My weekly discussions with the two Jehovah Witnesses have been going on for about four months now. We took a break between Christmas and the New Year, which gave me time to reflect on our progress. My Catholic friends sometimes ask me how the sessions are going, and I am never sure how to answer. Has there been progress? I think so, but I am not sure.
Obviously the Jehovah’s have been trained for these encounters, and although I have some experience in apologetics, I find myself inadequately prepared for discussion with someone so removed from what we would consider typical Protestantism. I had never previously needed to defend the divinity of Jesus or the Trinity or God’s kingdom. Common ground that we would normally inhabit with most non-Catholic Christians is sparse here.
The Witnesses keep coming back to the importance of the name of God, which they pronounce Jehovah. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “hallowed be thy Name” and they take it very literally. Because Catholics do not commonly say the name Jehovah, they believe we are not doing what Jesus commanded. They take biblical references to God’s name so literally that their New World Translation inserts Jehovah into the New Testament whenever the original author’s use of Lord refers to the Father.
Furthermore, they are quick to bring up the 2008 Vatican directive that Yahweh, the more common rendering of God’s name, should not be used during the Catholic liturgy. In the Hebrew tradition, which the early Christians adopted, the faithful avoided pronouncing the Name of God. The Vatican directive explains "as an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable.” In the eyes of the Witnesses, this is evidence the Catholic Church is rejecting what Jesus commanded us to do.
They also say that Catholics in times of war have killed other Christians with Church approval under the Just War theory, thereby disobeying what Jesus said in Matthew 5.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
The Witnesses cite John 13:35. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The fact that Catholics willfully join the military and participate in worldly conflict is a huge stumbling block for them. They view Christ’s complete submission to his persecutors as a precept for total pacifism, not even willing to resist Nazi genocide in World War II. Because the Church does not forbid Catholics from participating in a just war, the Church is not following the teaching of Jesus, evidence of apostasy in JW reasoning. Since the Witnesses are conscientious objectors, they believe they are the true disciples, and we are not.
While I do my best to defend the Catholic position, I can never be certain how much they are accepting. Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not very effective since they believe it runs counter to scripture. Obviously, they are resistant to letting me know whether I am getting through to them. Nevertheless, they do keep coming back even though I am quite sure by now they know any attempts to convert me will be futile.
We just met for the twentieth time yesterday when the topic turned to the Divinity of Jesus. For perhaps the first time, I feel like we began to make some Catholic progress. I was able to use their own New World Translation to show many common attributes shared by the Son and the Father. Other verses were even more explicit where Jesus expresses His Divine nature. The Witnesses tried to offer alternative interpretations, but their arguments seemed weak, even to them I think.
At the end of the session, one of the Witnesses who had been a recent addition to the group announced that he would not be back next week. I do not necessarily take that as a bad sign. Perhaps for the first time, a Catholic put a crack in his shell. I noticed he picked up the handouts I had provided and took them with him. In the meantime, we will keep meeting as long as they are willing.