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Think About Eternity - Watchtower Tightens Reins

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Watchtower Tightens Reins

Timothy Oliver

An important dynamic of every cult is the constrictive contol its leadership exercises over the mental, social and spiritual environment of its members. To one degree or another members are always discouraged from contact with people, activities or literature resources originating outside the cult, from which they might learn anything challenging to the claims of the cult or its leaders.

Since a Jehovah's Witness cannot publish the news of Jehovah's Kingdom without meeting non-members, it is essential that the nature of those encounters be controlled as tightly as possible. For most of their history, Watchtower members' "Bible studies" with outsiders have been limited to examination of Watchtower published books, with some references to "proof-texts" in the scriptures. Now it appears that even the number of Watchtower books approved for such discussions is being reduced to just one.

New Book, New Policy

In 1995 the Watchtower published a new book, Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life. This book is intended to teach a new contact everything necessary to know to be baptized into the Watchtower In an article published in The Watchtower, 15 January 1996, members were told: "The Knowledge book was written with the objective of helping a person to answer all the questions that the elders review with unbaptized persons desiring to get baptized as Jehovah's Witnesses" (p. 14).

Describing the book, the article states, "The book presents Scriptural truths in an upbuilding way. It does not dwell on false doctrines" (p. 14). By criticizing the doctrines of other churches less, Jehovah's Witnesses will acquire a more friendly image. This new "positive" approach will be disarming to "Bible students" from other churches who are studying with Jehovah's Witnesses, as they are presented with fewer direct challenges to their own beliefs. The unthinking will accept the Watchtower more easily and quickly.

New Controls

The same Watchtower article instructs members that unless already "well along in studying another book," their studies with "Bible students" should be "switched to the Knowledge book" (p. 14). By focusing on the Knowledge book Jehovah's Witnesses will have less exposure themselves, during their training studies as well as their witnessing opportunities, to the thoughts and ideas of other Christians.

They are also discouraged from entering into new studies using other Watchtower books:

"After completing this new publication, it is not suggested that a study be conducted with the same student in a second book. Those who embrace the truth can round out their knowledge by attending meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses as well as by reading the Bible and various Christian [read: Watchtower] publications on their own" (p. 14; emphasis added).

This arrangement will shorten considerably the time frames in which a "Bible student" must make a decision about the Watchtower, and in which a Watchtower member may engage in any meaningful theological exchange with persons not already committed to the Watchtower.

"Bible students" will be under significant pressure to make hasty decisions on the basis of carefully screened information. Those unwilling to make such decisions so quickly probably have questions and ideas which organization leaders deem would be best not encountered by the member. End of discussion.

Damage Control

Of course there must be justification for terminating contacts with persons who, although unwilling to be baptized or join a Watchtower congregation, still profess willingness to study futher. And so the Watchtower article asks, "Is it possible for honesthearted ones to come to the point of baptism more quickly?" Their answer is clear: "...those 'rightly disposed for everlasting life' should be able to learn enough through a study of it [the Knowlege book] to make a dedication to Jehovah and get baptized" (pp. 13-14; emphasis added).

Both the question and answer imply moral judgement and condemnation of any who decline joining the Watchtower after studying the Knowledge book. By attaching such stigma to them, the Jehovah's Witness can feel in his heart that the outsider really doesn't deserve further help or instruction, whatever his questions. Contact can then be terminated with a clear conscience.

Undoubtedly, Watchtower leaders and members would all protest innocence of any charge that they planned or were even aware of these manipulative effects. While it may be tempting to question the motivation of at least the framers of the new policy, their personal culpability is between them and Jehovah, and is not the subject or point of this article.

Godly Control?

The fact remains that the Watchtower's new policy for use of the Knowledge book will produce exactly the effects described above. Righthearted ones may well ask, "Does Jehovah God really work in this way? Are they truly divine purposes which are being served here? Can an organization that must work in this manner really be Jehovah's 'sole channel of truth?'"

This article originally published by Watchman Fellowship. Used by permission.

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