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https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/06/Two-babylons.jpg/220px-Two-babylons.jpgThe Lutheran pastor, the Revd Joseph Abrahamson, recently wrote a post for Steadfast Lutherans on the history of Lent, ‘Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Ash Wednesday and Lent’.

Excerpts follow — please be sure to read Pastor Abrahamson’s well-researched post in full. Emphases mine below.

First, Abrahamson takes issue with those, past and present, who paint Lent as a pagan tradition. This started in the 19th century with the Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop‘s book The Two Babylons and, perhaps paradoxically, continues today with New Age followers:

There are two aspects of Ash Wednesday and Lent that need to be emphasized. First is the historical nature of the forty days of Lent; the second is the use of ash on Ash Wednesday.

To put it plainly: the claim that Ash Wednesday and Lent are based on pagan origins is a relatively new fiction that comes out of several different sources.

First is the irresponsible work of Alexander Hislop and those who followed him; both those who claim to be Christian and those who oppose Christianity.

Second is the neo-pagan movement today that falsely imagines that paganism is the most ancient of religions and rejects the Bible totally. But, in fact, Lent and Ash Wednesday have no origins in paganism.

You will find all kinds of websites on the Internet that claim that Ash Wednesday and Lent are not Biblical because Christ never commanded them.

In part this is true. And Satan likes to use truth to give credibility to his lies.

Abrahamson explains:

The false logic is this: If Christ didn’t specifically command us to do something, then it is a sin to do it. So, think about how little sense that logic makes. Take this example: Christ did not command that I have my children wash dishes. Is it therefore a sin to have them do so? No.

That said:

No human can require a Christian to use the fast of Lent as a saving work. A congregation can recommend the practice as a serious self-examination of one’s own sin and sinful appetites; of one’s own weaknesses. No human can require Christians to use ash on Ash Wednesday or any other day as a way of proving their faith.

And neither can any human forbid the use of the Lenten fast or the use of ashes either. Both are legalism, a replacing of the Gospel for a new law.

Abrahamson tells us that Lenten observance began with St Athanasius — of the Athanasian creed. The bishop — from Alexandria, Egypt — also led at the Council of Nicaea in a condemnation of the heresy of Arianism. Athanasius encouraged his congregations to observe Lent; documentation from 331 and 340 AD affirms this.

Abrahamson continues:

We learn from this that even at the time the Nicene Creed was written, at the time Constantine the Great ruled, the Western and Eastern Churches practiced a voluntary fast for 40 days before Easter.

As for Hislop,

The 40 day fast does not come from the so-called “weeping of Tammuz” as claimed by the radical anti-Roman Catholic writer Alexander Hislop in his book The Two Babylons. Hislop made up myths and connections out of thin air because of his hatred for Roman Catholicism. Hislop’s views were adopted whole cloth by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who continued to republish Hislop’s book until 1987. Hislop’s book was cited in 22 different issues of the Jehovah’s Witnesses periodical The Watchtower from 1950 to 1978, and several times in the 1980s. From 1989 the Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped referring to Hislop’s book, but they have kept Hislop’s teaching and use other sources.

Two basic facts: 1) The weeping for Tammuz was not a 40 day thing. That is Hislop’s fiction. 2) The month of Tammuz is 4 months after Easter. They aren’t even in the same time of year. ( From the The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature: Inana and Bilulu: an ulila to Inana: c.1.4.4 English Translation)

The pastor examines the many references in the Old Testament to wearing sackcloth and/or ashes as a form of penitence, among them 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8. He cites and explains several more.

Abrahamson makes an important point:

The ash on the forehead is a confession that the person is worth only ashes, has no righteousness, is not better than another, and needs God’s grace if there is to be any hope for him or her.

Can the symbol be abused? Yes, of course it can. But that does not make it a bad symbol. Every gift of God can be abused by sinful people. We should expect that because of sin.

However, the goal of the penitent in observing Lent concerns his awareness as being one in desperate need of God’s grace and Christ’s redemption.

And, no, regardless of what past Wee Frees or New Age pagans have written, Lent is purely Christian.

Earlier this week news broke that Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral filed for bankruptcy.  (H/T to Ichabod, The Glory Has Departed and photo credit to the His Scrivener blog.)

Robert Schuller came a bit after my time.  I was finishing university when his television show, Hour of Power, became a Sunday morning fixture.  I only watched part of it a couple of times and never in full.

Having grown up on the Revd Rex Humbard in the 1960s, Schuller appeared slick.  I couldn’t relate.  Not that I could to Mr Humbard, either, but I was at least used to the plainness of his studio.  Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral was all a bit too much for me.  I also thought it was strange that he didn’t seem to cite the Bible, whereas Humbard was always quoting Scripture.  But, then, I was never a regular viewer of either, having last seen Humbard in 1979 and Schuller in the early 1980s.

All source documents for this post are listed at the end.

Calvinist beginnings

Born in Iowa, Robert Schuller, believe it or not, was raised in the Reformed Church of America; he grew up a Calvinist.  So did his mentor the Revd Norman Vincent Peale, author of the best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking.  Schuller earned his M.Div from the Western Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church of America.  The seminary is located in Holland, Michigan.

After beginning his ministry in the RCA in a church in Illinois, Schuller and his young family moved to Garden Grove, California.  He built his Garden Grove Community Church on the site of a disused drive-in cinema and established a chapel a few miles away.  He presided over services at each on Sundays.

Onward to the megachurch

By 1961 he had opened a new and expanded church — a walk-in, drive-in model — which served both congregations.  In 1968, he added a ‘Tower of Hope’, the tallest structure at that time in Orange County (‘OC’, to you younguns out there!).

The success of Schuller’s ministry prompted Billy Graham in 1969 to suggest that he begin broadcasting his services on television.  Meanwhile, Schuller purchased the walnut grove which bordered Garden Grove Community Church.  He later hired internationally-renowned architect Philip Johnson to design what would become the Crystal Cathedral.  The new church opened in 1980. And, thus, the megachurch was born.

His Hour of Power, filmed from the church (I refuse to call it a cathedral), became the most widely watched Christian worship service internationally.  The Crystal Cathedral had as many as 10,000 members at one time.

Rejecting Calvinism for error

Some smaller Christian cults and churches arose from breakaway Calvinists who didn’t like the doctrines of total depravity, eternal damnation and anything that seemed too difficult.  Charles Taze Russell, who founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 19th century, didn’t like the idea of Hell.  He was a Presbyterian minister, as was his father.  They both left the Reformed tradition to create their own ‘church’.

Norman Vincent Peale transformed his Reformed Church of America ministry at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City from one based on Christian teachings to one that revolved around positive thinking. Peale didn’t like the doctrine of justification by faith and didn’t believe in Christ’s physical Resurrection.  He wasn’t too keen on the notion of sin, either.

Peale was a 33-degree Mason and served as a Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge in New York.  He read the writings of Ernest Holmes, whose ideas were the foundation for today’s New Age occultism.  Peale also liked Charles Fillmore, who came up with the notion of the power of ‘positive thinking’, which Peale took into the mainstream.

If you’re under 50, you probably have little idea of how influential Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking was in America.  Millions bought the book and watched Peale on television.  It was normal for friends and neighbours to cite the book in conversation and for television stars to credit Peale’s teachings for their success.  But, that is for another post.

Schuller’s seeker-friendly church

Meanwhile, Robert Schuller picked up on Peale’s writings and his success.  His son says that Schuller considered Peale his ‘mentor’.  Schuller cried at the pulpit when Peale died.

Like Peale and the Russells, Schuller rejected his Reformed upbringing and seminary training for ‘possibility thinking’.   Where Peale left off, Schuller picked up, attracting a new generation for a New Age.  The 1980s were all about finding the inner self, investing supernatural properties in objects such as crystals, embracing Eastern religions in a reverential way and demoting our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to a teacher no different from Buddha.  We were all one and could come to a psychic, one-world thinking through New Age philosophy.

Schuller has boasted that imams and rabbis from around the world have watched his television show and embraced his teachings.

So, how did he do it?  Initially, back in the old days, he went from door to door in and around Garden Grove asking people what sort of church they would like to attend.  Broadly speaking, the answer was, ‘Nothing too demanding’.  So, Schuller started the ball rolling by preaching a man-centred, positive message.  He distorted the Gospel to make his congregation feel good about themselves and put them — not the Cross or the Resurrection or sin — at the core of his preaching.

He believed that by bringing people into his church and saying positive things which would affirm them — tickle the itching ears — he would bring them to Christ and a relationship with God.

It is worth mentioning again that Rick Warren was a student of Schuller’s.  Think of his man-centred, secular message with a veneer of Christianity as well as his Church Growth Movement (CGM).  It’s all about the numbers for these men.

Robert Schuller says

What follows are excerpts from Robert Schuller’s teachings, which you can find in Let Us Reason Ministries’ ‘The Gospel According to Schuller’.  I don’t think I need to mention that all of what you read below is unbiblical, yet many ‘Christians’ and seekers have been drawn in by these errors, if not heresies:

God’s purpose:God is trying … to build a society of human beings who live out the golden rule’ (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 135)

Christianity is flawed: ‘I believe is it the failure to proclaim the gospel in a way that can satisfy every person’s deepest need – one’s spiritual hunger for glory. Rather than glorify God’s highest creation – the human being – Christian liturgies, hymns, prayers, and scriptural interpretations have often insensitively and destructively offended the dignity of the person…’ (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation , p. 31)

Schuller’s corrective: His book, A Course in Miracles, ‘teaches that “forgiveness” is simply recognizing that sin does not exist and therefore there is nothing to forgive’.

On faith: Schuller had this to say to Larry King in 1994, ‘Positive thinking says, ‘Hey. I am somebody. I can do it.’ Possibility thinking picks up on it and says, “Okay, how is it possible and how can we make it possible,” and power thinking says, “Okay. I am. I can. It’s possible. Okay, let’s you and me do it. Let’s just make it happen.”… I sum up this in a sentence. Faith plus focus plus follow through equals achievement, and many people fail because they just don’t have the faith in themselves, and others have the faith in themselves, but they don’t focus.

Self-esteem in the New Testament: And I can feel the self-esteem rising all around me and within me, “Rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of anyone who believes in me” (John 7:38). I’ll really feel good about myself’ (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 80)

On Jesus Christ: ‘Christ is the Ideal One, for he was Self-Esteem Incarnate’ (p. 135, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation)

On sin and total depravity: ‘I contend that his unfulfilled need for self-esteem underlies every act …over and over again that the core of man’s sin is not his depravity but a “lack of self-dignity”, Self-esteem is … the single greatest need facing the human race today.’ (Self-Esteem: the New Reformation Word Books, 1982, p. 15)

Schuller refers to ‘divine self-esteem’ (p. 95). ‘If the gospel of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed as a theology of self-esteem, imagine the health this could generate in society!’ (Self-Esteem, the New Reformation Word Books, 1982 p. 47)

Dr Michael Horton interviews Schuller for the White Horse Inn

In 1992, Dr Michael Horton of the Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, interviewed Schuller for White Horse Inn radio.  The White Horse Inn is a Calvinist site with regular broadcasts and is known by its slogan, ‘Know what you believe and why you believe it’.  What follows are excerpts from the transcript where Horton attempts to find out how much Schuller believes.  From what I can recall, Schuller had earlier claimed he was still preaching in the Reformed tradition, hence the interview.  Emphases mine below.

Michael Horton: Would you be willing to address your congregation as a group as sinners?
Robert Schuller: No I don’t think I need to do that. First of all, my congregation is a very mixed audience.

MH: But our Lord’s audiences were mixed with disciples and unbelievers both.
RS: Oh yes, but I’ll tell you, the audience is quite different that I talk to than what the Lord spoke to. I speak every week to millions, not a million but millions of people in Russia on channel one. And I speaking to a couple of million people every Sunday.

MH: Are you saying that it is the size of the audience that matters?
RS: No it’s not the size of the audience, it’s where are they at at this time. My only concern is: I don’t want to drive them farther away than they are! And I listen to so many preachers on religious radio stations…and by golly, if I wasn’t a Christian, they’d drive me farther away. I am so afraid that I am going to drive them farther; I want to attract them, and so I use the strategy that Jesus used…

———————————————————–

RS: If we want to win people to Jesus we have to understand where they are at.
MH: I agree absolutely. And they are in sin, that is where they are at.

RS: They are in the state of condition called sin which means they don’t trust. They are lacking faith.
MH: I guess the difference would be our definition of sin, because what I see in scripture is that we’re dead in sin and cannot respond to God even if we were trusting.

RS: We are not justified by faith.
MH: No, it is by grace through faith.

RS: By grace through faith, that’s right.
MH: But what I’m asking is this. Justified from what? The wrath of God?

RS: Oh! I’ll never use that language.
MH: But the Bible does.

RS: Yes, the Bible does, but the Bible is God’s book to believers primarily. Listen, and then call me a heretic if you want to, but I’m interested in attracting people, and not driving them farther away. There is language I can and will use and there are times, if we are wise, there is language we will not use…

—————————————————————

MH: Well, on what texts would you base your definition of sin as “any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem.”
RS: Try some other questions because I think your question isn’t uh, isn’t…I don’t understand it.

MH: Okay. If the definition of sin is “any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem,” then, first of all….
RS: Okay, okay, I can handle that. That’s a little piece. Any sinful act that arises out of the sinful condition, and I have to repeat, sin is a condition before it is an action.

MH: Absolutely. We would agree a hundred percent on that. But what is that condition?
RS: That condition is, you are separated from God, totally and completely. And therefore you don’t have the emotional and spiritual affirmation that only comes out of a relationship … And I’ll tell you what God thinks of you: if you were the only person that didn’t have this wonderful relationship with him, why he would take his son and crucify him as your saviour.

MH: But why would He have to do that Dr. Schuller if in fact the only problem that I have with God is that I am non trusting and lack self confidence?
RS: Wait, wait, wait, wait! The “only thing”! That’s everything! That’s Hell!…To be non-trusting is the ultimate sinful condition.

—————————————————————

RS: I do let people know how great their sins and miseries are. How do I do that? I don’t do that by standing in a pulpit and telling them they’re sinners. I don’t do it that way. The way I do it is ask questions. Are you happy? Do you have problems, what are they? So then I come across as somebody who cares about them because every single human problem, if you look at it deeply enough, is rooted in the sinful condition. We agree on that. So the way I preach sin is by calling to attention what it does to them here and now, and their need for divine grace!

MH: But what about what it does for them in eternity?
RS: Listen, I believe in heaven. I believe in hell. But I don’t know what happens there. I don’t take it literally that it’s a fire that never stops burning.

MH: As Jesus said it was?
RS: Jesus was not literal. See, now this is where you have differences of interpretation. I went to a different theological school than you did

————————————————————-

CALLER: Dr. Schuller, Paul called the gospel an offense. You seem to have a gospel that is a “kinder, gentler” kind of thing.
RS: Thank you. I try to make it that way.

CALLER: How do you reconcile that?
RS: Because I think it honors the name of Jesus.

CALLER: Dr. Schuller, what do we tell someone who says, “I’m already happy and fulfilled, so why do I need the gospel?”
RS: I don’t know…I can’t relate to that.

CALLER: Dr. Schuller, as a Calvinist with your belief in eternal election…how can anything we say drive a person away from being saved?
RS: That’s a good question. I don’t have the answer.

There is much more at the link. This is what happens when preachers forget their confessions of faith and distort Scripture to meet their own perspectives.

I have nothing more to say other than I hope that Schuller’s suppliers get paid and pray that he and his family come to a true understanding of the Bible.

For further reading:

‘Robert H. Schuller’Wikipedia

‘The Gospel According to Schuller’ Let Us Reason Ministries

‘Norman Vincent Peale’Let Us Reason Ministries

‘Michael Horton Interviews Robert Schuller’White Horse Inn

‘Crystal Cathedral megachurch files for bankruptcy’MSNBC

‘Cracked Crystal’Chicago Tribune

‘Crystal Cathedral files for bankruptcy amid mounting debts’LA Times Blogs

Kenneth Guindon explains how the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (JWs) door-to-door approach works in his article for Envoy magazine, ‘How to Become a Jehovah’s Witness’.  What follows are excerpts from his article (emphases mine):

Step One: The JWs visit your home and offer you literature. And you take it.

This is the first step, the place where the separating of the “sheep from the goats” begins. Sheep are those who are willing to listen to the JW presentation at the door. Goats are the door slammers, the “I’m not interesteds,” the “get off my propertys” — those who won’t give JWs the time of day. My first point of advice: Be a goat … How do Jehovah’s Witnesses find the sheep? They divide the neighborhood — your neighborhood — surrounding their Kingdom Hall into parcels called “field territories.” Your home or office is located in one of these parcels and is targeted for an eventual visit. Jehovah’s Witnesses “check out” a territory, much like checking out a book from the library, by obtaining a little card with a map glued to it from the local Kingdom Hall. The territory typically encompasses between four to eight suburban blocks. Often the one who takes a territory is a “book study overseer.” JWs meet in groups of a dozen or so in a nearby home where a book study overseer has been appointed to conduct studies of the Watchtower Society’s publications. On weekends, he leads the group in door-to-door “field service.”

…  By accepting their literature, you give them a handy pretext for a second visit to your home. And they will return if offered the slightest encouragement. Door-to-door work is drudgery. I’ve seen Jehovah’s Witnesses walk down the street as slowly as possible. They appear to not be in a hurry to visit the homes. At first, though, it’s kind of fun, and the conversations can be exciting. When I was new to door-to-door work, I enjoyed trying to pick a fight with whoever answered the doorbell. I would tell the householder straight-out that priests and ministers were lying to people about hell. Hell was my favorite topic. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in hell. No one was prepared to argue with me on this. I had four or five Scriptures marked and chain-referenced in my Bible, so I could “prove” that souls who died were unconscious. Clearly they couldn’t suffer torment in hell. 

Step Two: The JWs return to your home and ask to talk more. You let them in.

Returning to the territory, the Witness takes out his House to House Record and begins visiting the people who previously accepted literature. His new goal is to get the householder who has taken the first step (accepting literature) to take the next step, by agreeing to let the JWs hold a weekly “Bible study” in his home.  Witnesses carry a little book called Reasoning From the Scriptures whenever they go door-to-door. It’s a little encyclopedia of information and answers to just about any objection or argument that could be thrown at them. Little does the householder realize that he is not dealing with an individual JW who is speaking on his own, but with the Watchtower Society, who has prepared in-depth answers to any conceivable objection. Reasoning From the Scriptures has quotations from many sources, biblical and historical, all intended to bolster the arguments JWs use to promote their bizarre mix of doctrines. This little book usually enables the Witness to take charge of any discussion about religion … We’re now approaching the shoals that will tear his faith apart.

Step Three: The JWs ask if they can conduct a Bible study in your home, and you let them.

This isn’t really a Bible study. It’s a study of Watchtower publications. In my case, I took this third step when I was sixteen and still, barely, a Catholic. A Jehovah’s Witness lady gave me a book called Let God Be True and told me that if I really wanted to understand the Bible, I’d need to devote one or two hours a week going through the chapters in the book with her. Every paragraph in the JW book has numbered questions at the bottom of the page to guide students through the subject matter … These are the subjects JWs want to teach you. They have one goal: to break down and obliterate your faith … Like millions of others who have taken this step down the road to becoming a JW, I naively thought I was going to learn something about the Bible. At the very beginning, I had no intention of becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. I wanted to prove them wrong. I thought I was smart enough to do it. What happened was that I became more and more impressed with what I was learning and my confidence in my Jehovah’s Witness teacher and her organization grew. Little by little, much of what she said was becoming clear; everything seemed so rational, so logical …

Douglas, a personal friend of mine who used to be a Jehovah’s Witness, describes his first encounter with them:
At this stage of my life I was really confused. I had no God, no hope, no security . . . Then one day in the summer of 1970, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door and I was willing to listen to the views of this group. Soon we agreed to a Bible study with this impartial (in terms of my wife’s Catholicism and my agnosticism) third party who represented an organization that held some of the same political and social views we did . . . In the course of our three years with the organization, we were taught doctrines and ‘truths’ from the Watchtower publications in a clear and logical manner.” You can see that for the person who is searching, or is even mildly curious about religion, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have great appeal.

Step Four: The JWs invite you to the “neighborhood book study.”

Once the personal home Bible study has progressed this far, it is time to introduce the “Bible student” (as the JWs now refer to you among themselves) to the “organization,” meaning other JWs. It’s time for you to attend the Neighborhood Book Study on Tuesday evenings. The Witnesses introduce you to the book study overseer and to other “friends,” another name JWs use for their fellow JWs. Most students are impressed by the friendliness, the JWs’ clean-cut looks, the suits and ties and modest skirts. The method of study is just like the one he has been following at home, but the group dynamics have changed. Even more friendly attention is focused on you as a prospective convert

Like water in a windmill, you’re being steadily pulled away from your … Faith without fully realizing it.

Step Five: You’re invited to visit the Kingdom Hall on Sunday.

It may not be apparent, but things are now progressing at breakneck speed. You realize, or maybe you don’t, that you have very little time for your former friends. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are now swarming, dominating your time and energy. You are reminded repeatedly that your non-JW friends and family are in the world — they’re deceived by the devil. But you’ve come to know the truth, and don’t you want to be in the truth?

Now you receive an invitation to visit the local Kingdom Hall on Sunday where, you’re assured, a very interesting lecture will be given … They never take up collections like the churches of Christendom. Everything here is voluntary; no preaching for money and no salaried clergymen, like in the world. Jehovah’s true followers work for free. Once you become somewhat regular at Sunday meetings (this means you’ve ceased attending your own parish), you’re ready for the sixth step.

Earlier in the article, the author describes this meeting:

I was warmly greeted, politely encouraged, endlessly patted on the back and repeatedly told how very glad everyone was to see me and to hear of my “progress in the truth” … At first, the name “Jehovah” was strange to me, but I quickly became accustomed to hearing it and even began using it myself. Within a short period of time, I wanted very much to become a true worshipper of Jehovah God.

Step Six: You accept the invitation to attend the “Ministry School” and “Service Meetings.”

You will be asked how you liked the public talks on Sundays and the study of The Watchtower that follows. If you’re coming along nicely and enjoying your new friends (by this point in my case, I was dating Jehovah’s Witness girls), you’ll be invited to attend the Ministry School and the Service Meetings on Thursday evenings. You’ll be told you can enroll in the school and receive in-depth training in the Scriptures. The Service Meeting is designed to teach you how to be a witness for Jehovah, how to talk to others about JW beliefs, and how to answer objections. Lectures, role-play skits, informal talks and question-and-answer sessions make up the program. You’ll be impressed with how well the respondents — folks just like you — seem to know the Bible. You won’t realize at this point that the questions are given out to chosen individuals ahead of time … By now, all of this seems perfectly reasonable to you. It makes sense. It’s very attractive, almost exhilarating. So you accept the invitation to go out door-to-door. At the moment you knock on that first door, you’ve crossed a crucial line. You’ve bought into the JW ideology. It’s now your ideology, and by going door-to-door to spread that ideology, you have become a Jehovah’s Witness.

Step Seven: You agree to be baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness.

This is the final step. Since you are now a Jehovah’s Witness in spirit, you must symbolize your dedication to Jehovah God and His organization by being immersed in water and, in so doing, officially become a Jehovah’s Witness. Being baptized doesn’t mean you will be born again (cf. John 3:5). That is reserved only for the 144,000 who will be in heaven for eternity (cf. Rev. 14:1-5). For you, baptism means only that you are following Jesus Christ and promising to be obedient to the organization that Jehovah directs through Christ and the 144,000. You agree to accept all the directives coming to you through Jehovah’s channel, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Congratulations! You’ve become a statistic, part of a carefully scrutinized Watchtower report showing new converts. Now it’s your turn to go out into the field service and remit a monthly report to your local Kingdom Hall. As a full-fledged Jehovah’s Witness, you will be expected to begin immediately leading others through the seven steps that brought you to this point. You’re warned by the local elders to never entertain negative thoughts about the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, but to banish them. You may never talk to ex-Witnesses or anti-Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor are you to read any of their literature. These people have turned their backs on the truth and are considered “worse than pigs, who having once been washed, have returned to wallowing in the mud; yes, they are like dogs who have returned to their vomit” (2 Peter 2:22). Jehovah will soon destroy them forever!

If you should ever turn your back on the truth, you will be shunned. No one at the Kingdom Hall will be able to talk to you because you will have become a traitor. If you’re ever disfellowshipped (ie. excommunicated), your spouse or your children won’t be allowed to converse with you on any Christian matters, nor will they be permitted to pray with you, because you will have turned away from Jehovah’s organization. If you ever leave the Watchtower, you will become a “dog,” a “Judas.”

This article is a perfect illustration of why biblical literacy is so important!  Know what to say when these folks come to your door.  Please don’t invite them in or even, just to be polite, take their literature.

The one thing we mustn’t do is be intimidated by the seeming knowledge that the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) have of Scripture.   Remember, they are given a ‘script’ to follow, much like a telemarketer does when he rings you on the phone.  They have limited selling points to push: a small selection of Bible verses to discuss with you.  This is why those Christians who really know and understand the Bible are able to successfully debate and defeat the arguments which JWs put forward. Here is what to do if you wish to engage in discussion with JWs.    

They use one or more of these openers:   

“Hello. We’re visiting everyone in this neighborhood with an important message. No doubt you are a busy person, so I’ll be brief.”    

“I’m glad to find you at home. We’re making our weekly visit in the neighborhood, and we have something more to share with you about the wonderful things that God’s Kingdom will do for mankind.”  

“May I ask, do you believe what we teach from the Bible, namely, that we are living in ‘the last days,’ that soon God is going to destroy the wicked, and that this earth will become a paradise in which people can live forever in perfect health among neighbors who really love one another?”   

‘We’re encouraging folks to read their Bible. The answers that it gives to important questions often surprise people. For example: . . .’     

“We’ve been talking with your neighbors about what can be done to assure that there will be employment and housing for everyone. Do you believe that it is reasonable to expect that human governments will accomplish this?”    

They follow up with:       

“It is right here in the Bible. . . . ”   

“That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?”   

Strategies you can adopt:   

– JWs rely on getting your opinion, so a simple, short statement will do.  Don’t get emotional about it.  

– Be able to tell the difference between a theological difference, which they will lead with, and revealed religious truth, which you will show them.     

Remember, JWs:       

– Believe we will have Paradise on Earth.     

– Do not believe in Hell.  Unbelievers will be annihilated and cease to exist. 

– Do not believe in salvation unless one becomes a JW. 

– Do not believe Jesus was nailed to a cross but on a torture stake.

– Deny that Christ rose from the dead.    

Refuting JW teachings with the Bible:   

If (or when) you are confident with Scripture, you can use the JW visit as a Christian witness work of your own.  Politely and stoically point out their errors using the following suggestions: 

Ask if they are ‘prophets’, because they believe that they are in some way.  If they deny it, mention the April 1, 1972, Watch Tower article on page 297, which states clearly that they are prophets. Cite Deuteronomy 18:20-22.  As Patrick Zukeran’s article for Probe Ministries, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses: Witnessing to the Witnesses’, explains, ‘A true prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and predicts future things which come to pass. A false prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and predicts future things which do not come to pass. Make sure they understand this, for this is the most critical step.’  Then, cite their lack of accuracy in predicting Armageddon: 1914, 1925, 1975, 1985 or 1989.     

Discuss the name ‘Jehovah’.  It is a false derivation of YAHWEH:

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: “Jehovah” — False reading of the Hebrew YAHWEH

Encyclopedia Americana: “Jehovah” — erroneous form of the name of the God of Israel.

The Jewish Encyclopedia: “Jehovah” — a mispronunciation of the Hebrew YHWH the name of God. This pronunciation is grammatically impossible.

The New Jewish Encyclopedia: It is clear that the word Jehovah is an artificial composite.

Encyclopedia Judaica, p. 680, vol. 7: “the true pronunciation of the tetragrammaton YHWH was never lost. The name was pronounced Yahweh. It was regularly pronounced this way at least until 586 B.C., as is clear from the Lachish Letters written shortly before this date.”

Examine the Crucifixion.  JWs are perhaps alone among Christians (I use the term advisedly) in believing that Jesus died on a torture stake.  You can cite these verses:

John 20:25 states that ‘nails’ — plural — were driven through his hands.  If He were crucified on a stake, these would have been unnecessary.

All Greek Bible scholars translate the word stauros as ‘cross’.

Ask the JWs why their founder believed Jesus died on a cross and why their doctrine was changed in 1936 to the torture stake?

Explore the Resurrection.  JWs believe that Christ’s body disintegrated following the crucifixion and was no more.  They do not believe in His bodily Resurrection but say that He came back after the Resurrection as a spirit appearing in human form. Cite these verses:

Luke 24:36-43, which clearly states that Jesus was flesh and bone who ate food

John 20:24-27, where Thomas touches Jesus’s wounds

John 2:19-21, Acts 2:26-27

1 Peter 3:18 does not mean that Jesus was turned into a spirit but was raised up to life by the Spirit of God

Romans 8:11 says He was raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit

If JWs cite 1 Cor. 15:50, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” mention Luke 24:39, which says Christ had a glorified body when He ascended into Heaven 

Colossians 2:9 says “For in him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” — emphasise the present tense in ‘dwells’

State that Jesus and the Archangel Michael are not the same:

1 Timothy 2:5 says, ‘There is one God and one mediator, the man Christ Jesus.’  Emphasise the present tense — ‘is’.

Discuss the Holy Trinity, especially the Holy Spirit:

1 John 5:7 clearly states ‘There are three that bear record in Heaven: The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one’

Acts 5:3 says Peter accuses Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit.  How can the Holy Spirit, therefore, be a ‘force, like electricity’, as the JWs say?

Acts 5:4 states that Peter asks Ananias “You have not lied to men but to God.”  This verse should be the same in the JW’s Bible translation.  So, the Holy Spirit is a person, one of the Triune God.

Acts 13:2 says that the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’  How can electricity or a force speak?

Ephesians 4:30 states “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”  How can one grieve an impersonal force?

Gary Hand of On Doctrine has a list of verses on the Holy Spirit’s attributes and characteristics from the Bible to use in discussions with JWs.

Discuss the Deity of Christ:

John 20:28 states that Thomas said, upon touching Jesus’s wounds, ‘My Lord and My God’, not one or the other

John 1:1: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God’, not  ‘a god’.  (You may have to have your Bible handy for this one, as their translation will differ.)  Tell them that theirs is the only translation that says ‘a god’. 

Revelation 22:12-13 quotes Jesus as saying He is coming quickly (at an unnanounced time, but suddenly).  He goes on to say, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’  How can he be other than God?

Revelation 22:16 says, ‘I Jesus, sent my angel to bear witness to you people of these things for the congregations. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.’

Compare with them Isaiah 44:6 (‘This is what Jehovah has said, ‘The king of Israel and the Repurchaser of him, Jehovah of armies, I am the first and I am the last.’) and Jesus’s words in Revelation 1:17-18 (‘Do not be fearful; I am the First and the Last, and the living one; and I became dead but look! I am living forever.’)  Jesus and God are the same persons.

ChristianAnswers.net has more verses on the subject of Christ’s deity to use when discussing the Bible with JWs.

Patrick Zukeran of Probe Ministries says:     

These are my favorite verses, and I have never had Witnesses refute these arguments. Remember, the Witnesses at your door won’t convert right then and there. The key is to get them to start thinking and questioning the organization, and down the road, maybe in several years, they will seek answers and that will lead them out of the organization. Don’t give up or be discouraged when sharing with Witnesses. Though they may be rude and show no signs that they are thinking, the Word of God is powerful and is working in their hearts even if we can’t see it.

Remember Dr. Walter Martin (author of Kingdom of the Cults) went fifteen years without a convert, but he never gave up. Today we know of hundreds he pulled out of the organization. Continue to study the Word, and God bless you as you defend the faith.

Tomorrow: How witnessing works

For more information, read:   

‘Strategies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’   

‘Jehovah’s Witnesses: Witnessing to the Witnesses’

‘Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Trinity’

‘How do Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings about Christ compare with Scriptures?’

‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’

 

We have all had encounters with Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) on our doorstep.  Most of the time, we politely say, ‘Thanks, but no.’  Yet, we’ve all seen the literature with the beautiful illustrations, generally of smiling people surrounded by birds or flowers.  All very enticing.

Publications like Awake!, Watchtower and the pocketsized books appear to explain the truth of the Bible.  Indeed, this is the premise of the JW’s visit in tandem.  ‘May we ask you if you read the Bible?’  ‘We have a Bible verse we’d like to share with you today.’  Etc., etc.

Yet, none of the JW publications tell you what is truly discussed at their Kingdom Halls or what they truly believe.  Today, we look at what those nice people have signed up to.

In ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower’ David Wesley for EWTN explains, excerpts in quotation marks below following my main points:

They do not believe in an omniscient God. ‘They say “that there are situations in which God chooses not to foreknow,” yet they do not describe the method which God uses to make this choice.’

They do not believe in an omnipresent God.  ‘Further to the Watchtower’s argument that God has an “established place of dwelling,” they note that Christ appeared “before the person of God for us” (Heb 9:24 NWT). The New Jerusalem rendering of that passage reads, “he now appears in the presence of God on our behalf.” From their translation they infer that since God is a person, he must inhabit a particular physical space … Based on this false supposition, the Watchtower asks, “If God is a real person who lives at a certain place in heaven, how can he see everything that happens everywhere?” Here they delve into the realm of Science Fiction, with “his invisible active force” guiding the universe much like the Force from the Star Wars Trilogy. Because He can send out “his active force,” he can “do whatever he wants even though he is far away.”‘

They believe that Jesus is really the Archangel Michael.  ‘Where in Revelation 12:7, or anywhere in the Bible for that matter, does it say that Jesus is Michael the archangel? … for my present purpose, let’s see what scripture says about notions that Jesus is an angel. This belief seems to have been a problem for early Jewish converts to Christianity, since Paul devotes the entire first chapter of his letter to the Hebrews to refuting such heresy … Yet, if Jesus is to be King over the new paradise on earth, as the Watchtower claims, how could he be an angel? They will reply that Jesus is not an ordinary angel, he is an archangel … Yet, are we to consider that the angels “worship” Jesus because it is “in harmony with the custom?” What the custom of angels is, the Watchtower fails to declare. Yet we need only return to the book of Revelation to learn the inadequacy of the Watchtower’s innuendo. John writes, “when I had heard and seen them all, I knelt at the feet of the angel who had shown them to me, to worship him; but he said, ‘Do no such thing: I am your fellow servant and the fellow servant of your brothers the prophets and those who keep the message of this book. God alone you must worship'” (Rev 22:8,9). Evidently, the “custom” of angels is to worship “God alone.”‘

They believe that the Catholic Church invented the Holy Trinity. ‘The Watchtower would like you to believe that the Trinity was an invention of the Catholic Church in the fourth century. To substantiate this view, they misquote and mistranslate the early Church Fathers. As noted, the common practice of the Watchtower is to insert words and phrases that never existed in the original, the purpose of which is clearly deception … The Watchtower makes the error of assuming that God, according to the formula of the Trinity, must be either three gods, or one person. This is clear in their statement that “since Jesus prayed to God, asking that God’s will, not his, be done, the two could not be the same person.” Even as the Watchtower asserts that Jesus cannot be God since they are not “the same person,” the author of this same document refers to the Holy Spirit as “the so-called third Person of the Trinity.” What seems to be happening here is another intentional deception. The author clearly recognizes distinct Persons of the Trinity, but in attempting to advance his previous argument suggests to his readers that Christianity believes in one person. One may conclude that the author has distorted a truth, of which he is well aware, as an end to his goal. If this is so, one must also question the author’s motives.’

They believe that Earth will last forever. ‘Over and over, scripture tells us to set our eyes on God who has prepared the city of heaven, the new Jerusalem, for a multitude as numerous as the stars in heaven (cf. Hb 11:12). Those who set their eyes on the riches of this world will only find death. Of course Witnesses will deny that they are coveting the things of this world. The transformed earth will be vastly different from the one of today, since there will be no hoarding or greed. In fact, what they are describing is a perfect socialist utopia.’

Only Jehovah’s Witnesses will be spared God’s wrath. ‘What was lost by Adam’s sin was the garden of Eden. The Watchtower promises that this state will be restored under Jesus Christ and the faithful of Jehovah will be permitted to reside in this paradise on earth.’ 

They do not believe in God’s grace and Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. ‘The Watchtower condemns this theology since “they could not fail, regardless of what they did.” There they make the big mistake of assuming that we are saved by our works, rather than the grace of God. If it were only for our actions that we are chosen, then none of us could ever hope to share in His glory. Rather, those who accept Christ are ransomed from death by His sacrifice from the cross. Instead, the Watchtower suggests that there will be a class of people who will prove faithful and receive a just reward. This notion does nothing but belittle Christ’s sacrifice.’

Armageddon is just around the corner.  ‘They say that earthquakes are increasing, as are wars, famine, lawlessness, etc. For biblical proof they point to the apocalypse in Matthew 24, failing however to mention verse 44 of that chapter. In that passage, Jesus promises that He will return at a time least expected. Therefore, all their calculations and statistics are pointless. To prove my point, all we need to do is refer to previous attempts by the Watchtower to predict the second coming. The years 1874, 1910, 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1975 have all been referred to for the ushering in of the new era where Christ will return and assume His kingly throne. Every time these predictions have failed, the Watchtower has moved the date forward, not by a large amount, just far enough that they can continue to instill fear. Do they not realize that Christ has always been Immanuel, God-with-us. Whenever we gather together to hear His word or pray together, He is with us (cf. Mt 18:20). For true believers, the date of His reign, the day of judgement, does not matter, since He has promised us salvation if we only believe in Him.’

Revelation 12 happened during the First World War (1914-1918).  ‘They point to increasing lawlessness, food shortages, etc., as proof that Satan has been “hurled down to earth,” but as I explained in chapter one, such conditions are not unique to this time. In fact, the conditions they describe are only regional in their impact … According to the Watchtower, after Christ was enthroned as king in 1914, Satan was given a short time to rule the world. Following this, will come Armageddon when God “will use angelic forces under Christ to carry out the execution” of mankind, save Jehovah’s Witnesses of course.’

They believe that Satan rules the Earth. ‘The Watchtower claims that the world is governed by Satan, basing their whole argument on two verses in the Bible … The Watchtower even contradicts themselves in their discussion of this matter when they refer to Satan as “a hateful liar” who “would like to mislead us.” Now, all of a sudden, because it suits their purpose, they claim that Satan is telling the truth. So what about the kingdoms which Satan claimed to offer Jesus? Is he the “unseen ruler of all the nations of the world” as the Watchtower claims?’

Therefore, Satan controls our governments.  ‘The result was that “governments of men,…the scriptures show, have been controlled from behind the scenes by the Devil.” What I have shown earlier in this chapter is that scripture, in fact, shows that all authority is given by God and that governments rule by Him. So what is the Watchtower saying? Are they saying that Satan is a god? Ask this question to any Jehovah’s Witness, and the answer will be an unequivocal “yes.”‘

Furthermore, Satan controls our churches.  ‘The purpose of this negative view of the world seems to be rooted in an attempt by the Watchtower to isolate their followers. The result is their members complete reliance on the Watchtower and their publishing empire. Even “Christendom” is considered part of “Satan’s visible organization.” ‘Satan is everywhere and in everything except the Watchtower hierarchy’ seems to be what they are saying. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Billy Graham, and Pope John Paul II are all members of “Satan’s visible organization.” That is why a faithful Jehovah’s Witness can never be allowed to read anything not written by the Watchtower.’

That means that you, too, Christian reader, are satanic.  ‘All the Watchtower’s theology on the subject of Satan, let us remember, is based on one verse in the Bible which quotes the father of all lies, Satan himself. On this they base their condemnation of all world religions from Catholicism to Buddhism, and all institutions from the Red Cross to the United Nations. It is important to be aware of this xenophobia when speaking with a Jehovah’s Witness. You will not be trusted regardless of who you are since they believe that you are controlled by Satan. Even Christmas Carols are Satanic … You may think to yourself, “they seem harmless enough,” but how harmless is a religion that hates anything different than itself, that quotes Satan as a source of truth, and that believes that Satan can be more powerful than God.’

They believe that God will destroy all ‘modern-day’ false religion.  Never mind that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded in 1870.  ‘As such, they should consider themselves more of a modern day religion than those which go back many hundreds or thousands of years. Regardless of one’s interpretation, John’s apocalyptic vision was certainly referring to events happening during his lifetime. I could elaborate further on Revelation, but I feel that it is sufficiently dealt with elsewhere. Pick up almost any study Bible or commentary and you will find many more plausible interpretations of this book.’

What the Jehovah’s Witnesses say are distortions of Scripture.  You won’t readily pick these up merely by reading their literature, unless you have a keen eye and knowledge of the Bible.  They are yet another reason why it’s so important to be able to understand Christianity through the Bible to know why these people are misguided.

Tomorrow: When Jehovah’s Witnesses come to call

For more information read:

‘Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower’

‘Historical Dishonesty and the Watchtower Society’

Most Christians do not know the origin of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs).  They think the JWs are just fundamentalist Christian cranks.  Let’s look at the history of the most famous door-to-door believers around.

The Witnesses of Jehovah began in the United States.  A man by the name of Charles Taze Russell was born in Pennsylvania in 1852.  He was the son of a Presbyterian minister.  Russell left the Presbyterian Church when he was 16 and became a member of another then-Calvinist church, the Congregationalists (now less Calvinistic and known as the United Church of Christ).  However, this left him unsatisfied, especially when he tried to convert an agnostic and failed. He, too, became a sceptic and said he could not believe in a Gospel which stated that Hell was literal. He, therefore, looked for a church without the doctrine of Hell.  Eventually, he drifted towards the Seventh-Day Adventists.  It wasn’t long  before he was leading Bible classes in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, with his father, who, by then, had also left the Presbyterian Church. 

Russell followed the teachings of Second Adventist preacher Nelson K Barbour. These included a purely spiritual (not physical) Resurrection and the belief that Christ had recently returned to Earth as an invisible spirit. Russell would build his own movement on the Adventist beliefs that Christ’s Resurrection was purely spiritual and that the ‘end times’ were here. 

Russell worked by day as a draper in Pittsburgh. Yet, he had a nagging doubt that the Bible was not being preached or understood properly. So, in the 1870s, he broke away from the Adventists and founded the Witnesses of Jehovah, the first of a series of names for his movement. He soon became known as Pastor Russell, although he had no formal seminary training.   

Russell preached what he termed the ‘Millenial Dawn’.  His followers soon became known as Millenial Dawnists or as Russellites.  In 1879, he founded a publication called Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. Its success allowed him to establish the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. He changed this briefly in 1909 to the People’s Pulpit Association before switching back to the original name.  However, in 1914, the name changed again to the International Bible Students’ Association. He also wrote a seven-volume work called Studies on Scripture, which he promoted more heavily than he did the book on which it was based, the Bible.  (Rick Warren, anyone?)

Unfortunately, Russell had problems in his private life.  In 1912, he was called out by a Baptist pastor who accused him of not knowing Greek.  Russell sued the man for libel and ended up perjuring himself in court — he really didn’t know Greek, not even the alphabet.  The following year, Mrs Russell sued her husband for divorce, claiming he was arrogant and egotistical.  She also cited his ‘improper conduct in relation to other women.’  Russell died in 1916 on a train journey from Pampa, Texas, to Kansas City.

A self-styled ‘judge’, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, succeeded him.  Rutherford was a lawyer and an ex-Baptist who had joined the movement in 1906. One account says that he had previously served a prison sentence in Atlanta for sedition. His authoritarian manner provoked a schism in 1918.  Rutherford wanted to erase the bad publicity some of Russell’s actions had brought the movement.  He also wanted to expunge the name Russellites from popular memory. So, in 1931, the movement became known as the Witnesses of Jehovah.  The name carried with it a change of focus, from its original Bible study to actual witnessing. In 1940, members began public distribution of the now-famous publication, The Watch Tower.  Rutherford was angry with Christian churches and this showed in the tone of The Watch Tower’s articles.  He died in 1942 in an expensive villa in San Diego, constructed specifically for the Final Judgement.

In 1942, the aforementioned Nathan Homer Knorr succeeded Rutherford.  Under his leadership, the new Watchtower Bible School of Gilead trained JWs for public witness. Also, as Knorr had worked in publications for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, he was able to expand the number and type of print offerings. In 1950, they published their own translation of the Bible, The New World Translation.  It was also thanks to Knorr that the JWs expanded their missionary efforts abroad.  They operated underground behind the then Iron Curtain and today are actively proselytising around the world.  Knorr died in 1977.  Upon his death, in accordance with his plans, the movement’s Governing Body was greatly expanded.  There is no overall head of the JWs today.  The organisation still has its headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, in a building called Bethel House.  It offers specialist training in Paterson, New York.

More on Monday

For more information, read:

Incredible Creed of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

‘Jehovah’s Witnesses — Who Are They?  What Do They Believe?’

‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ – Father Alexander

‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ – Gary A Hand

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