Are Jehovah’s Witnesses “Christian”?

JOSEPH IN MARYLAND ASKS:

Since Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is God, are they truly a Christian denomination?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

As an old-school journalist, The Guy’s role is not to answer such questions but to explain the dispute. Jehovah’s Witnesses assert that across the centuries all other groups claiming to be “Christian” have been grievously in error about Jesus Christ and related beliefs, and that Jehovah God commissioned Charles Taze Russell, a self-educated Bible teacher in 19th Century America, and his successors to restore the true religion. The same sort of 19th Century restoration is the basis for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), which ardently defends its Christian status.

The Witnesses’ Internet home page asserts that they “are proud to be called Christians,” noting that they follow Jesus’ teachings, pray in his name, and regard him as “the key to salvation” and the one “appointed to have authority over every man.” On the other hand, “we do not worship Jesus, as we do not believe that he is Almighty God.” Witnesses oppose historic Christianity’s doctrine of the Trinity, that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit are worshipped as one God. Witnesses hold that God and Jesus are “one” only “in the sense that they are in complete agreement as to intentions, standards, and values.” Because “Jesus was created by God,” Witnesses consider him not “the” but “a” son of God, akin to Adam. Basically, this modernizes 4th Century Arianism, which orthodox Christianity condemned as a heresy for rejecting Jesus’ full deity and depicting him as a mere created being. Unlike ancient Arianism, the Witnesses’ Jesus is thought to be the same person as the Bible’s Archangel Michael.

Most people are less familiar with Witnesses Christology than their door-to-door distribution of “Watchtower” and “Awake!” magazines and bans against blood transfusions, flag salutes, and Christmas and birthday celebrations. Other distinctive teachings are that Christ’s Second Coming has already occurred but invisibly, that only 144,000 believers will be with God in Heaven, and that unbelievers will be eternally annihilated. They proclaim that on October 1, 1914, God brought about the “end of all nations,” beginning the process that will soon abolish the existing world order. Over the years, end-times predictions have provoked intricate internal controversies (see “Apocalypse Delayed” by historian M. James Penton, a fourth-generation Witness who was expelled).

Bruce Metzger, a renowned New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, provided a mainstream Christian response to Witnesses theology in a classic article that said “if a sect’s basic orientation toward Jesus Christ be erroneous, it must be seriously doubted whether the name ‘Christian’ can rightly be applied.”

– Official Jehovah’s Witnesses teachings at: www.jw.org

– Metzer’s article: www.bible-researcher.com/metzger.jw.html

 

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.

  • Danny Haszard

    A big difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christians is that the Watchtower Society’s central core creed proclaims Jesus second coming in October 1914.
    They sometimes try to obscure this failed doctrine today and say that he came *invisibly*.Yes,all other Christains are awaiting Jesus return,the JW say he ALREADY came in 1914.
    —Danny Haszard
    FMI http://www.dannyhaszard.com/colitis.htm (my experience growing up JW)

  • tom

    As far as I’m concerned, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the earthly incarnation of Satan the Devil.

    I know what I’m talking about. I was stuck in this mind-controlling cult for 10 years.

  • M.E.

    I can see it’s unfair for Orthodox Christians, to take the name “Christian” as explicitly refering only to those who believe in the Trinity. But I can’t think of a use for a word that includes: Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, but excludes Jews and Muslims etc. It seems like having a word for the area compised of the New England states, plus Nevada and Alabama, but not any other state. What is the word useful for?

    • DougH

      I seems simple enough to me – if you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, you’re a Christian. So Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox all qualify, but Jews and Muslims don’t.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    There may be some Christians in that non-Chrostian cult. When God is after someone…He will get them.

    But it would be difficult to see how a Christian would stay in that gnostic, Jesus denying (as true God) cult.

    Someone in our congregation asked our pastor, “could there be any Christians in the Mormon “church”?”

    My pastor replied, “Sure. There could be. There might even be some here.”

    • Poqui

      Great comment. As a Mormon teacher I have given the exact same answer as your pastor when asked whether or not there may be some true Christians among the other sects. Love it!

      • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

        Indeed.

        Christ knows His own. And we know what kind of a person that He is looking for. Those, who like the scumbag tax collector in the Temple, could not even raise their eyes to Him. And that would ask, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

        While the good religious types wrapped themselves up in their good religious performance.

        Churches that teach people the truth about themselves and God…that the best they do isn’t good enough…and that God demands perfection, right now…are the ones that can foster that repentant heart and lay the groundwork for faith to be born, by God’s grace…from above.

  • DougH

    You can ask the same the same question about the Ebionites, early Christians that believed Christians still needed to follow the Jewish Law and didn’t accept Jesus as divine, though they believed that he was the Messiah, chosen by God to save the world with the Crucifixion. Or the Marcionites, that rejected not only the Jewish Law but the Jewish Scripture, believing the God of the Old Testament to not be Jesus’ God, or that Jesus was a material creature. Or the Gnostics, that believed that the material world was the result of a cosmic disaster, created by a fallen god that captured an element of the divine and created the Earth as its prison. Then there’s the Arians the article mentioned, and the followers of Pelagius, and others – all claiming to be Christians, and all much more diverse than Christendom is today. If they weren’t varieties of Christianity, what should historians call them?

    • Dan F.

      That’s easy, they’re called “heresies”. ;)

      • DougH

        I would imagine each group thought the others were heretics. However, since a heretic is someone of your faith with false beliefs, to label them heretics is also to label them Christian.

  • davidl7

    Richard Ostling analysis of the Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs is not entirely correct. The doctrine of the Trinity did not become an official doctrine of Christendom (or professed Christians) until 350 years after the death of Christ and his apostles. Many theologians agree that the NT does not contain an explicit doctrine of the
    Trinity and other sources admit that early Christians did not contradict the
    Shema of Deut. 6:4,5: where it reads “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is
    one Jehovah: thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all
    thy soul, and with all thy might.” (ASV) Those words were advocated by
    Jesus in Mark 12:29. YHWH God is One, not Three in One. The fact is early
    Christians believed Jesus was the only-begotten Son of God as taught in the
    Bible in Matthew 16:16, John 3:16, 36, and 1 John 4:8-14. That is what
    Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, that Jesus is not the Almighty God himself, but he
    is the only begotten Son OF God. Ostling is wrong when he states that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is merely “a son of God”. Like early Christians, they believe that he is THE only-begotten Son of God, the only One created directly by Jehovah God, and the First-born Son of God. So Jesus stands apart from all other sons of Gods, including angels and humans, and Jesus is now at a higher and more excellent position than the other sons of God, or angels (Heb. 1:1-6 – compare with Young’s Literal Translation). Jesus said we have the same Father has he does; so Jesus life began when God begot him or created him, and he lives because of his Father, or LifeGiver (Prov. 8:22-30; John 6:57) Since Jesus has a God, and we worship the same God as Jesus does, Jesus can’t be Almighty God and can’t be equal to God, as the Trinity teaches. According to the NT, early Christians “praised the God and Father of Jesus
    Christ”, and Jesus said that his God and Father is greater than him.
    (Ephe. 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3 Ephe 1:17; John 20:28; John 14:28; Rev. 3:12; 2
    Corithians 1:3) Early Christians called Jesus “the Servant of God”
    Jesus was raised and received his life back again from his Father, the God of
    Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose name is Jehovah, and early Christians were
    witnesses of what God did. (Acts 3:13-15; Acts 5:30) So early Christians
    praised the God and Father of Jesus Christ, taught that Jesus was God’ only
    begotten Son, and certainly believe that Jesus has a God. That teaching is so
    clearly and explicitly taught in the Bible. And that clearly contradicts what
    the doctrine of the Trinity is about. Early Christians were not Trinitarians.
    They held to the Jewish doctrine that Jehovah is One and Jesus was the Messiah
    or Christ, the Anointed One by God, the Son OF God, NOT God the Son. Jesus is
    not God, but the WAY to the Father, and earlier Christians did not call him
    Almighty God, but the Mediator between “God and man”. (1 Tim.
    2:5) I somewhat agree with Bruce Metzger assessment that “if a
    sect’s basic orientation toward Jesus Christ be erroneous, it must be seriously
    doubted whether the name ‘Christian’ can rightly be applied.” But those
    words apply to the Trinitarians believers rather than Jehovah’s Christian
    Witnesses. Witnesses accept only what the NT teaches
    about Jesus and God, not what Trinitarian theologians teach. We only
    accept and believe in the teachings of the early Christians
    as expressed in the writings of the Christian Greek Scriptures or
    the so-called New Testament.
    Unlike what Ostling Witnesses do not believe that “all nations
    ended” in 1914. We are fact preaching the Good News or Gospel of God’s
    Kingdom to all nations before the end of this age or system of things comes
    (Matt. 24:14). We believe that 1914 marks the beginning of the invisible
    PRESENCE (not Coming) of Jesus and that the last days began in that year. For a response on James Penton allegations of JW “predictions”, see the
    book by Greg Stafford whose second edition includes a very good section
    defending the Watchtower Society against charges of false prophecy (2nd EDITION Revised, Digital Edition Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics).
    Also, since Jesus said that the “meek will inherit the earth”, citing
    the book of Ps. 37:10, 11, 29 where it says that the meek will inherit the
    earth forever, and he said that let God’s Kingdom come, and his will be done on
    EARTH, as in Heaven, we believe that most of humankind will live forever on an
    earth converted to paradise as taught in the Bible in both the OT and NT. So
    millions will be saved for eternity and inherit God’s Kingdom on earth, while a
    small group of 144,000 will reign with Christ as “priest and kings over
    the earth.” It is not just 144,000 that will be saved. Millions will live
    forever on earth as God’s original purpose and promise are fulfilled. (Matt.
    5:5, Matt. 6:9, 10; Isa. 11:6-11; Isa. 65:18-26; 2 Peter 3:7-13; Hebrews 2:5)

  • Danny Haszard

    The trinity dogma and the proper spelling and pronunciation of God’s name YHWH is an enigma that serves well as a red-herring distraction for the Jehovah’s Witnesses proselytizers.
    Endless trinity debates by the Jehovah’s Witnesses apologist is to complicate reader discovery of the Watchtower’s real purpose of having come into existence [ to proclaim Jesus return 1914 ]
    Several other religions beside the JW teach that the trinity doctrine predates Christianity.Moreover,the Watchtower’s stereotypical “three headed deity” is not same the version of the trinity faiths.Personally I believe Jesus is subordinate to God the father.-Danny Haszard

    • nickbatchelor

      Do you believe Jesus had a God?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X