I unlocked the door and pushed it aside as the damp air from the morning seemed to sweep past me. It was a bit chilly. I was still a bit groggy since I hadn’t had my morning coffee. It took me a few seconds to get a handle on who was at my door at 8:45 on a Saturday morning. Needless to say I wasn’t especially happy to be bothered. But there they were, two well dressed older women of some minority descent. We exchanged greetings “Good morning” they said and I replied in kind.
“We’re going through your neighborhood visiting folks with the news of God’s Kingdom.” Before I could open my mouth she continued with a set of rapid questions. “Do you think there is too much violence in the world? Don’t you believe that the world’s governments have failed to solve mankind’s basic problems?” “Uh…yeah I guess so. That seems pretty obvious to me.” I replied. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I tried to work my face into something like a presentable appearance of interest. It was difficult.
Then came the pitch. “Well, God’s Kingdom is coming where He will set right all the wrongs that earthly governments have done. We have an article on this very subject that we’d like to leave with you. Maybe we can come back and discuss it with you at another time? We’d be happy to answer any questions you have about it” By now I had my sea legs. “Well, I was thinking as you were talking just now about a question I’ve had for a good while about a part of the Bible. But I don’t want to hold you up so maybe it is better if we talk about it whenever you come back.”
“Oh no, we’d be happy to answer a question about the Bible.” “Really?” I asked. “Oh sure, we answer Bible questions all the time!” she said with a slight laugh and a glance at her companion. I could tell they thought this was going to be a piece of cake. “Well, I was reading the book of Acts and I came across a passage in chapter eight. Do you know the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch?” I asked. “Sure we know that story.” She replied. “Well then you know how the story goes. Philip notices that the Eunuch is reading the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Book of Isaiah. And Philip asks him as he is running along side the chariot if the Eunuch understands what he is reading. Do you remember what the Eunuch says in reply?”
It took a minute or so for their answer to come to their lips. “Doesn’t he say that he couldn’t unless someone interprets it for him?” “That’s right!” I said with a bit of a jump in my voice. “Exactly! So before he could properly understand the Bible he needed to have someone interpret it for him. Isn’t that an amazing statement?” I said. Their eyes lit up, especially the older and seemingly more experienced lady who had been leading the conversation. “This is why we have God’s Organization to give us spiritual food at the right time. The books and articles we publish and read help us to understand the Bible better. And this is why we came to your neighborhood to help people understand the good news of God’s Kingdom and help them become part of God’s organization and his plan for a new earth.”
“I see” I said. “But there is something else I think is worth noticing here about the story of Philip. If Philip is right, then I can’t interpret the Bible for myself. I have to rely on God’s Organization to do so.” At this point the two ladies became quite enthusiastic. “Oh surely, people have all kinds of crazy ideas about the Scriptures.” They said. “Oh I know. You wouldn’t believe half the stuff people throw around in books or magazines or now on the Internet about the Bible.” I replied. “But here is what I have been thinking and wondering about. If I can’t interpret the Bible for myself, because then I would go off into God knows what kind of darkness, then I need to be able to find and identify God’s Organization on Earth so I can rightly and authoritatively interpret the Bible.” I said. The two ladies let out “uhmm hmmm, that’s so true!” I was on a roll it seemed.
“But I am wondering how you think I can do that?” I asked. “When we go to the Bible” one of the ladies began “we can see in Acts 2:46 that Jesus’ disciples went house to house…” At this point I interrupted. “But did God’s Organization interpret that passage for you to tell you what it means or did you interpret it on your own and your own authority?” She looked confused. She didn’t seem to understand what I was asking. “What do you mean?” she queried. “Well, I am just like the Ethiopian Eunuch. I need to indentify God’s Organization first before I can understand the Bible properly. So I can’t use the Bible to identify God’s Organization. If I did that, then I’d be interpreting the Bible on my own. And we already agreed that we can’t do that because of what the Scriptures say about needing someone to interpret it for us. Or did you change you mind about that?” I said.
“We certainly can understand easy things like this.” She said. “And there are lots of easy things like that in the Bible such as, don’t steal, don’t murder…” “I wondered about that too.” I interrupted. “I agree that there are some cases that are really easy to understand, but then there are hard cases, where it is difficult to know if something counts as murder or stealing or something else. And not everyone agrees on those cases. And your organization isn’t the only group that goes door to door, is it?” I said. “Besides, did you mean just a few minutes ago that we needed God’s organization to understand just the parts of the Scriptures we think are difficult or all of them? I thought you meant all of them but maybe I misunderstood you?” I asked.
“No, I meant all of them.” She said somewhat reluctantly. I had the momentum now. I wasn’t going to let the conversation get away from me. I asked, “But on the other hand, maybe you’ve got a point.” I paused for a moment. “Maybe we can interpret the Bible on our own? That would make things easier I guess. What do you think?” Her eyes lit up for a moment, but before she could get a word out I began in again. “But then I’d have to do a lot of work.” She asked “What do you mean?” “Well” I said “I’d have to read everything I could from your group and lots of other groups and compare their interpretations to see who is right and who is not. And then I’d have to do the same for all the new groups that crop up every now and then. And that could take a long time, maybe even my whole life. And I could die any time along the way. If I hadn’t figured out which is true, that could be very bad for me. And besides that I could make all kinds of mistakes and that would be bad for me too. On the other hand though, if I could interpret it for myself, I wouldn’t need your organization or anyone else’s. You can see now why I asked you about this passage from the Greek Scriptures and how confusing this can all be.”
Both ladies nodded. At this point the other lady chimed in. “But lots of those groups teach some horrible things. And just look at all the corruption that these other groups sweep under the rug like the Catholic church. The Bible says you can know them by their fruits.” This was going to hurt and I knew it. “Maybe that is true on both points. But can I ask you a question about that?” I said. Lady number two nodded so I proceeded. “The passages in the Bible about knowing them by their fruits, that is about loving each other isn’t that right?” She said “It sure is.” “And” I continued “sometimes it is loving to do things other people don’t like, isn’t that so? Sometimes people will find those things taught or done offensive, isn’t that right?” “It sure is.” She replied. Before either of them could get a word out I pressed on. “Well maybe what you find horrible and such is actually them being biblical? Maybe they are just being loving? About the corruption, I thought Judas steal out of the disciples’ money bag? And wasn’t Judas one of the Twelve? So, do you mean to say that while even Jesus couldn’t eliminate corruption, your organization has and so has done a better job than Jesus? I don’t think you want to say that do you? Besides, are you interpreting that Bible passage on your own or did you get that interpretation from God’s Organization?”
She replied, “I believe God’s Organization and that they give me spiritual food at the right time.” “Great!” I said. “But this is what I don’t seem to understand so maybe you can help me. If I can’t understand the Bible properly without God’s Organization, then I can’t use the Bible to discover which Organization is God’s. So how do you know your organization is God’s Organization without using the Bible and their interpretation of it? I mean, we just can’t assume that your group is God’s Organization because that wouldn’t be reasonable. If we did that, we could just assume any group we wanted to.” You could almost hear their collective gulp. If there had been crickets in the morning, you surely could have heard them chirping at this point. Gone were all the appeals to the Bible. Gone were the hours upon hours of doorstep battles over this or that word in Greek, the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. It all just vanished.
At this point, the elder lady piped up. “How would you identify God’s Organization?” It seemed we had turned a corner in our conversation. “That is a great question!” I blurted out with a bit of enthusiasm. “I’ve been thinking about that too for a while. I’ve got some proposals so maybe you can tell me what you think?” I said. “So here is the first one. Suppose God entrusted a special task to someone or a group of people, something more important than just about anything else. So take the Scriptures for example. Whomever God entrusted and authorized to select the books of the Scriptures and canonize them, that would be a good way to identify God’s Organization. Did your organization do that?”
I waited a bit. I wanted the point to sink in. “God did that when he inspired each of the books.” She answered. “Oh, I see” I said. “So when God inspired each book he made it part of a list of inspired books?” She seemed confused. “What do you mean?” “Well it seems that you’re saying that when God inspired these books he gave you a list of them too. Did that list come with the Bible?” “Uh…no” she stammered. “So whom did God use to pick with authority which books were inspired?”
Trying to save the day, the other lady chimed in. “You said there were other proposals. What other proposals did you think of?” She asked. “Well, perhaps if someone or some group had given some prophecies that came true or performed some stupendous miracle, that would be a good reason for thinking that God had selected them to be his organization. Does your group have any prophecies or miracles?” The didn’t seem to want to engage those options and hurried back to the original proposal.
“Well God used the Jews to select the books of the Bible and to pass them on to us.” The elder lady said. “So, are you Jews?” I asked. “No.” She replied. “Then I don’t understand how that really helps. I might help with the Old Testament, but how does that help us with the New Testament? Didn’t the official Jewish leadership reject the New Testament writings and the early Jewish leaders of the Church? And didn’t they reject Jesus as the Messiah too?” They both replied in unison, “Yes.” They were getting nervous so I thought I’d better let them come up for air for a few moments. “Here is something else to think about. Suppose we went with the Jewish idea you gave a minute ago. Wouldn’t that mean that we’d be following Jewish tradition? But you reject Jewish tradition right?” They seemed to agree.
The younger lady seemed curious, so much so that she asked me another question. “Well, what group do you think God used to select the books of the Bible?” “Ah” I said with a wide mouth. “That is why I am Orthodox.” She looked confused and ask “So you’re Jewish?” I chuckled. “No, I am an Orthodox Christian…you know, like Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and so forth. Haven’t you ever been to one of those Greek festivals or heard about them?” “Oh yes”, the younger lady said. “they sell those wonderful pastries and things!” “Well” I said “that is what I am. If you read the New Testament and about places where the apostles established churches like Antioch, Thessalonika and stuff. Well you can go and visit those same churches started by the Apostles and they are Orthodox churches. And it was those churches that over time and through the decisions of bishops and councils of bishops that selected the books that make up the Bible.”
It seemed to finally dawn on the elder lady what had just transpired and she didn’t seem very happy. “Do you mean churches after the apostles died?” “Yes, those churches continued under the successors of the apostles, being various bishops that they appointed.” “But” she replied those churches all fell away and became corrupt and part of Satan’s organization!” “Huh” I said. “I am not sure I understand what you just said so let me see if you can help me to understand.” She nodded. “Are you saying that after the apostles died that all the churches they started they all fell away from the true faith? And that they all lost the right teaching and instead taught the doctrines of demons? And that they came under the control of the devil promoting false religion and idolatry in the world?” “Yes!” she exclaimed. “That is exactly what I mean.”
I rubbed my chin. “I guess I am only wondering about one thing then.” I waited a moment to draw them in. “What’s that?” They both asked. “Well, do you trust Satan?” They seemed not to get it. “Well of course not! That is silly! Satan is the father of lies so he can’t be trusted with anything.” The elder lady said. “Huh” I said, “Well, why do you use a group of books selected by Satan and his organization in the fourth century? That doesn’t seem very reasonable to me. I don’t think I could be associated with an organization that depends on Satan for its teaching. Could you? I mean, if you think the church fell away after the apostles died, and came under control of the devil, why would you trust an organization controlled by Satan to collect and preserve the right books and then hand them on to you? I don’t get it.” At that moment, the elder lady had a flash of insight and I could see it on her face. She couldn’t wait to let it blurt out.
“But we got those books from Martin Luther when he protested against all the corruptions of the Catholic church!” “Hmm” I said to myself. “I think I am more confused now than before you came to my door!” “How come?” The younger lady asked “It is just that I don’t understand.” I said. “I thought you said that the churches founded by the apostles all fell away.” “That’s right” they said. “Well if they did, what church was Luther a member of? Either he was a member of the Catholic church or he was a member of the Lutheran church, but do you think either of these are God’s organization?” “Uh….no” the younger lady said. So you’re not Lutheran or Catholic then right?” “No. They said somewhat emphatically. “If either of them were, and you’re not a member of them, then that means you are outside of God’s organization and so can’t really understand the Bible properly. If on the other hand, both of them are part of Satan’s organization, then I can’t understand how you’re not back to trusting Satan and his organization. It seems wrong somehow to make God’s Word depend on Satan. Don’t you think?” I asked. “It just seems like if I take your view and join your organization I’d have to trust the Devil and that doesn’t seem reasonable to me. In any case, I don’t understand how any of that helps and so it seems we are back to the original question, how do you identify God’s organization apart from the Bible so that you can properly understand the Scriptures?”
At this point it was clear we had reached a terminal point in the conversation. “Well that is all very interesting.” Said the elder lady. “And that is why we’re out here to discuss spiritual things with people. We’re not trying to take people away from the Bible. It seems you’re thinking about spiritual things and that’s good but we’re here to talk to people who aren’t.” This was code for “Please, let us go and don’t hurt us anymore.” “Oh sure,” I said. “I understand that and that is why I talk to people about God’s organization, the Orthodox Church, so that they can gain true saving knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ. Maybe you two can come back some other time and we can talk about it some more?” They just said goodbye, have a nice day and walked away. I left the front door open…just a bit.
Not bad for 8:45am on a Saturday morning, sans coffee no less!
Not bad, Mr. Robinson, not bad at all. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.
So, not only can Perry express the faith with the precision of a seasoned surgeon, he can also tell a great story as riveting as Mark Twain. I really enjoyed that. 🙂
Great stuff, Perry.
Ok, cough, the comments section is for discussion of whatever is posted, not to blow smoke up my posterior.
I developed this approach overt the eight years or so. I got tired of long bible battles on my porch or playing the, how do I slip in this photocopy of your false prophecy I just happen to have handy here, game.
The approach is simple. It doesn’t require a whole lot of background knowledge. It takes the bible away from the Witnesses and uses central beliefs of theirs against them. the more strongly they affirm a Watchtower-ish view of the relation between scripture and ecclesiastical authority, the stronger the problem becomes. Either way they end up denying something central to WT theology.
I also have a version of the same arguement for the LDS too.
So you outwitted them. So what. You did not reach them with the Gospel now did you. So what did you accomplish? Pride in yourself and they left still lost. Wow.
A possible counter to the Ethiopian Eunuch is the Bereans in Acts 17:11. How would you respond?
Drew in the context of WT theology, that isn’t a defeater for their view of authority. If they appeal to it to invalidate the idea that we need a “channel” to rightly interpret the bible, then we don’t need any of their books or literature, in short, we don’t need to Anointed class.
In terms of Christian theology, I don’t think it presents a problem for Orthodoxy. What are the bereans commended for? Placing themselves as judges over the apostles? No. they are commended because they went on a fact finding mision with respect to OT prophecies. There is nothing there that supports the right of private judgment and so nothing to support sola scriptura either.
Eric, wth? How many JW’s have left your porch with an open door to the Church where all they have to do is walk in? I didn’t even get a hint of pride reading that, just plain old neighborly directions to the lost.
It would be helpful not to write to me like I am a piece of crap. A little bit of common respect goes a long way.
I’ve spent a lot of time with JW’s (25 yrs plus) and a fair amount with a number of their best apologists (Hal Flemming, Greg Stafford, et al). I’ve learned over that period of time a few things.
First, when they come to your door, they are not there to be taught by you. If they get the feeling that you are trying to teach them, the game is up and they are gone. Any approach has to be Socratic-they have to think they are teaching you by answering your questions. otherwise, they will just tune you out. Anyone who has spent significant time with the JW’s or was a JW will tell you the same.
Second, you can present all manner of exegetical arguments to them as to the gospel and at the end of the conversation, they will say that it doesn’t matter what you think the bible means since they are part of God’s organization and you’re not. Plenty of former witnesses will tell you that you have to get the Witness out of the Watchtower before you can get the Watchtower out of the Witness.
Third, few and far between are the cases where someone converts on your doorstep. Usually it is a long slow process entailing no less than a few years and usuall about a decade of time. My strategy was to undermine the authority of the WT in such a way as to undermine all of their arguments against “the gospel.” So perhaps next time if they return, they’ll be more open to discussing those things. Or even if they don’t, that question is lurking behind all of their arguments against the Trinity, the Resurrection of Jesus and such-they could be true only if the WT is God’s organization, but how do I know that?
Fourth, a big part of door step eveangelism is planting a mental time bomb in their head. You have to generate a contradiction in their minds and over time it will gnaw away at them. One person can’t do everything. One plants and another waters and over time with divine mercy it will bear fruit.
Fifth, something else that is important is having a positive alternative to bring them to. Many times ppl in the Watchtower have it in their head that this is the be all and end all of religious truth and authority. When they dump it, it is not uncommon for them to reject all forms of religious authority for an extreme kind of autonomy, if not outright atheism. This is an understandable reaction given their semi-cloistered existence in the Watchtower. What my approach does is preserve the idea that duly appointed authority is good and is to be had and there are plausible candidates out there as alternatives. In short, it isn’t enough to just give them a message, you have to have a place to take them too. At the very least, for some time they will not be able to sort through the religious landscape and competing claims on their own. They will need personal help.
Everything I’ve written here is what I have learned first hand and/or from people I’ve worked with and/or known in the counter-cult community.
So no, it isn’t about merley outwitting the JW’s (as if that were some great achievement anyhow-they don’t discourage college education for no reason) but rather in planting a seed. what I wished to do here was to give Orthodox Christians a method that cuts through all of the bible battles and is effective and relatively simple and something the Witnesses have not heard before.
Addendum-Eric, if you think i am wrong then say, hey, I think you are wrong. Here are my reasons why I think you are wrong. There is no need to assume the worst possible motives of people with whom you disagree.
Somethign else. One of the reasons I use the passage abot Philip is because it is one the Witnesses know and base their view of interpretative authority on. So when I refer to it in dialog, I am speakin’ their language.
The Berean events in Acts 17 are not a counter to Philip’s interpretive authority to the Eunuch but in complete agreement.
Start Acts 17 at v.1. Paul preaches to the Thessalonians from the scriptures that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead but then gave them some Divine revelation not in the scriptures that they MUST accept for salvation–This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.
A mob ensued because they were not willing to search the scriptures or accept Paul’s Apostolic authority that he knew WHO this Christ was. On to Berea where those noble but unbelieving Jews received Paul’s word and searched the scriptures. They searched the scriptures not to put an Apostle to the scriptural test, but to see if his assertion of a suffering and rising Messiah was true. This established, they submitted by faith completely to Paul’s gospel concerning Jesus himself which came by apostolic testimony not scripture.
There was a book written a few years ago by a philosophy professor named Peter Kreeft. The book was entitled “Socrates Meets Jesus.” Fantastic read if you ever get the chance.
What you did with these JW’s, and the way you expressed it could have easily passed for a chapter in the book. Really. I can see it, “When Orthodox Socrates Met JW’s.”
Great piece, man.
I used to be a Jehovah Witness. Every time a Jehovah Witness comes to your door, one is a trainer and one is a trainee/novice not immersed in the teachings of the society. You had an opportunity to reach the novice with a simple Gospel but instead you had to demonstrate your supposed superior logic and intellect in debate. This will never bear any fruit except in the mind, but it will not change a heart. Preaching Christ, however, which you did not do, goes right to the heart.
Again, I do not understand why you feel the need to insult me. As if I don’t care about such people. I may be wrong but why assume that I have the worst motives?
If you are a former witness, you know well that they are not there to listen to anything you wish to preach to them.
Second, if you think my approach is off, why not offer what you think is effective. What do you propose that I should say?
Considering that it was early in the morning and you had to think fast (thanks to your getting informed prior), I think you did a very good job planting seeds.
It’s a terrible mistake for a person to think that they can ‘win’ an argument and the ‘opponent’ will fold and convert the next day, so Eric is way off base here. An apologist I greatly respect emphasizes that he never enters into a discussion thinking he will convert the person then and there, since it’s so unrealistic.
I’ve been told by Ex-JWs that they live by this rule: If a non-JW says something that makes sense, it’s the devil speaking to you, trying to deceive you.
So, again, Perry is very correct that they are trained to run the moment they sense ‘danger’ (i.e. losing an argument or not true interest).
Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve come up with what I consider an even more powerful argument against the JWs, and that is to have them “explain” to you the 1914 A.D. Dogma. Most likely, they’ve never thought about it, but this article shows it’s most glaring problems and what to bring up. This will surely plant seeds and get them thinking.
I have a cousin (and his family) who is JW, and I have to play dumb all the time, pretending he is the one who can answer my questions, and never tell him anything about my apologetics ‘hobby’. However, I make it very clear to him I love studying the Bible and affirm basic Christian morals. Because JWs are taught that non-JWs don’t really care about studying Scripture – especially Catholics and Orthodox – you will pull the rug from out under them when you tell them you are Catholic or Orthodox and know the Bible.
Thanks for sharing how you undercut the lies of their system. Hopefully some day that planted bomb will go off in their hearts and save them from the Christ-hating heresy.
The last JW that came to my place was alone, (which was wierd) a seasoned old fella with worn bible and friendly wrinkled face. I asked him if God used Christ to create all things, he agreed and referred to a couple of the verses that state as much. We agreed that only God is uncreated and everything else is created. I asked him how then there could be an interval of something created (time) between God and his first creation Jesus Christ, if Christ was in fact the Father’s means of creating all things that are created. He had no answer and I pray for his conversion to this day.
Perry, the narrative dialog format is helpful in that it gives the reader an actual scenario in which to practice the Socratic method. Much appreciated.
I thought your response was brilliant.
I always welcome people into my house to talk. I figure, if nothing else, they aren’t bothering the neighbors. And I try my best to have them come back again and again.
I once had two women come to my door as I was preparing dinner. I told them “no” and went back to the kitchen. I felt so guilty that I ran after them down the street in my apron and told them it was just a bad time, could we schedule a visit. They came weekly for months. I asked lots of questions, we used the KJV as common ground for our discussions. When the younger woman didn’t know the answer, she always said she’d get back to me and she did. Eventually, she just gave me a blue hardback book that she used to counter my questions. I know I was planting seeds because of what happened next.
One night she came with only her young daughter and told me she wanted to talk to me at a different time. She was interested in my faith. Her husband was waiting for her in the car. I never saw her again and wonder what happened to her.
I’d love to read your LDS response as well. I always begin talking to them by asking how their bikes are holding up.
I’ve tried those kinds of approaches and while they can be effective they have a few drawbacks.
First, if you start asking about 1914/1918 or anything old like that, they will usually dmiss it as “old light.” Next they’ll get suspicious if you press it. If you start pulling out photocopies you just happen to have, then the game is up. I’ve had not a few JW’s ask me if I was an apostate.
Second, it requires that the user keep in their mind a fair amount of JW doctrine and shell switching. I can do that but after a while I got tired of learning what everyone else believes, especially when it got really kooky with Pyramids and stuff. I don’t need any photocopies or originals that most witnesses couldn’t even get their hands on, at least not without being disfellowshipped. I had every WT and Awake magazine from the 1940’s to 1985, a book case or so of JW books and I’d spend hours with them going over false predictions, lies, doctrinal changes, etc, with little or no avail or at least, none that I ever saw.
My apporach doesn’t really require you to know much. It also works from an area that the Witnesses know less about than a decently informed Christian.
And the most important thing is that it works with their own doctrinal committment. The more strongly they hold to the WT teaching as being the faithful servant, the stronger the problem becomes.
For the recored, I’ve done the doctrinal approach too-Trinity, deity of Christ, salvation by grace (anointed vs Great crowd) resurrection, but always in he background was the WT’s authority in their mind. It is very hard to get to a point to talk about Russell’s Miracle Wheat, Beth Sarim and other goofs. With the ineternet and the WT stagnation and decline in members, they are even more skiddish.
This post hit the internet while I had a group of LDS in my living room. I’d love to read your LDS argument.
The tack I took with them was to agree with them every time they mentioned the quorum of the apostles. Then I would excitedly say: that’s our synod of bishops! I outright asked “Which would you more likely believe? 1. That our bishops form an unbroken line of authority with the apostles; a historical fact that even the most ardent atheist cannot deny or 2. That two guys had a vision that they were the new church on earth?” They responded with some mumbo jumbo about “well, its correct if you feel it in your heart.” I then played out a scenario where a charlatan faith healer showed up on the doorstep of their family and told them to trust their feelings all the while using his charisma to manipulate their feelings. I asked them if this was honest. They said no. I asked them if feelings, then, were an appropriate way to make such an important decision. They said no.
When they told me the story about Smith’s concern for the multiplicity of churches, I pointed out that a multiplicity of “israels” doesn’t solve that problem. That one absolutely stumped them.
One of my goals is to keep them at my house as long as reasonably possible, if for no other reason than that if they are with me they are not at my neighbor’s house. To do this, I ask lots of questions. One thing I am always shocked at is how they never actually get around to tell what they teach about. Sure, they’ll talk about eternal families. But they keep referencing “the Gospel” with no clarification of what the Gospel actually is. They won’t go into the mutability of “heavenly father” or Jesus/Satan or eternal stars, etc…
There are two things that really bug me about these encounters. The first is that they play fast and loose with the truth. They say things like “We are Christians” and yet the reason they say that is because they *know* that by any traditional Christians’ use of the word, they are excluded. This is a form of dishonesty. Further, they establish a pretense of being there to discuss beliefs openly. And yet there are a number of beliefs that are not available for discussion. They are only there to discuss their well-rehearsed pitch. Thus, this statement too is a lie. Lastly, I hate that I have to lie (in the form of feigning interest) in order to get them to stay. If you just say “I’m willing to listen to your talk if you are willing to listen to mine” they will just walk away.
The second thing that really bugs me is that this whole method of door-to-door is designed specifically to prey upon the ignorant. I cannot think of a single door-to-door tactic, religious or otherwise, which is not designed to prey upon the ignorant via emotional manipulation. This goes for the LDS, the JW, and the lawn treatment salesman. The goal is to get people to feel an affinity for the missionary/salesman and then to manipulate this affinity into setting aside what little perspicuity the victim has. This is the exact opposite of how the apostles evangelized by going into the public square, Mars hill, or the synagogue. The greatest part of this tragedy however is that the missionaries themselves are being manipulated by an even more powerful salesman up the line. They don’t know they are trained to manipulate people. They simply think they were given discussion tools to help people learn the truth. It is this systematic victimization of persons which troubles me so greatly.
Anyway, I’d love to hear your LDS version of this since the JW aren’t very strong in my town.
Your point about old dates and false predictions is well taken, but 1914AD is not really in that category. The 1914 Dogma is alive and well and all through their current literature, especially in their mass produced booklet for ‘seekers’.
The date “proves” that’s when the “last days” began and Jesus was installed as King and now ‘invisibly present’. Based on this, the Watchtower is God’s channel today, precisely because the Watchtower was able to predict this date by properly decoding Bible prophecy. 1914 is a cornerstone dogma that has never been abandoned.
Addressing this date and the Bible texts used to “derive” it has nothing to do with digging up old literature or anything like that.
I am a former Jehovah’s Witness and was given the link by a friend. I was raised a Witness, became an elder at the rather young age of twenty-five and was considered a bright Young Turk. I got my first real lesson in the Trinity from a fellow at the door who argued that I should at least know what I was arguing against. He gave me a book on the Trinity and asked me to read it. I broke the rules and took the book. It hardly shattered my faith but did give me an inkling that there were an enormous amount of documents from the early church that I was unaware of. By thirty I faced a Catholic manager who managed to defeat me on a couple of issues and I had also independently discovered the gaping hole in the 1914 chronology. After that I drifted in and out of Anglican and Catholic weekday services (where I could avoid the guitars). For the last four years I have been a member of a Greek Orthodox choir though I have not officially joined the Orthodox.
I haven’t committed because I frankly am probably more sympathetic to Catholic theology than Orthodox theology and the choice between Patriarchs is much harder than the choice between the Witnesses and the Successors of the Apostles. The Orthodox present less of a social shock for me though. They dress well for church and, again, there is no chotsky folk music. This probably means Eastern Catholicism is where I will end up.
Now to your post, it was excellent. The passage from Acts is indeed a very familiar passage and is used exactly like that. Your argument is sound. Your fear that the Witnesses would become irreligious without being provided an alternative is also whip-crack smart. You correctly used their own jargon against them. You also realized that this was a battle that won’t be one in a day and definitely not by you (start to finish I think it took me about seven years and about five before I was aware of it happening). I was impressed by the whole set-up.
However I have a couple of quibbles. It’s not clear if this is a fictional example. If it is I would remove a couple of things. First it is unlikely (but not impossible) that a Witness would go to a festival at a Greek church. They wouldn’t want to be on church grounds outside of a historical context. I have relatives that would avoid them even if they hadn’t been used for a thousand years. I would also hazard to guess that many Witnesses would not refer to Luther as an authority outside of elders and most notably, converted elders.
My main problems come later; in your comments. While you enjoin Eric to play nice, which he should, you aren’t as keen on doing it yourself. While it is true that the Witnesses eschew college it is not true that this means they incapable of it as your comment assumes. There are _very_ bright Witnesses as there always will be in any population. I got my degree recently in computer science, after leaving, but I was an AP student in High School and I was far from the only one. My G.A.T.E. (gifted and talented education) class in Elementary school contained three Witnesses out of a group of, if I remember correctly, fourteen. You weaken your argument by making unwarranted assumptions about your opponent.
Second, I positively _hate_ the use of the term “cult”. It comes loaded with so much freight that it will only forever do more damage than it does good. When you use that or “counter-cult” you are making a passive assumption that your audience can’t think. I know from personal experience that the insistence on that term in regards to Witnesses kept me away from leaving for many years. I would turn off because I was being told, not that I was wrong, which I could accept, but that I was a moron before the conversation had even gotten started. And yes, there are old academic usages of the term such as in the use, “the cult of Mary,” but that is never what is meant when the term “counter-cult” is used.
All and all thanks for the article. If you ever want to write or ask a question feel free.
A quick note on 1914. It is true that it is still used. It is also true that it can be used to undermine the authority of the whole organization (no prophetic prediction no prophetic authority). This is actually the key reason for why I left.
That being said I don’t like it as much as the above. It takes a _lot_ more work than the simple outline used here. Also, most Witnesses don’t understand it (not through any fault of their own…it just doesn’t make sense). This makes 1914 of limited use.
I disagree and here is why. First the whole issue of 1914/1918 is in flux right now. Second, I’d still need to go into details of their teaching, which likely means that to substantiate my points I’d need to use photocopies or actual texts. Second, I’d need to tip my hand at the beginning of the conversation rather than the end. My approach is better (not because its mine) because I don’t have to use any photcopies and I don’t need to tip my hand at the beginning of the conversation. If I use Acts 8, as far as they know for most of the convo I am just some bible reader. I only need to tip my hand when the shift in the convo changes and they ask me what my criteria is.
Thank you for the kind comments.
I don’t think choosing Orthodox requires a choice between choosing between patriarchs. Second, if one is choosing between Rome and Orthodoxy, one is choosing between patriarches (Rome and the others).
I am glad that you picked up on the jargon usage. I deliberately deploy their own terms in this way. It does a couple of things. First it allows me to communnicate better with them. If they know the terms, then it is easier for t hem to track where I am going. Second, it helps to switch around the participants in the convo, I begin as a learner but end as a teacher.
Your remarks about how long it takes seem about right tome. My experience with the witnesses is that it takes at least 3 years and upwards of ten after a particular problem or set of problems bugs them enough to motivate them to look somewhere else.
The example is not fictional. I had that convo pretty much exactly in late March or early April. I had petty much the same convo this morning for some reason. A new pair came back and it went pretty much the same way. Every conversation is different and one needs to be flexible to go with the flow to some extant while still guiding the dialog to your objective. But in the main, it went pretty much the same.
As far as the festival goes, you are right in the main. But here in St. Louis, my parish puts on the largest “ethnic” festival in the entire state. It is huge. And most of it is outside the church. Even if the Witnesses wouldn’t go to it, they probably know about it. It is well advertized and has been going on in St. Louis since God made dirt.
Most times the JW’s don’t bring up Luther. But in a pinch its any port in a storm and they will appeal to the Reformers to argue that they began the clean up process that culminated with Russell if pushed hard enough. But each person is different. I was surprised when they did so the last time (they didn’t t his morning).
I do not doubt that some witnesses have above average intelligence. As I noted, I’ve ha years of dialog with Greg Stafford beginig in the late 80’s and early 1990’s. But the distribution of natural intelligence (as opposed to achieved education) is either the normal distribution rate or not. I tend to think its not give that the Witnesses focus on lower socio-economic people groups and most importantly, those who aren’t able to defend themselves as well. But either way, my aim was not to be rude, but to make a point. Most groups like this seem to me have disproportionate numbers of less sharp folks. People like Stafford are the exceptions that prove the rule. This is not to say that they are any less important as far as salvation goes. I do not mean to imply this in the slightest. So I don’t think my remarks were unwarranted, except from what I know of them as a sociological group and my own anecdotal experience, and it wasn’t part of the argument in the dialog. But either way, its not a big deal so I am willing to concede the point. The above is more so you get a window into how I was seeing it.
I understand your disposition towards the world “cult.” To some extant I share it. But there doesn’t seem to be a more apt word. Sect implies a schismatic group, at least historically and they aren’t that. They are more like a home grown minor religion. I used counter-cult to designate the community since that is how they self designate themselves and to be fair, some of the groups they do deal with do seem to fit that designation, even if not all do.
Thanks for your reply. You are right as to the comment about patriarchies, but I was thinking of patriarchs not as the office holder but as the office itself.
I’m not sure I agree with you on the standard distribution of intelligence. Witness recruitment has struggled over recent years as is indicated by the historically low growth numbers in developed countries. Most Witnesses are like me, second or third generation (I’m third on both sides). For this reason I would guess that the IQ scores fall within the standard distribution of the local population.
As to the scenario I’m happy Witnesses didn’t show up at ours. Our metro area is much smaller and my family is unaware of my attendance since I have never brought it up and they don’t talk to me much. But, being third generation in a small metro area means I know most of or am related to a significant portion of the Witnesses in town. It could have led to an awkward situation.
I actually think sect is a better word. There’s a belief that Witnesses aren’t Christian, but that’s like saying the Arian’s weren’t Christian. They were. Heretics? Yes. But to be a heretic, formal or otherwise, you have to be a formal member of the source group. The Witnesses draw on a sort of neo-Arianism (not Arianism as Arius would have it). The Witnesses are a sect of Adventism, which was a break off movement of the “Second Great Awakening”, which leads to the American baptist movement (with heavy Gnostic overtones), which leads to (roughly) the anabaptists and the chaos that was protestant Germany. Sect also comes with _less_ baggage. Since you have an obvious talent for words and the importance of using words that your audience understands I think you can see why avoidance of such a loaded word is important.
PS-> As an aside I hold this position mainly because I can’t find any instance where the Arians were forced into rebaptism. While this became a more common feature in the East, especially after Nestorianism where rebaptisms were demanded and continued into the modern era with more Orthdox-than-thou Orthodox groups, the earlier councils seemed to assume that the Arians were wrong but otherwise part of the family.
PPS-> Its been a pleasure talking to you. I’ll definatly stop by again.
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