Appendix A: A Synopsis of the Beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovahís Witnesses believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and that everything in it is true (though they recognize some parts as symbolic rather than literal Ė it is this distinction, they insist, which distinguishes them from fundamentalists). All of their beliefs stem from the interpretation of the Bible performed by the "governing body". The governing body consists of about 14 men who live in Brooklyn New York, the home of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The Watchtower is the publishing company that produces the writings of the governing body. Witnesses who are not members of the governing body are not free to develop their own interpretation of the Bible, but must agree with whatever interpretations come from the Watchtower. The fact that these interpretations change frequently does not seem to distress the faithful: they see such changes as greater understanding and "new light" which was predicted to get brighter in the "last days".
The governing body is also called the "faithful and discreet slave class", from the parable which most Christians call "the faithful and evil servants" (MT 24:45).
Most Witnesses are sincere in their beliefs and are far more knowledgeable about their religionís theology than most members of other faiths.
Although the Watchtower has published its own version of the Bible: The New World Translation, Witnesses claim that "the truth" (as they call their religion) can be learned from any translation of the Bible. No matter how bizarre some of their beliefs may appear to the uninitiated, it is nevertheless true that all of their beliefs can be said to be "from the Bible" (though some theologians might argue that some of the Watchtower interpretations of the Bible are rather far-fetched.)
The core of their belief is this: God created a perfect world for Adam and Eve, and intended for them to live forever on earth. Satan became evil and tempted them to sin against God. Because of this, God drove them from paradise, and gave them over to Satanís rulership of the earth. God allowed Satan to rule the earth to prove to humankind just how bad following Satan would be. But, God provided a way out of the dilemma: he sacrificed his son, Jesus, to pay for the sin of Adam and Eve. Then, in 1914, Godís son began his invisible presence and the "last days" began. Within a "generation" from 1914, the battle of Armageddon will occur and Godís son will drive out Satan and will assume rulership of the earth. At Armageddon, all of the human governments will be destroyed, and all false religion will be destroyed (that is, all religions except Jehovahís Witnesses). Only Jehovahís Witnesses will survive this battle. Then, all of the dead shall be resurrected (except those killed in the battle of Armageddon and the very few who committed the "unforgivable sin"). The Witnesses and the resurrected ones will then undergo a thousand-year judgement "day" in which those who prove unworthy will be sent to the "second death". Those who survive the thousand-year judgement day will live forever on a perfect, paradise earth (thus fulfilling Godís original intent).
In addition to the "great crowd" of people who will live forever on earth, God has also chosen 144,000 individuals to rule with his son in heaven. Most of these have already died and gone to heaven, those who remain on earth today are referred to as "the remnant". These are the only ones who partake of the bread and wine at the annual memorial of Christís death (the only "holy day" the Witnesses observe). These are the only ones who are considered "born again".
Though they believe in Christ, the Witnesses do not believe that faith in Christ is enough to be "saved". They believe that their organization acts like Noahís Ark, and getting into the organization is the only way to survive the coming battle of Armageddon, just as getting on the Ark was the only way to survive the flood. They do not believe that good works will save them, but they do believe that the work of spreading their message is required of them. Witnesses keep track of how many hours they spend each week bringing their message to others, and how many magazines and books they "place" with people. These reports are turned in to the elders of the local congregation who send them on to headquarters. One important goal of the door-to-door work is to start "Bible Studies" with interested people. These Bible studies consist of studying a Watchtower publication (usually the book "The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life") and looking up quotations in the Bible.
The Witnesses have attempted to free their religion of the more obvious pagan influences borrowed and adapted by Catholicism, and inherited by Protestant faiths. To this end, they have removed observance of Christmas and Easter. Christmas, as is widely known, is nothing more than the Roman Saturnalia dressed up in Christian clothes. It is clear from the Biblical account that Jesus was not born in winter, since shepherds do not "keep watch over their flocks" in the fields during that season. It is also quite true that scholars donít have a clue as to his birthdate (or even if he ever lived). Christ never enjoined the celebrating of his birth, nor is there any mention in Paulís writings of what today is considered such an important Christian holy day.
The word "Easter" is itself the name of a Babylonian goddess of fertility. One of her symbols was the egg. Hence, today, we have bunnies (a symbol of fertility) laying "Easter" eggs! Just as with Christmas, there is no reference made to Christians celebrating Easter until well into the third century. But prior to this time, pagans observed these occasions.
The celebration of birthdays is forbidden to Witnesses. They argue that the only celebrations of birthdays recorded in the Bible are by heathens, and on each occasion someone was murdered. When I was a Witness I never felt their conclusion followed the premises, so I presented an alternate reason: "If we donít celebrate Christís birthday, we certainly arenít going to celebrate our own."
The use of the cross as a symbol is also of pagan origin, and the Witnesses have shunned it. They may have exceeded what it is possible to know, however, by insisting that Jesus did not die on a cross, but rather a "tree" or "torture stake".
Witnesses believe that Michael the Archangel is none other than Jesus, the Son of God.
Witnesses believe that God is one person, not three as Trinitarians hold. Here again, they have uncovered the pagan origins of another belief widely held by other Christian religions. The word Trinity appears nowhere in the Bible, and the concept is not clearly presented therein, though of course, theologians can present a good argument that the Trinity is implied.
Witnesses hold that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, and was thus Godís first "creation". Jesus is not God, but is Godís son. The "Holy Spirit" is a force of Godís, not a person. It is the same spirit that keeps us alive in the Witness formula: body + spirit = soul.
Witnesses believe that we do not have a soul, we are a soul. The "soul" is defined as the physical body plus the life-force from God. When we die, our souls die because the life-force is removed. So, we do not go anywhere when we die; we become unconscious. This is true for everyone except the 144,000 (who, since 1914, go directly to heaven when they die).
Since there is no conscious soul to torment, obviously the Witnesses have rejected yet another commonly held Christian belief with pagan origins: the belief in a hell of torture for the wicked.
Because of the way they view the soul, the Witnesses hold that resurrection consists of Godís forming a new body, and injecting it with the memories of the one who has died. Jesus went through a similar process when he died, however he was resurrected to a spiritual body rather than a material one, because otherwise he would not have been able to ascend to heaven (since "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God".)
Witnesses believe that some of the pouring out of the great plagues by the seven angels in Revelation had their fulfillment in their conventions held between 1922 and 1927! The "two witnesses" in Revelation who are killed by the "wild beast" and resurrected after three and a half days had their fulfillment in Watchtower President Rutherfordís imprisonment for sedition in 1918!
The Witnesses refuse to vote, salute the flag, rise for the singing of the national anthem, or have anything to do with the government (other than to obey laws which do not conflict with Godís laws, and to pay taxes). This is because they believe they are part of Godís government (the "new world"), and are not part of this old world (ruled by Satan). Many Witnesses have suffered for this belief in countries less tolerant than ours.
The Witnesses believe that to have a blood transfusion is to break Godís law (which states that we should "abstain from blood"). They have won many court battles to keep their children from having transfusions. Many Witnesses have died for this belief, and many children have died for their parentsí belief.
Witnesses are strongly encouraged to attend a minimum of five one-hour meetings a week. All but one of these meetings (the Sunday "public talk") rely heavily on the use of Watchtower publications.
Witnesses are strongly discouraged from reading anything not published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
Witnesses do not believe in charity outside their ranks. The giving of "spiritual food" is considered the greatest gift.
Smoking is forbidden because the Bible says we are not to put "unclean things" into our bodies.
Witness women are to be submissive to males, even if the male is not a believer. They are not allowed to pray aloud when a male member is present. They cannot address a congregation directly. When they give a "talk" to the congregation they must cover their head, and they must have another "sister" accompany them on the stage and address the talk to her.
Witnesses are strongly discouraged from dating or marrying outside the faith. This can lead to disfellowshipping (if not in theory, certainly in practice).
Divorce is frowned upon, but permitted in some circumstances. One is not allowed to remarry, though, unless adultery was the grounds for divorce. If a non-believing spouse divorces a believer without committing adultery, the believer is not free to remarry.
Homosexuality is a sin punishable by disfellowshipping.
Oral and anal sex between a married couple is a sin punishable by disfellowshipping.
Witnesses who break the rules are given "Public Reproof" if the sin is small, and are disfellowshipped if the sin is major. Public reproof consists of an announcement to the congregation at one of the weekly meetings. The announcement will include the personís name, and the fact that they "engaged in conduct unbecoming a Christian". Disfellowshipping is far more serious; it means the person is no longer a JW and is in danger of the second death. No Witness is allowed to speak to a disfellowshipped person. Most Witnesses consider such a person to be of the "evil slave class", when in fact correct Witness theology holds that class only applies to those "in power" back in 1917 who left the organization when Rutherford took over.
The beliefs of the Witnesses continue to evolve, so that any list such as this can become quickly out of date.