I was raised in a Baptist Church until I was a teenager then went to Harvest (with Greg Laurie in California) through high school. As an adult I had a drug addiction and was in and out of rehabs but also went to Bible camps. I feel the Bible Camp made a foundation in my heart. I have been clean for 3 years and let me tell you a year and a half of that cleanses is because of the Jehovah Witnesses and me getting into my Bible. I’ve never understood my Bible before. It’s like a window is opened up to me. I still continue to go to a non denomination church but am not committed to any one church. I haven’t gone to the Kingdom Hall yet but am studying with Witnesses. I brought questions to pastors at churches which pushed me closer to more studies with the JWs.
I read the JW website a lot because I like the layout and the structure of it. I am a structure person somewhat. I need guidance.
What I also like about the JW website is that 90% of it reads it to me. I have a reading disability and this helps. Also on the website you don’t have to keep searching around looking for different things it’s all on there. I honestly feel in my heart this has helped me get more into my Bible which I have never done before and now understand it instead of thinking it’s just a book. I don’t like big churches anymore like when they just throw one or two Scriptures out and don’t tell you where it’s from or where to find it. Then they tell the huge congregation a story about their life or somebody else’s life. Or when you go to a group Bible study it’s not even really a Bible study, it’s a gathering. Every church I’ve gone to lately doesn’t really discuss the Bible. I need someone to to go in depth and explain it to me. I need Bible verses. I need translation. This is what I am starved for. Thank you for listening, Rhonda*
There was more to Rhonda’s letter but I chose to highlight her expressed need for structure since that same attraction was also mentioned by someone else who is currently attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall. She too described how much she enjoys the structure of the Watchtower and the preparedness and predictability at their meetings. And I could very much relate to what these two women expressed for that is what also first attracted me to the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In February of 1996 I walked into my first Kingdom Hall meeting and was immediately impressed with the orderliness of it. Everyone seemed to be “on the same page” with open Bibles in their laps. Then when I began my formal study with the Witnesses that March, I learned more about my Bible in 3 weeks than I had in the previous 32 years I’d been exposed to church. Having a study book with questions to go over with the Jehovah’s Witness sister assigned to me was just the type of structure I needed at that time in my life. When the chapter we were discussing didn’t answer my questions, she always had an additional Watchtower article to cover it. Unlike my experience with most Christians prior to that, Jehovah’s Witnesses were eager and well prepared to share their knowledge with me. This is important to note for Christians who have made Jehovah’s Witnesses their mission field. As an individual, YOU may be prepared to address some of their questions but what fellowship would you recommend that satisfies their current experience with structured learning? Rhonda is saying she didn’t get it growing up Baptist or at the Harvest Church. That may be due to her age at the time and the conflicts in her home which I omitted from this edited version of her letter, but she is saying today as an adult that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones who’ve helped her grow in her understanding of the Bible. She credits their website but also the discipleship program of having someone guide her. If you had a Rhonda in your neighborhood, what could you recommend instead of going to the Kingdom Hall?
Rhonda commented that church sermons tossed out a few verses and then went into a personal story. What she is expressing is a hunger for the context of the verse and why the writer wrote it in the first place. But as those of us who’ve studied the Watchtower way already know, much of what we learned was taken out of context. Rhonda is faced with sitting through a church service only to leave with a bunch of disconnected verses in her head or follow the “Free Home Bible Study” plan of the Watchtower with verses taken out of context for the purpose of aligning her thinking with their agenda. The latter appeals to her sense of structure.
In many ways, Christianity has been reduced to songs and decorative plaques adorned with Bible verses. It’s rather amusing how often people will single out a verse like Jeremiah 29:11 to bless a friend when Jeremiah himself did not even have a pleasant life. The plans God had for Jeremiah were to remain single and endure persecution in his role of cursing the religious people to whom he was sent. Yet we go about cheerfully pronouncing to others at church that “God has plans to give you a future and a hope” without much thought for the original context and audience to whom that was spoken. Some verses are easy to isolate and embroider on a pillow, but others need further explanation which one email response is not going to satisfy. Recently I got an email from a former Jehovah’s Witness who asked “what do you think of Revelation 20:10?” With humor I wrote back “lovely Scripture isn’t it? I’d love to see it embroidered on a pillow!” Then I reminded her that when getting into a book like Revelation, we’d have to define some terms and get the overall context first. And when discussing the Revelation, it’s especially important to understand that there are several respected yet different approaches of interpretation. I have my own preferred view but encourage those asking to take some time to explore other views also. For me to simply write back “this is what Revelation 20:10 means…” puts me in danger of becoming that person’s next cult leader. Once I can be sure that person isn’t just asking in order to be told what to believe again without giving it any thought themselves, then I’m more open to discussion.
And there lies my point. I’ve heard “church folk” call Jehovah’s Witnesses a “cult” all my life, but most of them refer to their pastor or the adage “I was always taught” as validation for their Christian belief. Until one looks into the Scriptures for themselves and wrestles with its content, how do they really know what they believe? Aren’t they just parroting what was presented to them?
When adults like Rhonda are looking to dive into the Bible and realize they need guidance, who are they going to be impressed by? The church goer who says “well I was always taught…” or the one who can actually open up that big book, point to specific verses, and reason from there on the question she is asking?
I was a convert to Jehovah’s Witnesses in 7 months time and then went out to share the knowledge I gained. That’s how impressed I was with the program. Do you think telling Rhonda “it’s a cult” is going to stop her from studying when she’s already experienced joy in learning and found real tools to help her with her addictions? She also shared in this email that while studying with the Witnesses she quit smoking and explains “this wasn’t on my will but what was brought to my attention as a dirty sin. And honestly it’s been easy to stay off the cigarettes because I keep praying about it.”
Many adult converts to Jehovah’s Witnesses share Rhonda’s complaint that the mainstream church never taught them to read or understand the Bible. But if Rhonda continues in her study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, she may end up among the throngs of ExJWs with a different set of complaints about how the verses were all taken out of context to make us cogs in the wheel of the Watchtower. In either scenario, it’s obvious to me that for a person who’s hungry to understand the Bible, they still have to pick up that book for themselves and read it. But that can be a daunting task for someone who admits they need guidance and structure as Rhonda’s letter pointed out.
What if there were a structured method to study the Bible that was not connected to a church or organization’s agenda? What if there were nothing to join? Unless you consider the optional email reminders or downloaded app as too high a commitment, there is such a plan available. The combined elements of short, informative videos and a structured reading plan offer the student the opportunity to develop their own disciplined habit of Bible reading while benefiting from the video overview of each Bible book. Additional video presentations explore the literary styles, character, and themes to recognize in your Bible reading. As their title suggests, The Bible Project is where “visual storytelling meets the Bible.” The creators of this Bible reading plan state, “We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.”And best of all, it’s free.
The plan is designed to take the reader through the Bible in one year by assigning two to three chapters a day. However, you can select to go at your own pace. The Scriptures are divided into sixteen sections in a semi-chronological order. These are neatly organized by title on the app. When finished with your daily reading, you check off the verses you just read and the next time you open the app it’s ready where you left off. A virtual bookmark. In addition to the chronological reading, one psalm a day is also listed with a prompt for the reader to pray through it. Bible reading plans are nothing new but what gives this a special touch is the offer of regular reminders and the personal touch of Jon and Tim’s narration in the videos through which illustrations come to life. The progressing black and white drawings are creative and entertaining and yet structured with bullet points and sectioned boxes to break down the contents of any Bible book being approached. With the video companion, it brings in that sense of guidance from teachers but in this case, the teachers aren’t pressuring you to join their church or organization. There is an option to contribute to the Bible Project but everything is downloadable at no cost if you choose not to make a donation. Really.
As a person who benefits from structured reading plans, I LOVE The Bible Project! As an artist, I am impressed with the video illustrations and how this keeps my attention and fills in the gaps of my understanding as those gaps are visually filled during the narration! Say what you will about the “impersonal” aspect of the Internet, but having Tim and Jon as your guide removes the peer pressure that many in religious groups may not even be aware they fall prey to. There’s no love-bombing here. But it’s not as if you’re left isolated with your Bible app and video. You can now take what you learn and share it in any discussion format you want whether that’s with your friends at a local fellowship or in an on line community.
FREE BIBLE STUDIES OFFERED HERE:
This article you’re currently reading is posted through the website of 4Witness.org which is a Christian ministry with a special focus of reaching the hearts and minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (Latter-day Saints or LDS). We currently offer four FREE Bible Studies available from our website. I offer one-on-one Bible studies through the Galatians 101 Study, but I realize that as a former Jehovah’s Witness it may be difficult for someone who struggles with the idea of talking with an “apostate” to want to contact me. For that reason, we have made the outline and study questions available to go over without guidance from me. It can be useful as a personal study or shared with someone else the reader trusts. It doesn’t provide an overall introduction to the Bible, however, because it centers on the book of Galatians assuming the reader already has a surface understanding of the Old and New Testaments. It is designed, after all, for former Jehovah’s Witnesses who have such an education already.
Tod and Betty Ellis of Make Sure Ministries are also former Jehovah’s Witnesses who put together a workbook based on the study questions they discuss with struggling former Witnesses through their telephone Bible studies. That workbook is also available to download at Know the Truth.
The Life in Christ Trek Bible Study is laid out more like the introduction I had in 1996 when I studied with the Witnesses. Its first lesson explores the credibility of the Bible itself and goes into God’s salvation plan and topics such as growing in God’s family and the Great Commission.
As the name suggests, The Race Begins is a beginner’s guide to the Bible which was originally created to teach prison inmates and described as a program for those who have recently accepted Christ.
These free studies available through our website represent a very small portion of the study tools available to us today. In addition to on line guides like these, there are companion study books, commentaries, devotionals, movies, and audios of every Bible topic imaginable. Most churches also offer recorded sermons on their websites. But like dieting, it’s still up to the individual how or if they’re going to stick to the plan. I know Rhonda has a Bible, I don’t know how often she opens it herself. She admits she needs structure and guidance to do so, but after being shown these available options, do you think she is limited to getting that only from the Watchtower Society’s program?
Keep yourself in God’s love,
*Rhonda is not her real name and her letter has been edited.