I find it particularly sad to write about why I left Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was my cherished, most beloved system of belief, closer than my mother – more than any lover could ever be. Leaving broke my heart in a way that nothing yet has been able to mend.
But I choose to say “I left” because it was my decision to be expelled from the religion.
I chose to pose rational, sincere questions to the elders on my judicial committee. I directly challenged their right to invade the privacy of others simply because they believe they have authority to do so.
Before I begin, I think it would be best to explain the reasons for leaving the organization that do not apply in my case. I want to dispel some of the generalizations that current Witnesses are usually told about those who leave.
I did not leave because I wanted to commit fornication or engage in any particular “worldly” activities that were forbidden. Without a doubt, I had been guilty of fornication, but the elders knew that fornication had nothing whatsoever to do with their decision to expel me. By the time they made their decision, I was married and no longer practicing sin. I didn’t discuss the nature of my sin with the elders for several months, because by then I’d stopped engaging in it. When they confronted me with my errors, I did not pretend that my sins were acceptable or try to lie as though they did not happen. In fact, I frankly and openly admitted my wrongdoing.
However, I refused to disclose any information that would identify someone who was not a Jehovah’s Witness. That information did not, in my opinion, fall under the authority of the elders or anything they needed to know. The elders failed to provide any logical reason for me to disclose that information beyond their personal curiosity to know the details. My refusal may have been factored against me, but I took the position that the elders’ authority does not extend outside of the congregation. “Does not God judge those on the outside?” -1 Cor. 5:13. Based on that scripture, I chose not to tell them anything related to the other person involved.
I also did not leave because I no longer cared about serving God. In fact, it was my desire to know the truth about God that caused me to question my beliefs in the first place. Questioning one’s beliefs is a course of action recommended repeatedly by Jehovah’s Witnesses to interested persons they contact in their ministry. There is no valid reason that such honest, humble questioning should end. Failing to ask sincere questions of one’s belief system leads to the danger of taking the truth for granted. Or worse yet, assuming the truth will be spoon-fed to us without any mental effort on our part.
I did not leave because I thought I was smarter than everyone else or the Watchtower Society. Nor did I believe that my ways and thoughts were better than God’s. Intelligence, or any lack thereof, had nothing to do with my decision. The truth is, it doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to examine a matter based on verifiable evidence, and then arrive at a sound conclusion. It’s a fact that most people do this every day. While no one is infallible, we all tend to make good, healthy decisions based on evidence. I chose to consider the possibility that alternate points of view about my belief system might well be valid, examined as much evidence as I possibly could, and then arrived at my conclusions based on many readily available facts. Such a decision would result from using common sense more than having an abundance of intelligence.
Nor did I leave because I had a bone to pick with local elders or anyone else because of anything they’d ever said or done to me, or to those I cared about. There were things said about me or others that I did not like, but I feel that such personal grievances are not worth the distraction they can cause. They can be painful to bear, but that is a part of life when dealing with many individuals and their various personalities.
It was my examination of evidence that led me to decide to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was not a decision that I came to easily or hastily. In fact, it was one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever made. You don’t jettison a lifelong, cherished belief system at the first sign of trouble. No one would do that without serious hesitation, and certainly not without a compelling body of legitimate evidence. Evidence must be based on facts, and not for anecdotal or emotional reasons; it could not be based on rumor, hearsay, lies, deception, or defective reasoning. There is no shortage of such things available today, especially on the Internet. If one carefully considers the facts, unproven and baseless statements are readily exposed and discarded as being invalid. Granted, I certainly believe some anecdotes might be truthful and relevant in this matter. However, I’ve learned that unless I’ve actually experienced them myself, it is best to avoid sharing them as admissible evidence in this discussion. That, I believe, is the only way to be as objective as possible here.
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses the only true religion?
This brings me back to why I left Jehovah’s Witnesses. I felt that the only valid reason to leave would be if I concluded that the Watchtower organization was, in fact, not the “true religion” it claimed to be. Given my observations and reading of the Bible, I’d reached a point in my life where I felt a need to revisit one assumption I’d held for more than twenty years—that “Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only true religion.” Granted, I believed I’d based that conclusion on facts. However, as I researched this matter, I realized that all the facts—or at least enough of them—were not available to me. I knew that I didn’t have certain details and although I was aware of some troubling issues, I didn’t understand how they were connected to each other.
Let’s return to the basic premise that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the “only true Christians on earth.” They repeatedly remind themselves of this assertion during their meetings and in their Watchtower publications.
The Bible demonstrates that Christians in the first century had no problem identifying themselves by the name of Jesus Christ alone, taking no name beyond that of being “Christians” – (Acts 11:26). The Watchtower, however, has made it clear that because other men who called themselves “Christians” did many wrong things over the centuries, that using the name of Christ to identify themselves was somehow too similar to everyone else. Ironically, they do so while simultaneously acknowledging that the term “Christian” had scriptural origins directed by “divine providence.” (See Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, pages 149-156.) One might add that the prophecies leading to the Watchtower Society’s adopting the name of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” are the result of taking Bible verses from the book of Isaiah out of their original context, and then asserting (or assuming) that they were fulfilled in the 20th century.
However, we cannot make such decisions for the sake of distinguishing ourselves from others who did wrong. After all, this line of reasoning would—and has—lead to an unlimited number of names and titles and denominations for what ultimately should amount to the same basic thing—faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to follow his teachings. In fact, this is the very sort of reasoning that Paul sought to curtail when it was happening to Christians in Corinth—because it would result in the Christ existing divided. (1 Cor. 1:10-17) In the end, it will be the angels who will separate the wheat from the weeds, not us. Our actions and words will prove who we are, who we belong to, and the Lord Jesus Christ, the “Fine Shepherd,” will surely recognize his own sheep.
From even a cursory examination of the Gospels, Acts, and the letters from Paul and others, clearly show that the name of Jesus Christ superseded every other name. They preached the name of Jesus to a nation of people who already knew the name of God, Jehovah (or Yahweh, depending on one’s point of view)—the Jews. The ministry Jesus’ disciples were given was not to preach about the “divine name,” but to bear witness to Jesus’ name. In that era, Christians were known for preaching about Jesus, not for talking about (or being named after) Jehovah.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses” or “Christians?”
Jehovah had already had witnesses—the Jews as a nation were his “witnesses.” The words recorded at Isaiah 43:10-12 referred to them that way. The Jews, of course, failed to bear proper witness to his name. Even so, there is no evidence in the Bible to show that this scripture in Isaiah was intended to be used as a title for followers of Jesus Christ—as they were already given a title, “Christians.”
For example: Let’s consider the “great cloud of witnesses” Paul refers to at Hebrews 12:1. When read in context, Paul says that these are “witnesses,” not because their God’s name is Jehovah – Paul does not use the term “witnesses” in that sense. That is not what he was talking about throughout the context leading up to that statement, but rather because they are “witnesses to the power of faith.” Faith accomplished all the great things those men and women during that era are known for – not works of Law. Paul’s emphasis was not about bearing witness to Jehovah, but rather having faith in Jesus Christ and bearing witness to him.
Related to this issue is the fact that even an angel acknowledges to John that “the bearing witness to Jesus is what inspires prophesying.” God’s very messenger says that bearing witness to Jesus (not Jehovah) is what inspires prophesying. Given that this angel is the one assigned by God and Jesus to reveal prophetic images to John, it would be very hard to disagree with him – would it not? (Rev. 19:10) Furthermore, there is no evidence that the apostles were consumed with using the name of Jehovah; their writings include far more uses of the name of Jesus, referring to Jehovah as the Father, God, the Lord, and other similar titles.
Jesus introduces a new concept for God
It was clear that Jesus was introducing the people during his time (who already knew Jehovah from the Law and the Prophets) to a God more intimate and far less demanding than their perception of the God they’d been taught about by the Pharisees and living under the Law. Jesus introduced his Father as a “God of love,” one who did not seek punishment for every violation of the Law, but rather one who recognized our weaknesses and offered His love to use as a guide – not an excess of regulations. In fact, Jesus was only showing them what they should have discerned themselves about God – from the very scriptures they had been studying for centuries.
Jesus repeatedly used examples from the Law and the Prophets to show that God was not legalistic; it was more important to recognize the spirit of the Law, rather than try to obey every rule perfectly. Without this kind of loving Father, no one could avoid “the wrath of God.” Jesus referred to God as “your Father and my Father,” reminding us that from then on things would change; we would no longer be like alienated children, fenced in by a code of Law. (John 20:17) Everyone could be adopted into God’s family because of Jesus Christ. (Heb. 2:9-15)
Does all of this somehow minimize God’s name? No. The early Christians used the name of Jesus far more than the name of the Father in their own writings. Jesus suggested that we pray for God’s name to be held holy and sanctified. (Matt. 6:9, 10) He even asked for God to glorify his own name, and God answered with a voice from heaven. (John 12:28) The greatest way a Christian can hold God’s name sacred is to recognize the One who came in God’s name, Jesus Christ, as the only means of approach to the Father. Bending the knee to Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father is the same as holding God’s name holy, as all glory we give to Jesus is, by definition, glorifying his Father. (John 5:22, 23; Phil. 2:9-11)
[To be continued in Part 2]
“Christopher” lives on the east coast of the United States. He’s been connected to Jehovah’s Witnesses since the early 1990s, and was disfellowshipped in 2010. He has close relatives who are JWs. A prolific writer, he is working on an extended essay called “Papers on Christianity.” This article, the first in a series of three, has been adapted from a piece that he submitted to Jehovahs-Witness.net in the fall of 2011. Parts 2 and 3 should be completed and online soon. Here is the link to his original post: Why I Left Jehovah’s Witnesses