As I was coming down my street after a 26 mile bike ride, one in which I pushed my self harder than normal, I noticed four women in skirts, holding binders, going door to door. They were already on my block, and I knew who they were. I didn’t know their names, mind you, but I knew what they were doing. There’s a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses about two blocks from my house, and the witnesses are always out knocking on doors and inviting people to consider their good news.
I knew that it was only a matter of minutes until they reached my door. I started thinking about this ongoing phenomenon of door to door evangelism that really only exists in the worlds of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. I started thinking about how the Church doesn’t do this sort of thing, and I started wondering why. All of this as I checked my personal stats on Map My Ride (I had a pace of 18.5 mph and burned 1533 calories on my ride, and I was pretty stoked about that) while sitting on my front step. These thoughts kept running through my mind as I went upstairs to take a shower, hoping, honestly, that I would miss the knock on my door while taking a shower.
I didn’t. When I came out of the bathroom, they were standing talking outside my door. Those J-Dubs. Nameless cult members. I wasn’t sure if they had already knocked, so I waited quietly in the kitchen hoping that they were talking about how annoying it is when people are home and don’t answer the door. Then they knocked. I thought, “Well, at least this will give me something to write about,” and went to the door.
Kathy and Jan greeted me with smiles and showed me a couple of publications they were handing out. They asked if I knew about the Watchtower publications. I told them I was quite familiar. Then Kathy opened the real conversation (or rehearsed interaction) by asking me if I had considered what the Bible meant when it talked about “everlasting life”. She said “everlasting life” appears over 40 times in the Bible, so it must be important. I agreed. She then brought up John 17:3, saying that Jesus told us what “everlasting life” is all about, as she fumbled through the pages of her Bible to get to that particular verse. I knew that I knew the verse, but it took some time for me to recall it. I said, “Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life, that they may know the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent.'”
Kathy and Jan’s eyebrows raised in unison. I thought two things: I am so awesome at Bible trivia, and, I am really glad that this is how these women are defining eternal life. Not life in heaven after we die, but knowing God and Jesus. That’s a good starting point.
I listened as Kathy went on to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven and how God desires for all things to be set to right, how God never intended life to be the way that it is now, how the Garden of Eden gives us an example of what God desires real life to be like. I agreed. I said something about Jesus telling us to pray that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will will be done on earth, here. I relayed the interchange between Jesus and Peter in which Jesus says that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church, implying that Hell isn’t coming to get us, but that the church is supposed to infect even Hell itself with the life of Heaven. I asked them what they are doing to participate in God’s plan to bring the Kingdom to earth by participating in redeeming what is broken in this world. Kathy said, “Teaching people to know God and Jesus, like John 17:3 says.” That was my only challenge I offered to these women, and although they didn’t know what I was getting at, they knew what they were trying to do.
Jan mentioned that it seemed like I knew the Bible pretty well. Gold star for me. I told them that I went to Bible College, am going to Seminary, and am a Sunday school teacher and worship leader at my church. As I said this, I realized how astonishing this information must have been for them, as I stood there in a t-shirt and shorts baring my tattoos and they were in modest blouses and skirts.
I told them that I wanted to know why the Jehovah’s Witnesses are so compelled to evangelize. Jan and Kathy told me that they are following Jesus’ example given to his disciples and to us in Matthew 28:19-20, as well as Paul’s example in Acts 20:20. I was impressed, and a little bit convicted, because I don’t do that. We talked a little while longer about JW polity and ministry scheduling and Tuesday night meetings on strategies for evangelism.
I learned in Bible college and in church growing up that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult. I knew that they believe in a form of Adoptionism, that Jesus wasn’t really God, but was adopted by God to be his messenger. I knew that John 1:1 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was like God,” in the Watchtower Bible. I knew how that word like is an indicator of heresy. I knew that they made a big to do in 1914 about the return of Jesus, and when it didn’t happen, they were embarrassed. I knew they changed their tune declaring that the 144,000 saints in heaven that are spoken of in Revelation were all born before 1914. I knew that Kathy and Jan likely believed that they will not be in heaven, but will remain on earth when Jesus returns as witnesses for Him. I had all of that information swirling around in my head as I talked with Kathy and Jan, but I didn’t feel the need to confront them on it. They are following Jesus the best way they know how.
In the end, I wonder about the Jehovah’s Witnesses. To be sure, they have some messy theology on some things. But who am I to tell two 50-year-old women who have been JW’s their entire lives that they are wrong to be doing their best to follow Jesus with the information that they have been given? Honestly, I believe what they believe about eternal life, following Jesus’ example, and trying to know the Scriptures and through them to know God. I hope that their faithfulness to these truths bears fruit when the Kingdom comes crashing in full, redeeming, healing, renewing force someday, don’t you?