reprinted from the book, Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses see catalog
Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than truth itself. (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.2)
WHAT IS APOSTASY?
Heresy and apostasy are two very similar words. Both indicate a variance from an established faith, and can be used to describe those who have strayed from the teachings of a particular religion.
Apostasy (Greek: apostasia) implies that the one leaving the faith was at one time in accurate knowledge of the religion's belief system, and then "falls away" from it. Heresy can apply in a broader sense, applying to those who have embraced a variant of the proper belief or beliefs, whether they are aware of it or not. In other words, one could embrace heresy without actually being an apostate, or one could be both an apostate and a heretic.
In the early church, heresy was used to describe teachings that threatened to attack the basic foundations of Christianity, primarily manifest in teachings regarding the nature of God and Christ, as well as the resurrection.
THE NEED TO CLARIFY DOCTRINE
The belief that heresy exists presupposes that there is such a thing as "orthodoxy." The interesting thing about examining the records of the early Christians as well as the New Testament itself is this: While orthodoxy is not spelled out in detail, heresy often is, which tells us two things. First of all, the Bible was not written as a book of detailed theology, as it does not systematically explain its teachings regarding God and Christ. Secondly, doctrine was often not expounded upon in detail by the early Christians until faced with new or heretical concepts; at which point the church would be forced into defining its doctrine so as to create a hedge against heresy.
Due to the heresies that developed in the first few centuries, the early Christians were forced to further clarify "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) so as to guard against heresies. Logically, then, as we examine the historical record, we will find the early Christians addressing the heresies one by one as they appeared on the scene. Of course, this pattern of refutation is not exclusive to Christianity, and occurs in most religions. Certain key doctrines may not be challenged at first, but in time heretical teachings appear that threaten the basic principles of the faith, and further clarifications of doctrine are needed. In such cases, the heresy appears first, then a refutation is issued to meet the challenge. The heretic speaks out, and the church refutes the heretic. Yet, the refutation is based on the preexistent beliefs of the church.
Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses
The Watchtower considers all other organizations that call themselves Christians as part of a worldwide apostasy from Christianity. This "apostasy," they say, began on a large scale in the fourth century, when the Roman emperor Constantine began influencing the church.
In order to refute this idea, one must first establish that (1) there was no apostasy in the fourth century as the WT claims, and (2) the Witnesses themselves embrace teachings considered as heretical when compared with 1st century Christianity. This can primarily be done by establishing that the doctrine of the Trinity was not a new teaching as the WT claims (see TRINITY), and that the doctrines of the church were historically sound and verifiable up through the 4th century and beyond. There is ample historical evidence to demonstrate what was sound orthodoxy and what was heretical. Sources for establishing this are the writings of the early church fathers, such as Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, etc. as well as the church historian Eusebius.
WHO ARE THE REAL APOSTATES?
One who partakes of the "faith that was once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) and who then rejects such truths and promotes new doctrines could be classed as an apostate and should be "rejected after a first and second admonition." (Titus 3:10) As 2 John 9-11 says, we should not even associate with a person such as this. The real question that must be presented to the JW is: Who are the real apostates? For if through an investigation of early Christianity and its teachings we find the WT leaders to be the REAL heretics, then we can truly understand their active opposition to the Christian church.
In the WT publication What Has Religion Done For Mankind? (p. 271) the claim is made that the truth about Christ was corrupted in the 4th century when Emperor Constantine proclaimed `the Trinity' to be the true doctrine. Thus, according to the WT, apostasy first appeared with the doctrine of the deity of Christ and the Trinity.1
IN WHAT WAY DO JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES RESEMBLE THE EARLIEST HERETICAL GROUPS, SUCH AS THE GNOSTICS?
(1) In their emphasis upon knowledge (gnosis) as the key to eternal life (note John 17:3, NWT as compared with other Bibles), rather than a relationship with Jesus (John 5:39,40).
The gnostic concept involved an overvaluing of knowledge with respect to faith. The idea of a simple message like the "death, burial and resurrection of Christ" (1 Cor. 15:14) that can be preached by anyone is offensive; gnostics feel that a proper religion must offer something more, an intellectual challenge. The simplicity of the gospel message (that Jesus saves) is what stumbled the Jews, and it seemed foolish to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:22,23). Fred Franz of the Watchtower's Governing Body said in 1979 regarding the simple gospel of 1 Cor. 15:3,4 that, "Baby food is not the message of the hour today."2
The ancient gnostic belief divided mankind into various classes, and reserved its secret wisdom for those who were recognized as belonging to its upper class, a religious elite, i.e., the "anointed" ones. Thus the gnostic concept naturally appealed to those in the church who felt they were above mingling with ordinary Christians who were content with a simple message.
In the WT of Dec. 1, 1972 (p. 718), we note this same gnostic attitude. Note the mention of the "special knowledge" of the "anointed remnant" of Jehovah's Witnesses:
From this standpoint, the Holy of the temple pictured or typified the spirit-begotten condition of God's spiritual priesthood even while the members of this are still in the earthly body, in the flesh. It is a special spiritual relationship to God that is SCREENED OFF from outsiders as if by a curtain so that these cannot discern it or appreciate it. The priestly court where the copper altar was located pictures their special human standing with God. (emphasis added; see also the WT of 4/15/74, p. 252, and 8/15/80, p. 18)
(2) In their inability to accept Jesus as both man and God. The earliest heresies (Docetism, Modalism) reasoned that since Jesus was God, he was not man. Later, Arianism reasoned that since Jesus was man, he was really not God, but a glorified creature. The WT denies the Godship of Christ (Col. 2:9).
(3) In their denying the bodily resurrection of Christ, just as did the Gnostics and Docetists.
The gnostic concept of salvation (i.e., the liberation of embodied human spirits from their prisons of flesh and their return to God) differs sharply from the Bible's teaching of the resurrection of the body as well as the survival of the soul (read 1 Cor. chapter 15). In addition, the Docetists claimed that Christ only "seemed" or "appeared" to be human, much like the WT's explanation of Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to his disciples as being a temporary deception concocted to "strengthen" their faith! Note their statement on page 479 of the August 1, 1975 issue of The Watchtower:
True, for the benefit of doubting Thomas, Jesus did appear with the physical evidence of nail prints in his hands and a spear wound in his side. (John 20:2429) Yet, even in connection with that MANIFESTATION, there is proof that Jesus must have MOMENTARILY MATERIALIZED A PHYSICAL BODY OF FLESH. (emphasis added)
The similarities to the Gnostic view are more than coincidental!
The WT also holds to an incoherent view of the person of Jesus. He is presented as Michael the Archangel who became Jesus, and then went back to heaven as Michael the Archangel. Yet, there is no continuity of personality between the three modes of his existence. 3
(4) In their ignoring the historical background of the Bible and Christianity, and in their promotion of symbolisms and allegories that deny a literal understanding of the Word. This reminds one of first century Hellenistic Jews who were embarrassed by what they considered the arbitrary, trivial and even barbarous aspects of their Old Testament revelation. Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus and Paul and one of the greatest intellects of the ancient world, proposed to interpret revelation allegorically. This may have made the scriptures easier to believe, but ignored that the Bible revelation is rooted in real space-and-time history.
In this same manner the WT "explains away" Bible passages that were understood literally by those who heard Jesus. With profuse antitypes and fanciful speculation (especially in regard to date-setting and chronology), they manage to keep their subjects intrigued; always willing to produce new speculation when the old crumbles.
HOW THEN SHOULD THE WATCHTOWER BE VIEWED?
Additionally we could ask, How should we view any who claim to be Christian and yet deny the foundational beliefs of Christianity?
If a man or an organization rejects the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) for another message, the newly-simulated belief cannot be called "Christian," no matter how you look at it. It is a counterfeit - an apostasy from the true Christian faith, regardless of how nice it appears on the outside, or how fast it grows. Groups like the Watchtower, Mormonism, Armstrongism, the Way International, etc. were spearheaded by men who promoted unorthodox doctrine. They have come up with "new light" in order to attract a following.
Nevertheless, we must realize that most of the followers of such groups have never come to know Bible truth accurately, and have never experienced a relationship with Christ (Rev. 3:20). We should be willing to share Christ with JWs and others like them, making a distinction between the DOCTRINE and the PEOPLE.
1They argue that the early Christians did not believe in a Trinity, while ignoring the fact that their own peculiar theology on the nature of God long postdated the Trinitarian theology. There is no record of a belief system like the Jehovah's Witnesses until C.T. Russell came along centuries later.
2This comment was made at the breakfast table of the Watchtower's Brooklyn headquarters during late 1979, in rebuttal to those of the Bethel family who were saying that the simple gospel (1 Cor. 15:14) is the message that should be preached.
3The WT claims that Michael the Archangel's life force was transferred into the
womb of the virgin Mary. Yet, the WT has the problem of a major contradiction in their
`life force' doctrine. They claim that the person Michael came to earth and became Jesus.
(Aid To Bible Understanding, p. 920) Yet, to be a person, they
claim that both a BODY and a LIFE FORCE must be in existence. (Watchtower, April
1881, p. 1) The contradiction is that they also say that ONLY Jesus' life force, NOT his
"spirit body," came to earth. (The Kingdom Is At Hand,
1944, p. 49) Therefore, Michael couldn't have come to earth as a PERSON (life force and
body). One not familiar with their doubletalk would therefore conclude that a NON-PERSON
came from heaven to become the savior of the human race! (from Where Is Michael?,
1984 by Duane Magnani
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