OUT OF THE WATCHTOWER INTO WHAT?
Depending on how long you were in the Watchtower organization, coming out can put you face-to-face with some really tough decisions. I know, because I came out after thirteen years—most of my adult life—as an active Witness. The big question for those coming out is: “Where do we go from here?”
Some jump out of the frying pan into the fire, getting involved with drugs, immorality, drunkenness, etc. The Watchtower Society loves to point to these ones as examples of what happens when you leave “the Truth.” Some others who leave suffer nervous breakdowns—the strain is so great. Some start out on a new search for “God’s true organization,” going from one church to another, and being continually disappointed. Some find an organization or denomination that seems to have “the real truth.” Many are disillusioned with all religion and try to live “a normal life” by giving attention to family, home and job, while leaving God out of the picture.
All of these responses are common and typical for individuals suddenly set free from an organization that has tightly controlled their lives. If you find yourself described here, you are not alone.
Or, perhaps you are one who is still in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, dissatisfied, but afraid to leave because you are thinking, “Whom shall we go away to? The Watchtower Society alone has the sayings of everlasting life.” The Society itself has led you to this conclusion by painting a negative picture of all other religious groups and then saying:
“Rather, the record that the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ organization has made for the past more than 100 years forces us to the conclusion that Peter expressed when Jesus asked if his apostles wanted to leave him, namely, ‘Whom shall we go away to?’ (John 6:66-69) No question about it. We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ organization.” —The Watchtower, February 15, 1981, p. 19
It is this view of things that makes it so difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses to leave the organization—and so confusing and even frightening for those who do leave. “Whom shall we go away to?” No one!, is the Society’s answer, drilled into each Witness through constant repetition. Our organization is the only way, the only truth, the only life.
But, in making such claims about itself, the Watchtower Society is actually giving us a clue as to whom we can go away to. The Scriptural thoughts that they apply to themselves, actually apply to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is the One the disciples were talking to when they said, “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 New World Translation) They were not speaking of an organization. And “the Truth” is not an organization, either. Scripture identifies Jesus Himself as “the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6 Modern Language Bible)
As Witnesses we were taught that people had to “come to Jehovah’s organization for salvation” (The Watchtower, November 15, 1981, p. 21) but Jesus actually said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) The Society taught us that “accurate knowledge” was the key, but Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are searching the Scriptures, because you think that by means of them you will have everlasting life; and these are the very ones that bear witness about me. And yet you do not want to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40 NWT)
So, what is the point? The point is this: The way of salvation that Jesus proclaimed was not through organizational membership or accurate knowledge of the Scriptures—although both of these enter into it. In order to gain life, people had to come to Jesus personally. Under the new covenant arrangement there would be no other way to the Father, except through Jesus.
Compare the old Jewish system of things with the Watchtower Society of today. Jews were in a special relationship with Jehovah (or, more correctly, Yahweh) by virtue of being members of the nation of Israel, studying the Scriptures, and keeping God’s laws. Likewise, Jehovah’s Witnesses of today are taught that they have a special relationship with God by virtue of association with the Watchtower Society, studying its publications, and keeping God’s laws (as interpreted by the Society). The Watchtower continues to mirror the Jewish arrangement, ignoring the new way of approach to God opened up through Jesus Christ.
God sent His Son to earth to fulfill the “new covenant” prophecy of Jeremiah, chapter 31. Under this new covenant “ ‘they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.’” (verse 34 NW)
All sorts of sinful people—even prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors—came to Jesus and received forgiveness of their sins. The forgiveness was a free gift, not earned by good works. This angered the Jewish religious leaders who wanted people to seek righteousness through the works program they had outlined to them. But those who accepted Jesus as their Savior rejoiced and were overjoyed to feel the burden of sin lifted off their shoulders.
Besides promising forgiveness of sins, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:34 also said, “ ‘they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.” This did not mean just additional details of “knowledge” or information about God, but actually knowing God personally. How? By personally living with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on a day-to-day basis. When Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus answered, “Have I been with you men so long a time, and yet, Philip, you have not come to know me? He that has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9 NW)
Those who actually lived with Jesus (who is the exact representation of the Father—Heb. 1:3) could get to know God in this new intimate way that was not possible for people who just “searched the Scriptures” as the Pharisees did. (John 5:39) It was like the difference between a man who has studied everything ever written about the President of the United States, and another man who has read nothing but who plays golf with the President every Saturday and knows him as a friend. The “knowing Jehovah” that Jeremiah prophesied about is this sort of close, personal relationship with God through His Son.
And Jeremiah was not offering a new covenant for just a handful of men in the First Century. Rather, it would be God’s way of dealing with men from that time onward. When Jesus was killed, the disciples feared that that marked the end of their intimate relationship with God through His Son. But they were wrong. Jesus rose to life again on the third day, renewed His close friendship with those disciples, and began expanding that relationship to include others.
For example, Paul’s relationship with God through His Son began when Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. And that was not the end of Paul’s contact with the Son of God—it was only the beginning. Later on, Paul told of occasions when “the Lord stood near me and infused power into me” (2 Tim. 4: 17 NW), and when Paul spoke to the Lord about his “thorn in the flesh.” (2 Cor. 12:8-9) As a zealous Jew, Paul had had a relationship with God before, but only from a distance. Now, as a Christian, he really knew God.
Stephen saw Jesus in a vision during his trial. Some time later, after his trial broke up and he was brought outside the city, Stephen called out to Jesus. “And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” (Acts 7:59-60 RSV) There is no indication that the earlier vision was repeated then. Rather, Stephen had an on-going relationship with Jesus and felt free to call upon Him.
Were Paul and Stephen unique in having a personal relationship with the Son of God, calling upon Jesus in time of need? Evidently not, as Paul described Christians as those “who everywhere are calling upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:2 New World Translation)
Jesus promised this continuing relationship with His disciples: “For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20 NW) In fact, we have Jesus’ promise that “he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him…and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our abode with him.” (John 14:21-23 NW) The Living Bible paraphrases it this way: “When I come back to life again…I will only reveal myself to those who love and obey me. The Father will love them too, and we will come to them and live with them.” (verses 20-23)
Jesus does not usually reveal himself to people today in a blinding light, as he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Rather, it is more as described at Galatians 4:6—“God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Revised Standard Version)
At first I was afraid to approach God in prayer to confess my sin and ask Jesus into my heart as my Savior and Lord. Due to my Watchtower training, I was afraid of receiving a demonic spirit. But then I read Jesus’ words at Luke 11: 10-13—“For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or it he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (RSV) So, I prayed and received Jesus into my heart. I experienced a personal fulfillment of Galatians 4:6 and came to know God as my Father in a way that I had never known before.
So, the Gospel of the Christian Scriptures, the new covenant that Jeremiah 31 foretold, is not a new set of doctrines to learn or new facts about God (although many Watchtower doctrines need to be unlearned). Rather, it is a salvation that includes a new life right now, as a new creature by virtue of being born again and living a new Spirit-filled life.
Jesus introduced this new life when He told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God…Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:3-7 KJV)
All of those who come into the new covenant undergo this change: “You, however, are controlled not by your sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. …Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit who makes you sons. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:9-11, 14-16 NIV)
When you are born again, you are a babe in Christ at first. And just as toddlers tend to fall while learning to walk, so it is with learning to walk in the Spirit. But the Father will help you grow as His child. You will form a longing for the Word, and the Holy Spirit will teach you as you read. You will see more and more clearly that Jesus could not be merely the first angelic creation, as the Watchtower teaches, but that He is, as doubting Thomas finally came to believe, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 New World Translation)
Besides learning more about God and growing in love for Him, you will also come to see yourself as part of the body of Christ. This is “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” (Heb. 12:23 NIV) The true church, Christ’s body, crosses denominational lines and includes individuals both in and out of the various religious organizations that men have set up. It is composed of all those who look to Christ as Head, who have been “baptized by one Spirit into one body.” “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. …The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’” (1 Cor. 12: 12-21 NIV) So we need our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we see ourselves as quite different from them.
After years in the Watchtower organization where “independent thinking…questioning the counsel that is provided by [the] organization” is not tolerated (Watchtower, January 15, 1983, p. 22), it may be difficult at first to adopt this scriptural view of our brothers in Christ: “If a person’s faith is not strong enough, welcome him all the same without starting an argument. People range from those who believe they may eat any sort of meat to those whose faith is so weak they dare not eat anything except vegetables. Meat eaters must not despise the scrupulous. On the other hand, the scrupulous must not condemn those who feel free to eat anything they choose, since God has welcomed them. It is not for you to condemn someone else’s servant. …If one man keeps certain days as holier than others, and another considers all days to be equally holy, each must be left free to hold his own opinion.” (Rom. 14: 1-5 Jerusalem Bible) If you have this view of the brotherhood, then as you fellowship with other Christians—both strong and weak—you will find that you are “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” (Rom. 1:12 NIV)
Ask the Lord to guide you into the fellowship He wants you to be in. He will answer your prayer. Of course, He may put you into a local congregation like the one in Corinth, where the gifts of the Spirit were being misused and where the Lord’s Supper was not being celebrated properly. (1 Cor. 14:23, 11:20) Or, He may send you into a church like the one in Pergamum, where corrupt practices and false teachings prevailed among some members. (Rev. 2:14, 15) Or, you may find yourself in a congregation like the one in Sardis that had “a reputation of being alive” but was actually “dead.” (Rev. 3: 1 NIV) Such experiences can help you to grow and to deepen your personal relationship with Jesus as Lord. “Bear what you have to bear as ‘chastening’—as God’s dealing with you as sons,” part of your training from the Father. (Heb. 12:7 J.B. Phillips)
We all should admit, as Paul the Apostle did, that “we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face to face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.” (1 Cor. 13: 12 Living Bible) So, while “accurate knowledge” of every detail is not yet available, it is the Christian’s privilege to “know” God through a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you have not yet done so, tell God right now that you need Jesus as your Savior, and receive Him as your Lord. He invites you: “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28 TEV) “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20 KJV) “In turn he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him.” (John 14:21 NW)
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©1998 David A. Reed. – www.answerjw.com – Comments from the Friends
Reprinted and posted on our website by permission.