Jehovah’s Witnesses

1. Key Facts

1.1 Membership – Total world membership reached 4.9 million in 1994. Members are called “publishers.” There are probably an equal number of adherents.
1.2 Growth – Growth has been most dramatic in Central and South America, Africa, and the Pacific Rim. Their statistics show that it takes an average number of 3,500 hours of “preaching work” (evangelism) for every person baptized, including children of Witnesses.
1.3 Literature – Witnesses distribute two magazines, The Watchtower and Awake!, as well as Bibles and other literature. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is central to the movement.
1.4 Other Groups – There are at least ten religious groups that could be considered splinter groups. These groups reject the doctrine of the Trinity as well as other essentials of biblical Christianity.

2. History

2.1 “Pastor” Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916)
2.1.1 Background – C.T. Russell was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and attended Presbyterian and Congregational churches as a child. By the time he was sixteen years old, he became a skeptic, primarily because he was unable to accept the doctrine of hell.
2.1.2 Adventist Associations In 1869, Russell attended an Adventist lecture on hell, in which he was told there is no eternal punishment. His faith in the Bible was restored. Soon after, he founded a Bible study group and came to be known as “pastor.” Russell became associated with another Adventist, Nelson Barbour, who convinced him that Christ’s second coming was a visible and spiritual presence which had already begun in 1874. The two men wrote a book, but in early 1879 they parted over doctrinal differences, including Barbour’s failed prophecy that the church would go to heaven in April 1878. From then on, Russell distanced himself from the Adventists.
2.1.3 The Watch Tower – In 1879, Russell launched his own work with the publication of the magazine, Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. The magazine taught that Christ was already present and had been since 1874, and that Christ’s presence would climax in 1914 with God’s judgment on all human nations and the establishment of God’s kingdom. In the 1880’s, Russell established the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (now the international headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses), in which he held ninety-nine percent of the shares.
2.1.4 Death – Russell died in 1916, believing that the “Gentile times” had ended in 1914 and that World War I was Armageddon.
2.2 “Judge” Joseph F. Rutherford (1869-1942) – After Russell’s death, various factions struggled for control of the Society. Rutherford was elected the second president of the Society, and immediately forced out several prominent leaders, who formed splinter sects. In 1931, Rutherford adopted the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. They also abandoned Russell’s belief that Christ’s presence began in 1874, and that World War I was Armageddon. Instead they taught that Christ’s presence began in 1914.
2.3 Nathan Knorr (1905-77)
2.3.1 Knorr succeeded Rutherford as president in 1942. He placed control of the Society into the hands of a board known as the Governing Body, and the Society began publishing its books anonymously (instead of with Russell’s or Rutherford’s names). He also led the Society to publish more sophisticated Bible study tools, including their own translation of the Bible, the New World Translation. Witnesses were also trained to speak conversationally about the Bible with prospective converts.
2.3.2 In the 1960’s, Watchtower publications began presenting the theory that Armageddon might take place in 1975. Many Witnesses sold their homes and quit their jobs to devote themselves to full-time witnessing. During 1975 the Society backed away from the date, leaving many disillusioned.
2.4 Frederick W. Franz (1893-1992) – Franz replaced Knorr in 1977. Franz was more knowledgeable in biblical studies and theology than his predecessors, and under his leadership the Witnesses learned to express their beliefs in more biblical and evangelical-sounding language. In 1980, the Society forced out several prominent leaders for alleged disloyalty to the organization. One of these leaders was Franz’s nephew, Ray Franz, also a member of the governing body. He was “disfellowshipped” for eating a meal with an ex-Witness (who happened to be his employer and landlord). Frederick Franz died in 1992, and was replaced by Milton G. Henschel.

3. Practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses

3.1 Jehovah’s Witnesses are prohibited from participating in almost every holiday and celebration, including birthdays, Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day, New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.
3.2 Jehovah’s Witnesses are forbidden to participate in political affairs; they may not vote, lobby, hold office, salute, or display any government’s flag. They are also forbidden to participate in a war, even as non-combatants.

4. Theological Beliefs

Jehovah’s Witness Belief Christian Belief
Authority There is only one true religious organization (administered by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). Believers must submit to this one true organization. The only reliable translation is the New World Translation. Although there is only “one faith,” there is not only one true religious organization. The church shows itself in different forms, and there is genuine disagreement over nonessential or secondary points of theology. Believers are not to meekly submit to whatever leaders tell them (Acts 17:11). No human leader is beyond question.
Trinity and the Deity of Christ There is no Trinity; Jehovah, the Almighty God, is a solitary person.

Jesus is not Almighty God. Before he became a man, he preexisted in heaven as the first and only direct creation by God. He was empowered by Jehovah to produce the rest of creation, and resumed his divine position after his death and resurrection with the added privilege of eventually ruling over all creation under Jehovah’s authority.

The “holy spirit” is an impersonal energy or active force that God uses.

The Bible teaches the Trinity. Over sixty times in the New Testament, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are associated together in creation, salvation, the Christian life, and the future judgment.

Jesus is Almighty God, and possesses the essential characteristics of God. He has existed eternally. Jesus is fully God.

The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but is a divine person. The Holy Spirit is God.

Death, the Soul and Hell Death ends personal existence. There is no immaterial personal soul or spirit, and there is no afterlife or eternal conscious punishment for the wicked. The Bible consistently teaches that there is a soul or spirit, and that there is an afterlife. There is an eternal punishment for the wicked.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ Jesus Christ was raised as a spirit creature. His human body was not raised from the dead, but was instead dissolved into gases or otherwise annihilated. The resurrection was physical in nature. Jesus is still a man. The body that was killed was the body that was raised.
Salvation There are two classes of Christians: the “anointed” who will go to heaven as spirit sons of God, and the “great crowd,” who will be resurrected on earth and given opportunity to live on earth forever. This great crowd will include all pre-Christian believers and most of those now living. Salvation requires faith in Christ plus hard work. Only 144,000 are “born again.” All Christians have the same status and future. All Christians will live on the new earth. Christians, before being raised from the dead to everlasting life on the new earth, will wait with Christ in heaven for their final salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith, resulting in good works.
Christ’s Return Christ is invisibly present, and has been since 1914.. He will never actually return to the earth. His invisible presence is preparing for his invisible “revelation” in the events of Armageddon and the beginning of the Millennium. Christ will return personally, visibly, and bodily to the earth. Christ’s kingdom rule over the earth was inaugurated at his resurrection and ascension.

5. Tips on Witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses

  • As with other groups, recognize that they are people who are loved by God and sinners just as we are. They need the Gospel. Be prepared to share it instead of just sending them away.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to read an average of sixty pages of Watchtower literature per week, compared to an average of four pages of the Bible per week. They are discouraged from reading non-Witness religious literature, especially anything written by ex-Witnesses (“apostates”) or persons critical of their beliefs (“opposers”). They are taught to value unity and organizational loyalty.
  • Politely challenge their stereotypes of non-Witnesses. They are taught that non-Witnesses do not know the Bible and are not well-taught as they are. They are also taught to expect hostility and disrespect. Respectfully agree with the biblical insights they do have, but show your knowledge of the Scriptures.
  • Instead of making statements, ask questions to challenge their beliefs. Don’t assume they know the Bible. They come prepared to give a prepared speech and know their own proof texts, but not necessarily the Bible as a whole.
  • Tactfully show that the Watchtower has lied to them and is guilty of false prophecy.
  • As with all groups, do research before engaging with them! For instance, help is available from Christian bookstores and organizations.. Don’t get in over your head. If you don’t know an answer, admit it, and offer to meet with them again with the answer. Then do so.
  • Give them time to go home and think about what you said. They might not admit an error right away.
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada