Who are the Jehovah's Witnesses? - Part 3: Beliefs and practices
Some of the beliefs, practices and observances of Jehovah's Witnesses set them poles apart from other Christian denominations, and it has always been like that from the early days. They refer to their body of beliefs as the Truth, and consider themselves to be in the Truth.
The society, founded by Charles Taze Russell in the 1870s, has seen much evolution doctrinal, leadership, organisational, and otherwise. It now has a worldwide membership of about 8.45 million, and is governed by a central authority located in Brooklyn, New York.
In the beginning, Russell disputed many beliefs of mainstream Christianity, including the concept of the immortality of the soul, hell fire, predestination, the physical return of Jesus Christ, the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) and the destruction of the world by fire.
He believed time, as we know it, would end, Paradise would be restored on Earth, and people would get their just reward during that 'Harvest Time'. Jesus Christ had returned, he claimed, in 1874 as a spiritual being, and that by 1914 God's Kingdom would be fully established on Earth.
Russell died in 1916. But the differences between Jehovah's Witnesses and other religions continue. They still reject the Holy Trinity, the concept of the immortality of the soul, and hell fire. These, they say, are not based on biblical scriptures. And most importantly, they believe all other religions/denominations are false, and that their society is a restoration of first-century Christianity.
Jehovah, then, is the only true God, the 'universal sovereign', the Creator of all things. He reveals his will and purpose gradually, and enlightenment comes from reasoning and the study of his word, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and directions from Jesus Christ and angels. God is at the centre of their worship. Their teachings are based on his words, and not on those of man.
The Bible, containing his words, is considered scientifically and historically accurate and reliable. Much of it is interpreted literally, but there are parts that are accepted symbolically. It is the final authority for all their beliefs. They also prefer to use their own Bible translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
Thus, members are cautioned against coming up with doctrines acquired from Bible research independent of Watch Tower Society publications, and are warned against reading other religious literature. They distribute their literature on public thoroughfares, do door-to-door preaching, and worship in Kingdom Halls, not churches.
Emphasis is placed on God, rather than on Jesus Christ, who is God's only direct creation. Everything else is created through Christ by means of God's power. Christ, who died on an upright post, shed his blood as an atonement for the sins of mankind. Satan and his demons, on the other hand, are responsible for the ills and evils of the world.
Satan and corrupt world governments, which he controls, will be replaced after Armageddon, the great final conflict, by God's Kingdom, a literal government in Heaven, ruled by Jesus Christ and 144,000 "spirit-appointed" Christians drawn from Earth. They will rule as kings and priests, along with the others who have been resurrected by God to a cleansed earth after Armageddon.
But, while the concept of Heaven is alive, there is no hell, no place of fire in which sinners will suffer forever, nor will the earth be destroyed by fire. The grave is the final resting place for the unsaved. And death is a state of unconsciousness.
In addition to their beliefs and practices, there is a long list of things that Jehovah's Witnesses do not do, encourage, and condemn. They include fornication, homosexual practices, same-sex marriages, abortion, suicide, gambling, drunkenness, illegal drugs, smoking tobacco, polygamous marriages, marrying non-members, and mixing of religions.
They do not give military services, do not do blood transfusions, and refuse to sing national anthems and salute national flags. They do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and other holidays and customs they consider pagan. The husband is the authority in the house, and divorce is discouraged. It is supported under certain circumstances.
Social interactions with non-Witnesses is limited, and there are strict moral and social codes to which members must adhere. Congregational disciplinary actions include disfellowship (expulsion and shunning). Baptised members who have formally left are considered dissociates and are also shunned. Repented members may be welcome back into the fold.