The front doorbell rings on a sunny Saturday afternoon. You are busy scrubbing the fry pan that is submerged under hot, soapy dishwater. Of course it rings now. You grab a dishtowel, begin wiping away the glistening suds that have formed like gloves on your hands, rush to the window, and peak outside. There are no strange cars in the driveway, but you can see figures on your front steps. They don’t look like trouble, but they don’t look familiar either. Upon opening the door, you find two neatly dressed individuals with pleasant smiles. They are holding small books and thin paper magazines. After a quick greeting they explain that they are in your neighborhood sharing an important message. While you are fumbling around trying to decide what to do with the wet dishtowel and fumbling around with what to say, they segue into the topics of current events, the future, and God! Sound familiar? If it does, you know that I am describing a visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Back Story to a Life of Apologetics
A scene like the one above could serve as the origin story for many apologists. Encounters like that have a way of revealing to a Christian their need to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in them. (1 Peter 3:15) Something similar was almost my origin story, as I experienced a visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses early on in my Christian life. However, the real beginning of my work and ministry in apologetics was caused by something just prior.
Since both things occurred close together in time and both affected my trajectory as an apologist, I’d like to share the story of my first visit from Witnesses and what came right before it. It is my hope that in sharing you might get to know my heart better; but more importantly, it is my prayer that you will be inspired to start your own life of apologetics if you have not yet. We will look at that possibility more closely in a new post next week. Your beginning does not have to be an extraordinary tale as you will soon see. It can even begin with the simple decision to begin. What matters is that it does begin, for we are all called to be ready. (1 Peter 3:15)
The reason I began the work of apologetics was family. It all started in the late 1980s after I learned that a family member (by marriage) was meeting with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. At that time, I was a brand new Christian; and I only had common knowledge about the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had heard that they were a cult. From personal experience, I had seen that Witnesses were polite people. Back when I was in high school, a family of Witnesses lived nearby. The kids and I rode the same bus to school. They were always well-behaved and nice to me. But politeness does not erase the dangers of false teachings, so I knew I had to look into their religion more.
The news that my family member was studying with Witnesses led me to talk with a Christian co-worker named Pauline. She had a lot more Bible knowledge than me at that time and was compassionate towards the lost. When I mentioned the meetings, her demeanor turned serious. I still remember the worried look on her face as she advised intervention. She knew about Jehovah’s Witnesses and shared an overview of their teachings. Amongst other things, I learned that they denied the Trinity, taught “another Jesus” and a “different gospel” from that of the Bible (2 Corinthians 11:4), and could indeed be classified as a cult.
All this explained my friend’s concern and broke my heart. I feared for my family member’s salvation and desperately wanted to talk with them and discuss what the Bible says. At that time, due to my newness of faith, I was green in the word; but I was anxious to help. In order to do that, I needed to get educated. My husband and I both got to work and began closely examining the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They can be found in the publications of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (aka the Watch Tower Society and Watch Tower Organization). We compared these teachings to the Bible, found them to be indeed contrary to the Scriptures, and began to prepare ourselves to be able to speak about our hope in Christ and defend Christianity biblically. So began my life of apologetics, long before I even knew that word.
The First Visit
Shortly after beginning to study the teachings from the Watch Tower Society and while preparing to hopefully meet with my family member, I got my first visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses! God’s timing is perfect! This visit was the first of many. Through the years, the sound of our doorbell has led to many interesting conversations with Witnesses. Some lasted minutes; some lasted months.
My first visit occurred when my husband and I were newlyweds. I was home alone in our apartment when I heard a knock on our door. When I opened it, I found two friendly sisters who were eager to talk with me. After a brief conversation, I invited them to come back again at a more convenient time. They agreed! As they left the building, I rejoiced that I would see them again.
Why was I happy? Because during our studies of the Society’s teachings, I had developed a strong desire to minister to any and all Jehovah’s Witnesses, not just our family member who was studying with them. And now some had come to our door and were coming back!! It was our hope and prayer that we would be able to shed some light with the true gospel and see them (and other Witnesses) come to know Christ and break free from the Watch Tower.
The Return Visit
Preparing to talk with our family member had given us a head start for meeting with other Witnesses, but my husband and I knew that we needed to do more work before the two women came back. So we did more research in the interim. As it turned out, only one of the women came back; and to our surprise, she brought her husband. When they arrived, I had pages of notes filled with Bible verses about the deity of Christ ready to share as well as notes and verses about other topics related to their teachings. Sadly, things did not go as hoped. At first, the conversation was pleasant; but as it became clear to them that we were presenting biblical evidence that Jesus was God, the husband became angry. He stood, aggressively wagged his finger in my husband’s face, and attempted to set us straight. He said he was older and more experienced, and we were not going to convince him of anything.
At that point, it was clear that our visit was over. As the husband and wife were preparing to leave, I was torn up inside. I didn’t want them to go. My heart ached and feared for them. They did not believe in the true God! How would they face eternity without Him? In a last ditch effort, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I offered them my notes. I stretched out my hands to give them my thick binder notebook that represented weeks of study and contained the only copy of my research. (This was before computers; so research was done manually with books, pens, and paper!) But I didn’t care about the time or effort spent or the loss of the resource; I would have gladly surrendered it to them. To my dismay, they refused and recoiled from my binder as if it was toxic. They left shortly after. (The husband’s behavior was not typical of other Witnesses that we have encountered and met with. Most were polite. However, many were just as unwilling or unable to discuss things past a certain point.)
My husband and I were stunned by their reaction. To us, the truth about God must be sought no matter where it leads. We just assumed anyone claiming to follow the Bible and be a Christian would think the same way. Oh, we had much to learn about mind control, the pressure to ignore or rationalize away red flags about one’s beliefs, and the depth of spiritual deception working in the hearts and minds of those involved with groups like the Watch Tower. We also had more to learn about how to best minister to them.
Apologetics and a Life of Ministry
To Jehovah Witnesses
This experience did not hinder our desire to minister to Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the contrary, it fueled our motivation by showing us how real the need was. Our desire to help Witnesses grew, and we began to minister to them in various ways. In order to do this, we continued to study topics in the Bible that were relevant to their beliefs. We also gathered more knowledge about the teachings, history, and workings of the Watch Tower Society. This was aided by reviewing official Watch Tower publications that we collected from various sources including used book stores. In time, we collected Watch Tower material that could rival a local Kingdom Hall’s library. (A Kingdom Hall is the meeting place for Witnesses.) Contrasting what we found in this material with the Bible helped to prepare us to speak with Witnesses and helped us increase our understanding of biblical Christianity too.
One thing my husband did as part of our ministry to Witnesses was set up a twenty-four hour message phone line for them. He advertised the phone number and title of the messages in newspapers. (This was before the Internet was available as the outreach tool it is today.) Witnesses or anyone interested could call anonymously and hear a recorded message about relevant Bible verses or the Society that would hopefully help crack open the shell of deception or denial and let some light in. It was quite the thing to hear that phone ring, especially late at night, knowing that the soul on the other side was in such need. We prayed that God would open their eyes.
Besides the work that we did on our own, we also connected with former Witnesses and worked with them to minister to current Witnesses through various outreaches. That work continues today.
To Mormons and more
Our desire to help those who rang our doorbell looking to share “the good news” also spread to others. Mormonism was an obvious mission field choice. We met with them too. One time we saw a commercial on TV that was put out by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were advertising a free book. We called and ordered it because we guessed it would be personally delivered by a pair of young Mormon men. Yeah, we did that; and we were right. They came. We simply wanted to do whatever we could to help these lost souls know Christ. For me, apologetics flows out of a desire to defend the truth of biblical Christianity to the glory of God; but of course there’s more. I also hope to see some come out of darkness and into the light of salvation in Christ. As my Statement of Faith says: “I believe that the aim of apologetics is not to win arguments but to glorify God and to promote correct biblical knowledge and true worship.”
As time went on, we studied other groups too all in the light of the Scriptures, testing both our beliefs and theirs. We prepared ourselves to be able to give an answer for the hope that is in us in response to any challenges to our faith (1 Peter 3:15) and prepared ourselves to pro-actively minster to others. During this work, which also continues to this day, we continued our study of Catholicism. My husband and I grew up Catholic, so this was close to home. We also studied Islam, Eastern Religions, Seventh-day Adventism, the World Wide Church of God, the Boston Church of Christ, Freemasonry, Gnosticism, atheism, evolution, and more. People have come into our lives with all kinds of beliefs and questions. It is always a blessing to share whenever and whatever we can. We do not think this work to be extraordinary. To us, it is simply what Christians do as a result of wanting so badly to exalt the glorious truth of God’s word above all error so that God would be know and glorified and that souls would be saved and set free from sin and deception.
In time, we also found the need to spread our net wider and study things like the Word of Faith movement and other various popular, erroneous “Christian” movements, teachings, and teachers. These last categories were not as big of an issue when we started out as they are today. It breaks my heart to see the widespread lack of Bible knowledge and discernment in the church today along with the masses who embrace false teachings without even knowing it. Many need a course correction or intervention to help them see that what they think is sound teaching, really isn’t. With the help of God, I jump in and do that work whenever I can. I also try to diminish the need by teaching and encouraging discernment. I will play this broken record till the day I die: Test everyone that you turn to for teachings about God, about matters of faith, and about the Christian life by the Bible! (See links below for some guidance in this area.)
It is my understanding that some cults are dwindling in size. The Watch Tower Society’s and Church of Scientology’s numbers are down. Hopefully, other groups are shrinking too. That’s good news, but is it partly because the powers of darkness do not need these groups as much as they used to because many can come into or be within “the church” and happily have their ears tickled by “Christian” teachings and be deceived? A sad thought. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Praise and Glory to God
Over the years, my husband and I have had many exchanges with people of different religions and with various beliefs in person, in letters, and online. We always seem to be in the middle of preparing to meet with someone. I do not doubt for a moment that it was our encounters with the teachings of the Watch Tower Society in those early years that lit a fire in us and paved the way for a life of apologetics. I loved the work then and I still do. While it’s true that researching is home for me, I also enjoy learning new things. But more than anything, I love God and His word; and so desire to see Him known, worshiped in truth, and glorified. It is all for naught if these are not the goals of apologetics. I thank Him for the lives we have seen come to Him and pray we have planted many seeds along the way. We know that what comes of our efforts is up to our sovereign and merciful Lord “who works all things after the counsel of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11) To Him be the glory. Amen!
Next week, be on the lookout for a new post. In it, we will turn our attention to your origin story as an apologist. I will be inviting you to share it then. If you don’t have one, that’s ok. We will also be looking at how to get started in this important work! There will also be information about a new Bible study that will be starting next week, Lord willing!
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Some discernment guides:
1. Background Checks Introduction: Testing the doctrines and teachings of Christian groups and individuals
2. Discernment Guide: How to avoid or escape the snare of false teachings