Jehovah's Witnesses

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Jehovah's Witnesses
Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (world headquarters).jpg
Watchtower Buildings in Brooklyn, New York
Classification Millenarian
Orientation Restorationist
Structure Hierarchical
Region Worldwide
Founder Charles Taze Russell (founded Bible Student movement)
Origin 1876: Bible Students founded
1931: Named Jehovah's witnesses
Pennsylvania and New York, USA
Branched from Bible Student movement
Separations See Jehovah's Witnesses
splinter groups
Congregations 119,485
Members 8.3 million
Official website
Statistics from 2017 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses
Meeting in Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Netherlands.

Jehovah's Witnesses are a religious group with more than eight million members throughout the world. They believe God, whom they call Jehovah, will end the present system of things, which belongs to Satan, with its crime, violence, sickness and death; they believe it will be replaced with his Kingdom which will restore his original purpose for the Earth: bringing about peace for all humans who live by the Bible's standards.

Most of the religion's beliefs are based on the Bible. These beliefs were taught by Charles Taze Russell, a preacher who started a Bible study group in Pennsylvania in 1876, and later started publishing a religious magazine called The Watchtower.

Many of those beliefs, especially about who God is and what his plans are for humans and the earth, are different to what is taught in mainstream Christian churches. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will go to heaven and that the remaining people who obey God will live forever on a paradise Earth. They do not believe that God is a Trinity. They believe Jesus died on an upright stake rather than a cross. They teach that when people die, they remain in their graves until Jesus Christ resurrects them after God's Kingdom, or government, is ruling over earth.

Witnesses are best known for preaching their beliefs from door-to-door and in other public places, and offering their magazines, The Watchtower and Awake! They are also well known for refusing to join armies and refusing blood transfusions.

History[change | change source]

In 1870 a young clothing shop owner named Charles Taze Russell heard an Adventist preacher speak. The preacher said the Bible contained clues that showed God was about to set up a kingdom, or government, over earth. He said the kingdom, which is mentioned many times in the New Testament of the Bible, would be based in heaven, and it would completely change the way of life for everyone in the world. Russell studied that preacher's teachings, then arrived with a set of beliefs after looking through the Bible for answers.

Beginnings[change | change source]

Using a combination of Bible verses and historical dates, Russell decided that God would very soon call to heaven a group of "saints" who would become the kings of that Kingdom. There would also be other "saints", who were faithful Christians of the past who had since died, who would also make up a total of 144,000 kings in heaven. Churches at the time were teaching that humans were still waiting for Jesus to return to earth in his Second Coming, but Russell believed all those Bible clues proved Jesus had actually returned in 1874 for what he called his parousia, or "presence".[1] Russell believed part of God's plan was also to start Armageddon. Russell thought this Armageddon be a complete breakdown of law and order on earth, when governments and classes of people would fight among themselves. But after that, he believed, God would end sickness and death and allow humble and obedient Christians to live forever in perfect health.[2]

Russell believed it was very important that all Christians, including those who were attending churches, should learn those "truths." He believed these "truths" had been carefully hidden in the Bible for thousands of years. He therefore established a publishing group called the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.[3][4] He wrote several books, set up some Bible study classes where people could study his teachings, and began publishing a magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, which announced that Christ was already present. He wrote about his belief that God would bring about all those events by 1914.

A new president[change | change source]

By the time Russell died in 1916, the articles, books, pamphlets and sermons he had written totaled 50,000 printed pages, with almost 20 million copies of his books printed and distributed around the world.[5] Joseph Franklin Rutherford, one of his followers, took Russell's position as president of the Watch Tower Society.

Rutherford began writing and publishing many books as well. He made some changes to Russell's teachings and also required all the study groups, or congregations, around the world to agree to a united set of teachings and rules issued by the Watch Tower Society in New York. He told all members of the religion that they should start to go door to door preaching about God's Kingdom and also sell Watch Tower Society publications so more people would hear the message.[6] In 1931 Rutherford introduced the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" for the religion, partly to highlight what the religion believed was God's holy name. By the time Rutherford died in 1942, the religion had a worldwide membership of 115,000.

Punishment and discrimination[change | change source]

Some of the new teachings, however, resulted in suffering for many Jehovah's Witnesses. Thousands were sent to prison, beaten or killed in several countries during World War II because they refused to fight.[7][8] In Germany specifically, many were sent to concentration camps for refusing to swear loyalty to the Nazi Party.[9] Later, in the United States, many children were expelled from schools because they refused to salute the flag, because they thought that God would not approve. Some countries still have laws against members practicing that religion.[10][11] But Jehovah's Witnesses continued to grow rapidly, partly because they were becoming more skilled at teaching the public in their door-to-door preaching and also because by they had more than two million members around the world by 1977.

Armageddon expected in 1975[change | change source]

From 1966, the religion encouraged members to believe that God could bring Armageddon in 1975, and that the Kingdom would be set up very soon after.[12] Some Witnesses sold businesses and homes, gave up jobs, delayed medical operations and decided against starting a family because they expected Armageddon to arrive.[13][14] The religion's leaders later apologized for those statements, which they said were made because they were so keen for the Kingdom to come. Many members left at the time due to the disappointment, but membership later climbed even higher.

Beliefs[change | change source]

Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in New Zealand.

One God[change | change source]

Like many Christian religions, Jehovah's Witnesses believe there is an all-powerful, all-knowing God who created everything. However, they also have some beliefs that are different from most religions. They believe God calls himself Jehovah (which is a translation of the Hebrew letters "YHWH") and they believe it is important people know that name. They believe Jesus Christ is God's son (as well as being the first created angel; presumably Michael the Archangel), and the holy spirit is the power that God can use to help his purposes. They believe these to be separate entities and therefore do not believe in the Trinity.[15] They believe the Bible is a book that God wrote with the help of humans; therefore, it is completely true and the best guide on how people should live.[16]

Adam and Eve[change | change source]

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God made Adam and Eve, the first humans, and put them in a paradise called Eden. They believe that when Adam and Eve sinned, they no longer had God's approval and therefore they began to get sick and die. They were no longer perfect and thus were unable to have perfect children, so from that point humans would find it very hard to avoid sinning. They believe that Jehovah later sent Jesus to die (on a torture stake resembling a pole more so than a cross, as most Christians believe) to atone for mankind's sins.

Heaven[change | change source]

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people, a number cited in Revelation chapters 7 and 14, will go to heaven to be kings and priests with Jesus Christ; though the term "kings and priests" is used, women are not excluded from the heavenly class. They say that God is going to start a worldwide war called Armageddon, and the people who do not obey God or worship him the way he expects will be killed. The people who he approves will survive that great war and be given the opportunity to live forever.

Jehovah will then begin to turn Earth into a peaceful paradise where there will be no crime, sickness, wars, or death. He will also resurrect (bring back to life) billions of people who died in the past so they can learn the truth about God and live obediently in a paradise as well.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe only their religion truly obeys God's instructions and that God disapproves of all other religions (including Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Muslims) because they refuse to really follow the Bible. They believe the leader of all those religions is Satan the Devil, who blinds the minds of people into thinking they are pleasing God with their worship.[17][better source needed] For that reason, they believe only baptized members of Jehovah's Witnesses who really live by Bible principles in a way God approves will be saved at Armageddon, though God will make the final choice.[18][19][20]

What they do[change | change source]

Jehovah's Witnesses offering their literature free of charge outside the British Museum in London, United Kingdom.

Door-to-door work[change | change source]

Jehovah's Witnesses preaching house to house in Lisbon, Portugal.

Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door ministry work. They believe Jesus Christ ordered them at Matthew 28:19 to "go make disciples of all the nations" warning people that the day of God's judgement, or Armageddon, will happen soon. Jehovah's Witnesses believe their preaching work is a fulfillment of prophesy located at Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." All Witnesses are encouraged to spend time regularly in public preaching work, which usually involves offering The Watchtower or other Watch Tower Society publications. Since the Internet, Jehovah's Witnesses also preach online with some bible studies taking place over communication networks such as Skype. They teach people Witness doctrine about Jehovah and his plans for the earth. Students are required to give a monthly written report on how much time they have spent publicly preaching.

Meetings[change | change source]

The buildings where Jehovah's Witnesses meet to worship are called Kingdom Halls. Unlike many other churches, these halls do not have altars, statues, symbols such as the Cross, or candles. Each congregation has two meetings a week, which are broken down into four meeting events:

  • The "Service (or ministry) meeting" & the "Theocratic Ministry School" (both held on the same night)
  • The "Watchtower study" and a public talk (both held on the same day)

Members can also attend by phone by listening in via a call-in number. They also attend big conventions and assemblies several times a year (some of them at hired sports arenas), where often thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses gather.

Most meetings consist of talks or study sessions based on articles in Watchtower Society books and magazines about the Bible or Christian life. At the congregation, people in the audience, including children, are often invited to make comments and respond to questions asked by the speaker. The religion has elders and ministerial servants (who are called bishops and deacons in some other Christian churches), but they have no paid clergy. Most elders support themselves by having other jobs. Additionally, the elders do not consider themselves to be superior to other members of the congregation and do not set themselves apart in any way (such as dressing in a certain way).

Rules[change | change source]

Members of the religion are expected to live up to high moral standards. They are told they should always be honest.

Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed to:

Jehovah's Witnesses are encouraged to marry only other baptized Jehovah's Witnesses.[21] They believe God does not like married couples to divorce unless the husband or wife cheated, hurt their family, or refused to support them.[22]

They also refuse to have blood transfusions. Based on their interpretation of Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:10, Acts 15:20, and other verses, they believe blood should not be taken into the body by eating, transfusion, or other ways.[23]

They are urged not to make close friends with non-Witnesses because they believe non-Witnesses could make their faith in God weaker.[24][25]

Membership[change | change source]

Jehovah's Witnesses are quite strict about who can become (or remain) a baptized member.[26] Because Jesus urged his apostles in Matthew 28:19-20 to make and baptize disciples, baptism is a requirement for anyone to become a full-fledged member of the religion. Their view on baptism is very similar to that of other Christian religions in that it symbolizes devotion to God and their promise to live by His teachings. However, unlike some religions, Witnesses are only baptized as teens or adults rather than as children. They believe baptism should be a choice made by someone who knows the significance of the ceremony, which young children and infants cannot do.[27] Any baptized Witness who is suspected of breaking any of the Bible's moral standards may be asked to appear before a private investigation held by elders. Non-baptized members are not held to as high a moral standard, but they can still participate in almost all activities as baptized members (though it should be noted that non-baptized members are thought to be less likely to survive Armageddon).

A baptized member of the religion who disagrees with any official teaching and talks or writes about it may be called to appear and answer questions. That investigation is called a judicial committee. If the elders decide the person is 'guilty' and does not regret what they did, they may "disfellowship" them. This means they are no longer a member of the religion or approved by God. When that happens, no other Jehovah's Witness is allowed to talk to or interact with that person (except in necessary situations like immediate family or work environment) until the disfellowshipped member repents and is allowed back in.

Some people, including former Witnesses, have criticized this way of keeping the congregation clean as harsh and unfair.[28][29] The style of leadership of the religion has also been described by some authors as autocratic and totalitarian because of the way members have to be completely submissive to the leaders. Members have to avoid criticizing the religion or its teachings in any way.[30]

References[change | change source]

  1. "A sketch of the development of present truth", Zion's Watch Tower, July 15, 1906.
  2. Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. Watchtower. p. 42. 
  3. Historical Dictionary of Jehovah's Witnesses by George D. Chryssides, Scarecrow Press, 2008, page xxxiv, "Russell wanted to consolidate the movement he had started. ...In 1880, Bible House, a four-story building in Allegheny, was completed, with printing facilities and meeting accommodation, and it became the organization's headquarters. The next stage of institutionalization was legal incorporation. In 1884, Russell formed the Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society, which was incorporated in Pennsylvania... Russell was concerned that his supporters should feel part of a unified movement."
  4. Religion in the Twentieth Century by Vergilius Ture Anselm Ferm, Philosophical Library, 1948, page 383, "As the [unincorporated Watch Tower] Society expanded, it became necessary to incorporate it and build a more definite organization. In 1884, a charter was granted recognizing the Society as a religious, non-profit corporation."
  5. Penton, M. James (1997, 2nd ed.). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. pp. 13–46. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. Franz, Raymond (2007). "Chapter 4". In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. ISBN 0914675168. 
  7. [1].
  8. Kaplan, William (1989). State and Salvation. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press. 
  9. "Nazi Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses". Retrieved 2018-02-11. 
  10. "Russia Jehovah's Witnesses ban in force". BBC News. 2017-07-17. Retrieved 2018-02-11. 
  11. "Russia's ban is far from the only act of repression against Jehovah's Witnesses across the globe". Newsweek. 2017-05-05. Retrieved 2018-02-11. 
  12. See "Witnessing the End" in the July 18, 1969 Time magazine. In the article it states,"Witnesses cautiously avoid a flat prediction linked to that year." Available online at: [2]. Retrieved March 20,2017.
  13. Raymond Franz. "1975—The Appropriate Time for God to Act". Crisis of Conscience (PDF). pp. 237–253. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2003-12-09. Retrieved 2006-07-27. 
  14. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. pp. 151–4. ISBN 0415266106. 
  15. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 0415266092. 
  16. Penton, M. J. (1997). Apocalypse Delayed (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 172. ISBN 0802079733. 
  17. Hoekema, Anthony A. (1963). The Four Major Cults. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. p. 286. ISBN 0802831176. 
  18. "Remaining Organized for Survival Into the Millennium", The Watchtower, September 1, 1989, page 19, "Only Jehovah's Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the 'great crowd,'as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil."
  19. You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth,, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1989, pg 255, "Do not conclude that there are different roads, or ways, that you can follow to gain life in God's new system. There is only one … there will be only one organization — God's visible organization — that will survive the fast-approaching 'great tribulation.' It is simply not true that all religions lead to the same goal. You must be part of Jehovah's organization, doing God's will, in order to receive his blessing of everlasting life."
  20. "Our Readers Ask: Do Jehovah's Witnesses Believe That They Are the Only Ones Who Will Be Saved?", The Watchtower, November 1, 2008, page 28, "Jehovah's Witnesses hope to be saved. However, they also believe that it is not their job to judge who will be saved. Ultimately, God is the Judge. He decides."
  21. "Do Jehovah's Witnesses Have Rules About Dating?". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  22. "What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Separation? | God's Love". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  23. "Why Don't Jehovah's Witnesses Accept Blood Transfusions?". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  24. "School Friendships—How Close Is Too Close? — Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY". Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  25. "Watch Your Associations in These Last Days | Study". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  26. Stark and Iannoccone (1997), "Why the Jehovah's Witnesses Grow So Rapidly: A Theoretical Application", [[Journal of Contemporary Religion]] (PDF), pp. 142–143, retrieved 2008-12-30.  URL–wikilink conflict (help)
  27. "What Is Baptism? | Bible Questions". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-02-11. 
  28. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. p. 22, 163. ISBN 0415266092. 
  29. Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Constable, 1969, page 50.
  30. Beckford, James A. (1975). The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah's Witnesses. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 89, 95, 103, 120, 204, 221. ISBN 0631163107. 

Other websites[change | change source]

Official[change | change source]

Jehovah's Witnesses' brochures about the name Jehovah