On Sunday September 6th, 2009 I attended the worship service of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I again dressed into a suit and tie, and walked into their Kingdom Hall.
Immediately upon entering the building I found it surprising that everyone was walking upstairs. I later asked why the chapel was upstairs, and if there was any special meaning to it. I was told it was just how the building was built. But, upon walking up the stairs, I saw a meeting hall that reminded me of going to the movie theater, without the stadium seating. The chapel had rows and rows of movie theater seats, and even a concession stand of a sort, except at this "concession stand" they served Bibles, or hymn books, or whatever else you may need for worship (at no cost).
When I first walked in the Kingdom Hall I stood around looking at the place for a bit, until someone eventually came up to me and said hello. I told them that I had a friend who was a Jehovah’s Witness and I had read their book titled, “What the Bible Really Says”, and I wanted to check out a Kingdom Hall meeting. All of which I said was true. Having read their book, I decided to come up with some questions ahead of time, which I will discuss more later.
The man I talked to walked with me to the Kingdom Hall concession stand, where I was given a Bible to keep, as well as a hymn book and a Watch Tower magazine: Sunday School Edition. I talked with the man a little more, small chit chat really, and then sat down in the movie theater style seat.The chapel was blank except some plants upfront, and some framed Bible scripture quotes in English and Spanish.
The service started with a song, in which there was no piano or organ, but music was played over the chapel speakers in which we sang with. I sang the song, and had no qualms about doing so. Then a prayer was given, which started with, “Our Heavenly Father Jehovah”. The prayer was very similar to any mainstream Christian prayer, minus the words above.
I then learned that speakers from different congregations would travel to other Kingdom Halls to give talks, as well as speaking within their own congregation. Today we had a member from another congregation giving a talk, which was quite interesting. The talk was about Jesus and how he was able to actually atone for our sins. The speaker an elderly gentleman told that God Jehovah through Jesus’ loins could have created a second human race. That this second human race would be born without original sin, and therefore be perfect. That through Jesus’ loins, God Jehovah had a replacement for every single one of us. Since Jesus died for us, and each replacement died with him, Jesus was able to atone for our sins. This was accomplished through the death of our substitutes, in the loins of Jesus when he died, as a one-for-one trade off. The talk went on for about 30 minutes, and although I understood every point he was trying to make, I was rather confused on how he came to these conclusions. I decided when the time was right I was going to ask someone if Jesus atoned for us through his loins. When the speaker finished, we then sang another hymn with the music that played over the speakers.
Next was Sunday School. We never left the room and we sat in the same seats. The course of study was the Watch Tower: Sunday School Edition. The class was taught by a well-dress man. He had an assistant, another man, helping him to read out of the Watch Tower using a microphone. When the assistant finished, the teacher would then ask the pre-written questions from the magazine. People in the congregation would raise their hand and assistants with microphones would walk up and down the aisles, handing the microphone to those persons who then answered the question. All sorts of people answered the questions. I tried to keep track to see if everyone in the congregation would participate, and I would say that almost 90% of the people there answered, or commented at least once. Even two kids under 10 years old answered, but one of the kids said he forgot what he was going to say. The congregation laughed at his honesty.
The lesson was about, “Finding Treasures Carefully Concealed in Him” and was about putting forth effort to find the spiritual treasures offered to us, through Jesus Christ. None of the questions were that hard, or thought provoking really. The questions were more in the style of checking on learning and on what was just read. Some in the congregation did offer insights that elevated the conversation. What I found interesting was that I heard some answers that I know I’ve heard in my own church, such as, "Because we have the truth we have 'this,' or we understand 'this.' " This made me think about my own faith, and why we were saying some of the same answers, but coming to different conclusions.
After thinking about this similarity in answers, I came to the following conclusion, which is still a work in progress. I have no doubt of the personal revelations I have received concerning the truth of my faith, but in realizing this truth there are different means in which we can express our knowledge. The statement, "we have the truth" could be spoken out of pride, more than humility, and the motives behind such statements could be for the benefit of one’s self. I think we need to often bear our testimonies from a utilitarian perspective about how our faith motivates us to be better people, and why we our grateful for our faith.
The question and answer sessions gave me the opportunity to look at the congregation more. I saw a lot more diversity than I thought I would. For example, twenty percent of the 60 or so present appeared to be African Americans. There were not too many younger folk. Most of the people were in their 40’s or higher. There were some couples in their 20’s. One man had a white suit with a brightly colored shirt and tie. Conservative dress, evidently, was not a necessity.
After the meeting was over, I was told I could keep the Watchtower: Sunday School Edition. I was also given an Awake teen oriented magazine, and a standard Watchtower magazine. I then asked if there was anyone I could talk with, about some questions I had. Two elderly gentlemen talked with me. The two cornered me against a wall, not in a hostile manner, but it was not the most relaxed position for a visitor. I told them I had previously read their book, “What the Bible really Says," and I had some questions.
My first question was based on their belief that Michael the Archangel is Jesus Christ. I said, “Since Michael lived in Heaven and came to Earth as Jesus a man, does that mean we men today who now live on Earth, once lived in Heaven with Jehovah?” Their short answer was “No.” My second question was, “In the talk given today, the speaker talked about a replacement or second human race through Jesus’ loins being sacrificed with Jesus. Was Jesus able to atone for sin, because of his loins?” Again their answer was short and their answer was, “No, it was through his blood.” My next question was about the Watch Tower Society which creates the Kingdom Hall materials, “Is the Watch Tower Society today’s prophet?” I asked this question because a former Jehovah’s Witness told me that was true. Their answer was, “The Watch Tower Society is just a group of people who work for the organization, nothing more”.
The answers I received were short, but not angry sounding. It was interesting, during the question and answer session of Sunday School, a comment was made about their great ability to search the scriptures, and answer other Christian’s questions. But, when I asked my questions I got very little in the form of answers. It is perhaps understandable that they were not prepared to answer my questions.
The two gentlemen asked if I wanted to do a home Bible study with them. I said sure and gave them my phone number and told them where I lived. Weeks later after this visit, I never got a call to setup an appointment. The only thing I can think of as to why I might be getting the cold shoulder is my military haircut. I’m in the Army and that is a big NO in their faith. Maybe they could tell I was in the Army.
At the end of my questioning, the two gentlemen passed me off to another person. We had a very nice and long 20-minute conversation, in which I asked non-doctrinal questions.
I asked him, “How do you know which is the right church?” in which he replied, “By the love shown by its members. You can tell a true church of Jesus Christ by its love.”
I asked, “Is being a Jehovah’s Witness hard?” in which he answered, “No it’s liberating; it is freedom. We don’t have to worry about being pushed around in today’s storm of ideas. We have stability and that gives us the freedom needed to confront today’s problems.”
I then asked, “What is door knocking like?” He didn’t really answer my question, but said they go about knocking on peoples doors to show their love for them. What I really wanted to know was whether they get nervous, pushed around, or treated badly. The next congregation was about to start their meeting, and so we parted ways, with the promise that they would call me.
The following is not a complete representation of my thoughts and opinions on my visit, but it is the best I have for the moment. The people of this faith are sincere in their desire to be kind, helpful and loving. The faith very much reflects many of the underlining currents and issues in conservative Christianity today. Most Protestants would not group Jehovah Witnesses into their fold. However, both groups are focused on defending many of the same stereotypical Christian topics.
Like Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses are probably more misunderstood than understood by outsiders.