Growing up it seems like the general impression people have for Jehovah Witnesses is that they are weird and annoyingly consistent in converting people. And with their fervent missionary work, they are everywhere to be seen. From Hong Kong to Los Angeles to London, many of them are giving out tracts in the cities (Titled “What does the Bible really teach?” — by the way, does it not resemble Genesis 3:1, where Adam and Eve were asked by the “crafty” Serpent: “Did God really say that?” — here shows two kinds of pride that we ourselves often fall into: thinking we higher than God Himself, which damages the whole mankind; thinking we have the full knowledge of the Word – the complete grasp of the Bible, which often tears the Church apart.).
Anyways, few weeks ago, I finally met two JWs in person. I mean actually sitting down and talk. It all started with a typical September morning, when I was tubing my way to Bible Study.
“Hello! Just curious- are you Chinese?” A lady with a super bright smile asked me.
With me saying yes, she started telling me how she had been learning Chinese for 9 years. And I was curious know what made her so interested in this language.
“I preach in China.”
“Oh wow! Are you a Christian?”
“Oh yes I love the Bible.”
“That’s wonderful! Me too. If you ever need any help on learning Chinese, let me know! We can keep in touch and maybe we can read or pray together some time.”
“That’s great!” and we exchanged numbers. I then asked if she wanted to join me for Bible Study, “No,” she said, “but do text me what you learn from your Bible lessons (strange wording for me).”. And right before I left the train, she handed me a card : “Visit JW.org”
Later on, she invited me to meet with her for coffee, even though she only visits London once a month. I eventually said yes, but it wasn’t without a little bit hesitation, since I wasn’t sure if I am putting myself into “temptations”. However, the Spirit surely spoke in my prayers and through friends’ encouragement. And it would have been a shame if I, unlike her who was so eager to share her beliefs, stepped back and not share mine to her – this was almost like an open door falling from the sky for a coward like me. As Colossians 4 says,
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col 4:5-6)
We are to speak truth in love (Eph 4:15). God’s word is active and shaper than any double-edged sword. (Heb 4:12) And God is faithful to guard us; if it happens to be a “temptation”, He will provide me a way to “escape”. (1 Cor 10:13)
Fast forward to December 6, in the coffee shop. She brought along another JW friend of hers – well, not too surprised. At first, we started talking about our daily lives – family, hobbies, work/school, etc. While we were humanly building a bridge first, I kept thinking when they would go straight into their beliefs.
Eventually, we landed on how music can be used by Satan subtly to promote himself. “This is so true! It reminds me of our reading today. Our daily scripture.”. She pulled up her JW daily scripture app and showed me 1John 5:19, “The scripture says the whole world lies in the wicked one. Do you agree on that? Do you agree?”.“Yes.” I said. “Great! You see these comments (their commentary); they are really helpful too. They show us the meaning of Jehovah’s words.”
At that point I decided to dive in straight. Since I personally don’t buy in any “strategic” or “argumentative” ways to deal with discussions like this, I simply told them:
-I have heard of Jehovah Witnesses before;
-I have met friends who were ex-members;
-I have read stuff online.
-But I don’t want to make any false assumptions without directly hearing from you guys. (Ironically, I learn this from being a part of Church – Christians slandering each other on the internet because of pride resulting in lots of wrong information and bad fruits)
-I am really glad we can meet and discuss the Word of God. Our job is to humble ourselves and learn more of Him.
Indeed, I didn’t want to just say this to sound nice but sincerely hope this is how I felt, how I feel, and how I will always feel. We are called to be holy but I am not any better than they are. As I am currently reading Andrew Murray’s book, “Humility”, I find the quotes below very applicable.
“The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is its lack of humility.” (Murray 56)
“…in the presence of His holiness, let us be aware of pride…’ God, I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of men…or even as this publican (*or in this case, JW)’…Even though the words ‘I am not as the rest of men’ are rejected and condemned, their spirit may too often be found in our feelings and languages towards our fellow worshippers and fellow men.” (Murray 56)
Here is how they responded. “Awww. Thank you so much! Many people are afraid of us or hearing the name “Jehovah Witness”. They think we are crazy. But, we are just normal people. We pay our taxes; we have regular jobs. We submit to our government. We just love Jehovah and want to preach His Word as He has asked us to disciple all nations. And I am not here to persuade you anything, I am willing to answer any questions you have. “
Since then, our conversations became much more comfortable. We were discussing as friends. No pressure and tension. For the sake of reading, I’ll summarize 1) My questions for them and their responses 2) Things we agreed on 3) Things we disagreed on.
1)My questions for her
- “I heard you guys only read your own version of the Bible?”
Their Answer: No. Pulled out her JW Bible App. And yes; The default version in the app is their NWT version; but if you tap on a particular verse, other versions (of that verse) will pop up on the side. However, the “other” options include only KJV, Bylington (forgive my lack of knowledge – I didn’t even know this version exists before they showed me the app), and ASV. They also have the NWT in other languages (such as Korean, Chinese, and Greek). However, they do say that although sometimes the other versions may be better than NWT, NWT has recovered the “corrupted” verses found in many other versions.
Was going to ask them about their version of John 1:1 as it is well known that they replace “God” with “a god”. But since they provided these other versions on their app and stated they read them also, I thought nevermind.
2. How do you explain the fact that in Hebrews 1:5-13, Jesus is described with a direct quotation from Psalm 102:25-27 that describes God?
But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands, they will perish, but you will remain, they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years have no end.”(Heb 1:5-13)
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end. (Psalm 102:25-27)
And quotation from Psalm 110 in Hebrews 1:13?
“And to which of the angels has he ever said “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? (Heb 1:13)
The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Psalm 110:1)
Answer: No direct answer. But pulled up other verses that they believe are enough to show how Jehovah and Jesus are two distinct entities: Jehovah is God the Father; Jesus is made the Son of God.
There was, however, one surely wrong thing that the other JW said – she said the word “angels” in Heb 1:13 proves Jesus is an angel. I couldn’t properly phrase my response at that time – just having the word “angel” there does not mean Jesus is an angel… In fact, do Heb 1:13-14 NOT prove exactly that the Lord is NOT an angel? “But to which of the angels has He ever said,“Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies, A footstool for Your feet”? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:13-14)
3. What is your view on Revelation 1:18 and 22:12-13?
Rev 1:18 says the Lord God is “the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 22:12-13 also repeats again that Jesus is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Like a math equation, does these verses not show that the Lord, as the Alpha and the Omega, is the Almighty (JW acknowledges “the Almighty” as God)?
Answer: What we believe is that Jehovah has no beginning and no end; He is infinite. However, Jesus has a beginning and an end. Thus Rev 1:18 is talking about Jehovah God, but 22:12-13 is about Jesus who has a beginning and an end.
4. What about Genesis 1:26 and Matthew 20:28? Do these verses not show trinity?
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen 1:26)
“…baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”(Matt 20:28)
Answer: Yes, we do not deny the “Us” and “Our”. But we believe that only Jehovah is infinite. He created Jesus, the perfect angel, first, then together with Jesus, He created humans. Jesus was Jehovah’s co-worker. He is Jehovah’s co-worker. To put it simply, Jehovah, Jesus, and the Spiritual force are united as a power. However, they are not three-in-one as you have claimed. United is the word I would use.
5: How do you explain John 20:28 when Thomas called Jesus “My Lord and my God”?
Answer: Yes, Thomas calls Jesus Lord, but the my “God” is referring to Jehovah,
You probably could feel how I felt when given these answers. They are obviously many more verses I could have used to “defend my faith”; but at the end, I realize, they will just make a way to get around with their concepts. As the lady herself told me, “I just cannot buy this; the idea of a Triune God. It doesn’t work for me. It is not logical. God cannot be the Son of God. God cannot die for us”. But to me, we can never make sense of everything that the Bible says, if we cling to our human mind. We need the Spirit,
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:13.
And for me, if God Himself did not come, and did not die on the cross, and did not have blood and water pierced out from his side, how can He impart Himself, His divine eternal life into us? And doesn’t the fact that God Himself died for us further prove how proud this love is?
But one interesting thing is that when she had trouble answering my confusions, she said, “Yea you know – I see where you are coming from. I respect you and the ones who believes in trinity. I am just speaking of what I see from the Bible and how it speaks to me. There is always more we don’t know.”
2) Things we agreed on
These are not necessarily representations of what all Christians/JWs believe. These are things that we three agree on.
- Satan loves to target youngster today:
We agreed young people like me can easily be drifted away today. Whether believers or non-believers, we can be distracted by worldly lust or even “good things” such as education and career, thus not making enough space and time for knowing God.
- “His Kingdom come”:
We agreed that people often only have the concepts of men going either to hell and heaven when Christianity is mentioned. However the Word makes it clear that Christ will return to establish His kingdom on earth, and heaven is where God will be and when He has His kingdom fully established, all, including the dead who will have their bodies resurrected and glorified, will be in the new heaven and new earth with the Lord forever (concepts of heaven above the clouds with us floating around is not biblical.)
- Their experiences as Catholics:
(A sensitive topic somehow – Not criticizing any Catholics here but the problems within the system – and obviously no system is perfect.) Both of them used to be Catholics. We both have problems with Catholic practices such as worshipping and praying to Mary, praying to saints, following a man (Pope) rather than God (“Pope”’s meaning = In place of Christ. Well, Christ is the one and only Head of the Church), not actually reading the Bible, etc. (Note these do not apply to all Catholics, but the JWs said they were never taught the Bible – they finally left in frustration as they hungered for the Word). Also confusing is are the Vatican’s power and position in politics and inter-faith promotion – conferences where the Pope invited religious leaders worldwide to gather with him and have each of them pray to his or her own god(s). Many Catholics also believe Muslims and Catholics worship the same God based on Lumen Gentium 16. Of course there are some who disagree due to their interpretations of this declaration, nevertheless the Pope’s speech that all faith leads to the same destination and his embrace of evolution are left questioned.
- Churches governed by the Chinese Government/Persecution
Both of them are learning Chinese and have done missionary work in Taiwan and China. They expressed JWs are banned from China and are often at risk of being imprisoned. They knew the same happens to many underground Christian churches, but they recognized the “churches” attached to the Central Government are treated in complete difference. We all obviously are disgusted by this corruption.
3) Things we disagreed on
- Obviously, the idea of “Trinity”.
However, our discussion reminded me of my own journey. I received Christ as a kid yet the idea of trinity was never a reality for me. Eventually, I gave up on being “radical” on it – dropped every concept or question that I had and asked God “just be real to me”. And He did. My God became a real Person to me. Who dwelled within me as the Spirit. So my own experience would be, just ask and seek; He’ll answer. However, this does lead to me to a question: does one have to believe in trinity to be saved? See, I didn’t really understand trinity when I was a kid. Perhaps the answer is, as John Piper says, “They certainly wouldn’t have to know that word, and they wouldn’t have to be able to articulate it very well. But, what they need to do is not deny essential things about it.”. As Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”. It does not say if you confess Jesus is Lord AND believe God raised him from death AND can explain trinity, you will be saved. Nevertheless, the point is to declare Jesus is Lord – not deny it!
- “Imitating Jesus”
She told me there will be assemblies/meetings (of ~5000 people) coming up teaching people how to imitate Jesus. How to love the family, how to stay happy, how to help others. She said she’ll give me the dates if I am open. I then asked her, how would you explain to a non-JW on how to imitate Jesus? “Oh, easy! Just read the Bible. What amazes me is Jesus is the perfect example we can follow. Look at how he serves the people around him. My favorite story is the one about the Samaritan woman.”. I told her I agree with her that in reading the Bible, we also get to “read” Jesus. However, I also said that, non-believers can as well be very good people without knowing God. They can actually be much better than us when it comes to feeding the poor, caring for the sick, behaving kindly, etc. She said she agreed without going on.In fact, this whole “imitation” concept is different from what grace has shown us, although growing up I sometimes was also taught to “imitate” Jesus to be more Christ-like. But boy did I fail so horribly and end up in endless frustration because I didn’t realize the need of “dying to self”. (Interesting side note: JWs expressed their similar experience- constant frustration in imitating Jesus – they said they always fail but they always strive to be better.). I’ll use a quote by Frank Viola to explain it.
“Christian leaders have been telling God’s people that they must “be like Christ” for the last six hundred years (at least). The well-known book by Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, was published around 1418. Some 480 years later, Charles M. Sheldon’s book In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? was published. Ever since then, Christians have been trying to “do what Jesus did.” But this “gospel” hasn’t worked. The reason? It’s an instance of asking the wrong question. The question is not “What would Jesus do?” I believe it’s “What is Jesus Christ doing through me … and through us?” Jesus made pretty clear that we cannot live the Christian life. Instead, He must live it through us. Jesus Christ lived His life by an indwelling Father. In the same way, we as believers can live the Christian life only by an indwelling Christ.” – Frank Viola
In a sense, imitation is outward. To live a life that can day by day behold His glory and grow to be more Christ-like requires us to put our self and flesh to death. God will never be able to come in fully if we have not crucified our self. Our “self” shouldn’t dwell within us, but Him the Spirit. With the indwelling spirit, we don’t “try” to imitate Him. But, we do need to make effort to stay intimate with God by prayers, praise, reading, etc, to let Him transform us. At the end, we cannot, but He can. As Murray says,
“ God is faithful. Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds the creature abased and empty will His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.” (Murray 36)
Enough of me rambling. What I have learned is that, as they said, they are just humans. It is so easy to be scared by the label “JW” – but shouldn’t we be channels of grace 24/7 to all men? Christ is all in all. Many of them long for spiritual truths just as we do. Our task is not “convert” them, but to do what we are given to do and let God work according to His will. Before time ran out and we hugged each other goodbye, I simply restated that I believe if we truly seek God’s word, He will, as He has promised in the Bible, reveal Himself to those who do so out of a sincere heart. They agreed. And may it be so- Lord, remove any of our man-made concepts and show us who You really are. Amen.