Should Jehovah’s Witnesses Examine Their Religion?
Jehovah’s Witnesses zealously seek to convert people of other religions, including Christians, to their own religion. They rightly urge people to examine what their religion teaches. The following statement is a well-known example from one of their most widely-published books:
Since we do not want our worship to be in vain, it is important for each one of us to examine his religion. We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. Are its teachings in full harmony with God’s Word, or are they based on the traditions of men?1
Jehovah’s Witnesses also rightly point out that merely using the Bible does not mean that a religion is actually faithful to what the Bible teaches:
Since many religions today are not doing God’s will, we cannot simply assume that the teachings of the religious organization we are associated with are in agreement with God’s Word. The mere fact that the Bible is used by a religion does not of itself prove that all the things it teaches and practices are in the Bible. It is important that we ourselves examine whether they are or not. Persons in the city of Beroea were commended because, after the Christian apostle Paul preached to them, they checked the Scriptures to make sure that the things he was telling them were true. (Acts 17:10, 11) The religion that is approved by God must agree in every way with the Bible; it will not accept certain parts of the Bible and reject other parts.—2 Timothy 3:16.2
We would respectfully suggest that Jehovah’s Witnesses ought to do the same. They also ought to examine their religion carefully to see whether it really teaches the Bible faithfully. In a separate article, we offer some thoughts about how a Jehovah’s Witness (or anyone else) should go about examining his or her religion.3 In this article, we will simply explain why this is something every Jehovah’s Witness should do.
If You Are a Jehovah’s Witness, Should You Examine Your Religion?
Let’s consider briefly three reasons why Jehovah’s Witnesses should examine their own religion.
1. Jehovah’s Witnesses should do what they tell others they ought to do.
The apostle Paul chastised his fellow Jews for failing to abide by the standards they set for others: “You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom. 2:17 ESV). We all ought to be careful not to fall into this error of expecting others to do good things that we ourselves are unwilling to do. The point here is simple and easily understood: If Jehovah’s Witnesses encourage others to examine their religion, they ought to be willing to do so themselves.
2. Jehovah’s Witnesses consider themselves dependent on their religious organization for their very salvation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses warn other people to examine their religious organization carefully because their salvation depends on it:
Similarly, it is wise to examine religion carefully. If you belong to a religious organization, you are, in effect, putting your spiritual life in its hands. This includes your prospects for salvation.4
The Watchtower makes the same point specifically in regard to the Catholic Church:
The Catholic Church occupies a very significant position in the world and claims to be the way of salvation for hundreds of millions of people. Any organization that assumes that position should be willing to submit to scrutiny and criticism. All who criticize have the obligation to be truthful in presenting the facts and fair and objective in assessing such. 5
It should be noted that not all people of faith put their trust in a religious organization for their salvation. The Bible-believing evangelical puts his faith completely in Christ, not in a denomination or church. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses do depend on their organization for salvation, since they accept the claim that no one can be saved apart from the organization:
If we are to have Jehovah’s favor and blessing as individuals, we must support his organization and accept adjustments in our understanding of the Scriptures…. All who remain loyal to Jehovah and his organization will have his continued blessing…. For such Scriptural promises to become realities for us as individuals, we must continue to make spiritual progress, moving ahead with God’s organization, always keeping pace with it.6
Since they look to their religious organization as essential to their salvation, it is incumbent on Jehovah’s Witnesses to examine their religion and make sure they are indeed following the truth.
3. Jehovah’s Witnesses have nothing to lose of eternal value and everything to gain.
The Watchtower publication quoted toward the beginning of this article continued its appeal for people to examine their religion in light of the Bible with the following excellent observation:
If we are lovers of the truth, there is nothing to fear from such an examination. It should be the sincere desire of every one of us to learn what God’s will is for us, and then to do it.7
Indeed! Jehovah’s Witnesses have nothing to fear from an honest examination of their religion. If the Watchtower teaches the true religion, scrutinizing its teachings and asking hard questions will yield a better understanding of its truth and a greater ability to defend it. On the other hand, if its teachings are in important respects false, the honest person will want to know that they are false and to find out what the truth really is.
This is not to say that questioning the Jehovah’s Witness religion is easy. A Jehovah’s Witness who concludes that his religion is in error (even in only some matters) can be “disfellowshiped,” or excommunicated, from the religion. The former Jehovah’s Witness will likely experience some tensions with family members who are still members, even estrangement. He or she may also lose friends. On the other hand, we should acknowledge that some Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they converted to the Watchtower religion, have experienced rejection from family members who did not approve of that religion. Once they become Witnesses, they often invest a great deal of time and effort into the religion. Such zeal is admirable; however, zeal has real value only if one is zealous for what is true (see Rom. 10:2). The zealous advocate of horoscopes is wasting his zeal. This is why, no matter how zealous, sincere, hard-working, or committed we might be, unless it is in the service of the truth it will all be for naught.
The anticipated consequences of renouncing the Watchtower religion can discourage a Jehovah’s Witness from putting its teachings to the test. But the stakes could not be higher. Ultimately the issue here is not about a religion but about a Person—Jesus Christ. No one can follow Christ who does not put him above everything else:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).
1. The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life (Watchtower, 1981), 13.
2. You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (Watchtower, 1989), 31.
3. Robert M. Bowman Jr., “How Should Jehovah’s Witnesses Examine Their Religion?” (Cedar Springs, MI: Institute for Religious Research, 2017).
4. “Why Question Religion?” Watchtower, July 1, 2013, 3.
5. “From Our Readers,” Awake!, Aug. 22, 1984, 28.
6. “Are You Moving Ahead with Jehovah’s Organization?” Watchtower, May 15, 2014, 29-30.
7. Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, 13.