12th April 2017
Sooo, Richard and I decided to go to the Memorial service at the local Kingdom Hall last night. We’ve been invited for the last 3 years and I’ve never managed to get there, but it happened to be doable this evening. The Jehovah’s witnesses are nice folks. Always polite. Smartly dressed when they’re on duty. They are also human beings with a sense of humour. I’m reasonably convinced that the guy thought it was a joke when Richard (one of our church members) told him that we were going to a strip club afterwards.
Before I had met any JWs, I thought that their understanding of Jesus was their biggest problem. It is true that they wilfully misconstrue the New Testament’s teaching on this issue – to the extent that they are happy to inconsistently mistranslate their own version of the bible and fantasise about the possible future discovery of hitherto unknown divergent ancient biblical manuscripts to back up their point of view. But I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not their biggest problem.
Almost all of the service this evening could have be repeated at WBC on Sunday without any major hoo ha (although me wearing a tie would raise some eyebrows), there were two things which stuck out like extra sore heads.
1. Half way through the explanation of the memorial, the speaker made a brief reference to the 144000 of Revelation 14:1. It was suggested that those who could partake of this memorial meal were these 144000. No explanation. No attempt to connect this to any other scripture. Just the bald assertion that these were the people Jesus was speaking to when he suggested that they eat bread and drink wine in memory of him. And then on with the explanation of the meaning of the memorial. I’ve read about this ‘knight jump exegesis’ but hearing it live was breathtaking.
2. And so to the memorial (eucharist, communion, mass, breaking of bread to anyone familiar with mainstream Christianity). The bread and wine are passed round and we are all invited to think about what Jesus had done for us. Those 144K anointed ones would be alerted by the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit to the possibility of partaking. No one in Dursley did. Again, I was aware of this practice, but to see it first hand was pretty shocking.
Revelation 14:1 along with John 10:16 is often misquoted by the JWs to suggest that there will be two groups of God’s faithful people. The 144000 ‘anointed’ and the ‘other sheep’. The anointed have a heavenly destiny to reign with Jesus and the other sheep an earthly destiny. The straightforward (and mainstream, historic Christian) interpretation of these passages based on their literary context is to see them as references to Jesus-followers of Jewish (the 144000) and non-Jewish (other sheep) origin. One of the central ideas of the New Testament is that the barrier between these two groups is broken down, with Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the cross supplanting ethnic origin as the gateway to God’s favour. Even in the book of Revelation heaven and earth seem to come together with the descent of the holy city, the Lord and the Lamb in chapter 21, so the argument for two separate destinies is hard to maintain. The JW’s audacious use of contextless verses to undermine the flow of the texts to which they belong almost seemed deconstructionist when heard first hand. But they’re not just subverting the literary and ethical flow of the whole New Testament for the sake of deconstruction. They are building an exclusivist pyramidal organisational hierarchy on the shaky foundation of this exegesis. And celebrating this hierarchy with an exclusive ‘communion’ which reinforces the unquestionable hermeneutical authority of the anointed (AKA the Watchtower Tract Society).
In plain English Tom? JWs say almost the same things Christians do and throw in the occasional outrageously loaded misinterpretation of a random and disconnected bible passage on which they will try to build a case for their bizarre and controlling Church structure.
How do we deal with this? If you are a Christian, ask them to explain what’s different about their church using the bible. Don’t allow them to use any one text out of its context and they won’t get far. If you are not a Christian, give them a hug: they are part of a bizarre and controlling cult and they need to know that there is life and goodness outside of it.