The Fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses seems a common phenomenon. We do all we can at Reachout to encourage Christian believers to be bold and confident in witnessing. We are aware that many harbour a fear of the cults, understandable on some levels given the warnings in the Bible about false teachers.
Neither can it be denied a certain mystique has grown up around those friendly callers at our door, giving rise to an understandable apprehension. If we look more closely, however, we may be surprised at how unjustified our fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses is.
I want to take a closer look at the fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses and find if they live up to their reputation as accomplished Bible students, a reputation that can find Christians hiding when they call. For an insight into their Bible ‘understanding’ see here.
Is the Fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses Justified?
They certainly seem incredibly confident in sharing what they believe. Christians are typically caught off-guard when they call and harbour fears based on what we ‘think’ Jehovah’s Witnesses are capable of. The following personal account is typical.
‘It was a happy visit with an old friend and was over all too quickly. We had caught up on family news, talked about an imminent house move, touched on church life, and shared stories of interesting encounters with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Our friend impressed upon us her conviction that the best witness is personal testimony because, ‘you’ll never out-Scripture a Jehovah’s Witness.’ I found this surprising since she is a pretty good Bible scholar, confident, open, and enthusiastic about her faith.’
Does this sound familiar?
The Interregnum Kingdom Hall
Have you ever been in a church in interregnum? Your old pastor has left and a new one has yet to be found. The remarkable thing about a church in interregnum is how things simply carry on. A good church secretary and a handful of willing and able volunteers can ‘run’ a church for years without a pastor.
House groups continue, the youth programme keeps going, home visits are made, weddings and funerals take place. In Sunday services the only notable change is a series of guest preachers, and a good church secretary can fill the pulpit for months ahead. I am occasionally such a guest preacher and I am used to an invite in Spring to ‘speak to our church in November.’
People sometimes confuse leadership with management
The one thing missing in all this is leadership. People sometimes confuse leadership with management but they are two very different things. A church in interregnum can be competently managed, but leadership brings a quite different dimension to a church. a leader brings vision, focus, direction.
The local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses operates rather like a church in interregnum. There will be elders and ministerial servants, men they call ‘leaders,’ but they function as managers, much as some Christian leaders, sad to say, function.
The form and content of meetings’ are dictated by the headquarters in Warwick, New York and follow the same programme throughout the world. This gives the impression of unity but is actually a deliberate and controlling uniformity across the organisation.
All content in every meeting is decided by headquarters and is passed down through the familiar Watchtower books, magazines, and official online resources. This is what passes for leadership. It is distant, disengaged, but controlling.
Although their meetings are largely devoted to Bible study and Watchtower doctrines there is no sense of the discussion, discovery, and edification that marks Christian Bible study.
There are weekly question and answer sessions, giving again the impression of open study. Anyone who has done a book study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, will know the questions are set by the prescribed publication, which also contains stipulated answers.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to study the set book or magazine in preparation for meetings and are expected, in every particular, to know the ‘right’ answer from the book.
This is why Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to be so prepared at the door. But it is only an impression of preparedness. Can we really justify our fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
All believers worth their salt have key texts that help them understand and explain their faith. However, our faith as Christians goes far beyond proof texts, growing in a clear and solid knowledge and understanding of what the Bible teaches, its implications and application. For a typical Witness their whole ‘armoury’ is summed up in proof texts, designed to reinforce what their leaders have decided is true.
They give the impression of unity, but they are not united around a shared and growing understanding of biblical truth. Rather, they unthinkingly adhere to an imposed uniformity, carefully catechising themselves against the latest, often contradictory teaching in the most recent official publication.
There is an appearance of leadership, but their ‘leaders’ do no more than manage the Kingdom Hall in line with Watchtower policy. These men are not active decision makers but passive actors rolling out locally the decisions made by others thousands of miles away. In light of this, can we really justify the fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Jehovah’s Witnesses are ill-prepared for open discussion, they don’t know that they don’t know
In reality, they do as they are told and dare not do otherwise. Given a question that takes them away from their well-rehearsed script, they flounder, ill-prepared for open discussion. You may meet seasoned Witnesses who, from long experience, are better able to handle questions, but even they will not stray from the imposed orthodoxy of the organisation.
All this means that they only know what they are told, and don’t know what they don’t know, because they don’t know that they don’t know. They are ignorant of their ignorance. They will bring the official condemnation of the Trinity as a pagan teaching when they have never actually investigated the subject. They just know it’s wrong and what they have been told about why it’s wrong.
They will argue that Jesus is a created being, the premortal archangel Michael, but they neither know nor understand how Christology works. They can get quite worked up about it without having the first notion of what it is they are refuting. Can we really justify our fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
These are the people who call at your door, who faithfully stand at their carts in your local shopping centre. Otherwise Intelligent, capable, but ill-informed people, cowed by a system into believing as they are instructed to believe, afraid to consider much less look at anything that might better educate them.
The Christian at the Door
Where does this leave the Christian at the door? I believe in a very strong position…provided you know your Bible. The Christian at the door has every reason to be confident if they know their Bible. You will know what the Bible says, not just what has been rehearsed at the Kingdom Hall this month. A Christian believer is in a position to demonstrate all the benefits of freedom in Christ not enjoyed by a Jehovah’s Witness.
You are able to show grace in your attitude to the Witnesses, because you fully understand what it means to be shown grace. You know Jude’s injunction to ‘contend for the faith’ (Jude 3) but you are also familiar with the many examples in the Bible of doing that without fear, with Christ in your heart and hope in your conversation, with gentleness towards your visitor.
All this while being uncompromising in your respect for the integrity of the gospel. (1 Peter 3:13-16) The prepared Christian has every reason to confidently overcome the fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Witnessing for Faithfulness
Something many Christians struggle with is the idea of witnessing for results. How often have we heard people say they had spoken to Jehovah’s Witnesses but apparently to no avail. But this is to misunderstand your role in witnessing. Consider the example of Paul in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens.
Thessalonica didn’t discourage Paul and Silas
In Thessalonica Paul went into the synagogue ‘as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.’ As we read on in the text (Acts 17:1-8) we find ‘some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking wicked men from the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.’
So what did Paul do? ‘The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.’ The experience in Thessalonica didn’t discourage Paul and Silas, who, finding themselves in another city, found a synagogue to preach in. We are told:
‘Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.’
But those Thessalonian Jews arrived, stirred up the crowd, and Paul found himself on the road to Athens, while Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea. (Acts 17:10-15)
Paul, finding himself in Athens…found a synagogue. He is described as provoked (lit. in a paroxysm) as he saw the city full of idols. In the synagogue and in the market place Paul reasoned ‘with those who happened to be there.’ Eventually, he found himself invited to address men who considered themselves the leading philosophical lights of the day. Speaking to those who knew nothing of Moses and the law, he used the creation as the starting point of his conversation. The result was:
‘When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’…But some men joined him and believed…’ (Acts 17:16-32)
The Reasoning Christian Witness
Like Paul, we react with distress to idolatry, appalled at the sight of people worshipping false gods, deceived by false doctrine, held captive to a controlling organisation.
Imagine Paul walking the streets of your town or city and seeing Kingdom Halls, men and women at street corners at witnessing carts, Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking at your neighbours’ doors. He would be ‘provoked’ I think. But what would he do?
I doubt he would find a ready audience in the local Kingdom Hall as he found a synagogue in Athens. But he would be in the market place, engaging Jehovah’s Witnesses in discussion.
Whoever he engaged with he ‘reasoned,’ from Scripture, from life. On Mars Hill he reasoned from what his audience could readily identify, creation, purpose, destiny. In the synagogue he reasoned from the Scriptures. Paul reasoned with people.
We are Called to be Faithful Witnesses
As we have seen, results were mixed, but this didn’t seem to bother the apostle. There were those who mocked, like a Witness mocking the Trinity doctrine.
Some wanted to continue discussion, like a Witness at your door, glad for someone ready to talk, perhaps intrigued by your reasoning. Others believed, but Paul had to go through an awful lot to arrive at believers. I suspect Paul didn’t witness for results but for faithfulness.
Like Paul and the other apostles, we are called to be witnesses of what God has done in Christ (Acts 1:8; 26:16). As we meet Jehovah’s Witnesses, at the door or on the street, we remember we are called to be faithful witnesses.
We are disturbed by idolatry and error, see the true biblical poverty of the Jehovah’s Witness, persevere despite mockery and opposition, and stay faithful in our calling to bring light into dark places, to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. We have every reason to be confident…if we know our Bibles.