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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

17 July 2008

Confessing Christ to a Non-Christian

Q: Last week I tried to witnesses to some Jehovah’s Witnesses and I ended up learning more about what I do not know then being able to effectively witnesses to them. One of their positions was that since Jesus was human he could not take his body back to heaven with him. Heaven is the place where spirits dwell. How could I have effectively answered this question? In my mind, I have no problem with this: He’s God.

Jehovah's WitnessA: You have no problem because your faith lies in the “main branch” of Christianity. Jehovah’s Witnesses largely continue Christological errors condemned by early Church councils, particularly those of Arianism. It was a faulty understanding of God, especially of Jesus Christ, that led orthodox Christians to formulate the Nicene Creed, a confession that clearly rebuts many of the errors of Jehovah’s Witnesses. To compare orthodox Christianity with this false and damnable religion, see how their own official web site answers the question, What Does the Bible Say About God and Jesus?

As for their mistaken theology of heaven, nothing in Scripture says that God’s dwelling place excludes material beings. After all, the Bible tells of two others who bodily left this earth before Christ. Did the Lord strip away the bodies of Enoch and Elijah before bringing them into heaven?

JWs overemphasize Pauline preaching on the wickedness of the flesh versus the righteousness of the spirit, essentially converting humanity into beings of spirit who temporarily inhabit bodies rather than unified beings of body, mind, and spirit. Their understanding of human life actually resembles Platonic philosophy, which claimed that the non-physical world is made of better stuff than is the physical. However, God chose to create huge amounts of matter (our universe) and even involved Himself in the detailed sculpting of Adam.

I’ll not give you any detailed instructions for future encounters, just some good general advice: Try to educate yourself about major doctrinal differences and search the Scriptures to see how Watchtower teaching jibes with the truth of God’s Word. Don’t attempt to argue someone into the Faith; debates don’t win people to Christ. This is especially true for Jehovah’s Witnesses, since they tend to turn challenges for debate into examples of how they’re being persecuted for their beliefs. Be gentle and caring but stand firm in the Faith.

Of course, since we don’t try to understand every revealed truth, there will be points where your Jehovah’s Witness visitors might try to point out that you’re worshiping falsely because you cannot logically defend certain Scriptural teachings. You’ve already encountered this in their unbiblical partitioning of the Son of God’s human and divine natures. It also shows in their denial of God’s Triune nature and elsewhere in their theology.

While the statements themselves might be cumbersome to use directly in your confession of faith, I also encourage you to truly know and, as much as possible, to understand the Creeds. For instance, many of the rejections in the Athanasian Creed could give you a handle for future conversations with these JWs. Along with this and the Nicene Creed, don’t forget the Apostles’ Creed or the Church’s finest sung creed, the Te Deum. Don’t worry about mis-speaking; confess Christ as you’ve learned within His Church and pray that His Gospel would cast out these false teachings and lead these people into the knowledge of the truth.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Newspaper column #547:1


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