Most people don't know much about the Jehovah's Witnesses. I think the majority of people know two things about them, they're the people who show up at your door at inconvenient times of the day giving you pamphlets that have pictures of Jesus on them who looks like Kenny Loggins or Ewan McGregor, or that they don't celebrate Christmas. Occasionally, people know they don't do blood transfusions. But for as much as they're a punchline in America, I've noticed that they're very much a mystery to most people.
So, here's a list of things Jehovah's Witnesses have in common with mainstream Christianity:
- Belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.
- Belief in the virgin birth of Jesus.
- Belief in the Bible as the inspired Word of God.
- Belief in sin.
- Belief in the coming end times.
- Belief in angels and demons.
- Belief that Jesus died for the sins of mankind by crucifixion.
- Belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
- Belief in the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment of mankind.
- They practice baptism and have meetings each week where they pray, sing hymns, and study the Bible.
And here are a list of things that are unique to the Jehovah's Witnesses:
- They do not believe in the Trinity. Instead they are strict monotheists believing there is only one God and that is Jehovah (YHWH or Yahweh) who is the Father Almighty.
- Jesus is not God. Instead he's inferior to Jehovah and is the firstborn of creation. He is the Messiah and the one who delivers mankind from sin. They believe prior to him coming to Earth as a man, he was the Archangel Michael and resumed this identity after the resurrection.
- They believe that the Holy Spirit is not a person but Jehovah's active presence on Earth.
- They believe that Jesus didn't die on a cross, but was executed on a stake. They view the cross as a pagan symbol that is abhorrent to God.
- They believe that of all the billions of people that have lived on Earth, only the most righteous 144,000 people will go to Heaven. The rest will remain on Earth that will be reborn as a terrestrial paradise with no war, poverty, illness, or famine.
- They do not believe in an afterlife. For them, the dead are dead and have no consciousness whatsoever.
- They do not believe in Hell. Hell for them is a metaphor for the destruction of the wicked by Jehovah.
- Jesus rules the Earth invisibly from his throne in Heaven and will never again be seen by any humans on Earth except for the 144,000 who will go to Heaven.
- They do not celebrate any holidays, this includes secular holidays and birthdays. They have one holy day they observe a year called the Memorial Service which commemorates the death of Jesus. At this service they distribute their version of communion. This service is held near the Jewish Passover celebration.
- Their version of communion is only held once a year at the Memorial Service. The unleavened bread and wine are passed around the congregation, but only those certain of their status as one of the 144,000 may partake. The rest decline and merely look at the elements as they're passed around.
- If a baptized member is disfellowshipped from the organization, they are to be shunned by anyone within the organization until they repent. This often tears families apart. I know of a personal example of this one.
- They are forbidden from having blood transfusions, believing the scriptures prohibit ingesting blood of any kind.
- They believe they have the exclusive truth, but do not believe in intolerance of other faiths.
- They refuse to serve in the military, participate in patriotic events, or pledge allegiance to the state, flags, or any members of state.
- They refuse to impose their religious beliefs on the public through political action.
The Jehovah's Witnesses are run by a group called the Watchtower Society. The Watchtower Society is based in Brooklyn, New York and is headed by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses which is a group of men (currently 8) who all claim to be one of the 144,000. These men decide doctrine and the direction of the organization. They also oversee several committees which make up the remainder of the Watchtower Society. Not much is known about the internal governance of the society and it is plagued with public scrutiny resulting in many rumors and conspiracy theories about them.
The Watchtower Society distributes publications on a regular basis, I'm not sure if it's quarterly, monthly, or weekly. It might depend on the publication. Members hold the teachings in these publications as being truthful and correct interpretations of scripture and doctrine.
The Watchtower Society also produces Bibles that are distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses always free of charge throughout the world. These Bibles are a translation called the New World Translation, which was commissioned by the Watchtower Society. I have read this Bible alongside other translations. My personal opinion is that this Bible is a dubious translation at best with mistranslations that seem intentional to keep it consistent with Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine. One red flag I find with this translation (and something they proudly say on their website) is that the committee who translated their Bible remains anonymous as do their credentials. In other words, just trust us that this translation is a good one, we wouldn't lie to you.
As far as the service goes, I know it's going to be very bare bones. I know they will open and close with a hymn and a prayer, and that the rest of the time will be devoted to Bible study and study of Watchtower literature with a Q&A session.
This should be an interesting experience. Wish me luck everybody.
Until next time, peace be with you.