Cults in Culture: Jehovah's Witnesses and End Times (Part 3)

A multipart series on religious groups commonly associated with Christianity

Correction Appended

Would you believe in a faith that had incorrectly predicted the End Times? Members of Jehovah’s Witness still follow the organization despite numerous false prophecies predicting Armageddon.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a Christian group,” Dr. Norman Geisler, a distinguished professor of apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Murrieta, Calif., declared in a “One Minute Apologist” podcast.

They deny “essential doctrines … like the doctrine of hell,” noted Geisler.

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Many would scoff at the idea of Harold Camping leading a major world religion. The controversial Family Radio Stations Inc. broadcaster has made headlines recently, predicting the Rapture would occur this May, and later, when he was wrong, this October. That also turned out to be false, as was his 1994 prediction.

Yet, Camping and other leaders of the Jehovah’s Witness organization, otherwise known as the Watchtower Society, have managed to attract and maintain followers – despite numerous incorrect predictions that Armageddon would occur. The Watchtower Society’s predicted dates that have come and gone include 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925, 1941 and 1975. Still, the group “has grown into one of the most influential cults of our time,” stated Charlie Campbell, director of The Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry, on his apologetics website.

Campbell, a former professor at Calvary Chapel Bible College, in a lecture on his apologetics website, lists three areas in which Jehovah’s Witnesses deny Christian teachings: hell, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the deity of Jesus Christ.

Ric Walston, professor and president of Columbia Evangelical Seminary in Washington State, agreed with those three denials, and added one more.

“There are many differences and variances between Jehovah's Witnesses and Christianity,” he said in an email to The Christian Post. “A few of the basic variances are: Jehovah's Witnesses teach that there is no Holy Trinity. Christianity teaches that there is the Holy Trinity, i.e., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the Holy Spirit is only ‘a force’ and not a real person. Christianity teaches that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person, i.e., the third Person of the Trinity. Jehovah's Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ is not God, and that he is in fact only a creation of God. Christianity teaches that Jesus is God, and He is in fact the Creator of all things.”

Walston added, “Jehovah's Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead in his physical body. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead in his physical (though glorified) body.”

Walston lists several other differences between Jehovah’s Witness and Christianity on his Coffee Talk website.

James Beverley, professor of Christian Thought and Ethics at Tyndale University, affirmed to CP that, “Jehovah's Witnesses deny the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the personal nature of the Holy Spirit, the bodily resurrection of Jesus and claim that the second coming took place in 1914. They have a works-based view of salvation and believe that only Jehovah's Witnesses are true Christians.”

A 2008 Barna study showed that only seven percent of all Jehovah’s Witnesses meet the criteria for being a born-again Christian. The study compared beliefs of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses against the criteria for being a born-again Christian.

Geisler, as he has made clear in several of his books, calls the Watchtower Society a cult.

“A cult is defined as a group that denies one or more essential doctrines of Christianity,” he said in the podcast. “There are about 14 essential doctrines [that Jehovah’s Witnesses deny] … Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a Christian group, they are a Christian cult, because they claim to be Christian but deny Christian doctrines, which makes them essentially a Christian cult.”

Paul de Vries, president of New York Divinity School, agreed.

“Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) fit the model of cult that we discussed – (1) exploiting people and (2) trying to diminish Jesus,” he said in an email interview with The Christian Post.

First, “There is strong exploitation and oppression. No one can leave without severe penalties including shunning by friends and family who are still JWs – and every decision in people's personal life is subject to leaders' review,” he explained.

Second, de Vries said, “JWs diminish Jesus – as if he were a lower angel, not the Divine-human, not dying for our sins, not the Savior, not the Son of God in the Trinity.

“In my experience, JWs not only will not pray in Jesus' name, they will not pray with anyone who prays in Jesus' name. (One way to get them to leave is to promise (threaten?) to pray in Jesus' name).”

Walston of Columbia Theological Seminary also considers the Watchtower Society a cult, adding that “the JWs organization sees Christianity as a cult.”

“There are, basically speaking, three kinds of cults: 1. Cults by sociological definition – Social Cult, 2. Cults by theological definition – Theological Cult, 3. Cults by both sociological and theological definition – Social & Theological Cult,” he explained to CP.

“If a group teaches something that is not in line with the essence of Christianity in one or more significant respects, then it is a theological cult. And, the JWs fit that definition; so, yes it is a theological cult.”

Just as with any non-Christian group, name-calling is useless, un-Christian and will most likely lead to defensiveness. So how should Christians approach a Jehovah’s Witness?

"Christians should recognize that evangelism to Jehovah's Witnesses usually takes a lot of time because of the depth of indoctrination in the Watchtower system. Our approach should be loving, informed and patient,” advised Beverley. “It is very, very hard for a Witness to imagine that they could be wrong. Most Witnesses do not know the long history of false prophecy, changed doctrine and crazy theories that have come from the leadership since the days of Charles Russell.

“The first thing I think that Christians should keep in mind when approaching a JW – or anyone outside of the Christian faith – is that Jesus died to save sinners, and these folks need Jesus as much as anyone. Our goal should be to reach members of the cults with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelism, not conquest, should be our aim,” Walston said.

“It seems to me that many people in cults are not very concerned about the ‘obvious problems.’ It is sort of like the child who is old enough to begin to wonder if Santa Claus is real, but she does not want to let go of that belief because it makes her happy,” he continued.

“So, in spite of the ‘obvious problems,’ she continues to believe in Santa Claus. In the cults, many people have unquestioning faith in their leaders even when the facts are against them. It is blind faith based upon faith. Christianity is eyes-wide-open faith based upon facts,” he said.

“One useful tool is to give Witnesses a copy of Ray Franz’s Crisis of Conscience, which tells his amazing story of life as a former Governing Body member,” Beverley said.

An Open Letter to a Jehovah’s Witness, by Roy Zuck, academic dean at Dallas Theological Seminary, is another helpful tool.

The Watchtower Society is not built on any foundations of Christian faith, Geisler said. It is a fact to keep in mind when one gets a knock on the door from a Jehovah’s Witness.

“Psalm 11:3 says ‘If the foundation be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?’ So are you going to call it a building if it doesn’t have any foundations?” Geisler highlighted.

Editors’ note: This is the third story in a multi-part series examining cults, Christianity and belief systems that claim to be Christianity. The Christian Post will be looking at several belief systems that are commonly associated with Christianity and providing expert opinions and research on those belief systems. While the CP recognizes the issue of semantics when using the words “cult,” and “Christianity,” for our purposes, we are defining those belief systems outside of Christianity whose proponents claim to be Christian to be "cults.

Correction: Tuesday, November 15, 2011:  

An article on Tuesday, November 15, 2011, about the differences in theology between Jehovah's Witness and orthodox Christianity incorrectly identified Ric Walston as a professor and president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. Walston is the president of Columbia Evangelical Seminary in Washington.

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