Increasingly, brothers and sisters in the organization are having serious doubts about, or even a complete disbelief in, the doctrine of 1914. Yet some have reasoned that even if the organization is wrong, Jehovah is allowing the error for the present time and we should not make a fuss about it.
Let’s step back for a moment. Put aside the convoluted patchwork of misinterpreted scripture and unsupported historical dating. Forget about the complexity of trying to explain the doctrine to someone, and think instead about its ramifications. What is the real implication of teaching that the “gentile times” have already ended, and that Jesus has been ruling invisibly for over 100 years?
My contention is that we paint a poor representation of our grand King and Redeemer. It should be obvious to any half-serious Bible student that when the “gentile times have ended and the kings [of Satan’s system] have had their day” (to quote C.T. Russell in 1914), then the kings in view should cease to dominate mankind. To suggest otherwise is to dilute the whole promise of Jesus’ established kingship.
As representatives of the King we should be doing so in truth, and giving people an accurate representation of his great power and authority. The only authority that has actually been established through the “invisible parousia” doctrine is that of men. The whole structure of authority within the organization of JWs now rests upon the year 1919, which would still lack scriptural credibility even if the claimed events of 1914 were true. This leaves the leadership grasping onto a whole series of assertions that have no Biblical basis, including the fulfillment of large portions of the Revelation given to John. The earth-shattering prophecies given therein are ascribed to past events which are largely unknown to almost everybody alive today. Incredibly this even includes the most fervent and loyal JWs. Ask any one of them about the seven trumpet blasts of Revelation and see if they can tell you the esoteric explanation of these world-changing prophecies without having to read them out of the publications of JWs. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that they will be unable to do so. What does that tell you?
Contrary to the picture painted by the Watchtower Society that nobody else has an understanding of what the kingdom actually is, many others are out there spreading the gospel. Not just a fluffy vague idea of the Kingdom of God as some have been led to believe, but rather they preach a restored earth under the rulership of Jesus Christ after he has wiped out all other governments and powers at the war of Armageddon. If you doubt this just Google something like “Christ’s second coming kingdom”, and then read what many have written about this subject.
I confess that when I formerly encountered practising Christians in my ministry and they responded to the message about God’s kingdom on earth with “yes, we believe that too”, I used to think that they must be mistaken. In my blinkered world only JWs believed such a thing. If you find yourself in this same state of ignorance I encourage you to do some research, and slow down in your presumptions as to what others already believe.
No, the real differences between JWs and other informed Christians do not lie primarily in the interpretation of the millennial reign, but rather in those additional doctrines unique to JW belief.
The principal among these are:
- The idea that Jesus’ rulership over the entire world began invisibly over a century ago.
- The concept of two classes of present day Christians who will be respectively divided between heaven and earth.
- The expectation that God through Jesus will permanently annihilate all non-JWs at Armageddon. (It is acknowledged that this is an implied doctrine. There is a considerable amount of double-speak employed in Watchtower articles that touch on this.)
So what’s the big deal you might ask. Jehovah’s Witnesses promote family values. They discourage people from going to war. They provide people with networks of friends (contingent on their ongoing agreement to follow the human leadership). What does it really matter if they cling onto the 1914 doctrine and keep teaching it?
Jesus Christ gave clear information and instructions to his followers – both contemporary and future – which included the following:
- Although he would be going to heaven, he has been granted all authority and power, and will always be with his followers to support them. (Matt 28:20)
- At a certain time he will actually return in person and exercise his authority to remove all human government and power. (Ps 2; Matt 24:30; Rev 19:11-21)
- In the intervening period there will be many distressing things that will occur – wars, disease, earthquakes, etc – but Christians should not let anyone fool them that this means he has returned in any sense. When he returns all will know it without question. (Matt 24:4-28)
- In the meantime, until his return and establishment of the God’s Kingdom on earth, Christians will have to endure human rule until the “times of the gentiles” are over. (Luke 21:19,24)
- Christians who endure will join him in ruling over the earth during his presence that follows his return. They should tell people about him and make disciples. (Matt 28:19,20; Acts 1:8)
With specific regard to the topic under consideration the message is very simple: “I will go, but I will return, at which point I will conquer the nations and rule with you.”
This being so, how would Jesus feel if we were to proclaim to others that he has somehow already returned and put an end to the “gentile times”? If it were true then the glaringly obvious question becomes – how is it that nothing in terms of human rule appears to have changed? Why are the nations still exercising their power and domination over the world and over God’s people? Do we have a ruler who is ineffectual? Did Jesus make empty promises about what would happen when he returned?
By teaching others of an “invisible presence” whereby he already put an end to the “gentiles times” over 100 years ago, those are exactly the logical conclusions that we would lead thinking people to.
Hymenaeus and Philetus – a Warning Example for Christians
In the first century certain teachings arose that had no scriptural basis. One example was that of Hymenaeus and Philetus who were teaching that the resurrection had already occurred. Apparently they were claiming that the resurrection promise was only spiritual (similar to the way the concept was used by Paul in Romans 6:4) and that no future physical resurrection was to be expected.
In the passage of scripture leading up to his mention of Hymenaeus and Philetus, Paul wrote of the essential Christian gospel message – salvation through the risen Christ along with everlasting glory (2 Tim 2:10-13). These were the things that Timothy should keep reminding others about (2 Tim 2:14). In turn harmful teachings should be avoided (14b-16).
Hymenaeus and Philetus are then given as bad examples. But just as with the “1914 invisible presence” doctrine we might ask – what was the real harm in this teaching? If they were wrong then they were wrong, and it wouldn’t change the outcome of the future resurrection. One could have reasoned that Jehovah would correct things in his own due time.
But as Paul brings out in context, the reality is that:
- False doctrine is divisive.
- False doctrine makes people think a certain way that can subtly subvert their faith.
- False doctrine can spread like gangrene.
It is one thing for someone to concoct false doctrine. It is far more serious if those teaching it coerce you in turn to teach it to others.
It’s easy to see the effect that this particular false doctrine would have on people. Paul himself specifically warned of the attitude that would overtake those who did not believe in the future resurrection:
If like other men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, of what good is it to me? If the dead are not raised up, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.” Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits. (1 Cor 15:32,33. “Bad company ruins good morals.” ESV)
Without the proper perspective of God’s promises people would be inclined to lose their moral anchor. They would lose a major part of their incentive to stay on course.
Comparing the 1914 Doctrine
Now you might be thinking that 1914 is not like that. One could reason that if anything it gives people a heightened sense of urgency, even if it’s misguided.
We might then ask – why did Jesus not only warn against becoming spiritually sleepy, but also against premature announcements of his coming? The fact is that both situations carry their own set of dangers. Just as with the teachings of Hymenaeus and Philetus, the 1914 doctrine has been divisive and can subvert people’s faith. How so?
If you are currently still hanging onto the 1914 invisible presence doctrine then imagine your Christian belief without it for a moment. What happens when you remove 1914? Do you stop believing that Jesus Christ is God’s appointed King and that at his appointed time he will indeed return? Do you doubt for a moment that this return could be imminent and that we should keep in expectation of it? There is absolutely no scriptural or historical reason that we should start abandoning such core beliefs if we give up 1914.
On the other side of the coin what does a blind belief in the invisible presence do? What effect does it have on the mind of the believer? I suggest to you that it creates doubt and uncertainty. Faith becomes faith in the doctrines of men and not God, and such faith lacks stability. It creates doubt, where doubt need not exist (James 1:6-8).
To start with, how else can someone fall foul of the admonition to avoid becoming an evil slave who says in his heart that “My master is delaying” (Matt 24:48) unless that person has a false expectation of when the master should in fact arrive? The only way this scripture can be fulfilled is for someone to teach an expected time, or maximum time frame, for the return of the Lord. This is precisely what the leadership of the Jehovah’s Witness movement has been doing for more than 100 years. The idea of a specific limited time frame has been regularly passed from the doctrinal policy makers at the top, through the organizational hierarchies and printed literature, down through parents and inculcated into children.
Those Jonadabs who now contemplate marriage, it would seem, would do better if they wait a few years, until the fiery storm of Armageddon is gone (Face the Facts 1938 pp.46,50)
Receiving the gift, the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord’s provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon. (Watchtower 1941 September 15 p.288)
If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Why not? Because all the evidence in fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years. (Awake! 1969 May 22 p.15)
I have only included a small sample of older quotations out of the huge quantity available, since these can easily be identified as false claims contrary to Jesus’ admonitions. Of course any long term JW knows that nothing has changed in terms of the ongoing rhetoric. The goalposts just keep moving forward in time.
Of those people subjected to such indoctrination, the ones who persevere in their belief of Christ’s return really do so in spite of the organizational teachings, not because of them. How many casualties have fallen along the way? So many who have seen through the falsehood have walked away from Christianity altogether, having been sold on the idea that if there is one true religion then it is the one they were raised to believe. Do not dismiss this as a refining process willed by God, since God never lies (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). It would be a gross injustice to suggest that any such error originates with God, or is in any way approved by Him. Do not fall for the line that even Jesus’ disciples had false expectations based on a trivial reading of the question they raised in Acts 1:6: “Lord are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” There is a world of difference between asking a question, and inventing dogma that you insist your followers believe and promulgate to others under pain of severe sanction and ostracism. The disciples of Jesus were not holding onto a false belief and insisting that others believe it. Had they done so after being told that the answer did not belong to them but only to God, they surely could never have received the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:7,8; 1 John 1:5-7).
Some excuse the ignoring of “it does not belong to you” by claiming that it didn’t belong to those disciples but does belong to the human leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. But this is to ignore the second part of Jesus’ statement: “… which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction”.
Who were the first humans tempted to take something that the Father had placed in his own jurisdiction? And who in turn led them into doing so (Genesis 3)? It bears serious consideration when God’s Word is so clear on the matter.
For too long there has been a sub-group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have seen through the veneer of the “invisible presence” doctrine, and yet rationalized the act of going along with it. I was certainly in that group for a while. Yet on reaching the point at which we can not only see the falsehood, but also the danger to our brethren, can we continue to make excuses? I am not suggesting any form of disruptive activism, which would also be largely counter-productive. But to all who have come to the uncomplicated scriptural conclusion that Jesus Christ is our King who is yet to come and end the times of the gentile kings, why continue to teach that he has already done so during an invisible presence? If the majority were simply to stop teaching what they know (or strongly suspect) to be untrue, then it would undoubtedly send a message to the top of the hierarchy, and at the very least removes an impediment to our ministry that might otherwise be something to be ashamed of.
“Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” (2 Tim 2:15)
“This is the message that we heard from him and are announcing to you: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If we make the statement, “We are having fellowship with him,” and yet we go on walking in the darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. However, if we are walking in the light as he himself is in the light, we do have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7)
Most importantly, if we realize how this doctrine has proved to be a cause for stumbling to many who put faith in it, and that it retains the potential to stumble many in the future, we will take seriously Jesus words recorded at Matthew 18:6.
“But whoever stumbles one of these little ones who have faith in me, it would be better for them to have hung around his neck a millstone that is turned by a donkey and to be sunk in the open sea.” (Matt 18:6)
As Christians it is incumbent on us to speak truth with one another and to our neighbours (Eph 4:25). There are no clauses that can excuse us if we teach something other than truth, or share in perpetuating a doctrine we know to be erroneous. Let us not lose sight of the hope set before us, and never be drawn into any line of reasoning that would lead us or others to think that the “master is delaying”. Men will continue to make groundless predictions, but the Lord himself will not be late. It is evident to all that he has not yet ended the “gentile times” or “appointed times of the nations”. When he arrives he will do so decisively just as he promised.