Des Plaines, IL. March, 2012.
This season of Lent reminds me of something from last year. I had some visiting Jehovah's Witnesses stop by a couple of times last April, the first time to invite me to a a gathering "to commemorate Jesus' death on its anniversary". Their literature stated that "This year, (2011) the anniversary falls on Sunday, April 17, right after sundown." Well, that differs from the tradition of Good Friday, but why would they put it on Palm Sunday? Probably because Passover begins at sundown on the 18th. But since Passover is based on both solar and lunar calendars, wouldn't that make it an anni-luni-versary? ;^)
Christians' celebration of Good Friday is based on the Lord's resurrection on Easter Sunday. But Easter "moves around" somewhat like Passover does, so what gives? Well, Passover begins on the 14th or 15th day of the month of Nisan, and in the Jewish lunar calendar, Nisan begins with the first new moon (as observed in Jerusalem) after the vernal equinox. Fifteen days later is approximately the first full moon after the vernal equinox, but it may be the second full moon of spring. Easter, on the other hand, is celebrated (approximately) on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. So on rare occasions, Easter and Passover can be a month apart, however, they are usually within a week of each other.
Of course both the Easter and Passover calculations are more complicated than this, but to simplify things we can say: Passover is approximately celebrated starting on the first full moon of spring, and Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring.
But to get back to my visitors' message, it seems they are following a Jewish tradition based on Biblical dating. Does this make them a Jewish sect? Well, no, I don't think they celebrate passover, other than as a marker for Christ's death. I do have to give them this: at least they celebrate this anniversary. Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate their own anniversaries (birthdays), so this is obviously something for them.
By changing the date to Passover-based, I think they are trying to separate themselves from Christians. Since they do not believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, His resurrection on Sunday is not significant. For the Christian Church, however, this date is extremely significant. The Christian "Sabath" is no longer the seventh day, but the first day, because by His conquering death by rising, He sealed the New Covenant.
Jesus, Elijah and Elisha all raised others from the dead, displaying the power of God. No one except Jesus was raised "unbidden by another". And so the Christian Church sees this as confirmation of Christ's divinity, and this is why Sunday is considered "The Lord's Day", and why we remember the Lord's death on Good Friday, rather than Good day-before-Passover.
So should I have attended this event? Would it it have done me good to hear their explanations of "how Jesus takes away the sin of the world, why it is necessary, and how I can benefit"? Perhaps from a research perspective, I could have learned how they see things. It might help if I engaged in a discussion with them on their / my beliefs. But let's talk about what my understandings of these differences are at this point.
First of all, let me say that I have never met a Witness that was not an honorable upstanding person with an admirable zeal for God. I have met "former" Witnesses who were being shunned for leaving by their parents, siblings and former friends, but for the most part, they are cheerful, friendly, reverent, etc.
The Jehovah's witness authority (their pope/magisterium) is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. It dates back to the late 19th century. Charles Taze Russell established the Watchtower in 1879. It is a splinter off of the Miller preaching that gave form to The Seventh Day Adventists. But the 7th Day folks hold to the Divinity of Christ and the Triune Nature of God, while Jehova's Witnesses do not. In point of fact, The Jehova's Witnesses, under the leadership of Nathan Knorr, "re-translated" the Bible to agree with their beliefs. They are the only group to use the "New World Bible". All Christians should regard this version as untrustworthy. For instance, In the first chapter of John's Gospel, it states "and the Word was a god". A correct translation is "and the Word was God", as only the later conforms to the Greek. (See A history of the Jehovah's Witnesses.)
Most religious traditions that rely on the bible alone for their authority will continuously delve deeper and deeper into the original languages to understand the intended implications of the authors, and therefore, what God is saying to us. There are many scholarly works, both commentaries and doctoral thesies, based on this delving, and it is a treasure of information for us. If you start, however, with a "translation" that is based on the dreams of a "mystic" French priest, you have no historical grounds for claiming truth.
This notion also bridges into the concept of public revelation by God through "prophets". Most mainstream Protestants agree, at least partially, with the Catholic Church on one important point; that God's public revelation throughout history was finished with the public ministry of Jesus Christ, and ended (chronologically) with the death of the last Apostle. There will be no more "public" revelation. God continues to inspire and reveal things to us "privately", but this is for our own sanctification, and not new doctrine. In fact, if there is the slightest disagreement with the public revelation established in His Word or the repository of Apostolic teaching, we should dismiss our own revelation as it is not from God.
So, those groups based on the teaching of modern day prophets, such as Charles Russell or John Smith, invariably teach that Jesus' revelation was insufficient or lacking in some way. In the history of the Watchtower / Jehovah's Witness movement, prophecy has been tantamount to it's missionary efforts, and Armageddon has been their primary calling card. They believe in annihilation of the "un-saved souls", that all 144,000 slots for heaven-bound witnesses have already been filed (Going to heaven to reign with Christ), so what they hope for is not heaven, or to see the face of God, but to be resurrected to a new earth. The 144,000 comes from the book of Revelation, and these select few (all late 19th and early 20th century Jehovah's Witnesses) will have no resurrected bodies, but be spirits like the angels.
The second missionary effort on April 30th, confirmed my belief in the zeal and faith of these people who love God. The tract, labeled "Would you like to know the Truth?", inspired me to engage in a discussion. To me, Truth is very important. Without Truth telling us that an existentialist's chair exists as other than in our imagination, we might fall to the floor. How could we ever get to the moon if one plus one was sometimes zero or three? But beyond that, Truth is not just a concept, Truth is a Person; Jesus Christ.
For this reason, when Christ guaranteed that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church in all Truth, we can believe that He knew what He was talking about, and didn't just mean for a generation, or until some Roman emperor's actions would negate his promise. And so, I asked my visitor to look at Isaiah 22:20-25 and contrast that with Matthew 16:16-19. I asked if she could see the connection that Jesus was making with the Keys to the Kingdom and the binding and loosing authority? She said she saw it, but that the kingdom was taken up into heaven with Jesus. I replied "So you're saying that the gates of hell did prevail against the church, and it ceased to exist on earth? So Jesus couldn't keep his promise? She assured me that no, that wasn't the case, and we exchanged pleasantries, and good wishes, but we left it there.
For the next issue, I want to present the old argument that Jesus was either a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord. And that based on this, there is no room for the "Just a teacher/prophet" or "good man" theories.
Until next time, God bless.