It is ironic and tragic that Jehovah’s Witnesses come to our doors to tell us about God’s wonderful promise concerning how we can live forever in paradise on earth, yet they have no assurance at all that they themselves will be there.
How can this be? After all, they believe they are “in the truth” and are a part of a small percentage of the world’s population that truly understands the Bible. They see themselves as engaged in a noble cause—donating their time week after week going door-to-door to the homes of people they don’t know, facing indifference, getting doors slammed in their faces, enduring persecution, all for the sake of Jehovah and his kingdom.
In your living room, they often come across as supremely confident, like attorneys who believe they have an unbeatable case or like sales representatives who are convinced they have an incomparable product.
But this public persona they project is only half the story. Yes, the Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door believe in their cause, but inside they are very insecure. Why? Because they believe their salvation depends on their works and that they have to endure to the end in proving faithful. They have no way of knowing whether they will measure up. They don’t know if Jehovah will deem them worthy of “the reward of eternal life.”
I’m not saying that a small percentage of Jehovah’s Witnesses have these worries because of their own personal failings. I’m saying that this uncertainty is part and parcel of being a member of such a performance-based religion. As one former Witness described it to me, “No matter how much you do, you never feel like it’s enough.”
This fear and insecurity is the Watchtower’s the primary method of motivation. It sets up an impossible set of requirements for pleasing God and then makes the individual Jehovah’s Witness feel guilty for not having done more.
The kingdom loyalty test
The Watchtower teaches that life is a continual loyalty test. Satan raised the issue of whether Jehovah is really the rightful ruler of creation. Will we side with Satan or will we be loyal to Jehovah and his kingdom? As human beings, each one of us is required to take a stand. Whose side are we on? Will we join in Satan’s rebellion or will we prove our loyalty to Jehovah by continuing acts of loving obedience?
The stakes could not be higher. People who prove worthy will receive everlasting life as a reward. People who do not prove worthy will be annihilated by God at the battle of Armageddon if they are alive when that divine judgment comes—and the Watchtower believes that this worldwide cataclysm is imminent. If the unworthy person should die before Armageddon takes place, then God will chose not to resurrect that person from the dead, which is the equivalent of annihilation.
Not only do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they need to prove worthy in this life in order to survive Armageddon, but they also believe that if they are judged worthy to enter into Christ’s coming millennial kingdom, they will have to remain obedient. During that 1000 years, they will have to progress to the point of moral perfection. Only after they pass a final loyalty test by Satan at the end of that millennium will they be deemed worthy of everlasting life. If they do not prove faithful through the entire 1000 years and the final loyalty test, they will be annihilated.
The role of Jesus
Where does Jesus fit into the Watchtower’s concept of salvation? Jesus is the only human who has ever proved completely loyal to Jehovah. He rejected all of Satan’s temptations and remained loyal to God to the death. By his perfect loving obedience and ransom sacrifice, he has opened the way for others to obtain everlasting life. But the Watchtower teaches that faith in Jesus’ sacrifice does not guarantee a person eternal life; rather, it only gives people an opportunity for everlasting life. In practice, Jehovah’s Witnesses see Jesus Christ, not as the way (John 14:6), but as the one who showed us the way through his works—his taking in knowledge of God, his refusal to yield to temptation, his dedication as the human leader of Jehovah’s organization, his preaching of the good news of Jehovah’s kingdom, and his willingness to obey Jehovah even to the point of undergoing an undeserved, excruciating death.
Accordingly, Watchtower overseers are constantly exhorting Jehovah’s Witnesses to prove their continuing loyalty to Jehovah by their performance. Although it describes obedience in terms of demonstrating love for Jehovah, the Watchtower denies Jehovah’s Witnesses intimacy with God. How can people develop genuine intimacy with God if they are always fearful that they might not measure up, that if they do not “prove worthy” by their works he will annihilate them?
The organizational pressure
To this inner struggle, which is caused by underlying fear of divine rejection and annihilation, the Watchtower adds continual organizational pressure. The organization keeps records on each Jehovah’s Witness, detailing his or her service. Witnesses are required to turn in monthly reports to their congregation elders showing how many hours of door-to-door “field service” they have put in, along with information regarding the type and amount of organizational literature they have placed. Meeting attendance is likewise monitored. Those who slack off are “lovingly admonished” to improve and get back on track.
If exhortations to obedience don’t work, the ultimate weapon that the Watchtower organization can wield to keep Witnesses in line is the threat of disfellowshipping for serious disobedience. Someone who is disfellowshipped is completely shunned by all Jehovah’s Witnesses, including their own families, except for essential business. Jehovah’s Witnesses will walk past them without acknowledging their presence, pretending they don’t exist. They are no longer considered to be a part of Jehovah’s organization, and therefore have no hope of entering his kingdom unless they repent and get back into good standing.
So while it is true that the Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door are motivated in part by concern for your salvation, yet it is equally true that they are acting in part out of concern for their own salvation. They believe—and are constantly reminded—that their own survival into Christ’s millennial kingdom depends in large part on their “exercising faith” by door-to-door witnessing. They see this activity as an essential component in proving their own loyalty to Jehovah.
By continually stressing that proving loyal through works and enduring to the end are essential either for obtaining a resurrection or for surviving Armageddon, the Watchtower keeps Jehovah’s Witnesses permanently insecure. “Yes, we must endure to the end, whether that is to the end of our present life or to the end of this wicked system of things. In either case, we must maintain our integrity to God. Without adding godly devotion to our endurance, however, we cannot please Jehovah, and we will not gain everlasting life.”
Imagine having to live with this kind of uncertainty and pressure your entire life.
Were you aware of this aspect of the Watchtower religion? Does knowing about this inner struggle give you more compassion for Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Share your thoughts in the comments.