Jehovah’s Witness Part 1
Prepared and Presented by Marissa Williams, Youth Group Student Leader
Last week Brian kindly wrapped up Mormonism for us, so this week we’ll be moving on to another religion known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m sure many of you have heard of this religious group, they seem to be most famously known for going door-to-door and having extremely nice “Kingdom Halls”, but given the similarities between their teachings and the teachings here at EBC, it’s easy to wonder “What’s the Difference?” Tonight, we’ll be going over the history of the Jehovah’s Witness sect and, since the history is fairly straightforward, I don’t expect this spotlight to be very long so here we go.
Interestingly, despite some major theological differences, Jehovah’s Witnesses often identify with Christianity, and many online sources refer to them as a denomination of Christianity, however, similar to Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses actually split off from the Church theologically and their doctrine is too different to be considered hard and fast Christian. It all started with the beginning of the Adventist movement back in the 1830s when a man named William Miller tried his hand at predicting when Christ would return. He recalculated his date a few times, moving from March of 1843 to March of 1844, but he eventually landed on October 1844. I think we can all see how that turned out but because he was wrong, the following that he’d gained split up into a bunch of different factions until only a fraction of the original following still lingered, making up the Seventh Day Adventists. Later on in the 1870s, a once-Presbyterian by the name of Charles Taze Russell (later founder of the Bible Student movement) came across this diminished form of Adventism. Russell’s faith had had a fairly shaky past. At the age of 16, he was already questioning God’s existence and was losing faith in the Bible and his church, especially because at the time, so many religious factions were claiming that they had access to the truest interpretation of the Bible, in spite of the fact that these groups really opposed each other in pretty major ways. At one point, he was trying to convert an atheist to Christianity and unfortunately what ended up happening was he essentially converted to agnosticism. (Which is why apologetics is very important but I digress.) Anyway after a while he found his way to an Adventist meeting, and it was at this meeting that his faith was rekindled. Unfortunately, this is also where things began to take a turn because it was at this meeting, and at the Bible studies he attended thereafter, that he concluded that the doctrines of eternal torment in hell, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the immortality of the soul could not be sufficiently supported scripturally. Inspired by the more literal take on the Bible that Adventists encouraged and enthralled with predicting the return of Christ, Russell partnered with Nelson Barbour, an influential Adventist writer and publisher of the Pittsburg magazine The Herald of the Morning. In an effort to popularize his deviant ideas, Russell became co-publisher and assistant editor to Barbour. They also co-authored a book called Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World, which outlined their views on prophetic speculation. Essentially Christ’s return and just the future insofar as it related to the Bible. However when the date Barbour had predicted for Christ’s return came and went, Russell rejected Barbour’s attempts to justify his predictions and went so far as to encourage other to reject Barbour’s efforts as well. Through this, Russell gained a relatively large following and left his position at The Herald of the Morning. In the years following he and the other Bible Students, as they were then known, started his own journal which he called Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, formed the Watch Tower, which would later be known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, and by 1884 he was its president. Like the religious groups before him, he too claimed he had access to the truest interpretations of the Bible, saying that Christ had returned in the late 1800s, but his presence was invisible, or that Armageddon would take place in 1914. He went on to state that the Bible could only be understood according to his interpretations. A dangerous arrangement, considering he was in complete control of the Watchtower magazine.
In 1916, Russell died and he was succeeded as president of the Society by Missouri lawyer Joseph Franklin Rutherford who “changed the group’s name to “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” in 1931 to emphasize its members’ belief the Jehovah, or Yahweh, is the true God and that the Witnesses were his specially chosen followers.” Even Russell referred to himself as “God’s mouthpiece” at times and an ambassador of Christ. Rutherford molded the society into a tightly-knit organization of incredibly dedicated evangelists and went so far as to provide portable phonographs to play his sermons anywhere.
In reference to the book that they use, they simply use their own version of the Christian Bible, they don’t have a variety of books like the Mormons do. We’ll talk more about this next week but essentially they claim that their version, the New World Translation, comes directly from the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. That’s all I have on the origins of this religion but based on Charles Russell’s story, remember to test the spirits. If you hear some theological point that doesn’t quite make sense to you, test it out, ask questions, if it’s from God it’ll be stronger than your doubts.