It is claimed there are ‘6,000,000 persons’ in ‘over 230 lands’ who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I cannot verify these statistics but two observations are pertinent.
Firstly, growth in the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses has fluctuated in recent years. For example, between 1993 and 2001 their growth in the UK has slowed down.
Secondly, Watchtower yearbooks reveal that there are twice as many baptisms as there are active Witnesses. This points to a high dropout rate. There are now many more ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses than active ones!
To meet this situation, an annual National Convention of Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses was established in America a few years ago. What happens to those who leave this organisation, known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society?
Some are disillusioned, despairing of ever finding the truth. A number have been converted to Christ and join Bible-teaching churches. Quite a few testimonies of former Witnesses have been published in book form or articles over the years.
Other former members have gone into Judaism or cults like the Mormons or one of the several Witnesses’ breakaway groups like the Dawn Bible Students. The Watchtower is certainly not the united, solid organisation it claims to be.
Raymond Franz illustrates the extensive disillusionment among former Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was excommunicated from the Watchtower Society in 1981. The reason? Because he disagreed with decisions made by its Governing Body.
In 1983 Franz published Crisis of Conscience, in which he detailed many of the arbitrary, unbiblical decisions made by the Governing Body. He spoke with authority as he himself spent nine years as an active member of this elite, ruling body.
For example, the prohibition then placed on lifesaving organ transplant surgery, and the continuing prohibition of blood transfusions, were only two of the decisions which disturbed Franz.
Another prohibition imposed by the Governing Body was that Witnesses in Malawi should not comply with the government law that all citizens should have a ‘party card’.
Yet, at the same time, says Franz, the Governing Body approved the policy of Witnesses in Mexico bribing officials to obtain certification that they were members of the ‘reserves’ who had served a year of military service!
Such double standards, alongside other dubious and unbiblical decisions by the Governing Body, disillusioned Franz. It raised for him a ‘crisis of conscience’ as this small group of men attached infallibility to their own opinions and prejudices.
The Lord’s words in Matthew 15:6, 9, insisted Franz, were applicable to the Watchtower’s Governing Body: ‘Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition … their teachings are but rules made by man’ (NIV).
But further problems have come to light since Franz wrote his helpful book twenty years ago. These problems within the Watchtower organisation are disturbing.
Think, for example, of the ‘silent lambs’. This term refers to people who have been discouraged by Watchtower leaders (at local and national levels) from getting help when they have been molested or abused.
Bill Bowen is only one of the local leaders who have relinquished positions as congregation elder to challenge the Jehovah’s Witnesses practice of refusing to report paedophiles (and others engaged in criminal activity) to secular law enforcement authorities.
One reason given in the past for this reluctance was that to report such crimes would ‘bring reproach upon Jehovah’s Name’.
As a result, it is claimed by both current and former members of the Watchtower, ‘a significant number of child abusers have been shielded from prosecution and the lives of many children have been tragically affected’.
Reliable sources say that ‘now many are coming forward with their stories, and are seeking justice’.
In the USA, a popular TV programme, Dateline NBC, is filming some of the victims’ stories. They intend to broadcast a programme on the subject of paedophilia among Jehovah’s Witnesses towards the end of this year.
No one is suggesting that such abuse is rampant among Jehovah’s Witnesses in general, or that it is not found among other religious groups. But it is a real problem for the JW movement and more widespread than was first thought.
One of the related problems is that of individuals who are excommunicated for speaking out against abuse. This happened to Barbara and Carl Pandelo of Belmar, New Jersey, who criticised the organisation’s handling of their daughter’s allegations of sexual abuse by another member.
The problem of paedophilia among the Witnesses extends beyond America to other countries, including the United Kingdom.
For example, at Alloa Sheriff Court in Scotland, a JW called Thomas Maxwell was found guilty of a string of sexual attacks and cruelty to girls dating back over 30 years.
In June 2000 he was placed on probation because of his voluntary exile to Leverburgh in the south of the island of Harris, but when further offences were discovered, he was sent to prison.
Sadly, there are many accounts of sexual abuse among Witnesses provided on the ‘silentlambs’ website.
I have highlighted the paedophilia problem within the Watchtower movement partly in order to encourage Christians to witness even more boldly to them.
Another reason for drawing attention to this problem is that JWs have majored on criticising Christendom, including Evangelical churches, for inconsistent behaviour and hypocrisy. They have regularly dismissed churches as ‘synagogues of Satan’.
Some of their criticisms are valid, and apply not only to apostate churches but also, sadly, to a few Bible-teaching churches. Repentance, issuing in radical transformation of personal and corporate church life, is urgently required in such cases.
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses need to look critically at their own organisation and recognise the glaring moral inconsistencies which exist there.
Next month I will refer to other, more subtle, problems among Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as ‘vulnerable victims’; changing and contradictory views on important issues; the revision of doctrines; and ‘New Light’ together with failed prophecies.
In conclusion, however, I refer to a sermon preached by the late Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones on cults, recorded in his exposition of Ephesians 6:10-13 (The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-13, pp. 121-132, Banner of Truth Trust, 1976).
Lloyd-Jones underlines ‘the wiles of the devil’ (pp. 79-93) and ‘the subtle foe’ (pp. 94-107) before illustrating these subtle wiles in three related areas — heresies, cults and counterfeits. I want to summarise what he says about cults.
First of all, Lloyd-Jones identifies some common characteristics of cults. For example, they ‘sound like Christianity’, they offer ‘very great blessings’ and their devotees are ‘always sincere’ (pp. 124-125).
Next, he suggests some tests that can be applied to cults. One test concerns their origin. Do they claim a direct revelation or a ‘very important’ founder? Again, cults ‘always recognise, and are governed by, an authority additional to the Bible’ (pp. 126-127).
Lloyd-Jones is correct, but with regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is more subtle. Witnesses only read the Bible using official ‘explanations’ of the text provided by local leaders or Watchtower literature.
Thirdly, cults go astray ‘with respect to certain essential doctrines’ (p.128), such as Scripture, Christology, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, creation, sin, salvation and prayer (pp. 128-132).
JWs fail most of these tests. For example, they deny the Trinity and dismiss the Holy Spirit as a mere power. Jesus Christ is relegated by them to the status of an angel, and salvation is a combination of good deeds and faith.
In their view, our Lord’s ‘ransom sacrifice’ only removes Adam’s sin. His death is not a completed work but merely the basis on which we strive to achieve our personal salvation.
By contrast, listen to what the Bible really says: ‘Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree…’ (1 Peter 2:24; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Here is the glorious gospel of God, ‘that the Son of God was made a sin-offering, that God laid our iniquities upon him’ (p.130).
All we must do to be saved is to ‘believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 16:31). Any other message is the devil’s counterfeit.