Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be the true religion(*). But are they? Using their own literature and the Bible, let us take a look at two aspects one should factor in when deciding whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are God’s chosen organization.
To begin with, let’s make one thing clear: By examining their claim critically, I am not criticizing it. It’s inherent to Christian (and many other) religions that they want to be the one true faith. So it’s only fair that Jehovah’s Witnesses would align themselves with the Watchtower Society (JW.org) if they believe it to be true. This article also does not want to deny that individual Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as representatives of the organization, are doing their best to live up to their bold claim. The sole aim of this article is to help interested individuals reach an informed decision.
But how would one objectively establish what the “true religion” is?
Religion is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices …the service and worship of God”. As each individual belief system is subject to human interpretation and error it is best to especially consider the second part of the definition when analyzing a specific religion.
From a Christian standpoint, one might therefore specify that endorsement by God is one prerequisite for aspiring religions hoping to meet the criteria of being the chosen one. In regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses, let us take a look at how they initially defined God’s backing, and in a second step, whether their track record matches principles outlined in the Bible.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (or Bible Students, as they were called back in the days) were founded by Pastor Charles Taze Russell. In the second issue of The Watchtower magazine, Russell and his associates outlined how future Jehovah’s Witnesses could identify whether they were still God’s chosen organization. The Watchtower Society’s publication God’s Kingdom Rules recounts:
Brother Russell and his associates refused to imitate the money-raising schemes so common in the churches of Christendom. In the second issue of the Watch Tower, under the heading “Do You Want ‘Zion’s Watch Tower’?” Russell stated: “‘Zion’s Watch Tower’ has, we believe, JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support. When He who says: ‘All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,’ fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication.” – From: God’s Kingdom Rules, Page 195
Jehovah’s Witnesses conclude from this:
Jehovah’s people do not beg for money. […] “We have never considered it proper to solicit money for the Lord’s cause, after the common custom . . . It is our judgment that money raised by the various begging devices in the name of our Lord is offensive, unacceptable to him, and does not bring his blessing either upon the givers or the work accomplished.” – From: God’s Kingdom Rules, Page 196
Have Jehovah’s Witnesses lived up to their end of the bargain?
Let us take a look at the past years. In 2014, all congregations received a confidential letter instructing them on how they could increase donations. Then, the 2015 yearbook opened with a request for money in the letter from the Governing Body, followed by guilt-tripping “real-life experiences” of Jehovah’s Witnesses who gave money to the society. In a JW.org TV broadcast later in 2015, Governing Body member Stephen Lett reminded members how to donate their “valuable things” and spoke openly about the financial crisis of the Watchtower Society. In the same broadcast, a music video illustrated the Governing Body’s wish by showing Jehovah’s Witnesses donating money via contribution boxes at the Kingdom Hall and via credit card. Another music video for children implied one could become Jehovah’s friend by giving one’s ice cream money to JW.org.
In addition, JW.org has regularly published suggestions on how to donate money to JW.org – such as in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2001 and 2000. The Watchtower Society encourages Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider “outright donations”, a “conditional donation arrangement” and “charitable planning”, including making Jehovah’s Witnesses the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or transferring stocks and bonds on death.
Granted, not once does any of these examples involve outright begging or petitioning. But from a psychological standpoint, the Watchtower Society is indeed coercing their members into giving money, subtly establishing a moral obligation. Take this quote, for example:
Christians are not under the Law covenant given to Israel. Thus, they are not obliged to give a set amount to God. However, in the true Christian congregation, giving is a source of much joy. – The Watchtower, 2008, August 1
Notice the subtle psychology involved here. Basically, JW.org is saying that 1) one will give if one wants to be part of the true Christian congregation and 2) it will make one happy.
Going back to the yearly information boxes mentioned earlier, we can also see the bandwagon effect in play with its heading “HOW SOME CHOOSE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE WORLDWIDE WORK”: the manipulator coerces their followers by claiming (whether true or false) that many people already have done something, and the follower should as well.
Psychologically speaking, Jehovah’s Witnesses are very much trying to raise money “by the various begging devices in the name of our Lord”. Bottom line: The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is asking for money. When professing that “we ‘will never beg nor petition men for support’—and we never have!”, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is clearly lying.
What do we take from this?
“By your words you will be declared righteous, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Well, using their own words, the standard defined by Charles Taze Russell to determine whether they have Jehovah’s backing, we have assessed that:
While they may have had God’s blessing in the past, it is quite evident that Jehovah’s Witnesses have lost his backing. Can a religion without Jehovah God’s blessing be the true religion?
Consider another aspect:
When establishing the marks of false religion, the Bible writer Luke defined the following:
He said: “Look out that you are not misled, for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The due time is near.’ Do not go after them. – Luke 21:8
Does this Bible text apply to Jehovah’s Witnesses? Let us examine the facts:
‘I am he’
Jesus also conveys Jehovah’s voice to us as he directs the congregation through “the faithful and discreet slave.” [or Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses] – The Watchtower, 2014, August 15, page 21
That slave is made up of a small group of anointed brothers who directly prepare and give out spiritual food during Christ’s presence. This is similar to how Jesus fed many through the hands of a few in the first century. […] Those who make up the faithful slave will get this appointment when they receive their reward in heaven and become rulers along with Christ. – The Watchtower, 2013, July 15
[Jehovah’s Witnesses] must listen to Jesus. They must also listen to his brothers. After all, the chief responsibility for caring for the spiritual welfare of God’s people has been entrusted to them. What does listening to the voice of Christ’s brothers involve? […] Jesus Christ considers the loyal support given to his brothers as being given to him. […] By all means, then, let us listen to the Christ and his trustworthy spirit-anointed brothers. – The Watchtower, 2009, February 15
These are just a few select quotes from Watchtower literature that illustrate how the “Faithful and Discreet Slave” or Governing Body, the spiritual leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim to be the voice of Jesus on Earth and posit that loyalty to them equals loyalty to Jesus Christ, essentially saying: “I am he [the Christ]”.
‘The due time is near.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a history of failed date predictions: They erroneously predicted the “due time”, e.g. the end of this system of things and events connected to Armageddon, for 1914, 1925 and 1975 (a click on the year will take you to a detailed analysis of failed predictions Jehovah’s Witnesses made for the specific year). They also have promoted six different and contradicting explanations for biblical prophecy connected to Armageddon. Most recently, they have once again reinforced their belief that Armageddon is around the corner, which has been an ongoing narrative: Foretelling a soon-to-be-here “Armageddon. This war will come in the twentieth century. It will come right on schedule.” It didn’t, of course.
In addition, Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to forget the impressive list of dates they have abandoned: 1780, 1798, 1799, 1829, 1840, 1844, 1846, 1873, 1874, 1878, 1880, 1881, 1906, 1910, 1914, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1920, 1921, 1925, 1932, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1975, 1980, 1986, 2000 – all of them initially significant dates that have since been nixed.
In light of this evidence: Do Jehovah’s Witnesses fit the description in Luke 21:8? Do they propose to speak in Jesus’ name and do they believe the end to be near?
Beyond this, Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed to be prophets:
“Who will be Jehovah’s prophet? Who will be the modern day Jeremiah? The plain facts show God has been pleased to use Jehovah’s Witnesses” – The Watchtower, 1959, January 15, pages 40, 41
“God has on earth a people, all whom are prophets, or witnesses for God […] Jehovah’s Witnesses – Awake!, 1986, June 8, page 9
As we have seen, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a miserable track record as prophets. What does the Bible say about false prophets?
“Be on the watch for the false prophets+ who come to you in sheep’s covering,+ but inside they are ravenous wolves.+ By their fruits you will recognize them.” – Matthew 7:15
In conclusion: Judging by their own standards and those of the Bible, how would answer – are Jehovah’s Witnesses the true religion?
Of course, this article is but a simple analysis and there are many more aspects to consider when looking for the true religion. But when a denomination fails in two key areas, this does cast a major shadow on their overall score. We have ample reason to doubt that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the one true faith.
*) Jehovah’s Witnesses have repeatedly claimed to be the one true religion, e.g. God’s chosen organization:
“Similarly, Jehovah is using only one organization today to accomplish his will. To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it.” – The Watchtower 1983, February 15, page 12
“Is it presumptuous of Jehovah’s Witnesses to point out that they alone have God’s backing? Actually, no more so than when the Israelites in Egypt claimed to have God’s backing in spite of the Egyptians’ belief, or when the first-century Christians claimed to have God’s backing to the exclusion of Jewish religionists.” – Watchtower 2001, June 1, page 16
For an in-depth analysis of Jehovah’s Witnesses stance on being the true religion and the only road to salvation, please read this essay by Paul Grundy on JWfacts.com.