The Void Must be Filled
The aftermath of cult involvement has sometimes been described as “spiritual rape.”1 The frustration and power-lessness of knowing that one has been taken advantage of, and the awareness that there is little that can be done about it, are extremely difficult emotions with which to deal. The acute sense of betrayal makes trusting other people nearly impossible.
Leaving a cult group also results in an indescribable feeling of emptiness. Faith, purpose, and direction are gone. In the midst of this immense spiritual vacuum God seems to be light-years away. Without help, former cult members can fall victim to depression and may even become suicidal.
Jesus Christ, in the twelfth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, describes the plight of a man who, after being delivered from an evil spirit, left his house (heart) unoc-cupied and ended up in a far worse state–he fell under the control of eight spirits. The principle illustrated in this parable can also be applied to defectors from the Watchtower Society. Their spiritual vacuum must be filled. They must come to know the One who declares, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”2 They must hear the true Gospel that promises them a sure and enduring salvation.
The Message of the Gospel
The “good news” of the Watchtower is a distortion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is, pure and simple, a false gospel. The Watchtower message is not designed to bring an individual into direct contact with the saving grace of God in the here and now; rather, it is a promise of future hap-piness for those who faithfully obey “God’s organization.” Adherents of this gospel therefore must pledge themselves to a life of subservience in the Watchtower Society.
Jesus Christ promised eternal life as a gift to all who would put their trust in Him. This was not to be a blessing bestowed at some future date, but a present pos-session of every believer. In contrast to the Watchtower gospel where emphasis is placed upon human effort and the reward it brings, the message of Christ is a testimony to God’s unconditional love, a promise of intimate fellowship with God, a gateway to true freedom, and the power to live a life pleasing to God.
God’s Love is Unconditional
The love of God is one of the major themes of the Bible. Numerous Scriptures give a passionate description of the nature of that love:
Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.3
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.4
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.5
In Watchtower theology, divine love and favor is bestowed upon those who have proven themselves worthy. Four basic requirements must be met before anyone can be accepted as a child of God: acquisition of accurate biblical knowledge (obtainable only through reading Watchtower literature), obeying God’s laws (all rules laid down by the Watchtower), associating with the Watchtower, and partici-pating in the Jehovah’s Witness preaching work.6
In essence, the Jesus of the Watchtower does not really save anyone. His death simply made it possible for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to establish their own righteousness and thus demonstrate that they deserve entrance into the kingdom of God.
Thus his death made possible all that the Kingdom will accomplish for us humans: immortal life in the heavens for the 144,000 who constitute his bride and everlasting life in a paradise earth for millions of others who prove their faith and obedience under test.7
The works-oriented gospel of the Watchtower stands in stark contrast with the clear declarations of Scripture. God’s love is not poured out upon the righteous, the faith-ful, or the worthy, but rather the powerless, the ungodly, the sinner, and the enemy of God.
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been recon- ciled, shall we be saved through his life!8
Eternal life is offered as a gift to all who put their trust in Jesus Christ. Faith alone is the sole prere-quisite to salvation.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of
God not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.9
Intimate Fellowship with God has been Restored
The Bible declares plainly that, because of sin, God and man are in a relationship of hostility and enmity. Every human being, as an enemy of God, is an object of divine wrath. However, the Scriptures also, with equal clarity and force, proclaim the message that reconciliation has been accomplished through the death of Jesus Christ. The substitutionary atonement of Christ has changed man’s former state of enmity into one of righteousness and com-plete harmony with a righteous God, thus making personal and intimate fellowship a blessed reality.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.10
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.11
Those who have been reconciled by faith in Christ can say with the Apostle John, “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”12 As a branch in the true vine, Jesus Christ, Christians can be assured of bearing much fruit for the glory of God.13 Union with Christ in his death and resurrection provides the basis for a life of victory over sin.14 Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ.15 The Holy Spirit has been given to lead Christians into all truth.16 The Spirit’s annointing teaches the Christian all things; there-fore, the Christian is not bound to rely upon any human being (or human organization) for understanding of the Bible.17 The believer has, as a present possession, eternal life, and is promised by Christ Himself that he will never perish.18
All of the above promises are nullified in the maze of Watchtower doctrine. Instead of an individual and per-sonal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that God “deals with his people as an organized group.”19 Seekers are invited to “come to Jeho-vah’s organization for salvation.”20 The Watchtower unashamedly declares, “We cannot understand the Bible on our own;” people can understand the Bible “only through Jeho-vah’s channel of communication.”21 No one today receives a personal message from God.22 Jehovah does not impart his “holy spirit” apart from his visible organization.23 Followers of the Watchtower are also told:
Rather than expect miracles in the form of divine inter- vention of some sort, Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that protection is to be found in their worldwide Christian brotherhood.24
Only the 144,000 may become branches that abide in the Vine.25 Members of this elite group alone may claim Christ as their mediator–all other Jehovah’s Witnesses are not included in the new covenant.26 The Watchtower even goes so far as to say that most of the New Testament, including the promises of everlasting life, is directed to the 144,000.27
Surely the words of Christ, spoken to the Pharisees, are applicable here, “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”28
Anyone Can be Born Again
The power to live in accordance with “the law that gives freedom” does not originate in man. Man is, by nature, a sinful and self-centered being. A fundamental change must take place in the heart of man before there can be any significant change of life. The Bible refers to this experience as being “born again”:
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”36
This experience is also described as coming alive from a state of death,37 or as being made a new creation.38 Believers in Christ who have been made anew from within are thus enabled and empowered to lead a new life outwardly.
Again, the “good news” of the Watchtower runs con-trary to the testimony of Scripture. Only the 144,000 are granted the privilege of being born again as sons of God.17 This means that all other members of the Watchtower organi-zation must labor diligently, in their own strength, to change themselves and demonstrate that they have conformed their lives to God’s standard.
The Bible shows that persons must make changes in their life in order to meet the requirements for becoming sub- jects of God’s government. (Ephesians 4:20-24) Are you working to make these changes? Surely it is worth any effort to do so! Why so? It will not mean that you will simply have a better life for a few years under some human government. No, but you will receive ever- lasting life in perfect health on a paradise earth under a government ruled by God!18
This line of reasoning is based on the assumption that man is basically good and capable of measuring up to the standards of God. In this regard the Watchtower has taken a chapter from the philosophy of the Pharisees. Jesus Christ, however, sternly rebuked all forms of pharisaic self-righteousness.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypo- crites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.41 Biblical faith begins with the honest admission that one is a helpless sinner who is under the wrath of God and deserving of nothing but eternal destruction. Man is incapable of performing any good works that might warrant the praise of God.42 The entire human race has become so thoroughly corrupted in spirit, soul, and body that there remains only one hope–to be given, by divine grace, a new birth. Those who comprehend this truth will cease all efforts to establish their own righteousness and will cry out in desperation, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”43
Today is the Day of Salvation
The Watchtower concept of salvation is totally futur-istic in focus. Eternal life on paradise earth is promised to those who remain faithful through the millennium and the period of testing that follows:
Jehovah will give them the opportunity to show their loyalty. How? By releasing Satan and his demons from their condition of restraint in the “abyss.” (Revelation 20:7). . . . Those who stay loyal to God will be judged worthy of eternal life. . . any who rebelliously turn against God will be destroyed.44
The adoption as sons of God is also projected into the distant post-millennial future. Jehovah will accept as his sons all those whom he has subjected “to a thorough test for all time.”45 Jehovah’s Witnesses are given a provi-sional status of righteousness now by faith, but that position will only become permanent after they have demon-strated their loyalty.46
This carrot-on-a-stick-gospel is a poor imitation of the glorious good news of Jesus Christ. John triumphantly declares that “now we are children of God.”47 Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”48 And again, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”49 These Scriptures contain not the slightest hint of a right-eousness that pends a probationary period but only a confident shout of joy and victory. Eternal life is no future prize but rather a present possession:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.50
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be con- demned; he has crossed over from death to life.51
I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.52
The message of the gospel addresses the needs of mankind in the present. While the full realization of all of God’s blessings (i.e., the resurrection of the body, etc.) await a future date, the believer can rejoice in a salvation that restores him or her to right standing with God for all eternity. In his second epistle to the Corin-thians, Paul, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, states, “For he says, ‘In the time of favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”53 hn 7:37b.
The Invitation of Christ
Evangelical churches have for some time emphasized the personal aspects of a relationship with Christ and inviting Him into one’s life through prayer. With the intent of perpetuating a Christian illusion, the Watchtower has disguised its own theology with similar trappings. Des-cribing what a person needs to do initially to put himself on the road to eternal life, You Can Live Forever in Para-dise on Earth states the following:
You should approach God in Jesus’ name and tell him in prayer that you want to be his servant, that you want to belong to him. In this way you dedicate yourself to God. This is a personal, private matter. No one else can do it for you. After you have made your dedication to God, he will expect you to live up to it. So prove that you are a person of your word by sticking to this decision, or dedication, as long as you live.54
This is no picture of a convicted sinner crying out for divine mercy. Rather, it is a portrait of someone who confidently approaches God and proclaims that he or she desires to belong to Him and is prepared to do His will. In Watchtower theology, it is man who initiates the process that will hopefully result in salvation, and it is man who works to prove being worthy of the kingdom of God.
The Scriptures describe conversion as a response to the voice of Christ who personally comes to the individual and knocks at the door of the heart. In the words of Jesus Himself, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”55 Jesus also states emphati-cally that, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.”56
Salvation is, from beginning to end, the work of God. Only as the sinner acknowledges this truth in humble faith will he be enabled to come to Christ, call upon His name, and experience God’s saving grace.57
As a shepherd searching for lost sheep, Jesus Christ continues to invite all men to come to Him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”58 “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”59 It is only here, in the bosom of the Savior, that true peace and salvation can be found.