.:THE TESTIMONY OF JULIE
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Church was nothing but a social gathering for me when I was growing up in a nominally Protestant religious setting. I was in my twenties before I even knew how to look up a scripture reference by chapter and verse. Still claiming “spiritual” as my religion, I hesitated to call myself a “Christian,” because I thought I needed more knowledge of their beliefs. So, in my thirties as a young mom of two children, I began to earnestly read the Bible on my own. Having very little religious background, I only knew about the fellow named Jesus, and I knew that I wanted to be on His side when the end came.
One night I read in the Bible that Satan is an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). It occurred to me that I knew so little about God and Satan that I could easily be fooled by this angel. “Was he backing any religion posing as a godly religion?”, I wondered. The blessed state of being poor in spirit was leading me to hunger for the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, I asked God to show me the truth and to make it clear to me who Jesus really is and how I could discern the “angel of light” so that I wouldn’t be deceived by him. I also placed my life in His hands by praying, “God, put me on a trip.”
The next day, a friend invited me to a “mom’s group” at her Lutheran church. Free daycare, donuts and adult conversation sounded pretty good, so I accepted. When the conversation turned to the topic of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I held a positive view of them because I’d heard the name once and thought the idea of God having Witnesses on earth sounded wonderful. So, I started defending Jehovah’s Witnesses without knowing what they taught. I told these women that if they were really Christians as they’d professed to be, they had an obligation to invite these door-knocking “lost souls” into their homes to share the gospel. At the time, I had no idea how to do this myself, but I put the obligation on them and I don’t think I was very well liked for it.
When I got home and discovered an Awake! magazine of Jehovah’s Witnesses in my door, I was hooked as I read the article that talked about how to identify the true religion. I was WAITING for their visit now, but it didn’t come, so I went to them! I entered the Kingdom Hall one Sunday with an active, squirming 3 year-old and an infant. I asked for a Bible study while dealing with my kids in the bathroom most of the service. The following Tuesday, I began a study in the Watchtower publication “Knowledge that leads to everlasting life.” Every time before we got together, I’d pray:
“God, if this is a cult designed to take me away from you, please make it obvious!”
I was determined to get through the entire book so that by the time I finished it, I could either say, “This religion is the truth,” or never again have to turn a Jehovah’s Witness away from my door without understanding why. Within five months, I’d asked to be baptized at the next convention in the fall of 1996. I truly believed that I had found the truth. I thought God had revealed the “angel of light” to be Christendom and the true religion to be the Jehovah’s organization.
HOW JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES CONVINCED ME OF THEIR UNIQUE DOCTRINES
Unfamiliarity with the books of the Bible and the timing and audience to whom these books were written, allowed me to accept promises made to natural Israel as promises awaiting the restoration of the zealous preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was particularly drawn by Isaiah 65:21-23 with its promises of secure housing and satisfying work in the earthly paradise. I was hungry for paradise. I was hungry for God. All I had to learn now was how to be righteous enough to earn it.
Initially, I had trouble understanding the two-class (earthly class and heavenly class) system taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though I looked forward to an everlasting life in Paradise earth and had no desire to be in heaven like the group of 144,000, I didn’t understand where the Bible spoke of this division between the two classes of people and how they were being divided. To help, my Jehovah’s Witness study guide invited the wife of the visiting Circuit Overseer to discuss it with me.
In reading Luke 22 where Jesus eats the last supper with his apostles, I pointed out that everyone who believed in Jesus was allowed to partake of the Lord’s evening meal, and I asked why no one at our Kingdom Hall eats the bread or drinks the wine at the annual memorial. She highlighted Luke 22:28-30 and asked me repeatedly “Who was gathered there?” in order to instill in me that the 12 apostles were the foundation of the anointed heavenly class that would eventually number 144,000. (Little did I realize how she was programming my mind and shifting my focus from the fact that these 12 apostles formed the foundation of ALL of God’s people, not just the heavenly class of 144,000.) She got me to view all of the Scriptures that referred to the 12 apostles as referring ONLY to the heavenly class that would go to heaven and rule with Jesus, while the rest of us would live on earth and enjoy the benefits of association with this heavenly class. It began to sink in to my mind. I had taken in so much so-called “truth” from the Jehovah’s Witnesses that I had to accept this belief on faith, trusting that the understanding would eventually come. It did as my mind was being trained to read the Bible with this two party system. I had effectively invited this false prophet into my head.
I was baptized on October 12, 1996 and I loved being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was so proud to be one of those people God had on earth to tell others about Him. At the same time, I was very aware that many of my brothers and sisters at the Kingdom Hall were not happy. When I keyed into the Scriptures that spoke about supporting the weak and speaking to the depressed souls, I was approached by the Presiding Overseer and told not to get involved with one particular weak sister. I assured him that she still loved Jehovah and was just going through a hard time, and we were expected to “carry one another’s burdens.” He responded by saying, “but each must carry his own load and ya gotta look out for number one.” It sounded more like the world’s way of dealing with problems and not that of Christ. When I quoted Jesus to him, he told me I was already drawing away from “the truth” because I talked more about Jesus than I did about Jehovah. I was very confused by this. I wanted to respect the elders, for I thought that was how God worked, but my conscience was telling me that this brother was wrong.
I still wanted to be one of God’s Witnesses, but I had learned to mistrust the leadership and to listen to Jesus’ warnings about “leaven” and “wolves” among the “sheep.” I continued as a faithful Jehovah’s Witness for another four years by keeping my mistrust of this particular elder to myself. I prayed to find a way to forgive him. Every time he said something that was contrary to the Bible, I tried to focus on his good works in the congregation, but I kept hearing comments from others who didn’t like this brother either. Finally, I admitted that I had a problem forgiving this man. I spoke with another elder about my inability to trust this elder whom I’d begun to view as a wolf among the sheep. He laughed at the absurdity of my comment and said: “Those verses only refer to the first century.” “What?” I asked myself. He went on to explain that since Jehovah’s organization was fully formed, there were no wolves in the congregation. “You mean you think the elders are infallible?” I asked. Of course he refused to say that, but his insistence on the Christ-like innocence of the elders proved that he believed this.
At this moment, I started to believe the news stories that I had heard about pedophiles in the Watchtower. I’d been so trained to block these “apostate” claims from my mind and excuse them away. But suddenly, they became real! I did not trust the Watchtower Society any longer. Although, I believed they still taught some truth, I knew they did not teach the whole truth. I feared for my children because I understood the unity the elders felt obliged to uphold. I never felt sexually threatened in my congregation, but I could see how if anyone did touch my daughters and I confronted the elders, it would have been swept away and they would have viewed me as the one in the wrong (just as in the cases I was hearing about on the news). No matter what, they are trained to uphold the unity and perceived “purity” of the organization at the cost of the individual victim. I also realized that if I ever needed assistance from these people, I’d be labeled “weak” and shown no compassion. Nothing sounded right in their sermons about love after this experience. It was all empty chatter.
After seven years of faithful field service as a publisher, I began to fade out of the organization and I stopped attending meetings by the fall of 2003. A year later, they called to invite me to their “disfellowship” hearing. I asked what I’d done wrong. One elder said I no longer wanted to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses based on a letter I’d written to an inactive sister which was handed over to them by her non-Witness roommate. In it, I had praised Jehovah but not the Watchtower Society. Because of this, they said that I no longer wanted to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At those hearings, I upheld my faith in Jehovah, Jesus Christ, and the Bible, but I refused to put faith in the Watchtower Society. Finally, they asked if I believed if someone outside of the Watchtower Society could have a relationship with God. When I answered, “Yes!”, on that basis alone, I was labeled an “apostate.”
Why do you think they were in such a hurry to disfellowship me? I wasn’t doing anything “apostate” at that time. I was only missing meetings and service. The brothers knew I loved to read my Bible, not just because it was assigned. They knew I was also a “library hound” and did my own research into everything we studied, even keeping individual folders for each month of the holiday origins that I studied on my own. The sister that I had studied under even admitted that she was “just along for the ride” in my research of our sessions together. So, why do you suppose the kind of person that I was would later be viewed as a threat to the brothers? I think they understood something about me better than I did at the time. They thought that by disfellowshipping me, they could silence my faith, but it wasn’t until after the blind man Jesus healed was kicked out of his synagogue that he understood who his Lord was (John 9:35-38). The same was true in my life.
Consider this, why was Jesus hated by the religious leaders of his day? He was a Jew, a member of their accepted religion. As it says at Luke 4:16, he customarily entered the synagogue to worship on the Sabbath. They even spoke well of Jesus after giving Him the privilege of reading from the scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:17-22). By this, one would say that He was a member in good standing, but keep reading. By verse 28 they’re filled with anger and want to throw him off a cliff. Why? What had He said? He had interpreted events in the Old Testament in which God’s prophets had not shown favor to the Israelites, but to the people of the nations (Luke 4:24-27). They were not ready to hear that God could intervene in the lives of people outside of their religion. They were willing to kill this nice, young Jewish man who they were admiring just a minute before. Later, when they realized that many Israelites were putting faith in this same man who essentially had insulted their idea of “the one true religion,” they expressed concern over the matter. Remember, Jesus was a good Jew in good standing. He was helping other Jews be healed and have faith in God. Shouldn’t they be happy to have such a man of faith in their synagogue? What were they afraid of?
“Consequently the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together and began to say: ‘What are we to do, because this man performs many signs? If we let him alone this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’ ”—John 11:47, 48, New World Translation
Powerful religious organizations like the Watchtower have always been concerned that if people have faith in Jesus alone, they would lose control of their followers. As Jesus is exalted, the Tower falls! I was clinging to Jesus on the way out, but the false prophet was still in my head.
PUTTING THE FALSE PROPHET TO DEATH IN MY MIND
I began to pray to Jehovah to “put the false prophet to death” according to Deuteronomy 18:20. Jesus showed up for spiritual battle in the form of a newspaper series entitled, “the Israel of God.” Dismantling this one doctrine toppled the whole Watchtower stronghold. The pastor who wrote this series helped me to see that all believers in Christ were welcomed into the Israel of God, not just small group of 144,000 people. Once I got that point, I began to see how scripture was veiled from me for so long. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I had been an avid, daily Bible reader, and yet in some way, it was a closed book to me. My mind had been trained to separate which verses were for me and which verses applied only to the 144,000 anointed followers of Christ. But by embracing this new thought that ALL of the Scripture applied to me, the Bible began to open up to me and the Holy Spirit once again started to speak to me. And speak He did! In February of 2007, God began to show me where I had to repent of the distorted view of Jesus that I had embraced in the Witnesses.
The first lesson my Deliverer wanted me to understand, was that we are saved by grace. It is His righteousness and not our own that saves us. Paul, having been a Pharisee, understood this well, and so do I now, having been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At Galatians 5:4, Paul uses the phrase “fall from grace.” Up until then, I had thought of a fall from grace as meaning falling into another unlawful act such as those acts mentioned earlier in the chapter. But here it became clear that a fall from grace is just what it says, turning away from GRACE, the undeserved kindness of God. Paul’s whole reasoning here is about those turning their backs to rules and regulations of the law. So, a fall from grace doesn’t mean getting involved in some obvious sin, it could mean doing some really good works (with a wrong heart motive). Paul mentioned how the believers had started out in grace, but they were falling from that grace and back into works of the law. I can relate to this! Grace came to me years ago, but I fell from it once I got into the works of the Watchtower organization.
In April of 2007, I was ready to meet my Savior for who He is. I came to recognize that Jesus was Jehovah, not only because He made statements that convinced me that He was God in the flesh (John 8-10), but also because He was worshipped (John 9:35-38). For some time, I had been seeing the Triune God in Scripture, but I had quickly conjured up my own arguments to dispute these verses. Finally, when the Scriptures continued to jump out at me, I knew that Jesus was revealing Himself to me and I could no longer deny it. I saw that it was nothing but pride that had been in the way of my acceptance of Him.
By welcoming me into the Israel of God and convincing me that Jesus really is Jehovah, my Deliverer and Savior, Jesus Christ, made it impossible for me to return to Jehovah’s Witnesses, even if I had the desire to do so. And there are still times when I do miss the routine and my friends at the Kingdom Hall, but I have repented of that life and know I can’t return. After all, what would I need to repent of in order to be accepted back? Since I was kicked out on the basis of not recognizing the Watchtower Society as the mediator between me and God, I cannot go against 1 Timothy 2:5 that says there is only one mediator and that is Jesus Christ. Indeed, to go back to the Kingdom Hall would be a blasphemous fall from grace!
I’m so happy to belong to Christ. I know that by believing on Him, He has given me the authority to become one of God’s children (John 1:12). I have passed over from death to life (John 5:24) and can no longer be condemned by any man or organization (Romans 8:1) and that has removed all fear and given me freeness of speech (1 John 4:17-19). Am I a threat to the Watchtower Society? Of course I am, I’m a Christian! (1 Peter 4:14-16)
In His Grace, Julie