They would like for everyone to assume that they are, but the short answer is No. It is not possible, given what the Watchtower elite have to say on the subject that anyone in the “organization” could be Christian, nor should they even desire to be one. Moreover, if there is anyone who is a Christian in the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society [hereafter WBTS], it is in spite of Watchtower teachings, not because of them.
As has been discussed in the article “What is a Christian?” there is only one way to become a Christian and that is by the drawing of God, via His grace, into a forgiven and spiritually regenerate relationship with Him. This was only possible because of what Jesus Christ accomplished while on the cross at Calvary. Then the Holy Spirit seals that person unto God for eternity, whereby the redeemed have a renewed desire to follow Jesus and obey his commandments.
When one turns to Watchtower teaching, however, none of this is even spoken of as central to its understanding of what it means to be a Christian. In fact, everything the Watchtower teaches about Christ, Christians, and Christianity is contrary to what the Bible teaches. Therefore, for a Jehovah’s Witness even to claim to be a Christian is more of an afterthought of convenience than a forethought of conviction.
The Christ of the Watchtower
In order for a person to be a Christian, that person must follow Jesus Christ or the character that the Bible defines as “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Jesus, in other words, has never changed identity, even though prior to his incarnation in the flesh he was a spirit-being of the same order or essence as God the Father (Jn. 1:1, 18; 10:30; 14:1, 9 et al). Such is not the case in the Watchtower’s understanding. Jesus was not always Jesus.
According to the Watchtower publication, The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, Jesus “was a very special person because he was created by God before all other things,” and then goes on to cited Colossians 1:15 as a proof text. Unfortunately, what the Watchtower writers failed to inform the reader of is the fact that (1) Colossians 1:15 says nothing about Jesus being a created being, and (2) the WBTS has distorted subsequent verses in Colossians 1 to include the word “other” where it otherwise does not exist in the original Greek text. By doing so not only changed the context, but changed the meaning to say something about Jesus that the Apostle Paul never intended.
But, just who was this “very special person” before he became Jesus? Again, according to the previous publication mentioned above, “Jesus lived as a spirit person in heaven and enjoyed intimate fellowship with his Father,” with the exception being, his name was not Jesus. From a now defunct Watchtower publication Aid to Bible Understanding we discover that the Jehovah’s Witness Jesus was not “the same yesterday and today and forever” as the writers to the Hebrews reference above argues. Instead, he was someone else. His name was Michael.
On page 1152 we read, “Scriptural evidence indicates that the name Michael applied to God’s Son before he left heaven to become Jesus Christ and also after his return.” The rationale for such convoluted thinking involves a complete misinterpretation and misunderstanding of what the word “archangel” means, as derived from 1 Thessalonians 4:16: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel…” [NASB].
In Watchtower thought, since the Lord has the voice of an archangel, then by deduction, it must be Michael doing the shouting. Such a warped conclusion is tantamount to saying that every time someone hears a streetcar, then it must be coming from a trolley in San Francisco.
The real key, though, to understanding that the Watchtower Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible, and hence contributes to the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be Christians, is the assertion that when “Jesus” returned to the presence of God, he regained his identity as Michael! And why would this be? Because, according to Watchtower lore, Jesus was not resurrected, as Jesus, but as a spirit entity or Michael.
Evidence for this is found early on in the writings of founder Charles Taze Russell. Not only did he deny that Jesus arose physically, but that he only appeared to have a physical body when visiting with his disciples after his resurrection. Such a notion hints at the heresy of Gnostic Docetism, which taught that Jesus only appeared to have a physical body when he walked the earth, since to possess an actual physical body would equate him with evil.
According to Russell, “We have no more reason to suppose that our Lord’s spirit body since his resurrection is a human body than we have for supposing that his spirit body prior to his advent was human, or that other spirit beings have human bodies….”
Our Lord’s human body was, however, supernaturally removed from the tomb; because had it remained there would have been an insurmountable obstacle to the faith of the disciples, who were not yet instructed in spiritual things…Whether it was dissolved into gases or whether it is still preserved somewhere as the grand memorial of God’s love, of Christ’s obedience, and of our redemption, no one knows—nor is such knowledge necessary (Studies in the Scriptures, 2.129).
While Russell may not believe it necessary, the fact remains that Jesus was resurrected in his physical body, as his own testimony alluded. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews therefore said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (Jn. 2:19-21). Clearly, a Jesus who was not resurrected physically and has since returned to being Michael the Archangel is not the Jesus of the Bible. It is another Jesus that is not the Christ. It is another Jesus that cannot produce Christians either.
The Christians of the Watchtower
In order for anyone to rightfully claim to be a Christian, that person must be “born again,” as Jesus instructed Nicodemas in John 3:3. “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom God.’” To be born again meant to be born of the Spirit of God or to be regenerated from a state of spiritual deadness (Eph. 2:1) unto a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). It is something that only God can do, and is described by Jesus as being similar to the wind blowing, since no one knows exactly its origination or its termination (Jn. 3:8).
Although the Watchtower Society has repeatedly written on the subject of being “born again,” because of a skewed view of the Book of Revelation, only certain persons within the Watchtower are deemed as capable of following the Lamb of God wherever he goes. Why they are capable is not explained. They are the ones destined for heavenly rule, while the remainder stay on earth, spiritually unregenerate.
According to the Awake! magazine, published June 22, 1976, only the 144,000 found in Revelation 14 will be “born again.” “They are the born of both water and spirit, that is, they have been baptized in water and have the spirit’s witness that they have been adopted as sons of God. Without thus being born of water and spirit they could never hope to inherit the heavenly kingdom.” These would be the “true” Christians, if the Watchtower authorities are correct. What about everyone else?
Those Jehovah’s Witnesses that are not a part of the 144,000 will not be born again, since they have not found God’s approval. Their inheritance will be to remain upon the earth throughout eternity. “Since they have earthly prospects, they are not begotten by God’s spirit.” Hence, they have no hope of heaven and will not live in God’s presence.
It is this distorted view of salvation, spiritual regeneration, and the eternal hope that is contrary to Jesus’ promise when he said, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were no so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2) that separates a true view of what it means to be a Christian from a faulty view. For if Jesus only meant that certain ones who met God’s “approval” would be born again, then no one would ever be saved.
What is implied in the Watchtower’s definition of being born again is the works-based effort on the part of those who may desire heaven, even though ultimately it is the organization itself that determines their destiny, as well as everyone else. This is clearly stated by the Watchtower when it wrote in the Awake! November 1975 that one must “exert” oneself to remain saved, if one ever found himself “in the way of salvation.” Clearly, salvation in the Watchtower is not something that is given, but that which is earned, despite WBTS doubletalk to the contrary.
So, whatever “Christians” there may be among the Jehovah’s Witnesses is fleeting, at best, and a non-reality at worst. Not only are the 144,000 the product of faulty interpretation of the Bible, the remaining members are not born again by Watchtower dictate, and hence cannot be Christians, even if they wanted to be. It simply does not fit Watchtower thinking. And if the members are not Christians, then they cannot be followers of Jesus Christ, which would only be logical, since as the above discussion pointed out, he does not exist anymore, anywhere, anyway.
The Christianity of the Watchtower
It is understood that because the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they are Christians, that they also believe that they comprise the only true religion on earth. The evidence they present to justify their self-exaltation has been repeated several times in Watchtower publications often starting with the idea that because their organization sanctifies God’s name, then that somehow means it is Christ-centered. Yet, as already noted above, the Christ of the Watchtower cannot be the Christ of the Bible.
A second line of argumentation to justify calling the Watchtower a “Christian” organization involves the alleged proclamation of God’s kingdom. Most of that proclamation, however, has centered on false prophecy. Several times in the past, the WBTS has failed, miserably, in predicting not only the coming of Jesus, but also the end of the world. Starting with the infamous 1914 date, where Charles T. Russell wrote that the “battle of the great day of God Almighty” would “end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership” (Studies in the Scriptures, 2.101), the Jehovah’s Witnesses have rightly lived under the stigma of being branded false prophets. So, just what kind of kingdom proclamation is that to be boasting about?
Then, there is the alleged respect for God’s word that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are so proud, which they assume is further justification for calling themselves Christians. Yet, from 1950 onward, with the invention of the New World Translation by the Watchtower, which has been used to justify their otherwise unorthodox beliefs, it is clear that the JWs are not honoring God’s word, but are abusing it instead. Jesus ends up becoming a demi-god, while dissolving into “gases” upon his ascension after his resurrection. He does not even exist anymore, except maybe as a distant memory! Salvation is matter of person exertion, rather than a matter of God’s grace and assurance. The JWs have even idolized a perversion of God’s name (“Jehovah”) as a means to call out to the world to “look at us; we are Christians and you are not, because we know God’s name and you do not,” which is a complete falsehood. In short, the JWs are not respecting God’s word, but the Watchtower’s word.
An interesting spin on separation from the world is a fourth bit of evidence the Watchtower assumes is a hallmark of Christianity. JWs assume that they do not participate in politics, when the fact of the matter is, unless they are completely antinomian, then they cannot help but participate. They are either going to obey the laws of the land, which most JWs do, or they are implying that they are rank and file anarchists, which most JWs are not. Besides, Jesus never asked God the Father to take his disciples out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one (Jn. 17:15). Because it is the Christian duty to be the salt of the earth and to present a ready defense of the hope that is within him, not stand aloof from the world and act all high and mighty, as if the Christian deserves some kind of praise for his worthy selection by the Almighty.
Finally, the Watchtower points out that, “A most important way in which Christ’s true disciples can be identified is by the love they have among themselves.” While it is true that Christians are to love fellow Christians, the JWs use some rather hyperbolic accusations to try to show the love among themselves is grander than that among non-JWs. How so? The non-JWs “go out on the battlefield and slaughter their fellow believers of another country. Thus Catholic kills Catholic, Protestant kills Protestant and Muslim kills Muslim” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 189). Two things come to mind after reading such a statement. First, during times of armed conflict, it is doubted that most, if any, of the soldiers involved have religious affiliation in mind when engaging the enemy. Second, the JWs always seem to forget that their liberty to sit back and accuse others was bought with the blood of the accused. And just how “Christian” is that of the JWs?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses love to tout that they are Christians. In fact, they are the only true Christians, since they believe they belong to the only true religion. However, does all the hype measure up to a biblical reality? After all, the Bible is the final standard of measure when it comes to all things Christian.
From the presentation above, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in another Jesus, another salvation, and a completely different version of Christianity than that found in the Bible. According to the Bible, Jesus is God incarnate who came and died on a Roman cross, spent three days in the grave, and then arose, bodily, after which he ascended back into heaven, where he now sits at the right hand of God. He is not Michael the Archangel, nor has he ever been him. When he returns, he will be seen by everyone, not by a select few, which Charles T. Russell advocated with his 1914 dating scheme, where Jesus (aka Michael) reappeared “spiritually.”
The JWs also advocate a works-based salvation system that sees only 144,000 of its members being “born again.” All of the rest are left in an unregenerate state, meaning they will die in their sins and remain separated from God for eternity. Although the JWs try to mitigate that reality by assuring those members they can live forever in paradise on earth, the Bible makes it clear that those who die outside of Christ’s redemption will spend eternity in hell.
Finally, the Watchtower has eagerly tried to redefine just what Christianity represents. By doing so, it has set itself up as the exemplar and not Christ or the Bible. The end result is a complete distortion of what Christ meant when he said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” For advocates of the Watchtower believe that its organization is the truth and those at variance with that proclamation are of the worldly system of Babylon.
So, are JWs Christians? It is possible if one subscribes to a totally perverted view of Christ, Christians, and Christianity. Otherwise, the only way a JW could be a Christian is in spite of the Watchtower, not because of it.