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The Apostle and the Enneagram
Who is My Neighbor?

(Originally printed in the Winter/Spring 2016 Issue of the MCOI Journal, Page 14)

I often find myself reflecting on how it was that I went from being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs)1Jehovah’s Witnesses, aka JWs, are followers of the teachings of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (WTBTS). to being an Evangelical Christian. A full explanation eludes me, for “God’s ways are higher than our ways” (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9). Still, I believe I came to at least one important conclusion that went a long way toward my conversion: The “Governing Body”2Governing Body of the WTBTS is the government or clergy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. of the JWs is not good at interpreting prophecy, since they have a substantial record of failed predictions and prophetic interpretations. This helped cement in my mind the fact they are not God’s unique “prophet.”3Unknown Author. “They Shall Know That A Prophet Was Among Them” The Watchtower, WTBTS, NY: April 1, 1972, p. 197.

“So, does Jehovah have a prophet to help them, to warn them of dangers and to declare things to come?…These questions can be answered in the affirmative. Who is this prophet?…This ‘prophet’ was not one man, but was a body of men and women. It was the small group of footstep followers of Jesus Christ, known at that time as International Bible Students. Today they are known as Jehovah’s Christian witnesses.

I believe my experience can be generalized as an approach to convince some JWs that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Particularism—the belief that JWs are the only genuinely Christian group and that their Governing Body is God’s “sole visible channel, through whom alone spiritual instruction was to come,”4Unknown Author. “Finding Freedom with Jehovah’s Visible Organization” The Watchtower, WTBTS, NY: October 1, 1967; p.590.

“Jehovah poured out his spirit upon them and assigned them the responsibility of serving as his sole visible channel, through whom alone spiritual instruction was to come. Those who recognize Jehovah’s visible theocratic organization, therefore, must recognize and accept this appointment of the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ and be submissive to it.” is false. If this can be done, they might be willing to reconsider their faith with the hope being they find a robust and living faith in Christ. I will describe this approach against the backdrop of the threefold foundation many JWs have for accepting Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Particularism. As I do so, I will use my own experience to illustrate what I say.

The Stool Defined

We can envision the threefold foundation of many JWs’ confidence in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Particularism as a three-legged stool. Many JWs have these beliefs because:

(1) They believe their leaders and their religious group fulfill biblical prophecy showing them to be God’s unique spokesman and His people, respectively; I will call this the prophetic fulfillment leg.
(2) They find most of what they are taught to be true for reasons besides “the Governing Body says so”; I will call this the doctrinal leg.
(3) They believe only their group actually has the brotherly love Christ said His followers would have; I will call this the brotherhood leg.

Something will be said about how to address the latter two legs toward the end of this article. However, this approach focuses on the first leg.

The Approach Qualified

I believe this approach can help open the minds of many JWs to further discussions about their beliefs. But it is no panacea. Indeed, it would be foolish to suggest this is the only approach or even the best one in every case. Also, don’t think it can be accomplished quickly, or that it will always be advantageous to start off with this. Always use discernment. Still, I think it can be effective with those who are JWs primarily because they have confidence that their leaders are prophetically established as God’s “sole channel.” But even if effective, this approach will not necessarily cause them to stop being a JW. This is partly because it isn’t arguing that their religion is a false one, but rather that theirs is not the only true one. Hopefully, this will make it less menacing to them and will cause them more likely to hear you out.

Locked onto Target: The Approach Defined

We’re going after the prophetic fulfillment leg. I consider this the most important leg—apart from it, the stool collapses; that is, without the supposedly prophetically-established credentials of their leaders, a JW will have insufficient reason to affirm Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Particularism. True, the other legs help to corroborate the first, but they are insufficient to save it from the approach I will lay out; and by themselves, they cannot support Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Particularism. They get more credibilitywise from the first leg than they give to it. Hence, why I call the prophetic fulfillment leg the first one.

Now, it must be broken in just the right way, otherwise it will not, in fact, break. We must seek to avoid needless offense. Offense must come to be sure, for we are overturning deeply entrenched beliefs; but we should hazard no more offense than is necessary. Thus, I suggest not escalating things by arguing that their leaders are false prophets, at least, not at first. It may become necessary to make this case, but try to wait.

Indeed, we might very well not need to make that point to break the first leg; and to argue for that point too early on is very likely to backfire. To refute the supposedly prophetically established credentials of their leaders, it suffices to show they’ve made numerous and substantial false predictions and interpretations of prophecy. This destroys their credibility as prophetic interpreters and shows there is no reason to suppose they are right this time around or when they claim they fulfill various prophecies showing them to be God’s “sole visible channel.” (More extensive lists can be found elsewhere; but for now, this should suffice.)  Some predictions and their cover ups, note the publication years.

Re: 1878 vs. 1914 The Year of the Lord’s Presence

“Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present since October 1874, A.D., according to the testimony of the prophets, to those who have ears to hear it: and the formal inauguration of his kingly office dates from Apr 1878, A.D.” Studies in the Scriptures, Series IV; WTBTS, NY: 1897; p.621.

“The Watchtower has consistently presented evidence to honest hearted students of Bible prophecy that Jesus’ presence in heavenly Kingdom power began in 1914.” The Watchtower; WTBTS, NY: January 15,1993, p.5.

Re: 1914 as the year of the end or beginning of trouble It is interesting to note that JWs are taught that Russell predicted that 1914 would be the beginning of the end, which is manifestly untrue as can be seen from the following quotes.

“But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble.” Zion’s Watch Tower; WTBTS, NY: July 15,1894, p.226.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently shown from the Scriptures that the year 1914 marked the beginning of this world’s time of the end and that “the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men” has drawn near.” The Watchtower; WTBTS, NY: August 15, 1993, p.9.

Re:1925 as the year of the return of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

“What, then, should we expect to take place? The chief thing to be restored is the human race to life; and since other Scriptures definitely fix the fact that there will be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful ones of old, and that these will have the first favour, we may expect 1925 to witness the return of these faithful men of Israel from the condition of death, being resurrected and fully restored to perfect humanity and made the visible, legal representatives of the new order of things on earth.” Millions Now Living Will Never Die! ; WTBTS, NY: 1920, p.88.

“When you take up a more advanced study of the Bible, you will find that the year 1925 A. D. is particularly marked in prophecy.” – The Way to Paradise; WTBTS, NY:1924, p.220.

Re: 1975 is the year of fulfillment of time of the end prophecies “Does God’s rest day parallel the time man has been on earth since his creation? Apparently so. In what year, then, would the first 6,000 years of man’s existence and also the first 6,000 years of Gods [sic] rest day come to an end? The year 1975. It means that within a relatively few years we will witness the fulfillment of the remaining prophecies that have to do with the ‘time of the end’.” Awake! – WTBTS, NY: October 8, 1966, pp.19-20.

Exculpatory Claims

“We have not the gift of prophecy.” Zion’s Watch Tower; WTBTS, NY: January 1883, p. 425.

“However, The Watchtower [magazine] does not claim to be inspired in its utterances, nor is it dogmatic. It invites careful and critical examination of its contents in the light of the Scriptures. Its purpose is to aid others to know Jehovah and his purposes toward mankind, and to announce Christ’s established kingdom as our only hope.” The Watchtower – WTBTS, NY: August 15, 1950, p.26

“True, the brothers preparing these publications are not infallible. Their writings are not inspired as are those of Paul and the other Bible writers. {2 Tim. 3:16} And so, at times, it has been necessary, as understanding became clearer, to correct views.” The Watchtower; WTBTS, NY: February 15, 1981, p.19.

While too lengthy to discuss here, their book Reasoning From the Scriptures also offers a defense to the claim that they are false prophets. It fails primarily because it is one red herring after another.

Inculpatory Claims

“The Watchtower [magazine] is not the instrument of any man or set of men, nor is it published according to the whims of men. No man’s opinion is expressed in The Watchtower. God feeds his own people, and surely God uses those who love and serve him according to his own will. Those who oppose The Watchtower are not capable of discerning the truth that God is giving to the children of his organization, and this is the very strongest proof that such opposers are not of God’s organization.” The Watchtower {WTBTS, NY: November 1, 1931} p.327.

“Enlightenment proceeds from Jehovah by and though Jesus Christ and is given to the faithful anointed on earth at the temple, and brings great peace and consolation to them. Again Zechariah talked with the angel of the Lord, which shows that the remnant are instructed by the angels of the Lord. The remnant do not hear audible sounds, because such is not necessary. Jehovah has provided his own good way to convey thoughts to the minds of his anointed ones [the Governing Body].” Preparation; WTBTS, NY: 1933},p.64.

Keep in mind that Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer believe their 1933 claim that their leaders are “instructed by the angels of the Lord.” Rather they think it is by means of the Holy Spirit, which is, to them, merely his “active force”.

“Yes, the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ was awake to the coming of 1914. In 1942 the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ guided by Jehovah’s unerring spirit made known that the democracies would win World War II and that there would be a United Nations organization set up. Such wakefulness was concerning events that unerringly took place three years later. At the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly amazing advance information in connection with Daniel’s prophecy was given about events to occur in the immediate future. Such evidence of spiritual foresight is recorded for us in the book Your Will Be Done on Earth. Once again the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ has been tipped off ahead of time for the guidance of all lovers of God. Surely one’s present security depends on his staying awake with the ‘faithful and discreet slave.’ ” The Watchtower; WTBTS, NY: July 15, 1960,  p.444.

I came to the realization the JW’s Governing Body is an inept interpreter of prophecy partly as a result of defending them against the charge they were false prophets. “They are no worse than all these others, including several prominent protestants over the centuries, who made failed predictions; these were not false prophets, so neither is the Governing Body,” I reasoned. So, while I was not yet willing to accept they were false prophets, it still dawned on me that my defense implied they were no better than others at interpreting end-times prophecy either. This conclusion helped make me more willing to consider they might be wrong elsewhere.

False Prophecy: The Approach Pressed Further

Accordingly, it might become advantageous to make the case that their leaders’ failed predictions are actually false prophecies. Here, there are several errors to avoid.

While I was a JW, I found that many who would try to persuade me to leave the organization (Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, aka WTBTS) were too sloppy in their use of WTBTS literature. “Merely to quote a statement where a prediction or prophetic interpretation is made doesn’t show that my leaders are false prophets,” I would think. Avoid such indiscriminate use of WTBTS publications. Otherwise you risk making a factual error—suggesting that quotations which do not show their leaders are false prophets, in fact, do. And this would undermine your efforts by destroying your credibility in the eyes of your friend. It will also give them an out when it comes to those passages which do demonstrate their leaders’ failed predictions and when their false prophetic interpretations do rise to the level of false prophecy. “Maybe he’s mishandling these quotes too,” they might reason.

Another error is that of ignoring numerous passages where their leaders explicitly do deny they are prophets or that their predictions are prophecies. As a JW, I would go to these, and there find refuge. You must acknowledge these statements and address them. If you fail to address such statements, you will lose credibility in your friend’s eyes. If I were the JW you were talking to and you failed to do this, I might think to myself, “Not only does he not address this exculpatory5Exculpatory “to clear from alleged fault or guilt” {Webster’s} evidence, he can’t.” A case in favor of the JW’s Governing Body can be made, but it just is not a good one. But if you don’t address their denials, don’t be surprised if your friend dismisses your case out of hand.

Now, before you present any passages to your friend, you need to establish what a false prophet is. I suggest starting out with how their book, Reasoning from the Scriptures, defines “false prophet” (cf. Deuteronomy 18:20-22):

Individuals and organizations proclaiming messages that they attribute to a superhuman source but that do not originate with the true God and are not in harmony with his revealed will. (p. 132, 2009 ed.)

WTBTS leaders’ predictions meet this standard. Why? Because, not only do they claim to be guided by God in a general sense, but they also claim God has revealed specific predictions and prophetic interpretations to them. When they say, “God says, ‘Y’” or “God has revealed ‘Y’,” they often mean something more than “God’s Word says ‘X,’ and we think ‘X’ means ‘Y’.” Rather, they claim that God reveals to them that “‘X’ means ‘Y’!” That is, in many cases, they claim God as the author of particular interpretations and predictions they proclaim.

What I’ve just said is entirely consistent with the fact their individual leaders deny having dreams, visions, hearing God’s voice, or being inspired in the manner of the biblical prophets. It is also consistent with the times they make weaker claims—such as suggesting they merely offered the interpretations or predictions as their own conjecture. No one ever said they are consistent about their role as God’s “sole visible channel” or about the status of their predictions. Often, they say what is useful at the time, even as they want the honor and obedience due a true prophet of God.

One Down, Two to Go

If the above approach succeeds, only the doctrinal leg and the brotherhood leg remain. How should we address these? How strong are they? I’ll take the latter question first. They are quite weak; that they appear to stand is more a function of cartoon gravity than their supposed sufficiency to ground belief in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Particularism. That is, the demise of the other two legs is implicit in the demise of the first, and this you will want to make clear as you proceed.

See, when you talk doctrine—Hell, the soul, the Resurrection body, the Trinity, etc.—with them, and what various passages mean or whether this or that argument is a good one, they can no longer rely on the credibility of who it is that teaches them to believe as they do. They can’t say, “Well my belief is correct, since God’s ‘sole visible channel’ teaches it” or “This passage is to be understood in this way, since the ‘Governing Body’ says so.” Thus, they will have to judge the arguments on their own merits; and hopefully, after being somewhat freed from dependence on the Governing Body, they might be more receptive to the working of the Holy Spirit through your friendship and good evidence.

I must qualify this somewhat. For, all other things being the same, they will likely still believe most of what they are taught as a JW. If you induce some doubts in their minds about, say, the nature of the Resurrection body, they might think, “Well, they are right in all these other matters, so they are probably right here too.” However, this kind of reasoning may not persist for too long. It eventually reduces to circular reasoning, something like:

“I believe ‘X,’ because I believe ‘Y;’ and I believe ‘Y,’ because I believe ‘X’.” They cannot pull themselves up by their own bootstraps forever, so eventually they will have to decide what to believe on the merits of the evidence and not just who presents it to them. This is what happened to me.

Now, being a good friend and inviting them to join a friendly and healthy church will go a long way to undermining the brotherhood leg. Let them experience that JWs aren’t the only ones who have love amongst themselves.

In this vein, it is vital to keep in mind that neither this approach, nor any further arguments you might make, will take the place of their friends and family they will lose if they leave the WTBTS organization. It must always be kept in mind that going from being a JW to, say, being a Nazarene is not like going from being a Baptist to being a Nazarene, or going from being a Catholic to being a Protestant. The personal cost is much less in these cases; but it is not so with one who would cease to be a JW. Think of Psalm 69:7-9 when you consider what many JWs have to go through should they leave: being shunned by friends and family. If you don’t appreciate this, and if you’re not ready to become their friend, then you simply are not ready.

But being their friend will not entirely defeat the brotherhood leg. There is one objection you will likely face, at least if your friend is worth his salt as a JW. Paraphrasing my JW cousin, it goes something like this: “Jesus said that we should be “no part of the world,” (John 15:19, NWT) but most so-called Christian denominations have been happy going to war, even killing other professed Christians. How is that neutrality toward the world? How is that brotherly love?” How do we address this?

It would be beyond the scope of this article to look at it in-depth; I should like to return to this topic in the future. In the meantime, however, see the MCOI Journal article “War Games.”6Joy A. Veinot. “War Games” Midwest Christian Outreach Journal, Vol.4 No. 3; MCOI, Wonder Lake, IL: March/April 1998

Still, here are several things to keep in mind. Wars can be just. Just wars are analogous to self-defense, and who doesn’t believe one has a right to defend themselves? Additionally, voting is not much different than the legal activities JWs are known for in securing religious freedom. It is not as if the Supreme Court, or the judicial system generally, is not part of the political order.

On the other hand, it might be useful to point out they are not the only group that strives to withdraw  from the political sphere, nor are they the only one that refuses to go to war. In this case, the suggestion might be “Perhaps JWs have a point, but that, by itself, doesn’t mean you should be a JW.” (The point being: While it is not intrinsically unacceptable for Christians to go to war or to be involved in politics, it might be wrong in many circumstances.)

And third, it is useful to note Jesus does not explicitly describe what being “no part of the world” means. Consider that Scripture contains no mention of Cornelius being told to resign his politically powerful role as a centurion (Acts 10:1, 22) nor of the Ethiopian eunuch, an official under Queen Candace (Acts 8:27), being told to resign. This should give us reason to be gracious as to whether Christians can serve as soldiers or be involved in politics in at least some circumstances.

Conclusion

The reasonings underlying this approach are easy enough to grasp. A long record of failed predictions should undermine one’s trust in the WTBTS’s present prophetic interpretations, including those they claim support their belief to be God’s “soul visible channel” of instruction. If these were attributed to God, then they are false prophecies. From here the JW’s worldview would tend to unravel, and they might become more willing to hear you out on other matters. Pray that they do.

Equally clear is the need for patience and humility. We should not think too much of ourselves. (It is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict, cf. John 16:8). We are almost certainly not going to convert them overnight. I’ve tried to stress this by describing a rather modest approach. Its aim is only to give you a foothold. It doesn’t argue that the WTBTS is a false religion, but rather that they are not the only genuine Christian group, and one doesn’t need their Governing Body. From this modest starting point, you can discuss further. But continue to do so in the spirit of modesty and patience that characterizes the approach I suggest. Keeping in mind the need to become their true friend.

Yes, if you keep firmly in mind my advice about becoming their friend, you are so much better equipped in your discussions no matter what approach you take; and in that case, writing this article will, for that reason, have been worthwhile.Ω

Sean Killackey is currently a member of the Church of the Nazarene. Since August 2018, he is a Philosophy and Christian Ministry Major at Northwest Nazarene University. Prior to becoming a Christian, he was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (fourth generation) and was a baptized member for about seven years. He can be contacted at seankillackey2018@gmail.com.

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The Apostle and the Enneagram
Who is My Neighbor?

End Notes   [ + ]

1. Jehovah’s Witnesses, aka JWs, are followers of the teachings of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (WTBTS).
2. Governing Body of the WTBTS is the government or clergy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
3. Unknown Author. “They Shall Know That A Prophet Was Among Them” The Watchtower, WTBTS, NY: April 1, 1972, p. 197.

“So, does Jehovah have a prophet to help them, to warn them of dangers and to declare things to come?…These questions can be answered in the affirmative. Who is this prophet?…This ‘prophet’ was not one man, but was a body of men and women. It was the small group of footstep followers of Jesus Christ, known at that time as International Bible Students. Today they are known as Jehovah’s Christian witnesses.

4. Unknown Author. “Finding Freedom with Jehovah’s Visible Organization” The Watchtower, WTBTS, NY: October 1, 1967; p.590.

“Jehovah poured out his spirit upon them and assigned them the responsibility of serving as his sole visible channel, through whom alone spiritual instruction was to come. Those who recognize Jehovah’s visible theocratic organization, therefore, must recognize and accept this appointment of the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ and be submissive to it.”

5. Exculpatory “to clear from alleged fault or guilt” {Webster’s}
6. Joy A. Veinot. “War Games” Midwest Christian Outreach Journal, Vol.4 No. 3; MCOI, Wonder Lake, IL: March/April 1998