love. My goal is to do just that, to speak the truth with love. I love Jehovah's Witnesses, and I greatly value the friendships I've made with Jehovah's Witnesses (even though I know that these friendships are, from the JW point of view, contingent on my relationship to their religious teachings). And so my one desire, apart from learning and thus (to quote John 17:3) "taking in knowledge of the only true God" (as well as knowing him, which is something beyond merely 'taking in knowledge') is to speak that truth. I hope that you prayerfully consider this; I'd love to have a dialogue with you, if you'd be willing, a dialogue of striving to speak honestly to one another in a spirit of love so as to examine the Scriptures reasonably and find there the truth.

  4. To the anonymous poster;
    Please feel free to contact me to discuss what you term as "demeaning" and "talking against". I'm not hard to find online, as I'm sure that's how you found this blog.

    It's worth taking stock of the following statement from the Governing Body, dispensed in the Watchtower magazine;
    "It is not a form of religious persecution for anyone to say and to show that another religion is false. It is not religious persecution for an informed person to expose publicly a certain religion as being false, thus allowing person to see the difference between false religion and true religion. (Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1963, p. 688)"

    The "Truth" book says;
    "We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. Are its teachings in full harmony with Gods Word, or are they based on the traditions of men? If we are lovers of the truth, there is nothing to fear from such an examination. It should be the sincere desire of every one of us to learn what Gods will is for us, and then to do it." John 8:32 (The Truth That Leads To Eternal Life, 1968, p. 13)

    From the Awake! this time;
    ""Consequently, is it unchristian today to offer Bible-based comments about anothers religion? The scriptural answer must be No. True, criticism that reveals faults in the teachings or practices of someone's religion might at first seem severe. Yet, how should one react? Not like those who became violently enraged over Stephen's criticism. Rather, note the fine reaction of some Athenians who heard Paul's comments. They accepts the Bible truth and became believers, to their eternal benefit. Compare Acts 17:11, 12. Far from being rejected as unchristian then, criticism based on gods word should be carefully considered, for it can bring real benefits". (Awake! Nov. 22, 1974, p. 28) "

    You say you'll never stop serving Jehovah. Why do you need to serve him through an organisation? Isn't Jesus you mediator? Doesn't John write that we need to have the Son in order to have the Father and that if we don't have the Father we don't have the Son?

    Admirably, the Watch Tower Society say;
    “If one renders obedient service to someone or some organization, whether willingly or under compulsion, looking up to such as possessing a position of superior rulership and great authority, then that one can Scripturally be said to be a worshiper.” (WT, 9/1/61, p 525)

    “where should your faith be placed - in a religious organization or in God?” (WT, 1/15/70 p 37).

    “We cannot take part in any modern version of idolatry - be it worshipful gestures toward an image or symbol or the imputing of salvation to a person or an organization.” (WT, 11/1/90, p 26)

    But then they talk out of the other side of their mouth. The cover of the Mar. 1, 1979 WT boldly proclaims, “Put Faith in a Victorious Organization!” The accompanying article repeatedly drives home the theme of having faith in the organization:

    “Faith in Jehovah’s theocratic organization... Did the remnant of spiritual Israelites and their theocratic companions, the ‘great crowd’ of Christ’s ‘other sheep,’ have such victorious faith? Yes!... Witnesses have kept their faith in Jehovah’s organization.” (p 18)

    The article poses the question, “Is there any cause for us to lose faith in Jehovah’s visible organization...?” The answer is given, “Absolutely Not!... Our unwavering faith will be rewarded with victory and the crown of life.”

    As a Christian I - along with my wife - put our faith squarely on Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He alone is the Chief Agent of our faith and he alone is worthy to receive the honour and glory and blessing from us. He alone is the way, THE TRUTH and the life.

    Please carefully consider what you're learning from the Watch Tower Society. Please, serve Jehovah, but do so through Christ alone. (John 6:67,68).

    May Jehovah bless you.

  5. JB, thanks for your measured response, both to me and the anonymous poster.

    I regularly have local Christians contact me to say that they've had JWs at their door and that the JWs have tried to undermine and demean their faith and belief in the Trinity and heaven. The Watch Tower publications are regularly full of disparaging comments about Christians, referring to them as "so-called Christians" and claiming that these Christians are actually false and devious in their practises and behaviours; they may go to church and read the Bible, but they are actually immoral and filthy.

    A Christian who lives on the same street as us told us that the JWs had put the "What Happens to Our Dead Loved Ones" tract through her door. She was very upset and offended at the content of the tract and opined that it would have been devastating for someone who'd recently lost a loved one to death to read a leaflet so designed to undermine their belief and faith in an afterlife.

    That's why I have to raise an eyebrow at our anonymous friend crying foul when an ex-JW like myself talks about the Governing Body's teachings; most JWs I know were once part of other denominations and religions. They are, by all accounts, apostates who turn against their former beliefs and doctrines and then go from door-to-door publicly decrying said beliefs and doctrines in the name of Jehovah.

  6. I think anonymous poster has raised very interesting points - ones which I have been pondering since leaving Jehovah's Witnesses over a year and a half ago. Should one stay silent or speak out?

    While I am in full agreement of where Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong I can't help putting myself in the position of a Jehovah's Witness when reading the information out there. They view it as a an attack, persecution even. They take it personally. Is it ridicule? I don't think so. Much of what is written online is simply discussions and articles from people explaining their convictions on where they think Jehovah's Witnesses have gone wrong. An example of that which comes to mind is jwfacts which in my opinion is an outstanding website of information minus any ridicule.

    As a Jehovah's Witness I always remember going door to door with a friend and if we met a christian he would always come away from the door and say "well if they are right and we are wrong why are they not trying to save me". This is exactly what many who write online are trying to do.

    Nineteen month ago I became a born-again christian and as a christian Jesus has asked me to let my light shine. Not to hide it under a basket but to put it on a stand so as to give light to everyone. Jesus talks about men seeing your good deeds and praising your Father in heaven. This is easy when it comes to people in your community and people you interact with on a daily basis. But what about those people you love the most. Sadly, as an ex-Jehovah's Witness the people I love the most are still Jehovah's Witnesses and so can have very little if nothing to do with me. How can you let your light shine on those with whom there is no contact? That is why some distribute leaflets or write articles online - with the hope of reaching someone or some with the truth about the 'truth'. Sadly, those who speak out are seen as wicked apostates who are trying to tear down with nothing better to offer. But there is something better on offer.

    In fact, its a someone - Jesus Christ. I pray every day, as does my husband, for Jesus to shine on the ones we love the most and for the Holy Spirit to do its work there and lead them into truth.

    Anyway, I could go on but this post is longer than intended. Its just my tuppence worth which I very rarely give!

  7. JB - how can I contact you?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.