Christians and Human Society Today
“You will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.”—MATTHEW 24:9.
1. What was to be a distinctive mark of Christianity?
SEPARATENESS from the world was a distinctive mark of the early Christians. In prayer to his heavenly Father, Jehovah, Christ said of his disciples: “I have given your word to them, but the world has hated them, because they are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:14) When summoned before Pontius Pilate, Jesus stated: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) The separateness of primitive Christianity from the world is attested to by the Christian Greek Scriptures and by historians.
2. (a) Was there to be any change in the relationship between Jesus’ followers and the world as time passed? (b) Was Jesus’ Kingdom due to come through the conversion of the nations?
2 Did Jesus later reveal that there would be a change in the relationship between his followers and the world and that his Kingdom would come through the conversion of the world to Christianity? No. Nothing that his followers were inspired to write after Jesus’ death even hinted at such a thing. (James 4:4 [written shortly before 62 C.E.]; 1 John 2:15-17; 5:19 [written about 98 C.E.]) On the contrary, the Bible links Jesus’ “presence” and subsequent “coming” in Kingdom power with “the conclusion of the system of things,” culminating in its “end,” or destruction. (Matthew 24:3, 14, 29, 30; Daniel 2:44; 7:13, 14) In the sign that Jesus gave of his pa·rou·siʹa, or presence, he said of his true followers: “Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.”—Matthew 24:9.
True Christians Today
3, 4. (a) How does a Catholic encyclopedia describe the early Christians? (b) In what similar terms are Jehovah’s Witnesses and the early Christians described?
3 What religious group today has earned for itself the reputation of faithfulness to Christian principles and separateness from this world, with its members being hated and persecuted? Well, what worldwide Christian organization corresponds in every respect to historical descriptions of the early Christians? Regarding these, the New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “The primitive Christian community, although considered at first but another sect within the Jewish milieu, proved unique in its theological teaching, and more particularly in the zeal of its members, who served as witnesses to Christ ‘in all Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1.8).”—Volume 3, page 694.
4 Notice the expressions “considered . . . but another sect,” “unique in its . . . teaching,” “zeal . . . as witnesses.” And now observe how that same encyclopedia describes Jehovah’s Witnesses: “A sect . . . Witnesses are deeply convinced that the end of the world will come within a very few years. This vivid belief appears to be the strongest driving force behind their indefatigable zeal. . . . The fundamental obligation of each member of the sect is to give witness to Jehovah by announcing His approaching Kingdom. . . . They regard the Bible as their only source of belief and rule of conduct . . . To be a true Witness one must preach effectively in one way or another.”—Volume 7, pages 864-5.
5. (a) In what respects are the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses unique? (b) Give examples showing that the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are in harmony with the Scriptures.
5 In what respects are the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses unique? The New Catholic Encyclopedia mentions a few: “They [Jehovah’s Witnesses] condemn the Trinity as pagan idolatry . . . They consider Jesus as the greatest of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ‘a god’ (so they translate John 1.1), inferior to no one but to Jehovah. . . . He died as a man and was raised as an immortal spirit Son. His Passion and death were the price he paid to regain for mankind the right to live eternally on earth. Indeed, the ‘great multitude’ (Ap 7.9) of true Witnesses hope in an earthly Paradise; only 144,000 faithful (Ap 7.4; 14.1, 4) may enjoy heavenly glory with Christ. The wicked will undergo complete destruction. . . . Baptism—which Witnesses practice by immersion . . . [is] the exterior symbol of their dedication to the service of Jehovah God. . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses have attracted publicity by refusing blood transfusions . . . Their conjugal and sexual morality is quite rigid.” Jehovah’s Witnesses may be unique in these respects, but their position on all these points is solidly based on the Bible.—Psalm 37:29; Matthew 3:16; 6:10; Acts 15:28, 29; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 8:6; Revelation 1:5.
6. What stance have Jehovah’s Witnesses maintained? Why?
6 This Roman Catholic work adds that in 1965 (apparently the year when the article was written) “the Witnesses did not yet consider that they belonged to the society in which they lived.” The author seems to have thought that as time went by and Jehovah’s Witnesses became more numerous and took on “more and more of the characteristics of a church as opposed to a sect,” they would become a part of this world. But such has not proved to be the case. Today, with over four times as many Witnesses as in 1965, Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently maintained their stance with regard to this world. “They are no part of the world,” as Jesus was “no part of the world.”—John 17:16.
Separate but Not Hostile
7, 8. As was true of the early Christians, what is true of Jehovah’s Witnesses today?
7 Citing the defense of the early Christians by second-century apologist Justin Martyr, Robert M. Grant wrote in his book Early Christianity and Society: “If Christians were revolutionists they would remain in hiding in order to reach their goal. . . . They are the emperor’s best allies in the cause of peace and good order.” Likewise, Jehovah’s Witnesses today are known throughout the world to be peace-loving and orderly citizens. Governments, of whatever kind, know that they have nothing to fear from Jehovah’s Witnesses.
8 A North American editorialist wrote: “It takes a bigoted and paranoid imagination to believe that the Jehovah’s Witnesses pose any kind of threat to any political regime; they are as non-subversive and peace-loving as a religious body can be.” In his book L’objection de conscience (Conscientious Objection), Jean-Pierre Cattelain writes: “The Witnesses are perfectly submissive to the authorities and generally obey laws; they pay their taxes and do not seek to question, change, or destroy governments, for they do not concern themselves with the affairs of this world.” Cattelain goes on to add that only if the State claims their lives, which they have fully dedicated to God, do Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to obey. In this they closely resemble the early Christians.—Mark 12:17; Acts 5:29.
Misunderstood by the Ruling Classes
9. Regarding separateness from the world, what is an outstanding difference between the early Christians and modern-day Catholics?
9 Most of the Roman emperors misunderstood the early Christians and persecuted them. Showing why, The Epistle to Diognetus, thought by some to date from the second century C.E., declares: “Christians dwell in the world, but are not part and parcel of the world.” On the other hand, the Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, stated that Catholics should “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs” and “work for the sanctification of the world from within.”
10. (a) How were the early Christians viewed by the ruling classes? (b) How are Jehovah’s Witnesses often viewed, and what is their reaction?
10 Historian E. G. Hardy states that the Roman emperors considered the early Christians to be “somewhat contemptible enthusiasts.” French historian Étienne Trocmé speaks of “the contempt in which cultured Greeks and Roman officials held what they saw as a very strange Oriental sect [the Christians].” Correspondence between Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bithynia, and Emperor Trajan shows that the ruling classes were generally ignorant of the true nature of Christianity. Similarly today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are often misunderstood and even despised by the ruling classes of the world. However, this neither surprises nor dismays the Witnesses.—Acts 4:13; 1 Peter 4:12, 13.
“Everywhere It Is Spoken Against”
11. (a) What things were said of the early Christians, and what has been said of Jehovah’s Witnesses? (b) Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses not participate in politics?
11 Of the early Christians it was said: “As regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22) In the second century C.E., the pagan Celsus claimed that Christianity appealed only to the dregs of human society. Similarly it has been said of Jehovah’s Witnesses that “for the most part, they are drawn from the deprived in our society.” Church historian Augustus Neander reported that “the Christians were represented as men dead to the world, and useless for all affairs of life; . . . and it was asked, what would become of the business of life, if all were like them?” Because Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from participating in politics, they too are often accused of being deadwood in human society. But how could they be political activists and at the same time be advocates of God’s Kingdom as mankind’s only hope? Jehovah’s Witnesses take to heart the apostle Paul’s words: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him.”—2 Timothy 2:3, 4, Revised Standard Version, an Ecumenical Edition.
12. In what important aspect of separateness do Jehovah’s Witnesses resemble the early Christians?
12 In his book A History of Christianity, Professor K. S. Latourette writes: “One of the issues on which the early Christians were at variance with the Græco-Roman world was participation in war. For the first three centuries no Christian writing which has survived to our time condoned Christian participation in war.” Edward Gibbon’s work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire states: “It was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.” Jehovah’s Witnesses similarly adopt a position of strict neutrality and follow the Bible principles outlined at Isaiah 2:2-4 and Matthew 26:52.
13. What accusation is leveled at Jehovah’s Witnesses, but what do the facts show?
13 Jehovah’s Witnesses are accused by their enemies of breaking up families. True, there are cases of families that become divided when one or more members become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jesus foretold that this would occur. (Luke 12:51-53) Statistics show, however, that marriages that break up for this reason are the exception. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses in France, for instance, 1 married couple in 3 includes a marriage partner who is not a Witness. Yet, the divorce rate among these mixed marriages is no higher than the national average. Why? The apostles Paul and Peter gave wise, inspired counsel to Christians married to unbelievers, and Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to follow their words. (1 Corinthians 7:12-16; 1 Peter 3:1-4) If a mixed marriage breaks up, the initiative almost always comes from the non-Witness partner. On the other hand, many thousands of marriages have been saved because the marriage partners became Jehovah’s Witnesses and started applying Bible principles in their lives.
Christians, Not Trinitarians
14. What accusation was brought against the early Christians, and why is this ironic?
14 It is ironic that in the Roman Empire, one of the accusations brought against the early Christians was that they were atheists. Dr. Augustus Neander writes: “The deniers of the gods, the atheists, . . . was the common name by which the Christians were designated among the people.” How strange that Christians, who worshiped the living Creator and not multiple gods, should be dubbed atheists by pagans who worshiped “no gods, but the workmanship of man’s hands, wood and stone.”—Isaiah 37:19.
15, 16. (a) What have some religionists said of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but what question does this raise? (b) What shows that Jehovah’s Witnesses are truly Christians?
15 Equally ironic is the fact that today some authorities in Christendom deny that Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians. Why? Because the Witnesses reject the Trinity. According to Christendom’s biased definition, “Christians are those who accept Christ as God.” In contrast with this, a modern dictionary defines the noun “Christian” as “a person who believes in Jesus Christ and who follows his teachings” and “Christianity” as “a religion that is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the belief that he was the son of God.” What group fits this definition more closely?
16 Jehovah’s Witnesses accept Jesus’ own testimony as to who he is. He stated: “I am God’s Son,” not, “I am God the Son.” (John 10:36; compare John 20:31.) They accept the apostle Paul’s inspired statement concerning Christ: “Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped.”* (Philippians 2:6, The New Jerusalem Bible) The book The Paganism in Our Christianity states: “Jesus Christ never mentioned such a phenomenon [a coequal Trinity], and nowhere in the New Testament does the word ‘Trinity’ appear. The idea was only adopted by the Church three hundred years after the death of our Lord; and the origin of the conception is entirely pagan.” Jehovah’s Witnesses accept the Biblical teaching about Christ. They are Christians, not Trinitarians.
17. Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses not cooperate with the ecumenical, or interfaith, movement?
17 Two other complaints made against Jehovah’s Witnesses are that they refuse to take part in the ecumenical movement and that they engage in what is termed “aggressive proselytizing.” Both of these reproaches were also flung at the early Christians. Christendom, with her Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant components, is undeniably a part of this world. Like Jesus, Jehovah’s Witnesses “are no part of the world.” (John 17:14) How could they ally themselves through interfaith movements with religious organizations that promote unchristian conduct and beliefs?
18. (a) Why can Jehovah’s Witnesses not be criticized for claiming that they alone practice the true religion? (b) While believing they have the true religion, what do Roman Catholics not possess?
18 Who can justifiably criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses for believing, as did the early Christians, that they alone are practicing the true religion? Even the Catholic Church, while hypocritically claiming to cooperate with the ecumenical movement, proclaims: “We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all men when he said to the apostles: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.’” (Vatican Council II, “Declaration on Religious Liberty”) Apparently, though, such belief is not sufficient to infuse Catholics with indefatigable zeal in going forth to make disciples.
19. (a) What are Jehovah’s Witnesses determined to do, and with what motive? (b) What will be examined in the following article?
19 Jehovah’s Witnesses have such zeal. They are determined to go on witnessing as long as God wants them to do so. (Matthew 24:14) Their witnessing is zealous but not aggressive. It is motivated by love of neighbor, not by hatred of mankind. They hope that as many of mankind as possible will be saved. (1 Timothy 4:16) Like the early Christians, they endeavor to “be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:18) How they go about this will be discussed in the following article.
For a discussion of this passage in connection with the Trinity dogma, see The Watchtower, June 15, 1971, pages 355-6.
By Way of Review
□ What characterized the early Christians, and how do Jehovah’s Witnesses resemble them?
□ In what respects do Jehovah’s Witnesses show that they are good citizens?
□ How did the ruling classes view the early Christians, and is it any different today?
□ What does the Witnesses’ conviction that they have the truth move them to do?
[Picture on page 12]
Jehovah’s Witnesses are determined to go on witnessing as long as God wants them to do so
[Picture on page 17]
Pilate said: “Look! The man”—the One who was no part of the world.—John 19:5
“Ecce Homo” by A. Ciseri: Florence, Galleria d’Arte Moderna / Alinari/Art Resource, N.Y.