As I was walking with my friend Mike today, somewhere in the Philips neighborhood near Franklin, we approached a car parked at the curb. An older (greying) woman in the passenger’s seat rolled down her window, got our attention, and waved a magazine at us. “Can I give this to you? This is for your health!” I recognized it from fifteen feet away - it was a copy of Awake!, a witnessing tract used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A longtime cult in the US and now growing in popularity around the world, at first glance the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their theology look strikingly similar to Protestant Christianity. Where the paths split is when the JWs refuse to recognize the divinity of Jesus. So, if you look at it that with that in mind, the two theologies are actually completely different.
The only thing most Christians know about the JWs is that they are a cult with dangerous doctrine (which is true, more on that later). But the JWs are also a very proselytizing religion, going door to door and whatnot, and so Christians find themselves encountering far more JWs than they are usually comfortable with. But they know that they shouldn’t engage them (danger!), so they might mumble a hasty frightened response like “Um, no, yeah, I’m a Christian, so, uh, please go away.” This is sadly one of the most damaging things that one can do, because JWs are taught that Christians are afraid of them because they (the JWs) have the truth. Identifying oneself as a Christian and showing intimidation only reinforces that teaching.
Graciously, God has blessed me with a great relationship with a man who has spent years working with JWs, working to get them out of their organization, the Watchtower. He’s taught me tons of useful tips for use in talking with JWs, and here, on a cold Thursday in Minneapolis, I got a chance to use them.
I’m not much one for arguing theology with strangers, but I am very much into fighting false hope. The opposite of hope isn’t despair (because despair drives you to seek hope), but false hope, because once you find any kind of hope, you tend to rest in it until it is no longer hopeful. In offering God without Jesus, this woman was offering false hope that will leave people in hell. This was suddenly about spiritual warfare, heaven and hell. What followed was basically a spiritual version of a ‘breach and clear’ sequence straight out of a Clancy novel, because I wanted to present the real hope that Jesus has to offer.
I walked up to the car and took the magazine, holding it in my thick winter glove. I looked at the cover and then at the woman. (Set!) Meanwhile she had handed Mike a copy of Watchtower magazine. (Clear!)
“Is this about Jesus?” I asked. (Bam! I blow down the door.)
“This is for your health!” she replied.
“Oh. Because it looks like it’s about Jesus!” ( I gratuitously kick over the coat rack.)
I clumsily turned a few pages until my gloved hands held open a page-long article. The word “Shepherd” was in the headline.
“Is this about Jesus?” I asked, motioning to the headline. (Now I’m in middle of the room, red targeting lasers criss-crossing the smoke.)
She smiled and nodded. “Yes, yes it is.”
“Great! Because I love Jesus.” (I slide belly-first over a table.)
That made her look concerned and cautious.
“You know, a lot of people wouldn’t say that.”
“Well, I do, because Jesus is awesome.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “It is pretty amazing what he did for us on the cross.”
“I know! How he lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God.” (Muzzle-flash galore.)
She was nodding, knowingly.
“Man, I’m so thankful for how he changed my life. I pray to him all the time now!” (Bombshell!)
At this point my excitement in talking had taken over my mental preparation and clearheadedness, and instead of following up and asking her about Jesus, other tips that I had received started surfacing in my head.
Take the literature and keep the interaction short.
This actually applies much more to door-to-door interactions than to on-the-street ones, because JWs who are witnessing have a certain quota to meet. If you want to start a relationship with them, the best thing to do is to take the literature (they like that), and schedule a follow-up meeting with that same JW (they sometimes just send elders for follow-ups). The scheduled follow-up allows them to move on to the next house (they like that, too).
So I thanked her for the tract and Mike and I continued on our walk. I was happy with how things went, but I regret to say that I left out one of the most important points of Rapid-Fire Jesus Promotion: Acknowledge that you are sure in your experiences with Him and that you haven’t been lied to.
JWs are taught that people who believe that Jesus is God have been deceived, and when you face them with excitement over what Christ has done and surety that your convictions are genuine, that might find its way through a hole in their defenses. I forgot to do this, and the result is that she might have just left the conversation thinking that I was a babbling crazy person. Nice and enthusiastic, but misguided.
Hopefully God will use the “praying to Jesus” comment that I got in to work in her heart. Since JWs don’t believe that Jesus is divine, they don’t pray to him; praying to Jesus for them is heretical, like telling a Christian to pray to Moses. We’re not going to do it. Jesus’ death and ministry, his divine atonement for sin, is THE axis around which Christianity revolves. It is the central work to which all the of Old Testament points towards, and to which the entire New Testament points back. Without a divine Jesus, Christianity is worthless and going to church becomes a really dumb hobby.
This, the majestic work of a fully-divine-yet-fully human Jesus, is the weapon which we wield against the dangerous doctrine of the JWs. But we have to know how to use it well in order to be effective. There is little use in entrusting a soldier with a powerful rifle if he doesn’t know how to use it correctly. There are people in church who have encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible and Jesus, but either don’t believe that is true or are not able to talk about it well. The mission of the Christian should be this - to yearn to know and love and savor and treasure and worship Jesus in order to proclaim Him effectively to neighbors and nations. My interaction this morning was less then ideal, but I hope that God will use it nonetheless. In the meantime, it’s back to my Bible to worship and savor Jesus, and back to looking for ways in which I can share Him with the world.