Often when talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses or others who have a Watchtower background, we need to address topics on more than one level.
For example, the Watchtower teaches that Jesus died, not on a traditional cross but rather on an upright pole (“torture stake”) with no crossbeam.
I think the initial reaction of most Christians would be, “What difference does it make? The important thing is that Christ died for our sins. The shape of the instrument on which he died is irrelevant.” We might be tempted simply to ignore the issue.
However, just because we see the matter as unimportant doesn’t mean that the person we are dealing with sees it that way, and we need to be attuned to what is really troubling them.
1. The issue may be one of credibility.
If the Watchtower teaching is correct, then its leaders come across as much more knowledgeable than the supposed scholars of Christendom. In this way, a minor matter has suddenly been elevated in importance.
If this is the issue, we need to address the topic by looking at the scriptural and historical evidence.
2. .The issue may be one of idolatry.
The Watchtower argues that the cross is a pagan symbol and that wearing or displaying a cross angers Jehovah by participating in idolatrous worship.
If this is the issue, we need to address the topic by agreeing that if someone is actually worshipping a cross, that would be idolatry. Then explain what the cross means to you and ask how that is idol worship.
3. The issue may be one of sorcery.
The Watchtower often portrays use and display of the cross as demonic, using the physical symbol as a good luck charm or talisman.
If this is the issue, we need to address the topic by condemning that type of use of crosses and by pointing out that by no means is that usage the norm.
4. The issue may be one of theology.
Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t understand why a Christian would treasure the instrument on which Christ was tortured and killed.
The Watchtower puts it this way: “How would you feel if one of your dearest friends was executed on the basis of false charges? Would you make a replica of the instrument of execution? Would you cherish it, or would you rather shun it?” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, p. 92)
If this is the issue, we need to address the topic by giving a biblical explanation of what the cross symbolizes to a Christian. A good way to do that is to show Witnesses what Paul said in Galatians 6:14 regarding what the cross meant to him: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
We can follow up by asking the Witnesses why the Watchtower’s view of the cross is so different from Paul’s view of it.
5. The issue may be one of significance.
To a Christian, this topic is not a salvation issue. However, to a Jehovah’s Witness, almost every doctrinal disagreement with Christendom is a salvation issue. At some point, we will need to discuss this difference with the Witnesses.
In dealing with a specific Jehovah’s Witness, we may need to address this topic on all of these levels and even on additional levels I haven’t covered.
Certainly, we shouldn’t assume that Jehovah’s Witnesses see the significance of a topic in the same way we do. The only way to know how to deal with a topic is to draw the Witnesses out, to listen to them carefully, and to take seriously what they reveal to us about what underlying issues the topic raises with them.
Have you ever addressed a topic at one level only to discover that the Witness was concerned about something else entirely? Can you suggest ways of eliminating this type of misunderstanding?
Share your thoughts in the comments.