For the past 11 or so years I have attended the annual “Lord’s Evening Meal” conducted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Witnesses celebrate what most Christians refer to as communion only once a year. Before I describe the events of the evening, I’ll give a short summary of what usually happens at this ceremony.
Since this is the only religious holiday Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate, attendance at Kingdom Halls for this service is much like Christmas and Easter is for Christians. If you are associated with the Witnesses in any way, and you could only make one meeting all year, this would be the meeting. Parking lots are filled and everyone is wearing their Sunday best. The service starts just after sunset.
A very respected man (an elder or someone of greater authority), will stand up in front of the audience and give a presentation that lasts approximately 45 minutes. The speaker will jump from verse to verse in the Bible attempting to prove that the only ones who are allowed to partake of the bread and wine are those of the anointed class, numbered at 144,000 members. Since there are very few Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to be of the anointed (Witnesses are STRONGLY counseled against such claims), yet there are more than 16 million people in attendance at this event world-wide, the average Kingdom Hall does not have anyone who partakes of the emblems.
So basically, someone will get up and speak about how important it is that Jehovah’s Witnesses attend while emphasizing that practically no one will participate. They will then pass the emblems around, watch everyone reject them, then go home. Here is what happened last night.
The meeting I attended last night was at a local hotel. Because this is such a well attended meeting, sometimes a congregation will meet at a larger venue as their Kingdom Halls are usually only able to seat roughly 300 people at a maximum. I got there a little early because seating fills up fast. While I was updating my facebook status on my iPad, (Gotta love technology when it works!), a man, J.W. came up to me and asked if I was alone. Since most congregations are not that large, it is very easy to pick out unfamiliar faces. J.W. asked if I have ever been to a meeting like this and I told him that I have. He asked if I knew that no one partakes of the emblems. I acknowledged this fact. He then asked, “Do you understand why?” I smiled and replied, “I do have some questions about that.” We exchanged phone numbers and he said that we could meet and talk about it later. He also said that he would check with me after the meeting and see if he could answer any of my questions.
Not three seconds after J.W. walked away, a lady sitting behind me said, “I noticed you have an iPad.” She informed me that the official web site of Jehovah’s Witnesses has a number of things that are easily downloaded to an iPad. We talked about that for a bit and then she started talking about some of their theology. She asked me a question; “Do you know what the world would look like if no one ever sinned?” I answered, “Well, I supposed we’d all be running around naked and living in a big Garden.”
“That’s right and one day Jehovah is going to return the earth to its original purpose.”
“You mean we’re all going to be running around naked in a big Garden?”
The thought hit both of us at the same time. Her facial expression changed as she thought about that, but continued to verbally affirm my statement. I kept thinking about all of the covers of Watchtower magazines I have seen over the years of happy families in a paradise earth. I didn’t say it, but all of those covers are wrong. If God is going to return the earth to its original purpose, then why are all of those people clothed? I could see from her face that she had never thought of that idea and was not exactly comfortable with it. I’m sure she could see from the look on my face that I wasn’t comfortable with it either.
The program started at 7:30 and I can’t help but say it, but the speaker was probably the worst one I have heard yet. It seems like I say that every year though. The Watchtower does not encourage individuality in any way whatsoever so when the men speak, there is no personality, no humor, no life and definitely no Spirit in their presentation. No good spirit anyway. Rather than give a detailed description of the sermon, I will address a few things that jumped out at me because I noticed they were different from previous years.
One thing that didn’t change though was the continuous use of the word “appreciate.” My wife Becky noticed it a number of years ago so now every time I attend a witness function, I always keep track of how many times the word is mentioned. In less than 45 minutes I heard a form of the word “appreciation” no less than 15 times. This is equivalent to the Book of Mormon using the phrase, “And it came to pass.” This has led me to the thought of one day showing up at the memorial with an idea for a game.
Every cult has terminology they use over and over so I think one day when I am old, wrinkly and can get away with it, I will make a few Bingo cards which contain a number of Jehovah’s Witness buzz words. I will bring a bunch of my old, wrinkly, decrepit friends and we will play Kingdom Hall Bingo. The first person to get a straight line of five words will immediately stand up and announce, “ARMAGEDDON!” If your card happens to include the word “appreciate,” you are sure to win.
Here are a few things that jumped out at me during the meeting. I would like to hear from others who attended the meeting to see if this is a uniform change or if it was just the personal bent of our speaker, but I never heard one mention of the Watchtower Society. No one ever even said the word “Organization.” That is very surprising. I also heard the phrase “personal relation with God” a few times. It seems that the Watchtower is listening to it critics and is trying to place more focus on Christ and less on the organization… at least publicly.
Another thing that was surprising was that in years past, there has always been a HUGE emphasis on the Witness idea that Judas was not present when Jesus instituted the New Covenant. The Watchtower teaches that Jesus dismissed Judas before He passed out the bread and wine. This is important within Watchtower theology because the only ones who are allowed to partake of the emblems are those who are part of the New Covenant. Since Judas was the betrayer, he couldn’t have been in the New Covenant. The surprising part is that NONE of this was mentioned.
I don’t know if there was a change in the outline or not, but the Watchtower outline that I have includes Luke 22:19-20. It is always read, and was again this year, but perhaps the reason the speaker did not include this information about Judas is because Luke 22:21 clearly states that, “The hand of my betrayer is with me at the table.” At every memorial I have ever been too, verse 19 and 20 are always read from Luke chapter 22, but they never read the very next verse. Whenever I get a chance to talk to a Jehovah’s Witness after the event, I have always asked about this contradiction. Why does the Watchtower teach that Judas was not present when Jesus plainly says he was? I don’t know if our speaker purposefully avoided this issue or not, but if it was avoided, it is a move which will keep many Witnesses from the embarrassment of having to reconcile their beliefs with the Bible.
Another small difference was that this year our speaker gave a rough estimate of how many people attended the memorial last year instead of an exact number. He said it was 16,000,000. In past years they always gave an exact number and more importantly also reported how many people partook of the emblems. Why is that important? This leads to a more important difference I noticed.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that there are two classes of people with two different hopes. One group is numberless and is called “The Great Crowd.” They have the hope of living forever upon a paradise earth. They will never be with Jesus and will be ruled from heaven by a smaller group called “The Anointed.” This group is numbered at 144,000 members and expects to reign with Christ in the heavens. They are also the only ones who are allowed to partake of the emblems at the memorial. In the past, the Watchtower has taught that this group has been completed since 1935 so it was expected that the number would gradually decrease. It was expected that Armageddon would occur before the last of this group dies.
In 2007 there was a doctrinal change which allowed for the possibility of more people to claim to be of the anointed remnant. Since this change occurred, the number of those who partake of the emblems and claim to be of those with a heavenly hope has increased every year. In 2006 there were 8,758 partakers. According to this interesting article here, there were 12,604 who partook in 2012. That is an increase of almost 44% since the doctrinal change. When you take into consideration that world-wide Jehovah’s Witnesses only increase by about 2% per year, this is HUGE increase in partakers.
Is it possible that the number of those who partook last year was purposefully withheld to keep people from asking why the number of those partaking keeps increasing? Why is it that a group of people which is expected to die off is increasing in number? I’m looking for more doctrinal changes in the future to help explain this. In fact, there may be one in the works right now.
The last difference that I noticed from last night which I would like to discuss is a curious mention of 1st Corinthians 11:26. It is quoted every year, but not in the same way it was quoted last night. The speaker said something to the effect that after those of the heavenly hope are gone, the memorial will no longer need to be observed. He then quoted 1 Corinthians. 11:26 in support of that statement.
It reads in the New World Translation (NWT), “For as often as YOU eat this loaf and drink this cup, YOU keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives” (I don’t know why the NWT places the word “You” in all caps, but it does).
Does anyone notice the problem here? The speaker said there will be no reason to observe the Memorial once all of the anointed have left, but in past years they have taught that there will be some anointed on earth when the tribulation begins. Is this a hint to an upcoming doctrinal change or was this just the inadvertent statement of one Jehovah’s Witness elder? Either way it is problematic to state that there will be no reason to observe the Memorial because a certain group of people has died off and then quote 1st Corinthians 11:26 when that verse specifically states that we are to continue to do it until Jesus arrives, not until the anointed remnant leaves. There is a big difference between the two ideas. Again, I would like to hear from some of you who attended the meeting. I am interested to hear if the things I noticed are a universal change or just some interesting anomaly.
I’d like to end by telling you two interesting little bits that had nothing to do with possible doctrinal changes as it was something I observed from two visitors. During the meeting the Witness who sat next to me and I were asked to give up our seats for some “sisters.” It was standing room only so I found a place on a side wall to lean against. I ended up standing next to a man who was obviously not a Jehovah’s Witness. When the bread was passed to me, I passed it to him and he stood there holding the plate for an unusually long time. He just stood there looking at the bread wondering if he should take it.
Remember the context of what has just happened. We stood there for roughly a half hour listening to a man who told us it was important that we observed this event, but not directly participate. No one else in the room had taken a piece of unleavened bread because they believe that they are not part of the New Covenant. (I didn’t take it because I didn’t want to cause a scene.) He just stood there looking at the bread.
An attendant noticed this and went over to retrieve the plate and pass it to the next person who was standing right next to him. There was a slight tug-of-war between the attendant and the man standing next to me. Finally the man relented and gave the attendant the plate, but then tried to take a piece of bread from the plate. It was quickly whisked away and given to the man standing right next to him. The man stood there dejected and confused.
I leaned over as whispered, “You’re not a JW are you?” He asked, “How’d you know? I am a Baptist and I believe that Jesus is my Savior.” I told him I would explain later. I handed him a note with my name and phone number on it and told him that Jesus was my Savior too.
The other interesting thing was that as the wine was passed, I noticed another visitor who was visibly upset. I had a good vantage point because I was standing up against the wall. As the wine glass was passed to her row, she told the attendant, “Don’t pass it to me or I will drink it.” Her arms were folded and she had a look of disgust on her face. She wasn’t loud or rude, but she spoke loud enough that I could hear her from four rows away.
I share these last two stories because I want people to understand just how sad this event is. I go every year as a reminder of how lost Jehovah’s Witnesses really are. It is especially hard for me to think about and watch the children. I pray for the people there and hope that they will one day have their eyes open to who Jesus really is and what He has done for us in the New Covenant. The title of the presentation was, “Appreciate What Christ Has Done For You.” I pray that someday some of them really will.
Editorial note: I have been meeting with the Jehovah’s Witness elder I met on a weekly basis since the memorial. If you would like to follow our conversations, click on the, “A Conversation With A Jehovah’s Witness Elder” tag.