I answered the door on Thursday to be greeted by Austin and Simon. They were Jehovah's Witnesses. Austin was doing the talking, I suspect Simon was the trainee.
There are a few things that it's good to know about JWs.
1. They expect you to ignore them, be rude and argue a lot. This is good news for them because they're told that faithful witness will lead to persecution. So the best thing you can do to disarm them is be nice. Invite them in if you have time. Make them a coffee. Give them a cake.
2. They record their witnessing on time sheets. This is partially because they have to do it. I suspect that this is the work that confirms their faith for them. In other words they prove they're good enough Jehovah's witnesses by witnessing. If you don't log enough time witnessing you get short shrift from the leadership.
3. Their bible is not the Bible.
4. The JW's were founded in the late 1870s by a bloke called Charles Taze Russell, who didn't like the teaching of the church he was attending. So he made some up himself that he liked more.
5. It's not a Christian denomination because Jesus is not fully divine. He is a created being. Jesus didn't rise physically from the dead. Jesus came back secretly in 1914. Plus a load of other stuff Charlie suggested - most of the weirdest stuff you won't hear about from JWs.
Austin started by telling me that he'd taken time off work, as had Simon, to share the news that they had come to tell me. Undoubtedly impressive commitment. Commitment that would shame many Christians. Spotting what was coming next I decided to ask him a question: Was he sure that he would be in the New Creation?
"If I remained faithful." came the reply. This is because JWs believe that your relationship with God is proven by your works. The problem is once you have an equation of forgiveness that is: "salvation = faith + works", it's always the works that matter.
Anyway Austin and I chatted on. Seeing that I was a Christian he took two classic JW tactics. Firstly he asked me about Heaven. This is because Christians tend to be very badly thought through on what the Bible says about Heaven, the New Creation and life after death. Unfortunately for Austin I'd done a bit of thinking on this.
So, secondly, he went for the "quote the extremely obscure verse that the Christian won't know" tactic. He said to me, "Of course you'll know that Zephaniah 2:3 says, "Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger." His emphasis being on the "perhaps". It wasn't Austin's day. I've just finished preaching Zephaniah, so for the first time in my life I actually knew what the book was about. I urged him to read on to chapter 3 and see how Zephaniah ends with a great declaration from the Lord will save His people by grace, despite their very ropey works.
To be fair to Austin he wasn't going to give up, but I had a sermon to write. So I went for a deal. I said, "I'll read your literature, that magazine you're holding and anything else you want to give me, if you'll promise to read a copy of John's gospel I give you."
So I repeated my offer: I'll read your literature, if you'll read mine (which just happened to be a book of the Bible). Austin said he wouldn't. I asked why. He said that he had to be careful of false teachers and apostates. I said that I thought we were getting on so well and now he'd just called me a false teacher! Austin still wouldn't agree to read one of the gospels.
So I politely told them that was why the Jehovah's Witnesses were a cult. Because they weren't allowed to think for themselves.
As Christians we don't need to be afraid of asking questions or reading about other beliefs systems. Because the good news about Jesus is "The Truth", it will stand out from the rest. The way that we protect ourselves from false ideas is not by refusing to interact with them. But by ensuring that we are being taught the truth from the Bible clearly and faithfully. Then we will be able to spot the fraud from the genuine article when we see it.
Sometimes it's best not to argue, but rather simply to put the Bible into someones hands and encourage them to read it for themselves. The 19th century Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was once asked how he dealt with criticisms of the Bible. “Very easy,” he responded. “I defend the Bible the same way I defend a lion. I simply let it out of its cage.”
Perhaps Austin was wise not to take my John's gospel, if he wants to remain a Jehovah's Witness.