|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©March 2000|
|Jehovah’s Witnesses stress works salvation, something the Bible condemns in the clearest terms. This emphasis on salvation by works/character is frankly admitted in Watchtower publications.|
As we will emphasize throughout this article, Jehovah’s Witnesses stress works salvation, something the Bible condemns in the clearest terms (Gal. chs. 2-3; Eph. 2:8-9). This emphasis on salvation by works/character is frankly admitted in Watchtower publications. Below, we provide sufficient examples in documentation.
In Man’s Salvation Out of World Distress at Hand! a chapter is titled “Requirements for Entering Spiritual Paradise.” Here, it is asserted:
The “doctrinal” text Make Sure of All Things contains the following subheadings quoted verbatim:
The Watchtower magazine also contains numerous examples indicating faith alone is insufficient for salvation:
After following through on what Jehovah God requires, the baptized disciple comes into possession of a good conscience. As long as he maintains that good conscience he is in a saved condition. Divine condemnatory judgment will not be expressed against him.
As noted, the emphasis on works salvation is true even for the 144,000 who are said to be elected by Jehovah and saved by grace. Dr. Anthony Hoekema, author of The Four Major Cults, points out that even after their faith, repentance, baptism, and willingness to sacrifice all their rights on earth for the hope of heavenly life, even though they are allegedly “justified” (that is, have the hope of final justification after death), they are still not immortal, and must yet earn their immortality. Only if they maintain their integrity until death will they have the opportunity for immortality. Thus, their election by God is on the basis of personal merit:
Hoekema proceeds to refute the Witnesses’ claim that they believe in salvation by grace:
And yet, as Hoekema also observes, the remaining vast majority of Witnesses are expected to believe that they can also earn their own salvation without any of the declared advantages of the 144,000.
Biblically speaking then, we are asked to accept that Jehovah’s Witnesses and the rest of humanity will be able to save themselves apart from God’s mercy, grace and power! If anything in this life is to be considered impossible, it must be this. The very reason Christ died for us was because we were helpless to save ourselves by personal effort and good works: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Indeed, to argue we can save ourselves is to repudiate the atonement: “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Gal. 3:21)! The Bible is clear on this. No person can be saved apart from, first of all, the divine miracle of regeneration that enlivens the spirit and changes ones disposition toward the things of God (Jn. 3:3-5; 1 Cor. 2:14-15; 2 Cor. 5:17). This is something the Jehovah’s Witnesses forbid to everyone but the144,000 who are believed to receive spiritual rebirth only after death.
Second, no one can be saved apart from final justification in this life, which legally declares one eternally righteous before God (Rom. 3:21-31; Phil. 3:3-9). This is also prohibited for the “other sheep” and the rest of mankind and again only occurs to the 144,000 after death on the basis of works, not faith!
Third, no one can find acceptance with God apart from having their sins forgiven—fully and totally—something the Witnesses claim the “ransom” of Christ, by itself, did not effect (cf. Rev. 21:27).
Fourth, no person can live for God and please Him apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit whom Witnesses believe does not exist.
Clearly, the Watchtower doctrine of salvation is not biblical. To the contrary, the Bible denies Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrines when it teaches (emphasis added):
The truth is that Christ atoned for all our sins on the cross, not just the sins of Adam or potentially the sins of most. This is why salvation is entirely by grace, and why God does not expect us to earn our salvation by good works, or to achieve the potential forgiveness of our sins by obedience. Christ earned full salvation for us so that we only need receive it as a gift. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is a free gift. By definition, a free gift cannot be paid for. The Oxford American Dictionary defines gift as “a thing given or received without payment.” No man takes a gift of flowers home to his wife and says, “Hi, honey, these are yours after you wash the car.” In the same way, no one pays for salvation with his or her works when it has been freely given as a gift. Biblically, “the gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23); and we are “justified freely by his grace” (Rom. 3:17) because we have “the gift of righteousness.” (Rom. 5:17) The Witness concept of salvation then, obviously disavows the biblical teaching on salvation by grace through faith alone (Romans 3:28):
This is the crux of the problem. Witnesses do not teach that salvation comes by faith in Jesus, but, in essence, by faith in what the Watchtower Society tells them. William Schnell also points out another major consequence of the Witness view of salvation. That is to nullify the relevance of most New Testament texts related to salvation for the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why? Because only the 144,000 are declared to be regenerated, chosen, justified, saints, part of the body of Christ, sanctified, heaven-bound, etc. Therefore, all the Scriptures that speak of these and related things do not apply to the average Jehovah’s Witness. It’s not just that they cannot be born-again, it’s that most of the doctrines related to regeneration are denied them as well.
In effect, most of what the Bible teaches on salvation is irrelevant for the vast majority of Witnesses, not to mention the entirety of mankind, and useful only for a minuscule number of persons—the 144,000, almost all of whom are now dead. Thus, since almost all the 144,000 are believed to be selected from past generations, what the Bible teaches about salvation is really applicable to only a handful of people. In effect, as far as salvation is concerned, the Bible is simply irrelevant for 99.999999999% of humanity.
By their sharp division of believers into two classes, the Watchtower Society actually makes a large part of the Bible, particularly of the New Testament, meaningless for the majority of its adherents. For all Scriptural passages dealing with regeneration, sanctification, anointing, and consecration; all passages which speak of being sealed by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, or testified to by the Spirit; all passages which describe the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the new creation, the holy nation, and the elect (the list is far from exhaustive) are intended, so the Witnesses say, only for the anointed class and mean nothing for the other sheep.
Schnell correctly points out that the end result, practically, is a teaching as fully destructive to the Bible as the biases of the higher critics of Scripture such as the form and redaction criticism of the so-called “Jesus Seminar” (which we critiqued in The Facts on False Views of Jesus).
In 1980 it was reported that a number of high-ranking Jehovah’s Witnesses at Bethel headquarters were disfellowshipped or voluntarily left the Watchtower Society. It seems that their personal Bible studies had caused them to believe—quite correctly—that everyone, not just the 144,000, needed to be born-again. Among this new crop of outcasts were Raymond Franz, nephew of former president F.W. Franz, and Edward Dunlap, former 12-year head of the Watchtower Society Gilead School of the Bible, its missionary training arm. But, as is so often the case with authoritarian religions, the Watchtower Society would not tolerate dissent, and appropriate action was taken to silence the “heresy.” In response, Raymond Franz wrote Crisis of Conscience and a sequel, detailed and scathing exposés of Witness life and policies that should be considered must reading for all Jehovah’s Witnesses or those interested in the Watchtower Society.
It would seem that despite its claim to love biblical truth, the Watchtower Society is so opposed to basic biblical truth (e.g., that everyone needs spiritual rebirth), that even when its own members start to believe in a biblical doctrine, decisive action must be taken to prevent “contamination” to others.