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Are Jehovah's Witnesses the Only True Religion?

Rethinking a crucial issue

By asking the question, "Are Jehovah's Witnesses the only true religion," we are not asking whether Jehovah's Witnesses practice a religion that is superior to others in many ways, or whether God looks with particular favor and approval on the members of this religion. We would not be Jehovah's Witnesses if we did not think this religion was better in some way. Nor are we inquiring whether there is no more truth in this religion than in others. We believe there is. We ask merely whether this religion (or religious organization) is the only one that God accepts as valid and whether his spirit works only through the Witness organization and not through others.

"It is only logical that there would be one true religion. This is in harmony with the fact that the true God is a God, 'not of disorder, but of peace.' (1 Corinthians 14:33) The Bible says that actually there is only 'one faith.' (Ephesians 4:5) Who, then, are the ones who form the body of true worshipers today? We do not hesitate to say that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses." (Live Forever, p. 190)

"This is the ONLY ORGANIZATION IN THE WORLD THAT IS LOYAL TO THE SOVEREIGN OF THE UNIVERSE." (July 15, 2006 Watchtower, p. 23)

At first thought, the claim of having exclusive divine approval may appear to be harmless—a source of pride in a wonderful faith and a means of encouragement and motivation to continue doing what is right. However, if it is not true, then it paints an inaccurate picture of Jehovah God. And this picture might be insulting to him, because it would show him to be more partial than he really is. So it is absolutely imperative that we be sure that this teaching is true, or else we might be defaming God by publishing it.

Jehovah's Witnesses may claim that they are the only religion favorable to God if it can be established biblically that it is impossible for more than one acceptable religion to exist, yes, even more than one acceptable denomination of Christianity to exist, and that no other religion presently existing qualifies as acceptable in God's eyes apart from theirs, and that God plans to punish those who are associated with other religious groups, even Christian ones.

In order to establish their claim as heading the only legitimate religion, the leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses often appeal to the scripture at Matthew 7:15-23, where Jesus asserts (in vs. 21) that not everyone calling him "Lord" will be saved. The implication made by the Watchtower is that when Jesus says, "not everyone," he means, "only one group," interpreting the scripture not merely on an individual level, but also on an organizational one.  However, the most we can say about this saying of Jesus is that there will be certain individuals who claim to follow him, but who are "workers of lawlessness." The emphasis is clearly on deeds, rather than on beliefs. Even if we were justified in interpreting this passage on an organizational level, it still does not say that there is only one true religious organization.

Also highlighted is the passage in vv. 15-20, where Jesus warns his disciples to be careful of false prophets and tells them that they will be able to identify false prophets by their "fruit." (It is common in the Bible for a person's deeds to be referred to as fruit.) The Watchtower interprets this passage on an organizational level as well. In other words, false prophets = false religious organizations. From this assumed first principle it can then be argued that true religion and false religions can be identified by their "fruits." If a religion bears any bad fruit, then it cannot be true and therefore is condemned by God. Even if this interpretation is justified, it must be noted that the scripture does not explicitly say that only one true religion ("prophet") can exist.

Nevertheless, using Matthew 7:15-20 as a springboard, the Witness literature often provides a list of identifying marks (fruits) of acceptable religion and shows how Jehovah’s Witnesses exhibit them all and other religions do not. The Bible, of course, does not give such a list. Rather, the Jehovah’s Witness leaders compiled the list themselves and then noted how their religion fits it. Out of thousands of scriptures that speak of proper attitude and behavior, a selection was made of what to include as “marks” of the true religion and what not. Sometimes the criteria are not explicitly stated in scripture. Let us look at the list more closely:

How to Identify the True Religion 

(from What Does the Bible Really Teach? [2005], pp. 145-151)

1. God's servants base their teachings on the Bible.

2. Those who practice the true religion worship only Jehovah and make his name known. 

3. God's people show genuine, unselfish love for one another.

4. True Christians accept Jesus as God's means of salvation.

5. True worshippers are no part of the world. 

6. Jesus true followers preach that God's kingdom is mankind's only hope.

The brevity of the list indicates the selectivity of the Witness teachers. Certainly the Bible speaks of many more matters that should be important to Christians. So these simply are the items that the Witness teachers feel are the most important. What is interesting is that the scriptures offered to establish these points do not say anything about their being "marks" of true Christianity, nor are they scriptural commands (with the possible exception of John 13:35 for #3), but merely are statements of truth that we are to assume should be taken as mandatory to Christianity. 

Also interesting is that almost any Christian denomination in the world would agree with all of these claims. The difference is in how they might interpret such statements. For example, many Christian denominations feel strongly that they follow the Bible. They merely interpret parts of it differently than the Witness teachers do. They also believe Christians in their group show genuine love for one another. The debate is about whether they do this correctly or not. They also believe strongly that Jesus is God's means of salvation, and that God's kingdom is mankind's only hope. They simply may believe something different about what that kingdom actually is. Thus we see that it is not the simple fact that other religions don't believe in following these stipulations, but rather that the Witness teachers claim others are not following them properly. So there would need to be considerable research and discussion before one could actually claim that no other Christian religions apart from Jehovah's Witnesses follow these stipulations. Almost all Christians believe in them.

Let us examine each of these items in turn to see how they are used to differentiate the Witnesses from other religious groups.

1. God's servants base their teachings on the Bible. The implication here is that only Jehovah's Witnesses' teachings are based on the Bible. Other religious groups may claim to follow the Bible, but they actually do not, because they interpret it wrongly. It is interesting to note that many other religious groups make the same sort of claims, i.e., that they, and only they, interpret the Bible correctly. Anyone who does not interpret the Bible correctly is not basing their teachings on it. This is an unfair assessment, since many who do interpret the Bible incorrectly are at least making an effort to base their teachings on it. This mark would more accurately be worded: God's servants have a proper understanding of the Bible. However, Jehovah's Witnesses would not measure up to such a standard, since they have had improper understandings of the Bible in times past and acknowledge the possibility that they may have improper understandings now.

2. Those who practice the true religion worship only Jehovah and make his name known. This may be the only one that immediately sets the Witnesses apart from others. In support of this claim, scriptures like Matthew 6:9 (“let your name be sanctified”) and Acts 15:14 (where the Christians were called “a people for [God’s] name”) are cited. Interestingly, most other Christians would accept that they believe in these scriptures and that they, in fact, help to make God's name known. But they realize that it doesn’t simply mean that true religion has God’s name in its title or that its members say “Jehovah” all the time. In the Bible, “name” is associated with “reputation” (Insight II, p. 468). It is God’s reputation that should be of concern to Christians. Jehovah's Witnesses do indeed uphold the reputation of God, but are they really the only ones in the world who do? The compilers of the list don’t seem to remember what sanctifying God’s name or carrying God’s name means and say that, if religions don’t actually verbalize God’s name on a regular basis, they can’t possibly be the true religion (and this is how they narrow the field down quite a bit). It is true that Jesus said to his Father, "I have made your name manifest" (John 17:6), but considering that nowhere in any extant Greek manuscript of the Christian Scriptures does Jesus use God's actual name (nor do any of the apostles), preferring instead to call God "Father," Jesus must have been using the word "name" in a less literal sense, probably as it is used in Eccl. 7:1, Proverbs 22:1, Heb. 1:4, etc.

3. God's people show genuine, unselfish love for one another. The Witness teachers highlight the fact that Jesus told his disciples to love one another, and use this as a standard to judge religious organizations. In particular, they highlight the fact that leaders of many other religions encourage participation in war, in which people of the same religion on opposite sides kill each other. We agree that this is a violation of the principle of love, but wish to point out 1) that there are several religious groups who are against war, and 2) that this principle is also manifested in other ways, in which the Witnesses themselves do not adequately measure up (see below). 

4. True Christians accept Jesus as God's means of salvation. We know of no single Christian group who doesn't meet this criterion.

5. True worshippers are no part of the world. The Witness teachers use John 18:36 to show that the true Christian organization will maintain strict political neutrality. The scripture doesn't say anything about political neutrality, but even if there was a scripture that said as much, there are religions other than Jehovah's Witnesses who stay out of politics. Considering that there are laws about the separation of Church and State in this country, it is difficult in this country for church organizations to involve themselves directly in politics. To be sure, the leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses insist on neutrality, not only for the organization, but for each and every individual member as well. But the strict neutrality they call for, which they claim is a "fruit" of true religion, is not commanded in Scripture.

6. Jesus' true followers preach that God's kingdom is mankind's only hope. The purpose of this mark is to weed out any religious groups who place any amount of hope in a human government. In other words, if a religious denomination gives words of support to any political authority, as if it can solve the world's problems, this is an affront to God's kingdom. Other religious groups do not believe this for two chief reasons: 1) the Bible says that the superior authorities are God's ministers (servants), and he uses them to accomplish good (Rom. 13:4), and 2) they see God's kingdom as something spiritual rather than as a literal government.

The difficulties associated both with the choice of, and the interpretation of, these stipulations are apparent. However, there is an even greater problem associated with this sort of exercise: What makes the Witness teachers think that these are criteria by which not simply to judge individual Christians, but entire religious organizations? The Bible says that people will be judged "individually according to their deeds" (Rev. 20:13). Nowhere is there a scripture that says that religious institutions will be judged according to their deeds and that everyone in a condemned organization will also be condemned. This, in fact, would not allow for individual judgment according to one's deeds, since membership in a false religious organization alone would be sufficient to merit the ultimate punishment. 

It needs to be highlighted that the very idea of separating religious organizations into true and false is not borne out in the scripture in Matthew 7:15-20. Jesus was speaking about false prophets, and a religion is not a prophet. For there to be a list of identifying marks of the true religion, there has to be such a thing as THE true religion. And we should find this idea in the Bible. This “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), as the Witnesses are taught, is not a whole religion per se, so much as a single religious organization. Therefore, “Christianity,” according to Witness teachers, cannot be considered the “one faith.” The "one faith" can be only one denomination of Christianity and no more. But from where do they get this idea? Is it in the Bible?

Finding evidence for such a position in the Bible is difficult, because the Bible never really speaks of “denominations” as we have them today. But it does occasionally speak of various institutions or groups within Israelite society or within the early Christian congregation that held different views about God (although agreeing with the larger brotherhood in the major issues). Ancient Israel was not homogeneous, nor was early Christianity. Archaeology and history are also of help to us, because it has been shown that early Christianity, even in the first century, had a diverse belief-system, and that the Israelites had a diverse belief-system too.

Within ancient Israel existed various organized groups, like the various priestly houses and the Sons of the Prophets guild. And God did not reveal himself through one group. In the Bible, we see him sometimes working through the kings (usually in the histories), sometimes through the priests (in the priestly law codes), and sometimes through the prophets (in the books of the prophets). These groups existed side by side in ancient Israel and, if matters were anything similar to the way they are described in the Dead Sea Scrolls, these groups didn’t always see eye to eye. Yet Israelites who had a “wrong” view of Jehovah, although criticized by some, are never condemned and shunned in the Bible. Only Israelites who began to serve other gods were condemned and punished with death, along with pagans who attempted to sway Israelites into serving other gods (Deut. 4:23-24; 7:1-5). So it is important here to make a differentiation between the Bible’s condemnation of polytheism and the condemnation of groups within the same religion who believed different things about their one God.

In Jesus’ time, we are aware of the Jewish groups called the Pharisees and Sadducees. There were many other groups as well, all with varying beliefs (cf. Luke 20:27). They existed for hundreds of years before the time of Jesus. If you lived in those days, let’s say 100 years before Jesus, when the Jews were still the chosen people, which group would you have belonged to? Was only one of those groups “chosen”? Or did God view the Jews all as one people?

The Bible also alludes to different beliefs in the Christian brotherhood. Paul talks about some in the congregation who had a different view of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:13). Notice that he is not speaking about them in the third person to the elders, but he is addressing them directly as members of the congregation. And when some were saying, “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Paul” (1 Cor. 3:3-4), they weren’t talking about apostles whose personality they liked better, as if they were in a fan club. They were talking about whose teachings they liked better. The idea of “belonging” points to adherence. There would be no point of differentiating between Apollos and Paul unless there were differences in what these men were saying. And yet, the apostles never say that only Paul’s people were the true Christians, or only Apollos’ people. Paul never calls for the disfellowshipping of the Apollos people, nor does he refer to them as apostates. Instead he urges the various groups to work together in unity as one body, despite their differences (1 Cor. 3:8-9; Eph. 4:1-3). Only “unbelievers” were condemned, i.e., those not believing in God and Christ.

This is not to say that no Israelites or Christians were ever condemned. But, if you take notice, they are condemned as individuals for disobedience, immoral acts, or for purposely deceiving people for dishonest gain. They are not condemned simply for being part of a different group of God-fearing Israelites or Christians. Can you find a single scripture that says otherwise?

But the leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses may insist that there are certain actions that today’s religions have taken that disqualify them as acceptable religions in God’s eyes. In fact, they might say that no other religious group that calls itself Christian is truly Christian anyway. They might point out the bloodguilt of certain churches and crimes they may have committed. They might also point out that these religious groups teach false doctrines or that they mistreat their members. Granted, the leaders of many religions, yes, even Christian ones, have done some very bad things. After looking at all the evidence, the Witness leaders say that every single other religion has done something to disqualify itself, and that, by a process of elimination, the Witnesses win! 

But are they jumping the gun? First of all, they have not really examined every single religion on the face of the earth, especially the smaller ones. Second, can religious organizations be condemned because of wrong interpretation of Scripture? The Bible never says that every sort of false teaching makes a religion automatically unacceptable. After all, the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses themselves even admit that in the past they have taught false doctrines. And, no doubt, if “the light gets brighter” as time goes on, some of the “truth” that they have today may end up being the error of tomorrow. So having a false doctrine does not make a church automatically false. What makes a teaching bad is if it encourages bad behavior or of it dishonors God in some way. Have not the Witness leaders also dishonored God in the past with some of their own teachings? Do they have the right to 'cast the first stone'?  

The Witnesses are certainly correct in pointing out that a number of religions do not honor Jesus' and his apostles' commands not to have leaders who become masters over the faith of others. Ironically, we feel that the leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses have also violated these commands, even more so than some other religions. (See "The Current Power Structure of the Organization.")

A scripture the Witnesses point to in order to show that God is collecting true Christians out of a host of false Christians is Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Indeed, if it can be established that “wheat” (true Christians) are now being separated from “weeds” (false Christians), a case could be made that only one denomination of Christianity is favored by God.

Jesus specifically says that the “harvest” of these wheat and weeds takes place at “the conclusion of the system of things.” When is this? The leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that this period began when Jesus began ruling in 1914. How do they know that the conclusion began then? It is only an assumption. They point out that the word for “conclusion” in Greek signifies a period of time rather than an instant of time, and so it could last a long time. That’s a valid point, but it still doesn’t tell us when the period begins. How long does the “conclusion” have to be?

The clue is in Matthew 13:41-42 and 49-50. The conclusion of the system is when the angels are sent out by Jesus to separate the wicked from the righteous and then destroy the wicked. This matches the scriptures at Matthew 24:31 and 25:31-32. There is no doubt about it: the conclusion of the system of things is the time when Jesus comes to judge the world after the great tribulation. It is hard to figure out why the brothers who lead the organization don’t see the connection between these scriptures.

So it is after the great tribulation that the separation of the wheat and the weeds takes place. And that would mean that the wheat and the weeds are still mixed together today and, as yet, too difficult to tell apart. Notice that in Matt. 13:28, the workers ask Jesus if they should do the separating then. Jesus tell them “No; that by no chance, while collecting the weeds, you uproot the wheat with them” (Matt. 13:29). It is clear that before the tribulation, no harvesting (separation) is permitted to take place. So we have to ask ourselves: Are Jehovah’s Witnesses being taught to violate this command? Or, at the very least, is the command being disrespected when the Witnesses are encouraged to make a separation between true and false Christians? (Keep in mind that, if Jesus and the angels aren’t ready to separate them, then the Witnesses are doing the separation without any divine help.)  

Only one item on the Jehovah's Witnesses' list of identifying marks is actually identified explicitly as a mark of discipleship in the Bible. Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves” (John 13:35). Ironically, Jehovah's Witnesses are taught not to follow this command in the way that Jesus meant it. Since the leaders have rejected all other Christians on this earth, calling them false Christians, the Witnesses think they only have to show this love among their own group. Do you see how, by redefining the word “Christian,” the Witness leaders can get away with this? It isn’t right, and it’s in direct disobedience of this command. It’s like a parent telling his or her children to love one another, and then one child tells another that he or she is not his “true” brother or sister, so he doesn’t have to show love to that one.

"The nations and churches of Christendom were not, and are not, Christian. They are not God’s servants. His inspired Word says of them: 'They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.'—Titus 1:16." (pr, section 4, p. 19).

But you might say that Jehovah’s Witnesses show love to everyone, including those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. Do they? Do they show love to other Christians when they deny their Christian character? Do they show love to other Christians when they withhold full and open friendship with them? Do they show other Christians love when they tell them that their heavenly Father rejects them and will not save them? Think about it: are Jehovah’s Witnesses encouraged to treat other Christians the same way as they treat fellow Witnesses? No. The love is of a lesser degree. They are therefore partial in their love.

"While, like Jesus, the Christian manifests love toward mankind in general, rightly he accords the kind of love that goes with friendship only to those who are friends of God [i.e., Jehovah's Witnesses]" (Insight, vol. 1, p. 872).

"We must also be on guard against extended association with worldly people [non-JW's]. Perhaps it is a neighbor, a school friend, a workmate, or a business associate. We may reason, ‘He respects the Witnesses, he leads a clean life, and we do talk about the truth occasionally.’ Yet, the experience of others proves that in time we may even find ourselves preferring such worldly company to that of a spiritual brother or sister." (Watchtower, 2/15/94, p. 24).

"A person may appear friendly and agreeable. But if he does not share your concern for Jehovah’s service or even believe in the Bible’s promises, he is a bad associate." (Watchtower, 7/15/91, p. 23)

"What is 'the burden of Jehovah' today? It is the weighty prophetic message from God’s Word. It is heavy with doom, announcing Christendom’s imminent destruction. As for Jehovah’s people, we have the weighty responsibility to declare this 'burden of Jehovah.' As the end draws near, we must tell all that Christendom’s wayward people are a 'burden,' yes, 'O what a burden!' to Jehovah God, and that he is soon going to rid himself of this 'burden' by abandoning Christendom to calamity" (Watchtower, 3/1/94, p. 12).

In Ephesians 3, Paul talks about the division in the Ephesian congregation and says that he prays to God that they all be “rooted and established on the foundation” (Eph. 3:17) and that they “know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). What follows shows that he is urging members of the congregation, despite their differences of opinion, to put up with one another and be united.

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, entreat you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with complete lowliness of mind and mildness, with long-suffering, putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace. One body there is, and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all persons, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:1-6).

This is a crucial passage. Clearly, when Paul asks them to be rooted on the foundation, and when he says that there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc., he is trying to show that they have a common bond, the belief in Jesus the Lord and their faith in him. Maybe some of them were trying to make distinctions and separations, saying that we shouldn’t view everyone as being in the same faith or worshipping the same Lord, or getting baptized with the same baptism, and that their faith was better than that of the others (as Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught). But Paul counsels them not to do this. When he says that Christ’s love is more important than knowledge, he is trying to get them to see that knowledge is secondary to love, that unity among all Christians is vital. He says something similar in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, part of which reads as follows:

“There are a variety of ministries, and yet there is the same Lord; and there are a variety of operations, and yet it is the same God who performs all the operations in all persons” (1 Cor. 12:5-6).

Now surely Paul was not speaking to only one specific denomination or “ministry.” What great revelation would it be for Paul to say that a group of people who all believed exactly the same thing and worked together for the same exact purpose were being helped by the same God? That would simply be a matter of common sense. This needed to be said, because there were differences of opinion and different “ministries” and “operations” out there. He reminded them that despite their diversity, they should regard themselves as all working with and for the same God. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses truly feel that way about other Christians? No, their teachers push them to violate this counsel, and they do not recognize that God is “over all and through all and in all.” By making distinctions and a separation of Christians and encouraging unity only among their own people, they are causing and encouraging disunity among the larger Christian brotherhood and are working against the spirit of God.

Paul goes on to liken the brotherhood to a body and talk about how the diverse members of Christ’s “body” all can work together in unity (Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor.12:12-31). What the Witness leadership is doing is saying to other Christian groups, in effect, “Because you are a foot, you are no part of the body,” or “Because you are an eye, you are no part of the body.” We have to remember that “God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased.”

It is interesting that John 13:35 is the ONLY scripture that starts out: “By this all will know you are my disciples…,” and this is a scripture the Witnesses are taught not to obey. If an individual Witness decides to show love in a more expansive way, they do this, not because of what they have been taught, but in spite of it. It is a good thing that we will all be judged individually according to our deeds.

This exclusivism or sectarianism should no longer be practiced by Jehovah's Witnesses. We should be one with our Christian brothers worldwide. To be sure, when our brothers in other denominations commit sins, we would be wise to counsel them and criticize them in a loving way, as any family member would. But we should not reject them simply for being in another church, if we love God and neighbor.

Some may wonder whether Jehovah's Witnesses can continue to be strong in their faith if they no longer believe they are the only true religion. Well, of course they can! There is much to be proud of in this religion. We are accomplishing much good and will continue to do so. We are pleasing our God Jehovah and helping people to turn their lives around for the better. We are practicing a form of Christianity that we believe is better in many ways than other forms. There is still much to have faith in and much to love about this great group of people.




Back to "Organizational Idolatry"



Can You Be True to God Yet Hide the Facts?
"When persons are in great danger from a source that they do not suspect or are being misled by those they consider their friends, is it an unkindness to warn them? They may prefer not to believe the warning. They may even resent it. But does that free one from the moral responsibility to give that warning? If you are among those seeking to be faithful to God, the issues these questions raise are vital for you today. Why? Because God's servants in every period of history have had to face up to the challenge these issues present. They have had to expose falsehood and wrongdoing and warn people of dangers and deception—not just in a general way, but in a specific way, in the interest of pure worship. It would have been far easier to keep silent or say only what people wanted to hear. But faithfulness to God and love of neighbor moved them to speak. They realized that 'better is a revealed reproof than a concealed love.'" (Watchtower, January 15, 1974)
Should Falsehood and Corruption Be Exposed?
"How will you respond when pointed statements are made about false religious teachings and corrupt practices? Will you immediately condemn the person or organization making the exposé? Do you feel it is all right to teach lies and misrepresent God's Word, but wrong to expose the error? Contrary to what some may think, it is not unkind and unloving to lay bare falsehood and corruption." (Watchtower, March 1, 1966)
Discussion Forum (off site)
Paradise Cafe
Sites of Interest
Note: The following sites are supportive of the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. At the same time, they promote, in one way or another, freeness of speech about the workings and teachings of the JW organization and show where improvement is needed..
e-Watchman
Make Sure of All Things
morloc.com
i-witnessing
New Light on Blood
Silent Lambs
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