Saturday, September 19, 2015

On the Witness Stand

I promise to share the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God!

The Watchtower society is active in our little town.  Jehovah’s Witnesses periodically come around to share their faith by reading a few Scripture verses and offering their literature.  I admire the effort.  Door-to-door evangelization is not easy when most people do not want to be bothered by religious zealots. 

A few weeks ago, I arrived home to find a strange car parked near my driveway.  Soon the front doorbell rang and a well-dressed man holding a bible asked if I had a few minutes for him to share some Scripture with me.  I smiled and said, “Certainly!”  One of the verses he read was 1 Corinthians 1:10 where Paul expresses concern over divisions that have arisen in the Church.

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.  (1 Cor 1:10, RSVCE)  

His New World Translation altered the text somewhat, but the message was the same.    I thought it funny that he would choose that particular verse since we Catholics sometime use it to lament the many Protestant denominations that have separated themselves from the true Church, and I told him so.   Realizing I was Catholic, he mentioned the word Purgatory, saying it was nowhere to be found in the Bible.  I said it was implied and a conversation ensued.

After about thirty minutes of spirited, but friendly discussion, during which my open front door allowed numerous flies to enter the house, I asked if he would like to continue our talk sometime.  He said, “If you have the truth, I would like to hear it,” and we agreed to meet at my house the following Wednesday at 10:30 AM.  We exchanged contact information, and he went on his way. 

I am not so naïve to think he was really interested in learning about Catholicism.  Undoubtedly he still viewed me as a potential convert.  After all, a great percentage of Jehovah’s Witnesses are purportedly former Catholics.  Being firm in my Faith, I had no qualms about meeting with him again.

The following Wednesday, he brought another woman with him.  This time, I tried to make them comfortable by inviting them into my living room.  The gentleman (I’ll call him Rik) did most of the talking, asking me to read certain Scripture passages.  His selection had me a bit puzzled, as I could not figure out what point he was trying to make.  I was able to share a few Catholic viewpoints, but it was becoming obvious to me that I needed to develop a better understanding of Jehovah's Witness beliefs.

We agreed to meet a third time, allowing me a chance to do some research.  I found Trent Horn’s guest appearance on Catholic Answers Live (August 3,2015) where he discussed the faith of the Witnesses.  I listened to the podcast several times, and also ordered his booklet, Twenty Answers, that was advertised on the program.  Another invaluable resource is Jason Evert’s book, Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses, which I purchased and read cover to cover.  

So many of the JW beliefs are foreign to mainline Christianity.  While apologetic discussions with our Protestant brothers and sisters can be trying, we at least share a certain commonality in our Trinitarian understanding of Christ’s divinity.  Not so with the Jehovahs.  They believe Jesus Christ is actually Michael the Archangel,.  They believe only 144,000 can be in heaven, the rest of us will live in a paradise here on earth.  They also try to use Scripture as evidence for their beliefs.  Now, one would think it should be easy for a good Catholic to refute these claims, and it is, but doing so is complicated when arguing against a skewed interpretation taken from an already skewed New World Translation.

As in most apologetic discussions, the question boils down to authority.  Unlike some of our Protestant brothers and sisters, the Jehovahs at least agree on the necessity of an authority.  Theirs is the Watchtower Society, founded around 1872 by Charles Taze Russel, while ours is the Magisterial authority of the Pope in union with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, founded around 33 AD by Jesus Christ.  Here is where much discussion time must be spent.

To date, we have met five times, with session six scheduled for next week.  The past three weeks have been with Rik and another JW gentleman on one side of the dining room table, and Donna, a knowledgeable Catholic partner I recruited to assist me, on my side.  We typically have coffee and donuts while talking about our differing beliefs.  Coincidentally, Donna knew Rik’s family some fifty years ago when they lived next door to each another.  This has helped make the conversation more personable.  We are all becoming friends and the talks are always respectful, enjoyable, and stimulating.  We all claim to want the truth, wherever it takes us.

Now for my confession.   The first day, when I came home to see their car by my driveway, my initial reaction was to avoid them.  I drove past my house and turned down the next street.  After doing so, I felt guilty of missing an opportunity to evangelize.  I hurried around the block and pulled into my driveway so they would see me coming home.  It was only a few minutes later when the doorbell rang.  That initial contact has blossomed into an ongoing relationship. Where will this all lead?  Stay tuned!