Tuesday, 12 July 2011

CASE 324 - The watch tower cult

Jehovah's Witnesses have often found themselves on the receiving end of sharp criticism where ever they go as they seek to spread their gospel. Why is this? A variety of reasons may be cited, ranging from blatantly religious bigotry to ignorant mockery, attacks we certainly in no way support but would roundly condemn. Roughing anyone up verbally or physically is certainly the work of carnally insensitive and ignorant individuals that no one should have to endure. However, one of the charges that is often leveled at Witnesses by those they call upon is that their organization, far from being a Christian ministry, is instead a destructive cult group that has adversely affected the members of the community. This unpleasant accusation follows Jehovah's Witnesses where ever they go, and has increasingly been a serious impediment to their work. It puts fear into the witness families, section them from other non witness families, very strange beliefs and its all linked to freemasonry, in fact its inventor Charles Taze Russell, who was born in 1852 and worked in Pittsburgh as a haberdasher is buried in a freemason graveyard. He was raised a Congregationalist, but at the age of seventeen he tried to convert an atheist to Christianity and ended up being converted instead—not to outright atheism, but to agnosticism. Some years later he went to an Adventist meeting, was told that Jesus would be back at any time, and got interested in the Bible.

The leading light of Adventism had been William Miller, a flamboyant preacher who predicted that the world would end in 1843. When it didn’t, he "discovered" an arithmetical error in his eschatological calculations and said it would end in 1844. When his prediction again failed, many people became frustrated and withdrew from the Adventist movement, but a remnant, led by Ellen G. White, went on to form the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

It was this diminished Adventism which influenced Russell, who took the title "Pastor" even though he never got through high school. In 1879, he began the Watch Tower—what would later be known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the teaching organ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1908 he moved its headquarters to Brooklyn, where it has remained ever since.

Before he got his religious career well underway, Russell promoted what he called "miracle wheat," which he sold at sixty dollars per bushel. He claimed it would grow five times as well as regular wheat. In fact, it grew slightly less well than regular wheat, as was established in court when Russell was sued. Later he marketed a fake cancer cure and what he termed a "millennial bean" (which a wag has said probably got that name because it took a thousand years to sprout).

The February 15, 1994 issue of The Watchtower magazine represents one of the more recent efforts by the Watchtower Society to counter the numerous charges made against it that it is not a Christian fellowship but a destructive cult. The title of the issue, which reads "Jehovah's Witnesses: A Cult or Ministers of God," is the first sign the casual reader may have that the Society has been experiencing a serious amount of mounting trouble trying to convince both it's Witness constituency and outsiders that it is not a cult that destroys lives.

How They Make Converts

Most religions welcome converts, and the Witnesses’ very reason for existence is to make them. To accomplish this they follow several steps.

First they try to get a copy of one of their magazines into the hands of a prospective convert. They lead off with a question designed to tap into universal concerns such as, "How would you like to live in a world without sickness, war, poverty, or any other problem?" If the prospect is willing to speak with them, they arrange what’s known as a "back call"—that is, they return in a week or so for more discussions. This can be kept up indefinitely.

At some point the missionaries invite the prospect to a Bible study. This is not the usual sort of Bible study, where passages are examined in light of context, original word meaning, relevance to other verses in Scripture, etc. Instead, this "Bible study" is really an exposition of Witness doctrine by means of Watchtower literature. Simple questions are presented in the literature which are derived directly from the text. The answers, therefore, are readily discernible, making the prospective convert feel spiritually astute, since he or she can answer all the questions "correctly." The Bible study is directed along lines mandated by the officials in Brooklyn, and the prospect is there to learn, not to teach. If he progresses well, he’s invited to a larger Bible study, which may be held at a Kingdom Hall.

About this time he’s invited to attend a Sunday service. At the Kingdom Hall, which resembles not so much a church but a small lecture hall, the prospect hears a Witness discuss a few verses of Scripture and how those verses can be explained to non-Witnesses or how to "refute" standard Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, hell, the immortality of the soul, etc. The service includes taped music to accompany the singing of hymns, and there is always time allotted for obtaining Watchtower literature and publications.

Sharing Techniques

The prospective convert gets still more of this if he proceeds to the next step, which consists of going to meetings on Wednesday or Thursday nights. At those meetings Witnesses trade stories, explaining how they’ve done that week in going door to door, giving advice to one another, figuring out better ways to get the message across, and logging their hours. (Every month each Kingdom Hall mails to the headquarters in Brooklyn a detailed log of activities, including hours spent "witnessing" door-to-door, the number of converts made, and the number of pieces of literature distributed.)

If the prospect goes through all these steps, he’s ready for admission to the sect. That involves baptism by immersion and agreeing to work actively as a missionary. Many missionaries take only part-time jobs so they can devote more time to their evangelization. Witnesses will typically spend 60-100 hours each month in their evangelizing work. Some will even go so far as to work full time for the WTS, receiving little more than room and board for their efforts.

Life as a Witness

Although not every Witness can put in so many hours, every Witness is expected to do what he can by way of missionary work. There is no separate, ordained ministry as is found in Protestant churches. Their sect operates no hospitals, sanitariums, orphanages, schools, colleges, or social welfare agencies. From their perspective it will all disappear in a few years anyway, so they don’t expend their energies in these areas.

Jehovah’s Witnesses live under a strict regimen. They may be "disfellowshipped" for a variety of reasons, such as attending a Catholic or Protestant church or receiving a blood transfusion. Disfellowshipping is the sect’s equivalent of excommunication, though somewhat more harsh. A disfellow-
shipped Witness may attend Kingdom Hall, but he is not allowed to speak to anyone, and no one may speak to him. The others are to act as though he no longer exists. This applies even to his family, who may only communicate with him as much as absolutely necessary.

They recognize the legitimacy of no governmental authority, since they believe all earthly authority is of Satan. They will not serve in the military, salute the flag, say the Pledge of Allegiance, vote, run for office, or serve as officials of labor unions.

No matter how peculiar their doctrines, they deserve to be complimented on their determination and single-minded zeal. However, as Paul might have said concerning them, "I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge"

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