Tag Archives: Jehovah’s Witness Memorial

Two Conversations from the 2020 Jehovah’s Witness Memorial

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From Carlo Salvarenga on Pixabay

The Jehovah’s Witness annual memorial (Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Communion) was actually less strange this year than in the past, because this year visitors (such as myself) could not see what makes it so strange. What we could see at first was a number of JW individuals and families on screen in the 4-pane Zoom conference format. Many of you sheltered-in-place during this current pandemic know how it looks, especially those working from home.

Once the speaker began his talk, though, all other video and audio feeds were blocked, so that we could only see the speaker. When he got to what other churches would call “the blessing of the elements,” what we could not see was that virtually no one was eating the bread or drinking the wine. The fact that even the speaker himself did not eat or drink should have been a tipoff that something was askew, but a visitor would probably not have thought much of it, thinking that the speaker was just wanting to keep his voice clear. Those of us who have visited physically in years past know that the JW members pass the plate and the cup without eating or drinking, unless they are one of the rare (endangered?) 144,000 anointed believers.

I share this in case you were a guest (invited or otherwise) to this year’s memorial, and were unaware of the strange practice that it is. What you did not see was families at home passing bread and wine to one another, without ingesting either. It’s truly bizarre to an evangelical Christian like me. I also wonder what individuals who were alone did. Pick up the plate and set it back down again? Weird, weird, weird. I asked one of my JW friends, Gary, what they do with the bread and wine after the meeting, and he said that they eat it later. “As a snack,” he added. Wow. Just wow. “At least you don’t waste it,” I said.

Which leads me to reporting on the two post-memorial conversations I had. I talked by phone with my long-time friend Mark, and we had a long conversation about both our personal lives and doctrine. (I consider him a good friend, so we talk about a lot of things. I’m constantly praying that God will continue to protect us from his elders squelching our relationship.) We talked about the two-class system, Jesus as mediator, salvation through faith and not works, having a relationship with Jehovah and Jesus rather than “taking in knowledge,” and several other doctrinal topics.

My other conversation is with Gary, and is ongoing, because we’re conversing by text. I asked him about the speaker saying that the Bible talks about “two hopes,” but I only find the Bible talking about “one hope” (Ephesians 4:4). He told me that “this hope spoken of here [in the Ephesians verse] is the hope of everlasting life, shared by the ones with heavenly or earthly hope.” I think he found that double-speak somewhere in the JW literature, but he didn’t say where. I have texted back asking about the two-class system, and whether he thinks it has been imposed on the Bible rather than being taught by the Bible. My phone says that the text has been read, but so far he hasn’t responded. Here’s hoping and praying that he continues to interact and doesn’t shut down on me.

Lord Jesus, use the strange memorial meeting of this year to draw JW’s to yourself. Help them see the hypocrisy of rejecting you, and then calling themselves “Christians.”

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Is Your Ministry On Pause?

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From Pixabay

Have you ever felt like your ministry was put on pause? Nothing seems to be happening? That’s how I have felt recently. What I have learned, though, is that’s simply not true. I should know this by now; it has happened before.

Maybe you’re “between ministries.” Maybe you’ve been sick. Maybe you have had a crisis, whether due to circumstances or your own mistake(s). Whatever the cause, you feel like your ministry is on pause.

In my case, I have been banned from the local kingdom hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. While I haven’t experienced anything with nearly the intensity of being disfellowshipped and losing all contact with my family and friends, I do feel like I have been given a hint of that reality. I have not felt the gut-wrenching pain of being disowned by those closest to me. I’m sorry if you have. I have only been cut off from those whom I consider dear friends, even though I had known them for only a short time. There’s “George,” a high-schooler whom I suspect is questioning the trustworthiness of the organization. (See my post about him here and here.) There’s “Billy,” a young adult whom I suspect is struggling with his identity as a man. There’s “Dinah,” one of the nicest ladies you’ll ever meet, with a genuine smile that goes deeper than the “love bombing” JW’s are trained to do. That’s just a few of the friends I’m missing now.

Don’t feel sorry for me. I have a life outside of those I’ve met at the kingdom hall. I’m not writing this in my pajamas eating ice cream. Okay, maybe I am. But it’s not because I’m lonely or in despair. It’s just that I grew fond of those people. They’re real people, and I care about them. Until I run into one or more of them outside of their fortress, my ministry with them is on hold.

Or is it?

I don’t know whether any of them are sneaking looks at one or more of the Facebook groups I’m a part of. Have any of them seen the videos of me speaking at the Witnesses Now For Jesus (WNFJ) convention? (Here’s the link to that, if you’re interested: Click!) You never know who may be sneaking peeks at the evil internet. Even if not, the ministry goes on with others who interact with me online. Many believers and I are planting seeds with JW’s who are secretly carrying on conversations with us “apostates” and “opposers”.

There’s also my friend “Mark.” Conversations with him are still ongoing. Last year I attended the Memorial with him, and he and I are planning to do the same this time around—it’s coming up soon, in April.

I also hope to get into the city (San Fran) soon for some cart ministry—interacting with JW’s at their carts, that is.

Here’s your (and my) dose of reality: A ministry on pause or hold is really a matter of our perception. Jesus said in John 5, “To this very day My Father is at His work, and I too am working.” God is always at work, even when we can’t see it. Therefore, we need to keep working, and keep trusting. Keep planting those seeds, wherever you’re planted!

Update: Later on the same day that I wrote the above, I ran into my friend Mark near my workplace. We had a friendly chat, and we both expressed our anticipation of attending the upcoming memorial. How’s that for confirmation? God is at work indeed!

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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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Invitation to Jehovah’s Witness Memorial

 

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Last night I attended the regular midweek meeting at the local kingdom hall, and was given this invitation to the upcoming Memorial (sometimes called the Lord’s Evening Meal); that is, the annual JW communion service. Jehovah’s Witnesses observe what we call communion only once per year, because they believe that it’s proper practice to observe the event on the day of year upon which Passover would be celebrated. This is a BIG DEAL to JW’s, and is the closest thing they have to celebrating a holiday.

Notice their quotation of Luke 22:19, “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” I have a question I want to ask my JW friends. (And I likely will be asking them at the upcoming Memorial.) My question is, keep doing what? What is the this that we are to keep doing? Likely my JW friends will answer that we are to keep observing the memorial every year. But is that what Jesus had in mind when he said those words? Looking at the gospel narratives, it’s pretty obvious that Jesus was saying keep eating and drinking the bread and wine in remembrance of him. The strange thing is, the vast majority of JW’s don’t eat or drink the communion bread and wine. They just pass it without eating and drinking. Why? Because they believe that participating in the memorial is only for the 144,000 anointed class of believers. The rest, who are members of the “great crowd” class of believers, are only there to observe.

Sounds crazy to outsiders. Because it is crazy. But my JW friends and acquaintances don’t see it that way. It’s normal belief and practice to them. It’s likely that they have never even given it much thought; it’s just what they’ve always done. Our job, then, is to get them to think about it. But that’s not easy. While we’re uncomfortable just passing the bread and wine (last time I couldn’t do it; I had to get up and stand against the side wall), they would be uncomfortable with the thought of eating and drinking the symbols of a covenant belonging to someone else. So how do we talk with them about it? How do we get them to see how it looks to an outsider?

I have found the best approach is to express your puzzlement, which is not hard to do. Here’s what I asked a JW friend last year, and what I’ll likely ask again, and what you too can ask your JW friend, acquaintance, or relative:

“This is so strange to me. Can you tell me again why no-one here seemed to eat or drink the bread and wine? I’m puzzled.”

Then just let them try to explain. Some will be good at explaining it, while others will have a hard time explaining. But let them verbalize it and own it. Then repeat what they say, adding what you have learned about the practice. Something like, “So, if I understand correctly, Watchtower teaches that only the 144,000 anointed believers are in the New Covenant, and so only they can eat and drink. Can you tell me where in the Bible they are getting that from?” Show them the invitation, and ask, “I thought Jesus said ‘Keep doing this in remembrance of me.’ Wasn’t he saying that to all believers?” Then let them respond however they will. They might try to explain it away. Or they might change the subject. Their response is less important than their interacting with the truth as you have quoted in scripture and have explained to them. You have planted seeds that may need to germinate invisibly in the soil of their heart and mind for a while. Keep praying for them. They can be set free. I know it’s true, because I have met former JW’s! (If you need that encouragement, see my previous post here.)

God bless your ministry to those in bondage!

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