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Jehovah's Witnesses

Major practices of the Watchtower Society (WTS)

Group Practices:

bulletDuring the year 2000, 6 million Jehovah's Witnesses spent 1.1 billion hours in various evangelistic activities in 235 countries, including the distribution of over 700 million pieces of printed material, and thousands of audio and video cassettes. 1
 
bullet

According to the Winnipeg Free Press in 2003-AUG:

"One of the magazines they give away is The Watchtower, the church's official publication. With a print run of 43 million copies of every issue, it is the most widely-circulated magazine in the world. What also makes The Watchtower unique is that it is published in 190 languages and distributed in 237 countries -- something no other publication can likely match." 4


bullet They recognize only one day of celebration: the Memorial of Christ's Death at the time of Passover. Although they estimate that Jesus was born sometime during October, his birthday is not celebrated. Members who are found celebrating "worldly" or "Pagan" holidays, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Canada Day, Halloween, etc.) may be disfellowshipped.
 
bullet Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate their own birthdays, because it is considered a glorification of the individual rather than of the Creator.
 
bullet Certain practices are forbidden. Examples are: the use of images during worship, cooperating with non-Witnesses in interfaith movements, involvement with spiritism, and all sexual activities other than those between a wife and husband.
 
bullet They do not have a Sabbath; they regard all days as holy. Their congregations hold five meetings each week:

bulletPublic Talk usually each Sunday, when an Elder (or rarely a Ministerial Servant) will deliver a talk about a specific topic.
 
bulletWatchtower Study usually follows the public talk; it is a lesson based on a study article in the current Watchtower magazine.
 
bulletTheocratic Ministry School usually occurs on a weekday evening. Speakers practice giving talks and witnessing.
 
bulletService Meeting usually follows the Theocratic Ministry School. This includes training for various ministry activities. At times, elders will address specific items and concerns for the congregation.
 
bullet Congregation Bible Study (formerly called the Book Study) is held together with the theocratic ministry school and service meeting. A portion of a Watchtower publication is studied in depth.
 

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bullet There is a great deal of misinformation about limitations on members' access to the Bible. In reality, they are free to use any Bible translations, commentaries, dictionaries etc. that are produced by non-Watchtower publishers. They are encouraged to read the Bible. Each Witness is given a goal of reading of the entire Bible in one year. They encourage Bible study, particularly the WTS' own English version, the New World Translation. They encourage the use of WTS publications as study guides.
 
bullet They refer to the first part of the Bible as the "Hebrew Scriptures" rather than the "Old Testament" as is common among other Christians. They refer to the second part -- Matthew to Revelation -- as the "Greek Scriptures", rather than the "New Testament" or "Christian Scriptures." Like most Protestants, they regard the books of the Apocrypha to be interesting historical documents, but not inspired scriptures. 3
 
bullet They only observe two sacraments:

bullet Baptism: this is done by full immersion of an believer who has reached the age of responsibility, has accepted the faith, has repented of their sins, and has dedicated their life to God.
 
bullet Lord's Supper: this is done once a year at the Memorial of Christ's death. This is held on a date close to the Jewish Passover celebration. Only the approximately 8,600 Jehovah's Witnesses who are part of the 144,000 Anointed Class actually partake in the meal; the general membership (formerly called the Jonadab Class and now called the Great Crowd) are present and observe.
 
bullet They regard the world and its governments as currently being under the control of Satan. For this reason they do not run for public office, salute the flag, join the Armed Forces, or vote in elections. However, they do obey all government laws, unless those laws conflict with their interpretation of God's laws.
 
bullet They are taught to be absolutely free of racism and xenophobia. The WTS has consistently and strongly promoted a lack of bigotry based on race and national origin. However, this Kingdom Halls in some localities appear to have deviated from this policy in the past, particularly decades ago in the Southern U.S. where bias towards African-Americans was common. 2
 
bullet Like many conservative faith groups, the Jehovah's Witnesses is a heavily sexist organization. Women are excluded from all positions of authority, except the teaching of other women who are recent converts. The leaders of each local congregation, the elders, are all men. 3
 
bullet Also in common with other conservative faith groups, members are taught that men and women are to hold different roles within the family. They teach a complete separation of responsibilities and duties by gender. The husband is expected to play the leadership role; wives are expected to be submissive to their husband. They regard these policies as biblical, and thus positive and necessary.
 
bullet They are dedicated to the principle of religious freedom and have pursued dozens of cases of religious discrimination and persecution in the United States Supreme Court and through the court systems of other countries. In doing so, they have made it easier for their own group to proselytize, and have contributed greatly to religious freedom for persons of all faiths, and of none.
 

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A variety of methods of enforcing membership discipline are used:

  • Members may be reproved in private during a meeting with the elders. A public announcement may be later made to the congregation that they had been reproved and found to be repentant.

  • Members who are found guilty of serious violations of teachings and practices, and who refuse to repent can be disfellowshipped. Fellow members are then required to shun him/her completely, having no contact. If the disfellowshipped person is a family member, the group's official position is that they are to be treated normally within the family. However, they are made to understand that their actions are disapproved of. There is no discussion about WTS matters in their presence. However, there are many reports stating that many families do not follow the official policy and totally shun the disfellowshipped member. 

    Disfellowshipping does not affect the relationship between the individual and God. Witnesses understand that sometimes humans make errors and disfellowship a member in error. However, sinful behavior can adversely affect members' relationship with God.

According to The Center for Investigative Reporting, among activities that are not allowed and which could result in disfellowshipping are:

"... smoking, stealing, gambling, violence, gluttony, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness, drug use, voting [at government elections], military service, acceptance of blood transfusions, birthday or holiday celebrations, speech against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, and all sex except that between married heterosexual couples. 5

Disfellowshipped members are forbidden to attend Bible study meetings of the congregation or to preach door-to-door for the congregation. They may attend other meetings, but are required to sit at the back of the room.

Disfellowshipping can have a devastating effect on a person whose entire religious, family and social support systems are grounded in the Society. In rare instances, it has led to profound depression and even suicide. However, the goals of disfellowshipping are often reached when the errant member repents and is reinstated back into the congregation.

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How you got here:

Home page > Christianity > Denominations >  Witnesses > here

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Watchtower, 2001-APR-1, Page 3.
  2. "African American Issues" describes, from a black perspective, the Jehovah's Witnesses' attitude towards race. See: http://www.freeminds.org/
  3. Kelly Saivo, "The Truth of Jehovah's Witnesses," Gilroy Dispatch, 2006-SEP-23, at: http://www.gilroydispatch.com/
  4. John Longhurst, "Witnesses explore new way of witnessing," Winnipeg Free Press, 2013-AUG-24, at: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/
  5. Trey Bundy, "Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child sex abuse and oust a victim," The Center for Investigative Reporting, 2015-JUL-30, at: https://www.revealnews.org/

Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written on: 1996-SEP-29

Last updated on: 2015-JUL-31
Author: B.A. Robinson
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