Jehovah’s Witnesses: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."
She died on her sixth birthday. She could have lived. A simple blood transfusion would have saved the life of Ricarda Bradford, who was critically injured in a car accident. But her father, a chiropractor and a devout Jehovah’s Witness, refused the life giving procedure. He quoted Genesis 9:3, 4 and Leviticus 17:10-15, explaining the Witnesses considered taking blood in the veins to be the same as eating it.
Refusing to accept blood transfusions is just one of several distinctive beliefs associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They do not donate vital organs nor receive transplants. Until 1952, they were forbidden smallpox vaccinations. They also refuse to vote, salute the flag, sing “The Star Spangled Banner” (or any national anthem), and will not serve in the Armed Forces. Witnesses who depart from injunctions are disfellowshiped; from then on, the Kingdom Hall worshipers (even family members) consider them dead. The excommunicated “apostate” is told he will not rise from the grave on Judgment Day.
In 1879 a Bible study leader named Charles Taze Russell was looking for a way to expound his somewhat peculiar teaching. He had departed from orthodoxy by denying the existence of Hell, the Trinity, and the Deity of Christ, and felt compelled to reach a larger audience. He co-published “The Herald of the Morning Magazine” with its founder, N.H. Barbour, and it is here that we find the first record of Russell’s movement. By 1884 Russell controlled the publication, renamed it “The Watch Tower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom,” and founded Zion’s Watch Tower and Tract Society (now known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society).
The first edition of the Watch Tower Magazine was only 6,000 copies each month. Today the Witnesses publishing complex in my home town of Brooklyn, New York, churns out 100,000 books and 800,000 copies of its magazines- daily!
Russell’s theology established the foundation for the Witnesses’ militant opposition to all other church organizations. Until his death in 1916 aboard a train in Texas, Russell insisted that the Bible could be understood only according to his interpretation. At the heart of his system was a prophetical chronology that predicted the Gentile era would end in 1914. (Russell had already concluded that Christ had returned in 1874, but as a “presences in the upper air,” not a visible manifestation.) The end of the sealing of the 144,000 saints who would be “Kings and Priests in heaven” was also designated to occur in 1914. Those saved after that would belong to a servant class, “the great company,” who would rule on earth under the tutelage of the 144,000.
After the death of Russell, a Missouri lawyer named Joseph Franklin Rutherford took over the presidency of the Watch Tower Society. At a Columbus, Ohio convention in 1931, he cited Isaiah 43:10 as the pretext for changing the name of the organization to Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Thus, the stigma of Russell’s questionable scholarship (he had only a seventh-grade education) and morals was resolved. Rutherford assumed total charge of the organization, and from then on his prolific writings were the source of divine mandate. This consolidation of power enabled him to discard some of Russell’s less desirable teachings about the gathering of the Jews and the great pyramid theory.
After Rutherford’s death, Nathan Knorr took over. In the same eay that Rutherford had sought to supplant Russell’s influence, Knorr ignored the works of Rutherford. Today, the Society is led by Don Alden Adams, Born about 1925 in Illinois, U.S. he grew up in a big family. His family originally had connections to the Episcopal Church.
The pronouncements that are issued from the Brooklyn Headquarters (known to members as “Bethel” meaning the house of bread) are binding, and no deviation is tolerated. Strict theological control insures a consistency of doctrine. Witnesses avoid contact with outsiders, and the rare chance to meet one usually occurs when they knock on the door. Never identifying who they are, these friendly but persistent zealots deserve high marks for perseverance. Society statistics indicate that 740 house calls are required to recruit each of the nearly 200,000 new members who join every year.
The first thing to notice they’re inside the front door is that they do bring a Bible, The New World Translation- their especially prepared version. Its translators are anonymous, so neither credentials nor their manuscripts sources can be checked. But astute students of the Word will readily notice that the Society’s theological stance is enhanced by significant changes from the Authorized Version.
Debating with a Witness requires skill and a thorough knowledge of Bible doctrines. They have been taught that all other beliefs are Satanic and have been programmed with stock answers for questions that are often raised. Even is they don’t know the answer, they’re confident that their leader back at the Kingdom Hall will provide the correct response. Evangelical Christians need to be aware of Witness beliefs so that a clever choice of words doesn’t disguise their extremely unorthodox doctrine. The following paragraph points out some of their more controversial views.
To begin with, the Trinity is seen as a demonic doctrine. The Holy Spirit is robbed of His personality, and Jesus is stripped of His Deity. Their Translation renders John 1:1, “the Word was a god.” Introducing the Witness belief that Christ, the Archangel Michael, was created by Jehovah. The appearance of Jesus on earth was not an incarnation but an example of human perfection in response to Jehovah’s moral law.
Witnesses do not consider Christ to be Eternal God, the Creator of the universe, and our Great High Priest as declared in Hebrews 4:14-16 “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” and Colossians 2:9, 10. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”
Other Jehovah Witness doctrines that may be encountered are “soul sleep” and “the annihilation of the wicked” (along with satan and his demons). They deny the existence of a soul which can exist apart from the body. To Witnesses the soul is just the life-animating force which gives life to a material body. When human being dies, his soul ceases to exist and his body ultimately deteriorates. There is no hell, for the Watch Tower, there is just the grave. Faithful Witnesses hope one day to be recreated (resurrected) from Jehovah’s memory. Those destined for resurrection will inhabit either paradise, earth (the large earthly class), or heaven (the elite spiritual class, the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14). The earthly class will live as they have here with a body and life-animating force (soul). The heavenly class will “give up” any right to a resurrected body and will live as spirits, as they believe Jesus did after his “resurrection” or spirit resurrection.
Witnesses make much of their devotion to Jehovah and avoid any reference to God by another name. Ironically, respected Greek and Hebrew scholars tell us that the word Jehovah is nonexistent in the Bible, no matter how many times it appears in the New World Translation. There is no pretext to assume that the Hebrew consonants referring to God (YHWH- Yehweh) could not be Jehovah. But neither is there sufficient proof to assume that any designation other than Jehovah is a deliberate distortion of God’s Name. The greatest challenge to Watch Tower Society doctrine is the fact that the Bible presents Jesus as Jehovah God, a fatal blow to their entire belief system.
But one needs not to be a Hebrew scholar to be aware of the most glaring inconsistency in the teachings of Jehovah Witnesses. A brief study of the Society’s history shows a confused view of the end times as indicated by their record of erroneous dates for Christ return. The world’s end has been prophesied for 1914, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, all the way to 1975 and more recently 2012.
Since Adam’s creation was presumed to occur in 4026 B.C., Witnesses taught that 6,000 years of human history world end in A.D. 1975. When the date passed, thousands left the organization. But President Franz had an explanation all ready. The 6,000 year chronology was set forward to begin with Eve’s creation, and how long that occurred after Adam’s advent is an interval not yet revealed by Witness leaders. Still, members believe the end can’t be far off. They are told to "Live with Jehovah's Day in Mind!"
On October 6, 2000, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society announced a major reorganization of the Society's corporate structure. The Society claims that these "revisions to their legal organizational structure will allow them to keep pace with their growth." Contrary to this perspective presented by the Society, many non-Witness observers see less altruistic reasons for the reorganization.
The Society has claimed that this reorganization occurred for practical - increased efficiency in administrative duties - and theological - enabling the Governing Body to focus on spiritual oversight - reasons. There are, however, several additional reasons for this reorganization that are not being elucidated by the Watchtower Society: the Society is almost certainly responding to its failed doctrines regarding the anointed class, and the Society is protecting its assets in light of governmental fines and potential litigation. Still the Watch Tower Society stands today 9 million members strong!
One might tend to ask the question, why anyone would join the Jehovah Witnesses in the first place. For starters, people are looking for love; the Jehovah Witness tends to display a form of love within the organization. At first, you are introduced to a variety of individuals within the Society and you get a feeling of acceptance. Personal needs are met as well as financial needs. Many Witnesses marry within the Society and are also employed by fellow members.
What might seem like a loving organization from the outside, many have learned after they are members for a period of time that the grass is not greener in the Watch Tower Society after all!
A form of mind control is set in place by the leaders of the organization. Members are not to question their superiors or the organization. An atmosphere of fearing Jehovah’s Judgment sets in; rules with severe repercussions are demanded from each member.
Pressure to refrain from thinking outside of the Society’s teachings regarding if they go against science is used to keep members in a semi brainwashed state. Families are broken because of the wife not going alone with her husband, and he is encouraged to remarry within the Society. This organization tends to kill their members by their adherence to bad doctrines within the Society, by refusing certain life saving medical treatment to their sick members.
As Christians we are to pray for Jehovah Witnesses and show them the love that Christ has been given to each one of us. We are to do our homework to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
And the most important of all is love (agape) the love of God that Witnesses first set forth to find needs to be displayed within each and every one of us who profess the Name of Christ.