2 John 9 "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son".
When you get that knock at the door, do you know who it is you are speaking to? When a pair of otherwise polite and well-mannered people come toting Bibles and religious literature into your home, are they really who they claim to be? Who are the Jehovah's Witnesses? Today's blog begins a new series entitled "When they Knock", aimed at comparing and contrasting the Jehovah Witnesses and Bible believing Christianity. The hope of this series is to inform Christians and non-Christians on the differences that exist between both and the dangerous errors to avoid in the teaching of Jehovah Witnesses. To begin, I want to outline the history of the Jehovah Witness movement to give the reader a bird's eye view of how the movement began, when it developed and how large it is today.
History of the Jehovah Witnesses
1. Often church history can inform the reader as to whether or not a new movement is really "new" or whether it is a reappearing of ancient error. A quick review of ancient church history will reveal movements that invented heresies similar to modern day Jehovah Witnesses. One of the central tenets of Jehovah Witness doctrine is the denial of the fully Divine nature of Jesus Christ and some mixture of works salvation with a message of salvation receive by faith (i.e faith plus works salvation). The erroneous ideas of Jesus Christ being created and salvation gained by faith plus works has been around since the days of the Apostles.
a. In John’s day a heretic by the name of Cerinthius taught Jesus was not fully Divine. Books like 2 John quoted were written by John under Divine inspiration to combat heresies that were springing up in his day.
b. Another group called the “Docetists” believed that Jesus “seemed to have a physical body”, but that He was not really in the flesh. Jehovah Witnesses teach that Jesus was an angelic-type being who came to earth and assumed a body, however in His resurrection, Jesus did not physically raise, but only spiritually raised.
c. In the 4th century a heretic named Arius taught that Jesus was God’s highest creation and was not fully Divine. As the reader can see, the first 300-400 years of church history had groups promoting heretical doctrines that are ancient equivalents of the modern day Jehovah Witnesses. Of all the ancient heresies, Arius' teachings correspond the most to Jehovah Witness teachings.
Being aware of church history can aid greatly in evaluating movements that claim to have "new insights" in the scripture that had "supposedly" been missed by Christians studying the Bible in previous centuries. Seeing how faithful Christians responded to such error centuries before can greatly aid modern day Christians in defending the truth of scripture. (2 John 8) The website www.biblehub.com is a wonderful resource for the Christian to look at in discovering what Christians have taught and believed over the centuries. As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 1:9 "That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun."
2. With the voice of ancient church history briefly reviewed, we can now turn to the time period in which the modern day Jehovah Witness movement had its origins.
a. In 1879 Charles Taze Russell began publishing a magazine that would later become the Watch Tower. He denied key doctrines such as the Trinity, Christ’s deity and salvation by grace through faith alone.
b. Russell had been influence by various teachers who took speculations too far on subjects related to Bible prophecy. It was not long until Russell himself made the claim of having figured out the exact year of Christ's return. Such "date-setting" is stated by scripture and Jesus Himself to be a manifest impossibility, since "no man knows the day nor the hour". (Mathew 24:36,44) Despite those clear statements by scripture, Russel's movement persisted to set dates. Since 1874 the Jehovah Witnesses have made ten predictions about Christ’s return, most notably in 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975. None of course came true.
3. With the passing of the founder, Joseph Taze Russell, Judge Joseph F. Rutherford took over the presidency in 1916. He was the great organizer and formulated much of the structure that would be used by the movement. Under his leadership the movement was coined “Jehovah Witnesses in 1931. Rutherford died in 1942.
4. The third leader, Nathan Knorr, oversaw the JW’s from 1942-1977. His main emphasis was not only increased literature distribution, but also the overseeing of the JW New World Translation in 1950.
5. Since then, 3 other leaders have presided. Fredrick Franz had to deal with the public relations tragedy of 1975 and was succeeded by Milton Henschel in 1993. Henshel retired in 2000 and the current president, Don Adams, has turned to spreading the message around the world.
Current Statistics on the Jehovah Witness movement
The Jehovah Witness website is the source of the following statistics:
239—Lands where Jehovah’s Witnesses preach;
595—Languages in which we publish Bibles and Bible-based literature;
7,538,994—Ministers who teach the Bible;
19,000,000—People who attend our meetings or conventions;
179,000,000—Bibles published by Jehovah’s Witnesses in 116 languages;
20,000,000,000—Pieces of Bible-based literature published by Jehovah’s Witnesses over the past ten years
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