Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Jehovah

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me an ornament he had made in the shape of the name of God. It must have been about eight inches long, three inches high and perhaps half an inch deep. The idea was that it should sit on the mantle piece ready for when Jehovah’s Witnesses visit in the hope that it would be the first thing they would spot on entering our sitting room. What a conversation starter! How could they now claim that we do not know or use “the Name”? Well, it worked – after a fashion.

The Witnesses calling on me that summer were charming people and we got along just fine. One of them was intrigued by the name of God sitting above the fire, and we discussed its origins and purpose. I explained that it served as a reminder of the God we serve and as a witness to the fact that we know Him by name. His wonder at the idea that I, a “born-again” Christian, should both know and use the name of God turned to astonishment when, saying that I knew how precious it might be to him, I made him a gift of the Name. This was outside his experience and understanding. A Christian familiar with the name of God? A Christian sensitive enough to know the value of that name to a JW, and generous enough to make a gift of the Name?

I say that it worked after a fashion. What do I mean by that? There is a story told to Jehovah’s Witnesses that tells of the ignorance of Christians regarding the name of God and involving a conspiracy by the church to eradicate “the Name”. While I made my friend wonder at what he had seen and heard, I don’t think I changed his mind regarding the ignorance of Christians or the conspiracy of the church. Since such teaching comes from Headquarters, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, it must be true. Perhaps he thought my efforts at witnessing were all part of the deception. There is no talking to a conspiracy theorist, that much is certain.
Ignorant Christians

On another occassion two Witnesses visited my home with a similar picture of Christians being ignorant of the name of God. I invited them to call on all the Christian friends in my address book (the great majority of whom have nothing to do with Reachout) and ask them if they know the Name. I assured them that my friends did know. They declined my offer declaring that “on the doorstep” they had met Christians who, when told of the name of God, had expressed astonishment at this new knowledge. Ipso facto Christians do not know, much less use the name of God.

Now there are two things to say in response to these claims. First, Jehovah’s Witnesses, of all people, should know that many claim to be Christians, C of E, “Going to the church down the road”, just to get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Anyone who knocks doors as part of their witnessing will know this. I came across it as a Mormon, and I have come across it as a Christian knocking doors (Yes Mr Witness, Christians do knock doors). I can only assume that they take these doorstep confessions of Christian faith at face value because it suits them to come across “Christians” who confirm their deepest suspicions.

Ignorance is no Excuse

The second point concerns another story (I do apologise but as you get older you do tend to accumulate these experiences). Many years ago I worked knocking doors for an insurance company. At one door I was invited in by a man who told me that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and who explained to me that, on the strength of his faith, he wasn’t interested in insurance beyond that required by law. We fell into conversation and he seemed eager to witness to me – a Mormon. I will leave you to speculate about who would lead who into a ditch.

I reached into my pocket for a neat little notebook I carried. On two pages of this notebook I had listed key problems about the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I spoke of Beth Sarim, of the claims of Russell for his Studies in the Scriptures, of teachings based on the Great Pyramid, Miracle Wheat, etc. As I smugly related these facts I watched as his face registered horror. He looked at his wife who obviously was a more experienced Witness, and asked if all I had said was true. She confirmed everything and as I looked at his reaction I immediately regretted ever mentioning these things. He was about to go visiting and I had sent him out full of doubts, but with no hope. I had generated much heat, but had shown little light. Even now I cringe to think of how callous I was in my naivety and can only say that I have learned my lesson. This is no way to witness to anyone.

The point can still be made, however. Here was a Jehovah’s Witness who was ignorant of key historical facts from the brief history of his own movement. Does my experience of meeting such a man, who was otherwise obviously faithful in his witnessing, disprove the claims of the Witnesses? Of course it doesn’t. By the same token, the experience of a Jehovah’s Witness on the doorstep of even a genuine Christian who doesn’t know and understand all that they should, doesn’t prove the Witnesses’ claims to general ignorance among Christians. Indeed, I still maintain that Christians know and use the name of God much more routinely than Witnesses care to know or admit. I know because I go to a Christian Church and read Christian books. Sadly, the very evidence that would show this to be true is denied Witnesses, since they are forbidden to read such books or attend such churches.

I am bound to say that one lady who called on me with her daughter told me that when she was last in a Christian Church, before becoming a Witness, she heard no mention of the name of Jehovah. I asked her when she was last in a Church and she confessed that it was when she was thirteen. I don’t mean to be unkind but I am confident that, although I don’t know her age, I doubt if she will see fifty again. What has happened in those intervening years to colour her memory of Church? How often did she attend? How much attention did she pay? What does she remember and what does she imagine she remembers? On such doubtful testimony rests her conviction that Christians do not know the God they profess to serve.

Conspiracy in the Church

One Jehovah’s Witness I know was horrified when I suggested that the use of the word LORD in place of the name Jehovah was a convention and nothing more. He clearly felt that the name was too important to be reduced to a convention. I have some sympathy for his feelings. The name/s of God are crucial to our understanding of who He is and what is our relationship to Him. Why, then, do we not use it as Witnesses say we should, i.e. by pronouncing it each time we come across it? To read the rest of this article go to http://www.reachouttrust.org/articles/jw/jwname2.htm

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