Paragraph 4 (p. 175) of Chapter 18 of “Bible Teach” states: “Water baptism is a requirement for all who want to have a relationship with Jehovah God… To qualify for baptism, however, you must take definite steps.”
The chapter goes on to spell out no fewer than 15 requirements the Watchtower says you must meet before you can be baptized.
These are not matters left between the individual and God.
Rather, they are matters which Watchtower elders examine and evaluate.
This establishes a religious culture in which converts learn to be completely dependent on what a small group of elders thinks of them.
Later, you’ll want to contrast all this with the baptisms of people in the Bible.
Requirement #1: Coming to know Jehovah and Jesus (paragraph 5, p. 176)
The book tells you that “you have already begun to take the first step by coming to know Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, perhaps by means of a systematic study of the Bible…”
An earlier edition of the book said it was by “taking in knowledge of Jehovah and Jesus.”
I recommend that you review my comments on Chapter 1 and Chapter 4 regarding the difference between taking in knowledge of someone and actually knowing them to see if any of those points need reinforcing here.
Requirement #2: Regular Watchtower meeting attendance (paragraph 5, p. 176)
Requirement #3: Understanding the condition of the dead and the importance of God’s name and his Kingdom (paragraph 6, p. 176)
Requirement #4: Faith in God’s Word, God’s promises, and Christ’s sacrifice (paragraph 7, p. 176)
This paragraph says, “The Bible tells us that when some people in the ancient city of Corinth heard the Christian message, they ‘began to believe and be baptized.’ (Acts 18:8) In a similar way, a study of the Bible should fill you with faith that it is the inspired Word of God. Bible study should help you to have faith in God’s promises and in the saving power of Jesus’ sacrifice.”
Point out that Acts 18:8 describes saving faith in Christ’s sacrifice as the prerequisite for baptism: “But Crispus, the presiding officer of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, along with all his household. And many of the Corinthians who heard began to believe and be baptized.”
Requirement #5: Desire to share in the Watchtower door-to-door preaching (paragraph 9, p. 177)
Requirement #6: Elders’ approval to become an “unbaptized publisher” (paragraph 10, p. 177)
This requirement states that if the congregation elders “see that you understand and believe basic Bible teachings, are living in harmony with God’s principles, and truly want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they will let you know that you qualify to share in the field ministry as an unbaptized publisher of the good news.”
So the elders judge (1) your understanding of Bible teachings, (2) your compliance with God’s principles, and (3) the genuineness of your desire to be a Jehovah’s Witness. If you get past those hurdles, then you can become an “unbaptized publisher.”
You should point out to the Witnesses that “unbaptized publisher” is not a biblical term, nor did anyone in the New Testament have to meet such a prerequisite for baptism.
I would add, “I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the Watchtower to screen and train people before sending them door-to-door as part of an organized witnessing effort, but I don’t agree that all of that is a biblical requirement for baptism.”
Requirement #7: Lifestyle changes—if necessary to free you of “serious sins” (paragraph 11, p. 178)
At this point, “Bible Teach” warns that “you may need to make some changes in your life-style and habits in order to qualify for the field ministry. This may include stopping some practices that have been kept secret from others. Hence, before you ask about becoming an unbaptized publisher, you need to be free of serious sins, such as sexual immorality, drunkenness, and drug abuse.”
Here I would say, “I’m confused. It sounds to me like in the Watchtower religion people have to behave as if they were Christians before they qualify to become Christians.”
Requirement #8: Repentance (paragraph 12, p. 178)
This requirement is explained as follows: “Some other steps must be taken before you qualify for baptism. The apostle Peter said: ‘Repent . . . and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out.’ (Acts 3:19) To repent is to feel sincere regret over something you have done.”
While I would agree that repentance of sin should precede baptism, I would ask the Witnesses, “Who judges the sincerity of a person’s repentance to determine if they qualify to be baptized—Jehovah only or also the Watchtower elders?” If they include the elders, ask what a person has to do to convince them of their sincerity. The answer will probably come back to works and lifestyle changes.
Requirement #9: Conversion (paragraph 13, p. 178)
What does the Watchtower mean by “conversion”?
The paragraph states, “Repentance must be followed by conversion, or ‘turning around.’ You must do more than feel regret. You need to reject your former way of life and be firmly determined that you will do what is right from now on. Repentance and conversion are steps that you must take before getting baptized.”
In response, I would ask, “Who will determine whether I am sufficiently determined to do what is right from now on? How long will they have to observe my behavior in order to make this determination?”
Requirement #10: Dedication of yourself to exclusive devotion to Jehovah God (paragraphs 14-15, pp. 178-179)
These paragraphs state, “There is another important step to take before getting baptized. You must dedicate yourself to Jehovah God. When you dedicate yourself to Jehovah God in earnest prayer, you promise to give him your exclusive devotion forever.”
I would ask, “To what extent can any fallen descendant of Adam ever really completely keep such a promise? Wouldn’t we just be setting ourselves up for failure?”
This is an important point to make to Jehovah’s Witnesses because the Watchtower salvation system is so works oriented.
Requirement #11: Disowning yourself (paragraph 16, p. 179)
This requirement is explained this way: “Anyone who wants to follow God’s Son, Jesus Christ, has to ‘disown himself.’ (Mark 8:34) We disown ourselves by making sure that personal desires and goals do not stand in the way of our complete obedience to God. Before you can get baptized, then, doing Jehovah God’s will must be your main purpose in life.”
In practice, this includes doing everything the Watchtower literature and Watchtower elders tell you to do and to subordinate yourself to the organization in everything.
Paragraphs 17-19 (pp. 179-181) acknowledge that some people hold back because of fear that they won’t be able to live up to this, but it assures you that Jehovah will help you to walk worthily of him.
Requirement #12: Making a public declaration (paragraph 20, pp. 181-182)
Requirement #13: Correctly answer a list of Bible questions (paragraph 21, p. 182)
The process is described as follows: “Let the coordinator of the body of elders of your congregation know that you want to get baptized. He will arrange for some elders to review with you a number of questions that cover the Bible’s basic teachings. If these elders agree that you qualify, they will tell you that you can get baptized at the next opportunity.”
Although the book doesn’t say so, before a person can be baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness “his knowledge of the Bible is checked by an examination where 80 questions are put to him.”[i]
Notice that your baptism isn’t a matter of conscience between you and God. Rather, the elders have to question your doctrine thoroughly and “agree that you qualify.”
Ask the Witnesses if you can obtain a list of these questions so you can see what you would be getting into.
Requirement #14: Attending an annual Watchtower assembly or convention (paragraph 21, p. 182)
A footnote advises, “Baptisms are a regular feature of annual assemblies and conventions held by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
You might ask, “In the Bible, people were baptized immediately after expressing faith in Christ. Why must people who want to become Jehovah’s Witnesses have to wait for an annual assembly or convention?”
Requirement #15: Answering “two simple questions” at the time of your baptism (paragraph 21, p. 182)
This paragraph explains that at such an assembly or convention “the speaker… invites all baptism candidates to answer two simple questions as one way to make a verbal ‘public declaration’ of their faith.”
The book doesn’t say what the questions are, so ask the Witnesses to tell you.
They are as follows:
- On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?
- Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?[ii]
That last question is extremely important.
Although “Bible Teach” doesn’t tell you, it puts you under the authority of all the rules and regulations of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you don’t comply with all of them, you are in danger of being disfellowshipped by the elders and being completely shunned by all Jehovah’s Witnesses, including your own family.
Next time, we’ll look specifically at how Watchtower baptism differs from Bible baptism.
[i] The Watchtower, “European ‘Peace on Earth’ Assemblies Build Faith”, 10/1/69, p. 603
[ii] The Watchtower, “Go and Make Disciples, Baptizing Them,” 4/1/2006, p. 24