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Did Early Christians Preach Door-to-Door?



The Claim

The Problem: An Identity Crisis

How the Witnesses have justified door-to-door evangelism

Watchtower admissions in the 1970s

What about Acts 5:42?

Acts 2:46 -- Why is the Watchtower not consistent?

Does Acts 20 indicate Paul went door-to-door?

The Evidence of Paul's Epistles


Watchtower admissions in the 1970s

Shortly after my baptism, the Society released the book Organized for Kingdom-Preaching and Disciple-Making. This book was designed to be a congregational manual for Witnesses. Chapter 6 is devoted to forms of evangelism. That chapter's title, Your Service to God, is indicative of the shift of emphasis during the 1970s. For the first time, albeit cautiously, the Watchtower backs off the use of standard prooftexts for house to house work, Matthew 10, Acts 5 and Acts 20. (See especially pages 112-116.)

Ex-Governing Body member Raymond Franz devotes much space to the background of these changes, governing body discussions during the 1970s. He records that Watchtower leaders unanimously approved the Organization book chapter on ministry – minus the traditional prooftexts, Acts 5:42 and Acts 20:20. These texts, Franz reports, were thoroughly discussed at governing body meetings, and finally there was no dissent at all among the 11 members of the Watchtower elite that, while the door-to-door method would continue to be promoted, it could not be supported from these texts. Franz goes on to note that this understanding continued unchallenged during the Watchtower's years of fastest growth, 1972-1975. Then, suddenly, the Witnesses experienced an unprecedented 2 consecutive years of numerical decline. Apparently, by 1980, about a million Witnesses drifted away or deliberately defected. Franz shows how the governing body dealt with this reversal. Instead of blaming themselves for the 1975 scandal, they instead blamed the 'brothers' for expecting too much(!!), and decided simultaneously that the old favourite prooftexts were needed after all to shore up the Witnesses lagging interest in witnessing. By 1983 the Society found it necessary to rewrite the Organization book, barely a decade old, and now retitled Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry. This time, however, the chapter on 'field service' is entitled Ministry of good news, rather than Your service to God, and its emphasis is right back where it was before 1972:

House-to-house preaching is not a modern innovation of Jehovah's Witnesses. It was firmly established in theocratic history long ago in the days of the apostles. Outstandingly, the apostle Paul refers to his teaching in the homes of people ... (p. 84)

Once again, the Society draws attention to how "thoroughly" Paul did his work in Ephesus. Then the writer quickly moves off the text, exhorting Witnesses to imitate the apostles and support the local congregation's field service arrangements. So little space is given to the Acts texts – in fact, Acts 5:42 isn't even mentioned – that the hasty reader of the cited paragraph might miss a telling detail. After insisting Jehovah's Witnesses didn't invent house-to-house preaching, the Society's writer supports his argument by referring to Paul's work in the homes, not at the doors, of his disciples in Ephesus. Why this subtle shift? Was the writer aware of the tangled web he would weave by insisting Paul meant door-to-door evangelism rather than home visitation? Yet, despite the faltering faith of the Watchtower leaders in the usefulness of Acts 5:42, you will still find that the average Witness blithely refers to it in 'proving' early Christians went door-to-door just as he does. And indeed, a superficial reading of that text – apart from its context – might well seem to support the Watchtower position.

Were the Apostles Really 'Jehovah's Witnesses'?

As outlandish as that question may seem, Jehovah's Witnesses take pride in the claim that they -- and they only – are imitators of the method of evangelism practised by the early church. But did 1st century believers -- even the apostles -- go door-to-door, or does the book of Acts present a different picture of preaching work of the early church?