Are Jehovah’s Witnesses A Cult?

No matter whether you are an active Jehovah’s Witness, a former member of or simply an individual interested in finding out more about the worldwide group of disciples of the so-called “Faithful and Discreet Slave”, you most certainly will have asked this question:

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses A Cult?

Jehovah’s Witnesses and their organization (formerly known as Watchtower Society) would contest this claim – and they do so in their FAQ. But their line of argument – basically leaning on a Strawman Fallacy – is pretty thin and willfully omits signs everyone should consider when trying to answer the question whether one is a member of a cult.

A common definition – “an ideological organization held together by charismatic relations and demanding total commitment” – obviously applies to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it also could apply to Apple Inc., if you are trying to be funny. That’s why we have to dig deeper.

Mike Bickle created a list of seven ways to recognize the difference between a religious community and a cult:

  1. Opposing critical thinking
  2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving
  3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture
  4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders
  5. Dishonoring the family unit
  6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)
  7. Separation from the Church

Let us apply these seven signs one-by-one to with the aid of their own literature to find out whether Jehovah’s Witnesses indeed are a cult.

1. Opposing critical thinking

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses view critical thinking? Let us quote their literature:

“Does the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ endorse independent groups of Witnesses who meet together to engage in Scriptural research or debate? No, it does not. […] The ‘faithful and discreet slave’ does not endorse any literature, meetings or Web sites that are not produced or organized under its oversight.” – Our Kingdom Ministry, September 2007

“Avoid independent thinking…questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible organization.” – The Watchtower, January 15, 1983

“If a baptized Christian abandons the teachings of Jehovah, as presented by the faithful and discreet slave, and persists in believing other doctrine despite scriptural reproof, then he is apostatizing.” – Internal Memo, September 1, 1980

Read this interesting analysis of Jehovah’s Witnesses and critical thinking

2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses shun former members? Let us quote their literature:

“All in the congregation can show principled love by avoiding contact and conversation with the disfellowshipped person.” – The Watchtower, April 2015

“Today, Jehovah does not immediately execute those who violate his laws. He lovingly gives them an opportunity to repent from their unrighteous works. How would Jehovah feel, though, if the parents of an unrepentant wrongdoer kept putting Him to the test by having unnecessary association with their disfellowshipped son or daughter?” – The Watchtower, July 15, 2011

“While caring for necessary family matters may require some contact with the disfellowshipped person, a Christian parent should strive to avoid needless association.” – The Watchtower, January 15, 2007

“Your precious family member needs to know that you are determined to love Jehovah even more than you love your family. […] Do not try to find reasons to go against his command about disfellowshipping. We should not look for reasons to spend time with a disfellowshipped family member or have a relationship with him through e-mail.” – The Watchtower, January 15, 2013

For an in-depth Analysis of the Jehovah’s Witness’ shunning policy read our article Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Former Members of Their Religion?

3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses have doctrines that go beyond what the Bible outlines? Well, consider the example of their shunning policy, or as puts it, the loving provision of disfellowshipping:

  • The word “disfellowship” does not appear in the Bible
  • The practice of shunning former (“sinful”) members is based on the misinterpretation of a single scripture (2 John 10)
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses disfellowship individuals for reasons not outlined in the bible
  • Who gets disfellowshipped or not is decided by a judicial committee: This word also does not appear in the bible
  • A judicial committee hearing takes place behind closed doors, with no witnesses or an advocate for the wrongdoer present: This violates Bible principle outlined in Matthew 18:17
  • Even the Catholic Church has a more humane approach to handling sin in the congregation

For an extensive analysis of the unscriptural practice of disfellowshipping please refer to this article on JW Facts.

4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders

Is absolute loyalty expected of the rank and file among members? Let us see what their literature has to say:

“At that time, the lifesaving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not.” – The Watchtower, November 2013

“We show submission to Jehovah’s authority by respecting [the organization] he has placed, or has allowed to continue, in positions of authority over us. […] By refusing to accept their Scriptural counsel and correction we would offend our God.” – Keep yourself in God’s love

“We need to obey the faithful and discreet slave to have Jehovah’s approval.” – The Watchtower, July 15, 2011

“It is vital that we appreciate this fact and respond to the directions of the “slave” as we would to the voice of God.” – The Watchtower, June 15, 1957, Page 370

Paul Grundy has made some research on the question whether the “faithful and discreet slave” is actually directed by Holy Spirit as they claim to be.

5. Dishonoring the family unit

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid family members who chose a different path? Take a look at the advice given in literature:

“In other cases, the disfellowshipped relative may be living outside the immediate family circle and home. Although there might be a need for limited contact on some rare occasion to care for a necessary family matter, any such contact should be kept to a minimum. Loyal Christian family members do not look for excuses to have dealings with a disfellowshipped relative not living at home. Rather, loyalty to Jehovah and his organization moves them to uphold the Scriptural arrangement of disfellowshipping.” – Keep yourself in God’s Love

“Your precious family member needs to know that you are determined to love Jehovah even more than you love your family. […] Do not try to find reasons to go against his command about disfellowshipping. We should not look for reasons to spend time with a disfellowshipped family member or have a relationship with him through e-mail.” – The Watchtower, January 15, 2013

“On the subject of disfellowshipping, [parents] know, of course, that the Bible says ‘to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.’ (1 Cor. 5:11, 13) They also realize that the word ‘anyone’ in this verse includes family members not living under their roof. […] How would Jehovah feel, though, if the parents of an unrepentant wrongdoer kept putting Him to the test by having unnecessary association with their disfellowshipped son or daughter? Many who were once disfellowshipped now freely admit that the firm stand taken by their friends and family members helped them come to their senses. In recommending the reinstatement of one young woman, the elders wrote that she had cleaned up her life ‘partly because of her fleshly brother’s respect for the disfellowshipping arrangement.’ She said that ‘his faithful adherence to Scriptural guidelines helped her to want to return.’ What conclusion should we draw? That we need to fight against the tendency of our imperfect hearts to rebel against Scriptural counsel.” – The Watchtower, July 15, 2011

Is it realistic to believe such a policy would strengthen family bonds? Maybe it is little wonder, then, that the search query jehovah’s witnesses tear apart families renders over 230.000 results.

6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)

According to Wikipedia, personal ownership is “the concept of property in one’s own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity, and be the exclusive controller of his own body and life”. So the question is: Does try to have undue influence on the personal lives of their members? Let us look into one or two aspects:


“Is it narrow-minded or antisocial to want to room only with someone of the same faith? No, it is the course of wisdom. The Bible itself warns: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” – Awake!, May 22, 2002

“Of course, some contact with unbelievers is unavoidable. It is quite another matter, though, to socialize with them, even cultivating close friendships with them.” – The Watchtower, February 15, 2013

Recreation and Higher Education

“Recreation and relaxation, while necessary, must be kept in their proper place. Their purpose is to refresh us for renewed spiritual activities.” – The Watchtower, October 1, 2000

“Some young Christians, though, become heavily involved in extracurricular activities and hobbies.” – The Watchtower, June 15, 2011

“Having large social events is not advisable, since supervision at such is often difficult. At a time that does not interfere with spiritual activities, a few families may decide to enjoy a picnic together or play a game that is not overly competitive. When some of the elders, ministerial servants, or other mature ones are present at a social gathering, they provide an influence for good and the occasion can be even more refreshing.” – The Watchtower, March 1, 2006

“Much of today’s higher education does not leave much time for a servant of God to meditate on God’s Word and to serve Jehovah. […] It can become very difficult to have the freedom to serve Jehovah in the full-time service when a Christian chooses higher education just to have a career in this world […] But Christians choose education that will give them the skills they need to live a simple life so that they can serve God. […] Instead of getting degrees so that they can have titles after their names, true Christians work hard to get ‘letters of recommendation’ by being in the field ministry as much as they can.” – The Watchtower, October 15, 2013


“Another area in which exercising self-control is difficult for some is in the matter of sexuality. Of itself, human sexuality is part of how Jehovah God made us. Yet, some have a particularly difficult time keeping sex in its proper place, in harmony with God’s standards. Their difficulty may be made worse because they have an unusually strong sexual drive. We live in a sex-crazed world that tends to fan the flames of passion in many ways. This can create quite a problem for Christians who want to remain single—at least for a time—so as to serve God free of the distractions of marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:32, 33, 37, 38) But in harmony with the Scriptural injunction that ‘it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion,’ they may decide to marry, which is certainly honorable. At the same time, they are determined to marry ‘only in the Lord,’ as the Scriptures counsel. (1 Corinthians 7:9, 39) We can be sure that Jehovah rejoices over their interest in upholding his righteous principles.” – The Watchtower, October 15, 2003

“The Bible consistently teaches that the only sexual relations approved by God are with a member of the opposite sex within the marriage arrangement.” – Awake!, October 8, 2003

“Telephone sex is one of the means that Satan the Devil is using to corrupt young ones today. […] Intimate talk that deliberately arouses immoral thoughts or that triggers masturbation is obviously unclean in Jehovah’s eyes. […] Surely, we who want to please God will do our utmost to avoid falling into the trap of telephone sex.” – Awake, February 8, 2002

Is this simple advice that can be taken or left at will? Well, judge for yourselves – here is a list of wrongdoings that will get you a judicial committee hearing which could ultimately lead to being shunned.

7. Separation from the Church

To be fair: Technically, any Christian church or religion which is not roman catholic constitutes a sect, as it is separated from the “original church”. On the other hand, liberal “catholic sects” like the European Protestants don’t fulfill any of the above requirements to be regarded as a cult. So when speaking about separation from “the Church”, we could consider another point: Do Jehovah’s Witnesses respect and cooperate with other religious denominations? What does their literature say about this?

“According to God’s Word, there are only two kinds of religion: one true, one false; one right, one wrong; one that leads to life, one that leads to destruction. Some people think that all religions are pleasing to God. The following Bible verses show that this is not true.” – The Road to Everlasting Life—Have You Found It?

“Christendom deserves the coming destruction for contributing to the spiritual illiteracy common among churchgoers and for its manifest hatred of God’s name.” – The Watchtower, January 15, 2011

The Austrian Newspaper Die Presse also noted that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not open to ecumenism or any other form of interfaith dialogue.

Having considered these seven signs, how would you answer: Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult?

By the way: If you sign up, you will receive our E-Book “10 Signs you may be in a cult” for free!

Photo Credit: Counselman Collection via Compfight cc

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