Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who are the Jehovah Witnesses?

You never know when you are going to have an opportunity to bear witness to the faith (1 Peter 3:15-16). Sometimes, it comes when you least expect it or when you least desire it. On Sunday afternoon, God provided an opportunity for me to confess the truth to two young Jehovah Witness ladies. Sunday afternoon, I am usually fairly tired from the Sunday activities; and this past Sunday, I also had a hymn fest that I was going to later in the day. Needless to say, I was not necessarily in the mood to debate theology at my front door. But, as these ladies came to the door, I knew that it was an opportunity that I could not pass up. As the conservation began, I asked them where they were from and what they were up to (I had previously told them that I was a Lutheran pastor). They continued with their presentation. I listened for awhile and then when the opportunity presented itself, I began to stir the conversation around who Jesus was. Predictably, they informed me that Jesus was a created being, not God. Jesus was a good man, but not our Savior. He was, "our king"- one who shows us how we should live our life. Also, I asked them if they believed they were going to heaven. Their response, "No, only 144,000 are going there. They were going to the new earth that Jesus was going to create." As the conversation continued, we discussed many other topics, but before they left, I presented to them the Gospel. "We are all sinful, truly and completely unable to save ourselves. So, therefore, God the Father, who is rich in mercy, sent His only Son into the world, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for all people. Those who believe and are baptized into Jesus will be saved." I also warned them to make sure that their beliefs were really from the Word of God. I, then, invited them to St. John and we parted ways. I will probably never know the full effect of this conversation. I pray I may have an opportunity with them again someday. But, as a Christian, the opportunities are all around to bear witness to Christ in what we say and what we do. May the Holy Ghost inspire us to be bold and take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves! God bless!


At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To understand who are "Jehovah's Witnesses", one must understand their history. Jehovah's Witnesses originated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1870s. Jehovah's Witnesses are an offshoot of the "Second Adventist" religious movement, which itself had originated in the 1830s.

In the 1830s, a Vermont Baptist lay preacher named William Miller began preaching that the "Second Advent" of Jesus Christ would occur sometime between Passover 1843 and Passover 1844. By 1843, there were hundreds of traveling lecturers who had joined Miller in his "Millerite Movement". There may have been as many as 150,000 Americans who professed some degree of belief in Miller's end-time predictions. Nearly all were Protestants - Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Disciples/Christians, etc. When the Second Advent did not occur by Passover 1844, a little known Millerite named Samuel Snow proposed both a new and specific date -- October 22, 1844, a date which William Miller himself did not endorse until the first week of October. Despite Miller's lack of support, this new date prediction was accepted by practically all Millerites due to its promotion by a man named George Storrs. George Storrs was a Millerite lecturer whom William Miller himself did not like; primarily because George Storrs was also promoting amongst the Millerites Storrs' own heretical teachings of "soul sleep" and "conditional immortality". Today's Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Advent Christian Church all received their "soul sleep" and "conditional immortality" doctrines from George Storrs. Interestingly, about a week prior to October 22, 1844, George Storrs attempted to promote nationwide the belief that the Second Advent would occur exactly at 3:00 A.M. on October 22, 1844 (originated by one of Storrs' fellow Philadelphia area Millerites). Storrs proclaimed that "true believers" should flee outside of all cities and towns before 3:00 A.M. on October 22, since all cities and towns would be destroyed just as were Sodom and Gomorrah. Years later, in the 1870s, George Storrs became a mentor of Charles Taze Russell -- the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

After the failure of the October 22, 1844 prediction, the vast majority of Millerites returned to their local churches and orthodox beliefs. However, several of the more hard-core Millerite (or "Adventist", or "Second Adventist") leaders continued to believe in the imminent Second Advent of Christ. Soon after 1844, these Millerites, or "Second Adventists", gradually segmented themselves into separate groups based on their "non-advent" beliefs -- the Seventh Day Adventists, the Advent Christian Church, the Evangelical Adventists, etc. These various Second Adventist sects continued to predict Christ's Second Advent to occur for dates in the latter 1840s, in the 1850s, in the 1860s, and in the 1870s.

In the 1860s, there was a spike of several different "Second Adventist" groups and offshoots which set dates for various times ranging from 1864 to 1868. After the failure of all those predictions, and the negative backlash from such, most "Second Adventist" sect leaders swore off the setting of dates and simply preached that the Second Advent was imminent and would occur sometime in the very near future.

However, there remained one Second Adventist preacher, named Nelson Barbour, who would not give up on trying to figure out "dates" from Bible prophecies. Barbour re-set 1873/4 as the new date for Christ's return, which attracted roughly 15-20,000 Second Adventists who were unable to kick the "prediction addiction", despite the repeated disappointments over the preceding decades. One of Barbour's leading supporters was a Second Adventist preacher named Jonas Wendell, who pastored the Advent Christian Church in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh). It was around 1869 that a Pittsburgh teenager named Charles Taze Russell first went to hear Jonas Wendell preach that Christ would return around 1873/4.

After Nelson Barbour's predictions for 1873/4 failed, Barbour attempted to retain his followers (and their financial support) by claiming that Christ had in fact returned to the "vicinity of the earth" in October 1874, but that Christ was "invisible". Barbour claimed that the "Second Advent" was actually a 40 year long process, during which Christ was making necessary preparations for His "visible" return (Armageddon), which would occur in October 1914. Since most Second Adventists were worn out after having been disappointed multiple times before, most Adventists ignored Barbour's later excuses and left Barbour to his delusions.

However, a now older Charles Taze Russell, who between 1869 and 1875 had been tutored by Second Adventists George Stetson and George Storrs, believed Nelson Barbour's latest teachings to be "the truth", and the young entrepreneur financially backed Barbour's stalled ministry and became assistant editor of Barbour's magazine. Barbour, Russell, and a few other of Barbour's followers began preaching that the rapture of the remaining living 144,000 heavenly co-rulers would occur at Passover 1878. After Barbour's 1878 prediction failed, Russell and Barbour started squabbling over some other interpretations. In 1879, Russell split from Barbour and started publishing his own magazine, called ZION'S WATCH TOWER and HERALD OF CHRIST'S PRESENCE to publish "the truth" that Christ had returned "invisbly" in 1874, and would return "visibly" in October 1914. Having stolen both Barbour's teachings and Barbour's magazine's mailing list, Russell gradually attracted hundreds of "prediction addicted" Second Adventists. The Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was formed in the early 1880s. By 1914, there were roughly 15-25,000 "International Bible Students", with varying degrees of interest and loyalty affilated with the Watch Tower Society. Just as had occurred repeatedly in the 1800s, Russell's predictions for October 1914 failed. Predictably, Russell reset Christ's "visible" return for October 1915. Repeating the scenario, Russell lost half or more of his followers, and died a dejected man (and probably a drug addict given historical "hints" that Russell had been addicted to painkillers his entire adult life) in 1916 - interestingly on Halloween.

Although nearly "broke" financially, the bureaucracy of the "Watch Tower Society" remained, as did several thousand diehards, who then began to teach that Russell was still running the Watch Tower Society from heaven. Russell's lawyer and confidante, Joseph F. Rutherford, was chosen to succeed Russell. Rutherford needed to both fire up the troops and fill the coffers, so he quickly had a new book published in 1917 which did just that, entitled THE FINISH MYSTERY. Calling it Russell's posthumous work, Rutherford set a series of new dates in which he predicted the destruction of the world's religious organizations (except the Watch Tower Society) in 1918; the disintregration of all governments and organized society into chaos from 1919-21; followed by the beginning of Christ's millennial reign on earth. Given the ongoing war in Europe, and the United States being gradually drawn into such, THE FINISH MYSTERY sold like hotcakes. By the time the United States entered the war in mid 1917, the Watch Tower Society had also moved beyond the bounds of a "neutral" position on the war, and had began actively impeding the war effort. Rutherford and seven other Watch Tower leaders were convicted and imprisoned for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. The war ended in 1918, and like many other radicals convicted and imprisoned under that same law, the WatchTower Society's leaders were soon released from prison - in 1919.

Despite the fact that none of Rutherford's predictions for 1918 or 1919 had or were coming true, Rutherford rallied the troops, and again filled the coffers by publishing revised predictions for 1920-5. Rutherford's MILLIONS NOW LIVING WILL NEVER DIE prophesied that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be resurrected by 1925 to rule over the earth from the city of Jerusalem. As had always occurred previously, new prophesies brought new followers and new money. By the start of 1922, around 32,000 "prediction junkies" were again attending Watchtower meetings. By the start of 1925, that number had skyrocketed to over 90,000. As had always occurred previously, the failure of predictions caused the loss of followers and money.

After 1925, Rutherford strung his followers along by preaching "any day now". However, some of the remaining older diehards who were still loyal to founder Charles Taze Russell were becoming displeased with Rutherford. Eventually, a nasty guerilla war for the control of the religion broke out between Rutherford and the "Russellites". The Russellites were no match for "Judge Rutherford", and as a result, most of the oldest supporters gradually left or were kicked out of the Watch Tower Society during the 1930s.

From the latter 1920s until his death in 1942, Rutherford changed or dropped many of Russell's original teachings, plus many new teachings were added. Teachings dropped included those related to pyramidology and phrenology. Christ's "invisible" return was moved from 1874 to 1914. The start of the "last days" was moved from 1799 to 1914. The heavenly resurrection of Christ's co-rulers was moved from 1878 (originally 1874) to 1918. Etc. Etc. In 1931, Rutherford adopted the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" to distinguish his followers from the many groups of "Bible Students" scattered throughout the country who had split off and retained Russell's teachings. Rutherford stopped "Jehovah's Witnesses" from celebrating their birthdays, Christian holidays, and secular holidays. Rutherford also forbid all forms of patriotism or other support for the government and the military, including the reciting of the Pledge of Allegience. Etc. Etc.

During the emotionally unsettling times leading up to America's entry into World War II, Rutherford ordered Jehovah's Witnesses to picket and distribute anti-church literature outside of churches on Sunday mornings. Anti-government literature was distributed house-to-house and paraded on the sidewalks of Main Street during shopping hours. Not surprisingly, Jehovah's Witnesses were often verbally assaulted, and less often were physically assaulted. This was an intentional strategy to get Rutherford's "message" in the newspapers and on the radio. Many small-town mayors unwittingly fell into Rutherford's trap when they used the police to stop [often out-of-town] Jehovah's Witnesses from provoking their local citizenry. "Judge Rutherford" not only welcomed, but pursued, legal contests. These allowed the Watch Tower Society to take selected issues all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Once there, time after time the SCOTUS overruled local ordinances and laws used to stop the Jehovah's Witnesses from publicly distributing their "message". From the latter 1930s through the 1950s, the Watch Tower Society won decision after decision. Civil libertarians hail Jehovah's Witnesses as the group most responsible for the broad interpretation which today's courts give the civil rights and liberties found in the Constitution. [Click here to read some rarely publicized 1940s JWs court cases.]

Prior to Rutherford's death in January 1942, the Watch Tower Society had taught that World War II was the lead-in to Armageddon. However, just like what had occurred with Russell and Rutherford during World War I, none of the Watch Tower Society's "expectations" came true. However, the "Cold War" gave the Watch Tower Society everything it needed for their fallback message of "any day now". By the early 1950s, the new message was that 6000 years of mankind's existence would end in 1972, and that Christ's Millennium (seventh) would have to start sometime prior to such.

In 1966, the end of the 6000 years was revised to 1975, and the Watch Tower Society went on a worldwide campaign of "insinuation" that Armageddon would occur in October 1975. The "October 1975" campaign was the most successful "prediction junkies" recruiting campaign since William Miller had predicted the end of the 6000 years for 1843-4, and Nelson Barbour had predicted the end of the 6000 years for 1873-4. Although it had taken the Watch Tower Society from the 1870s until the mid-1960s to reach the 1,000,000th member mark, the "October 1975" campaign allowed the WatchTower Society to reach the 2,000,000th member mark in less than a decade.

After the failure of the "October 1975" prediction, some of those one million new "prediction junkies" were gradually lost, but overall there was a huge gain in membership with their financial support. Having had decades of experience at this "game", the WatchTower Society had already prepared its members for alternate dates just in case the "October 1975" prediction failed. Even prior to 1975, there had been insinuations that Armageddon might occur in October 1984 (adding 70 years "generation" to 1914) and October 1994 (adding 80 years "generation" to 1914).

With the advent of the internet and the birth of the "information age" in the 1990s, the past history and the past track record of the WatchTower Society has been exposed to the world. Not surprisingly, over the past 12 years, the only notable growth in the number of members has been in third-world countries. Even more significant is the impact that the internet has had on the "insinuating" of a new date for "Armageddon", which in past decades was the "seed" for the next "harvest" of "prediction junkies". Recently, in 2003, the year 2034 (adding the 120 years that Noah preached to 1914) was "insinuated" as the next date for "Armageddon", and such was reported throughout the internet world almost instantaneously.

The "2034 insinuation" evidently received little enthusiasm from the membership. That date is simply too far in the future for those susceptible to the "prediction addiction". However, given human nature, and the fact that history will no doubt repeat itself, there likely will be a "world crisis" sometime in the future which will allow the Watch Tower Society to fire up a new recruiting campaign grounded in a new date, beit 2034, or a closer date more likely to impact current followers.

In the meantime, the WatchTower Society possibly is implementing a new "kill two birds with one stone" strategy to both "insinuate" to its members that Armageddon is near, and keep its predictions off the internet. In 2007, the WatchTower Society's magazine, AWAKE!, was reduced to a "monthly" publication, after being "semi-monthly" for decades. In 2008, the flagship magazine, WATCHTOWER, which also has been "semi-monthly", for over 100 years, is curiously being changed to being one monthly edition for "members-only", and one monthly edition for "public distribution". Effective 2008, the main Sunday Sermon at all Kingdom Halls of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is referred to as the "Public Talk", is also being reduced in length from 45 minutes to a mere 30 minutes (previously reduced from 60, 55, and 50 minutes).

Since Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Governing Body in Brooklyn has a direct hotline to GOD, such "major changes" in decades-old routines will be interpreted by members as "signs" that the end is near, while those unfamiliar with the beliefs and culture of the Jehovah's Witnesses will interpret such as "insignificant". Never underestimate the ability of the WatchTower Society to "find a way" to bridge the gap from one "world crisis" to the next.


At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 2:11 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

O.K. so some of this is truthfull and much of it is not, sorry to say. As one of Jehovah's Witnesses I say that if you want to know who they are and what they believe go to www.watchtower.org and I highly recomend a DVD film titled "Knocking" which was a PBS Independant lens docc that was made by non-Witnesses but is accurite and give a good presentation of our history and beliefs. Good day.


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