Jehovah’s Witnesses have come into the media spotlight once again due to their reluctance to sign up to the National Redress Scheme.
The Scheme was introduced as a result of the findings from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission uncovered many hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the organisation’s complicity in covering up these cases. With the announcement of the National Redress Scheme, there was wide recognition among Christian Churches of its importance, and most denominations signed up quickly. According to last night’s report on Channel 10s The Project, the Jehovah’s Witnesses “will not join the scheme”.
In the Federal Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said of institutions that are not joining the scheme is that they are “doubling down on the crimes and doubling down on the hurt”.
First of all, it is quite staggering to hear that a religious institution is refusing to join the scheme. I hope this changes before the cut off date of June 30th.
Second, I made the mistake of sending a tweet. Twitter is designed for tweets and for twits, and I was one last night.
The Project repeatedly referred to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Church. The word association is unhelpful and confusing because Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a Christian Church. They are a religious group but not a Christian Church, and the distinction matters.
I said, “BTW Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a church. They have nothing to do with Christianity & neither do they describe their communities as a church”.
What I said is accurate. Jehovah’s Witnesses call their communities ‘Kingdom Halls’ not Churches. It’s also true that they have nothing to do with Christianity. Responses came flooding in, correcting my ignorance of Christianity, with people declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses as Christian and as a church.
Some people insisted upon the Christian credentials of Jehovah’s Witnesses, simply on the grounds that some Jehovah’s Witnesses now call themselves Christian. One person linked to a piece on the BBC as definitive proof that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian Church. Do people even stop to think and realise that the BBC is a media outlet, not an academic institution let alone a school of theology? If I’m wanting medical advice I visit my GP, I don’t ask the BBC. If I’m wanting an expert opinion on Constitutional Law, I don’t google a television station, nor do I treat a quick Wikipedia search as Gospel truth.
As it happens, I am a Pastor of a Christian Church who holds a degree in theology and who writes regularly on theological matters. None of this necessarily makes me an expert (and I’m not an expert in cults), however, I have a fair understanding of what beliefs accord with Christianity and those which do not.
We are living in strange times when a basic point can be demonstrably proven, and yet washed over as an irrelevance. One person suggested that it doesn’t matter if Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the Trinity, they still qualify as Christian. That’s like saying you can be a vegan and enjoy eating steak every night. Another person admitted that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t seem to have a high view of Jesus, but because they believe in ‘God’ they still count as Christian. Perhaps the word Christian is a little confusing! Based on this flimsy argument Muslims and Hindus are also Christian!
Twitter has become its very own version of the famed Monty Python Sketch, The Argument Clinic.
Both historically and theologically, Jehovah’s Witnesses is rightly considered a separate religion, which at most is an aberrant form of Christianity. Theologically, they belong to the category referred to in the Bible as ‘false teaching’. Why? Because they reject almost every core belief of the Bible regarding the person of God, the person of Jesus Christ, the resurrection, and the means by which people can be redeemed.
Christianity can be traced back to the person and work of Jesus Christ, some 2,000 years ago. The Bible details, as does Jesus himself, that Christianity is the fulfilment of God’s ancient promises that were written about in the Old Testament. In this way, Christianity is directly linked to Judaism. Christian Churches today base their teachings on these Scriptures and they worship this Jesus as God.
In contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses came into existence in the late 19th Century, in the Pennsylvanian town of Allegheny. Their founder, Charles Taze Russell, began as a Seventh Day Adventist but he came to disagree with how Adventists were predicting the Second Coming of Christ. He claimed that Jesus had already returned in 1874 and would consummate his reign in 1914. From there, groups formed across America, and eventually internationally. There is something like 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia today. The Jehovah’s Witnesses is an American made religion. Their origins are not even directly connected with a Christian Church, but they jumped off from another American sect/cult.
To my knowledge, no Christian denomination, historically or present, has ever accepted Jehovah’s Witnesses as a legitimate and authentic Christian Church or denomination. Rather, they are rightly defined as a separate religion, if not a cult. In fact, until very recent, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been referred to as a cult, given the stern control the religion’s leaders have on their followers. This authoritarian and bullish control over people is well documented and this point was also noted last night’s segment on The Project.
Jehovah’s Witnesses adhere to almost no basic and essential Christian belief. In almost every area of Christian belief and thought, their views openly contradict the Bible and well established and historic Christian teaching. Their beliefs can no more be aligned with Christianity than calling an egg a type of fruit or, believing cows milk comes from the artichoke.
It’s not as though Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs are locked away in some hidden vault and can’t be accessed for reading. It only requires a short visit to their own websites to discover how open Jehovah’s Witnesses are about rejecting basic Christian beliefs. In fact, I conclude that the only reason they ever use the term ‘Christian’ is in order to fool the public into thinking they are somehow a legitimate religion and not a cult. It’s like a Collingwood supporter trying to invite themselves into the Carlton coaching box, while wearing a Collingwood jumper, carrying their Collingwood membership card, and singing “Good Old Collingwood Forever”, as a duet with Eddy Maguire (apologies to Collingwood and Carlton fans alike)!
9 Beliefs that are inconsistent with Christianity
Here are 9 facts about Jehovah’s Witnesses that make this religion irreconcilable with Christianity:
1. The Bible used by Jehovah’s Witnesses (‘The New World’ translation) is a corrupted version that changes words and meaning of the Bible to fit with their beliefs. A classic example of this deliberate manipulation of the texts is John 1:1. The New World states that “the word was a god”. The actual text says, ‘the word was God”. The insertion of the indefinite particle completely changes the meaning of the verse, and indeed it changes the identity of Jesus (which is, of course, the intent).
To my knowledge, no reputable Bible scholar in the world accepts the ‘The New World’ translation as a legitimate and faithful rendering of the Bible.
2. They reject the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is eternally God. Instead, they believe that Jesus is a created being and prior to being on earth Jesus was the archangel, Michael. Jesus is a lesser God to Jehovah, whereas the Bible teaches that Jesus is equally and fully God, as is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
3. They reject the Trinity, that there is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
4. They reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Instead, they claim Jesus returned to his pre-existent spiritual state.
5. They don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Rather the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force working for Jehovah.
6. Salvation is by good works, not by grace, and you can lose your salvation. Salvation is based upon adherence to religious practice, especially missionary success.
7. They don’t believe that hell is final and eternal. Rather everyone who goes there will come back and hell will be made redundant. Some people, though, are so evil that even hell is too good a place. They end up in a place called Gehenna (which they believe is different to hell).
8. They believe that God’s Kingdom came to earth in 1914 and the Battle of Armageddon has been predicted numerous times…although each date was predictably wrong!
9. Only 144,000 people will be saved (based on a misinterpretation of Revelation ch.7). This has caused consternation for the several million members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world today. To accommodate the overflow of members, while only 144,000 members will be welcomed into heaven, others can now be sent back to earth for what’s being coined, a b-grade eternal reward!
A Challenge for Churches
What struck me last night is the ease in which people are prepared to call an organisation by a certain name, on the basis that they have heard someone else use that word in association with the group. In one sense this shouldn’t surprise because, in today’s Western Culture, self-identification has become the only plumb line for truth. If I identify as such, I am, and no one has the right to question the validity of my self-expression. If I say that I’m a Christian, I am regardless of what I believe or how I live. Such blind acceptance is notably ridiculous, and it’s also dangerous.
What about facts and reasons and looking at evidence? Part of the issue is that the average Aussie doesn’t know what Christians believe and so they are ill equipped to assess what beliefs are and are not Christian. This poses an enormous problem. The general population may hold certain assumptions about Christianity which are often completely disconnected from Christianity, or at best, are vaguely true. It shouldn’t surprise us therefore that we have such frail and diluted understandings of the faith.
This means Christian Churches have a responsibility and opportunity to be clear about what we believe and to provide useful teaching in the public square to aid our neighbours in coming to grips with these good and life changing truths. Instead of preferencing vague and sloppy theology in the name of connecting with people, we ought to be catechising our churches and referencing clarity and conviction in our presentations to the broad community.
What is Mentone Baptist Church doing to combat this community fuzziness toward Christianity? Apart from this blog which aims to present a Christian view of the world, we have almost finished writing a new course exploring the big questions of Christianity. It’s called ‘Making Sense of Christianity’. Anyone interested in joining the 4 week study can register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
My initial frustration last night has turned to sadness. It is insane that a religious institution is prepared to double down on the pain of victims to child sexual abuse, and it is terribly sad to once again hear that knowledge of Christianity is so nebulous in our society, that we can’t distinguish basic and logical truth from error. Christian Churches have a lot of work to do. Are we ready for the task?