By Jay Hess
(This originally appeared in the March/April 1998 edition of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 4)
Witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) seems to be a paradoxical ministry. Since the JWs claim to hold to the authority of God’s Word, it would seem sufficient to present logically sound biblical arguments to persuade them to abandon their organization and choose historic, orthodox Christianity. But, as anyone who has tried the direct confrontational approach knows, this rarely accomplishes anything positive. Most tell me all their “scriptural bullets just bounce off.”
After the initial encounter, when the JW realizes he is talking to someone who is biblically knowledgeable, no further dialogue is generally even possible. Since the JWs report all their activities, any encounters with open critics of the organization or Watchtower Society theology are recorded, and other JWs are alerted to avoid that home. So anyone employing the direct approach gets only one opportunity.
This carries over in a tragic way to the religiously-divided home. The non-JW spouse, wanting a relationship that is not impacted by the Watchtower Society, may try to present critical information to the JW spouse, only to find the relationship deteriorate … often to divorce. My marriage is one of the few I know where one spouse is a committed and loyal JW (my wife is a fulltime Watchtower “pioneer” missionary) and the other is an ex-JW evangelical Christian, and we’re still together.
As a JW, I encountered countless Christians trying one of two popular witnessing methods. Either they tried to reason with me by using the Bible alone, or they tried to present WATCHTOWER* articles showing false prophecies or other embarrassing mistakes. Neither of these approaches had any significant intellectual impact on my belief system or that of my loyal JW friends. Why not?
The answer lies in the mind-set of the loyal JW. Loyal JWs have been conditioned to doubt their own thinking abilities and, of course, the thinking of outsiders, long before they will doubt the teachings of the Watchtower Society directors in Brooklyn. The more loyal they are, the more they trust their directors as being the channel of God and the more they resist all persuasion. Even the most well-intentioned outsider is usually ignorant of this fact, hence the frustrating nature of the usual JW/Christian encounter.
Is there, then, any witnessing method that can be effective with the loyal JW, even in a religiously-divided home? I think there is. First, though, we need to examine how a loyal JW has been conditioned by the Watchtower Society to resist the typical witnessing methods.
The loyal JW receives mind-conditioning mostly through what are internally referred to as the study articles in the Watchtower Society’s chief bi-weekly publication: THE WATCHTOWER. These are studied by the whole congregation at their weekly WATCHTOWER-study meeting. Since all JWs are expected to go door-to-door distributing THE WATCHTOWER magazine, they must prepare by reading the key articles, including the study articles. Weeks later, before the actual congregational study of the article is held, they must prepare by reading it, yet again, in detail. Then, during the congregational study, an appointed speaker reads the entire article again, out loud, with the audience answering prepared questions and repeating THE WATCHTOWER’s message one more time. All this repetitive study conditions and programs the loyal JW.
Consider these mind-conditioning statements in the following study articles:
The first study article from the January 15, 1983, WATCHTOWER, entitled “Exposing the Devil’s Subtle Designs” said on page 22:
Avoid Independent Thinking
From the very outset of his rebellion Satan called into question God’s way of doing things. He promoted independent thinking. ‘You can decide for yourself what is good and bad,’ Satan told Eve. ‘You don’t have to listen to God. He is not really telling you the truth.’
(Genesis 3:1-5) To this day, it has been Satan’s subtle design to infect God’s people with this type of thinking. 2 Timothy 3:1, 13.
How is such independent thinking manifested? A common way is by questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible organization.
In the same magazine, the second study article, “Armed for the Fight Against Wicked Spirits,” said on page 27:
Fight Against Independent Thinking
As we study the Bible we learn that Jehovah has always guided his servants in an organized way. And just as in the first century there was only one true Christian organization, so today Jehovah is using only one organization. (Ephesians 4:4-5; Matthew 24:45-47) Yet there are some who point out that the organization has had to make adjustments before, and so they argue:
“This shows that we have to make up our own mind on what to believe.’ This is independent thinking. Why is it so dangerous? Such thinking is an evidence of pride. And the Bible says: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”
(Proverbs 16:18) If we get to thinking that we know better than the organization, we should ask ourselves:
Where did we learn Bible truth in the first place? Would we know the way of the truth if it had not been for guidance from the organization? Really, can we get along without the direction of God’s organization?’ No, we cannot!
Soon after this, the March 1, 1983, issue of THE WATCHTOWER (“What Is Our Position Toward Opposers of the Truth?”) commented on page 25 on the need for a religious body to direct the minds of others and whether God’s Spirit could direct the minds of individuals apart from the organizational structure:
Consider some of the other twisted things’ used to mislead God’s people today. On occasion opposers will question the various teachings that Jehovah’s people hold in common … They may also question the need for an organization to direct the minds of God’s people. Their view is, God’s spirit can direct individuals without some central, organized body of men giving direction.
Consider also how the June 1, 1986, WATCHTOWER, page 21, compares the instinctive programming in animals and what loyal JWs are supposed to do in order to live:
He is the One bringing forth … Innumerable varieties of animal life … To exist, each of the countless kinds must live as ordered by Jehovah. By means of instinct, he programs into them his orders for survival … the little blackpoll warbler in Alaska … is programmed to migrate for survival. So it is with all the animals. They instinctively follow the orders planted in them by Jehovah their Creator. They have no choice … It is different with people. We are created in the likeness of God, and we do have a choice. However, … Through his Word the Bible, he gives us his orders for gaining life … If we use our freedom to ignore them and take a road of our own independent choosing, we will die. We must program ourselves for survival.
The loyal JWs who come to your door believe, then, that God is pleased when they program themselves to instinctively follow the Watchtower Society’s teachings while, on the other hand, the Devil is pleased if they make up their own mind. They probably adopted this viewpoint before they officially joined the organization through baptism. So, if you attempt to witness to the JWs by presenting lines of reasoning biblically or philosophically different from what they already believe, you are asking them to violate their conscience and reject a fundamental doctrine that initially attracted them to the Watchtower Society.
Given the above, one might assume the best method would be to present loyal JWs with copies of their own literature — that show either the failed predictions or embarrassing beliefs — to undermine the authority of the leadership in Brooklyn before proceeding to biblical issues. While this method is closer to the right solution it, too, has its problems. JWs are unaccustomed to receiving WATCHTOWER articles from even their closest JW friends. JWs normally receive their literature only through authorized Watchtower Society channels. For a JW to receive Watchtower Society literature from anyone else, especially an outsider, would seem extremely odd or even outright alarming to him.
JWs believe the only possible motive for an outsider to give them a WATCHTOWER article would be to misuse it. Given the immense amount of trust that the average JW has toward “God’s organization” and the immense distrust that has been engendered by the leadership toward outsiders, a JW’s natural inclination would be to view any literature you may have as having been tampered with, or taken out of context at the very least. This explains the common experience of so many who tell me, “They won’t even look at their own literature when I hand it to them!”
So what method could work with loyal JW’s? If they will never consider a contradictory thought or look at their own literature, what alternative method can you employ to help them? The answer is to operate within their agenda (1 Corinthians 9: 19-23) and adopt the attitude of a newspaper interviewer. A newspaper reporter asks probing questions but doesn’t try to persuade.
As long as the JWs follow the Watchtower Society’s conditioning, you should not attempt to teach them anything. Do not present any of their literature unless they ask you for it first. It can be highly offensive to many JWs. Instead, you as the interviewer should encourage JWs to affirm some of their own doctrines that conflict with the Society’s claim of authority. It is much easier for JWs to affirm doctrines they are supposed to believe than it is to persuade them of doctrines they have been taught to refute. If they will not hold to their own doctrines as taught in their own literature and at their own meetings, they certainly will not be persuaded of something different.
Outline of the Method
There are several doctrines fundamental to the JW belief system that, when examined, lead to a serious conflict with the Watchtower Society’s claim of authority. Of these, I have chosen four that typically arise on the JWs’ agenda as they go door-to-door and that mainstream Christians also believe. These doctrines deal with God’s standards of righteousness and what conduct He approves or disapproves of. The stronger the loyal JWs hold to any one of these doctrines, the more it will lead them to doubt the Watchtower Society’s authority after examining the evidence you present to them.
In the end, they are faced with the choice of either affirming fundamental doctrines that are repeated at meetings and in their literature or choosing to remain a member by holding to the authority of their directors, thereby denying the fundamental doctrines they claim to cherish. They cannot choose both. If they see the dichotomy, and openly choose to uphold God’s standards of righteousness, the church will expel them, even if they heartily wish to remain a member.
Once exposed to this internal conflict, JWs cannot ignore the issue, for these issues are a very important part of the JW agenda. There will be reminders of the contradictions every time they present the JW message at a door or read it in their literature. One fellow researcher called this a “land-mine” just waiting to go off, again and again, within the mind of the individual JW.
The interviewer starts the entire process by asking the JWs, Do you believe God’s standards of righteousness change? Then as each of the four doctrines arise on the JWs’ agenda, the interviewer again asks for affirmation that God’s standards do not change. The JWs will at this point respond in the negative. After the JWs answer the question, the interviewer asks for further assurance by having the JWs comment on two real examples, which I provide, illustrating the violation of each of the four doctrines.
(The first situation I cite is found in the Bible. The second is an actual, twentieth-century event.) After the biblical event is discussed, the JWs are again asked, Do you believe God’s standards of righteousness change?
Then the twentieth-century example is carefully introduced. The event is described in general, without details and without identifying the specific persons who violated God’s standards. Focus only on the apparent implication that God’s standards of righteousness have changed. The JW will become curious and ask to see the documentation. I provide the documents in my packet of witnessing materials: one two-sided document for each of the four issues.
To facilitate the discussions with the JWs and to stay within their agenda, the interviewer agrees to study with them in their book, Knowledge That Leads To Everlasting Life (1995). This is a key publication of the Watchtower Society as it is used for discipling all new converts. The interviewer encourages the JWs to specifically explain chapter 5 (entitled “Whose Worship Does God Accept?”). By going over this material, the stage is set to ask them whether God’s standards change and whether He accepts the worship of those who seek messages from demons, worship angels, restrict united public worship, or admire the political wild beast of Revelation. But, as you examine these four issues, it is essential that you not focus on the mistakes of men. Focus on the righteousness of God and only ask about issues clearly connected to the Watchtower Society’s own question of “Whose worship does God accept?”
At each appropriate paragraph (numbered 13 through 16), ask about the principles regarding God’s standards of righteousness and then the two events as mentioned in the following examples. The first question deals with a biblical event. The second question deals with a more modern event, and it should be introduced this way: I read an article that described … (Give a summary of the event without specifically identifying the Watchtower Society directors.)
The Four Issues, Each With Two Real Situations:
1) God’s standards on seeking messages and guidance from demons paragraph 13).
- 1 Samuel 28:7-19 (King Saul and the spirit medium.)
- Twentieth-century pastor advocated a book allegedly dictated by a demon.
Documentation: July 30, 1924, The Golden Age, p.702; December 3, 1924, The Golden Age, p.150, 151; Angels and Women.
These documents show how Pastor Russell, the founder of the Watchtower Society, discovered a book he believed was dictated by a demon to a spirit-medium. He actually believed that some demons could be trusted to tell the truth, so he encouraged a friend to go into business distributing the book to outsiders through the membership as Christmas gifts. Because Russell died in 1916, his successor Joseph Rutherford started to distribute the book in 1924.
2) God’s standards on idolatry and worshiping angels (paragraph 14).
- Revelation 19:10 (Apostle John worships an angel.)
- Twentieth-century denomination worshiped Michael the archangel the same as they worshiped
God. Their charter still references worshiping Michael.
Documentation: April 15, 1995, THE WATCHTOWER, p.18; Theocratic Ministry School Schedule for 1990, p.4 for March 19 and April 16; 1945 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, title page and p.32; Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985, 1989), p.202; September 1 and 15, 1893, Zion’s Watch Tower, pp.1580, 1581 in the reprints (pp.280-284 in the original magazine); August 15, 1941, THE WATCHTOWER, p.252; Make Sure Of All Things (1953), p.85.
These documents show that the Watchtower Society advocated worshiping Jesus, also known as Michael the archangel, equally to worshiping God, from 1893 until 1953. The Watchtower Society’s charter still says their purpose is, among many other things, to “worship Jesus.”
3) God’s standards on restricting united public worship (paragraph 15).
- Daniel 6:7, 10, 11, 16 (Authorities restrict public prayer for 30 days.)
- Twentieth-century religious authorities restricted public prayer for 46 years until 1989.
Documentation: August 15, 1970, THE WATCHTOWER, p.493, paragraph 16; June 15, 1990, THE WATCHTOWER, p.28; October 15, 1979, THE WATCHTOWER, p.20, paragraphs 7 and 8; 1995 Yearbook, pp.212, 213, 232, 233.
These show the Watchtower Society directed all JWs in Mexico to stop all public appearance of being religious including public prayer and songs of praise for 46 years until 1989, yet they claim to be faithful like Daniel who refused to obey the 30-day prohibition against public prayer.
4) God’s standards on admiring the political wild beast described in the book of Revelation (paragraph 16).
- Revelation 13:3; 17:8 (Admirers of the wild beast and image.)
- Twentieth-century religious authorities admired a political organization they later claimed was part of the wild beast’s image.
Documentation: August 1, 1967, THE WATCHTOWER, p.454; June 1, 1994, THE WATCHTOWER, p.12, paragraph 17, September 15, 1971, THE WATCHTOWER, p.560, paragraph 8, October 1, 1983, THE WATCHTOWER, pp.15, 16, paragraph 9, February 15, 1919, THE WATCHTOWER, p.51.
These documents show that the Watchtower Society admired the League of Nations, which they now say was part of the image of the wild beast. They later claimed they did not admire the League like other religions, and that the names of any who did admire the League of Nations “are not found written upon ‘the scroll of life.’”
For the discussion of each of the eight events, biblical and modern, these three questions are asked:
1) Did God’s standards change?
2) Did God approve of the persons mentioned?
3) Did God accept their worship as being part of true worship?
Help Me Understand
As the second question in each category is being discussed, their material can be introduced with the question: I got the impression from it that your church felt God’s standards had changed and He now approved of those involved. I tried my best to understand what your church said in the article, but it still seems to say God’s standards have changed. Do you think I misunderstood the article? This will likely cause the JWs to be curious about the article and offer to help you understand its meaning. Mention you read about this in a photocopy of what appeared to be their literature. Wait until they ask to see the photocopy before showing it to them.
Your discussion might proceed as follows:
I received this article from somewhere. (Hand them the two sided photocopy.) It appears as if this originally came from your church publications. If you would like, I could check my records to try to find out who actually photocopied this. Would that help?Would you like me to find out who photocopied this so you could contact them to learn more about this story? (They will likely say ‘No’ and not later ask where the copies came from.)
Let them examine the photocopy and then say:
If I ever wanted to become a member in your church would I be required to believe these persons were approved by God? I ask this because I want to be careful not to violate Isaiah 5:20 which warns about saying bad things are good. “Woe to those who are saying that good is bad and bad is good, those who are putting darkness for light and light for darkness, those who are putting bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (NWT) If I conclude from reading your Knowledge book in chapter 5 that those who did these things could not have been tried and found faithful and, therefore, were not kept in an approved state and did not go to heaven, would my worship be acceptable to God?
Their answer to this will tell you if the JWs you are speaking to are firm for God’s unchanging standards of righteousness as described in their own literature. Once the JWs have been made aware of the actions of their leaders, they find themselves upon the horns of a terrible personal dilemma. They know that God’s standards do not change, yet, they will want to make an exception for their own leaders.
No exception can be honestly made, and a person of integrity will realize that. They’ve come to a fork in the road, and they must choose which way to go. They may choose to be loyal to God and thus deny the Watchtower’s fundamental doctrine of the “slave who has been faithful and discreet since 1919.” This would result in the loss of church membership. The only other choice is to put the standards of men ahead of God so as to keep their membership. Thus, they essentially would be accusing God of changing His standards in order to approve the deeds performed by the Watchtower Society’s directors.
Because the conversation dwells only on what God thinks rather than the beliefs of JWs years ago, there is no conflict between the interviewer and the JW. The only conflict is in the mind of the JW as he ponders the consequences of this information. Some JWs will reluctantly respond that God’s standards in the four areas do not change, thus implicating their leadership in spiritism, false worship, idolatry, and fear of man. But those wishing to keep their membership will feel pressured to say God nevertheless did approve of the directors, even for entrance into heaven.
These will water down God’s standards of righteousness and, in essence, accuse God of saying what was once bad is now good and what was once good is now bad. As sad as this fact may be, anyone who asserts God approves of sin would not be happy in the true Christian community. This is where God’s word is the final, unchanging authority and God’s righteous standards on spiritism and idolatry do not change. There is no point in continuing to talk with these JWs about other issues. If they will not believe their own literature when it says God rejects all forms of spiritism and idolatry, then there is very little chance they will be convinced of any doctrine not taught in their literature. Wish them a “good day” and invite them to return if they ever decide God never approves of spiritism or idolatry (read Galatians 5:20 and context).
*The bi-weekly publication of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, a.k.a.Jehovah’s Witnesses
The Journal would like to thank Jay Hess for untangling this issue’s “Spider’s Web.” Jay was a “baptized and dedicated” Jehovah’s Witness for over 23 years. Wishing to defend his faith, he self-published newsletters and, eventually, a book entitled, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not False Prophets. Near the end of his stay in the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the legal corporation representing Jehovah’s Witnesses), he was invited by their Writing Department to contribute articles for publication in their semi-monthly magazine, THE WATCHTOWER. In 1991 and 1992, two Special Judicial Committees appointed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses found Hess guilty of “causing divisions.” This was due to his advocating the worship of Jesus, and they expelled him from the group. He is still married to a full-time missionary for the Watchtower and has three children. He teaches adult Sunday School, including apologetics, at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC and coordinates their cultoutreach ministry. Hess works as a computer programmer and has a Master’s Degree in Applied Mathematics.
Jay Hess can be reached on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his web-site at www.pagesz.net/~jayhess (soon to present this method). You can contact him by mail at P.O. Box 14554, Durham, NC 27709, or by phone at (919) 954-9283. His toll-free number, 1-800-366-7608, is meant for hardship situations.