What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?/Program 3
|By: Joan Cetnar, Brian Garcia, Bob Gray, Keith Walker, and Don Veinot; ©2011|
|In this session of The John Ankerberg Show, we will learn from the stories of former Jehovah’s Witnesses what the Bible teaches on the critical issues of salvation. In the end, God’s truth is affirmed that Christ provides salvation by grace through faith — and that we can know that we are saved and will spend eternity with Christ.
Today, one out of every 282 Americans is a Jehovah’s Witness. Across the world, 7.5 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in 236 countries go door to door preaching the Watchtower message. Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and what do they believe? Their headquarters, called the Watchtower, are in Brooklyn, New York. In their publications, the Watchtower claims to be Jehovah’s only channel of communication on earth today; God’s prophet; speaking for God; the only right religion on earth. Yet the Watchtower holds vastly different beliefs than historic Christianity. It has its own Bible, the New World Translation; holds false views of Jesus, Scripture, salvation, and the afterlife; and forbids all Jehovah’s Witnesses from having blood transfusions, celebrating Christmas or Easter, birthdays or holidays. Where did these false beliefs come from? How can you show a Jehovah’s Witness what the Bible really teaches? Today you will find out.
My guests are: Joan Cetnar a former fourth-generation Jehovah’s Witness who served at the Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, where she observed first-hand the President and other leaders. Her husband Bill held the position of answering questions submitted to the Watchtower for one-third of the United States. You’ll hear the shocking story of the doctrinal and behavioral deceptions that caused them to leave, later becoming Christians, and founding a ministry that helps those raised with Watchtower beliefs.
Then, Brian Garcia. He was brought up in a Jehovah’s Witness family, and defended its beliefs in college and on the internet. You’ll hear how a Christian friend helped him understand the message of the true Jesus and the good news of the gospel—that everyone who puts their trust in Jesus, they will go to heaven.
Bob Gray was a Jehovah’s Witness for 24 years and served as an elder in his congregation. He went door to door 100 hours each month. But he came to realize he had no basis in Scripture for what he was teaching, and decided to leave.
And, finally, you will hear from two experts who minister to Jehovah’s Witnesses: Keith Walker, president of Evidence Ministries, and Don Veinot Jr., president of Midwest Christian Outreach. We hope today’s program will help you and others around the world to share the truth with those who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Join us for this special edition of the John Ankerberg show.
- Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’ve got a great one for you today. We’re talking about what the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe.
- We’ve got three ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, people who had been in it for a long, long time. Joan worked actually at the headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Her husband answered questions for a third of the United States for the Watchtower. I think they know what they’re talking about. Brian defended the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the internet. And Bob was an overseer, an elder in the church for many, many years. He knows what is going on. Then we’ve got two experts here that are going to talk with us about some of those beliefs.
- Now, you know, when I ask the question: Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization claiming that they’re speaking for God on earth today? Are they God’s prophet? That’s what they are claiming. And in past programs we’ve looked at some of these false prophecies. And, of course, Deuteronomy 18:21 says if they say something, a prophet claims to be speaking for God and he says something wrong, don’t follow him. You don’t have to be afraid of him. So we’ve looked at some of the false prophecies; we’ll get into some more of those. But I want to pick up with your story, Bob, here in terms of, you weren’t always a Jehovah’s Witness. You came to it after somebody gave [you] one of [their] books. Which one was it?
- Gray: That was the old blue book, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life.
- Ankerberg: And what happened?
- Gray: Well, I worked with a man who was another cable technician, and he gave me this book. I took it home; I read the whole book that night and was immediately convinced that I’d found the truth. I knew about Jesus. I remember as a child waiting for Jesus’ return. And during the 60s I got a little side-tracked; I spent some time in the military. I read this book, started going to meetings right away, really thought that I had found God’s true organization.
- Ankerberg: The letter you wrote to me said, “I was convinced that it was Jehovah’s visible spirit-directed organization on earth.” When you came to that conclusion, then what followed?
- Gray: Well, once somebody accepts that and accepts the whole “faithful and discreet-slave” doctrine, the organization can basically say whatever they want after that.
- Ankerberg: How much of your life did they control?
- Gray: Basically all of it. It’s as much as you let them control in reality. But most of the people that are in it really let them control a lot. For me, very quickly, I was appointed as a ministerial servant, which would be the equivalent of a deacon. So I was working within the congregation distributing literature, that sort of thing. I never really liked the door-to-door work all that much, but I always had this guilt that I wasn’t doing enough of it. So finally, in 1985, I became a regular pioneer. So I was devoted to 1,000 hours a year of going door-to-door and conducting Bible studies.
- Ankerberg: People want to know, why do Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on their door and they are so faithful?
- Cetnar: That’s part of your salvation as a Jehovah’s Witness. If you don’t do that, you don’t put time in that month and put it down on a slip of paper and hand it in, if Jesus would come… Armageddon come that month, you might lose it, because you’re not proving your integrity.
- Ankerberg: You were told you had to do it; otherwise you wouldn’t be in on Paradise Earth later on.
- Gray: Right. So, shortly before I became a pioneer, the Watchtower was writing a lot about what was going on in Japan at the time. The Japanese organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was growing by leaps and bounds. They made the statement in the Watchtower, they said, “Unless you can honestly go to Jehovah and explain to him why you are not a regular pioneer, you should be one.” Having said that—again, I said 1,000 hours a year—the same month I started as a regular pioneer, I was appointed as an elder. So now I was doing 45-minute lectures, about one a month; I was conducting a book study, which is the equivalent of a small group; I was the Watchtower study conductor. In all of that, I went probably three years I didn’t own a pair of jeans, I was in a suit so much.
- Ankerberg: And you still had a fulltime job.
- Gray: Well, I had actually quit a very good engineering job and originally did roofing and siding. Then I had my own business two and a half days a week. So I had cut back so that I could do all this.
- Ankerberg: In order to do all that.
- Gray: Now, having said that, all that I was doing, it still wasn’t enough.
- Ankerberg: Why?
- Gray: Because there were constant exhortations from the Watchtower—do more, do more, do more. And I found that, as an elder, I was dealing with a lot of people who were very depressed. And when you talked to them, they were depressed because they didn’t feel they were doing enough and that they weren’t going to make it.
- Ankerberg: Let me ask all three of you ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, did you ever arrive at a spot where you thought you had done enough?
- All: No.
- Cetnar: You never thought you did enough, because, what was enough?
- Ankerberg: How can you live with that?
- Cetnar: You don’t. You really have a difficult time. And that’s where the depression comes in, because you don’t think you’re serving an organization, you’re serving Jehovah. And if he’s requiring that of you, you just feel like you have to do it.
- Ankerberg: You were at the Watchtower. You watched the leaders. Did any of the leaders up there express joy?
- Cetnar: Joy? No, joy wasn’t a thing you saw too much of at the Watchtower headquarters. Of course, if the Holy Spirit is there—and that’s the only place he could be—there should be joy.
- Ankerberg: But you didn’t see it.
- Cetnar: And I felt like I was a happy Jehovah’s Witness. But when you are never sure of what you are working for, it’s hard. And when I first read this Scripture in the Bible, 1 John 5:11, 12, and 13, that we can have assurance that we have salvation because we know Jesus, he says, “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has the life, and he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”
- Ankerberg: And you guys…
- Cetnar: You’re working so hard and you’re not going to get it.
- Ankerberg: We’ve got to explain to the people that aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses that you never had any expectations of going to heaven. There’s only 144,000 that are allowed, and those seats were already taken, basically. So the fact is, your best hope was to live on Paradise Earth. And the way you got there had nothing to do with Jesus dying on the cross. Actually, Jesus dying on the cross was supposed to open up the door so you could do all these good works.
- Cetnar: That’s right.
- Ankerberg: But you had no guarantee that the works that you had done would get there, and you never knew if you had done enough, and you had to keep doing them all your life in order to have the chance of getting there.
- Veinot: I’ve had Jehovah’s Witnesses tell me it’s like earning points with God.
- Cetnar: But I could live for 1,000 years and still lose it, still lose eternity. There was never assurance, because it was depending on me, not on Jesus.
- Veinot: And the Watchtower sets you up for failure, as you know. As Brian pointed out, the Bible really points you to Jesus. Salvation comes through Jesus. But then the organization tells you to come to Jehovah’s organization for salvation, so that’s your focus. That’s in the November 15, 1981 Watchtower. In April 1, 1979, it says that Jesus is a mediator only for the “anointed class,” not for everybody else. And so now you have to stay focused on “what does the organization tell me to do?” Then in August 1, 1981, they tell you that how you treat the anointed is the sole determining factor as to whether you have everlasting life or everlasting cutting-off. So the only thing that matters is how you treat the anointed class.
- Ankerberg: Who is the anointed class?
- Gray: The 144,000.
- Ankerberg: And those on earth of the 144,000, the guys that were left were what, the leaders of the Watchtower, weren’t they?
- Gray: The faithful and discreet slave
- Ankerberg: So basically what that was pointing you to was that you had to have loyalty to this group of men in Brooklyn, New York.
- Cetnar: Loyalty to the organization.
- Ankerberg: Now, here’s the thing, folks, you need to realize. There’s over 7.5 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world that we’re all talking the same story here: they are controlled by what this group of men at the Watchtower in Brooklyn are printing through all of their books. Now, tell me also, you found out as being one that was in the finances and the leadership there, tell me what else you found out about this leadership class.
- Gray: Well, the finances… Actually, when I was first leaving, I went online and did a Dun & Bradstreet on the Watchtower Society. Now, this was just the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. And at that point they were taking in $1.25 billion a year. But, on the other hand, they were sniping at television evangelists who were taking in $1 or $2 hundred million. So then I began to realize it was a lot about the money.
- Ankerberg: And you also said they did some legal things so they wouldn’t be responsible.
- Gray: In the year 2000 they had a big restructuring of their corporations. They spawned three new corporations, and all of those people who were of the faithful and discreet slave class—the anointed—resigned their posts as directors of all of the corporations. So what they have been doing is separating the religious aspect of the organization from the printing and the assets of the organization. They’ve got, I think, 70 properties left in Brooklyn, New York. In 2004, they sold the Furman Street building for $204 million.
- Ankerberg: And they separated this, why?
- Gray: Well, this is what I was thinking: because they always cast it in the light of, “oh, it’s simplification, so that the faithful and discreet slave can really pay attention to religious things.” But they are really responsible for all of the doctrine, all of the teaching, all of the policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now, one thing that could be a legal problem for them is the blood issue, because they have constantly been backing off, becoming less strict on that.
- Ankerberg: Because if people obey them and don’t take a blood transfusion and a son dies, or a little child dies, or a wife dies, they could turn around and sue them.
- Gray: They could sue them. But the people they would sue are the faithful and discreet slaves. Now, in their positions at Bethel, they are actually members of a special religious order—the order of special fulltime servants—and as such, they’ve taken a simple vow of poverty. So, on the one hand they are controlling the doctrine and they, of course, control the printing corporations, but they have no control legally over all of these assets. So, say somebody did die from not taking a blood transfusion and one of their non-Witness relatives went to sue somebody; they would be suing people that had no assets whatsoever that they could seize. So it’s a brilliant legal maneuver.
- Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back, I’m going to ask Bob to tell us, then, as being a leader in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, what all of a sudden changed your mind? And how long did it take for you to come out? I want you others to talk about the journey coming out. It’s really something, folks. So stick with us. We’ll be right back.
- Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with three former Jehovah’s Witnesses that were high up in the Watchtower. And we’re talking with two experts who know the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And, Bob, I want to finish up on your story. Here you were an elder, an overseer, you were just about everything you could do; you’re putting in 1,000 hours knocking on doors a year. Then something happened. What happened?
- Gray: I think it was a gradual process. As an elder, I began to realize that we weren’t really raising up spiritual people. We were really raising up organizational worker-bees. And I really had a heart for the people. I still love them. I go to where they take coffee break just so they see me from time to time. And I also realized that, as an elder, a lot of the training I was getting was more geared toward supporting and defending the Watchtower Society. So that was that seed that started, you know, “things just aren’t right here.” Then I was online—this would have been 1993—ran into some ex-Witnesses online, whom I really shouldn’t have been talking to. One of them lived nearby me and I borrowed his copy of Crisis of Conscience and read it. For those who don’t know, Crisis of Conscience was written by a former member of the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Ankerberg: Fred Franz was actually the president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a time, and his nephew, Raymond Franz, was on that ruling committee. And he wrote this book, Crisis of Conscience, where he talked about all the stuff that they had done and why he left, which was just a devastating account here. You read that?
- Gray: I read that. He really didn’t say a lot that I didn’t already know, but he linked a lot of things together. And I was really kind of disappointed in the book, because I had been taught, and I had taught, that apostate writings are full of vitriolic hatred. And that was totally missing from that book. But, at that point I knew that I was on my journey out.
- Ankerberg: How long did it take you to come out?
- Gray: From the time that I read the book until the time I really came to Christ, it was five years.
- Ankerberg: And as you started thinking about Jesus, what was the big thing that changed your mind from Jesus being just a man, and at first he was the archangel Michael, and then Michael the archangel disappeared and Jesus was created, and then when Jesus was done, you had the spirit-being that was created at the end, and Jesus never was God? What changed your mind about Jesus?
- Gray: Again, that was a gradual process. And I figured that because I mentally accepted the fact that Christ had died for me, I was all set. And as I went and as I interfaced with different Christians online, many of whom, like Keith and Don here, never were Jehovah’s Witnesses, they really showed me Christ in person. Christ in the flesh.
- Ankerberg: A personal relationship with Christ.
- Gray: That, and they just showed me they were Christ in the flesh. You know, they were supportive, they were not condemning. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
- Ankerberg: How long did it take you to come out, Joan?
- Cetnar: It took some time, because we left in the 60s, and there was nothing out there. There was no internet. We had to do an awful lot of research, first of all, to make sure that the organization was not God’s organization. That’s why the false prophecy bit really helped, because that last sentence in Deuteronomy 18:21-22, “you shall not be afraid of them,” that meant so much to us, because they told us something’s going to happen to you on the way to California. Because you’ve left God’s safety, you’re going to get it.
- Ankerberg: So you first of all figured out that they claim to be the channel for God, God’s prophet speaking on earth, and basically everything went through them; and you found out they had given false information.
- Cetnar: Right.
- Ankerberg: So they weren’t God’s organization. And then that started you saying, “all the other things that you were taught,…” What were all the other things?
- Cetnar: Well, all the doctrinal. And, of course, the first and most important to us at that point was, who is Jesus? Because if they lied to us about all the rest of it, when do you start believing? Jesus said you don’t. If you have a bad tree, you’ve got bad fruit; you want to throw it out. And basically that’s what I did. I kind of cleaned out my brain and said, “Okay, let’s read the Bible. Let’s start at the beginning and find out where we were wrong in all the doctrines.” And Jesus was the first thing.
- Ankerberg: Found out you could go to heaven. You found out there was a real hell. You found out that the Holy Spirit could live inside of you.
- Cetnar: That’s right.
- Ankerberg: All of these… the Bible was God’s word,…
- Cetnar: Jesus is in you, not “in union with.” And realized how bad the translation was, and how many times they had changed really vital Scriptures that told you who Jesus was.
- Ankerberg: Keith, you’ve got something there.
- Walker: Absolutely. One of the things that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t understand is this whole idea of grace. To illustrate that, Kingdom Ministry, 1993 says, “We want to give deserving ones the opportunity to learn of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness in the Kingdom hope.” So they believe they have to deserve something that is undeserved.
- Cetnar: Yeah.
- Walker: That’s why we do what we do. It’s because we want to point people to Jesus.
- Ankerberg: It’s just the opposite in Christianity with the Lord Jesus—he says you don’t deserve it; we are going to give it to you.
- Walker: That’s right. As Joan mentioned earlier, 1 John 5: If you’ve got the Son, you have the life; if you don’t have the Son, you don’t have the life. And in John 5:39-40 Jesus tells us, “You search the Scriptures because in them you think that you have eternal life. Yet you are unwilling to come to me that you might have life.” And that’s what the Watchtower does. The Watchtower takes the place of Christ and doesn’t allow them to come to Christ so that they may be free.
- Again, that’s why we do what we do; because we want them to obtain the same forgiveness of sins that we have as a present and final eternal possession.
- Ankerberg: Paul said in Romans 6:23, “For the gift of God is eternal life, through…” not the Watchtower, but “…through Jesus Christ our Lord,” alright? Why did you come out?
- Garcia: Because of who Jesus was and what he truly did.
- Ankerberg: How long did it take you?
- Garcia: It took me about…I had a struggle with God for two years. While I was still a Jehovah’s Witness and I was still defending the organization, I started really researching the false prophecies and the statements made by the Watchtower. I’d just brush them off and say, “Well, you know what, if the God that we serve is Jehovah, and if Jehovah is the true God of Scripture, then this must still be God’s true organization.” And then someone asked me the question: “What if you might have the Father, but you don’t have the Son? What if the Jesus that you serve is not the right Jesus?” So what happens is that you don’t have life.
- The Bible says in John 20:28, when Thomas sees the risen Lord of glory, he falls to his knees and he says this in the New World Translation, “My Lord and my God.” Capital “G”. The question that I have for Jehovah’s Witnesses is this, and it’s sincere from my heart: Is Jesus Christ your Lord? If so, then amen. But is Jesus Christ also your God? And if not, why not? Because he was Thomas’s Lord and he was Thomas’s God.
- Walker: The Kingdom Interlinear actually says, “The Lord of me and the God of me”.
- Cetnar: That’s right.
- Ankerberg: So, I mean, that’s a very powerful verse. And Jesus didn’t deny it. He says, you know, “You’re good, but blessed are those that are going to believe that aren’t seeing me like you are, Thomas.” That’s a great thing. Put a little ribbon around this one here, Don. What is it that we want Jehovah’s Witnesses to know as they walk away from this program?
- Veinot: I think there’s two things. One is, if what you believe is true, you should not be afraid to examine it. That’s really critical. And it should be examined in light of what Scripture teaches, and as has been laid out already several times, the Bible is very clear: Jesus is God; salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone and calling on his name as God; and you can pray today to receive salvation by grace through faith in him.
- Ankerberg: Folks, those of you that are listening that re Jehovah’s Witnesses, or you have got a member of your family that is a Jehovah’s Witness, and you would like to ask these folks a question. Go to our web site at JAshow or Johnankerberg.org either one you can use JAshow.org and ask your question. And I am going to ask these folks to answer as many as they’ve got time to answer, and we will post them for everybody to see. , next week we are going to turn to other questions. We still have to talk about this New World Translation and how that came together. Joan, your husband actually knew the secret translators on that committee, and knew their names. We are going to talk about that, so join us next week.