What Are Jehovah's Witnesses and What Are Their Beliefs?
Jehovah's Witnesses refer to their religion, which is a branch of Christianity, as 'the Truth'. There are roughly 8 million or more active Witnesses in the world today (according to the 2014 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses).
"Jehovah" refers to God, and they say that it is His name. Therefore, by being His "witnesses", members of this religion aim to convert others to their beliefs, by 'preaching' or 'witnessing' with various literature such as the handbook "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" and Watchtower magazines, and aiming to save as many people as possible from God's wrath at Armageddon.
This article is not condoning the religion nor criticising it; it is simply to provide a clear explanation of the religion itself. All attempts will be made to avoid offense or any sort of bias.
There are various "churches" (named 'kingdom halls') of the Jehovah's Witness faith; usually several per city, and one or two in smaller towns. Times and days of meeting have changed over the years, but typically there are:
- Meetings on a Sunday: either in the morning (around 10:00am to 12:00pm) and sometimes an afternoon meeting.
- A meeting on Thursday evenings: 7:00pm or 7:30pm to 9:00pm or 9:30pm.
- Smaller group meetings, usually hosted at a congregation elder's home on Tuesday nights for an hour (these were discontinued to encourage family bible studies at home).
A Sunday meeting starts with a song from the songs book, followed by an hour-long 'lecture' or 'talk' from an adult male member of the congregation, usually an elder. After another song, the second half of the meeting focuses on a Watchtower or Awake! magazine, where the congregation studies a chapter of the magazine, and asks questions related to each paragraph, encouraging members of the congregation, including the children, to volunteer to answer.
Thursday meetings have a similar layout, but often with short role-plays written and performed by female members of the congregation, who are chosen by the elders to work together. The role-play is generally related to a question a believer or non-believer might have, and the congregation member is to answer that question in her 'talk'.
The Jehovah's Witnesses also have a yearly memorial hosted in April at sunset, where friends and family members of frequent attendees are encouraged to attend. There is usually a large turnout to these memorials - according to the Yearbook, 19.2 million people attended in 2014. This memorial is an hour-long talk and the passing round of unlevened bread and wine, to think about Jesus' sacrifice for mankind.
There are also larger conventions hosted several times a year, some of which are two or three days long, hosted in places that can hold thousands of people such as the Manchester Evening News arena in England.
Similarities and Differences with other Christian faiths
Jehovah's Witnesses share a lot of "conventional" Christian beliefs (though I use this term loosely), such as the birth and death of Jesus Christ, Adam and Eve and the talking snake, Noah's Ark and Armageddon. There are a lot of differences with Christianity, however, some of which are listed below.
- Jesus is not God, but is God (Jehovah's) firstborn son, who aided him in the creation of Earth and died for our sins in 33AD.
- "Bad" people do not go to Hell when they die; instead there is simply nothing after death. They describe it as being asleep; no consciousness, no dreams and no suffering.
- Only the chosen go to heaven when they die, namely, 144,000 people who will rule over Earth alongside Jesus. Everyone else will live forever on a peaceful Paradise earth (similar to the Garden of Eden) after the evil die at Armageddon.
- Humans don't have 'souls' - initially, the soul and the body are the same thing.
Similar to Muslims avoiding alcohol and pork, and Hindus not eating beef, Jehovah's Witnesses will never take part in blood transfusions, even if it means life or death, and instead opt for organ transplants or similar procedures that don't include blood transfusion. They will also avoid foods containing blood such as black pudding.
A Jehovah's Witness website explained that "both the Old and New Testaments clearly command us to abstain from blood. (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10; Deuteronomy 12:23; Acts 15:28, 29) Also, God views blood as representing life. (Leviticus 17:14) So we avoid taking blood not only in obedience to God but also out of respect for him as the Giver of life."
Preaching and Praying
Jehovah's Witnesses are well-known for their preaching work - the act of going to different houses to talk about their faith and offer bible studies to interested people. Jehovah's Witnesses are encouraged from a very young age to do this as much as possible. Members of the religion who opt to do this full-time are called "pioneers".
Since the "bad" people of the earth and non-believers are said to die in Armageddon, the Witnesses are encouraged to "save" as many people as they can with the preaching work.
Jehovah's Witnesses pray before each meal and before they go to sleep, either alone or out loud in a group. A prayer is also said after the first and last song in the Sunday and Thursday meetings, and at the beginning and the end of the Tuesday group meetings (or any bible study).
Jesus and the Trinity
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem by the virgin Mary, and grew up pioneering for God until his sacrificial death. The Witnesses believe Jesus died on a stake, not a cross, and don't use the cross to coincide with their faith.
They believe that the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is God's spirit enabling people to put their trust in God; to pray to Him, and to receive help and comfort from Him. The Holy Spirit, Jesus and Jehovah (God) are all separate "things" or arguably "beings".
They are the basic beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses. If you have any questions about the faith, feel free to ask in the comments section below.