In Part 1 of Witnessing to the Witnesses we looked at a number of fairly broad topics relating to their beliefs, how, and why we as Christians should be witnessing to them whenever the opportunity presents itself. Now let’s dig into some more specific topics of ministry and doctrine.
JWs firmly believe that members of what they call “Christendom” (that means us “apostate Christians”) don’t proclaim the name of the one true God, Jehovah. They simply refuse to accept that Christians love, proclaim and worship YHWH, whose name we usually refer to as Yahweh, or Jehovah. Showing and explaining to them that they have been instructed incorrectly on this is very important because it is a core (and false) principle of their foundations. Though, don’t be surprised if they choose to ignore what you say because of their fierce allegiance to all that the Watchtower teaches them. Many of them actually think that the Watchtower knows what you believe better than you do. They’ve been told they’ve got some kind of edge on Christians because of their legalistic views on the issue. If your understanding of the tetragrammaton is limited I recommend doing a little study now. It’s an interesting study that will really help you in your discussions. It is one of the primary points that they try to use as “proof” that they are right and you are wrong. It is sad that many churches don’t teach more detail on this because it’s a fascinating and wonderful subject. It will also help to see a number of the very serious problems with their heavily changed translation (I hesitate to even call it a translation) of the Bible, called the New World Translation. You will notice how the Watchtower takes on a prideful view of providing “correction” regarding how the Bible was both written and preserved throughout the generations. They believe that God’s name is so important that everyone got it wrong for centuries until the Watchtower came along and corrected it by changing all instances of YHWH (written as Loʀᴅ in Christian Old Testaments) in the Old Testament to Jehovah, and further, even changing many references to God in the New Testament to Jehovah even though that’s not what was written in any of the original Greek manuscripts. Of course, they necessarily chose to do this selectively because changing the word Lord to Jehovah in certain places exposes that the writers of the NT were equating Jesus with Jehovah. Probably the biggest irony is that they spend so much time discussing how important God’s name is, yet what the Watchtower has actually done is the opposite of what God’s people have done over the centuries holding the name of the Lord in such high regard that they chose not to pronounce it out loud. By the time of the New Testament, YHWH was not even used anymore because of their reverence for it and desire to avoid taking the Lord’s name in vain. Jesus Himself had no problem with this, so the Watchtower’s presumption is rather unbelievable.
This leads to my next point that we would do well to keep in mind when witnessing to the Witnesses:
I’m sure you have experienced, or maybe even participated in team rallies, parties, etc. where everyone loves and cheers for that same team and bashes the opposing team and their fans. It’s silly, light fun and can build camaraderie with other fans. In some ways, this is how JWs see debates and heated discussions they have in their field service. They participate in weekly training sessions that require drills, sort of like “pop quizzes”, which generate a sense of competition to be the best. There’s a sense of excitement about getting all the answers right – knowing what part of a tract or what verse to reference regarding any question or subject that is brought up. You can see it in their eyes when they know where to go to answer your question. The way this is all set up creates a sense of accomplishment and triumph whenever they can have you running in circles about a wide range of topics. There is a sense of control and gratification that gives them great pride. When they accomplish this, they feel good about themselves. When it goes the opposite direction, they feel persecuted, also making them feel good about themselves. So either way they can walk away giving each other a pat on the back for the sacrifice they’ve made. This is yet another reason you need to go deeper and bring the discussion back to the gospel over and over. You don’t know if they will ever be receptive to it, but you do know they need it, and desperately. Their ongoing behaviour and pride is an example of people hardening their own hearts. As a believer you want to show them grace through the opportunity to repent and turn to the true Jehovah.
Adult Converts vs. Raised in the Organization
When talking with JWs it is helpful to ask them a little about how they became one. This helps you to understand their point of view and background so that you can proceed thoughtfully. For instance, if someone is an adult convert to the organization, you may find it helpful to share some information about the failed prophesies, ongoing doctrinal changes, the history of their “Bible” and how it was translated by individuals who didn’t even know Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, etc. These may be details that he or she simply isn’t aware of and should be encouraged to investigate. While they may be well indoctrinated, there are sometimes opportunities to get them thinking and investigating for themselves.
However, if they have been raised in JW culture, these sorts of issues are not something they are likely to be receptive to. For the life-long JW, it is more important for you to get into real heart issues (this is true in both cases, but especially for the life-long JW). They are subscribed to the culture of their dead religion and have never known anything else. They try and try to be good, but there is no heart change. This is because one must be born again to really know that change. While they know they are not born again, they have been led to believe that it’s not even possible for them. People who are trapped in cults often become exhausted and quietly weary over the years of trying and trying to be good enough. There is no true grace, just a never-ending need to do more, to be more. Of course, they will tell you they have lots of joy and happiness in their lives, and that may well be partly true. But there’s an underlying need for something more that they can’t grasp where they are. This is a helpful entry point to show the difference between their works-based religion and the true, transforming, indwelling of the person of the Holy Spirit. They live in a realm of bad news, so give them the good news!
A Sense of Community
Either way, keep in mind that they belong to not just an organization, but a community. So they are not going to be naturally receptive to the idea of questioning anything in a way that might rock the boat. It is human nature and perfectly understandable to want to stay in your familiar community, even if it means closing your mind to the possibility that you have been duped by lies. It is horribly painful to leave a cult. For most members it means walking away from everything and everyone they know, opting instead for a potentially lonely and isolated future. Even spouses, children, parents, employers, etc. are expected to shun and separate from anyone who leaves. Remember this as you witness and pray for them. And be prepared to open your life and community to them, especially if they come to Christ. It is a horrible mistake to help someone just to the point that they leave the cult, but then to not support and help them through the painful transition. If you are planning to witness to JWs, be prepared to make this a long term ministry.
Now that we’ve looked at some ministry and doctrinal issues, here are a couple of references for your study and preparation. I plan to provide more in my next post as well.
Here is a great article from a former JW about what it’s really like to be a part of the organization. It’s well worth the read:
And here is a video presentation from Dr. James White. He has been ministering to JWs for many years, and his exposure to their field service is one of the factors that led him to become the incredible Christian apologist that he is today.
In future posts I would like to zero in on a primary issue, which is that of the Trinity, particularly the personhood of the Holy Spirit and the deity of Jesus.