It’s Saturday morning. Maybe you’ve slept in after a long hard week, and had a relaxing slow start to the day. You’ve had breakfast, played with the kids, maybe read the paper or checked some social media updates. The house, yard, etc. need some tending to after the busy week, and you’re just getting geared up for it. Then you hear it.
The knock on the door.
You peek out the window to find two nicely dressed individuals with books and a book bag in hand, and eager expressions on their smiling faces. It’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they’re here to tell you this Saturday morning all about the kingdom. (To be fair, it could also be Mormons, but for this blog post let’s focus on the JW’s). Oh boy. What to do?
I think for most of us, the first emotion we experience at this point is that of annoyance. They always seem to show up when you’re not prepared and don’t really want to be talking with them. There are easy ways to get rid of them. You can, of course, just not answer the door. They won’t stay long. Or you can answer the door and tell them politely that you’re not interested. They may want to still give you a tract or two, but generally will leave politely at this point as well. If you want to be more aggressive you can come right out and tell them that Jesus is Jehovah, and if you don’t believe that, you’re a heretic. Most of them won’t engage at this point, and you may even end up on their black list for a few years. They’ve been told this kind of response is persecution and to “shake the dust of their sandals” and move on to the next house.
But as Christians, we can (and, I believe should) also look at this as a powerful witnessing opportunity. Here are two unsaved people who have been dropped at your doorstep and want to talk about God. What’s more, they could potentially be future brothers or sisters in Christ. In that light, how can we turn them away? They need the gospel. They think they have it in some tiny reference to a “kingdom” that they won’t even get to see themselves, when in fact what they have is a long legalistic list of “dos and don’ts” to follow. More on that later.
The thing about JW theology training is that it’s full of context-void, but complicated arguments that they spend hours each week being indoctrinated with. Over this past year I’ve been engaging with some Witnesses, which has required that I spend a lot of my own time investigating what they believe in comparison to Christian doctrine. What I’ve found is that there are hundreds of slight twists on orthodox doctrine designed to create their own separate, segregated religion (of which they are fiercely proud!). And it continues to change and twist as time goes on. There are a massive number of smaller issues at play that (purposefully, I believe) can easily keep you from ever getting to the core issues like salvation, the nature of Jehovah, and what the final authority of Scripture really means. This is not the first time that I’ve engaged JWs by any means, but it is the longest relationship I’ve been able to establish thus far. The time I’ve spent learning from both study and the experience has been a tremendous joy for me and a great time of learning and growing. So I decided to write this post to share some of that.
Here are some helpful things I’ve found thus far:
But Aren’t They Christians? They Say They Are
JWs insist that they are Christians. If you tell them that you are a Christian, in their minds they will classify you as part of apostate “Christendom”. They reject and despise historic orthodox Christian doctrine and any churches that teach it. To them, there is no distinction between a Bible-teaching, gospel-teaching spiritually growing church and liberal dead or even Roman churches. We’re all the part of one big apostate group, as far as they have been told. They believe that the Christian church is totally corrupted and only JWs are really Christians. If you suggest they are not Christians, they will most likely be offended. But are they really saved? The key is to examine the doctrine that they subscribe to and evaluate whether it is true to Scripture. Further, I have found it helpful to suggest that you and they belong to very different religions. They will most likely agree with this distinction, so it can be a starting point to get on track. Here’s why:
Many JWs want to initially talk lightly as if you are in fellowship with them because there are many secondary doctrinal issues on which you will, at least on the surface, be in agreement (particularly relating to morals and monotheism). They will use a lot of statements and phrases that sound basically the same as the ones we might use when discussing doctrine with other Christians. But remember that what they believe those statements mean is different than what the Bible teaches.
For instance, they will readily tell you that Jesus is Lord. But if you dig a little deeper you will discover they do not believe He is God (they are Arians). They believe He is actually a created being: the archangel Michael who came to earth to be a man for a while, and then became Michael again afterwards. They deny that Christ rose physically from the dead. They deny that He died on a cross, believing that He died instead on a stake, which is easily disproven. (That is a minor issue, created specifically to be divisive from the Christian church.) They reject the Trinity and consider it to be a pagan (particularly Babylonian) superstition. Though this is very easy to disprove, they are very unlikely to examine any documentation you provide because the Watchtower is their ultimate authority and they reject anything that contradicts it (which means that though they pay lots of lip service to the Bible, Scripture is not their sole authority – the Watchtower’s interpretation of it -and adjustments to it- is). They deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit, suggesting instead that he’s an impersonal “force”, like electricity. They are annihilationists. That means that they deny that when unsaved people die they suffer eternal conscious torment for their sins, but instead believe that they simply cease to exist at the time of death. JWs may tell you that they believe they are saved by grace, but if you look closely at their doctrines and practices, you will see that they subscribe very much to a works based salvation, which is why they put in so many hours of “field service” (going door to door). They do not believe in eternal security, even in the next life. They do not believe that anyone other than a literal 144,000 people (JWs, of course) can be born again or see heaven. These are just a few issues where JWs differ from Christians. There are many more. I encourage you to look further into them if you are planning to witness to JWs in your area. I plan to provide more resources in future posts for your use. So, now that you can see JWs do not believe historic orthodox Christian doctrine, lets look at what else may be helpful to consider.
Even more important than ongoing study and preparation, is being in regular prayer for these individuals. You can debate and discuss with them all day long, but it is ultimately only the Lord who can replace the heart of stone with the heart of flesh, and open their eyes to see the truth. I cannot stress this enough. This is spiritual warfare that absolutely requires regular prayer. Keep on praying for them throughout the meeting, and daily between meetings. Never forget that these two human souls are on a trajectory towards an eternity under the full wrath of God for their sins. They need a Saviour whom they have not yet met. I believe it is very important to develop a relationship of ongoing study with them so that you can share the gospel with them multiple times and bit by bit, expose the inherent problems with what the Watchtower teaches. The Witnesses have been indoctrinated, and need to be given plenty of opportunity to think for themselves about many issues. So think of this as a marathon, not a sprint. And hopefully as you continue to meet with them, you will gain more and more love and compassion for them, leading to deeper and deeper prayer for their salvation. All of that should inform your prayers for them over time. Pray also for your yourself, for your own deepening knowledge of Him, your personal sanctification through this process, and for your increasing awareness of the presence of your Almighty Creator as you witness to these lost souls. Most importantly, pray for opportunities to clearly, boldly, and regularly share the gospel with them that they might be saved. And remember to thank God for the opportunity to glorify Him! It really is a great privilege and joy.
Inviting them into Your Home
Is it OK to invite them in? If you haven’t had much experience with witnessing to JWs there may be a verse lingering in the back of your mind, causing you to wonder if it’s OK to have them in your home. The verse is 2 John 1:10, which says “ If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting;“. If this verse is causing you concerns, it’s because it’s been taught to you out of context, which is exactly what the Watchtower does to JWs! Whoops! Context is so important, and we need to consider it in all circumstances. So let’s briefly consider the background of this particular verse as John intended to communicate it. In NT times, traveling teachers stayed in homes in each city, village, etc. where they spoke. Hosting a teacher was an honour. This was the perspective of the readers/hearers of John’s epistle. In light of that we can see that his warning here is to be careful not to host or even welcome false teachers by showing them hospitality, because doing so would tell your community that you support their false teaching by joining in fellowship with them, thus lending them some degree of credibility. Having a JW in for coffee and discussion for a couple of hours in our culture is not at all the same thing. By having coffee and discussion with them you are in no way supporting their misguided ministry or lending them credibility, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who assumed you were. So rest assured that it is perfectly acceptable to have them in for coffee and discussion. You can also give them your phone number, email, etc. and set appointments to meet again weekly or monthly as time allows. If you are still not sure, I strongly encourage you to do the research into the context for yourself because you need to be fully convinced and should not be going forward with this if you always believed it would be disobedient. Don’t sear your conscience on this small, sometimes misunderstood issue.
As I mentioned earlier, it is vital to present your responses in question form whenever possible. It is a discipline to accomplish this because when engaged in this kind of conversation, the most natural thing to do is simply state your case. But when you present ideas in question form, it requires them to actually consider what you are saying. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they believe about various issues either. They will most likely pull out their booklets and tracts to show you and even read right from them. Go ahead and let them do that. But try to get them to also reword it for themselves. They are trained to somewhat mindlessly tell you (or read to you) what they’ve been taught to memorize about a wide variety of issues. Most often, the only “personal study” they have done is to look up the various verses that have been presented to defend Watchtower doctrine. Since those verses are presented without proper context, they simply read them and believe the teaching without ever really processing or questioning it. This is what they consider to be “acting like the Bereans”, investigating what they’ve been taught. Their teachings begin with presuppositions and then seek out passages to defend them instead of starting with in depth Bible study, and allowing the Bible to explain and define doctrinal beliefs for itself. (Sidenote: This is a common format in many religions, and even in many seeker-sensitive and liberal churches among even Christian denominations. If it is what you are used to, please consider finding a true Bible-teaching church where you can be fed and grown spiritually.) Additionally, Watchtower teaching and training changes regularly, so don’t just assume that what you’ve read about WT doctrine is current. Make sure you know what they are being taught right now so that you can accurately deal with it. When in doubt, ask them! For instance, you could ask them: “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses currently believe that Christmas is a pagan holiday?”. Or: “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses currently believe that the cross is a pagan and idolatrous symbol and that Jesus really died on a stake?”. (The current answer to those questions at the time that I posted this article is “yes”, but that was not always so, and may not always be so.)
Debates & Proof Texting
Be prepared for hours spent in debate about a huge variety of issues including the tetragrammaton, the deity of Jesus, the Trinity, Bible translations, church history vs JW history, eschatology, etc. There’s enough content in those few subjects alone to keep you going for a long, long time. That’s a good thing, because it opens the opportunity to get to know each other better. Be kind, be respectful, be prayerful, be authentic, and be prepared. And whenever possible, try not to let them sidetrack the discussion into endless proof text circles about minor issues, jumping from one argument to the next at a hurried pace. You will notice that most of them are experts at this. It’s one of the things they are very well trained to do. It’s almost like a game to them, and many of them consider it a fun challenge. If you’ve ever been down that road, you know that feeling of helplessness and stupidity it can generate. These quick, surface level, lightning fast debates can leave the impression that they are well prepared and know there stuff, while you haven’t got a clue. And to some degree, this is something to take to heart because as believers we are called to be prepared in season and out of season. Guaranteed, every time a JW shows up at your door, this is an “out of season” moment. However, don’t beat yourself up. There is deception in their tactics because they are controlling the conversation so that they can recite their training and feel triumphant without ever digging deeply into any one doctrine or subject. This is why you need to slow it down and focus each time they start moving in that direction. Their understanding is much more surface level than it may first appear. Direct each subject back to Christ and the gospel. For instance, if they want to talk about blood transfusions (which they believe are sinful and damning), you can show them how all the instances where blood sacrifice is mentioned in the OT are foreshadows and prophesies pointing to Christ’s perfect and incredible sacrifice on the cross for sin. That can bring you into the severity of sin as rebellion against God and the need for a perfect divine sacrifice to ransom and free His own from sin. (Keep in mind here again, that the word ransom means something different to them, so you don’t want to gloss over that. They believe in a ransom, but it’s a very small ransom by an angel for a possible hope of life on paradise earth, not actual secured salvation accomplished by a sovereign God for His children.)
Be a Counterfeit Expert
If you decide to engage JWs, it’s vital to prepare yourself. You need to have a firm grasp on Biblical doctrine (which we all need anyway!) and a pretty good grounding in what they teach so you can compare and contrast accurately. This is going to take a significant time commitment, so it’s not a bad idea to work it into your weekly or even daily studies. You will quickly find that they use many of the same words as we do in discussions of faith. But those words very often have completely different meanings to them than they do to anyone else. So, you may even wonder at times if they are actually believers because of the way they state some things. But if you dig even a little bit under the surface of that you will quickly find they are in a dead works-based religion, not in a saving relationship with the living God. They are not born again, have not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and don’t believe they ever could be. (More on that below).
It has often been said that federal agents learn to know a counterfeit not by studying counterfeit bills, but by studying the real thing. The same holds true when witnessing to someone who is trapped in any kind of false teaching. Know your Bible, know sound doctrine, and know how to articulate it. That may seem like a daunting task if you haven’t done this much before, but I promise you it is an incredibly joyful discipline. And I say this as someone who deals daily with the challenges of chronic fatigue. It is definitely sacrificial hard work. But it is worth it, not only for your preparation, but also for your own sanctification. Don’t be surprised if this process deepens your prayer life and causes you to be exponentially more thankful to God for who He is and all He has done for you. This process will also help you to more quickly notice inconsistencies and misuses of words, passages, verses and phrases presented to you by the JWs. The more deeply you understand and meditate on true orthodox, historical, biblical Christian doctrine, the more easily you will be able to detect twisted, context-void and false interpretations. So, while it is important to know what they believe and why, it is even more important to know the truth, and know it well. Thank the Lord that He has given us His word and His Holy Spirit to do just that!
At some point you can ask them to share the gospel with you. You may or may not want to do this right from the start, but it is a powerful place to go. They will most likely respond by sharing the law with you (i.e. love Jehovah and love your neighbour). If so, give them plenty of opportunity to clarify and add to their explanation, etc., and then verify that they are both in agreement with each other on this. Repeat back what they have said, to make sure you understand clearly what they have shared. From there, you can share with them that they have just given you law, not the gospel. They’ve just told you how you can earn your salvation, not what Christ has done for you or even why you need Him. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is a good quick place to turn to show them what the gospel actually is. If you want to show them the gravity of what they’ve just done, you can then have them read Galatians 1:8. But be warned that if you do that, they may pack up and leave at this point. This is just basically beating them at their proof text war, which is what they’re wanting to get into. It doesn’t usually open the way to further conversation. So use that second verse with caution, and be especially careful what sort of tone and attitude you have at this point. The goal is not to win a debate. It’s to proclaim the gospel that they might come to salvation. You may find that they really don’t think much of the gospel because they are all about “the kingdom” (a “system of things”), not the King. Be prepared and know a number of relevant Scriptures that show why the gospel is really they key. John 3:16** is a realistic starting point, but note that they have been taught to roll their eyes at it because it is so often quoted. John 3 as a whole can be a great place to go since this is where Christ clearly proclaims that one must be born again to see the kingdom. My point is, be ready to go deeper.
**A quick side note about John 3:16. Cults of many different varieties use similar tactics to brainwash their victims. They take familiar, key Bible verses and teach them as meaning something other than (even somewhat opposite of what) they actually mean. This is highly effective because the result is that when the brainwashed person then hears the verse presented by someone, he or she automatically recoils in disgust and closes his or her mind completely to what the person is attempting to communicate. This keeps the individual trapped in the cult and feeling vindicated that he or she “knows the truth”. So never just throw a key verse at a cult member, expecting them to suddenly “see the truth”. They’ve been effectively trained otherwise.
Alternatively, when you ask them to share the gospel with you, they may give you some statements and isolated proof texts on the “kingdom”. You will notice that their hope is all about what they believe Jehovah can do for them and for you (your “best life now” and a little while from now?), but their hope is not in the person of Christ or what He has done. It is in what they think they can get if they faithfully go door to door and keep on spreading WT teachings until death, along with following the rules they’ve been trained in to give them an outward appearance of having “fruitage”. You will note there is a glaring lack of any kind of changed heart involved because that can only happen by the indwelling, regenerating work of the Holly Spirit, which as I mentioned above, they believe is not an option for them because they are not among the 144,000. Therefore, they have to focus on what they (and you!) can do to get it, not about who Jehovah is or why He is the true believer’s ultimate treasure. You will notice this theme presented over and over again as they point out various excepts from their pamphlets and booklets. They have a long list of questions and answers dealing with people’s “felt needs”, like concerns about money, loneliness, crime, war, suffering, etc. Note how man-centered their comments are. They will pay much lip service to Jehovah and especially the English version of His name (minus the reverence given to it by ancient Hebrews and the early transcribers of Scripture), but their true focus is completely earthly and humanistic, and not terribly concerned with their own state of sinfulness.
You will also notice how incredibly nice and helpful they are. Some of them likely are kind and helpful by nature. But, as I learned the hard way, they may just be putting on an act, which will end immediately once they realize they are not going to be able to convert you. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason my most recent Witnesses came around for as long as they did is because they saw my health problems as a weakness they could exploit. That may sound a little manipulative, and in some ways it is. But consider the reverse. During this time, I was actually counseled by a fellow believer to focus my efforts on the Witness who herself had health problems because she may be more vulnerable and we may have something to bond over. After much consideration, I decided this is not the right path to specifically pursue. God works as He chooses. He may use someone’s illness to soften her heart. But he can just as easily do a miraculous work in the heart of the able bodied, more aggressive Witness. So we need to be praying for and sharing the gospel with each of them with equal passion and love, and trust the Lord to work as He wills. Certainly, take the time to get to know them and develop a relationship whenever possible. But be prepared for the Lord to work differently than you may have in mind.
They tend not to focus on this, but in time you will notice that they won’t suggest you should be born again because they believe that is only for the literal 144,000. They take that as a specific number of special JWs, of which only a small handful are left now (and living in Brooklyn, NY). This is important to understand because the average JW does not believe he or she can be born again and thus cannot see the kingdom mentioned in John 3. This is a key issue. When you understand that they don’t believe they (or you) can even be born again, you can then discuss any of the many, many Bible passages that are clearly for the born again. Because of this, JWs consider vital passages of the new testament also to be only for the 144,000, but not for them or for you. Yes these passages are “helpful for teaching”, but they aren’t actually for you. This is an area you can discuss further if you choose. Ask them to show you some of (or even just one of) the passages in the NT that don’t apply to them. This may get them well outside of their comfort zone and might even get them thinking a bit for themselves.
Don’t Expect to Know How it All Turns Out
Your new JW friends may come around regularly to meet with you for weeks, months, or even years. Expect this to be a challenging, but wonderful time to learn, grow and witness to them. But at some point they may decide to move on, and you may feel like you’ve had no impact. Don’t lose heart! It can take years for a JW to slowly work through the issues and start really questioning what the Watchtower teaches. They may also meet another Christian in their travels who will be able to build on the foundation you have laid. (Remember 1 Corinthians 3:6). Keep them on your prayer list and keep on praying for them in the coming weeks and months. Trust the Lord to work it all out to His glory, and thank Him for the opportunity to share the gospel with these lost souls.
So, those are a few general topics to consider when choosing to witness to Witnesses. In future posts I plan to explore some more specific points such as God’s name, the deity of Christ, hell, translational concerns, and a number of other areas they will want to debate with you. I will also provide a list of helpful resources to aid in your research. I’ve linked to some of those already throughout this article. If you are reading this series and have experiences to share or vital points I’ve missed, please comment below. My research and experience on this issue is far from exhaustive, but I would like to offer believers as much help as possible so they will be well prepared to minster to JWs whenever they come knocking.