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Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's witnesses are known for their door-to-door evangelism.

Jehovah's Witnesses

As of 2008, Jehovah's Witnesses claim a worldwide church membership of 7.1 million people, scattered in more than 103,000 Kingdom Halls throughout the world, according to their official website, Watchtower. The United States has 1.1 million members, Brazil has over 699,000 and Mexico has nearly 661,000 members. President Dwight Eisenhower was raised a Jehovah's Witness, as were the Jackson Five and their sisters, Rebbie, LaToya and Janet. Singer Prince and author Mickey Spillane converted to the faith.

Operating through their legal entity, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Jehovah's Witnesses have been based in Brooklyn, N.Y. since 1909. Their publications include a Bible study magazine, The Watchtower, published in 174 languages; and a general-interest newsmagazine, Awake!, published in 82 languages. They also publish more than 159 million copies of the Bible in 74 languages, in their own New World translation.

Jehovah's Witnesses History

Jehovah's Witnesses trace their history to an 1870 Pennsylvania Bible study group founded by Charles Taze Russell, a former Seventh-day Adventist. In 1876, he published an article in the Bible Examiner in which he claimed the world would end in October 1914, based on his interpretation of the Book of Daniel. He further claimed that Christ had secretly come to earth in 1874 to prepare his followers for the end times. In July 1879, he published the first issue of Zion's Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence. This led to the founding of some 30 congregations in 1880 and to the forming of the Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society in 1881. In 1884, the Society was incorporated with Russell as president, changing its name in 1896 to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

When the world did not end in 1914, Russell instead claimed that Christ had actually secretly begun his heavenly reign that year. Russell died in 1916 and was succeeded the following year by the Society's lawyer, Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Rutherford centralized control of the Society, giving it its Jehovah's Witnesses name in 1931. Rutherford was succeeded by Nathan Homer Knorr when he died in 1942. The Society established the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, its missionary school, the following year, launching a global evangelism program. Knorr died in 1977 and was succeeded by Frederick William Franz, who was in turn succeeded by Milton G. Henschel on his death in 1992, and Don A. Adams on Henschel's death in 2000.

Jehovah's Witnesses Doctrine

According to Religious Tolerance.org, Jehovah's Witnesses hold many common beliefs with fundamentalist Christians, such as:

  • The Bible was inspired by God and is without error.
  • Jesus is the son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who gave his life as a ransom for the sins of all.
  • God created the world, as stated in the Book of Genesis.
  • Satan has a profound evil influence in the world.

However, Jehovah's Witnesses differ from other Christians in the following regards:

  • There is no Trinity: God is one entity, Jehovah, and the Holy Spirit is only a force that emanates from him.
  • Jesus, God's first creation, originally existed as the Archangel Michael before becoming a man on Earth. He died on a torture stake, not a cross, and was invisibly enthroned as ruler of all creation in 1914.
  • Each of the six days of creation in the Book of Genesis was 7,000 years long.
  • Satan created the concept of hell to turn people against God.

Jehovah's Witnesses also believe that Armageddon is imminent, after which practitioners of false religions will be punished and Christ will establish a 1,000-year earthly utopian reign, at the end of which Satan will be loosed briefly. After this, all will be resurrected and unbelievers will get one last chance to believe. The faithful will then go to their heavenly reward, while Satan and unbelievers will be destroyed. Out of the faithful, a group of 144,000, selected over time, will become co-rulers in heaven.

Jehovah's Witnesses Structure

Jehovah's Witnesses hold their public meetings and Watchtower studies at Kingdom Halls. Public meetings, usually held on Sundays, are 45-minute Bible-based lectures led by elders, assisted by ministerial servants. The Watchtower study is an hour-long question-and-answer session on a Bible topic found in The Watchtower magazine. Weekday evening services include the Theocratic Ministry School to help members improve their public reading and speaking skills, and the Service Meeting, to improve evangelistic skills. Church members also gather in small groups in other member's homes for topical Bible studies directed around one of the Society's publications.

Congregations are grouped into circuits of 20, led by a circuit overseer who visits each congregation in the circuit twice a year and organizes semiannual circuit conventions. Circuits are grouped into districts, which are led by a district overseer who organizes annual district conventions. Districts are grouped into branches, which are, in turn, grouped into zones. The church overall is governed from its Brooklyn headquarters by an anointed 11-member, all-male body.

Jehovah's Witnesses Practices

Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door evangelism. Those who commit to at least 50 hours per month are called pioneers, and those who evangelize once a week are called publishers. While pioneers and publishers may be of either sex, leadership roles among Jehovah's Witnesses are strictly male, and families are encouraged to follow traditional roles. However, members should not hold racial or ethnic biases.

Jehovah's Witnesses consider all days holy; their only special day is the Memorial of Christ's Death. They celebrate no other holidays, not even their own birthdays. They do not take up collections during their services, although a donation box is available for those who wish to donate as they leave the Kingdom Hall. Baptism is performed by immersion once the believer reaches the age of responsibility, while the Lord's Supper is given only during the Memorial of Christ's death, and only the living among the chosen 144,000 may partake of it.

Regular Bible study is strongly encouraged, with the goal of reading the entire Bible in a year. While the Society publishes its own translation, members are not required to use it, although they are encouraged to use Watchtower materials as study guides.

Jehovah's Witnesses strongly believe in religious freedom and have fought for it in courts throughout the world. However, unrepentant members guilty of serious violations of church teachings are disfellowshipped, shunned by everyone outside their immediate family.

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