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I was a Jehovah¹s Witness for 15 years

I was a Jehovah's Witness for 15 years. My wife Vivian was a Witness all of her life before we were disfellowshipped (excommunicated) in 1988. We were very happy in our Watchtower world for most of the time. We might still be there but for the grace of God and the witness of Christians who died long before either Vivian or I were born.

Before I explain the last statement, let me fill in some background. I became a Witness in 1971. Christians I meet ask me why a bright guy like myself would get involved in a cult. The answer I give them is that Jehovah¹s Witnesses answered the questions I had; about God, about death, about the purpose of life, and mostly about the future. You might be thinking I could have received better answers from any informed Christian.
That is true, but Jehovah¹s Witnesses came to my door and Christians did not. They gave me answers instantly that I had never heard in Sunday School or church. The answers were usually wrong, but they were always using the Bible, and I had no reason to think they were using it dishonestly. Nor could I suspect their motives. They were obviously such nice people, and the most zealous "Christians" I had ever met, with sincerity, zeal and answers from the Bible for every question. Within a few months I was convinced.

The Watchtower was God's voice to the 20th century. I was also convinced I must act on that knowledge. The year 1975 was only a handful of years away, and from 1966 onward the Watchtower publicized that year as the "appropriate" time for the millennium to begin and for Armageddon to take care of the world's problems. For me, a casualty of the tumultuous 1960's, the certainty of this "soon to be solution to all of life's tragedies and mysteries" was good news, much better than the gospel I remembered from church.

By 1974 I was a full time "pioneer" (missionary) for the Watchtower in Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto. That is where I met Vivian and her family. They were part of the warm Witness community that I fell into. It was easy to "catch the fire" among that very active and committed bunch. We were like one big family. It seemed like Jesus' promise to reward hundredfold, those who sacrifice family for "the truth" (as the Witnesses refer to their religion), was definitely true in my case. Jehovah had even blessed me by using me to bring many of my "worldly" friends into the Watchtower

I had become a very competent "prooftexter" by this time, so that Witness friends often took me along to handle "born-againers" they bumped into. Some of these people seemed very nice, but all they seemed to talk about was Jesus, the Trinity and hell. They obviously knew little else. Some of the better informed among them, including a few ministers, occasionally made claims about false prophecies in the Watchtower's past, but they never substantiated what they said, nor did they show much interest in
following up on our conversations. These experiences only served to confirm
the Watchtower's contention that people in "Babylon the Great" (all other religions) were spiritually starving and did not care enough about God (or neighbor) to try to convert unbelievers.

It was not until the early 1980's, by which time I was an elder and Vivian and I were married, that my confidence suffered its first good shake. A fellow Witness handed me a copy of Josh McDowell's excellent work on Christian apologetics, "Evidence That Demands A Verdict". A quick scan sufficed to show me that this book was superior to anything the Watchtower had produced as a witnessing tool. Two chapters that really impressed me were on the value of prophecy in demonstrating the Bibles' inspiration. I
started to hunt down some of the books in the bibliographies. It didn't take long to find a few in Toronto's used book stores. Generally, the older they were, the better they were. A marvelous example is John Urquhart's "The Wonders of Prophecy" (from around 1905). These forgotten old books seemed to breathe deep devotion to Christ and the Bible, a lively contrast to the monotonous style and content of Watchtower publications.

Yet at the same time as my respect for "dead" Christians was increasing, my view of the living species remained unchanged. The Watchtower did not have a monopoly on monotony. Almost all "born-againers" used the same approach. Perhaps reproach would be a better word, for most seemed to take offense to the point of scolding us because J.W.'s did not teach the truth about Jesus. I know now that they were trying to defend their Lord, but discussing doctrine with Witnesses is futile (for the reason, check 1 Corinthians 2:14). Very, very few Christians seemed to realize that those who are trained by the Watchtower speak a language all their own. Even when the words are the same , the meaning is different.

In 1984 I finally met a Christian who took a missionary approach to the Witnesses. Raymond was not a minister nor a divinity student. He was a soft spoken young man who somehow knew that preparation and persistence were essential in witnessing to Witnesses. Missionaries usually need to learn a new language and Raymond took the time to investigate Watchtower publications in order to find ways to approach Witnesses. He saw that the Watchtower's pet subject was prophecy and addressed his questions primarily to that subject. He had also come to realize that Witnesses have a
long range approach to witnessing, and therefore did not depend on the one shot method of evangelizing them. He was willing to devote a whole series of his Sunday afternoons to cultivating a familiarity, and even a friendship with me, before we finally discontinued the arrangement amicably, agreeing to disagree.

What Raymond did not know, and still does not know, is that his habit of preparation, his persistent and even dogged spirit, had planted seeds that were to produce a crop two years later. By 1986 I had reached a crossroads. Through Raymond's perseverance in seed planting and through my discovery of "dead" Christians' living testimony, God had led me to a more complete trust in the authority of the Bible and of Christ. At the same time, my faith in the Watchtower was crumbling. In attempting to convert sincere Christians, I had also discovered several skeletons in the Watchtower's closet.

Since 1931, the year Jehovah's Witnesses received their name, the powerful propaganda machine of the Watchtower has waged continual warfare against the 'pagan' teachings of the Christian church. Before that year, the Watchtower saw nothing wrong with the age-long symbol of Christianity, the cross. In fact, the 'Cross and Crown' symbol was emblazoned on the front page of every issue of the magazine.

But now, in view of the 'progressive enlightenment' of Watchtower President
J. F. Rutherford, not only was the cross NOT a fitting symbol for Christianity, it was a pagan phallic (sexual) symbol. Ever since, Jehovah's Witnesses have tirelessly passed on to the (often outraged) public this discovery of their 'advancing light'.

And modern Witnesses do not stop at insisting that the cross is pagan. That information, even if accurate, would not of itself decide against its appropriation as a Christian symbol --- unless it could be demonstrated that the method of execution of Jesus was NOT the cross.

Therefore the Watchtower attack on the cross takes both these tacks. For example, the first point made under the heading "cross" in the Witness door-to-door manual, Reasoning From The Scriptures, is that the original meaning of the Greek word rendered "cross" in most Bibles is "upright stake". It is then admitted that this Greek word stauros later came to refer to "an execution stake having a crosspiece". Yet immediately, Watchtower writers resume their attempt to demonstrate that "the weight of the evidence indicates that Jesus died on an upright stake and not on a traditional
cross" (Reasoning, p. 90).

The potency of Watchtower propaganda came home to me with newly-personal meaning shortly after I ceased attending JW meetings in 1986. I had decided to investigate Watchtower teachings and history closely, and was reading widely outside the Society's publications already. The difference now, though, was that whereas before I had read outside materials to disprove other religions from their own tools, by now I had enough doubts that I was reading for the first time with a relatively open mind.

One day I happened across a passage on Ezekiel 9 in Jack Finegan's The Archeology of the New Testament. Now Finegan was a name I knew from Society publications. He was usually cited as an authority to back up Watchtower claims as to the reliability of Scripture. But in Finegan I ran across an interesting fact I didn't recall from the Society's most recent 'commentary' on Ezekiel, "The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah" - How? (1971).

Finegan pointed out:
"In [Ezekiel] 9:4 the man clothed in linen is instructed to go through the city of Jerusalem and put a mark (taw) upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over the abominations that are committed in the city ... In Hebrew, the word Taw both signified a "mark" and was also the name of the last letter of the alphabet, a letter which, in the old Hebrew script, was still written in the elemental form of a cross down at least to the eve of the NT period, or even into that period. [The Archeology of the New Testament pp. 223, 224].

This raised several questions in my mind. Why hadn't the Watchtower mentioned this uncomfortable fact in their discussion of the 'mark'? What were the implications for the claimed 'pagan' origin of the cross? Why are Jehovah's Witnesses 'enemies of the cross of Christ' (Phil. 3:18)? Is it that the cross is a pagan symbol, a phallic symbol --- or is it that it symbolizes something essential in the apostolic witness, something that is
missing from ALL false gospels?

For finally, opposition to the cross is opposition to THE gospel. The Apostle Paul finds in the Crucified One the symbol of both our helplessness and God's power:

"For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God ... we preach Christ crucified... may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ..."[1 Cor. 1:18, 23; Gal. 6:14, 17].

The cross for Paul, symbolizes also the vanity of ALL man's aspirations --- that is, aspirations which ignore the only God-given means of salvation, the blood of Christ. Everything that man ADDS to Christ's sacrifice, Paul asserts, effectively DENIES it. Therefore it is no accident that the Watchtower's salvation system, like all false gospels, denies the efficacy--- the meaning --- of the cross, even while denying the historicity of it.

Even though the NWT (New World Translation) substitutes the words 'torture stake' in every text where 'cross' appears in most Bibles, the 'torture stake' has little to do with the JW's 'gospel'. Indeed, it is rarely mentioned except when the 'paganism' of the church is the issue. No, the 'boasting' of JW's, the crux, as it were, of their message,
is not the cross, but the necessity of loyalty to God's 'earthly organization' if one is to have a hope of entering the kingdom. Even before the Watchtower denied the historicity of the cross, it denied the truth of it.

For the Watchtower, like all man-made religions, must give man some credit
for his own salvation.

David Aspinall

Reprinted from the Apologia Journal