“A cult . . . is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Christ Jesus” (Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults).
- Authority figure
- Extrabiblical text
- Unorthodox theology, somewhat related to Christianity
- Presents a Jesus different from that of orthodox faith
- Claims new truth
- Offers new, non-orthodox interpretations of Scripture
- Cites non-biblical authority source(s)
- Rejects major tenets of orthodox Christianity
- Generally develops a changing, often contradictory theology
- Strong leadership, usually centered in a single person or group of persons
- Almost always offers a salvation by works
- Generally makes unsubstantiated prophetic claims
Introduction to Jehovah’s Witnesses
Charles Taze Russell is founder of the movement. He was born February 16, 1852 near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1870, while a teenager and without formal theological training, Russell organized a Bible class; its members eventually made him their “pastor”
In 1879, he founded the magazine Zion’s Watchtower; in 1886 he wrote the first volume of seven books, later retitled Studies in the Scriptures. By his death in 1916, “Pastor” Russell had, according to the Watchtower, traveled more than a million miles, given more than thirty thousand sermons, and written books totaling over fifty thousand pages.
Joseph F. Rutherford became the second President of the Watchtower Society after Russell’s death. He had been the society’s legal counselor beforehand. Under his leadership the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was adopted
He moved the society’s headquarters to Brooklyn. Nathan Knorr succeeded Rutherford following his death in 1942. Under his presidency the society increased from 115,000 to over two million members.
In 1961, the society produced its own English Bible translation, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
Frederick W. Franz succeeded Knorr after his death in 1977. He is spokesman for the translation committee of the New World Translation, although he has no recognized qualifications as a translator of either Hebrew or Greek.
Status and claims
Jehovah’s Witnessesnumber over two million today. The group claims to be the only correct church. Regarding the Christian church: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are no part of Christendom. In fact, Christendom was founded nearly 300 years after Jesus’ death, and its beliefs have greatly deviated from what Jesus taught” (Jehovah’s Witnesses 3).
The Watchtower believes itself to be the only organization speaking correctly for God today; considers the Scripture Studies to be “practically the Bible itself” (Charles Taze Russell, The Watchtower [September 15, 1910], 298; quoted in McDowell, 57).
The society contends that the Scriptures are the society’s final authority, but follow only their New World edition
Their doctrinal views are to be found in their various publications, including The Watchtower and Awake; these are considered authoritative.
Ultimate reality: uni-personal God
Rejects the Trinity as the invention of Christendom centuries after the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is a created being.
Their statement: “we do not accept Christendom’s belief in the Trinity, which teaches that Jesus is God himself. Nowhere do the Scriptures contain this blasphemous teaching” (Jehovah’s Witnesses 3).
Follows the ancient heresy known as Arianism, which teaches that Jesus was of a different substance than the Father, and was created by him.
Jesus was Michael the Archangel in his preexistent state, with a brother named Lucifer who rebelled against God while Michael remained obedient; at his physical birth the Son of God was transferred to the embryo of a human; after his resurrection he went back to his former state as an invisible spirit.
His death provided a legal means of rescuing us from the consequences of Adam’s sin and bringing faithful people into the promised earthly paradise (ibid).
The Holy Spirit is not part of the Godhead; he is the “invisible active force of Almighty God” (Let God Be True 108; quoted in McDowell, 73). “Holy Spirit” is never capitalized in the New World Translation.
Created by God, as a combination of the dust of the earth and the breath of life
Does not receive an eternal, immortal soul; when he dies he is “dead as a dog” (Russell, Scripture Studies v:406; quoted in Gerstner, 18).
Through the redemption of Christ man is kept from eternal death and is preserved in an unconscious state until the resurrection when he will be reawakened and will remember himself (Gerstner 18). Their statement: “the Bible does not teach the concept of an immortal soul…Rather, future life for the dead is based on God’s remembrance of them in a resurrection” (Jehovah’s Witnesses 6).
Central focus: the Kingdom of Jehovah
They believe that this kingdom is a real government, and that the rule of this government will restore true peace to the earth (ibid 4).
The society is the “witness” of Jehovah, preparing for the coming of this Kingdom in our generation (ibid 5).
Not based on grace but works
“They, each for himself, may have a full chance to prove, by obedience or disobedience, their worthiness of life eternal” (Russell, Studies in the Scriptures I:158; quoted in McDowell, 73).
“All who by reason of faith in Jehovah God and in Christ Jesus dedicate themselves to do God’s will and then faithfully carry out their dedication will be rewarded with everlasting life” (Let God Be God 298; quoted in McDowell, 73).
Thus requires witnessing and other missionary endeavors.
- Unbelievers will be annihilated
- The “Little Flock” is the 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who live in heaven after their death
- All other Jehovah’s Witnesses barred from heaven and live instead on Paradise Earth.
Apologetics and Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Show the biblical contradictions with their theology
- The divinity of Jesus (John 1:1-2; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3)
- Salvation by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9)
- The doctrine of hell (Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)
- Respond to their claim that the Second Coming occurred in 1914
- Before 1914, the society claimed that God’s Kingdom would be established on earth in that year (Watchtower Reprints, March 1880, I:82).
- When this did not occur, they shifted their emphasis to God’s Kingdom in heaven, and claimed that Christ returned invisibly in 1914.
- See the biblical predictions of Jesus’ visible return (Acts 1:11; Matthew 24:26,27; Revelations 1:7)
- Demonstrate the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit by your lifestyle and love.
Excellent resources include John H. Gerstner, The Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1960); Jehovah’s Witnesses: What Do They Believe? (Pennsylvania: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1992); and Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Understanding the Cults (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1982), 55-82.