Please note this post is descriptive, not prescriptive. I am not advising anyone to do this, I am simply describing what I did. Inviting well versed people from a cult into your home is not a safe thing to do. It could go badly wrong. But, in this case it didn't and although they said stuff I had no good answer to, I know this will only drive me deeper into the word, and into the doctrine I have come to believe. It will make my foundations more sure, and not weaken them.
Last Saturday I had a knock at the door, and it was two well dressed ladies from the local Jehovah's Witnesses. After thinking about how to deal with this encounter, and how I should prepare for it, well, here it was and I was unprepared. But, the opportunity was in front of me, so I asked them in. They said they couldn't, but they would come back another time, so I said that would be grand.
Well, last night they arrived again. It was one of the ladies, and her husband. I had done some reading, some listening, and some learning, but in my heart I really didn't want to pummel them with 2nd hand information as that seems a bit unfair. Better to deal with them as who I am, and from where I am. I am confident in my own faith, I am confident in my own theology, poor and all as my knowledge is. I know what I believe, even if I haven't got the basis for everything at hand.
So, they came in. And sat down. And we sort of looked at each other. I was expecting a pummelling with the standard JW speel, but that didn't come. So I told them that I don't think it is fair to fully form opinions on other communities without actually knowing anyone personally. So the guy started to explain some of the differences between what they believe and what 'Christians' believe.
He started with the Trinity, just giving an overview of their perceived roles of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. Then they told of how they don't give blood and the old testament background of that. They mentioned that they believe in Jesus, which they say surprises some people, they said they have even had people tell them they don't believe in Jesus. I do understand this as it seems they believe in a significantly different version of Jesus, but I was able to empathise with people telling me what I do or don't believe. They explained how they don't believe in hell. I listened interested, and attentively to all they had to say, asking for clarification many times throughout.
It is difficult to know where to start with something like this, but I knew Jesus talked a lot about hell, so I started by checking with them that they agreed that the entire Bible was the inspired word of God, and that it was an infallible source of information They agreed. Phew. We talked about a few references to hell, and they explained that they believe that it is just a second death, which is final, and is an annihilation a final end. To me this idea is quite attractive as I think I often don't have a proper appreciation for the seriousness of sin, and the punishment it requires. Anyway, we went through a few texts, which embarrassingly they helped me to find from my poor Biblical knowledge. One by one they were knocking them down, as it was possible to read them all through the lens of annihilation However we got to the words 'eternal fire' in Matthew 18:8 "And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire," The word eternal there signifies that it will be a punishment forever, not just temporary. It is not simply the fire that is eternal. Well, that was the best I could come up with, but I later found Rev 20:10 which is better: "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" not so ambiguous. Anyway, we can keep that one for next time.
Then we gradually worked our way around to works-based faith, and lack of assurance. I find it sad that their reading of the Bible cumulates in a lack of assurance, and it ends up a bit of a lottery as to whether you have done enough to please God. Anyway, i took them through various texts about the finished work of Christ, and about once for all, and so on. They brought up James, "faith without works", and I told them I agreed. But I told them that cause and effect are the other way around from what they believe. They believe that doing good works helps with their prospects of salvation. I explained that when a person is 'born again' or renewed, they repent of their old way of life (sins) and their heart and desires are changed, some instantly, some over time, but that is the actual moment of salvation. "There is now no condemnation" from that point on.
I explained this again with the old testament story of the two women who bring the baby to Solomon. He says cut it in two, and give the women half each - which causes one of the women to shout out, and say that the other could have the child. Now, here is a classic example (the best I know in fact) of an outworking of something hidden. The shout did not make the women the mother of the child. She was already the mother before that, but it wasn't possible to discern that fact visually, outwardly. The woman did not shout to become the mother of the child, she shouted because she already was the mother. She was the mother long before the dispute arose. In the same way we do not do good works to gain God's favour, but we do good works because we already have gained his favour. The works are an outward sign of an inward change that has already taken place. The JWs said they had never heard it explained like that before, and hadn't thought of it like that. For this I thank God, and pray that they will ponder this.
We also talked about true and false conversion, and how hating sin is a sign of true conversion, and about how it says that many will hear 'I never knew you'.
The conversation was gracious from both sides (I hope!) and I felt while it seemed that we agreed on some things we cam to an amicable disagreement on others. This is exactly how dialogue like this should go. Praise God.
We talked for about 2 hours in total, and covered many other topics too.
They said some interesting things, like about how little engagement they actually receive on the doorsteps. They said it was rare, and actually a bit scary to get invited into a home. They said it was unusual to meet a family (Susan and the kids were in the room for most of the time) who were devoted to and convicted by their Christian beliefs. They also said it was nice to discuss these things, rather than having people ram stuff down their throats - funny how they are scared of the same things that others fear about them!
At the end, when they left I felt it had went well. It wasn't as intimidating as I had expected Although they clearly knew their doctrine much better than I did, they didn't know everything and admitted it. They were just ordinary people.
I thank God for the help He gave me during this visit. He did not give me all the right texts, He did not instantly give me all the right answers, but through the faith He has given me, He helped me to show them what a genuine follower of Jesus Christ looks like, warts and all. All I can do now is pray that some of my foolishness will be turned into wisdom in their minds, by the one who created all things from nothing. I think that sounds quite feasible.