Friday, August 5, 2005

I was brought up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses from infancy because my parents were interested in their beliefs, and so I grew up with the Witnesses not knowing anything different.

I attended my first Jehovah’s Witness district assembly in 1950 and was baptized in 1956 when I was just 10 years of age. As I reached my late teenage years, however, I was encouraged by the elders to “make the truth your own” instead of just being in the Witnesses organization because of my parents. I was encouraged to look into the Watchtower Society teachings for myself, and I found that as I did, it sometimes raised more questions than it answered. I started to read the New Testament chapter by chapter using the New World Translation and discovered several areas which caused me concern and which I felt I needed to discuss with mature Witnesses. Some of the answers never fully satisfied but I was told to “wait on Jehovah” for it to become clear.

For over ten years I pioneered with the Witnesses and worked “unassigned territory”. I moved congregations three times, in response to the call to “serve where the need is greatest”. I served as both ministerial servant and elder in the role of congregation book study conductor, theocratic ministry school overseer, Watchtower study conductor, etc.

I guess everyone in the organization has minor doubts from time to time. I certainly met many in my role as an elder. These were not so much doubts about the Scriptures, but about the Watchtower Society’s interpretation of Scripture. If brothers came across interpretations that caused doubts we, as elders, always instructed them to “wait on Jehovah”,  i.e. wait for the Watchtower to change their teaching.

In my own circle of friends there were people who were very sincere in searching for truth and very sincere in their devotion to Jehovah, but occasionally they would have problems in fully complying with what the Watchtower Society said was the current view on a particular doctrine.

Amongst fellow elders, we sometimes shared the things that puzzled each other and several freely admitted that they were frankly bewildered about certain things, but the bottom line was always that we would remain faithful to the organization and wait for the Governing Body to reveal these things in due time. We were always encouraged by the Society not to “think ahead” of what was printed in the magazines and books at the moment. If we did “think ahead” it was called presumptuousness, and that was a characteristic of Satan. And we didn’t want to be like Satan did we?

Sometimes we would meet together for “get-togethers” which resulted in Bible discussions.  Later, private Bible discussions were frowned on because it caused some people to leave the congregation. However, in those early days, when we met together quite innocently, we would discuss the various things that were a problem to us. But at the end of the day we would always put the problems in the back of our minds and think that perhaps in a month or a year we would have a new magazine on the subject. We used to feel that if it was a worldwide question then the Holy Spirit would prompt enough people to write to the Society for a ruling to be given, and this was how the “new light” would come through.

Apart from the minor niggles, my first major problem arose when I began to be convinced that the “great crowd”, who were supposed to have only an earthly hope, were “declared righteous” (or as I would say today - justified by faith). I did a lot of research using the Society's books and found a great deal of material which referred to the “great crowd” and members of the “other sheep” as “righteous”. The Witness doctrine is that only the anointed, the 144,000, are declared righteous (justified by faith). The rest of us, those of us who were taught that we were part of the “great crowd”, were not justified by faith.

We had to survive the Battle of Armageddon on our own merits, which was a bit daunting.  Some of us weren’t sure that we were good enough. This was particularly a problem for us as teenagers due to the temptations brought on by the perilous cocktail of hormones and youth.  Being aware of thoughts and feelings that pulled towards sin, such as immorality, some of us were quite fearful of Armageddon.

If we did survive Armageddon, and lived through the 1,000 year reign of Christ, only at the end of the 1,000 years would we be “declared righteous” which actually meant “pronounced perfect”. So there was no element of “justified by faith” or “grace” for those of us who thought we were of the “great crowd”.

After my research on the Society's books referring to the “great crowd” and the “other sheep” as “righteous”, I typed out the actual quotations from the Society and, alongside, quoted scriptures which seemed to refer to the issue, such as “was not also Rahab the harlot declared righteous …”  (James 2:25). In all innocence, simply seeking the truth of the matter, I shared this material with mature brothers within the body of elders and asked for their comments.

I was shocked and horrified by the response. All of a sudden my friends and companions changed overnight. What I had written in full childlike innocence was suddenly sinister. To cut a long and painful story short, I had to stand down as an elder and I was forbidden to discuss the matter with anyone.

I had seen my first glimpse of the iron hand hidden inside the velvet glove.

Whilst recovering from the shock, I took refuge in reading the Scriptures. I used to love reading the books of Romans and Galatians especially.  At the beginning I found it hard to understand the concept of “grace”, but gradually the Holy Spirit started to lead me. I discovered things by just reading the Scriptures that I'd never been taught through any magazine or any book that the Watchtower Society had given me. I began to understand what “grace” really meant.

The Witnesses have no concept of “grace”, in fact the word is not used in the New World Translation. But by just reading the Scriptures I began to understand grace and that by my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ I was saved from all sin; not just past but present and future; it had all been taken care of at Calvary. As a Witness I had been indoctrinated into thinking that “Christendom”, all the churches which were outside the organization, were being misled by Satan, so I had no interest or knowledge of what they were teaching. I therefore thought that I was discovering something new - I was actually discovering “new light” ahead of The Watchtower magazine. I know it sounds crazy, but that is how I felt.

I started to think that if I just waited a little bit longer then The Watchtower would reveal this because I couldn't be the only one beginning to understand it!  For the first time in my life the Scriptures started to come alive to me and fill me with wonder. It then struck me that perhaps it was only my own congregation that did not understand what I understood, and so I wrote to the Watchtower Society in London with the same information I had presented to my local elders. I received a two-page reply suggesting that the “great crowd were declared righteous … to a degree but not like that of the anointed”. Having received this reply there seemed to be nothing more I could do, so I shelved this doubt, along with the others, and took some consolation from a later Watchtower which was to adjust their position on the matter.

In fact, the problem over being “declared righteous”, or justification by faith, didn't lead me to parting from the Society. The problem that did started with The Watchtower of 15th August 1980. This issue contained an article on the “great crowd” and used the Greek word “naos”. In my own study I found the “naos” was the inner sanctuary of the Temple. From this it was so obvious to me that the “great crowd” were in the heavenly sanctuary, but the Society told me that they were in the courtyard of the Temple. Something was very wrong!

Other matters continued to trouble me but I still had the feeling that Jehovah would put things right. Having family responsibilities I was unwilling to leave the organization. As the years went by, however, I could not help but share the truths I was forever finding in the Scriptures.

I would share these truths with my wife and close friends and as a result I was called in to see the elders again and again. It then started to cause a problem in our home. My wife was warned by the elders that I was being misled by Satan and this fear led to difficulties in our marriage.

My wife became convinced that I was “possessed” and this led to many arguments between us, which were brought to the attention of the elders. At this time I was more than ever convinced from the Scriptures that I was being taught false doctrine by the Watchtower Society.

I started to become more voluble because I was suffering from the strain being put on my marriage, especially when it was made plain to me that I would be disfellowshipped if I did not recant of my apostate beliefs.

I was eventually disfellowshipped and, just one month later, my wife (who is still a Jehovah's Witnesses today) was persuaded to leave me and take the children (two boys, and one on the way) with her. She was told that her “spiritual life” was in danger!

One of the most difficult things to try to explain to anyone else is what the act of disfellowshipping does to you. If you can imagine your wife and children, and your relatives, and everyone you've ever loved, all dying instantly in a jet crash then you might just get an inkling of the devastation you feel.

When you are disfellowshipped the loss is tremendous - you can no longer have any contact with those you love. In effect it is actually worse because with death you have to learn to cope with the fact that those you loved are gone but with disfellowshipping there is always that hankering and hope that something might happen to enable you to be reunited with your loved ones.

I remember one day I will never forget it, when I prayed to Jesus in an agony of spirit because of my distress. As my heart cried out in anguish, I felt a warm peace descend upon me, like someone pouring warm honey inside me (sweet and gentle) from the top of my head descending slowly but relentlessly through my body to the tip of my toes, filling every pore on the way.

My mental anguish was gone, my heart was at peace.  I was also filled with an awesome love for everyone on the planet. It was as if I understood how much Jesus loves everyone (in truth, I could only have experienced a small portion). From that day to this that love of all has never changed.

The three years after being disfellowshipped were my “wilderness” period. Just me alone with my faith in Jesus as Saviour. I thought I was the only person in the world who understood what I understood. I then returned to the quiet and isolated life of a west coast Scottish crofting community. Despite my deeply ingrained fear of the whore called “Christendom”, I eventually found myself responding to invitations from kindly neighbours to attend a local church service and was very surprised to hear the name of “Jehovah” used very frequently. Much more to my surprise, the minister was preaching “grace”, and for the first time I made the connection with what I had read for myself about “undeserved kindness” and being “declared righteous”. 

One thing led to another, and I soon discovered the writings of Martin Luther.  Boy oh boy did I weep for joy in reading how Martin Luther found “grace”!  Of particular help was his commentary on Galatians.

Eventually, I was connected to the internet and found I was definitely not “alone”.  I learnt about the events in Brooklyn in 1980 when a number of the headquarters staff left or were disfellowshipped because of reading the same Scriptures I read and learning about “grace”.

Encouraged by this I made efforts to contact an old “pioneer” friend and share what I had found. Can you imagine my joy when I discovered he was also out of the Organization and, like me, had found Jesus Christ? He gave me a copy of “Crisis of Conscience” to read. This is the story of Ray Franz's personal struggle, and how he left Jehovah’s Witnesses after discovering many inside workings of the Society from his nine years on the Governing Body. My friend also advised me of many others who had escaped from the Watchtower.

In conclusion I would like to give you the words of the song “I Believe in You” by Bob Dylan which I often play loud on my stereo and sing to Jesus as a prayer, fighting the tears.  For me, it sums up totally the pain of being disfellowshipped and giving up everything I had because I love Jesus Christ.

They ask me how I feel 
And if my love is real 
And how I know I'll make it through. 
And they, they look at me and frown, 
They'd like to drive me from this town, 
They don't want me around 
'Cause I believe in You. 

They show me to the door, 
They say don't come back no more 
'Cause I don't be like they'd like me to, 
And I walk out on my own 
A thousand miles from home 
But I don't feel alone 
'Cause I believe in You. 

I believe in You even through the tears and the laughter, 
I believe in You even though we be apart. 
I believe in You even on the morning after. 
Oh, when the dawn is nearing 
Oh, when the night is disappearing 
Oh, this feeling is still here in my heart. 

Don't let me drift too far, 
Keep me where You are 
Where I will always be renewed. 
And that which You've given me today 
Is worth more than I could pay 
And no matter what they say 
I believe in You. 

I believe in You when winter turn to summer, 
I believe in You when white turn to black, 
I believe in You even though I be outnumbered. 
Oh, though the earth may shake me 
Oh, though my friends forsake me 
Oh, even that couldn't make me go back. 

Don't let me change my heart, 
Keep me set apart 
From all the plans they do pursue. 
And I, I don't mind the pain 
Don't mind the driving rain 
I know I will sustain 
'Cause I believe in You.