Jehovah’s Witness Beliefs
An extensive article on Jehovah’s Witness Beliefs
The beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses are based on the Bible teachings of its founder, Charles Taze Russell and his successors, Joseph Franklin Rutherford and Nathan Homer Knorr. Since 1976 the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been based on decisions made at closed meetings of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witness beliefs are propagated through The Watchtower magazine and other publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and at conventions and congregation meetings. Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to adhere to all such doctrines without criticism or dissent.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the present “age” of human existence is about to be terminated with the direct intervention of Jehovah God, who will use Jesus Christ to fully establish his heavenly government over Earth, destroying existing human governments and non-Jehovah’s Witnesses, and creating a cleansed society of true worshipers. Their mission is to preach the “good news”, proselytizing to as many converts as possible in the remaining time before Armageddon. All members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to take an active part in preaching what they term “the truth”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to remain separate from secular society, which is regarded as a place of moral contamination and under the control of Satan the Devil, refusing any political and military activity and limiting social contact with non-Jehovah’s Witnesses. Members practice a strict moral code, forbidding adultery, premarital sex and homosexuality. Drug abuse, smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol are prohibited, as are blood transfusions. Discipline within congregations is maintained by a system of judicial committees, which have the power to expel members (disfellowshipping) who breach organizational rules and demand their shunning by other Jehovah’s Witnesses. The threat of shunning also serves to scare off other members from dissident behavior.
Watch Tower Society publications teach that Jehovah’s Witnesses alone represent true Christianity and for that reason they refuse all ecumenical relations with other religious denominations. Members are expected to attend all congregation meetings that are held in local Kingdom Halls, as well as regular large-scale conventions, which are highly structured and based on material from Watch Tower publications.
Jehovah’s Witness Beliefs
Source of doctrines
Jehovah’s Witness beliefs and doctrines are established by the Governing Body, which assumes responsibility for interpreting and applying scripture. The Governing Body is described as the “spokesman” for God’s “faithful and discreet slave class” (the approximately 10,000 remaining “anointed” Jehovah’s Witnesses), although in practice it seeks neither advice nor approval from any “anointed” Witnesses other than high-ranking members at Brooklyn Bethel when making decisions or when producing material for publications and conventions. All members are expected to abide by the doctrines and organizational requirements as determined by the Governing Body. Watch Tower publications strongly discourage Witnesses from formulating doctrines reached through independent Bible research. Members who promote privately-developed teachings contrary to those of the Governing Body may be disfellowshipped.
Jehovah’s Witness beliefs and doctrines are underpinned by a belief that Jehovah God employs and directs an organization on Earth and deals with humanity only through that organization. The organization is identified as the “worldwide association” of Jehovah’s Witnesses, functioning under the direction of the Watch Tower Society. The organization is said to be theocratic, “ruled from the divine Top down, and not from the rank and file up”. All people not in God’s organization are said to be members of Satan’s organization. Watch Tower publications teach that the Bible is an “organizational book” that does not belong to individuals and that the Bible cannot be properly understood without guidance by “Jehovah’s visible organization”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses undergoing baptism are required to publicly confirm that they are associating themselves “with God’s spirit-directed organization”, thereby submitting themselves to its direction and judicial system. Watch Tower publications urge Witnesses to demonstrate loyalty to the organization without dissent, even at the cost of family ties. Loyalty to the organization is said to require a full involvement in public preaching and regular meeting attendance.
Sociologist Andrew Holden has observed that Witnesses see no distinction between loyalty to their God Jehovah and to the Watchtower Society itself and other researchers have claimed that challenging the views of those higher up the hierarchical ladder is regarded as tantamount to challenging Jehovah God himself.
Restoration of “true” Christianity
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that after the death of the apostles, the early congegregations embarked on a “Great Apostasy”, diverging from the original teachings of Jesus on several major points. Influenced by Restorationism in the 19th century, Charles Taze Russell and his associates formed a Bible study group in the 1870s in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, developing teachings that they considered to be a revival of “the great truths taught by Jesus and the Apostles”, in what the Watch Tower Society today says was a return to original Christianity. Although many of their fundamental teachings have changed over the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently claimed to be the only true religion.
The entire Bible (the same as Protestant canon of scripture) is according to Jehovah’s Witness beliefs the inspired, inerrant word of Jehovah God. Jehovah’s Witnesses accept the Bible as scientifically and historically accurate and reliable and interpret much of it literally, while also accepting it contains much symbolism. Jehovah’s Witnesses base all of their beliefs on the Bible, as interpreted by the Governing Body.
Jehovah’s Witnesses use the terms “Hebrew” and “Christian Greek” scriptures rather than “Old” and “New” Testaments to avoid implication that the Old Testament is outdated or inferior. They believe that the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) contain prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and that the books of the Christian Greek Scriptures (New Testament) are primarily directed to the 144,000 chosen by God for life in heaven. The Watch Tower Society’s New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which Jehovah’s Witnesses use almost exclusively, reflects their view that God’s name, as represented by the Tetragrammaton, should be rendered as “Jehovah”, in the tradition of earlier versions of the King James Version, rather than “God” or “Lord”. They also accept the usage “Yahweh”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jehovah God is the creator and supreme being. Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the Trinity doctrine, which they consider unscriptural. They view God as the Father, an invisible spirit “person”, and therefore separate from the Son, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is described as God’s active force, rather than the third person of the Trinity. They say he is “infinite, but approachable”. He is not omnipresent, but has a location in heaven. They believe it is possible to have a personal relationship with him as a friend; that God is kind and merciful, and would not eternally “torture” wicked people. Being respectful of the principle of free will, he does not force his sovereignty on people, choosing to save only those who want to serve him, even though the course of mankind in general may lead them to harm.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the Almighty God must be distinguished by his personal name – Jehovah. The name is a common modern representation of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, or four-letter name of the Eternal, which is YHWH. The use of his personal name is regarded as vital for true worship and Jehovah’s Witnesses rarely speak of “God” without prefacing the term with the name “Jehovah”. The term “Lord”, although common in the Bible, is rarely used by Witnesses when speaking about God. Because no other religion uses the name “Jehovah” with the same prevalence, they believe their religion alone is making God’s name known in harmony with scriptures such as John 17:6.
Jesus is acknowledged as God’s “only begotten” Son. As such, he began his life in heaven. He is described as God’s first creation and the “exact representation of God”, but is believed to be a separate entity and not part of a Trinity. Jesus is said to have been used by God in the creation of all other things. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is also known in the Bible as the Archangel, Michael and “the Word,” of John 1:1 in his pre-human existence. His birth on earth was accomplished when he willingly allowed himself to be transferred, by God, from heaven to the womb of the virgin, Mary. While on earth, Jesus was executed as a sacrifice to atone for mankind’s sins. He ultimately becomes “eternal father” to the human family.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that after his death, Jesus appeared to his disciples and convinced them of his resurrection, and then ascended into heaven to sit at Jehovah’s right hand until he would become the promised king of God’s heavenly kingdom. Jesus acts as the Mediator of a “new covenant” referred to in Jeremiah 31:31, Luke 22:20, and Hebrews 9:15; 12:24, directly mediating only for those going to heaven (the 144,000). Those with an earthly hope, and who therefore have no mediator, are said to be beneficiaries of that covenant. Jesus remains subordinate to God even in all his heavenly glory. Witnesses reject the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, who they believe bore more children after Jesus.
Cross / stake
The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society used the Cross and Crown symbol on tombstones, and on its publications until 1931. Since 1936, Jehovah’s Witnesses have rejected the idea that Jesus died on a cross, and instead teach that he died on a single wooden stake, asserting that the Koiné Greek word σταυρος stauros refers to a single upright post. They view the cross to be of pagan origins and an object of idol worship.
Satan the Devil
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Satan is God’s chief adversary and the invisible ruler of the world. He was at one time a perfect son of God but developed feelings of self-importance and craved worship that belonged to God. Satan persuaded Adam and Eve to obey him rather than God, raising the issue – often referred to as a “controversy” – of whether people, having been granted freedom of will, would obey God under both temptation and persecution. The issue is said to be whether God can rightfully claim to be sovereign of the universe. Instead of destroying Satan, God decided to test the loyalty of the rest of humankind and to prove to the rest of creation that Satan was a liar. Watch Tower publications teach that Satan misleads people on Earth, and that he and the demons are the reason for distress on the earth. Satan and his demons are said to have been cast down to earth from heaven in 1914, marking the beginning of the the “last days” and causing much of today’s troubles.
God’s messianic Kingdom
Jehovah’s Witness publications teach that God’s Kingdom is a government in heaven, ruled by Jesus Christ and 144,000 people drawn from the Earth. The kingdom is viewed as the means by which Jehovah God will accomplish his original purpose for the Earth, bringing about a world free of crime, sickness, death and poverty, ultimately transforming the Earth into a paradise. The kingdom is said to have been the focal point of Jesus’ ministry on Earth and was established in 1914.
Eschatology of Jehovah’s Witnesses
A central teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that the current world era, or “system of things”, entered its “last days” in 1914 and faces imminent destruction through intervention by Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, leading to deliverance for those who worship God in truth. This judgment will begin with the destruction by the United Nations of false religion, which they identify as “Babylon the Great”, or the “harlot”, of Revelation 17. This development will mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Satan will subsequently attack Jehovah’s Witnesses, an action that will prompt God to begin the war of Armageddon, during which all forms of government and all people not counted as Christ’s “sheep” (thus all non-Jehovah’s Witnesses), or true followers, will be destroyed. After Armageddon, God will extend his heavenly kingdom to include earth, which will be transformed into a paradise similar to the Garden of Eden.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that after Armageddon, most of those who had died prior to God’s intervention will gradually be resurrected to a “day of judgment” lasting for the thousand years referred to in Revelation 20. This judgment will be based on their actions after resurrection, not on past deeds. At the end of the thousand years a final test will take place when Satan is brought back to mislead perfect mankind. The end result will be a fully tested, glorified human race. Christ will then hand all authority back to God.
Watch Tower Society publications teach that Jesus Christ returned invisibly and began to rule in heaven as king in October 1914. The resulting ouster of Satan from heaven to the earth has brought a period of “woe” to mankind, as prophesied in Revelation 12. They assert that the Greek word parousia (translated in most English Bible translations as “coming” when referring to Christ) is more accurately rendered as “presence,” with his return perceived only as a series of “signs”. Thus this Second Coming would be an invisible presence, lasting for an extended time.
Jehovah’s Witnesses base their beliefs about the significance of 1914 on the Watch Tower Society’s interpretation of biblical chronology, which is hinged on the belief that 607 BCE was the date of Jerusalem’s destruction and the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. They believe that Daniel chapter 4 prophesied a period of 2,520 years starting with 607 BCE and ending at 1914 AD. (Non-Witness sources date Jerusalem’s destruction to 587/586 BCE, some 20 years later.) They equate this period with the “Gentile Times” or “the appointed times of the nations,” a phrase taken from Luke 21:24. They believe that when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, the line of kings descended from David was interrupted, and that God’s throne was “trampled on” from then until Jesus began ruling in October 1914. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe their doctrine is confirmed by world events since 1914, including wars, famine, more severe earthquakes and increasing lawlessness, which they see as fulfillment of the “sign” of Christ’s presence. They believe that their preaching work is also part of that sign, citing Matthew 24:14.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that in 1918, Jesus resurrected to heavenly life those of the 144,000 (the “anointed”) who had already died; since 1918, any “anointed” are individually resurrected to heavenly life at the time of their death to serve as kings alongside Christ in his heavenly government.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that all humanity is in a sinful state. Release from this is possible because Jesus’ shed blood provided a payment, or atonement for the sins of humankind. Salvation is said to be a result of the undeserved kindness (grace) of Jehovah God, but to be saved, one needs faith, demonstrated by Christian works, including the proper discharge of family duties, kindness and concern for others and proper conduct, as well as endurance in “zealous” preaching, which is singled out as the means by which Witnesses attain salvation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there are two destinations for those saved by Jehovah God. They say the number of Christians going to heaven is limited to precisely 144,000, who will rule with Jesus as kings and priests over Earth. The remainder have the hope of living forever in an earthly paradise. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the only scriptural hope of surviving Armageddon comes through adherence to the biblical teachings, including faith in Jesus’ shed blood. Those who do not show such faith and become part of God’s “organization” face destruction at Armageddon. Watch Tower publications make no explicit claim about whether small children or the mentally ill will survive, but say God’s judgment will be righteous and merciful. After Armageddon, most people will be resurrected with the prospect of living forever. They believe those who have already been condemned by God will not be resurrected. These are said to include any killed at Armageddon, or those in “Gehenna”, or doomed to everlasting destruction. Christ will rule for a thousand years, during which time, Earth will be transformed into a paradise, while Satan is abyssed and unable to influence humanity. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released again to mislead as many people as he can. The final judgment will then take place, when Satan and all those corrupted by him will be destroyed forever, with evil never occurring again. Those who survive that final test will live forever.
Jehovah’s Witnesses regard the soul as mortal, based on the statement at Ezekiel 18:4 that “the soul that sins, it shall die” and thus believe the soul does not continue to live after one dies. Death is considered a state of non-existence, based on their understanding of Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing.” Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the only hope for life after death is in the resurrection, (as opposed to an immortal soul) which they say involves re-creation by God of the same individual with a new body. They believe that 144,000 people will be resurrected to a heavenly life to be priestly rulers under Christ, but the vast majority, to life on a paradise earth. Resurrected individuals will undergo a final test to determine their eligibility for everlasting life on earth.
Watch Tower publications teach that Hell (hades or sheol) is not a place of fiery torment, but rather the ‘common grave’, a place of unconsciousness. “Gehenna”, the Biblical word commonly translated “hellfire”, is said to describe a judgment of complete destruction, and that no resurrection is possible for anyone in Gehenna. They reason that complete destruction does not allow for literal “torture” of the wicked, as the deceased person lacks consciousness. Based on this, they believe that parables such as that of “the rich man and Lazarus” should not be interpreted literally, and that such references are speaking of symbolic death, not the physical death of actual individuals.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that sometimes wicked angels (demons) pretend to be spirits of the dead, and that their deception is the basis for many beliefs about the activities of “dead” people.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are instructed to make their preaching work the top priority in their life. Higher education is discouraged because of the futility of planning secular advancement in a world they believe faces imminent destruction, as well as fears about succumbing to “worldly thinking” and concerns that advanced educated might lead to a lack of humility. Because evangelistic activities take priority over educational success, young Jehovah’s Witnesses rarely progress to college or university, which can be a source of regret in subsequent years among those who are reared in the organization and later defect. Watch Tower publications advise parents to recommend alternatives to university education for their children, suggesting associate degrees from community or technical colleges or short courses in subjects such as office administration, automotive repair, computing, or hairdressing. They urge that young Jehovah’s Witnesses should pursue higher education only to gain skills to obtain a reasonable living while maintaining flexibility to pursue their “true” vocation, serving God.
Jehovah’s Witnesses provide religious training programs for their members, including the congregational Theocratic Ministry School, Pioneer Service School, Ministerial Training School and Gilead Missionary School, which focus on improving skills for their ministry.
Practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses held their meetings for worship and study are at local Kingdom Halls. Jehovah’s Witnessess are assigned to a congregation in whose “territory” they reside and are expected to attend weekly meetings as scheduled by congregation elders. The meetings are largely devoted to study of the Bible and Witness beliefs; traditions of mysticism, glossalalia, creed recitation or periods of silent meditation common in other Christian denominations are absent. During meetings and in other formal circumstances, Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to one another as “Brother” and “Sister”.
The form and content of the meetings is established by the religion’s Brooklyn headquarters, with the content of meetings in any week largely identical around the world. The week’s two meetings are divided into a total of five distinct sections, lasting a total of about four hours, with meetings opened and closed with hymns and brief prayers delivered from the platform. Jehovah’s Witnesses are urged to prepare for all meetings by studying Watch Tower literature from which the content matter is drawn. The Kingdom Halls are typically functional in character, and do not contain religious symbols. Each year, Witnesses from a number of congregations that form a “circuit” gather for one-day and two-day assemblies; several circuits meet once a year for a three-day “district convention”, usually at rented stadiums or auditoriums. Their most important and solemn event is the celebration of the “Lord’s Evening Meal”, or “Memorial of Christ’s Death”.
The meeting, usually held on Sunday, comprises a 30-minute public talk by a congregation elder or ministerial servant and a one-hour question-and-answer study of a Bible-based article from The Watchtower magazine, with questions prepared by the Watch Tower Society and the answers provided in the magazine. Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to use their own words to express the ideas in the printed material, though personal contributions from independent study are discouraged.
The meeting, typically held in the evening, includes a question-and-answer “Congregation Bible Study” (25 minutes) based on a Watch Tower Society publication; the “Theocratic Ministry School” (30 minutes) designed to train Witnesses in public speaking and proselytizing using talks and rehearsals of doorstop sermons; and the “Service Meeting” (35 minutes), following an agenda set in the Society’s monthly newsletter Our Kingdom Ministry to train Jehovah’s Witnesses for, and encourage “zealous” participation in, the public ministry. Prior to 2009, the midweek meeting consisted of the Theocratic Ministry School and the Service Meeting (each 45 minutes); the Congregation Book Study (1 hour) was typically held on a separate evening, divided into smaller groups in private homes.
Memorial of Christ’s death
Jehovah’s Witnesses commemorate Christ’s death as a ransom or “propitiatory sacrifice” by observing The Lord’s Evening Meal, or Memorial. They celebrate it once each year, noting that it was instituted on the Passover, an annual festival. They observe it on Nisan 14 according to the ancient Jewish lunisolar calendar. Jehovah’s Witnesses beleive that this is the only celebration the Bible commands Christians to observe.
Of those who attend the Memorial, a small minority worldwide partake of the unleavened bread and wine. This is because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the majority of the faithful have an earthly hope. Only those who believe they have a heavenly hope, the “remnant” (those still living) of the 144,000 “anointed”, partake of the bread and wine. In 2008, the number of persons who partook worldwide was 9986, whereas the number who attended was 17,790,631. The lowest number of “Memorial Partakers” that the Watchtower Society reported was 8524 in 2005. The number has gone up every year since then. In 2008 the number of Partakers is 17% more than three years before.
The Memorial, held after sunset, includes a talk on the meaning of the celebration and the circulation among the audience of unadulterated red wine and unleavened bread. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the bread symbolizes Jesus Christ’s body which he gave on behalf of mankind, and that the wine symbolises his blood which redeems from sin. They do not believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation. Because many congregations have no members who claim to be anointed, it is common for the bread and wine to be passed and have no partakers.
Assemblies and Conventions
Each year, Jehovah’s Witnesses hold a “Special Assembly Day” and a two-day “Circuit Assembly”, held in each circuit worldwide. Each circuit comprises several congregations in a geographical area. These are held either in Assembly Halls owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses, or in borrowed or rented facilities, such as public auditoriums. Once a year, Jehovah’s Witnesses come together at larger assemblies called “District Conventions” which are usually three days long. Every fifth year, “International Conventions” are held in selected cities, usually lasting four days, with visiting delegates from other countries. The attendance of some conventions numbers into the hundreds of thousands, with the largest-ever gathering held in New York in 1958 at Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds with a peak attendance exceeding 250,000.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to express their belief in the religion’s doctrines by participating in both organized and spontaneous evangelizing and proselytizing work, with baptism permitted only for those who demonstrate “regular and zealous” participation. Baptism is regarded as an automatic ordination as a minister and from that point Witnesses feel a moral obligation to serve as “publishers”, disseminating Watch Tower doctrines as evangelists of “the Truth”. Watch Tower publications describe house to house visitations as the primary work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in obedience to a “divine command” to preach “the Kingdom good news in all the earth and (make) disciples of people of all the nations”. Jehovah’s Witnesses are placed under continual pressure from Watch Tower publications, meetings and conventions to increase the quality and quantity of their preaching efforts.
Specialized territory maps of residential and commercial areas are prepared within each congregation’s boundaries and distributed to publishers who are responsible for preaching to people within each territory. Jehovah’s Witnesses are instructed to fill out monthly report slips on their preaching activity, listing the hours spent, publications placed with householders and the number of “return visits” made to households where interest had previously been shown. The reports are used to help measure of the “spirituality” of individuals and are critical in determining the eligibility of men as congregation elders and ministerial servants. A Jehovah’s Witness who fails to report for a month is known as an “irregular publisher”; those who have not turned in a field service report for six consecutive months are known as “inactive publishers”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses who can spend at least 840 hours of witnessing during a year (an average of 70 hours per month) can apply for the status of “regular pioneers”, or full-time evangelizers. Witnesses who wish to spend 50 hours in a month can apply to be an “auxiliary pioneer” and can serve in this capacity either a month at a time or consecutively. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses also volunteer for missionary service and are given specialized training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. These individuals dedicate, on average, more than 120 hours a month to their work. As of 1998 there were 2,390 Jehovah’s Witnesses having missionary status serving in 148 “lands”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have, in the past, used a wide variety of methods to spread their belief, including information marches, where members wore sandwich boards and handed out leaflets, to sound cars (car-mounted phonographs), and syndicated newspaper columns and radio segments devoted to sermons. Between 1924 and 1957, the organization operated a radio station, WBBR, from New York.
Watch Tower literature
Jehovah’s Witnesses make extensive use of Watch Tower Society literature, including books, magazines, booklets and handbills, to spread their beliefs and for use as textbooks at their religious meetings. The publications are produced in many languages, with a small selection available in 410 languages. Their primary publications, The Watchtower and Awake!, are published simultaneously in hundreds of languages and are also available in audio and electronic formats. Issues of both publications are compiled annually into bound volumes, and are also added annually to the Watchtower Library CD-ROM, officially available only to baptized members, which contains many Witness publications from 1950 onwards. New books, brochures, and other items are released at their annual conventions. Additionally, a number of audio cassettes, videocassettes, and DVDs have been produced explaining the group’s beliefs, practices, organization and history. Some of these also provide dramas based on biblical accounts. Since 1942 all Watch Tower literature has been published anonymously.
Publications were sold to the public until the early 1990s, from which point they were offered gratis, with a request for donations. The change in policy was first announced in the United States in February 1990, with one newspaper claiming it was prompted by the loss of a US Supreme Court court case by Jimmy Swaggart Ministries on the issue of sales tax exemption for religious groups. The Watch Tower Society had joined the case as an Amicus curiae, or “friend of the court”. The court ruling would have resulted in the Watch Tower Society having to pay millions of dollars in sales tax if sales of their literature had continued.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are urged to prepare for congregation meetings by studying the assigned Watch Tower literature, and are also expected to read all magazines and books published by the Society. One analysis noted that each year Witnesses are expected to read more than 3000 pages of the Society’s publications, according to its suggested program for personal study. In 1981 this would have included 1536 pages from The Watchtower and Awake!, 48 pages from Our Kingdom Ministry, 384 pages of a book for the congregation book study, 384 pages from the Yearbook, 360 pages of the Theocratic Ministry School textbook and 258 pages of assembly releases. Much of the literature is extensively illustrated, with sociologist Andrew Holden observing utopian, post-Armageddon images of happy Witnesses in bright sunshine and pristine environments, often playing with formerly wild animals such as lions and tigers, in sharp contrast to dark-coloured images of unfavourable activities such as murders, burglaries and promiscuity that highlight the moral dangers outside the organization.
To become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a systematic Bible study course is followed. One must also accept Jesus’ ransom sacrifice and repent of sins, and make a personal dedication to God. Participation in the preaching work is required, as well as regular meeting attendance.
The elders ask a series of questions to ensure that the person understands and accepts the Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs. This is done in preparation for baptism. Baptisms are normally performed at assemblies and conventions. At these baptisms, the candidates make “public declaration” of their prior dedication to God. The speaker typically asks the candidates, “On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?” After the candidates answer with an affirmative “yes” and agree that their dedication and baptism “identifies of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization”, they can undergo water immersion.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and congregational discipline
Formal discipline is administered by congregation Elders. In the event that an accusation of serious sin is made concerning a baptized member, if there is sufficient evidence, a tribunal or judicial committee is formed to determine guilt, administer help and possibly apply sanctions.
Disfellowshipping is the most severe form of discipline administered. Before taking this step, the judicial committee must determine that the individual has committed a “serious sin”, and that there is no evidence of true repentance. To judge that repentance is genuine, members of the judicial committee ask questions and review the actions of the accused member. Baptized members who openly reject Jehovah’s Witness beliefs can be disfellowshipped for apostasy. Once the decision to disfellowship has been made, a person has seven days to appeal. After the seven days, if the person has not appealed, the disfellowshipping will be announced to the congregation; disfellowshipping does not take effect until the announcement is made to the congregation. After a person is disfellowshipped, the person is shunned by all baptized members. Exceptions to this would include cases where a member was forced to have commercial dealings with a member who is disfellowshipped, or if the disfellowshipped member is living with family members who are baptized. In these cases, the Witness are not permitted to speak about matters pertaining Jehovah’s Witness beliefs, except in the case of parents conducting a bible study with a disfellowshipped minor. The extent to which disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives living in the same household is included in family life is said to be left to the discretion of the family. But most family members living outside the home who are disfellowshipped have minimal or no contact at all.
Reproof involves sins that could lead to disfellowshipping. Ones considered “truly repentant” are reproved rather than disfellowshipped. Reproof is given “before all onlookers.” If the sin is private in nature, the reproof would involve just the individual(s) involved. If the sin is known generally by the entire congregation or the community, an announcement is made informing the congregation that the person has been reproved. Later, without disclosing names or private details, one of the Elders gives a separate talk ensuring that the congregation understood the sin, its dangers, and how to avoid it. Certain restrictions on congregation privileges will apply to the reproved one, until the Elders have determined that the member has regained “spiritual strength.” Restrictions may include not sharing in meeting parts, not commenting at meeting parts and not praying for a group. The length of the restricted period is dependent upon the elders. One cannot “pioneer” or “auxiliary pioneer” for at least one year after reproof is given.
Marking is practiced if a person’s course of action is regarded as a violation of Jehovah’s Witness beliefs, reflecting badly on the congregation, but is not a disfellowshipping offense. The person is strongly counseled. If, after repeated counsel sessions, the person still pursues the disturbing course, he might be ‘marked’, which involves an announcement stating that the actions in question are wrong, without naming the individual involved. Congregation members limit social contact with that person. The purpose of this is to shame the person into correcting their actions. They do not completely shun the “marked” individual, but social contact is minimised.
The family structure is patriarchal. According to Jehovah’s Witness beliefs husbands are considered the final authority of family decisions. He is the head of his family. He must only have one wife. Wives should be submissive to their husbands and husbands are to have deep respect and love for their wives. Husbands are instructed to treat their wives as Jesus treated his followers. He should not hurt or mistreat his family in any way. The father should be hard-working in providing necessities to his family. He must also provide for them in a spiritual capacity. This includes religious instruction for the family, and taking the lead in preaching activities. Parental discipline for children should not be in a harsh, cruel way. Children are instructed to obey their parents.
Married couples are encouraged to speak with local elders if they are having problems. Married couples can separate in the case of physical abuse and neglect, or if one partner attempts to hinder the other from being a Jehovah’s Witness. Divorce (with the ability to remarry) is permissible only on the grounds of adultery, based on their understanding of Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9.
Jehovah’s Witness beliefs regarding sexual behavior reflects conservative Christian views. Abortion is considered murder. Homosexuality, premarital, and extramarital sex are considered sins. Smoking, use of addictive drugs, and drunkenness are prohibited. Modesty is heavily encouraged in dress and grooming. Entertainment promoting immoral, “demonic”, or violent themes is strongly discouraged. In certain areas, personal grooming such as beards, long hair or earrings for men, along with any dress or grooming that is deemed to be rebellious or immodest is discouraged in everyday settings.
Gambling by making money through the losses of others is viewed as a “form of greed” and therefore prohibited. The trading of stocks, shares and bonds is viewed as acceptable.
Blood and Blood Transfusions
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Bible prohibits ingesting blood, and that this includes the storage and transfusion of blood, including in cases of medical emergency. This belief was introduced in 1945, and has been elaborated upon since then. Accordingly, the organization has established ‘Hospital Information Services’ responsible for education and facilitation of bloodless surgery. This service also maintains ‘Hospital Liaison Committees’, whose function is to provide support to adherents.
Although accepted by the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses, evidence indicates a minority does not wholly endorse this doctrine. Facets of the belief have drawn praise and criticism from members of the medical community.
Certain medical procedures involving blood are specifically prohibited under the Watchtower organization’s blood doctrine. Other procedures are not doctrinally prohibited. For procedures where there is no specific doctrinal prohibition, individuals are to obtain details from medical personnel and then make a personal decision.
Use of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and blood plasma are specifically prohibited under this doctrine. Other fractions derived from blood are not prohibited. However, the Watchtower organization states, “some products derived from one of the four primary components may be so similar to the function of the whole component and carry on such a life-sustaining role in the body that most Christians would find them objectionable.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that it is vital they remain “separate from the world” in harmony with Jesus’ description of his followers at John 17:14-16. Watch Tower publications define the “world” as “the mass of mankind apart from Jehovah’s approved servants” and teach that it is ruled by Satan and a place of danger and moral contamination. Witnesses manifest their world-renouncing beliefs in many ways. They avoid involvement in social controversies, remain politically neutral and do not seek public office. The Watch Tower Society has stated that voting in political elections is a personal conscience decision, though a Jehovah’s Witness who takes any action considered to be a “violation of Christian neutrality” may face religious sanctions. They refuse participation in ecumenical and interfaith activities, abstain from celebrating religious holidays and reject many customs they claim have pagan origins. They do not work in industries associated with the military, do not serve in the armed services and refuse national military service, which in some countries may result in their arrest and imprisonment. They do not salute or pledge allegiance to the flag or sing national anthems and patriotic songs and demand high standards of morality within their ranks.
Witnesses are urged to restrict to the minimum their social contact with non-members because of perceived dangers of worldly association.
Weddings, anniversaries, and funerals are observed, though they avoid incorporating certain traditions they see to have pagan origins. They may use rings in wedding ceremonies, The Watchtower stating that even if they were first used by pagans that doesn’t necessarily rule out their use for Christians.
Other common celebrations and religious or national holidays such as birthdays, Halloween, and Christmas are not celebrated because they believe that these continue to involve “false religious beliefs or activities.” Watch Tower Society publications rule out the celebration of Mother’s Day because of a claimed link with pagan gods and concerns that giving “special honor and worship” to mothers is a form of creature worship” that could turn people away from God. The Society also directs Witnesses to shun May Day, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day celebrations because of their pagan origins.
Their opposition to birthdays is said to be based on how the Bible presents them. Watch Tower Society publications note that the only birthday celebrations explicitly mentioned in the Bible are Herod’s and Pharaoh’s. Both were associated with executions, and neither celebrant was a servant of God. (Though some religions interpret Job 1:4 to indicate birthday feasts of Job’s sons, Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret them as a circuit of feasts from one house to the next.) The Bible does not show Jesus or his apostles celebrating birthdays and The Watchtower claims the absence of any record of the date of the birth of Jesus or his apostles provides a clear implication that “God does not want us to celebrate any of these birthdays”.
Witnesses typically observe wedding anniversaries, with the Watch Tower Society noting that wedding anniversaries apparently do not stem from pagan origins.
Funding of activities
Jehovah’s Witnesses fund their activities, such as publishing, constructing and operating facilities, evangelism, and disaster relief via donations. There is no tithing or collection, but all are encouraged to donate to the organization; Witnesses typically provide an opportunity for members of the public to make such donations as they encounter them in their preaching work. Donation boxes labeled for several purposes, are located in Kingdom Halls and other meeting facilities. Generally there is a contribution box for operating expenses locally, a Kingdom Hall fund for helping other Witnesses around the world needing a Kingdom Hall, and a general fund for the “Worldwide Work”, which includes the printing of literature, organization of conventions, supporting missionaries and disaster relief, and other operating expenses of the organization.
The accounts (including donations) and the financial operation of the local congregation are reviewed monthly with the entire congregation at the Service Meeting. (This meeting is open to the public.) Donations are also accepted via mail, and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society can be named as a beneficiary to an estate, and also accepts donations in the form of life insurance policies, pension plans, bank accounts, certificates of deposit, retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, real estate, annuities and trusts.