False Prophets – The Knock at the Door
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15)
In our day, and on our own Island, false prophets are all around us. Many of us have answered a knock at the door not to find a familiar face standing there or even to find someone sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which ought to be a welcome sight to any believer. Rather, as we open the door we discover that we are faced with two people, greeting us with smiles, seeking to share the Gospel according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and to invite us to their church. They don’t introduce themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, but upon asking the question, our suspicions are confirmed.
Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
In 1852, Charles Taze Russell was born in the United States in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He was raised in a Presbyterian Church. In his late teens, he concluded that he could not reconcile an eternal hell with a merciful God. He went on to question many other historic Christian doctrines and determined that the historic creeds and confessions were contrary to true Christianity. Russell preached and wrote extensively. In 1881 he formed the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, which he moved to New York in 1909, where it remains today. They did, however, move from Brooklyn to Warwick, New York in 2016, having sold their Watchtower building complex for a reported $340 million. Russell died in 1916 and by the time of his death, his writings had become widely distributed throughout the world.
The Watch Tower Society officially renamed themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931 and a number of groups separated from them over the years. This is contrary to what Jehovah’s Witnesses claim about the unity of their denomination in contrast to other churches who have experienced division.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses hold Charles Taze Russell in high esteem, although they do not consider him to be their founder. Rather they consider Christ to be their founder and that Russell was used of God, to restore what they believe to be the true faith, which was lost. Their own website states, “C. T. Russell used the Watch Tower and other publications to uphold Bible truths and to refute false religious teachings and human philosophies that contradicted the Bible. He did not, however, claim to discover new truths.” This is an important difference between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not rely upon visions or new revelation. This leads to the erroneous conclusion that Jehovah’s Witnesses are merely teaching the Bible. The problem is that they have misinterpreted the Bible, so much so that they are not a true church, rather a cult (indeed, one of the largest cults in the world). They treat their Watchtower magazine as an infallible interpreter of Scripture. Moreover, they have their own inaccurate translation of the Bible, the New World Translation, which has been translated in such a way as to affirm many of their own teachings. There are said to be around 8.7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the world today.
What do Jehovah’s Witnesses Teach?
Their doctrine is heretical. For instance, they deny the trinity, stating that a belief in three persons in the Godhead is the equivalent to a belief in three gods. In turn they deny the deity of Christ, teaching that Jesus was the first created being, created as the archangel Michael, before the creation of the world and when He was born on earth, He was a mere human and not God in human flesh. Therefore they do not believe that Christ’s death had any efficacy to turn away God’s wrath from repentant sinners.
Additionally, they deny that the Holy Spirit is a person, let alone God, teaching that the Spirit is an impersonal force coming from God. Famously, they teach that there is no hell, with references to hell referring merely to the grave. Moreover, they teach that the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7:4 are a literal number of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses, referred to as ‘anointed ones,’ who will go to heaven. The remainder of Jehovah’s Witnesses will be resurrected and live forever on earth, while those who do not believe the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses will be annihilated out of all existence.
They believe that humans have no immaterial soul, rather the soul is simply the life within a person. They also insist that God must be identified by the name Jehovah, hence the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. Essentially, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, salvation is by faith in Christ and their good works, essentially association with their religion and obedience to its rules.
The Watch Tower Society, and post 1931, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, made a series of failed predictions about the end of the world. For instance, they prophesied that the world would meet its wicked end by the year 1975, where they used the phrase, “stay alive till 75.” Their own publications stated, “Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in the old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.” (Kingdom Ministry, May 1974) Scripture makes it clear as to how we identify a false prophet, “when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22). Christ Himself stated that only the Father knows the day and the hour, which the Jehovah’s witnesses so often foolishly tried to predict, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).
A Biblical Response to Jehovah’s Witnesses
In response to the Jehovah’s Witnesses teachings, scripture provides clear answers. Concerning the trinity, there are three persons in the Godhead (Matthew 28:19). The Father is God (John 4:23), the Son is God (John 1:1) and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). Concerning the deity of Christ, the difficulty is that their own New World Translation Bible does so much to distort many of the references to the deity of Christ. In response, we can nonetheless point out to them that even their own translation attributes deity to Christ, as He received worship from his disciples, when only God ought to be worshipped, “they did obeisance to him” (Luke 24:52 New World Translation). Scripture plainly teaches that not only is the Holy Spirit God, as stated above, but the Spirit is a person, with the attributes of personality, for instance, with a mind (Romans 8:27) and a will (1 Corinthians 12:11).
In terms of their contention that hell does not exist, Scripture teaches that hell is indeed a real and fearful place of conscious eternal suffering (Mark 9:44). Should a Jehovah’s Witness insist that there we have no immaterial soul, we could again simply ask them to read their own translation of the Mount of Transfiguration, which reads, “and look! there appeared to them Moses and Elijah conversing with him” (Matthew 17:3 New World Translation). As God buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34:6), how then could Moses appear on the Mount, whilst his body was in the ground, if there is no immaterial soul? As to their insistence that God must be identified by the name Jehovah, Scripture refers to God by many names, such as almighty (Genesis 17:1), Lord (Psalm 8:1) and Father (Matthew 6:9). Finally, salvation is not based upon our works, but rather grace, which is God’s unmerited favour. Works are the fruit of salvation, not the basis of it (Ephesians 2:8-10).
The Jehovah’s Witnesses may appear, on the surface, to be preaching Christ and avidly sharing the faith. In reality, however warmly they may greet us as they knock on our doors, as we examine their beliefs it becomes clear that they are a religious cult, who deny the basic tenets of the Christian faith and Christ as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
Practical and Spiritual Considerations
For anyone who has ever held a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness, you will quickly realise that they have their go to texts. On the most part, they are very much indoctrinated and unwilling to engage or reason with anything which is contrary to the teaching of the Watchtower.
Practically speaking, in order that we are not caught off guard, it can be very helpful for us to know beforehand what they believe, in order to respond to them Biblically. This may even involve, as we have already suggested, quoting and asking them to read certain passages from their own New World Translation Bible, where we are sure that these passages are translated accurately. They will also attempt to quickly move on to different subjects when they are unable to respond with a coherent answer to a particular issue. In such a situation, it is important to reiterate and drive home these truths, rather than allow them to pass over them, without considering the implications.
Spiritually speaking, we must remember that our aim is not simply to win an argument. We ought to recognise and denounce their false teaching, yet pray for these lost souls who have providentially ended up at our own doorstep. We ought to take the opportunity to share the true Gospel, rather than simply denounce their false gospel. Some of us can say that we have been in fellowship with former Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have come to Christ. The Lord is able to save to the uttermost, even a blinded and hardened Jehovah’s Witness.