“Truth by definition is exclusive. If truth were all-inclusive, nothing would be false.”
― Walter Ralston Martin,
I’ve spent the last few days in Rochester, Minnesota, where my wife is a patient at the Mayo clinic. Last Friday morning, I learned that there were over 3000 Jehovah’s witnesses meeting at the Mayo convention center for an annual convention. I spent the rest of the weekend witnessing to these men and women whenever I could. As a result of this experience, I have a renewed sense of the need for Christian evangelism of JW’s, and a much better understanding of how best to witness to these lost people.
The Watchtower estimates Jehovah’s witnesses have spent billions of hours taking their message door-to-door, conducting “The greatest preaching campaign the world has ever seen.” Regardless of the accuracy of this claim, we should all agree that JW’s take the Great Commission very seriously. And yet in the midst of downtown Rochester, surrounded by dozens of mainline Protestant and nondenominational churches, I didn’t see a single Christian evangelist engaging the thousands of JW’s saturating the city.
I recognize that not all churches in an area are called to the same ministries, but I have a hard time believing that every church in the same area could be called only to minister to existing believers and Sunday service visitors. Here we have a group of lost people in our very midst, who are actively spreading deceit. If the Body of Christ does nothing to minister to them, can we say we are obeying the great commission? I have personally failed to be faithful to this command many times. I’ve avoided ministry opportunities for selfish reasons. I’ve neglected the souls of lost people because I found it too difficult or intimidating to engage them. But I’ve also been encouraged and educated by the work of more faithful men and women. My hope is this post might serve others in the same way.
Stand in the word
There is no one “correct” way to witness to JW’s. Each person has different spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12), and different approaches simply work better for different people. What matters far more than method, is content and heart. If we are to witness to JW’s, we need to do just that–share with them the true gospel of Jesus Christ as found in scripture. Yet the JW believes he has the truth and you are the one who is deceived. Planting a seed of doubt in his mind is then a necessary first step. Our message should effectively be “I love you for Jesus’ sake and want you to know the truth: Here is convicting evidence that you don’t.”
So where do we find that evidence? Many Christians are drawn to the historical evidence against the Watchtower organization, whose founders were biblically ignorant, corrupt, and published countless false prophecies during the 19th century. Yet nearly all JW’s will immediately discount this evidence as something you’ve made up. Instead, I believe our evidence against the Watchtower should be found in scripture. We know that faith ultimately does not come from persuasive arguments, but through receiving the self-authenticating word of God, for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). I see no reason why our polemic (learn this word if you don’t already know it) against the false teaching of the Watchtower should not be found on the very same pages of scripture as the gospel itself.
Finding evidence from scripture that contradicts the beliefs of JW’s may seem like it would require a great working knowledge of Watchtower theology. It doesn’t. As Dr. James White has noted, the most important preparation you need for witnessing to members of false religions is knowing what you believe. If you can clearly, and accurately, articulate the gospel, and provide scriptural support for that articulation, you can be an effective witness.
A word of Caution
It is of vital importance that we make a clear distinction between debating and witnessing. Debating is an exchange of arguments seeking to convince your opponent (or others) that he is wrong, and you are right, on some particular point. Witnessing is proclaiming the truth of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), and seeks to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) as a faithful obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20).
My failures as an evangelist nearly always begin with the conflation of these two distinct types of communication. While debate can be a powerful tool in witnessing to lost people, it is dangerously easy to conflate winning a debate with winning souls for Christ. I have learned to avoid this by taking an approach in which the gospel is central and avoiding topics that JW’s are almost all familiar with, such as the deity of Christ, the personhood of the Spirit, or the accuracy of the Watchtower’s New World Translation. While I do not believe these traditional approaches are wrong, I have found in my experiences that the approach described below works far better.
May I ask you a question?
I once saw a video of an evangelist named Don Blythe doing what he called “The Two minute Drill.” Rather than beginning with a polemic, he begins with a hypothetical question:
“Suppose while I’m taking to you and all of a sudden, somebody comes up and shoots me. I’m laying on the ground, I’ve got two minutes to live, and I say ‘I’m dying, I’m dying, and I came over here to talk to you because I don’t know God. Please help me.’ What do you say to me?”
This question (or any equivalent) is useful for at least two reasons. First, this is not a question many JW’s are prepared to answer, and It immediately puts them in a vulnerable position in which they have to think critically about their beliefs. Second, the question focuses entirely on the gospel. The good news (As Blythe notes) is clearly defined by the New Testament. The NT also explicitly warns against false gospels, which are cursed by God (2 Cor 11:4, Gal, 1:8-9). In this way, we find our scriptural evidence against the theology of the Watchtower and our witness to the JW in the very same verses.
As the JW struggles to offer you the gospel the Watchtower teaches, it is important to ask clarifying questions such as “What do you mean by that?” In fact, if you don’t ask these questions, you may run into another problem. More prepared JW’s will sometimes present a gospel that, on the surface, sounds very much like what we believe. Yet with careful questions and listening, you will quickly learn that the JW has redefined common Christian terms to mean something entirely different.
Ultimately, the Watchtower has stripped the word “gospel” of its biblical meaning. Because of this, there are many different avenues of approach when showing the JW how his theology contradicts scripture. The one I prefer to focus on is the Watchtower’s creation of a sort of “dual-class” Christianity. To the JW, when scripture speaks of those who will be called “Sons of God,” be “indwelt with the Spirit”, or who will be “heirs of God” and “kings and priests,” we should think only of an elect group of 144,000 persons mentioned briefly in Revelation chapters 7 and 14. The vast majority of JW’s believe these seats are filled, and our hope is an “earthly hope” to live for eternity on a restored Earth while the Father, Christ, and the 144,000 rule in heaven for eternity.
After, conducting the “2-minute drill” I usually lead the conversation to a very specific question:
“When the Bible speaks of believers being ‘adopted sons,’ receiving ‘the Spirit of His Son’ into our hearts, and making us ‘heirs through God.’ Is this part of the good news you would share with me?”
The JW’s answer is very specific: “No.” Remember, the JW believes these New Covenant promises are reserved only for the 144,000 “sealed” Israelites of Revelation, who the Watchtower interprets to be those who reign with Christ for eternity in heaven. JW’s do not believe these promises apply to you, or them. They believe they are part of a sort of “second-class” Christianity who inherit an eternal life on earth under the rule of the Kingdom, but not in it, and apart from the presence of God.
At this point I will usually ask, like Blythe in the video above, if the JW will read from his own (New World Translation) bible. First I ask him to read Galatians 1:8-9, and highlight how expressly Paul warns that any gospel other than the one he teaches is cursed by God and therefore cannot save us.
Then I ask him to move to chapter 4 and read verses 3-7 aloud:
“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Here, only pages after warning of false gospels, I point out that the gospel Paul so desired to protect includes all of the blood-bought New Covenant promises that the JW’s have excluded for all but a tiny percentage of mankind. I then proclaim the true gospel, and warn them of Christ’s words– “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matt 23:13)
At this point I almost always pause and offer something like this: “I am not asking you this because I just want to argue with you, but because my heart breaks for anyone who might be deceived by a false gospel that cannot save him or her from God’s just punishment.” Having the foundations of your worldview shaken is never pleasant, and this simple statement goes a long way in disarming those who might otherwise be frustrated or emotionally charged by your witness.
The Watchtower vs. Scripture
At this point there are really only a few responses the JW will ever give. As mentioned before, most JW’s would love to talk about the Trinity. Don’t let them. They would love to talk about John 1:1. Don’t let them. They would love to direct you to their website, where they are sure you will find the answers to these questions. You won’t. Keep them engaged. They are not trained to defend their views of the gospel, and it shows.
If the JW does respond, he will do so by showing how he reads scripture- through the lens of the Watchtower’s eschatological theory. The JW will tell you that Paul’s words in Galatians must be talking about those who are among the 144,000 sealed by God.
There are many ways to show the absurdity of this reasoning, not the least of which is simply asking the JW “Where does Paul say that?” Even if the JW opens to the book of revelation and gives his theory on the meaning of the “144,000” and the “great crowd” ask where scripture says these two groups will have different eternal destination. They won’t be able to answer either question, because scripture says no such thing.
The point to drive home, however, is more basic. The JW believes that scripture is the Word of God, and most are taught the importance of using scripture to interpret scripture. The plain warning of Paul is that any gospel that differs from his is cursed, and yet the JW’s are preaching a factually different gospel because they hold a man-made interpretive theory on the most symbolic and mysterious book of the Bible above Paul’s clear teaching. They have not only contradicted scripture, but they have violated their own principals of Biblical interpretation. I will often offer something like this:
“I don’t want to debate the interpretation of the book or Revelation with you, but I hold to a different understanding of what the “144,000” and “great crowd” represent. Yet if my interpretation of this symbolism forced me to contradict the Apostle Paul by changing the essence and meaning of the gospel itself, I should reject it!”
Usually at this point, the JW will bring up something about Jesus mentioning his ‘little flock’ (Luke 12:32) and his ‘other sheep’ (John 10:16) which they believe refers to the 144,000 and the “great crowd” of Revelation. Don’t bother arguing that these terms clearly reference the Jews and the gentiles. Instead, ask the JW pointedly: “Does the Spirit of Christ dwell within you?” You will almost certainly not get a straight answer the first time through. This is a touchy subject for the JW, and he will likely say that he has the Spirit working “with” and “around” him. Ask again, pointedly: “Is the Spirit of God dwelling within you?” Eventually you will get a clear answer: “No.”
Now go straight to Romans 8:8-9, where Paul writes:
“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
“Little flock”, or “other sheep?” It doesn’t matter, because both are His and scripture says that unless His Spirit dwells within you, you do not belong to Christ!