Tag Archives: Watchtower

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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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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Keeping Friendships with Jehovah’s Witness Alive

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This is the challenge: Keeping friendships with Jehovah’s Witnesses alive. It should be your number one goal.

Yes, above winning an argument, or insisting on your “rights,” or getting your brilliant point expressed, or pointing out the logical absurdity of a JW teaching or practice, or even sharing the gospel.

What? More important than sharing the gospel? Well, I didn’t say that we shouldn’t share the gospel. In fact, sharing the good news of Jesus should be a priority. But keeping the friendship alive needs to be THE priority. Why? Because:

  1. Our friendship with them is tenuous, and likely limited in terms of length. At some point they may begin to avoid us, either because of their discomfort with the truth, their fear of “apostates” and “opposers”, or because of a directive by their elders. I had this happen with my friend Aaron, who used a number of excuses to explain his not returning my calls and texts. When I called one of his bluffs and asked “Is that the real reason you can’t meet?” he changed the subject. I replied with “Okay, I love you.” Once we hung up, I haven’t heard from him since. It goes to show that we have a limited time window to influence our JW friends and relatives.
  2. They are not likely to hear or receive the truth of the gospel until they trust you as a friend, and that takes time. It took years for my old friend Mark to realize that I valued my friendship with him unconditionally, whether he left the Watchtower or not, and so he could also value our friendship, even though he knows I’m an active challenger to his faith system.
  3. Being their friend will blow their minds. Yes it will! Why? Two reasons: (a) They don’t experience real friendships within their congregation. (Okay, there will be exceptions to this, but it is difficult to be real with someone who is obligated to turn you in when you have doubts or question the governing bully.) And (b) they don’t think it’s possible for someone within “Christendom” to care about them and be a real friend to them. As I recently learned from a missionary reaching out to Europeans who are jaded against Christians, we need to provide to lost people “good experiences with Christians.” It’s their first step toward being open to the truth of the gospel.

So do all you can to keep the friendship alive, no matter how tenuous it is. Go out of your way to help Jehovah’s Witnesses, or to do little acts of kindness that say “I was thinking of you.” Help unclog a drain. Give a plate of cookies (try to pick the ones that don’t look too Christmas-y). Provide a ride to the airport. Love-bomb them, but in a way that is far more genuine than their phony conditional expressions of love. In short, care. Show them the fruit of the Spirit, so they will want to become grafted into Jesus the vine.

Pray for me as I seek to develop additional friendships with JW’s. My last two visits to the local kingdom hall had me talking with “Jim” and his son “Alton.” I think we’re hitting it off pretty well. I’m hoping we can meet off-campus sometime. May Jehovah provide to you the spirit of Jesus as you share with your JW friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

 

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Hooray for Cart Ministry

Cart ministry is fun!

CartBeach

Isn’t Cart Ministry Fun!

No, I don’t mean it’s fun for the Jehovah’s Witnesses doing it. I mean it’s fun for me, an Evangelical Christian who wants to see JW’s set free from their bondage to the Watchtower organization.

This last week I went into the city on a business trip, and as I expected, there were several literature carts staffed by JW’s in and around the train station. I was able to interact with three groups of JW’s. I decided to use my new full-disclosure strategy (rather than pretending to be a naive, curious Bible student). (See my previous posts about my new approach.) In each case I began with telling them I loved them, am praying for them, and am grieving for them, because there are a number of kingdom privileges being withheld from and/or denied to them. They don’t know what to make of that, so I go on, listing whichever ones I can think of in the moment: Being adopted as Jehovah’s sons and daughters, being in the New Covenant, having Jesus as our mediator, and being born again, for examples.

The first group I shared this with (a man and 3 women) did not respond to my message at all, attempting to change the subject to generalities about God (he wants the best for us, he cares about us, etc.) I pressed in with my subject though, explaining the Watchtower’s teaching that these blessings are only for the anointed class of 144,000 members, and returning again and again to my feelings about what they’re doing. I found my words and my tone fluctuating between sadness and anger as I spoke; I think they got a vivid impression of my burden for them. Seeing that they were not going to respond in any meaningful way, I left them on good terms.

The second opportunity was with a couple, possibly married to each other, but I’m not sure. When I mentioned the mediator issue, they were adamant that Jesus was the mediator for all believers. I happened to have in my backpack a copy of Worldwide Security Under the Prince of Peace, which I had recently obtained from a brother at the recent Witnesses Now for Jesus conference. God helped me lay hands on the book quickly, and open to where I had a bookmark showing where Watchtower clearly teaches that Jesus is the mediator for only the 144,000. They were amazed. I mentioned that current info at the JW website, in the Insight book, under M for mediator, confirms this teaching. About that time, the man from the first group came over to take away the lady, explaining that it was time for her to take someone’s place who was going on break. (Or was he shielding her from me? I don’t know. Is that a thing they do?) So that left the man, “Nathan,” probably in his 30’s. He and I had a long talk together. He was amazingly willing to discuss and debate with me (although I tried to keep it from being a debate), and he never played the “I’m not going to argue with you” card, and never shut down on me. I did not expect to encounter anyone like that any more. Recently they have been so strongly warned to not engage with “apostates” or “opposers” that it’s difficult to have any kind of meaningful conversation with the average JW. (See my previous posts about that.) Nathan and I discussed the two-class system, heaven and earth, assurance of salvation (or lack thereof), being born again, and other topics. I asked him what he does when he encounters a contradiction between the Bible and the watchtower, to which he replied that he waits for clarification from the “new light.” I challenged him with the thought that wouldn’t we want to report it so that it can be corrected as soon as possible? When he asked if I were considering becoming a JW, I left him with the thought (expressed several times and ways) that I could never pledge my allegiance to an earthly, human organization, but could only do so to Jesus. (This is a new tactic of mine, attempting to use their anti-flag-pledge language to apply to their dedication at baptism to the organization.)

The third set of JW’s I talked with was a group of four, outside the train station. They were packing up, getting ready to leave, so I gave them a quick form of my presentation, telling them I loved them, and was concerned and praying about the blessings they were missing. As I listed some of them, one of the ladies dismissed me with “Okay, goodbye,” as she began to walk away. The other three were more willing to listen as I finished up with my short (probably less than 1 minute) talk. I gave them a seed bomb to finish their day of “preaching” work. (Or should we call it “not-preaching work”?) I probably did more preaching that day than all 9 JW’s I encountered combined. And in contrast to their experience, I had more fun. I’m thankful for the opportunities that cart ministry provides. Hooray for cart ministry!

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Jesus and Michael in Daniel 10

I’m going to attempt to do something similar to what my friend Sara Parrott does in her blog, A Twist in Translation. (Check out her blog by clicking here.) My attempt at using her format is nowhere near her masterful presentations, but here goes anyway.

Take a look at the text of Daniel 10 from the New World Translation that I have reproduced here (printed directly from jw.org):

Daniel10A

Daniel10B

And here’s a version that might be easier to read:

Dan10NWT

See the description of the “man clothed in linen” in verses 5-6? Does it sound familiar? It should; see Revelation 1:13-16. The Revelation passage is clearly describing Jesus, and given the similarity between the two passages, I think that any casual reader would conclude that the one being described in Daniel 10 is an Old Testament appearance of Jesus. The Watchtower, however, identifies the Daniel 10 being as an angel and not Jesus (see Watchtower, September 1, 2011, p. 8). I also note that the descriptions of the reactions by both Daniel (verses 8-9) and John (Revelation 1:17-18) are very similar.

And there’s more. There are a number of princes mentioned in Daniel 10. It seems that regions or nations can have an angelic being, or “prince” assigned to them, whether that being is fallen and demonic (in the case of Persia and Greece) or godly and angelic (as in the case of Israel). And Michael seems to be the angel in charge of Israel. Michael is described as “one of the foremost princes,” implying that there are multiple “foremost princes.” Could it be that the term “foremost prince” is a synonym for “archangel”? I believe that it is. Just because Michael is elsewhere described as “the archangel” doesn’t mean that he is the only archangel, any more than saying “David the king” would mean that David is the only king. So it looks like an archangel is an angel assigned to oversee a nation or people group.

Notice also that the New World Translation has a footnote to verse 13 for the phrase “one of the foremost princes,” where the alternate translation is given as “a prince of the first rank.” Could it be that Michael is one of a number of princes of first rank, just like a modern army can have a number of generals? I think it could, and is.

So here in Daniel 10 we have two separate beings, one of which matches the description of Jesus in Revelation 1, and the other of which is one among a number of high-ranking princes, and whose name is Michael. If you were reading Daniel 10 and Revelation 1 without your Watchtower goggles on, what would be your conclusion?

 

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Door-to-Door Preaching, or Cart Preaching?

Take a look at http://www.jw.org. Right on the opening home page, there are full page-width photos you can scroll through, each depicting Jehovah’s Witnesses sharing their literature with others.

Now, click on “publications,” choose “magazines,” and scroll down to the Watchtowers. Look at the cover pictures. What do you see? More JW’s witnessing to the public, in public, using their literature. About half of the pics show the literature carts that they are now using.

Notice what’s missing in these pics? Other than the Bible, of course. (Okay, I see one pic where the JW is holding the New World Translation. But as tempted as I am to follow that rabbit trail, it’s a topic for another time.) What I’m wanting you to notice is the lack of pictures of JW’s at the front door of the “householder.” Yes, if you peruse the website, you will find some pics of JW’s talking with a householder at their front door, but those pics are far outnumbered by these new depictions of ministry in public areas, with and without the literature carts. Hmmm. What do we make of this?

Although I have not seen it in print, two reasons for the new ministry method that I have heard from rank-and-file JW’s are: (1) The Watchtower’s recognition that door-to-door ministry has limited effectiveness due to more active lifestyles of “householders” (they’re not home as much as in the past), and (2) the modern phenomenon of gated communities and secure residential buildings that prohibit access by solicitors. So that makes sense, and indicates a wise recognition for the need to adapt ministry to changing cultural conditions. (If you have seen these or other reasons given in the literature, please share with us in the comments below.)

But what about the Watchtower’s history of doctrinal dogmatism regarding the door-to-door ministry practice? The Watchtower has a long history of justifying their “house to house” ministry method scripturally, (mis)using such verses as Acts 5:42 and 20:20. The practice has been used as a “holiness criteria” for members, and as an indicator of who is in the true church, and who is part of the false church (aka the whore of Babylon). What do you think? Will we see a doctrinal change? Will there be “new light” on the subject?

My prediction is that there will be no “new light” or new teaching, but rather a gradual and casual abandonment of the “old light.” It has already begun with these pictures on the website and the magazines. There will be fewer and fewer mentions in the literature of the “house to house” ministry, and more and more mentions of “various methods for reaching people with the good news of the kingdom.” The God’s Kingdom Rules book already teaches about methods used in the past: megaphones on cars, use of radio broadcasts and phonograph players, print ads, and multimedia presentations, to name a few. While house-to-house preaching will continue, it won’t be given the exclusive honor that it has enjoyed in the past. It will be interesting to see whether JW members will be able to choose their preferred form of ministry on any given Saturday, or if they will be assigned to carts or doors by the will (or at the whim) of the elders. Does anybody know how it’s decided who gets to use the carts, and who doesn’t, at any given kingdom hall?

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