Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock, Part 1

It may not be an exaggeration to suppose that nearly every Christian family has experienced that sudden sense of panic when a well-dressed pair of zealous visitors knocks at their door early on a Saturday morning. The fear that results from not knowing how to effectively defend one’s position from Scripture, as well as from knowing even less about one’s opponent’s position, renders most Christians either coldly unloving or woefully outmatched against the prepared answers and clever arguments of these bold proselytizers.

Yet in each iteration of this all-too-common scene precious opportunities for the preaching of the Gospel are lost, and damnable teaching goes undisputed. For the sake of the propagation of sound doctrine and the purity of the Gospel, it is necessary that Christians be equipped to effectively engage and evangelize Jehovah’s Witnesses. I hope that a short series of blog posts will contribute to the education of fellow believers regarding the heretical doctrines of the Watchtower Society and will equip true followers of Christ to defend an orthodox Christology from the text of Scripture.

A Synopsis of their History and Beliefs

The sect known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses began in 1872 as their founder, Charles Taze Russell, gathered a group of people for Bible study in western Pennsylvania. Over the next 35 years the organization grew to official and even international status before suffering a split and change of leadership in the early 20th century.

Though the formation of the Watchtower Society was seemingly gradual, Witnesses acknowledge its establishment in 1914, as they believe that it was then that a “spiritual ‘second coming’ of Christ occurred” (Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 72). At this time, God “personally set up the Watchtower Society as His visible representative on earth” (Rhodes, 23), and thus the only viable arbiter and interpreter of spiritual truth. Thus, the Watchtower Society is to Jehovah’s Witnesses what the Magisterium is to Roman Catholics. “At this time Christ began to gather to himself a faithful remnant and commissioned them to be Witnesses of Jehovah and his Kingdom” (Metzger, "The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ," 69.

Throughout history, such witnesses will not exceed 144,000, for they believe—based on a faulty interpretation of Rev 7:1ff—that those finally saved will not exceed this number. They establish such aberrant interpretations with the aid of a specious translation of the Scriptures, the New World Translation, which reputable scholars have condemned as “radically biased,” “reprehensible,” and “intellectually dishonest.”[1] The NWT is uniquely prejudiced to maintain the theological predilections of the Witnesses.

Among the many doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their Christology is what chiefly distinguishes their teaching from historic Christian orthodoxy. Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ is not God incarnate, but rather the first created being through whom the true God, Jehovah, made the world. They argue that He is begotten, not self-existent (John 3:16), the beginning and firstborn of the creation, not eternal (Rev 3:14; Col 1:15), and the instrument of creation (Col 1:16), but not the Creator Himself (Aid to Bible Understanding, 391).

Therefore, they teach that Jesus is inferior to Jehovah. They support such teaching by citing passages of Scripture which speak of Christ’s functional subordination to the Father. Jesus Himself said, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Paul told the Corinthians that “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3), and later said the Son will be subjected to the Father (1 Cor 15:27-28; see their Reasoning from the Scriptures, 410). And so they conclude that Christ is not equal in essence with Jehovah God. They seem unable to allow an essential equality yet functional subordination between the Father and the Son. Yet that very distinction is established between husband and wife (1Cor 11:3, 7–12); they are inherently equal, but have differing and complementary roles. Surely one may see this distinction in regards to marriage. Why not, then, within the members of the Trinity?

They do, however, stipulate that Christ existed before His incarnation, yet not as God, but as Michael the Archangel (The Watchtower [May 1969], 307). They draw upon similarities such as the fact that 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that Jesus will return at the voice of the archangel, who is identified in Jude 1:9 as Michael. Further, Revelation 12:7–12 says that Michael will do battle with Satan, yet Revelation 19:11–16 speaks about Christ leading the armies of heaven against the nations of the world. Thus Michael and Christ must be the same person.

Consequently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ. In His appearances after His death and burial, He was not a glorified human being, but was recreated as Michael the Archangel (Rhodes, 71). His appearance to Thomas and the others with the evidence of His crucifixion was only His using “a body with wound holes.”[2] Such a spiritual resurrection harmonizes with the “spiritual second coming” mentioned above.

What to Make of All This

The Christology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, falls woefully short of the Christology revealed in the pages of Scripture. In fact, one would need to study diligently to find a more well-attested Biblical doctrine than the deity of Jesus Christ. In the next couple of posts I hope to clearly lay out the Biblical evidence regarding the person of Jesus Christ, to the end that the saints be better equipped to engage and refute the doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. That way, when you hear the knock on your door on Saturday morning, it won’t be chills you feel running up your spine, but the steel that strengthens you in Christ to love your neighbor as yourself, having mercy on those who are deceived, and compassionately snatching them as brands from the burning.

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always being ready to make a defense
to everyone who asks you to give an account
for the hope that is in you,
yet with gentleness and reverence;
and keep a good conscience
so that in the thing in which you are slandered,
those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
- 1 Peter 3:15-16 -

[1] As cited in Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 96. Cited are Dr. Robert Countess, Dr. Bruce Metzger, and Dr. William Barclay, respectively.

[2] You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1982), 143.


The Squirrel said...

"The fear that results from not knowing how to effectively defend one’s position from Scripture, as well as from knowing even less about one’s opponent’s position, renders most Christians either coldly unloving or woefully outmatched against the prepared answers and clever arguments of these bold proselytizers."

Not to mention the fear of standing there in your sweats and bathrobe, with a bad case of bedhead and you first cup of coffee not yet in the cup. Disconcerting, to say the least!


Great post, Mike!

Mike Riccardi said...

LoL. Good call, Squirrel. Good call.

Happy to see you over here!

ibcarlos said...

Yea, and amen. And, "Soli Deo Gloria!" (I have several family members entrapped in this satanic bondage.)

Mike, though I haven't personally witnessed it (no pun intended), I've heard the J-Dubs have actually vacillated somewhat in recent years in their Christology, flirting as it were with a more "Scripturally aligned" view of Christ's Divinity. I'm curious to know if you've encountered any evidence of this?

Mike Riccardi said...

I haven't had personal experience with that either, Carlos. And quite frankly, I'm not sure how that could be the case, since the Watchtower Society is basically regarded as the infallible interpreter of the word of Jehovah.

Wherever they might have aligned themselves more closely with Scripture, the point of separation will always be whether Jesus is Himself Yahweh. Until that gets Scripturally aligned, there's no adjustment that's really substantive and meaningful, only superficial.

I will say this: I can't imagine there being a better resource on this than the book I mentioned by Ron Rhodes. If you don't have it, and you have family members who are Witnesses, you should definitely get it. (They gave it out at Shepherds' Conference 2010.) Rhodes will update you on any realignment that has taken place.