is the History and what are the Techniques of the Jehovah’s
you walk through the downtown area of a large city,
you see them standing in pairs on street corners, usually
not smiling. They hold up copies of Awake! or
The Watch Tower. They'd like you to purchase
a copy, but they'll give you one for free if you ask.
They're the Jehovah's Witnesses. Fifty years ago they
numbered fewer than 100,000. Now there are several
million of them around the world. They don't have churches;
they have what are called Kingdom Halls. Their congregations
are uniformly small, numbering usually less than two
hundred. Most Witnesses used to be Catholics or Protestants.
Let's look a little at their history, because that will
help us understand their singular doctrines.
sect now known as the Jehovah's Witnesses was started
by Charles Taze Russell, who was born in 1852 and worked
in Pittsburgh as a haberdasher. He was raised a Congregationalist.
At the age of seventeen he tried to convert an atheist
to Christianity and ended up being converted himself instead
— not to outright atheism, but to agnosticism. Some years
later he went to an Adventist meeting, was told that Jesus
would be back any time, and got interested in the Bible.
The leading light of Adventism had been William Miller.
Miller predicted the world would end in 1843. When it
didn't, he discovered an arithmetical error and said it
would end in 1844. When his prediction again failed,
many people became frustrated and withdrew from the Adventist
movement, but a remnant, led by Ellen G. White, went on
to form the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
was this diminished Adventism which influenced Russell,
who took the title "Pastor" even though he never
got through high school. He began the Watch Tower — what
would later be known as the Jehovah's Witnesses — in 1879.
In 1908 he moved its headquarters to Brooklyn, where it
has remained ever since. Before he got well underway
in his religious career, Russell promoted what he called
"miracle wheat," which he sold at sixty dollars
per bushel. He claimed it would grow five times as well
as regular wheat. In fact, as established in court when
he was sued, it grew slightly less well than regular wheat.
Later he marketed a fake cancer cure and what he termed
a "millennial bean" (which a wag has said probably
got that name because it took a thousand years to sprout).
peculiarly identified with the Witnesses and taught by
Russell include the non-existence of hell and the consequent
annihilation of unsaved people, the non-existence of the
Trinity (only the Father, Jehovah, is God), the identification
of Jesus with Michael the Archangel, the Holy Spirit not
thought of as a Person but just as a force, the mortality
(not immortality) of the soul, and the return of Jesus
in 1914. When 1914 had come and gone, with no Jesus in
sight, Russell modified his teachings and claimed Jesus
had, in fact, returned to Earth, but his return was invisible.
His visible return would come later. Russell died in
1916. He was succeeded by "Judge" Joseph R.
Rutherford. Rutherford, born in 1869, had been brought
up as a Baptist and became the legal adviser to the Watch
Tower. He never was a real judge but took the title
because, as an attorney, he at least once substituted
for an absent judge. At one time he claimed Russell was
next to St. Paul as an expounder of the Gospel, but later,
in an effort to have his writing supplant Russell's, he
let Russell's books go out of print. It was Rutherford
who coined the slogan, "Millions now living will
never die." By it he meant that some people alive
in 1914 would still be alive when Armageddon came and
the world was restored to a paradisaical state.
1931 he changed the name of the sect to the Jehovah's
Witnesses. An organizer, he equipped missionaries with
portable phonographs, which they took door to door. They
didn't have to say much when they came calling; all they
had to do was put on Rutherford's record. Rutherford
displayed a marked hatred for Catholicism on his radio
program and in pamphlets he wrote. Later his successors
tempered the sect's anti-Catholicism, but Awake! and
The Watchtower still carry anti-Catholic articles
every other issue or so, though the tone is subtle, not,
as in Rutherford's day, lurid. Rutherford said that in
1925 Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets would return
to Earth, and for them he prepared a mansion in San Diego.
Into this mansion Rutherford himself moved, and he died
there in 1942.
to Give Testimonies
was succeeded by Nathan Homer Knorr, who was born in 1905
and died in 1977. Knorr joined the movement as a teenager,
working his way up through the ranks. He got rid of the
phonographs and insisted that the missionaries attend
courses and be trained in door-to-door techniques. The
Witnesses now have a reputation as skilful deliverers
of "personal testimonies." Since the Bible
as preserved through the centuries did not support the
peculiar doctrines of the Witnesses as strongly as they
might have desired, Knorr chose an anonymous committee
to produce the New World Translation, which is used by
no sect other than the Witnesses. It buttresses their
beliefs through tendentious renderings. For example,
to prove that Jesus was only a creature, not divine, John
1:1 concludes this way: "and the Word was a god"
[italics added]. Every other translation, Catholic and
Protestant — not to mention the Greek original — has "and
the Word was God."
Happened to Armageddon?
was succeeded by the current head of the Jehovah's Witnesses,
Frederick Franz, who is in his late nineties. He had
been the Witnesses' leading theologian, and his services
were often on call. For some years the sect's magazines
had been predicting that Armageddon would occur in 1975.
When it didn't, Franz had to find an explanation. Witnesses
believe that Adam was created in 4026 B.C. and that human
beings have been allotted 6000 years of existence until
Armageddon and the beginning of the millennium. Simple
arithmetic gives 1975 as the year Armageddon would arrive.
Franz explained that Armageddon would actually come 6000
years after Eve's creation. We don't know how long after
Adam's creation she came on the scene, said Franz—maybe
it was several years. In any case we'll just have to
wait, knowing the end is just round the corner.
the final battle does occur — remember, it will be during
the lifetime of "millions'' of people alive in 1914,
which means it can't be too far off — Jehovah will defeat
Satan and the elect will go to heaven. But only 144,000
will go there as spirit persons (without resurrected bodies).
The remaining faithful will live forever on a renewed
Earth in resurrected bodies. The unsaved will cease to
exist at all. Jehovah's Witnesses live under a strict
regimen. They may be "disfellowshipped" for
a variety of reasons, such as attending a Catholic or
Protestant church or receiving a blood transfusion. Disfellowshipping
is the sect's equivalent of excommunication. A disfellowshipped
Witness may attend Kingdom Hall, but he is not allowed
to speak to anyone, and no one may speak to him. The
others are to act as though he no longer exists. This
applies even to his family.
They Make Converts
religions welcome converts. The Witnesses' very reason
for existence is to make converts . To accomplish this
they follow several steps. First they try to get a copy
of one of their magazines into the hands of a prospective
convert. They lead off with a question such as this:
"How would you like to live in a world without sickness,
war, poverty, or any other problem?" If the prospect
is willing to speak with them, they arrange what's known
as a "back call" — that is, they return in a
week or so for more discussions. This can be kept up
indefinitely. At some point the missionaries invite the
prospect to a Bible study. This is not the usual sort
of Bible study, which may resemble a free-for-all. The
Bible study is given in the home of a Jehovah's Witness
and is directed along lines mandated by the officials
in Brooklyn. The prospect is there to learn, not to teach.
If he progresses well, he's invited to a larger Bible
study, which may be held at a Kingdom Hall.
this time he's invited to attend a Sunday service. The
service is quite unlike the standard Protestant service,
which consists of hymn singing, prayers, and a sermon.
At the Kingdom Hall, which resembles not so much a church
as a small lecture room, the prospect hears a Witness
discuss a few verses of Scripture and how those verses
can be conveyed to non-Witnesses.
prospect gets still more of this if he proceeds to the
next step, which consists of going to meetings on Wednesday
or Thursday nights. At those meetings Witnesses trade
stories, explaining how they've done that week in going
door to door, giving advice to one another, figuring out
better ways to get the message across, logging their hours.
(Each month each Kingdom Hall mails to Brooklyn a detailed
log of hours spent proselytizing and number of converts
made.) If the prospect goes through all these steps,
he's ready for admission to the sect. That involves baptism
by immersion and agreeing to work actively as a missionary.
Many missionaries take only part-time jobs so they can
devote more time to their religious work. It's not uncommon
for a Witness to log more than 150 hours monthly in house
not every Witness can put in so many hours, every Witness
is expected to do what he can by way of missionary work.
Witnesses believe, following Luther's teaching on the
universal priesthood of believers, that each of them is
a minister, and they act on this belief.
is no separate, ordained ministry as is found in Protestant
churches. Their main task is to enlarge the rolls. Their
sect operates no hospitals, sanitariums, orphanages, schools,
colleges, or social welfare agencies. Why bother, since
it will all disappear in a few years anyway? They recognize
the legitimacy of no governmental authority, since all
earthly authority is of Satan. They will not serve in
the military, salute the flag, say the Pledge of Allegiance,
vote, run for office, or serve as officials of labour
unions. Everything they do is focused on the imminent
end of Satan's rule and the establishment of the Kingdom
of God here on Earth. No matter how peculiar their doctrines,
they deserve to be complimented on their determination