I pulled a fast one. After the normal, half-hour of getting caught up with each other, my Jehovah’s Witness elder friend asked if my iPad was fully charged. He wanted to show me that the Watchtower magazines are on the JW.org web site. I already knew that, but I didn’t interrupt because I was hoping he would do something that I could use later. We navigated to the study edition magazine section because he wanted to show me that they had color pictures. He clicked on August 1st 2013 edition and I exclaimed, “You can’t do that!”
JW: Do what?
KW: Click on August.
JW: Why not?
KW: Because it isn’t August yet. It is July 31st so we need to look at July.
We both laughed and he clicked on the July edition to show me the pictures. As he was explaining the differences between how the magazines appear in this section of the web site and how they appear in the online library, I started looking at the headings and read out loud, “Who Really Is the Faithful and Discreet Slave?” I started skimming through this section and said, “This looks interesting. I think I’ll read this later.”
What my friend probably does not know yet is that the whole edition of the Watchtower is a serious doctrinal change which Witnesses refer to as “new light.” For a number of years now the Watchtower has taught that all of the 144,000 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to have a heavenly hope are considered part of the “frightful and discreet slave” spoken about in Matthew 24:45-47. It reads in the New World Translation, “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to YOU, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses were taught that Jesus inspected all religious organizations in 1919 and chose the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to be the “faithful slave” who would feed His other servants the spiritual food they need to live in a way that pleases Jehovah. Don’t ask me for a Bible verse which discusses 1919 because there isn’t one. This July 2013 study edition (not the magazines they hand out to the pubic) changes the identity of the slave from 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses to the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses ONLY. This is an ENORMOUS change.
I knew about this back in March when I first met my Witness friend and have been setting up a discussion about this topic since then. I made sure that he clearly explained what he believed about the identity of the slave when we first talked about this topic. I have been looking forward to talking about this subject for a long time and now he just handed me the opportunity. Next week is going to be exciting.
After the JW website tutorial, we started with paragraph 20 of the “Teach book.” It discusses how we can know God even though we can’t see Him. My friend used an illustration of a blind person getting to know people even though he cannot see. We talked about this and other illustrations he had for more than 10 minutes.
Paragraph 22 has an interesting warning for those who are studying the Bible. The paragraph says, “As you learn more from the Bible, you may find that some well-meaning people will urge you to stop such studies. They may worry that you will change your beliefs. But do not let anyone stop you from forming the best friendship you can ever have.” The corresponding question asks, “What may some well-meaning people urge you to do, but what should you do?”
This paragraph is actually a subtle trick by the Watchtower which has been successfully used by Jehovah’s Witnesses for years. They often claim that since a person has begun to study the Bible, Satan will not be happy and will possibly even use family members to stop the study. What usually happens during the warning is that the thought of “studying the Bible” is substituted with “studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
This happened during our study. My Witness friend asked, “If someone says, ‘You study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, don’t do that’, then what should you do?”
KW: This says if you are studying the Bible.
JW: From experience, we know that it happens.
KW: What happens?
My friend began telling me stories about people who started to study with Witnesses who were then kicked out of their homes by parents or shunned by family and friends. Witnesses in other countries are often subject to persecution by governments, etc. Everything about his stories were about studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses and not about studying the Bible. I pointed out that anyone who changes from the religion of family or the predominate religion of an area, experiences the same thing. He spoke at great length about the trials his family faced after becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses in a country where the religion was not as accepted as it is here in the United States.
As he was speaking about persecution, he mentioned the story in John 9:1-34 about Jesus healing the man who was born blind. After receiving his sight, the neighbors brought the man to the Pharisees who then interrogated the man about who healed him and how he was healed. They were upset that the man had been healed on the Sabbath. Because the man thought Jesus was a prophet of God, he was kicked out of the synagogue. I asked, “How many people would be willing to be kicked out of their synagogues in order to follow Jesus?”
I then asked my friend to imagine with me that we were some of the Pharisees involved in that event. I began to say things like, “We know that we are from God. We know that this guy who healed this man cannot be from God because He breaks the law. We aren’t sure that he really performed a miracle, but if he did, it had to be by the power of Satan. We should ask this guy’s parents about him and make sure that it was really the same guy who was born blind.”
I could see from my friend’s facial expression that he was intrigued by thinking about this story form a different perspective. I wanted to plant some seeds for a possible future harvest so I continued with the scenario and took it to a deeper level.
KW: I am placing myself in the seat of the Pharisee, the religious leader of the day and saying, “We deny this man and anyone who follows Him.” We would kick them out of the congregation because they followed Jesus. That is the worst thing you can do is kick someone out. Now they are no longer a part of the community. The blind guy is separated from his parents.
I then mentioned that my children and I recently talked about this story and we all agreed that after this life, we want to meet this blind guy. I like the way he stood up to the Pharisees. My Witness friend did too. We laughed and joked about how the conversation would have looked and how this blind guy made fools out of the Pharisees. I would love to have some sort of movie theater where we could look back on the events in history and see exactly how they unfolded. This would be one of the things I would be interested in seeing.
KW: This is one event I would want to witness. I would love to see him confronting the religious leaders of the day, being kicked out of his congregation, organization, his group or whatever you want to call it. He was kicked out, separated from his family, but still following Jesus. From the perspective of the Pharisees, they are the ones you need to follow, but Jesus says you need to follow Him. They never conceived of the idea that it is possible to follow God, yet not be a part of their group and that is why they kicked him out. That is why I would love to see that scene unfold because of the courage that it must have taken for this man to leave all he knew for the sake of Christ. I would love to see that.
Obviously, you know what I am getting at with this line of reasoning. I want my friend to think about the possibility that someone could leave the Watchtower for the sake of Christ. I want him to begin thinking about being faithful to God instead of an organization. What surprised me is that my Witness buddy added to the scenario.
JW: What about Nicodemus? He was actually part of the group itself.
KW: Ohh! That’s even better! He was a part of the organization, who in the eyes of the Pharisees, apostatized and then became a follower of Christ! Wow, that had to have taken a lot of courage to do that.
The word “apostate” is a loaded term for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is reserved for people they are actually instructed to hate; Those who leave the Watchtower organization. My friend’s mind had to be blown by the thought of a Biblical example of someone being considered an apostate because they choose to follow following Jesus. We then read paragraphs 23-24 which lists Acts 17:11 as a reference. We read that verse and began to discuss it.
JW: Why were the Bereans commended?
KW: Because they didn’t take Paul’s word for it.
JW: Because they checked the scriptures. That is what we need to do too.
KW: I have thought a lot about this passage and it always amazes me that this is Paul, the world’s foremost living authority on Christianity at this point and they don’t just except his word for it. It would be very easy for Paul to be angry about that. He could just say, “I know what I’m talking about. I am from God. I am His spokesman so if you don’t agree with me, you are wrong.”
It also strikes me that the Bereans felt comfortable questioning Paul because they realized that even though he was the person who had more authority than they did, he was still subject to the scriptures. They made him prove what he was teaching through the scriptures.
JW: And he was OK with that.
KW: Yes! And that is what is beautiful about the whole thing. He wasn’t insulted, they felt free to question without being subjected to any kind of condemnation and then he praises them for that. How many religious organizations are not like that now? You are expected to believe anything these people say just because they are the ones saying it.
JW: There is another verse. I can’t think of where it is right now, but it says that if anyone else comes and tells you something different, even if it was an angel, then we shouldn’t listen to them.
My friend did not know the passage and I rarely do this, but I told him it was Galatians chapter one. The reason I don’t usually offer to give references when Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons are looking for something is because it is usually because they want to get out of the passage we are currently discussing. They are uncomfortable with a topic so they want to move on. This was not the case with this conversation and I knew I could use the verses to bring out more things for him to think about.
JW: Galatians one?
KW: Yes, Galatians 1:6-9.
My friend read the passage and I showed him that his translation says “good news” while mine says “gospel.” I told him I knew it was the same thing. I made sure to make the point that Paul says if anyone preaches a different “good news,” then they are wrong. My friend agreed. We didn’t talk about this passage much, but I wanted him to know that I knew about it so that when we do talk about the Watchtower gospel, I can remind him of this conversation and then go back and evaluate what the Watchtower teaches in light of Galatians 1:6-9.
I told him that I appreciated how the paragraph in the “Teach” book likened us to children and it encourages us to ask questions just like children do.
KW: I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I ask a lot of questions. (My friend laughed) I like to think and if someone tells me I can’t ask a question the first thing that pops into my mind is a question, “Why not?” I want to know what is going on and what is not quite right. For instance, I heard about this story from the New York Times recently about a Mormon, a high ranking Mormon official, who is now doubting the story of Mormonism.
I told my friend about how this Mormon man had other Mormons come to him with questions they had found out about Mormonism. They were preparing for Sunday school lessons and looking on the internet and came across inconsistencies in their study. He didn’t know how to answers the question so the Mormon Church sent two of their historians to answer their questions. I told him about how this Mormon was made to feel that it was improper to ask higher ranking officials about some of these things. What made him question more was their reluctance and inability to answer the questions raised. These questions were sometime doctrinal, but also historical in nature and they were honest questions. Now he doubts the whole thing. (You can read about the story here)
I wanted my Witness friend to know that there are groups out there which act just like the Watchtower when it comes to questions and authority. They both used the same types of excuses. “Put it on the back burner, put it on the shelf or we’ll get back to that later” are all common phrases used by both Witnesses and Mormons. It is very convenient to be proficient with both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons because I can then talk about things I know their religion teaches or practices, but direct it to the other group. It is much easier for a Witness to see problems in another group than it is for him to do so with his own religion. I pray that God makes the connection and he is able to identify these issues in his own religion.
As I was telling him about this story, I told him that any religion which does not want to take an honest look at their own history or which discourages questions is suspicious and makes me wonder what they are trying to hide. Perhaps this is why my friend thought of this, but he offered to let me borrow a Watchtower DVD which explains their history. Yet again my friend is giving me more avenues to research and show him the problems with the Watchtower Society. I told him that I would be willing to look at it. What he does not yet understand is how seriously I take the directive to be a Berean.
Please keep praying for my Jehovah’s Witness elder friend.