Is the Watchtower Using (or Creating) Apocryphal Material?

apocrypha

Take a moment to read this excerpt from the fifth chapter of the book of Second Kings in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament of the Bible):

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said.

(2 Kings 5:1-4)

See the mention of the young girl? Here’s an unnamed Bible character with only one line of dialogue. Even though she’s only a minor character in the epic drama of scripture, I’m sure she is mentioned here as a glimmering example of faithfulness to Jehovah.

So part of the Bible study that I observed in my most recent visit to the kingdom hall included a lesson based on these verses and that young girl. It began with a video, entitled “Jehovah Will Help You Be Bold,” produced by the watchtower society, with children being the target audience. The video told the story of how this young girl had to work up her courage to speak to her master, Naaman’s wife. Several other supporting characters were also depicted (including several servants, and two of Naaman’s children), and when Naaman returned cleansed, he embraced our heroic young girl, while the supporting characters ditched their idols in favor of worshiping Jehovah. The story has drama, suspense, humor, and heart. It takes effort to not tear up at least a little at the end.

The problem with the story is that it does not appear in scripture at all.

Let me say that another way. The story depicted in the watchtower video is not part of the ancient text of inspired scripture. It is entirely made up by some modern person, likely in our current decade, if not this year of 2018. Oh, the young girl is real; refer again to the verses quoted above. But what you read above is all there is; the rest is totally contrived by the watchtower. There is no mention of the other servants, or of Naaman’s children, or that the girl’s story was about having boldness for Jehovah.

I have several problems with this. First, I generally have a problem with anyone who embellishes the scriptural text, making up their own contrived stories based on nothing more than speculation. (News flash: there is no innkeeper mentioned in the Christmas story, and definitely no drummer boy!)

The second problem I have is that the watchtower itself warns against using apocryphal stories. See my blog post from back when, about the watchtower’s use of a fictional donkey in the story of Mary and Joseph’s travels, while chiding “christiandom” for using apocryphal stories. Hypocritical much?

And finally, the use of this contrived story is just so unnecessary! If you want to teach children (or adults) about being courageous, there are plenty of other clear examples in scripture, which could have been used without any need for embellishment! How about queen Esther? Daniel and his three friends? The apostles on trial? David versus Goliath? The list goes on and on. How does the governing bully justify their embellishment of the text of Second Kings 5? I would love to ask them, but we all know what happens when we ask questions, don’t we? (See my post about writing to the headquarters, for example.) Harumph.

I’m hoping that this can be a talking point sometime soon with any one of my JW friends. Right now I’m walking on thin ice, though. I feel like a man with an ice cream truck, but all the children have been told that I’m the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Ugh.

Ice cream, anyone?

 

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Jehovah’s Witnesses Perform Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. What the What?!

Okay. This is probably not news to you, since it’s from 5 years ago on Youtube, and there are now several knockoffs. but I just now discovered this video. (Someone posted it in a Facebook group to which I subscribe.)

I’m reeling from it.

Apparently a kingdom hall in Oregon had a talent show.

That’s shocker number one. A Jehovah’s Witness congregation having a talent show. Is that really a thing? (Tell us what you know about that in the comments.) This is the first sign of creativity I have encountered among rank-and-file JW’s. Granted, the governing bully is getting more creative, or is paying creative people, to produce pretty slick videos for their website. But “great crowd” congregation members doing something creative? I would be less surprised to find a rainbow-colored unicorn in my back yard.

Here are some reasons why I find this video to be seemingly impossible.

First, what local elders would approve of a talent show? I can almost see the scowls on the elders’ faces as a congregation member approached them with “Hey, here’s an idea I have–Let’s put on a talent show!” I can hear them saying, “Brother Upstart, don’t you think the brothers and sisters’ time and energy would be better used in the field ministry?”

Secondly, what local elders would approve of a musical skit using a rock-and-roll number (rock-and-roll: worldly, possibly bordering on satanic) by Queen (led by the famously gay Freddie Mercury, no less)? Aren’t the origins of that song more pagan than birthdays and Christmas?

Next, when do JW’s have the time, energy, and resources to write, produce, perform, record, and publish such a work? They’re overworked, stressed, and worn out. Who made all the set pieces, and painted the backdrop? Who rented the hall they performed in, and who paid for it? The funds could not have come from the kingdom hall budget, I’m thinking.

I have such conflicted feelings about the storyline of the skit. To summarize: A team of JW brothers and sisters in field ministry decide to visit just “one more house” instead of taking a break.  Their efforts are rewarded with success in recruiting a prospect from worldly despair. They bring him to the kingdom hall, where he is indoctrinated and trained, also receiving a theocratic makeover (haircut, coat, and tie). He then begins field ministry, knocking on the door of another despairing prospect.

What I find disturbing is the effectiveness that this video could have in reinforcing doctrine and motivating action. The emotional manipulation is uncannily similar to the tactics used by the governing bully, but with the difference that this video is fun, humorous, and far more entertaining. It’s chilling to me how glibly the actors chant “There is no trinity,” “Living in the last days,” “Paradise we’ll see,” and “There is no hell.” (Pretty good summary of their doctrine, though. Compare that with the real gospel found in First Corinthians 15.) The newbie’s makeover into their image is very revealing. (Into cloning much?) And the tug on the viewer’s heartstrings when it comes full circle with a new prospect at the end–I was almost moved, until I recognized the monotonous, wearisome emptiness of it all. I found myself wishing it were a motivational video for a truly life-changing ministry instead of what it is.

The video makes both my brain and my heart hurt. And it’s still so cute! Dammit!

I’m hoping and praying along the lines of Joseph at the end of the book of Genesis: “What you meant for harm, God meant for good, and the saving of many lives.” I’m asking the Lord to take this video, with which Satan meant to deceive people, and it use it to wake up JW’s. Allow viewers to see the crassness of JW doctrine, defining themselves by what they don’t believe rather than by a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus. Allow them to see the futility of their recruitment, training, and indoctrination process. Allow them to see the impersonal, legalistic side of their religious system. Lord, use this video in ways not planned or foreseen by the enemy. Amen.

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I’m In Trouble With the Jehovah’s Witnesses Elders–Again.

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From Flicker Creative Commons

This week was my monthly visit to the local kingdom hall. Remember the time when I almost got kicked out of the hall because of an imaginary donkey? You can read about it here. That was surreal. This bit of trouble was more straightforward. Rather than being called into the “principal’s office” (aka boardroom), this time two of the elders ambushed me outside the front door of the hall, before I had a chance to enter. Apparently they were thinking of not allowing me in. I could tell that my favored status teetered on a fine edge.

The interrogation began with one of them accusing me of sowing seeds of doubt among the members. I reminded them of my previous commitment to keep my opinions to myself, and pointed out that I had been strictly limiting my conversations since then to small-talk. The elder corrected me, citing his own conversation with me at the recent annual memorial. (See my account of that meeting here.) He claimed that at that time I expressed to him my disagreement with the JW disfellowshiping policy. I in turn corrected him, pointing out that that convo with him was strictly about the policies of the church of Scientology. (I distinctly remember him saying something about crazy teachings of various groups, which prompted me to bring up the recent TV series about Scientology by Leah Remini.) I had told him my concerns about various teachings and practices of the Scientologists, including, but not limited to, their practice of “shunning and disowning family members.”

Here’s the crazy part: In my conversation with the elder, I had said NOTHING about the Watchtower or Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had not even used the JW language of “disfellowshipping.” It was only the elder himself who had connected the dots, and who now accused me of criticizing the WT policy of disfellowshipping.

The other elder then questioned my motives. Why was I attending the kingdom hall? Was I here to learn, or did I have some other purpose? I told him that I wanted to learn, to gain accurate knowledge of their teachings, so I could talk more intelligently with all my JW friends. Then they asked me again whether I was truly there to learn. I replied that if I ever stop learning, I would be in a bad state. They finally seemed satisfied with my answers, and let me into the hall.

My interaction with these two elders told me several things. First, God is at work in that elder who accused me of criticizing the disfellowshipping policy. Somehow (by the work of the Holy Spirit?) he in his own mind made the connections that I prayed he would, making the huge leap (for most JW’s) between the policies of other religious groups to his own. Second, I’m still protected by the “Holy Spirit Bubble.” They allowed me in! Only God could keep me there for this long. After I sat down, I came up with so many better things that I could have said, but what I did say to them convinced them! And these are intelligent men, not dummies. One of them is a pretty good public speaker. Which leads me to my next point–I’m convinced that I have a purpose there. I’m still not clear what that is, but I know I’m supposed to be there. This was confirmed by the reception I received from the members. After the meeting so many people approached me, seemingly more friendly to me than ever before. One lady (let’s call her Tammy) even said that she had been thinking of me the day before, wondering if I would be returning to the hall (I missed my meeting last month). She was delighted that I was back. What a contrast between the genuine affection (yes, I believe it’s genuine) of the common members, versus the stern warnings of the elders.

I don’t know what God is going to do with this. I could be kicked out at any time. Then what? Stand out on the sidewalk holding a sign? (Well, maybe I would. If I did, I would use scripture only. First John 5:1 comes to mind. Or Ephesians 2:8-9. Or John 5:39-40. Or . . . okay, back to the topic.) Attend a different kingdom hall? (Maybe.) Phone some kingdom halls? (Sounds fun.)

Maybe all this time spent in the kingdom hall is preparing me to understand the heart and mind of JW’s in preparation for talking with someone in particular. Hey, that would mean that what I told the elders is true–I am learning about them so I can better understand and talk with my JW friends! It could come full circle. Wouldn’t that be so like God?

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My Appearance at Witnesses Now For Jesus West Coast

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Several weekends ago I attended and spoke at the West Coast version of the Witnesses Now for Jesus Conference. The experience (both as a speaker and as one in attendance) was A . . . MAZ . . . ING.

Here’s a link to my speaking session: Click Here! (Watching myself makes me cringe. Is that true of you, too?)

Note: Clicking the link above will reveal my true identity! Oops! Oh well, my cover is blown anyway. My local JW friends pretty much know what I’m up to; they just can’t do much about it because they still think I’m a nice guy. I think I am too, btw. Perhaps I should call myself “The blogger formerly known as UndercoverJW.”

Anyway, the conference was superb. Some of the speakers were formerly programmed by the “mental regulating” of the Watchtower, and have since had their minds rebooted by Jesus. (I’m sure that’s in the Bible somewhere. Oh, yeah, Romans 12:2! Ha! You didn’t think I could support that scripturally, did you?) Others (including myself) have never been Watchtower-programmed, but love JW’s and want to see them set free. Before, after, and in between sessions, fellowship and interaction was lively. We witnessed as one man who had left the Watchtower a mere two weeks prior was baptized in the hotel pool, formerly a “brother” in name only, now adopted as a real son of Jehovah! Some of us had opportunities to talk with current JW’s who attended tentatively, questioning and curious. I believe they experienced the real love of Jesus through us.

Whether you’re a current JW, former JW, or never-been, I highly recommend attending the upcoming conferences in Missouri (July 27 – 28, 2018) and Pennsylvania (Oct 5 – 7, 2018), or next year’s conference in Cali. Here’s their Facebook page: WNFJ

Start asking God now to provide for your participation. He did it for me!

 

 

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Using “Theocratic Language” with Jehovah’s Witnesses

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From Flickr Creative Commons

Do you know what “theocratic language” is? You won’t find much about it in the Watchtower publications, but if you spend any time in kingdom halls, you will hear the term (or variations such as “pure language”) from the platform. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a unique jargon, which some call “JW-ese.” The truth is, any social group, whether it be a culture, tribe, family, club, company, or others, ends up developing, either deliberately or unintentionally, its own unique jargon. Jehovah’s Witnesses are no exception. To outsiders the JW’s jargon is strange, quirky, and sometimes even funny. For example, what good reason is there to use the word “fruitage” instead of “fruit”? No one would say “Let’s go to the produce stand; we need to buy some fruitage.” But fruitage it is, both in their New World Translation of the Bible, and in their teaching talks. It’s all I can do to keep from snickering whenever I hear it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, rather than being embarrassed about their quirky jargon, are proud of it. Labeling it “theocratic language” gives it special status. And that’s one of the purposes of specialized jargon–identifying your group as distinct from, and by implication, superior to others. Some of the terms come from their quirky Bible translation (such as “fruitage”). Other terms come from their historic ministry practice (“circuit overseer” and “publishers”). Then there are terms that are used as indoctrinating (and I would argue mind-controlling) tools, such as the use of “the Truth” for everything Watchtower-related and “christiandom” for all other Christian churches, organizations, groups, and individuals.

Some of the specialized terms that JW’s use include:

theocratic, including theocratic language and theocratic ministry school

faithful and discreet slave

going where the need is greater

anointed class

great crowd or other sheep

christiandom

circuit overseer

disfellowship

governing body

torture stake

kingdom privileges

publishers

the Truth

There are many more, as you likely know. I’m tempted to make Bingo cards of them for use during the boring assemblies and conventions.

But there’s a better use for these quirky terms; we can use their language against them. Oh, no, I didn’t just say that! That was antagonistic. Make that: We can use their language to help reach them. Using their terminology is like using their heart language. Ministry to young adults, teens, gypsies, tribal people, businessmen, or any group, would require that we learn about what’s popular with them, including words they use. When they hear something in their language, it gets through to them more quickly and easily.

Here’s an example. Earlier this week I had an opportunity to meet with a new JW acquaintance. While we were getting acquainted, I mentioned that I grew up in Christiandom. As we talked further, I told him about my concern that there are a number of kingdom privileges, or kingdom benefits, that Watchtower teaches are available for only the 144,000 anointed believers, and not for the great crowd believers. When my new friend tried to change the subject to whether Jesus was crucified on a cross or a torture stake, I said that neither one bothered me, and that I didn’t have a problem with either.

See all the words and phrases in italics in the previous paragraph? Those are part of the JW jargon, their theocratic language. And notice that even the phrases “doesn’t bother me” and “I don’t have a problem with” are included. Lately JW’s are using those phrases A LOT. When you bring up an issue that they can’t explain, they dismiss it with that phrase. For example: “I don’t have a problem with the promise of living forever on earth. It sounds like you have a problem with it, but I don’t.” In other words, “What you’re showing me appears to indicate that what the Watchtower teaches contradicts what the Bible says, but Watchtower teaches it, and everything they teach is truth from the Bible, so I believe it no matter what you say, end of conversation.” But now, if I use the “doesn’t bother me” language, the tables are turned. I have shown them that others can use the same argument as they. I have shown my new JW friend what it is like to have a valid point dismissed so flippantly. Perhaps he will think twice about using that phrasing on me or others in the future. Not that I wanted to scold him or “put him in his place” with theocratic language. In fact, using the phrase “kingdom privileges and benefits” perked up his interest immediately for what I had to share with him, and we had a great conversation as a result. We even have plans to meet again! Use of my new friend’s heart language connected with him personally, and allowed the conversation, and our relationship, to continue.

Do you want your conversations with JW’s to last more than 5 minutes? First, love them and care about them. Second, treat them with respect. And then, use their heart language to reach them with the real truth.

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Attending the Annual Jehovah’s Witness Memorial

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None of this was eaten or drank. Really, none. Crazy, right?

I’m trying to remember how many Jehovah’s Witnesses annual Memorials* I have attended.

*The Memorial, in JW-speak, aka “Lord’s Evening Meal,” is their annual communion service, celebrated only once per year. In the JW system, the ceremony carries the distinction of ritually passing the bread and wine without partaking, unless you can confidently claim to be one of the 144,000 anointed believers. Non JW’s find it bizarre to see a room full of people passing the plates and cups around without eating or drinking.

I have definite memories of having attended four times now, but there may have been more. The first time that I remember, I passed the dishes along with everybody else, watching the empty ritual in awe. I didn’t think anything of participating along with my JW friends, other than feeling silly not eating and drinking. But the second through fourth times, things were different. During my second experience, I felt like I couldn’t bring myself to touch the dishes. My thinking was that I’m either going to fully participate, including eating and drinking, or else what business do we have even touching the elements? If the “great crowd” believers (those who are not of the 144,000 anointed class) are there only to observe, then why don’t they really observe, as in watching a small group of anointed believers around a small table up front? That would make more sense. So that year I sat on my hands and shook my head when the ushers and those next to me tried to hand me the dishes. They had to reach past me to give them to the next person. I even whispered to the usher, an elder, “Are we allowed to smell them?” (What a smart-aleck I can be. It just slipped out. Oh, did I say that out loud?)

Okay, so the last two times I attended, which was experience numbers 3 and 4 for me (or 4 and 5 if there was another), my thinking changed again. I found that I couldn’t even sit with the JW’s while the symbols were being passed. When the ushers began to pass them, I had to get up and stand along the side wall of the room. I felt like I couldn’t be any part of the ritual. I was truly “observing” and not participating in any way, as they describe the roll of the great crowd class. And it was not me trying to “make a statement” or protest–I was compelled to get up and get away from the passing activity. If any of the JW’s noticed or took what I did as a statement, then so be it; but I just could not stay in my seat.

I had a similar experience a number of years ago at a Catholic mass. I just could not take the elements at that time and place either, because what the priest had said about what the ritual represented for them, did not align with what I believe about the practice.

I realize that some non-JW’s and former JW’s are led by God’s Spirit to attend the memorial and eat and drink, either as a statement of protest to the JW’s, or as an expression of their freedom in Christ. I applaud them. But so far the Lord has not led me to do that. Nor do I think it wrong to touch the dishes and pass them along, if that’s what the Lord would have you do. We are free in Christ to do any of those choices, and perhaps others. And who knows; maybe the Lord will have me do something different next year. Meanwhile, here are some choices for you for the next Memorial:

  1. Pass the plate and cup along with your JW friends. Advantage: They aren’t scandalized and will still talk with you after the meeting. You are keeping your relationship with them, and thus your witness to them, alive and thriving.
  2. Stay seated, but don’t pass the dishes. Advantage: They likely still won’t be scandalized, and might ask you why you did what you did. Witnessing opportunity!
  3. Get up and stand to the side or the back of the room. Advantage: Again, they might ask you about what you did.
  4. Stay seated and eat some bread and take a sip of wine. Disadvantage: They will likely be scandalized, will probably label you as an apostate or opposer, and not talk to you ever again. Possible advantage: There’s a slim chance that an already-questioning JW might ask you more about what you did, on the sly.
  5. Eat some bread and drink some wine, stand up and make a disruptive statement aloud. If that’s what the Lord leads, then do so. Jesus disrupted the money-changers in the temple more violently than that. I won’t judge. Just be sure it’s the Lord’s leading, and not your own ego. In fact, seek the Lord’s leading in all the above options.

In all cases, the best reason to be there in the first place is to have conversations with JW’s both before and after the meeting. It is perhaps the best opportunity all year long. The JW’s attending are excited to be there. (Why are they so excited about such a dull, empty ritual? Two reasons: weeks and weeks of classical conditioning and hype.)  And they want to know what you thought about the experience. They all (as in all, as in every single one) ask me if I enjoyed the meeting. Take advantage of the opportunity that the Lord has provided, and engage with them! God will use it to plant seeds in their hearts and minds.

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Telephone Conversation About the Jehovah’s Witness Memorial.

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Most of the time I keep my cellphone’s ringtone on “vibrate” only. It’s our workplace rule, and I like it better than annoying ringtones anyway. But on Saturdays I often set my phone to actually ring, because it’s okay if an incoming call interrupts the yard work I’m doing. (“Oh, shucks. I have to stop weeding to take this call.”) So this last Saturday evening I heard an incoming call from my long-time Jehovah’s Witness friend Mark.

He called to invite me to the upcoming annual JW memorial (communion service). Not surprising, since he invites me every year. But then he asked me a question, which was very surprising. “Do you still believe that everyone should eat and drink the bread and wine?” he asked. (If you didn’t know, most JW’s pass the elements and do not eat and drink, unless they feel that they’re part of the 144,000 “anointed” believers.) Now, it sounds like a loaded question, and normally it would be, coming from any other JW. They tend to attack Christian beliefs with loaded questions such as, “Do you believe in hell?” and “Do you believe in the Trinity?” It’s their attempt to control the conversation. But I knew that in Mark’s case his question was not an attack. I know Mark, and I knew he was asking me for my honest opinion, not so he could pelt it with his memorized proof-texts, but because he wanted to know my biblical support for my belief.

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In other words, reading between the lines of Mark’s questioning, he’s questioning his own Watchtower-taught beliefs.

That’s huge. And that’s God at work.

We had a pretty long conversation. I brought up the verse quoted above in their own invitation, where Jesus commands us to “keep doing this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). What is the this Jesus is telling us to keep doing? Passing along the symbols without eating and drinking? No, in Matthew’s account (chapter 26), he tells them to “take and eat.” I also brought up that Watchtower likens the “great crowd” believers (those who aren’t part of the 144,000) to the “foreign residents” in the Old Testament. A simple study of the foreign residents reveals that they were allowed to fully participate in the Passover (along with all the other feasts), which is fulfilled in the last supper in the New Testament. If the foreign residents could eat and drink at the Passover, why can’t the great crowd believers eat and drink at the memorial? Finally, Mark brought up the copper serpent in the Old Testament (Numbers 21), of which Jesus claimed fulfillment at John 3:14. Those afflicted with sickness merely needed to look at the snake to be healed. Mark was implying that believers at the memorial would only need to look at the elements to benefit in some way from the experience. I pointed out two things: First, all the believers in the Old Testament story did the same action, that is, looking at the symbol. There weren’t two classes doing two different things. And secondly, if all we as believers need to do now is look at the symbols to benefit, why then do the anointed believes need to eat and drink?

Mark said that he would study about these things more. And unlike all other JW’s I have met, he will actually do so. (Respect to Mark for his rare integrity among JW’s.) Meanwhile, I’m thanking the Lord for a great conversation with a good friend, who happens to be a Jehovah’s Witness.

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