BROOKLYN, NY: Major developing story at the Watchtower – It looks like the Governing Body is in the process of doing away with most of what remains of the 1914 doctrine.
Originally 1914 was to have been the date for the Battle of Armageddon (The Time Is at Hand, p. 101). Following that failure, 1914 morphed into the beginning of the “last generation” which was to culminate with Armageddon before everyone living in 1914 had died (Watchtower, 1984 May 15 pp. 6-7). That hope was finally abandoned in 1995 with the theory that 1914 began an everlasting “last generation” not limited by human lifespans (Watchtower, 1995 Nov 1 pp. 17-20). In 2010, that “old light” was replaced with a 1914 “overlapping” last generation theory (Watchtower, 2010 June 15 p. 5). Just three years later, that doctrine has now also expired.
Newest Light 2013: It has taken 100 years, but it seems the Watchtower is now subtly admitting that almost everything they once taught about 1914 was wrong (Watchtower, 2013 July 15 pp. 3-8).
You should download this PDF of the July 15, 2013 Watchtower while you still can.
“Turn away from them,” “keep away from them,” and “stay away from them!” Who, you might wonder, should be so utterly avoided? Terrorists? People with an incurable and highly infectious disease?
No, the July 15, 2011 issue of The Watchtower magazine replies: the people you should avoid at all costs are…former Jehovah’s Witnesses (called apostates). The magazine says,
Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease. You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are ‘mentally diseased’, and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings (p. 22, large-print edition).
This teaching has attracted significant attention in the United Kingdom, where police in Portsmouth have launched an investigation into whether the Watchtower Society has breached the UK’s religious hatred laws.
While we have no position on whether the Watchtower Society has violated religious hatred laws, what is surprising is that such comments would generate shock among Watchtower observers. The simple fact is that the Watchtower Society has long portrayed former members as morally deficient, deranged and even demoniacal.
A typical description of former Jehovah’s Witnesses can be found in the November 1, 1987 issue of The Watchtower, which describes evangelism by former Witnesses like this:
Apostates often appeal to the ego, claiming that we have been deprived of our freedoms, including the freedom to interpret the Bible for ourselves. (Compare Genesis 3:15.) In reality, these would-be defilers offer nothing more than a return to the nauseating teachings of “˜Babylon the Great.’ (Revelation 17:5; 2 Peter 2:19-22) Others appeal to the flesh, urging former associates to “take it easy” because the humble work of witnessing from house to house is “˜unnecessary’ or “˜unscriptural.’ (Compare Matthew 16:22,23.) True, such smooth talkers may look outwardly clean in a physical and moral way. But inside they are spiritually unclean, having given in to prideful, independent thinking. They have forgotten all that they learned about Jehovah. (pp. 19-20)
Continuing the theme of defilement and uncleanness, the Society has compared reading literature written by former members to fornicating and consuming pornography:
If, out of curiosity, we were to read the literature of a known apostate, would that not be the same as inviting this enemy of true worship right into our home to sit down with us and relate his apostate ideas? Let us illustrate matters in this way: Suppose your teenage son received some pornographic material in the mail. What would you do? If he was inclined to read it out of curiosity, would you say: `Yes, son, go ahead and read it. It won’t hurt you. From infancy we’ve taught you that immorality is bad. Besides, you need to know what’s going on in the world in order to see that it’s truly bad’? Absolutely not! Rather, you would surely point out the dangers of reading pornographic literature and would require that it be destroyed. Why? Because no matter how strong a person may be in the truth, if he feeds his mind on the perverted ideas found in such literature, his mind and heart will be affected…Well, if we would act so decisively to protect our children from exposure to pornography, should we not expect that our loving heavenly Father would similarly warn us from spiritual fornication, including apostasy? He says, Keep away from it! (The Watchtower, March 15, 1986, p. 13)
The Society has even linked apostate literature to demonic activity, asking,
How could one become guilty of partaking of the table of demons in our day? By serving the interests of anything opposed to Jehovah. The table of demons includes all demonic propaganda, which is designed to mislead and to turn us away from Jehovah. Who would want to feed his heart and mind on such poison? (The Watchtower; July 1, 1994, p. 9)
Given such a perspective of its former members, it is unsurprising that the Watchtower Society concludes, quite simply, that it hates its former members:
Regarding them, the psalmist said: “˜Do I not hate those who are intensely hating you, O Jehovah, and do I not feel a loathing for those revolting against you? With a complete hatred I do hate them. They have become tome real enemies’ (Psalm 139:21, 22″…True Christians share Jehovah’s feelings toward such apostates; they are not curious about apostate ideas. On the contrary, they “˜feel a loathing’ toward those who have made themselves God’s enemies, but they leave it to Jehovah to execute vengeance. (The Watchtower, October 1, 1993, p. 19)
As we see from these quotes, the most recent statement by the Watchtower Society about former members – while malicious and unfair – is merely the latest in a long line of similar statements.
It is interesting that, in the Independent article reporting on the political firestorm in which the Watchtower Society is embroiled, spokesperson Rick Fenton said, “Any one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is free to express their feelings and to ask questions.” This statement, intended to show the open-mindedness of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is unfortunately untrue.
I wrote the following in a 1997 issue of The Watchman Expositor concerning the procedures for handling apostasy detailed in the Watchtower Society’s secret manual for elders, Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock:
The Society tolerates no “˜deliberate action disrupting the unity of the congregation or undermining the confidence of the brothers in Jehovah’s arrangement’ (Pay Attention…, p. 95).
What then, a faithful Witness might well ask, constitutes a divisive and apostate action? Notably, and in direct contrast to its exhaustive definition of degrees of sexual immorality, Pay Attention… is silent on this crucial issue. The Watchtower has previously stated that the primary characteristic in any apostate is the desire for “˜independent thinking,’ a trait every dedicated Witness is required to eradicate in humble subjection to “˜the faithful and discreet slave’ in Brooklyn (The Watchtower, November 1, 1987, pp. 19-20). Questioning or criticizing any teaching by the Society or one of its representatives constitutes “˜independent thinking’ (The Watchtower, January 15, 1983, p. 27). The Society reinforces its ban on any critical thinking by stating that individuals may be disfellowshipped for any action that “˜may involve or lead to apostasy’ (Pay Attention…, p. 95, emphasis mine); i.e., a Witness may be disfellowshipped for apostasy even if that person has not rebelled against Watchtower teachings! This is certainly a position of which the Society desires its critics to remain in ignorance.
Given such treatment of not only the Watchtower’s Society’s former members, but also its current members, objective observers will clearly see who presents the real threat to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
We received an interesting email from a listener to an interview on Issues, Etc. The listener, while generally appreciative of the interview, raised an objection to the point that – according to Watchtower Society doctrine and practice – apostates cannot repent and therefore have “no hope.” The listener claimed that, in reality, the Watchtower Society does allow repentant former apostates to be reinstated into the organization.
This is a very important point and, as we shall see, has some basis in Watchtower thought (both among rank-and-file Publishers and from the Society itself). Nonetheless, in the end the Watchtower Society’s position that apostates are largely – if not entirely – incapable of repentance ultimately renders the possibility of reinstating former apostates to be irrelevant.
It is true that some Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a thoroughly repentant apostate could be reinstated as a Jehovah’s Witness. The Society itself lends some credence to this belief; for example, The Watchtower issues in April of 1982 and 1983 refer to “unrepentant apostates” being destroyed by Jehovah.
We should note, though, that we’ve never encountered an elder or ministerial servant who would make such a claim, nor have we ever met a Witness in good standing who had previously been disfellowshipped for apostasy (we’ve only heard apocryphal, unnamed references to the alleged existence of such people).
Where the issue comes in is with the Watchtower Society’s interpretation of Matthew 12:31-32, which we’ll quote from their New World Translation:
On this account I say to YOU, Every sort of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. For example, whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the holy spirit, it will not be forgiven him, no, not in this system of things nor in that to come (you can see a parallel passage in Luke 12:10).
The Society is clear on this point: “Jesus said that ‘blasphemy against the holy spirit’ was unforgivable. And Paul said that there is no sacrifice for sins left for one who practices sin willfully despite knowing the truth. (Luke 12:10; Hebrews 10:26, 27)” (“Questions from the Readers,” The Watchtower, 5/01/96); interestingly, this passage comes within the context of saying that child molesters can be reinstated.
There are countless quotations from Watchtower publications that link apostasy to Matthew 12 and Luke 12, so there is no need to recount them here. What is at issue, though, is how the Watchtower Society views the spiritual condition of apostates. While the Society does refer to “unrepentant apostates,” does this mean they believe it’s possible for an apostate to repent, and therefore to return to “the Truth?”
This can be answered with this quotation from The Watchtower.
Apostasy is, in reality, a rebellion against Jehovah. Some apostates profess to know and serve God, but they reject teachings or requirements set out in his Word. Others claim to believe the Bible, but they reject Jehovah’s organization and actively try to hinder its work. When they deliberately choose such badness after knowing what is right, when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of their makeup, then a Christian must hate in the Biblical sense of the word those who have inseparable attached themselves to the badness (The Watchtower, 10/01/93, p. 19; the Society also uses the exact phrase, “when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of his makeup” in the 7/16/61 issue of The Watchtower).
The Society’s position is clear: apostasy is a thorough corruption of the individual; indeed, it becomes “an inseparable part of his makeup.” Therefore, while it might be argued that the Society may hold open the remote possibility that it’s theoretically possible for an apostate to repent, the Society nonetheless sees most (if not all) apostates as incapable of repentance. This is why this author, like most Jehovah’s Witnesses, was explicitly taught that apostasy is the unforgivable sin.