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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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I Attended the Jehovah’s Witness Virtual Memorial

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From David Weber on Unsplash

In my previous post, I lamented and gave a pep talk to myself (and you, I hope) about God being at work even when we’re being ghosted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the time, it seemed like I was waiting for something to happen.

Well, something happened.

The Covid virus happened.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ annual memorial this year was done on Zoom video chat. Out of the blue I received an invitation from a JW acquaintance who attends the kingdom hall that my long-time friend Mark attends. This acquaintance (whom I’ll call Gary) offered to help me download the Zoom app, and provided the meeting access code on the day of the event.

So here’s what happened.

I thought I would be able to observe people passing the elements, whether where the speaker was located (Florida), or with the people and families I saw on screen. But no. While I could see people on screen before and after the talk, they were all blanked out during the talk. All I could see was the talking head. And he gave people hardly any time to pass the elements among themselves. In fact, it was unclear when they were supposed to pass the bread. Passing the elements seemed like almost an afterthought.

The talk was the same that I have heard every dang time I have been to the memorial. Same four questions. If I remember them correctly: (1) How is the ransom provided, (2) Who benefits from the ransom, (3) Who should partake of the bread and wine, and (4) What more can we do to show our appreciation for the ransom. Point number 3 is always a thinly veiled warning against anybody but the anointed 144,000 taking the elements. Point 4 is an appeal to attend meetings, participate in ministry, and take in Bible knowledge.

After the meeting, attendees were allowed to greet each other, which was actually a really nice, casual affair, everyone saying hello to each other. They’re obviously lonely and bored, and this was a much-needed connection time for their members. At least the control-freaks allowed it. Thank God. I actually heard a couple of hellos directed toward me; I don’t know who it was, but several members of the congregation know me. I was pleasantly surprised.

I have yet to talk with Mark and Gary about the meeting. That will be the big payoff—the talking points that came from the experience. I’ve already asked Gary what they do with the bread and wine that serve as props for the meeting. He said they eat and drink it later. That’s so bizarre. But at least the bread and wine are not wasted. (I read somewhere that those who believe in transubstantiation, like the Roman Catholics, have to pour out unused wine onto the ground, because it has actually become the literal blood of Christ. That’s bizarre too.)

My planned talking points include: The opening song, “A Special Posession,” (song #25) which is the perfect example of so much that is wrong with the Watchtower doctrine. The whole song applies exclusively to the 144,000. That means that my friends are actually singing about a group they’re not a part of. The song goes on and on about the anointed being a new creation, spirit-anointed sons, a holy nation, God’s people, etc. The whole thing borders on idolatry, praising the anointed class of believers. Ugh, it’s so annoying. What’s also annoying is that visiting evangelical Christians would have no clue about the song’s true meaning, thinking it’s just a nice song about all believers. Again, Ugh. BTW, a fun thing to do if you’re at a meeting and they sing this song: Substitute in the word “we” for every place the song says “they.” Instant evangelical hymn! Watch for reactions of those around you.

Another talking point might be that the speaker specifically said that the Bible talks about “two hopes,” a heavenly hope and an earthly hope. Nowhere does the Bible say “two hopes.” In fact, it says that there’s “one hope” at Ephesians 4:4. Only. One. Hope.

The speaker also talked about the anointed being “in contract” with Jehovah, as Jesus expressed during the Lord’s supper, when he said “this cup is the New Covenant in my blood.” He did not say the rest of the sentence, where Jesus adds “for many for the remission of sins.” If the Great Crowd believers are not in the New Covenant, what covenant, if any, are they in? What is their “contract” with Jehovah?

Finally, the speaker mentioned Romans 8 to answer how the anointed know that they’re destined for heaven. Paul says that “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Verse 16) Watchtower applies this blessing exclusively to the 144,000. I hope to read all of Romans 8 with Mark and Gary and express to them my sadness, anger, and offense at how the governing bully denies all the blessings from virtually all their disciples. They are, however, expected to live up to all the exhortations in the Bible. Harumph.

I look forward to talking with Mark and Gary. Please pray that their hearts and minds will be open to the truth and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

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Top Ten Topics to Discuss With Jehovah’s Witnesses #9: The Memorial

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From Pixabay

Next in my list of the top ten topics to discuss with Jehovah’s Witnesses is “The Memorial,” their version of what most Christians call Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. JW’s celebrate the event only once a year, an attempt to be biblically accurate, using what they consider the proper date. Anyone who has been to one of their memorials will tell you how bizarre it is. Their two-class system of believers necessitates that only the elite “anointed class,” made up of only 144,000, will eat the bread and drink the wine; so you might see only one, or more likely none of the believers present eating and drinking. Almost all of those present will only pass the plate and cup up and down the rows, since they are there to only “observe” the ritual. As weird and depressing as that is, it provides the visiting Christian (you and me) great opportunities for conversation with them after the meeting.

Here are some of the questions I like to ask them:

“Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ What did he mean? Do what? It seems like you’re not doing what Jesus said to do. I don’t understand. Can you explain that to me?”

“If we’re only supposed to observe, why do we even touch the dishes? Shouldn’t they have the actual participants up front at that little table, and the rest of us watch from back here? It seems like you’re half participating in the ritual. If you’re only supposed to observe, it should be all or nothing, don’t you think?”

“The speaker quoted Jesus, where he said ‘Drink out of it, all of you, for this means my ‘blood of the covenant,’ which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins.’ (Matthew 26:27-28) Does that mean you’re not in the New Covenant? Aren’t your sins forgiven? If you’re not in the New Covenant, what covenant are you in?”

And here’s a more advanced question: “Did you know that the Watchtower likens the Great Crowd believers to the ‘foreign residents’ in the Old Testament? Did you also know that the foreign residents, once they committed to Jehovah, could participate in all the festivals and feasts, including the Passover? I’m sure you know that the Lord’s evening meal is the fulfillment of the Passover. So here’s what’s puzzling to me. Since the foreign residents could eat and drink at the Passover, why can’t the great crowd believers eat and drink at the memorial?”

I hope this list of questions provides you with good ideas and inspiration, rather than being overwhelming. If for simplicity I were to lump all these questions together into one, it would be “What’s up with your Memorial? It’s so different from what we do at my church. Can you explain it to me please?”

With any of these questions, I’m not so much looking for reasonable answers (because there really are none), but rather I’m wanting my JW friends to attempt to explain the bizarre ritual. Sometimes the best thing for them is to hear themselves attempting to explain their strange doctrines, and for them to see them from the perspective of an outsider. Once they attempt to explain things to you, then you have the opportunity to share with them what Communion means to you. So when you receive an invitation to their Memorial (or even if you don’t), attend and take advantage of the opportunity.

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Anointed Class Sighting at the Jehovah’s Witness Memorial!

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Pic Sourced From Someone’s Instagram

We interrupt my list of Top 10 Topics to Discuss With Jehovah’s Witnesses to bring you a special report from Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter (imagine his voice narrating): “We’ve got a rare one here! It’s the very rare member of the anointed class! As you know, there are only 144,000 of these beauties in existence, and most of them have already died! That makes them an endangered species, and here’s one right in front of us! Just look at that one eating the bread and drinking the wine! Crikey!”

That’s right, I attended the recent Memorial at a Jehovah’s Witnesses kingdom hall not far from me, and for the first time observed someone actually eating the bread and drinking the wine! For those who are unaware of what takes place at the JW memorial, read the next paragraph. If you already know, then skip ahead.

Jehovah’s Witness only observe what Christian churches call communion, eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper once a year, and they call it the Memorial or the Lord’s Evening Meal. They also believe and teach that only the 144,000 anointed believers are part of the New Covenant, and so they are the only ones expected to eat and drink. The rest of the “great crowd” believers are expected to respectfully observe the ceremony. Weird, right? It gets weirder. The practical result is a room full of people passing the plates and the cups up and down the rows, with almost no one eating or drinking! It is truly bizarre. Occasionally you hear about one, usually an elderly member, who believes they are of the anointed heaven-bound class, and they alone eat and drink.

So, I have attended perhaps 6 memorial services over the years that I have been interacting with JW’s, and I wondered if I would ever see one of the “anointed” eat and drink the elements. Well, this last Friday, I saw one! An older lady nibbled and sipped, just across the aisle and a couple seats over. After the service, I recognized her as one with whom I had talked with in the past; she seems (then and now) most interested in talking about her medical conditions.

What’s so sad is that one of my favorite passages of scripture, Romans 8:16, which says “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children,” was quoted by the speaker, who then explained how that verse applies ONLY to the anointed 144,000. It makes me seethe inside! The great majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses are being denied all the blessings of being in the New Covenant:  Being born again, being adopted as Jehovah’s sons and daughters, being kings and priests, having Jesus as their mediator, the heavenly hope, and more.

One of the songs sung at that night’s memorial was their song #25, A Special Possession:

  1. God has a new creation,

His spirit-anointed sons.

He has bought them from mankind;

His approval they’ve won.

(CHORUS)

A special possession,

They’re a people for your name.

They love you. They praise you.

As one they declare abroad your fame.

  1. They are a holy nation,

Who handle the truth aright.

God has called them from darkness

To his wonderful light.

  1. Faithful to their commission,

They gather the other sheep.

To the Lamb they are loyal.

His commandments they keep.

 

This is the only JW song that I sing with them. But I change one thing. Every place the song says “they,” I sing “we.” This changes the application of the song’s words from the anointed class only, to all believers. Those standing around me hear me do that. I hope they think about the significance of what I’m singing. I can’t bring myself to do anything disruptive in the service; that’s just not me. But I imagine my little word-changing to be my subtle protest. Ooh, I’m such a rebel. Watch out! But I have to be subtle. Making a scene would shut them down, and they wouldn’t hear anything I had to say. I’m trying to make an impact, softly. It’s like beating on a concrete dam with one of those inflatable squeaky hammers. God, put your miraculous power in my stupid little hammer.

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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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