A few days ago, Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on our door to invite me to a biblical study. As I reflected on the visit, it occurred to me that unlike Mormonism that seems to hide much of their doctrines, these folks are usually upfront about their religious beliefs. I previously published a two-part article on Mormonism entitled, “Is Willard Mitt Romney, A Mormon, Also a Christian?” Because of their flawed doctrine, that article concluded that Mormons are not Christians even though they use the name “Jesus Christ” in their literature. Jehovah’s Witnesses also claim to be Christians because they are serving the true and living God and that their religion is the only true church. However, they deny the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), the divinity of Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ physical resurrection, and salvation by grace through faith. When you examine Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs, their doctrines parallel cults. Wikipedia defines “cult” as a “new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre.” The purpose of this article is to examine some of Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs for the purposes of determining if they are a cult.
The core religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are similar to those of Christians. They rely on the authority of the Bible and worship only one God. Some of their other beliefs, however, differ significantly from those of mainstream Christians including their rejection of the Trinity and the existence of Hell. Jehovah’s Witnesses use a special translation of the Bible called the New World Translation. The New World Translation is similar to most other modern biblical translations but major differences occur in verses that conflict with particular doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that differ from mainstream Christianity.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. They stress the fact that God has revealed his personal name to humanity which is Jehovah. Jehovah has a spirit body and lives in heaven, but sees all things. They do not believe that Jesus was “fully God, fully man.” They teach that Jesus was not God but rather God’s first creation. Christians believe, however, that Jesus existed in pre-human form as God’s agent of creation and God’s chief spokesman (the Word), and took on human form as the man Jesus by means of a virgin birth.
In the view of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation on earth was: (1) to teach the truth about God; (2) to provide a model of a perfect life for people to follow; and (3) to sacrifice his life to set humans free from sin and death. Jesus’ crucifixion was not on a cross, but a single upright stake. After his death, God raised Jesus from the dead “as a spirit creature” and Jesus returned to his home in heaven. Jesus was not made King, however, until 1914. A belief that is unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses is that the eschatological events predicted in the Book of Revelation began in 1914. This is when God gave Jesus his Kingdom and Jesus has been ruling from heaven ever since. At this time Jesus threw Satan and his demons out of heaven and down to earth, which is why, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the world has been getting progressively worse since 1914.
Like the majority of Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe humanity’s current situation is due to the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The disobedience of the first couple caused death to enter the world, and as a result, all human beings get sick, age, and die. This is against God’s plan which was to make the entire Earth a paradise. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not emphasize the spiritual consequences of Adam’s sin on humanity nor do they teach that human free will has been damaged. Rather, they expect and encourage their members to strive to do God’s will and remain pure in his eyes.
Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the existence of hell. Instead, they hold that the souls of the wicked will be eradicated. The death that Adam brought into the world is spiritual as well as physical, and only those who gain entrance into the Kingdom of God will exist eternally. However, this division will not occur until Armageddon, when all people will be resurrected and given a chance to gain eternal life. In the meantime, “the dead are conscious of nothing.” Based on their interpretation of prophetic books like Daniel and Revelation, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will go to heaven to rule with God and Jesus. The remainder of the righteous will enjoy paradise on earth – a restored Garden of Eden in which there is no sickness, old age, death or unhappiness.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are known to mainstream Christians and others as people who won’t allow themselves or their children to have blood transfusions. In fact, they will go so far as to allow a loved one to die rather than accept a transfusion as they believe transfusions are a gross violation of God’s law. They support this notion with these verses: “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4). “You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood” (Lev. 17:14). “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity” (Acts 15:28, 29).
To interpret these verses to mean that transfusions are forbidden is inconsistent with the fact that the context is referring to animal blood, not human blood. Additionally, there is a big difference between eating blood and receiving a life-giving blood transfusion. Eating blood was wrong because it profaned the life of the animal. But for a person to willingly share his blood intravenously to share life with someone does not profane anything.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a “clergy class and special titles are improper.” To support this position, they use these verses: “I will not show partiality to any person or use flattery toward any man” (Job 32:21). “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ” (Matt. 23:8–10). “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matt. 20:25–27). These verses, however, basically illustrate that we shouldn’t credit men for what comes from God and that his followers should be willing to serve.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also ignore Biblical teaching concerning the authority of Church leaders and the appropriate honor that’s due them because of their office: “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and…esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12–13), “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor . . . ” (1 Tim. 5:17), and “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ use of the Bible typically quotes passages out of context.
During the late 90s, there were less than 100,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now there are about seven million around the world. They do not have churches and meet in “Kingdom Halls.” This religious sect was started by Charles Taze Russell who was born in 1852. He was raised a Congregationalist but at the age of seventeen, he tried to convert an atheist to Christianity but ended up being converted to agnosticism. Some years later he went to an Adventist meeting, was told that Jesus would be back at any time, and became interested in the Bible.
Russell taught his followers the non-existence of hell and the eradication of unsaved people, the non-existence of the Trinity, the identification of Jesus with Michael the Archangel, the reduction of the Holy Spirit from a person to a force, the mortality of the soul, and the return of Jesus in 1914. When 1914 had come and gone, Russell modified his teachings and claimed Jesus had, in fact, returned to Earth, but that his return was invisible. His observable return would come later but still very soon. It would result in the final conflict between God and the Devil—the forces of good and the forces of evil—in which God would be victorious. This conflict is known to Jehovah’s Witnesses as the battle of Armageddon, and just about everything the Witnesses teach centers around this doctrine.
Here are a few of Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs that are completely inconsistent with Christine doctrine:
- God is not a Trinity; the doctrine is inspired by the Devil.
- Jesus is not to be worshiped or prayed to-he is only an angel (a.k.a. Michael the archangel).
- Jesus Christ is a “created being” who at one time did not exist.
- The Holy Spirit is not a person but is “God’s active force” (i.e., gravity, electricity, etc.)
- Heaven is hope only for select Jehovah’s Witnesses. The majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses hope to live on “paradise earth.”
- Heaven is limited only to 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only “true Christians.” All churches and denominations are considered “false religion.”
- There is no Hell or eternal judgment (“Hell” is simply the grave.)
- There is no life after death except for the 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Jesus second coming happened invisibly and secretly in 1914.
- The “first resurrection” occurred in 1918.
- Jesus did not rise from the dead bodily but as a spirit being.
- Jesus was equal to Adam (just a man).
- Jesus could have sinned and failed in his mission.
- Jesus was not born the savior but became the savior at his baptism.
- God is not omnipresent.
- God is not omniscient.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are not sure of their salvation.
- All earthly governments are controlled by the Devil.
- The Holy Spirit is only available to select Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In my view, Jehovah’s Witnesses meet the criteria and definition of a “cult” because their beliefs are bizarre and do not represent true Christian doctrine, but that’s just my take.
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