Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult? (Part 2)

Part One examined Jehovah’s Witnesses under the lens of the BITE model, the framework experts use to determine whether a given group is a cult. Part Two will examine the deceptive nature of the Frequently Asked Questions article on JW.ORG

What JW.ORG Says

“The term “cult” means different things to different people. However, consider two common perceptions regarding cults and why those perceptions don’t apply to us.

  • Some think of a cult as being a new or unorthodox religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses have not invented a new religion. On the contrary, we pattern our worship after that of the first-century Christians, whose example and teachings were recorded in the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:​16, 17) We believe that the Holy Scriptures should be the authority on what is orthodox in matters of worship.
  • Some think of a cult as being a dangerous religious sect with a human leader. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not look to any human as their leader. Rather, we adhere to the standard that Jesus set for his followers when he stated: “Your Leader is one, the Christ.”​—Matthew 23:10.”

The Truth

Note that Watchtower does not address how experts define cults, nor the behaviors that define cults. Instead they dismiss the word as something that “means different things to different people,” as if it is an entirely subjective term. Rather than giving a definition, Watchtower presents two “perceptions” regarding cults and why those perceptions supposedly do not apply to them.

The logic here is troubling. Imagine if you asked your friend if he was a criminal, and he responded by saying, “Well, the term ‘criminal’ means different things to different people. However, consider two common perceptions regarding criminals and why those perceptions don’t apply to me.” Would that fill you with a great deal of confidence, or would it seem evasive?

Truthfully, even the two “common perceptions” that Watchtower presents do apply to them.

Perception One: “A New or Unorthodox Religion”

  • “Jehovah’s Witnesses have not invented a new religion. On the contrary, we pattern our worship after that of the first-century Christians, whose example and teachings were recorded in the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:​16, 17) We believe that the Holy Scriptures should be the authority on what is orthodox in matters of worship.” –JW.ORG

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught by their leaders that their religion is the natural, prophetic extension of first century Christianity. This is reinforced by the artwork in Watchtower’s publications, which often display side-by-side comparisons between the First Century Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The brochure “Good News From God” shows Israelites, First Century Christians, Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses as a prophetic chain of “true worship”

According to their brochure Who Are Doing Jehovah’s Will Today? Jehovah’s Witnesses “rediscovered “true worship, but did not enact a new religion. However, there are important and distinctive differences between the First Century Christianity and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  • First Century Christians were not all expected to preach, as Paul stated that not every Christian would evangelize
    • Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ…”
  • To be considered an “active” Jehovah’s Witness a member must turn in a field service report every month. If one does not report any time for six months, he is not considered an active Witness. This was not practiced by early Christians and has no scriptural basis whatsoever.
  • First Century Christian congregations were autonomous, and did not serve under a Governing Body
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that one must be a Jehovah’s Witness to receive salvation
    • “Similarly, Jehovah is using only one organization today to accomplish his will. To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it.” Watchtower 1983 Feb 15 p.12
  • However, First Century Christians believed that faith in Christ was the only means of salvation, and organizational “laws” had no bearing on the matter:
    • Galations 2:16  “…a man is declared righteous, not by works of law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. So we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, so that we may be declared righteous by faith in Christ and not by works of law, for no one will be declared righteous by works of law.
  • First Century Christian “congregations” were not held in large places of worship, but were rather small gatherings held in individuals’ homes:
    • Romans 16: 5 Also greet the congregation that is in their house. Greet my beloved E·paeʹne·tus, who is a firstfruits of Asia for Christ.”
    • Philemon 2: “and to Apʹphi·a our sister, and to Ar·chipʹpus our fellow soldier, and to the congregation that is in your house.”
  • First Century Christians were not a monolith. There were fundamental disagreements among Christian congregations as to who Jesus was, the nature of his divinity, and the meaning of his message. This can be seen in the scriptures themselves, as Paul’s letters often address arguments and disagreements that had arisen in the congregations he had established.  
    • “Until the middle of the 2nd century, such terms [as Son of Man, Son of God, Messiah and Kyrios] emphasized two themes: that of Jesus as a preexistent figure who becomes human and then returns to God and that of Jesus as a creature elected and “adopted” by God. The first theme makes use of concepts drawn from Classical antiquity, whereas the second relies on concepts characteristic of ancient Jewish thought. The second theme subsequently became the basis of “adoptionist Christology” (see adoptionism), which viewed Jesus’ baptism as a crucial event in his adoption by God” Matt Stefon, Hans J. Hillerbrand, Christology, Encyclopedia Britannica

With all this in mind, it is clear that Jehovah’s Witness’ worship differs from first century Christianity in theology and in practice.  

The FAQ article states “We believe that the Holy Scriptures should be the authority on what is orthodox in matters of worship” which borders on being nonsensical. In fairness, in its original incarnation the word ‘Orthodox’ takes its meaning from the Greek words orthos (‘right’) and doxa (‘belief’). However, in a modern religious sense orthodox does not refer to something that is literally true, but something that is generally accepted to be true. The definition of Christian Orthodoxy is “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church.” Because Jehovah’s Witnesses differ on key aspects of what is generally accepted to be true among Christians (the trinity, Jesus dying on a cross, a heavenly reward for Christians instead of an earthly paradise, etc) they are “unorthodox” in the literal sense of the word. This does not mean that Witnesses are incorrect, but they are by definition “unorthodox.”

Perception Two: “A Dangerous Religious Sect with a Human Leader”

JW.ORG outlines the second common perception of what constitutes a cult in the following way:

  • “Some think of a cult as being a dangerous religious sect with a human leader. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not look to any human as their leader. Rather, we adhere to the standard that Jesus set for his followers when he stated: “Your Leader is one, the Christ.”​—Matthew 23:10.”

Is it true that “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not look to any human as their leader?” The Governing Body, or “the faithful and discreet slave,” are human leaders, and Witnesses are told that obeying them is the only way to understand the Bible and receive salvation.

  • “All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the ‘greatly diversified wisdom of God’ can become known only through Jehovah’s channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave.—John 6:68.” – w94 10/1 p.8

Witnesses are taught to believe that to disobey the Governing Body is the same as disobeying Jesus, and vice versa:

  • The Governing Body continues “following the Lamb,” Jesus, “no matter where he goes.” (Revelation 14:4) So when we follow the direction of the Governing Body, we follow our Leader, Jesus. ws17 February pp. 20-26
  • “We can also remember the Governing Body by following its instructions and direction. The Governing Body gives us direction through our publications, meetings, assemblies, and conventions…And all of us show respect for our Leader, Jesus, by obeying the men he is using today.” ws17 February pp. 20-26

Watchtower has made obeying Jehovah and obeying their man-made organization’s rules indistinguishable:

  • “To be fully pleasing to our God, however, we must be obedient in all facets of our life. We must never deceive ourselves into thinking that we can take certain liberties with God’s requirements as long as we are rendering worship to him in other aspects of life. For example, a person might deceive himself into thinking that if he goes through some of the motions of formal worship, he can get away with committing immorality or engaging in other serious wrongdoing. What a mistake that would be!​

    “…We can imitate Jesus in giving priority to obedience to God’s will. (1 Peter 2:21) We can personally find satisfaction when our love for God motivates us to do what Jehovah commands, even at times when we are pressured or tempted to do otherwise. (Romans 7:18-20) This includes our being willing to obey directions from those who are taking the lead in true worship, though they are imperfect. (Hebrews 13:17) Our obedience to divine commandments in our private life is precious in Jehovah’s eyes.” w07 6/15 pp. 26-30

The Governing Body go so far as to call themselves the “the visible part of God’s organization.” (ws13 4/15 pp. 15-20). What should happen if a Christian questioned the authority, not of Jesus Christ or Jehovah God, but the imperfect men who lead an imperfect organization? They would be labeled an apostate.

  • “[An apostate] thinks he knows better than his fellow Christians, better also than the “faithful and discreet slave,” through whom he has learned the best part, if not all that he knows about Jehovah God and his purposes. He develops a spirit of independence, and becomes “proud in heart . . . something detestable to Jehovah.” (Prov. 16:5)  w80 8/1 pp. 17-22

Yes, as much as Watchtower says that Christ is their only leader, one can be expelled from their organization by questioning the men who run it.

Conclusion

It is telling that Watchtower includes the qualifier “dangerous” twice in the article.

  • Some think of a cult as being a dangerous religious sect with a human leader.”
  • “Far from being a dangerous cult…”

That is because as we have seen, by all definitions of the word—including their own parameters—Jehovah’s Witnesses do qualify as a cult. The inclusion of the word “dangerous” seems to be a concession by Watchtower, as if to say that even if they are a cult, they are not a dangerous one. By and large Jehovah’s Witnesses are certainly not dangerous people, but the policies of their leaders are dangerous.

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