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

 

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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.


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