It has been a while since my last visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They appear just like the Spanish Inquisition – when you least expect them. They may have visited Jane in the last decade, but she just sends them away, and that is fine. But I will talk to them when I get the chance.
So the two middle aged guys in suits (two there are always – a master and an apprentice) knocked on the door after I was working on the roof, and my clothing was rather dirty and extremely casual. But hey, it was break time, and I needed an excuse to not go on to the next task. And it was better for them to waste their time trying to convert me, not the neighbors.
Like the 19th century door to door salesmen that inspired their evangelistic methods, they quickly tried to find common ground where we agreed. In this case, they wanted to assure me that they believe the Bible is the Word of God. (Though, if you inquire enough, you will find that their authority is the Watchtower Society, and their own peculiar translation of the Bible, but they won’t tell you that up front.) They showed me their copy of The Watchtower magazine, which was about the topic of anxiety. Coincidentally we had just covered a similar topic in our Bible study group.
I told them that I had not spoken with the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a few years, and asked if any of their beliefs had changed in the last decade or so. They didn’t think anything major had changed.
So I mentioned that I knew of JW lady who had believed that Armageddon would happen in 1975, and had sold all her possessions to prepare for the event. (The Watchtower strongly implied that Armageddon would happen in 1975.) Did they now have another date that they thought would be the end?
They told me that the organization had decided that there would be no more predicting of the date when Jehovah returns in judgment. They did this a few times in the 20th century because they believed that the 144,000 believers who were mentioned in Revelation were all gathered in by 1914, and that some of them would be alive on the earth when Jesus returned to earth. So therefore the end had to be near, and they thought that certain years would be important.
This discussion led naturally to their idea that there are two classes of believers. In their theology, the 144,000 are special believers who go to heaven, and other believers can only hope to “live forever in paradise on earth,” as their book of the same title promises. I asked them if they still believed that the last of the “144,000” were all alive in 1914, as they used to believe, and if they still believed that Armageddon would happen before this group had all died. Also, were there still only 144,000 of them, or if that number, which comes from Revelation, had been deemeed to be metaphorical. They said that very recently, they had gained new understanding that some of the 144,000 were born after 1914, and were still alive. They still hold to the idea that there are only 144,000 who will go to heaven when they die, and the rest of us can only hope to “live forever in Paradise on Earth.” Neither of them expected to go to heaven, and they did not know anyone locally who did have that expectation.
Next I asked them about a very old copy of the Watchtower that I had seen (the quote, from 1904, is in this link), that said that in the New Earth, black people might lose their pigmentation and become white. They assured me that such a teaching was from a long time ago, and that they surely did not believe that now. I assured them that I believed them when they said their organization had changed their minds about racial matters.
And then we switched to their idea of salvation. I asked them if they still had the same approximate idea of how to be saved. Basically, they think that Jesus’ sacrificial death is good enough to give people a second chance. (In theological terms, this is the Pelagian heresy on steroids.) If you are good enough, then you get resurrected after Armageddon ends the world as we currently know it. (God will do an “Extreme Home Makeover” on the world at about that time.) Then, you have a 1,000 year probation period where you are supposed to be instructed in righteousness, and become good enough to pass the final test. Then, if you fail, you are annihilated, but if you pass, you “live forever in paradise on earth.” Unless you were part of the 144,000, in which case, you go to heaven more or less directly, and you don’t seem to have to worry about failure.
I then asked them about what Paul said to the Ephesians. For the JWs, salvation is something they hope to have in the future, by being obedient enough. But Paul said to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9.) Now a lot of people would talk about faith vs. works here, and they probably expected that. But we talked about how Paul could speak of salvation already having happened to us, but the JWs can only hope for salvation in the future, if they earn it.
Doug (the more talkative one) suggested that Paul was only writing to the 144,000 here. I countered that Paul did not know all the Ephesians, so he could not have known his audience well enough to make that judgment. He continued to insist that the Ephesians were all of the 144,000, but then I told him that if that was true, then the letter to the Ephesians was not for us, because it was telling us things that were not true for today’s believers, including him and me. And that would mean that Scripture could not be clear to us. He did get the point.
Their time was almost up, and I needed to get back to yardwork too, so I tried to leave them with the following thought. We had seen that their idea of the end times had changed in the last few years, and we had seen that their ideas about race had changed in the last decades.
Therefore, I suggested to them, their ideas about salvation could very well change, and in fact they needed to change, so that they would be more in line with the Bible.
I will speak to them more if they come back, but I think that I may not see them for another decade.