OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Just a note raised by the recent thread on denominations:

JWs believe that Jesus is the incarnation of Michael the Archangel. They specifically argue that he should not be worshipped and that only the Father God should be. They believe that Michael/Jesus is the first thing ever created by God.

I have argued these issues with them before. I point out Hebrews 1 where it is quoted from the OT that all the angels of God should worship him. They retort that here, the word ‘worship’ should be translated as ‘do obeisance to’ or some such.

Logically, they are simply assuming the conclusion and their argument falls down on that basis. But arguing logic rarely achieved much, Aristotle notwithstanding! Therefore I try to go a little deeper with them: they assume that worship is something you only ever give to God. This is the real error, there are lots of worldly situations where you give worship - there is no need to give examples here. I argue that whoever Jesus is, he is worthy of worship for who he is and even God (assuming their own stance) still needs to be worthy of worship before we should worship him. We don’t worship God merely because he is God. and by deliberately mistranslating Heb 1, they deny Jesus something that he truly deserves.

To my mind their belief in Jesus as Michael, a created angel, and their refusal to worship Jesus, is enough to put them outside true Christianity. (As an organisation - I of course wouldn’t deny that an individual JW could be a true Christian if somehow he had accepted Christ in a different way in his heart, but I guess that would be most unlikely anyway.)

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Comments

Re: Jehovah's Witnesses

To my mind their belief in Jesus as Michael, a created angel, and their refusal to worship Jesus, is enough to put them outside true Christianity. (As an organisation - I of course wouldn’t deny that an individual JW could be a true Christian if somehow he had accepted Christ in a different way in his heart, but I guess that would be most unlikely anyway.)

My argument would be that because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus is the risen Messiah they therefore believe the gospel.

the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:1-4).

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2Ti 2:8).

Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree with the wider Christian world in terms of Christology; this is nothing new: this was going on before the council of Nicea. But they still agree Jesus is the risen Messiah descended from the line of David – and thus believe in the same gospel the wider Christian world believes in.

Where the true conflict comes between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the rest of the Christian world is less through belief, but practice. As you pointed out, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to worship Jesus, and I agree, it is pretty muddled. How are Jehovah’s Witnesses and the wider Christian population to worship together when they have such fundamental differences (i.e. most Christians have no problem worshipping Jesus like they worship God whereas Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid it at all costs)?

I think we should avoid condemning Jehovah’s Witnesses as unchristian, because, as I said, they believe in the most basic and fundamental tenets of the gospel (the proclamation of Jesus’ Lordship). Christology is a very complex subject and it is not helped by that fact that the early Christians did not come up with a formula like the Fathers of the council of Nicea did. I think we owe Jehovah’s Witnesses the right, as individuals, to analyze Scripture in skepticism of tradition, just as the founders of the Reformation did. However, we must hold them accountable for the same thing they accuse their opponents of: remaining stagnant in dogma without looking to Scripture for answers. Certain beliefs have become fixed for most Jehovah’s Witnesses and we owe them to call them out on it; but calling them out and condemning them are two different things. In the end, at least in my mind, (most or some) Jehovah’s Witnesses to an extent are Christians – followers of Christ – and what is more important than judging them by their beliefs is by their fruit.

I hope some others can offer more to this discussion than I can.

P.S. Where has Andrew been? I’d like to see what he has to say about some of this.

Re: Jehovah's Witnesses

I do not profess to be an expert on Jehovah’s Witnesses. In his book Christian Confessions, Ted A. Campbell, after discussing "widespread and growing grounds for unity" among ecclesial communities considers what he calls divergences in teachings about God and Christ. He rank orders these divergences from "most to least serious" [impediments to unity] and sets forth four groups or categories. He states, "In the second place would be those who have rejected the doctrine of the Trinity but maintain in some degree the divinity of Christ and perhaps the worship of Christ. Such groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses would fall into this category, since they acknowledge that in a certain degree Jesus can be considered "divine," but not in the sense as God the Father. In this respect, their beliefs resemble those of the ancient Arians, against whose teachings the Nicene Creed was directed in the first place." (Campbell 1996).

In an anti-credal or non-credal world, I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with Jehovah’s Witnesses. In a credal world, may I suggest that the councils of Chalcedon and Constantinople are more important to present Christology than is Nicea.

Finally, "we" should not condemn or judge anyone based on class or category and "states of mind."

 Peace.

  

Re: Jehovah's Witnesses

Thanks for the interesting thoughts from Ted A. Campbell.

Further discussion.

One possible problem more serious than their denial of the Trinity (and by virtue of their denial of the Trinity) is the possible polytheism that arises out of their acknowledgement of Jesus’, in some sense, divinity. They believe the Father is God and Jesus is “a god” or “divine” (their translation of John 1:1). How do Jehovah’s Witnesses uphold monotheism within this scheme? Would not this place them in the category of, at least, henotheism?

Unless, of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe – and I’m no expert, so I can’t say – that Jesus’ divinity is not in and of itself, but is by virtue of his oneness with the Father. If this is the case for Jehovah’s Witnesses, does this then place them back within monotheism? I’m not sure.

Christology sure is complicated; that is why I do not think we should let it become the cornerstone of separation between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the wider Christian world. As long as Jehovah’s Witness’ Christology does not conflict with the gospel and still places them at least somewhat firmly within monotheism, I think we should accept them as heterodox or sub-orthodox Christians.

The bigger question is, how do Jehovah’s Witnesses view the wider Christian world and would they ever want unity to be a possibility in the first place? Can Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses share mission and perhaps even worship together? But more importantly would Jehovah’s Witnesses even want to?

Re: Jehovah's Witnesses

I don’t know about heterodoxy, henotheism or, for that matter, monolatry. I would say that Jehovah’s Witnesses are at the periphery of historical Christian teaching. They believe Jesus was created.

As for the questions you raise, how can any of us answer them, not being members of the sect. My research indicates that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not rely on historical Christianity for their identity.

Might I suggest that an answer might be found by referring to the response (if there is one) by The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to the document B.E.M. published and circulated by the World Council of Churches.

Re: Jehovah's Witnesses

I don’t know about heterodoxy, henotheism or, for that matter, monolatry. I would say that Jehovah’s Witnesses are at the periphery of historical Christian teaching. They believe Jesus was created.

But one of the fundamentals of Christianity is monotheism, so if Jehovah’s Witness’ Christology, whether they admit it or not, constitutes a form of henotheism or polytheism, is that not significant to the debate?

Might I suggest that an answer might be found by referring to the response (if there is one) by The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to the document B.E.M. published and circulated by the World Council of Churches.

What exactly is B.E.M. and what was the document?

Re: Jehovah's Witnesses

B.E.M. or BEM (pronounced by many as “beem”) is an acronym for Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, a pamphlet (some call it a book, others a tract) first published by the World Council of Churches in 1982. After publication, the WCC asked all known churches and participants to respond with comments. Many did, and the responses are collected in a 5 volume set.

I believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses are monotheistic. I believe that they have a somewhat confused, or at least unclear Christology. Other scholars have made this comment.

I mention that one of the primary gripes against Christianity by Islam is that Christianity is polytheistic. I also mention in passing that trinitarianism is an impressive display of mental gymnastics. I happen to believe in it, but that may be only because there aren’t any better expressions in words of the unexpressable.

Further, I believe that the discussion thread here rapidly devolves into a semantic discussion of the words “divine” and “worship.” A discussion I have neither the time nor the inclination for.

I hope my comment serves your need for information.

Re: Jehovah's Witnesses

I believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses are monotheistic. I believe that they have a somewhat confused, or at least unclear Christology. Other scholars have made this comment.

I mention that one of the primary gripes against Christianity by Islam is that Christianity is polytheistic. I also mention in passing that trinitarianism is an impressive display of mental gymnastics. I happen to believe in it, but that may be only because there aren’t any better expressions in words of the unexpressable.

Okay. Some pretty good points.

Thanks for the information.

Re: Jehovah's Witnesses

Your consideration of creedal and non-creedal environments should be seriously considered by others as well since they each create very different mindsets and ultimately paradigms which lead to wider disagreements, when ultimately as you well illustrated the differences are not as serious as some suggest.  Even in a creedal environment one could find substantial support for many JW doctrinal points.

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