It’s Saturday morning, and as you’re getting some cleaning done (and by “cleaning,” I mean binge-watching The Great British Baking Show on Netflix in your pajamas), you hear the dreaded knock on your door and peer out. Judging from their conservative clothes and the Watchtower magazines in hand, you quickly conclude you’re about to engage with some Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). You now have two choices: you can either ignore the knocking and pretend you aren’t home (but really, what kind of message does that send to your kids?), or you can answer the door. My hope is that after you’ve read our articles on the Jehovah’s Witnesses (here and here), you will feel confident enough to engage in a conversation with them, but we also want to give you a bit more help in case you aren’t quite there yet. I know it can be daunting!
Why are we preparing for this conversation?
Did you know that Jehovah’s Witnesses prepare to talk to you? It’s true! They have classes at their weekly meetings to help develop their communication skills, and there is also written and online information available to them about how to engage with people about their faith. They also read a book called Reasoning from the Scriptures, which gives them answers to potential challenges like, “We are already Christians here,” “I’m not interested,” or even, “I’m a Muslim.”1Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1985), 16-23.
Isn’t that wonderful? Don’t you wish you had practical lessons like that available at your own church? (Awesome if you do! If you don’t, Mama Bear’s got you covered!) Just think of this as the opportunity to be a missionary without having to leave your house! Moms are probably the busiest people on the planet, so we may not have time to quit everything and minister to a remote jungle tribe in Africa, but we can all be missionaries right where we are. As Hillary Short said in her Playground Apologetics series, “Wherever you are, that’s where God needs you!”
So, back to the JW classes…what do they learn at these classes? They are taught 1 Timothy 2:3-4, Acts 20:20, and 1 Peter 2:21 to encourage their members towards meaningful conversations with others about their beliefs. We should, too! Knowing that they are prepared before they knock on our doors tells us that we need to be prepared before we answer the door. It’s no fun getting steamrolled, overwhelmed, or tongue-tied.
One of the tips I found on the JW Website was that “Once the conversation has started, look for an opportunity to introduce the good news, but do not be in a hurry. Allow the conversation to develop naturally.”2“Improving Our Skills in the Ministry—Initiating a Conversation in Order to Witness Informally,” https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/202014241 (last accessed August 29, 2018). The first section of the JW book, Reasoning from the Scriptures, gives all sorts of recommendations for topics to talk about first, from the crime in your neighborhood to how we all want our children to be happy.3Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1985), 10-11. (Sounds like a great opportunity to get to know your JW neighbors!)
Jehovah’s Witnesses will ease themselves into the conversation by getting to know you. You should do the same thing! Just like Paul did in Acts 17, aim for common ground. Ask them how long they’ve been outside, and if it’s hot, offer them a glass of water. Take an interest in who they are. This will likely catch them off-guard since many times either no one answers the door or, if the door is answered, it’s quickly closed in their faces. Rude…don’t be that person.
So, what should you say when they start presenting their “Good News?” Nothing…at first. The first thing you should do is listen closely to what they have to say. Take note of any Scripture they cite. If it seems like the conversation is going somewhere, offer them a chair and sit with them. This is your opportunity to show them that not all Christians are hostile toward JWs. They may have never met someone like that. This is your chance to be the light. If they give you a copy of The Watchtower Magazine or Awake!, it would be gracious to accept it (but you don’t have to keep it forever).
The number one thing NOT to do
Once you’ve heard what they have to say, you may want to take a moment to think about how you will respond. One thing you should NOT do is tell them that they belong to a cult or that their worldview is built on heresies. They will leave faster than you can say “Charles Taze Russell.”Whatever you do, don't just blurt out that they belong to a cult or that their worldview is built on heresies. They'll leave faster than you can say 'Charles Taze Russell.' Click To Tweet
Not only will they leave, but your particular house will be basically “blacklisted” for the next several months or even years. While that might sound appealing to you, remember, we should not treat ministry like some people treat jury duty. This is not something we are trying to weasel out of (though I’m still not sure why some people don’t want to be on a jury!). Being a missionary to the people whom God has put in our lives is part of being a Christian! Your goal is for them to want to come back and talk further. Search your heart. If your goal is to “trigger” them so that they never want to come back, maybe talk to the Lord about that…
What SHOULD we do?
What I want to do here is give you some ideas about how to respond to a few of the key things they are likely to bring up. This way, you can practice a little beforehand, and you’ll be prepared when the conversation happens. (And, we’ll give you hints on things that will stop the conversation and get your house blacklisted, which again, is not the goal.)
This article really covers two different phases: the relationship-building stage and the established relationship stage.
Phase 1: JWs at your Front Door
During the first stage, you should be extra careful not to come on too strong or try to “evangelize” them too quickly. They won’t come back. Don’t start talking about the Trinity in your first conversation. My friend and former JW, Cynthia, said that the word “Trinity” actually signals something called “thought-stopping” for JWs, and they’ll just stop listening to everything you say. It triggers them to silence. It also might cause your house to be effectively “blacklisted,” which means they won’t be coming back to your house any time soon. (That’s not to say they will never come back, but it will most certainly be months or even years before they do.) That’s not what you want if you’re going to try to reach them. Instead, save topics like the Trinity and deity of Christ for later conversations, when you have an established relationship.Why is saying 'Trinity' not a good idea at the first meeting with a Jehovah's Witness? Click To Tweet
Cynthia said that one thing they are taught is that they are the teachers, so if the person they are talking with seems to be trying to teach them, they are likely to walk away from the conversation and not come back. In other words, tread lightly, go slowly, be patient, and be a student.
So, what should you talk about at your doorstep? Cynthia suggested that front-door topics be something that gets the JW thinking. Here’s why. Have you ever had a pebble in your shoe? It’s subtle, and it might not even bother you enough to take your shoe off to get it out at first, but eventually, you’ve had enough, and you need to get it out. Be the pebble in their shoe. For example:
• Ask them how they know that the Watch Tower Society teaches the truth. Ask them what steps they took to determine if the Watch Tower Society was telling the truth. Listen to what they say. They likely have not done any independent research into their own religion. This isn’t a question designed to trap them, but a question to get them thinking about why they believe what they believe, which I think all believers of anything should do.
• You could also ask them what it means to call their organization “the truth.” You could then ask them to read John 14:6 where Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Ask them what they think this verse means. If Jesus is truth, how could an organization created by a man (Charles Taze Russell) be truth?
• Ask them when their church was founded. Ask them if God was without a witness before the start of their church because they claim that they are the only true witnesses of Jehovah. If He was without a witness for thousands of years, did God truly care for His people?
Front door conversations are likely going to be pretty short, so quick questions like the ones I mentioned above would be appropriate. Often, it is good to schedule a follow up meeting, which will give you time to research anything that they said that made you go “hmmm…” But, what about when you have known the JW for a long time?
Phase 2: The Established Relationship
Once you have an established relationship with a Jehovah’s Witness (I’m not talking about just a few conversations, but several), you can start to venture into deeper territory. (Remember, if you start addressing the deity of Jesus and the Trinity too soon, you will lose them, and they won’t come back, and our goal as missionaries isn’t to scare them off!)
Think of it this way: you normally don’t talk about religion and politics on the first (or even second or third) time meeting someone, do you? Why do you think those topics come up so regularly at Thanksgiving dinner, when the family all gets together? It’s because relationship and (ideally) mutual love and respect are common prerequisites for those types of conversations. Those kinds of conversations are like the “deep end” of a pool. You wouldn’t throw a child into the deep end if they have never learned how to swim, right? No, first, you give them floaties and let them wade in the shallow end. Then, you guide them into the deeper end of the pool, slowly and cautiously. As they begin to understand how swimming works and have a healthy respect for water, they gain more confidence and trust. Then, and only then, will they begin to swim on their own.
So, when you have a JW at your door, it’s like your opportunity to give them floaties. Take it slow. Once you trust each other and have a solid relationship, then you can begin to talk about the topics below. If you’re there, and you’re ready, well, shoot… let’s dive in and talk about Jesus!
Jesus. Remember, not all concepts of “Jesus” are created equal. Do not assume that when you say “Jesus” and when they say “Jesus,” you are referring to the same person.Remember, not all concepts of 'Jesus' are created equal. Do not assume that when you say 'Jesus' and when they say 'Jesus,' you are referring to the same person. Click To Tweet The JW version of Jesus is very different from that of mainstream Christianity. This is where clarifying terms can be helpful. Make sure you know who they are talking about. Ask questions. You may remember this from my previous articles, but keep in mind that they do not believe in the Trinity, and they do not believe that Jesus is God. When you ask questions, be prepared for answers like these:
• Jesus is just another created being (Michael the Archangel, to be more specific). Jehovah’s Witnesses might tell you that Jesus is not God. They may not directly come out and say that Jesus was Michael, so be prepared if they don’t. They will likely use Scripture to support their views (such as, Colossians 1:16 and John 14:28). Remember, JWs use their own version of the Bible, called the New World Translation. Be on the lookout for language that demotes Jesus from the Godhead. In my last article, we tackled Colossians 1:16, so I won’t address it here, but let’s talk about John 14:28. John 14:28 says, “the Father is greater than I,” something that makes JWs believe that Jesus is less than the Father. Don’t fall for this!
o Response: Ask them what they think the context is for Jesus making this statement. Ask them if you can read Philippians 2:2-6 together. In this passage, Jesus talks about how he took upon the form of a servant but was also in the form of God. See if they understand the implications (i.e., He was God, but He was serving). Ask them if you could also read Hebrews 2:9 together. This passage describes how Christ was made lower than the angels but now crowned with glory so that He could usher in God’s grace through His death and resurrection. Discuss the implications of Hebrews 2:9 (i.e., Jesus is God who became flesh so that He could serve us by dying on the cross and rising again). Both of these passages should help explain that Jesus, God the Son, is not lower than God but is God.
• Jesus only had “divine qualities” but was not himself divine. This is where it’s helpful to know what their Bible says (New World Translation or NWT) versus other Bible versions. Colossians 2:9 in the NWT says, “It is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily.” My Bible, which is the New American Standard, says, “For in Him all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form.” See how those two verses say something different? In the NWT, “divine quality” replaces the word “Deity.” The text has been changed in the NWT because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not want it to appear like Jesus is God, but that he simply had “godlike qualities.”4For an excellent and thorough discussion on this point, see Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009), 79-81.
• Jesus is only partially sufficient for salvation. According to JWs, salvation is only available through works and faith in Christ is not enough for salvation. They will agree that the Bible says eternal life is a gift from God through Jesus Christ (which is consistent with Ephesians 2:8-9). So how can it be both a free gift and based on works? It seems like they are speaking through two sides of their mouth. For JWs, salvation is a gift, but works are required, as well.
Ron Rhodes explains, “Bordering on playing semantics games, Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm that while good works do not earn salvation, they are nevertheless prerequisites for salvation.”5Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009), 283. One might think of it like applying for a scholarship. Applying for a scholarship doesn’t earn you a scholarship, but it is a prerequisite for the scholarship. The scholarship is a free gift, but to receive it, one must do certain things to become eligible.
o Response: First, ask them what they believe. Tell them that almost 200 times in the New Testament, salvation is given through faith alone.6Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009), 293. You could share Acts 16:31, John 11:25, Titus 3:5, and Galatians 2:16. After reading these verses with them, ask them if this sounds like what they know about salvation.
o Response #2: Ask them if they know the difference between salvation and sanctification? Let them know that you believe that good works are a part of who we are as Christians, but that those works are not required for salvation. Rather, these works are part of sanctification, where we are made increasingly into God’s likeness. Yes, we should do good works because we are followers of Christ, but faith alone is what saves us. Our good works are an outpouring of who we are in Christ.
The Trinity. We talked extensively about what Christians believe about the Trinity here, and we briefly covered what JWs believe here. For this topic, it’s particularly important that you study up because Jehovah’s Witnesses are thoroughly trained on how to respond to this issue. Be warned, though—this topic can be exceptionally tough because it is something that is difficult to explain, even for Christians. When we covered the Trinity in our article about Christianity, I wrote about all of the dangers of our attempts to illustrate the Trinity with analogies (which typically lead to heresies like modalism, which is what Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to think all Christians succumb to when teaching about the Trinity). In other words, you’ll want to be careful when tackling this tricky issue. And again, do not bring this up until you have sufficiently established a trusting relationship!
• The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. This one is a pretty common argument against the Trinity by Jehovah’s Witnesses. While this is technically true (the word is never mentioned), the concept of the trinity is well established, as we’ll explain below. The JW might bolster their argument by also noting that the word “Trinity” was developed gradually over centuries and first fully revealed in the 4th Century, and they’ll use the New Encyclopedia Britannica and other sources to support their claims.7Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1985), 405.
o Response: If we are ignoring things that aren’t explicitly stated in the Bible, you can respond by mentioning that the word “Jehovah” is not in the original text, either. In fact, it doesn’t appear till the 16th century. It’s a made-up word because scribes were careful to never speak the name of the Lord. To prevent the accidental saying of God’s name (Yahweh – which looked like YHWH) out loud, they added the vowels from Adonai in between the consonants of Yahweh, and…well, just watch this short little video. It’s probably easier to watch it rather than to have me try to explain it here.
Ask your JW friend if they know that the Encyclopedia also states that Jehovah is a made-up word. Citing the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, the Encyclopedia says, “[The word Jehovah] is erroneous, since it took the vowels of adonai (‘my lord’) which were inserted into printed or written texts to prevent any attempt to pronounce the name of God.”
• The Trinity is pagan. Jehovah’s Witnesses might also tell you that the Trinity is a pagan concept.
o Response: It’s important to point out to them that the pagans were polytheists not monotheists, which means that they believed in several distinct gods.8Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009), 222. Clarify that Christians believe in one God with three persons.
o Counter-Objection: They will probably tell you, “That’s confusing, and God would not want to confuse anyone.”
o Counter-Response #1: It is always preferred to use the JW’s own material to answer their objections. So, in this case, cite the Watch Tower Society’s material. According to Reasoning from the Scriptures, the incomprehensibility of God’s eternal nature is defended by saying “Our minds cannot fully comprehend it. But that is not sound reason for rejecting it” (emphasis added).9Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1985), 148. Ask them why the same logic shouldn’t be applied to the incomprehensibility of the Trinity? (You can further cite to Romans 11:33, Isaiah 55:8-9, and 1 Corinthians 13:12, which allude to the fact that we won’t understand everything all the time.)
o Counter-Response #2: Ask them if we can reasonably expect to understand everything about God? If they say anything remotely close to a “yes,” again cite from Reasoning from the Scriptures: “Should we really expect to understand everything about a Person who is so great that He could bring into existence the universe, with all its intricate design and stupendous size?”10Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1985), 149. According to their own material, we should not expect to understand all the ways of God, and not understanding something is not grounds for rejecting it.
Eschatology. JWs believe that only 144,000 people get to Heaven (the “anointed class” or “little flock”), and that those people were already determined by 1935.11“Have No Fear, Little Flock,” https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1995124#h=1:0-12:1082 (last accessed Sept. 30, 2018). This is also a bit more complex than it seems. In 2007, the Watch Tower Society issued a response to a reader, noting, “As time has gone by, some Christians baptized after 1935 have had witness borne to them that they have the heavenly hope. (Romans 8:16, 17) Thus, it appears that we cannot set a specific date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends.” [https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/w20070501/Questions-From-Readers/] In other words, even though many in the church still hold to the 1935 cutoff date, there is an opening for others to be added to the “little flock.” Any other true believer (a JW) is part of the “great multitude” or “other flock,” and will live in earthly paradise for all of eternity.
• The “anointed class” is limited to 144,000. When you talk about the anointed class, ask the Jehovah’s Witness if there is anywhere in the Bible where Heaven is explicitly limited to just 144,000. They will likely respond with Revelation 7 and 14 (which both talk about 144,000 people), but they won’t be able to show you a verse that specifically limits those who go to heaven to just 144,000.
o Response #1: You could also read 1 John 5:1 to them, which says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” The word “everyone” would seem to include not just 144,000. Other verses that talk about all who believe (not just the 144,000) include Ephesians 2:19, Galatians 3:29, James 2:5, and John 12:26.
o Response #2: Another interesting question you could ask is whether the anointed class (the 144,000) includes women. They will likely say yes, but then point out that Revelation 14:4 clearly states that the 144,000 are “men who have not been defiled by women.” That seems to indicate that women are not included in the 144,000 mentioned in Scripture.
o Response #3: Ask them to read John 10:16. Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” (Here, Jesus is referring to the Gentiles that he is going to bring into the fold.) He continues, “They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” If we are one flock with one shepherd, why would we be divided in eternity?
New Light. New light is how Jehovah’s Witnesses explain changes in the Watch Tower Society’s views…claiming that the “light gets brighter” in order to justify the changes. There’s a pretty good explanation of it in this 16-minute video from Witness for Jesus, an organization created to help JWs and former-JWs think more deeply about the Bible.
o Response: Ask the JWs at your door about John 8:12, which says, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’” Ask them how an organization can claim to have new light when Jesus is the light of the world. Truth doesn’t change.
So, what’s the bottom line?
If you choose to open the door when Jehovah’s Witnesses knock, here’s your list of priorities:
1. Be kind. JWs are taught that Christians are hostile towards them and they interpret rudeness or hostility as proof that they are being persecuted for God. Find common ground, and don’t degrade or belittle them. Instead, find a way to share the truth with them with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
2. Be prepared. Keep any Watchtower or Reasoning from the Scriptures material available and highlighted for easy finding. In fact, why not have a copy of this article on a shelf next to the door, just in case? Understand a bit of their church’s history, as well as the basics of their beliefs. Even if you are using this knowledge to ask questions, it’s wise to know where they are coming from.
3. Be patient. Don’t aim for a full expose on JW heresy on the first visit. The goal is a second visit! Do not expect that every conversation you have will result in a conversion, either. My friend, Chris, once told me that we’re aiming to plant seeds, not weeds. What you say may have an impact, but you may not see it come to fruition during your time with them. That’s why it’s essential that you’re prepared to engage in a fruitful dialogue instead of a judgmental diatribe. You may only get one shot to plant a seed, and you really don’t want to miss out on that opportunity.
For further reading, I definitely recommend Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses by Ron Rhodes (there’s a revised 2009 edition available). It’s a thorough book that walks through the key theological issues that may come up in your conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s also accessible in the sense that you don’t have to have a theology degree to understand it.
You may also want to read the Watch Tower Society’s book, Reasoning from the Scriptures, to get a better idea of how Jehovah’s Witnesses prepare to engage in conversations and what they are taught. There is also detailed information about their beliefs on their Website at www.JW.org.
Thank you to former Jehovah’s Witness, Cynthia Velasco Hampton, for reading my JW articles to ensure that what they contained was accurate. Your insight has been invaluable.
Lindsey Medenwaldt is our resident Mama Bear expert in world religions. She is a perpetual student and a bonafide nerd (but the good kind), and she is known for having once gotten a law degree for fun. Currently, she’s the only female in the Denver Seminary apologetics program. She’s been married to another apologist, Jay, for 11 years, and they have three beautiful daughters.