BA: Hello. This is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today I am speaking with Mike Felker. Mike is a Christian who blogs on apologetics. And one of his special interest areas in apologetics has been interaction with Jehovah’s Witnesses, both in a personal context and online. The purpose of our interview today is to explore some of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the doctrines of the Watchtower Tract & Bible Society, and how Christians can better approach the task of communicating to those within this group.
Well, thanks for joining me for this interview, Mike.
MF: Thanks, Brian. It’s good to be with you.BA: Well, Mike, I was anxious to speak with you, as recently I had the opportunity to talk to someone within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they were out distributing their literature. And throughout the whole conversation I had with them, which happened to last two hours or more in the park, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if my friend Mike Felker was here?”
So, first off, could you sort of introduce yourself and talk a bit about your background?
MF: Sure. I became a Christian somewhere in between high school and going to college. I can’t exactly name a particular date or a time. Spiritual things were never that interesting to me growing up. I grew up in church and all that, but I just never took my relationship with God very seriously. And I guess maybe because it was a turning point in my life, going to college and experiencing something new, God really just worked on my heart, and the Bible came alive to me and I really understood what it meant to have a real relationship with God.
And at that time I didn’t really know anything about apologetics or defending the faith, and I knew little about Scripture or other religions or anything like that. I was pretty, you know, rudimentary as far as what I knew about Christianity.
My first year of college I was exposed by going to an apologetics conference. And that basically opened my eyes to apologetics. And that was around 2001, and that just started – the light bulb went off, basically, and I just knew that this was something that I really needed to know more about, you know, what I believe and why I believe it. So ever since then, I’ve just been putting in a lot of study.
The first thing I started studying was the whole issue of creation and evolution. I spent a couple of years doing that. And that really was the result of taking a lot of different science classes in college; so very interested in that. And I’ve really studied a whole array of apologetics, not really anything dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses until maybe the past several days. But that’s basically my life in a nutshell as far as apologetics goes.
BA: Well, you’ve got a blog online there called TheApologeticFront.com. And on there you deal with a lot of various things, but much of the content deals with interacting with Jehovah’s Witnesses. So talk to me a bit about how you got involved with that particular subject and how that came about.
MF: Yeah, that’s a good observation, because a whole lot of what I do now is geared towards Jehovah’s Witnesses. I try to be a little bit diverse when I can and deal with other areas. But, yeah, by and large, that’s what I’m dealing with, because, you know, the Lord will just put certain people in my life. If it happens to be atheists, then I’ll study atheism, and that will be what I write about. But if it’s Mormons, I’ll write about Mormons. Or if it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’ll write about Jehovah’s Witnesses. And that’s exactly what the Lord did around 2006.
And what happened was I was taking a class in college called Death and the Afterlife, which was a very interesting class to me. It was part of my sociology degree. And it turned out to be probably the favorite class that I took. And what we had to do is one of our major projects was find a religion of our choosing that is not our own and find out what they believe about death and the afterlife.
And being interested in apologetics, well, this was golden. This was the greatest thing ever, because we were going to have to give a presentation on this and answer questions. So this is a perfect opportunity for an apologist.
And so what I chose was Jehovah’s Witnesses. And to this day, I can’t think of why exactly I chose them. And one reason might be because no one else in the class chose them. Everything under the sun was chosen, whether it was Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, atheism. And I had heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses here and there just by listening to various podcasts and reading different books. So I was somewhat familiar with them. But I wanted to be more familiar with them, so this was an opportunity for me to do exactly that.
Now, one scary thing about this project was we had to interview people from this particular religion of our choosing. And it wasn’t just one or two. We had to interview 12 different people. And that was literally terrifying to me, because Jehovah’s Witnesses seemed to be this secretive, quote-unquote, “cult group” that didn’t have windows on their buildings generally. And so they were just really mysterious. So I was really intimidated and frightened.
But to make a long story short, all the Jehovah’s Witnesses that I hunted down – and I did have to hunt them down to find them; they weren’t knocking on my door or anything. I had to show up at the kingdom hall. That’s the building where they worship. I’d just show up there and talk to them about my project. And they were more than willing to speak with me, because what I was not doing was challenging them. This was supposed to be an objective research project where I have to find out how they personally deal with death and the afterlife.
So through this project and dealing with different Jehovah’s Witnesses from different congregations, they wanted this to be more than just an academic study. And I was more than willing to learn more about them. I knew a lot about death and the afterlife and how they viewed that issue, but now I wanted to learn everything else about them, because here the Lord is bringing me all these different people into my life as a witnessing opportunity, people saying, “Hey, I want to talk to you about God, about Jesus, about the Bible.” And, wow, what could be a better opportunity than that to really share my faith with them?
So I took them up on this. And for about two years, off and on for some but nonstop for others, I was involved in what they would call book studies. And what the book study is is once you can get past the initial stage in an encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness at your door, they’ll ask you if they can do a free home Bible study. And if you agree to that, what you’ll actually get is not a Bible study per se but a book study where you’re studying one of their books with them.
And so that’s what we did for about two years was we studied a publication that the Watchtower still publishes to this day called “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” And so, over the course of two years, I was studying. And just to add something else, the Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t know that I was studying with other groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I kind of wanted to keep that aspect of it on the down low, because I wanted to see how similar other Jehovah’s Witnesses are from one another. And it turns out they’re pretty much all the same.
So that went on for about two years. And I used this as an opportunity for two things. The first was to have an opportunity to share my faith with them. And they were somewhat open to that, actually, and I was quite surprised. As long as they had an opportunity to teach me, then they were willing to do it.
Now, second of all, I wanted to really learn. So this is more of the opportunity to learn from the horse’s mouth what someone believes. I didn’t want to just read what other people had to say about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they claimed that everything everyone else said about them were fabrications and sometimes outright lies. And so I wanted to hear from them what they believe. And so, in a sense, I really felt like this would give me some good credibility, because if I was going to use this as a ministry opportunity for years down the road and I started talking to other Jehovah’s Witnesses, I could really say that, hey, I studied for two years with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I learned directly from them. And so this was quite an opportunity for me.
Now, a lot of the interactions came to a halt. Some of them lasted only a few months, because I guess they felt like they couldn’t get through to me, and so they felt like we just needed to stop studying. That was fine, and I can somewhat relate to that. And another one lasted the full two years. And then, at the end of that two years, we decided, both mutually, to stop. We just practically exhausted everything and witnessed to each other the best that we could.
And after that, I basically – I had a yearning just to witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can’t really explain what it is that I found so interesting about these people, but sometimes the Lord just works in that kind of way and you’ll just have a particular yearning for a group of people; maybe how Paul was with the Jews, and then after that ministry to the Gentiles. And maybe I can relate to that.
And so, since then, I’ve been on the Internet, interacting with Jehovah’s Witnesses in various forums. And one of the reasons why I’ve chosen the Internet is because you just don’t run into Jehovah’s Witnesses every day. You may get one or two knocks on your door per year, but that may be the extent of it. So just having a heart and a yearning for Jehovah’s Witnesses and reaching them, as well as teaching others how to reach them, is a passion of mine. And the Internet is a great venue for that.
BA: Well, I want to point people to your blog and over to your YouTube channel, where they can find all this stuff, and that’ll be linked at today’s blog post.
You know, it’s funny. You mentioned the book that they often use called “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” And, sure enough, in this flyer that was given to me at the park, you know, the flyer says, “Would you like to know the truth?” And on the back you can, you know, order your free copy of this book, where it’s going to tell you what the Bible really teaches.
Now, interestingly enough, in my study of cults it’s not – they don’t particularly excite me, and I have a hard time remembering the difference between a Mormon and a Jehovah’s Witness. But interestingly enough, after this encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness, now I’m completely interested in Jehovah’s Witnesses, and now I see the difference. And now, when I go back and read these books dealing with it, it makes perfect sense. And now I know exactly what I’m looking for. So I think some of the resources that you provide can help others who maybe they’ve run into a Jehovah’s Witness and they need to be pointed in the right direction of, you know, what angle to take.
Now, talk about, Mike, in a nutshell, for those who kind of, like, trying to – if they’re trying to define that in their own mind in a brief way, how could you lay that out to describe what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in general?
MF: Well, Brian, that’s a really tough one to answer, but it’s one that can be answered in a nutshell, because when you think about Jehovah’s Witnesses, you can think about every single little thing that you believe, and they’re going to put a little bit of a twist or sometimes maybe a huge twist on it. And what’s the first and foremost thing to really keep in mind with Jehovah’s Witnesses, as opposed to Mormons, is the Jehovah’s Witnesses are reading the Bible.
Now, there’s a lot of argument and discussion we can have, and I’m sure we’ll get into it, as far as how they view the Watchtower and the governing body. But Jehovah’s Witnesses seek to establish all of their beliefs from the Bible. They don’t have any extrabiblical revelation like the Book of Mormon or, you know, the Quran, you know, like the Muslims, or anything like that. They have the Scriptures, and that’s what they try to – and, of course, we would argue that they’re inconsistent with that, but nonetheless, that’s what they argue.
But in a nutshell, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a group of people numbering over 6 million worldwide, and they are growing. The main headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses are the Watchtower. And that is basically their publishing corporation, and this is located in Brooklyn, New York. So it would be a misunderstanding to say that Jehovah's Witnesses are Watchtower or members of the Watchtower, because it’s not entirely accurately. Jehovah's Witnesses are the people, and the Watchtower is the publishing corporation. And there’s a lot more to that.
But what the Watchtower corporation does is they print out millions of Bibles, tracts and just different publications and magazines worldwide in many languages. And this is very well-known in mainstream publications. You can see something maybe in a newspaper that’s going to really highlight just how widespread Jehovah's Witnesses are in their dealing with different languages and people groups.
But what the Watchtower does is they publish their magazines. And all Jehovah's Witnesses believe that this is the one channel of communication that God is using on earth today. In other words, no other group is revealing true Bible knowledge in these, quote-unquote, “last days” than the Watchtower. So the Jehovah's Witnesses are ultimately following the Watchtower and their leaders, the governing body.
And what the governing body is, just to maybe relate it to the Scriptures, because if you’re going to ask a Jehovah's Witness who their leaders are, they’re going to take you to the Scriptures. And they may go to the book of Acts and they may talk about the Jerusalem Council, which they’ll call the governing body. So what they’re trying to do is to take that first-century church concept in the book of Acts where you had that Jerusalem Council where they were dealing with the issue of circumcision. And so they say, “Well, there you go. That was the governing body. So we need to have this governing body today to tell us what we must believe.”
So while the Jehovah's Witnesses may claim the Bible is their ultimate authority, it turns out that as a Jehovah's Witness, you cannot read the Bible alone to have accurate Bible knowledge, because they will say, like the first-century church, you needed a governing body to tell you what to believe. So the governing body tells the Jehovah's Witness what to believe on every issue under the sun. And that’s what they do when they receive their magazines. Every single congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses are worldwide studying the same magazines every Sunday. And so you have this certain unity worldwide that Jehovah's Witnesses will take a lot of pride on.
And so, in a nutshell, that’s how the organization of the whole functions. It’s run by the governing body. The publications come through the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. The Jehovah's Witnesses take that literature, they read it, and they study it very diligently. And they come to a formation of their beliefs and they seek to diligently share that with others. And as apologists, you know, Jehovah's Witnesses are all apologists. They teach them. They have classes once a week where they teach them, young and old, male and female, how to defend their faith so that every single person in every congregation worldwide can go out and share their message and defend it against others.
BA: Well, it really is fascinating. You know, speaking with a Jehovah's Witness, it’s accurate when you say that they have a small twist on everything that you believe, because you can quote a verse, but that verse is going to have a whole new meaning for them.
Now, I’m curious. Many people will know – maybe they associate a Jehovah's Witness with someone who comes knocking at their door, and they know that they’re active in proselytizing and spreading their literature. But as far as religious life, what are their guiding principles and beliefs and practices that would sort of characterize them, you know, as an everyday person? What’s different for them?
MF: Sure. Well, Jehovah's Witnesses are very moral people, to put it plainly. Obviously everyone – every group has their faults and everything, but by and large, Jehovah's Witnesses are people who really do seek to live an upright and moral life. And I would say that, by and large, they are generally successful at that. And there’s a reason how and why they’re able to accomplish that, but that’s maybe another issue.
But Jehovah's Witnesses, they’re in church, or what they would call kingdom hall, several days a week. And so that keeps them very busy. In addition to that, they’re out in field service doing ministry, knocking on doors, if one time a week for most everyone or several times a week for different ones. So this organization really keeps them busy.
And if you take the time to read just any Watchtower or Awake magazine – which those are the main magazines that are published by the Watchtower Society – if you just open one up and read it, you’re going to find a lot in there about living a clean, moral life based on Bible principles. There’s a lot of focus on family. There’s a lot of focus on marriage. There’s a lot of focus on how to live in this world but not be of the world. And Jehovah's Witnesses will talk a lot about that.
And to stay in their little moral state of mind and not get sidetracked by the world, Jehovah's Witnesses tend to be friends with only Jehovah's Witnesses. And I’ve experienced this personally. I have a co-worker that would consider me a friend, but he keeps me at arm’s length. And I really have come to notice that. But what they’ll do is they’ll try to do that, just to stay away from the world. And so they really try to separate themselves in that kind of way, and that’s how they’re able to live. So, yeah, very moralistic organization, a very family-oriented organization. And so that’s probably, in a nutshell, what a Jehovah's Witness’s life is like.
BA: All right. So looking at some of their particular beliefs – and this is where I tried to focus my conversation with the Jehovah's Witness friend in the park – I wanted to know what must one do to be saved. I had a really interesting response to that. But could you lay out sort of what their doctrine of how one would be saved?
MF: Well, I’m actually really curious as to what they told you. (Laughs.) But the reason I ask that is because I have gotten different things from different Jehovah's Witnesses. And to be really frank, answering that question or getting a Jehovah's Witness to really answer that question is almost like nailing Jello to a wall.
MF: I’ve just had such a difficult time with that, because that’s one of the main issues I focus on with Jehovah's Witnesses. But if I can really nail it down and say with some consistency with other Jehovah's Witnesses as far as how they’ll answer that, they’ll generally say – well, actually, this will depend on how far along you are. Now, if you’re at the door, your first interaction with them, they may not answer it the same way than if you’re in my case and you had been with them for several weeks or several months. You may get a different answer. Or if you’re one Jehovah's Witness talking to another Jehovah's Witness, you may get a different answer.
But I would say that most Jehovah's Witnesses would agree that you must be in association with them and worshiping Jehovah with them to be saved, because they believe that, like I said before, the Watchtower is the one channel of communication that God is using on earth today. So if you’re under another channel of communication, according to them, you’re under Satan’s influence. And so therefore you can’t be saved.
But as far as what one must do to be saved, what they would say is, well, you need to have a Bible study with Jehovah's Witnesses. And generally if you’re really diligent in your studies and you’re not doubting what they believe, you could get through the study in just several months. And what they want you to do is get a really good overview of what they believe, to the point to where they can ask you questions about almost any of their major doctrines and you can give an explanation and a defense for it.
And the reason they do this is because, before you join their organization, they want you to be sure about what – you know, whether or not you want to do this, because there is a huge, huge cost, which we’ll maybe get to talk about later on, if you do decide to leave this organization. So they do want to make sure that you know that you’re making the right decision, that you are lifelong dedicated to this organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. But once you go through the study and you really affirm your dedication and you affirm that you’ve really studied out their beliefs, you’ll get baptized. And I would say that – I say this with a little bit of hesitancy, but generally they’ll say that, of course, you must be baptized to be saved. And there’s a lot of details that could go in with that.
But to really break it down, you need to do the study, learn what you believe and be baptized, and then worship with Jehovah's Witnesses and stay in good standing for the rest of your life. You must endure to the end. And that’s another aspect of it. And that’s one thing that you’ll hear pretty regularly if you ask this question. So I would say the most common thing is if you endure to the end, you will be saved. But, of course, that does involve studying, being baptized and worshiping with them. It’s not just that you or me, Brian, we can endure to the end and we’ll be saved, because we won’t, because we’re not worshiping in association with them and we’re worshiping, in their eyes, a false God.
So I don’t know if that’s the answer they gave you, but that’s probably the best way I can describe it from talking to, you know, hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses.
BA: Well, you know, overall that’s pretty accurate, you know. And as you say, the first early answer is going to be sort of Christian-sounding, and then later “Yes, but,” “Yes, but.” And then there’s additional things. And I tried to steer the conversation back to “What is the minimal requirement?” Sure, there are many things that you’ll do in response and following your salvation, say. But I wanted to find out what was the minimum requirement, and that – we must listen to the same sorts of people, because the phrase that came to my mind was, yes, this is just like nailing Jello to a wall.
BA: And, yeah, very interesting. Now, I wonder if you could kind of elaborate on a couple of the other views. I mean, one thing I noticed was their view of the afterlife being one where the person just ceases to exist and then they’re just gone. Maybe if they’re the unbeliever, they’re annihilated. And if they’re a believer, then they’re not conscious, but then they’ll be resurrected. So can you talk a little bit about their view of the afterlife?
MF: Sure, sure. Yeah, that’s probably the area that I’ve put the most study into, since that’s really what I started with and that’s what I found to be incredibly interesting in discussing this with them. Now, you actually described it very well. That’s, in a nutshell, what they believe. Now, as far as the details, a lot of people have a misconception about Jehovah's Witnesses and what they believe about the afterlife. And I would count myself as one of them, because you’ll hear a lot of people describing Jehovah's Witnesses, saying something along the lines of, “Well, they only believe 144,000 are going to heaven, so what’s the point in going door to door and doing all this ministry if you’re not one of the 144,000 going to heaven?” I’ve heard that objection many, many times. And it’s not accurate in the least.
Now, what Jehovah's Witnesses believe about heaven is that they go to Revelation 7 and also in chapter 14, where the author, John, describes a group of 144,000. Now, very, very few people know anyone who’s among this group of what they call the anointed class. That’s how – that’s the word they use for the 144,000. And as far as I know – and the numbers change – but there’s only a few thousand of this elite group of anointed 144,000 followers today. I’ve never met one. But very few Jehovah's Witnesses, if any, will admit to that.
Now, what they’ll say is, when you ask them, “Where are you going to go when you die? Why are you doing all this door knocking if you’re not going to go to heaven?” Well, it turns out that all Jehovah's Witnesses except for this small group believe that they’re going to be resurrected and live forever on a paradise earth. And so that’s what they’re going to say their hope is. They’re going to tell you that, “You know what? My hope is not heaven. I have an earthly hope.” And that’s exactly what they’re going to say to you when you start asking them questions about heaven. They don’t want to go to heaven. And that’s one thing I found very interesting in my research. And when I interviewed them, I would ask them, “So is it scary to think about being – ceasing to exist for a certain amount of time before you’re resurrected?” And they say, “No, because we look forward to this earthly hope that we have.” And they all affirmed the same exact thing.
Now, you described it correctly when you said that they cease to exist. And that goes for believers and unbelievers, or Jehovah’s Witnesses and non-Jehovah's Witnesses, I should say. So when a person dies, whether they believe what Jehovah's Witnesses believe or not, they cease to exist. This means they don’t – their soul does not go to heaven. They just cease to exist. There’s nothing there. There’s no consciousness after death.
And so what happens is when the end comes and Jehovah brings judgment upon this earth, which they believe is going to happen very soon, they believe that they will be resurrected also, as well as the heavenly class. They’re going to be spiritually resurrected and they’re going to go to heaven. That’s the group of 144,000 I spoke of.
So in the end, what you’re going to have is you’re going to have two classes. You’re going to have the earthly class, which encompasses all true Christians throughout all ages living on a restored earth. And then you have the heavenly class, the 144,000. They are going to rule and reign with Christ in heaven. And so what about the rest? What about all the unbelievers? Well, what they believe is that unbelievers will be resurrected, and some of them will get a second chance and others will be how you described it, Brian – annihilated. So they’re just going to cease to exist, which means they don’t believe in a literal hell of conscious torment. They believe all those passages in Revelation or the words that Jesus spoke are actually better interpreted to refer to some type of annihilation where they lose consciousness and cease to exist for the rest of eternity. So once that happens, you’re done. You cease to exist. So basically it’s almost like you never came into existence.
So that’s basically what they believe about death and the afterlife.
BA: Yeah, very fascinating. One of the questions I asked was, “Doesn’t that make it really easy for Hitler? You know, he got away with it if he just was annihilated. There’s no justice for him.”
MF: Right. And that’s a question I’ve asked them too. But what they will say is that the punishment for your sins is death, because they’ll point to Genesis 1, where He told Adam and Eve, you know, “You will surely die,” you know, “if you eat of the fruit.” So sin leads to death. And they go to Romans, where it says in, I think, 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” And so they believe that literally, when you die, you have satisfied God’s wrath through your death, because that’s the punishment. That’s what God said He would do when you sin. And so they believe that everyone who has sinned will die and that, through the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, they will get that resurrection. Obviously there’s a lot of questions that you and I and probably a lot of your listeners may get from that, but that’s essentially their explanation.
BA: Yeah. And follow-up questions just tend to branch out into all directions, and you really have to stay focused on one point, which brings me back to the point where you mentioned Jesus being the sacrifice. What is their view on Jesus? I mean, it seems to me it was quite clear that He’s not the same relationship with God the Father as orthodox Christianity.
MF: No, no. And that’s actually one of the major, if not the most distinctive element of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and probably the one that you’ll hear the most about is what do they think about Jesus. And it’s something that we all should ask, and that’s probably one of the first questions that most of us would ask if we encounter them or if you encounter any religious group. “What do you think about Christ?”
What Jehovah's Witnesses believe is that Jehovah God – Jehovah is the name that they use for God. It’s an English rendition of the Hebrew transliteration of Yahweh. You know, if you go to the Old Testament or what they call the Hebrew Scriptures, is that if you see the word LORD in all caps, that actually is the Tetragrammaton, which is YHWH. That’s if you’re going to transliterate the Hebrew letters. It would be YHWH. And most scholars think that that’s Yahweh.
And a lot of people who interact with Jehovah's Witnesses may not know this, but Jehovah's Witnesses do believe that Yahweh might be the most accurate rendition of the Tetragrammaton. But they believe that because the English rendition of Jehovah is the most common use and the most widely used rendition of it for English-speaking people – well, actually, it’s Anglicized, so that’s probably the correct way to say it, the Anglicized version of the word – yeah, the word Yahweh. They believe that Jehovah is the best way to say His name in our society today. That’s just a little background information.
So you have Jehovah. They believe Jehovah is one person, the Father. And they believe that before anything came into existence, Jehovah existed in eternity past alone as one person. And somewhere along the way, Jehovah – and this is hard to describe because we’re speaking in timeless language – but somewhere along the way, if I can use that phraseology, Jehovah decided to create His greatest creation, and that would be His firstborn son, Jesus Christ.
And that’s exactly what they believe about Jesus Christ. He is the greatest and the first creation of Jehovah God. And so they believe that Jesus Christ existed with Jehovah God for millions, if not billions, of years in fellowship with Him, so that they could say things like, you know, in the Gospel of John, you know, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And they will say that Jesus can say those things because He existed for so many billions of years that He is exactly like His Father. And so that’s how they view Jesus Christ.
And they will also say – and this is where there’s the major twist – they believe that Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel, which is quite shocking to hear. And you won’t hear Jehovah's Witnesses just saying that just right up front if you ask them who Jesus is. They won’t just say, “Oh, well, Jesus is Michael the Archangel.” They will probably just say that, “Well, Jesus Christ is the first creation by Jehovah God.”
And so, yeah, so they believe that Jesus Christ is a second god. They believe He is a god, not the God. And if you happen to come across one of their Bibles, which is called the New World Translation - you can actually go online and read this at the Watchtower’s website. If you open up John, chapter 1, verse 1, you will see that it says something very different, yet sort of subtle, from what our English translations generally say. Instead of translating it “The Word was God,” they will translate it as, “The Word was a god.” So they believe that Jesus Christ is not the God. He doesn’t exist as a person in the Trinity who shares the eternal nature with the Father. They believe that He is a separate god, if you could call it a little “g” god, who is separate from the Father. So that’s what Jehovah's Witnesses basically believe about Jesus.
BA: All right. Well, I’m sure we could probably go down multiple more topics where, you know, their beliefs are different or they’re distorted or total deviations from proper, you know, exegesis. But I suppose the main thing that people listening are going to maybe benefit the most from is just how they should go about interacting with someone who maybe comes to their door who’s a Jehovah's Witness or someone whom they have a friendship with. How do they interact? What areas should they focus on, do you think?
MF: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s really hard to know where to begin with each individual person. It really depends on what kind of situation you’re in ultimately. Now, when you’re witnessing to Jehovah's Witnesses or if you’re thinking about engaging one who’s not already engaging you, there’s one thing you really need to keep in mind, and that is, Jehovah's Witnesses are fully capable of turning you inside out with your own Bible. And this has happened to many, many people.
So one thing we should all keep in mind when we go into this is that they are fully capable of doing this. If you don’t have a great handle on what you believe, they could very well do that. And you can’t say, “That could never be; I could never be part of that cult,” because that has happened to millions of people worldwide who said, “I could never be a part of that.”
Now, one thing that I learned in engaging them initially was to really lower my pride level down, because it was very easy to get humbled by them when I thought that I knew what I believed going in. It turned out that I did not know what I believed anywhere near as well as I should. So it was a great lesson in humility and humbleness to really say, if they asked me a question about my beliefs, “I don’t know; I’m going to have to get back to you on that.”
And that’s one thing that Jehovah's Witnesses would really respect, because that’s what they are taught to do. If you ask them a difficult question that they can’t answer, you know, sometimes you’ll get a strained answer. But a lot of times, if they’re a faithful Jehovah's Witness, they’re going to tell you, “You know what, that’s a great question. Let me do some research and let me get back to you on that.”
That was probably my experience with most Jehovah's Witnesses. And if you’re on the Internet, you may not get Jehovah's Witnesses that humble. But most of the time in my experience, I got Jehovah's Witnesses that were pretty humble and they were able to admit that. So that’s lesson one that could really go a long way in your interactions with Jehovah's Witnesses is to be humble. Have humility. Admit it when you’re wrong. There’s no point in going in there with a prideful and haughty attitude. That’s not going to go very far with Jehovah's Witnesses.
Now, there’s a lot of controversy as far as what strategy to use if you’re planning on interacting with Jehovah's Witnesses. And like I said a minute ago, it really depends on your situation. Is it a co-worker? Is it someone who’s knocking on your door? What might it be? So that’s really going to depend. But a lot of the controversy stems on should you use the Bible in your witnessing interactions, or should you try to go after the Watchtower Society and find out – you know, find their faults? And speaking from experience, I’ve tried what I think is almost every strategy under the sun. I’ve read tons of books on how to witness to Jehovah's Witnesses. When I was in those initial encounters of doing the study, I was just waking up extra early, reading as much as I could. Every second I got, I was trying to read something from whatever book I was reading at the time on how to better witness to Jehovah's Witnesses.
So all that to say that sometimes it just takes experience to find out what the best strategy is. But if I could just point some of your listeners maybe in the right direction as far as what to do and what not to do, maybe this will give them just some better direction than what they maybe previously had thought.
MF: And the first thing I would recommend doing is ask questions; avoid making statements. A lot of people don’t realize this, but questions can go a long way, because what they do is they teach people how to think and not what to think. Jehovah's Witnesses are being constantly told what to think and what to believe by the Watchtower Society. And the Watchtower Society goes so far in what you might could consider brainwashing. They tell them, “Do not think independently. Don’t think for yourself. Believe what we tell you.” And that may come as a shock to know that there’s actually human beings out there governing over a religion that can tell someone that, but that is not too far from what actual quotations from their magazines say. They will say, “Do not think independently.”
So when you’re speaking to Jehovah's Witnesses and you’re using more statements and you’re making arguments, you’re basically doing the same thing that their organization is doing to them. And they’re not going to process that kind of information, because they’re told that they are the only ones that have accurate Bible knowledge. And they’re told that Christendom, which is everyone else, is a false, corrupt religious group that is under Satan’s rule.
Now, if you’re speaking to one of Jehovah's Witnesses, try to put yourself in their shoes. Now, if you’ve been told by the Watchtower Society your entire life that Christendom or everyone else who calls themselves a Christian, whether they’re Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, you’re told your entire life that they’re under Satan’s rule and they are purely deceived. So if someone from Christendom is telling you what to believe about a certain Bible verse or passage, that’s going to go in one ear and out the other, because, by default or a priori, they have nothing valuable to tell you. They may listen. They may acknowledge what you’re saying. But you’re basically under Satan’s rule telling them what to believe, and they’re not going to accept that.
So what I would recommend and what a lot of others have rightly recommended is to use questions. And just to give an example, if you’re coming across a particular Bible passage, instead of saying, “Well, this Bible passage teaches this, and your organization teaches this about this Bible passage; let me show you why your organization is wrong and let me give you three reasons why this is so,” that’s not how you would engage this.
What you should do instead is saying, “Would you mind going to this verse and reading it for me out loud?” And they’ll read the verse out loud. And just ask something like, “What do you think about that passage?” and they’ll give their answer. Then maybe ask a follow-up question and say, “Well, that’s very interesting. Can we go over this other Bible verse that – it seems like it goes against what you’re saying, but I want to read it just to make sure.” And you can take them over to that Bible verse and you can have them read that verse.
And what that’s going to really do is it’s going to get the thinking process or the independent thinking process started, because, like I said, they don’t know how to think. They know what to think. So you’re teaching them how to think by asking them questions and getting them to read the Bible for themselves and come to the conclusions by themselves, because in that kind of situation, if they’ve never really approached this particular Bible verse and really thought about it – which, by the way, there’s a lot of Bible verses that they have not touched in probably 50 years as far as the organization, because sometimes I’ll try to say, “What does the Watchtower say about this Bible verse or that Bible verse?” and I have a Watchtower database where I have all their literature, and I can do a search on a passage so I can find out how the Watchtower would interpret it, and there are some verses, very important verses, where they’ve said virtually nothing about it maybe in 50 years, and that’s as far back as the database goes.
So when you ask a Jehovah's Witness a question about a verse and they don’t have an answer, they’re going to go straight to that database and they’re going to look that answer up. But if it’s not there, they’re going to have to think about that verse and come up with an answer, because the next time they come, you’re going to want to ask them a question. ‘Well, I was told that you would go back and research this. I was really curious as to what you found.” And so what they’re going to have to do is they’re going to have to think independently and they’re going to have to come up with an answer.
So asking questions is the absolute best thing to do for Jehovah's Witnesses. And sometimes that doesn’t even mean asking follow-up questions. Sometimes just asking them to read a particular Bible verse and asking them to explain what that means can go a very, very long way. And so you can just do that over and over again. Ask them, “What do you think about that Bible verse? Can you read this verse over there for me and tell me what you think it means? Can we go cross-reference this?”
So there’s a lot of things you can do just with the Bible alone to really get them thinking. And no Jehovah's Witness – well, at least none that I’ve ever come across – is going to really claim to be stumped right in front of your face. Even if they are stumped, they may either come up with an answer or they’ll tell you that they’re going to go research it. But what they’re not going to do is tell you that they’re actually really starting to doubt their faith. And I’ve actually very, very rarely heard of an instance where a Jehovah's Witness maybe at the door was ready to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior because you just had a killer argument. That just hardly ever happens with them.
And there’s a reason why this doesn’t happen. I explained earlier that Jehovah's Witnesses have a lot at stake when they decide to leave the organization. A lot of Jehovah's Witnesses work for and with other Jehovah's Witnesses in their regular employment. And so if you decide to leave Jehovah's Witnesses, not only can you lose your family, but you may actually very well lose your job. And when I say lose these things, you literally lose them, because from that point on, you’re viewed as an apostate. And they’re not supposed to even speak to you or give a greeting to you if, let’s say, you’re doing grocery shopping and you pass one of them by. They’re not even supposed to acknowledge you. So there are some very severe consequences if one of Jehovah's Witnesses decides to leave God’s organization.
And so all that to say is that they have a lot of things at stake if they decide to come out and tell you that they’re doubting. So it may be months or it may even be years before they actually come out and claim to doubt their organization. I know several Jehovah's Witnesses who are in that very situation right now. They’ve come to fully doubt that the governing body are who they claim to be. They don’t believe anymore that God is using the Watchtower Society as His one channel of communication on earth today, and they’re starting to doubt that.
But they’re really struggling because they don’t know quite how to leave. Maybe they have a spouse that is still a very faithful Jehovah's Witness who’s loyal to the organization, and that’s really hard. I’m sure a lot of your listeners, as well as you and myself, can understand if you’re married or you have family that you’re close, just to imagine what that’s like to have your family and your closest friends to completely shun you and just throw you out of their life, never to speak with you again unless you’re coming back to the organization in humble repentance.
So if you’re planning on ministering to Jehovah's Witnesses, to be completely honest, don’t expect a very fruitful ministry. And what I mean by that is don’t expect one to where you’re going to get instant results, because you’re very likely not going to get those, because they have a lot at stake. They have a lot to think about. And they have a lot of things to consider and they have a lot of things to work through, because, like I said and like, Brian, you alluded to earlier, was that they have a twist on everything. And you experienced that in your witnessing encounter. So they have to go through a lot of those details and really search things out for themselves. And it takes a long time, because they’re not just going to go to a Christian bookstore and buy a book on Jehovah's Witnesses, a book that tries to refute them, because what if their wife or husband sees them reading that? They’re going to think that there’s something up and they’re going to find out. And if one of the elders in the congregation finds out that they’re reading what they call apostate literature, and then maybe they’re doubting, they could be subject to discipline and confrontation. And they’re not going to want that.
So it’s going to take them a long time to really investigate things, because they have to do it in secret. I’ve heard of Jehovah's Witnesses, all these really creative ways of sneaking in different books that they’re not supposed to read, reading it maybe on their lunch break and hiding it someplace. Maybe they only get 10 minutes a day to read it, but they’re still reading it. So it may take a long time for one of Jehovah's Witnesses to leave the organization.
So one thing that I would really recommend, if you’re planning on interacting with Jehovah's Witnesses, whether it’s a short amount of time or an extended amount of time, is be very, very patient with them. If it turns out you’re not getting anywhere with them, you may actually be getting farther than what you think, because you don’t know what’s going on in their mind and you don’t know what the Holy Spirit is doing in their heart. And, like I said, they’re not going to admit that to you. So the most you can do is just do your best, be faithful, and just pray that the Lord would have mercy and work on their heart.
BA: Well, that’s excellent information there, Mike. You mentioned the different sort of psychological barriers and that really big price tag for leaving. I wonder, aside from trying to refute, you know, different doctrinal things or their belief system, I wonder what role, you know, sharing your own personal testimony would play in helping to win them over as well.
MF: Well, Brian, I’m really glad you mentioned this, because that’s one thing that can go much better than any argument can go, and that’s just giving them your testimony. And I would say that whether you know anything about Jehovah's Witnesses or not, I would make that a huge priority, if not the biggest priority in your interactions, because, like I mentioned before, they think that you’re under Satan’s rule. So your testimony can go really far. They think that you’re just part of a corrupt religion that has nothing. It’s completely dry. There’s no life in it.
So, yeah, giving your testimony, explaining what it’s like to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, can go so far in reaching one of them, to the point where they can think, “Wow, I want what they have,” because it turns out that Jehovah's Witnesses are a very works-oriented organization, and they’re under a lot of pressure to attend all the meetings and to go on field service.
And one thing, just as a side note, they have to do is they have time cards. They have to keep track of how much time they’re spending in field service. Some go out just about every day or some do it once a week, but all of them turn in time cards to the organization to let them know how many hours per day, per year, are being preached on the streets and by door to door.
So all that to say your testimony can go a long way, because they’re hearing from someone who is excited about their relationship with Jesus Christ, and you’re explaining to them that you can’t earn that. This is something that God was gracious to give you. And that’s not something that Jehovah's Witnesses are going to talk a lot about. They’re not going to talk about how God had mercy on them, that they were a sinner and that they were of the world, and God sent Jesus Christ to die on behalf of them for their sins. And you can talk about how that, the atoning work of Jesus Christ, has radically changed your life. It’s changed you into a new person and how you’re excited about that. And just being excited about your faith in that kind of way can go farther than any argument could go. So I would make that first and foremost in your experiences with Jehovah's Witnesses.
BA: Well, excellent. Now, Mike, are there any particular resources you’d want to point people to if they’re doing research in this area?
MF: Yeah. There’s a lot of good resources out there for Jehovah's Witnesses. There’s some that are maybe not so good, but there’s a lot of them that are very good. One resource that I would recommend that I’ve gotten a lot out of is David Reed’s book. He has one book that I’ve found to be very helpful. It’s called “Answering Jehovah's Witnesses Verse by Verse.” And what this book does is it goes by a lot of the Jehovah's Witnesses’ proof texts and gives you specific questions that you can ask them. I’ve really gotten a lot out of this book.
And another book that I’ve found to be probably the best book. If you really want to get serious about learning about Jehovah's Witnesses and really how to reach them, there’s a book by a former governing body member. His name is Ray Franz. And he’s the only governing body member who has left the organization or, as they would say, apostasized from the organization. And he wrote a book about his experiences. And this is the only book that I’m aware of that really gives you an inside look as to what happens at the highest of authority in the Watchtower.
And this book is called “A Crisis of Conscience.” And this book can tell you a whole lot about the organization, how it really functions, in contrast to what a Jehovah's Witness may tell you. But it also tells you a lot about how you might be able to reach Jehovah's Witnesses in sharing with them what the organization is really like. Are they who they claim to be? And so – because what they think is not that the organization is perfect, but they are God’s channel. And they have made claims for themselves that are very exclusive. And so what this book really does, it tests them in light of their claims. So I couldn’t recommend a book more for a Jehovah's Witness than Ray Franz’s book, “A Crisis of Conscience.”
Now, as far as websites go, which is probably where a lot of your listeners may go to first because it’s just a lot easier, I have a website called TheApologeticFront.com. And I’ve done a whole lot of posts about Jehovah's Witnesses and what they believe and how to reach them. And there’s several other sites that I would recommend. There’s one called FreeMinds.org, and this is probably the most thorough website in dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses. I don’t agree with everything that’s on there, but the guy who runs it, his name is Randy Watters. And he was a Jehovah's Witness. He was a Jehovah's Witness who worked in the organization. He had a pretty high place of prominence in the Watchtower organization. And so he’s written a lot about his experiences, and he has a lot of them there. Actually, it’s a gold mine of information about Jehovah's Witnesses, whether it’s stuff about the organization or stuff about just the Scriptures and how to reach them that way.
BA: Well, great. Mike, it’s been really interesting and excellent content. I want to point people to your blog and your YouTube channel on the blog post today. Thanks for speaking with me, and thanks for all your work.
MF: Well, thanks a lot, Brian. It was a pleasure to be with you.