Evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses

TRENT HORN

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that all other Christian churches represent “apostate Christendom,” and only the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (which is the spiritual leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) can be trusted. In order to make headway with Witnesses, you must challenge this foundational belief.

Last month I posted an entry on evangelizing Mormons. I figured it would be appropriate to follow that up with some tips for how to evangelize another group of people you're likely to meet on your doorstep: Jehovah's Witnesses. (If you're unfamiliar with their beliefs click here and here.)


Make it personal

Unlike Mormon missionaries, who receive very little theological training before they go out and knock on doors, Jehovah's Witnesses spend countless hours studying and practicing for conversations with potential converts. Most of their preparation focuses on answering arguments about the Bible and does not prepare them for questions like, "Why did you become a Jehovah's Witness?" If they mention that they are former Catholics, this can be a good opportunity to discuss any mistaken views of the Church they may still possess.


Don't get caught in "verse slinging"

Due to the amount of study they engage in, the Witnesses are skilled at wielding dozens of memorized Bible verses to defend their beliefs. Even if you reply to these verses with sound biblical arguments of your own, the Witnesses can always dismiss your argument by saying, "That's just your (incorrect) interpretation."

Jehovah's Witnesses are taught that all other Christian churches represent "apostate Christendom," and only the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (which is the spiritual leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses) can be trusted.[1] In order to make headway with Witnesses, you must challenge this foundational belief.


Stay focused on one issue: Authority

Ask the Witnesses to explain why you should believe (1) that the Catholic Church lost its God-given authority to interpret Scripture and proclaim doctrine and (2) that the Watchtower is God's official organization on Earth with his authority to interpret Scripture.

In regard to the first topic, the Witnesses might cite Scripture verses that describe those who fell away from the faith in the early Church (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2 Timothy 1:15, and Galatians 1:6-7). But these verses show only that some members of the Church fell away from the Faith, not all of them. This happens in all religions, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, whose early disaffected members left to form other groups such as the Dawn Bible Students. These groups still exist and share JW theology, though they do not recognize the authority of the Watchtower. This shows that the defection of some Christians from the early Church is not proof that the Church lost its divine authority.

Only when the Witnesses begin to see that the Watchtower is untrustworthy can they be open to seeing which Church really does have God's authority.

Along with the lack of evidence that a total apostasy took place, there is positive evidence that such an apostasy could never have taken place. Acts 1:20 describes how the apostles could pass on their authority to future bishops. In Matthew 16:18-19 Jesus makes Peter "the rock" on which his Church would be built and gives him "the keys to the kingdom." In Matthew 28:20 Jesus says, "I am with you always until the end of the age"; and Paul writes in Ephesians 3:20-21, "To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen."

You can always ask the Witnesses, "Why should I believe that almighty God would allow his Church to perish from the face of the Earth and then wait 1,800 years to restore it? Didn't Jesus tell Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church?" (Matthew 16:18).


Demand proof for their claim to divine authority

The Watchtower makes it clear that one's salvation depends on trusting and obeying "the faithful and discreet slave." This term used to refer to a class of people destined for heaven, but since 2012 it has referred to the Governing Body in Brooklyn, New York, composed of seven men who lead the Jehovah's Witnesses.[2]

One Watchtower article says, "Without the assistance of 'the faithful and discreet slave' we would neither understand the full import of what we read in God's Word nor know how to apply it."[3] Another says, "Since Jehovah God and Jesus Christ completely trust the faithful and discreet slave, should we not do the same?"[4] Finally, one article goes so far as to say, "Just as Noah and his God-fearing family were preserved in the ark, survival of individuals today depends on their faith and their loyal association with the earthly part of Jehovah's universal organization."[5]

Jehovah's Witnesses do not appeal to any miraculous intervention from God as proof that the Watchtower has God's authority. In fact, many of their publications don't present any arguments or evidence for this claim; it's simply assumed. In its 2005 book, Organized To Do Jehovah's Will, the Watchtower says, "There are many reasons to have complete trust in the slave class. First and foremost, Jesus has appointed them over all his precious 'belongings.' This is a clear indication that he has complete trust in them."[6]

But notice that this is simply an assumption dressed up as evidence. In other words, "How do you know Jesus has given the Watchtower special authority? Because Jesus has given the Watchtower special authority!" Organized goes on to say, "Second, God's Word admonishes Christians to cooperate fully with those taking the lead. . . . Through much hardship and experience, the slave class has demonstrated that the spirit of God is with it."[7] Once again, these reasons to could apply to any Church, including the Catholic Church, which has a better claim to having served God for 2,000 years "through much hardship and experience."

Only when the Witnesses begin to see that the Watchtower is untrustworthy can they be open to seeing which Church really does have God's authority. One way to do that is to ask them why they believe the Bible is God's word or why the Bible has its specific canon of books. You can show the Witnesses how the Catholic Church best explains why we can trust the inspiration and canon of Scripture we have today.


Point out failed prophecies

Instead of saying, "Jehovah's Witnesses believe X" or "You people believe X," always phrase your objections in the form of, "Why does the Watchtower teach X?" or "I have a hard time accepting that God leads the Watchtower in light of X." This will make the Witnesses less defensive or that you are attacking them personally.

Ask them to help you explain why the Watchtower:

  • Taught that the world would come to an end in 1914.[8]
  • Said this was a miscalculation and the world would actually end in 1915.[9]
  • Said the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be resurrected when the world would end in 1925.[10]
  • Strongly hinted that the end of the world would come in 1975.[11]
  • In 1995 stopped printing the following message about the end of the world in its magazine Awake!: "[T]his magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away."

Deuteronomy 18:22 states that a person is not a prophet if he makes a prediction that fails to come to pass.[12] Jehovah's Witnesses will respond that the Watchtower is not acting as a prophet but is "still learning." However, not only does this contradict previous Watchtower claims to being "God's prophet,"[13] it also leads to a simple yet intractable problem: if the Watchtower is "still learning," why trust anything it teaches now? If God were really guiding the Watchtower, then why would he allow his "spirit-led" organization to lead so many people into error about the end of the world? The simplest answer to these questions is that men, not God, guide the Watchtower, and so it should not be trusted with our eternal salvation.


Don't be rude

This should go without saying, but use only language that you would be comfortable with others using in reference to you. You shouldn't refer to the guests at your front door as being members of a "cult" that has "brainwashed" them. How would you respond to a Protestant who spoke of the Catholic Church in such a manner? You would probably be unreceptive to his message, no matter what he had to say.

Instead, you should always be mindful to follow the admonition of 1 Peter 3:15: "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence."

 


Endnotes:

  1. "Though apostolic Christianity was soon replaced by apostate Christendom, episodes in the lives of early Christians can still be glimpsed in Rome." "Rome's Many Faces" Awake! (July 8, 2001) 15-16.
  2. "That slave is the small, composite group of anointed brothers serving at world headquarters during Christ's presence who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food. When this group work together as the Governing Body, they act as "the faithful and discreet slave." "Food at the Proper Time" Annual Meeting Report (2012) see here.
  3. "Earnestly Seek Jehovah's Blessing" The Watchtower (September 15, 2010) 8-9. see here.
  4. "They "'Keep Following the Lamb'" The Watchtower (September 15, 2009) 27. see here.
  5. "Are You Prepared for Survival?" The Watchtower (May 15, 2006 22. see here.
  6. Organized to do Jehovah's will (Brooklyn, NY, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 2005) 18.
  7. Ibid., 19.
  8. "We see no reason for changing the figures – nor could we change them if we would. They are, we believe, God's dates, not ours. But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble." Zion's Watch Tower (Jul 15 1894) p.226. Over time the Watchtower started teaching that the world began to end in 1914, not that it was going to end in 1914 (even though this contradicts the Watchtower's assertion that 1914 was not the beginning of anything but the end).
  9. This miscalculation was due to confusion over whether there was a year "zero." Russell wrote, "In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished near the end of A.D. 1915." Charles Taze Russell"The Time Is At Hand" Studies In the Scriptures Series II (1915) 99, 101, 242.
  10. "Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews 11, to the condition of human perfection." Joseph Rutherford, Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Brooklyn, NY: International Bible Students Association, 1920) 89-90.
  11. "[W]hatever the date for the end of this system, it is clear that the time left is reduced, with only approximately six years left until the end of 6,000 years of human history." The Watchtower (May 1, 1970) 273.
  12. 'When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him."
  13. So, does Jehovah have a prophet to help them, to warn them of dangers and to declare things to come?  These questions can be answered in the affirmative. Who is this prophet? . . . This "prophet" was not one man, but was a body of men and women. It was the small group of footstep followers of Jesus Christ, known at that time as International Bible Students. Today they are known as Jehovah's Christian witnesses."  "They shall know that a Prophet was among them," The Watchtower (April 1, 1972) 197-198.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Trent Horn. "Evangelizing Jehovah's Witnesses." Catholic Answers.

Reprinted with permission from Catholic Answers.

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THE AUTHOR

Trent Horn has had a passion for explaining and defending the Faith ever since he converted to Catholicism at the age of seventeen. After earning a degree in history from Arizona State University, Trent traveled the country training pro-life advocates on college campuses to engage opponents in compassionate and persuasive dialogue. After completing a master's degree in theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Trent served as the Respect Life Coordinator for the Diocese of Phoenix. In 2012 he joined Catholic Answers as a speaker and staff apologist. Trent is a dynamic and experienced public speaker who has given hundreds of presentations, from high school assemblies to keynote conference talks. He is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live and is also the author of Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity published by Catholic Answers Press. If you are interested in booking Trent Horn for an upcoming event, please contact Catholic Answers at (619) 387-7200

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