29 March 2014

Countering the Claims of the Watchtower Society: Talking to Jehovah's Witnesses

To put it simply, the main problem with the Watchtower Society is that their views are not based on Scripture. Despite their claims to the contrary, Scripture is read through the eyes of CT Russell and JF Rutherford. They believe these men to have had possessed prophetic powers. These powers are perpetuated by the Governing Body based in Brooklyn.

Essentially their system functions like the Catholic Magisterium. In fact at the core the issues we have with Rome are functionally the same. The Governing Body tells you how to interpret the Bible. Bible study is encouraged but only through the lens of the Governing Body.

The first claim of prophetic continuity must be challenged. This is a common problem that Biblicists must address when talking to Roman Catholics, Mormons and Charismatics.

In some cases we're wrestling with historical arguments and in other cases against bogus claims of latter-day prophets. Authority is the primary issue.

The case for Cessationism actually rests in the Redemptive-Historical argument of Hebrews... that Christ Himself is the ultimate and final Prophet. In the history of God's saving work or redemption Christ is both the completion and fulfillment of all prophecy and Himself the final manifestation of Prophet, Priest and King.

The Apostolic ministry is tied directly to the earthly ministry of Christ. The Apostles were people who were specifically called by Christ, followed his earthly ministry and saw him resurrected. Paul is the one exception to this in that he wasn't a follower until after the Resurrection.

The Apostles were commissioned as the Twelve Patriarchs (so to speak) of the New Israel. Their office and position were foundational and thus unique.  

11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Christ and the Apostles he commissioned to speak His word by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 14.26) are the final phase of Biblical revelation.

John's warning at the end of Revelation of course applies specifically to the context of that book. However, I would argue that John knew he was the last Apostle writing the last book of the New Testament canon. The warning is applicable to the entirety of Scripture. That was the final vision. The canon is closed. There are no Apostles today. Anyone who claims this title and authority can be immediately labeled as a false teacher. And there are in fact many who claim this from the Pope to many pastors.

The Watchtower society will not accept this understanding of Redemptive-History and thus to help them understand, their 'prophets' have to be subjected to what we might call the Deuteronomy 18 test.

At this point they fail not only in their multitude of false predictions but in the fact that they teach doctrines which do not correspond to Scripture. They have made numerous failed prophecies which they have redacted in order to make them plausible.

And in terms of following Scripture they (like many) elevate reason and logic and subjugate the message of Scripture to the parameters of their own understanding.

Jehovah's Witnesses will spend a great deal of time arguing for the rational and the common sense. This is an argument of coherence and I would argue this approach, and it is common in most Christian circles is actually a flawed one.

God is certainly not a God of chaos. Nevertheless I believe our knowledge is limited to analogy or what some refer to as correspondence. We don't judge God's Word according to our notions of systematic integrity and logical construction. Many do this and are left with something like, 'If it doesn't make sense to me then it must be wrong. It must mean something else.'

There are a thousand varieties of this which vary in levels of sophistication. Yet the problem is the same.

We need to keep Isaiah 55 in mind as we approach the Scripture with notions of coherence. There are many who will strongly reject what I'm saying here but I think in the end a forcing of coherence will lead the theology down a rationalist road and in the end an undermining of what Scripture teaches.*

For Jehovah's Witnesses the Incarnation and its consequent The Trinity are simply irrational. To this I reply that you cannot say you submit to the Scripture as God-breathed and subjugate it to the limits of your understanding. At that point you have enthroned your own reason as the authority which Scripture must subject itself to.

They won't admit this, but that's what they're doing and it needs to be reiterated and emphasized.

Finally, show them that they're doing this. Show them that the Watchtower Society is false in its representation of what the Scripture teaches.

They reject Christ's Divinity. Show them the Bible clearly teaches it and in fact in doing so you can begin to show them that the Scriptures from start to finish are actually about Jesus Christ.

John 5 says:

39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

And 2 Corinthians 1 says:

20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

They have a myriad of ways that they can wiggle out of acknowledging Christ's claims in John 8 or Thomas' declaration in John 20. They can twist out of Isaiah 9's declaration that the Messiah was indeed God or the prophecy of Immanuel in Isaiah 7.

And obviously we all know of their perverted Bible translation which destroys the opportunity to utilize John 1.

But Hebrews 1 presents real problems for them.  It quotes Psalm 45 and applies the title of God to the Son.

8 But to the Son He says: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom.  9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions."  

Finally a simple way to devastate their position is to demonstrate that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last.

Isaiah 44 reads:

 6 "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: 'I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.  7 And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them.  8 Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.' "

Notice the 'witnesses' part. This is one of their flagship verses. LORD (all caps) in English translations is Jehovah or YHWH. I think the use of LORD is unfortunate because it masks the fact that it's a proper name.

Neverthess it's clear the First and Last is Jehovah.

Revelation 1 says:

 12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands,  13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.  14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;  15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;  16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.  17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me,  "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.  19 Write  the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw  are the seven churches.

The Son of Man, Jesus Christ is the First and the Last or in Greek the Alpha and Omega. In English that's the equivalent of the A and Z.

He is Jehovah. And to further confuse and confound them point out that Christ as Jehovah says that he was dead is alive forevermore. It's not that God died. This is a theological tangle some get into. The issue is that Christ, the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity died on the cross. We would say his Divinity did not 'die' but certainly his humanity did. It's a bit of a mystery and I'm happy to admit that and in fact would rather leave it that way than try to dissect it.

For the Unitarian understanding of the Jehovah's Witnesses it's devastating.

Revelation 21 says:

 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me,  "Write, for these words are true and faithful."  6 And He said to me, "It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.  7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things,  and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

God enthroned is the Alpha and Omega. As Trinitarians we understand that when we 'see' God, we're seeing the Son. He is the image of God. The Incarnation is the Door, the window, the Way we interact with heaven. We know the Father through the Son and yet both are Jehovah the One God.

It's awesome to ponder.

Revelation 22 says:

 12 "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.  13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last."   14 Blessed are those who do His commandments,  that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.  15 But  outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.  16 "I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star."

Jesus clearly identifies himself once again as the Lord Jehovah.

You can also point that John is commanded not to worship or venerate the angels. When he venerates and falls before Christ he is simply told to 'Fear not'.

This is particularly poignant because the Jehovah's Witnesses believe Christ is an Archangel.

At this point I would certainly point out to them that just because we embrace Trinitarianism as the teaching of Scripture it does not suggest that we necessarily embrace the whole of the Nicene and Post-Nicene formulation.

What do I mean by this? In the Early Church you see hints of Trinitarianism especially in the writings of Tertullian who in fact coined the term Trinitas. Later in light of the Arian Controversy the emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea. This first Ecumenical Council and the ones that followed it introduced a host of terms and concepts into the theological lexicon. Battles were fought over terms like substance and essence, nature and what is a person? While these are worthwhile discussions to have there are times when the discussion ranges into the speculative. Even among the Orthodox parties there was not always agreement.

In the end I'm not sure the Council formulations were all that edifying or Biblically faithful. The problem as I see it is one of theological method. Realistically you're probably not going to get into all of this with a Jehovah's Witness. I think we can say we'd rather just leave the Trinitarian formula in an undefined form and where Scripture is silent, so are we.

The Watchtower has a host of other doctrinal problems, some of which are really quibbles and peculiarities. On a larger scale because they have not recognized who Christ is they certainly do not grasp the significance of His work. They have problems with the atonement and resurrection and thus really have no concept of the Gospel. They certainly cannot be reckoned as Believers and in their present state have no hope of salvation.

As Annihilationists they do not believe in Eternal Punishment which is problematic but not their most serious problem.

Once the authority of the organization is destroyed the Bible will come alive as it were and these various topics can be revisited.  

One advantage I have compared to Evangelicals is that I don't hold to reductionist understanding of the Gospel or Saving Faith. In addition I can find common cause with them in criticizing the idolizing of the state, state violence, the apostasy of the age, the introduction of pagan elements into the Church through holidays etc....

On all these points they (as lost as they are) have exercised a bit more discernment than the mainstream Church. These doctrines are by no means peculiar to them. They are in fact ancient and though our modern Protestant congregations would not like to admit it, they have in many cases adopted both the Medieval and the Modern and have also deviated from Scriptural patterns.

The heart of the problem is the Person and Work of Christ. Once this is grasped the Scriptures come alive and there are real possibilities. Christ's Person and Work are what give the Bible its authority. Rome, the Jehovah's Witness and most other false forms of Christianity have established rival authorities which claim their prerogatives over and above the Scripture itself. This is the first sign that they have abandoned Christ.

*By rationalist I mean an over-reliance on human reason and intellect and the ability to find truth through deductive exercise. I'm not referring to the philosophical school which opposed Empiricism. It is actually Empiricism in the realm of theology that I am opposing.

And I apologize for the changes in text size. Google Blogger is actually a terrible programme but I found Wordpress to be even worse. By writing these long pieces I'm really pushing the limit on what this programme was meant to do. I spent a good hour trying to get the copy-paste formatting to work. I don't type any of this stuff on the blog site. I paste it in and often it doesn't work well. It's awful. I looked up stuff, contacted people. It's just a nightmare. In the end it's readable and I'm just leaving it.


Cal P said...

Interesting to compare JWs with Catholics on the issue of authority. It's true enough, since it's a reliance on a magisterium to properly interpret the scripture. But woe if such hirelings are wrong

On the issue of cessation, I think you overload the writ with a systematic commitment. I agree Christ is the ultimate (capital P) Prophet, the ultimate speaker and interpreter of God's will. Yet there are still those with prophecies in Paul's congregations, still discussion of gifts of prophecy as a work of the Spirit.

Yes, the canon is closed, but there have been prophetic utterances that were not canon. There were many prophets in Israel, according to the Scripture, yet not every one of them contributed to canon.

I'm averse to the magic-tricks and down-right wickedness of much of the Charistmatic movements over the past century. But I can't reckon your argument favorably. I've never seen a miraculous healing, or prophetic utterances, in person at least. But, as John says, we test the spirits. No utterance would override or super-add on to the Scripture.

Anyway, thought I'd throw in my 2-cents. You don't need to be a cessationist to find the authority structure of Rome, JWs, or even the charistmatics, generally wrongheaded.


PS. I think there's a biblical case for annihilationism, that fully, and better even, makes sense in light of the resurrection. Of course, I remain agnostic on this. Lord Jesus is judge, He knows rightly how to purify all things.

Protoprotestant said...

Sure there were prophecies in Acts etc...

But those ended with the Apostolic age. I don't think they ended the day John died per se but in general with the passing of the Apostles.

It's not a systemic argument, it's a Redemptive-Historical argument. Following the thematic structure of Scripture it's inconceivable that we would have Prophets (or even prophets I would argue) after that era.

The prophetic utterances that weren't canon... how would those operate in light of Paul's concluding statements regarding Sufficiency? Do we 'need' these prophecies? Will they help us to be whole/complete in some way the Scripture doesn't?

Protoprotestant said...

Also, in a Barthian sense the Word would not in any way be limited to Scripture.

I say this because I know you're interested in Barth.

In his schema the Word can certainly be found in Scripture, but it's not equivalent or the only way of encountering it so to speak.

For Barth the Word of God, your encounter with Christ could come to you in surviving a car accident, a sublime moment, the Bible or as Barth preferred it, preaching.

Of course for Biblicists like me the problem is to explain how we can know Christ apart from the Word...if the Word is Scripture. Certainly part of our faith is subjective, assurance for example.
We 'know' Christ in a sense that transcends intellectual apprehension.

For example there would be those that would say there are ways God communicates to us (Word) extra-Scripturally.

Yes but I would say our understanding of that...our epistemology in this metaphysical realm (so to speak) is tied to Scripture. If not, we've introduced alien sources of authority. We're either mixing in empirical reason, tradition, emotion or the authority claims of a different metaphysical authority.

Cal P said...

You're arguing framework , not substance. I accept many uses of the redemptive-historical lens to see the story of Scripture and rightly consider prophecy as a part of this. Yet, I'd argue that given Paul's explicit discussion over prophecy in the church, especially as a gift, it can't be hand-waved as a part of a particular period.

To say it "generally ended" with the passing of the Apostles is a speculative deduction. There is no warning given from the Apostles for such things. They tell of false prophets, but not the warning against prophecy prima facia.

When I spoke of non-canon prophecies, I spoke in regards not only in the days of the Apostles, but in the days of Israel. Within the Scripture itself there were many prophets throughout Israel. Many were false, some were true, and even fewer wrote Scripture. The latter is canon.

But that's the point, it's 'canon', rule-stick. It's the measure to judge and consider prophecies.

Your last comment is not contradictory with what I was saying. If Scripture is an authoritative testimony, it is the rule-stick. There's no Scripture + prophecy, or Scripture + rationalism, or Scripture + emotional intuition. The latter pieces, while not necessarily invalid, are judged by the normans norma of the Scripture.

The same with prophecies. Of course, what is prophecy? I'd say that it is any statement of "thus says the Lord". Not necessarily future-oriented and predictive. But all gifts, whether they be teaching or discernment or healing, are for proclaiming the Messiah, the one found in Scripture.

Again, have I necessarily seen these gifts? No. Does that make me, strictly, a continuationist? Not really, as they are not "necessary" for the continued existence of the Body in a particular form. Yet they're blessed redundancies, gifted means the Lord uses.

I do find Barth interesting in some regards, and his crater is still pulsing from impact. Yet,despite bringing him up in our dialogs, I am not a Barthian. I find his non-metaphysic metaphysic lacking and misdirecting. After reading some more on Kant, I saw the connect between the two. Classical metaphysics is deficient too. While not all drank substantially, and only grammatically, from the well of Plato and Aristotle, they've left their mark.

I agree that the Word of God is not strictly in the Scriptures, but the Scriptures are given as a sure and infallible testimony to check all of things, whether they be insights from the world around us, intuitions, or the words of others. Thus we may see the gospel in a snowy wintry day, but only because we have it clearly proclaimed in the Scripture.

Protoprotestant said...

Perhaps to some degree we're talking apples and oranges. I'm speaking of big 'P' prophecy in terms of doctrine.

The argument that is often used against me with regard to non-doctrinal prophecy is Agabus telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

That type of prophecy is still 'Thus saith the Lord' but seems to be of a different type.

All I can say is the prophet test
would still apply and those found false in this regard would need to be denounced and told to repent. I don't believe that type of prophecy is active in the Church today, but so be it.

As far as the larger doctrinal type of prophecy I think 2 Timothy 3 and Revelation 22 provide the conclusion to a large RH framework.

For those that disagree then there's no such thing as Sola Scriptura.

I think the false prophecy mentioned by Peter is probably more in the realm of teaching/proclamation. The passage would have to be carefully looked at to determine if there any clues which open that up. If based on the reference to the OT you want to infer Peter has predictive/new revelation type prophecy in mind...it is certainly possible.

In the paragraph where you say it's not Scripture + xyz, there you're clearly saying there's nothing 'new' that exceeds the Scripture. So I have to assume you're talking about the Agabus-type prophecy I mentioned above?

As far as the special gifts of healings, tongues and so forth, again I think it's a RH argument. Those things were signs, akin to Joel 2 to indicate the inauguration of the Church/Kingdom age. Once it was established by the 12 new patriarchs, the signs and wonders were no longer normative.

I understand you're leaving the door open. That's a position similar to DM Lloyd-Jones. He was like a 99% cessationist but he didn't want to shut the door.

Again it must be emphasized I'm speaking in normative terms. God can do whatever He likes. The question is should we expect another 'P'rophet? I would say no.