Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Born again Jehovah's Witness style

This morning, a couple of Jehovah's Witness women rang my door bell. It has been many years since the JW's have visited me, and this visit was unlike any I've ever had from them. In the past, every time they have come by, they have asked me a lot of questions. Usually, the questions come from their book, Reasoning from the Scriptures. But this time they didn't ask me any questions at all. They read a verse in Ecclesiastes about how oppression causes craziness (which I thought was kind of random), and then they they gave me an Awake magazine and a Watchtower magazine.

The Watchtower magazine is dated April 1, 2009, and the featured article is called "Born Again: What Does It Mean?" As I read the first part of the article, I was surprised by how Calvinistic it sounded. First, they pointed out that one cannot enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Then they argued that one cannot choose to be born again. God is the one who decides who will be born again. They cite such scriptures as John 1:13, which says, "...who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," and 1 Peter 1:3, which says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

But then in the next section, they argue that being born again isn't for all Christians. It's just for the heavenly class of 144,000 who will rule with Christ in heaven for 1,000 years. The rest of Christians will live in a paradise earth, and they are not born again. Being born again is not necessary for salvation, and entering the kingdom of God is not the same as being saved or having eternal life.

In the next section, they explain how the new birth takes place. John 3:5 says, "Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," so a person is born again by water baptism and spirit baptism. Does that strike anyone else as odd? Earlier they argued that being born again is entirely an act of God and not a choice that people make. But clearly water baptism is a choice that people make, and they are arguing water baptism is necessary for the new birth. They go on to argue that water baptism comes first. Nobody is baptized with the spirit until they are first baptized with water.

In the next section, the authors equate those who have been born again with those who are the adopted sons of God. If you have been born from the spirit of God, then you have been adopted as a son of God. Earlier, I said that they cited John 1:13 as a proof text showing that when people are born again, it is by the will of God, and not by the will of man. But John 1:13 is the second half of a sentence that begins in verse 12, which they did not include in their citation. Together, it reads, "But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." So this new birth experience isn't limited to 144,000 Christians. It applies to all Christians because it applies to all those who receive Jesus and believe in him.

Being born again isn't some special privileged status God bestows on a select group of Christians. Being born again is an act of God whereby he cures you of your rebellion which enables you to receive Christ in the first place. One cannot put their trust in Jesus if they have not been born again. All Christians are adopted sons of God. And entering the kingdom of God doesn't mean going to heaven. The JW's are right that the kingdom of God is a government. One enters the kingdom of God when they become citizens of that government. That includes all Christians. Jesus makes exclusion from the kingdom out to be a bad thing. Here are some examples:

Matthew 5:20 "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness."

Matthew 13:37-43 "The one who sows the good seed is the son of man, and the field is the world, and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The son of man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (see also v. 47-49)

Matthew 25 is another good example. It has the parable of the ten virgins which Jesus compares to the kingdom of heaven. Some were included and some were excluded. Starting from verse 31, Jesus explains the judgment, saying he will put "the sheep on his right" and "the goats on his left." He'll say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels." There are only two groups--those who enter the kingdom, and those who don't. Those who don't enter eternal punishment.

As far as "entering the kingdom of God" being the same as "being saved," Matthew 19:24-26 says, "'And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, 'Then who can be saved?' And looking upon them Jesus said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"

Many more verses could be cited, but I think this is enough.

2 Comments:

At 4/23/2009 6:05 PM , Blogger Paul said...

I always bring things like this back to my original reading of Scripture, which I did pretty much in a theological vacuum: not being raised in an evangelical environment, not being exposed to much of anything since youth, and not yet being "born again." There were many things I didn't understand or catch when I finally read the whole Bible, but there were a lot of things that were pretty in-your-face obvious to me. I would count this two-destination dichotomy to be one of those things. The historical church has thought so too, and it would only be some novel interpretive authority that would lead one to see something different.

Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, and Bahá'u'lláh led people to see unique things in the Bible that none had seen up to that time. For the JW it is the Watchtower organization which serves that infallible interpretive role. For this reason I take the issue of Watchtower authority and reliability to be of primary concern. If the Watchtower is God's faithful servant, then it matters not if we lost souls can find their arcane doctrines in the verses of Scripture; they are necessarily true. But if they are merely fallible humans (not to mention any personal agendas), then we have grounds to question whether they have wrongly deviated from orthodoxy. And anyone having access to old copies of JW publications has good grounds to suspect large-scale fallibility.

 
At 4/23/2009 9:44 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I agree with you that the authority of the "faithful and discreet slave" is the central issue since, if they have the authority they claim, then the doctrines would follow from their authority. But, to a certain extent, showing that their doctrine is wrong could be one way to undermine their claims to authority.

On the other hand, they emphatically deny any claim to infallibility. If you ask a Jehovah's Witness, they will deny that they believe anything just because the Watchtower says so. Rather, they will claim the Watchtower has given compelling Biblical argument to substantiate their doctrine.

I debated with a JW on beliefnet about that once, and I made the argument that it was a remarkable coincidence that every time the Watchtower made a change in doctrine (e.g. the definition of "this generation" in Matthew 24), that all JW's everywhere immediately changed their minds as well, and that it was more likely they were changing their minds, not because the arguments were persuasive, but just on the authority of the Watchtower. Because if they changed their mind just because the arguments seemed good each time, it's unlikely that everybody would've all found the arguments equally persuasive.

Both JW's and Mormons who have converted, rather than having been raised in the respective religions, have told me that the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons, respectively, were the only ones who were ever able to answer all their questions.

 

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