The Jehovah's Witnesses (own name: Jehovah’s Witnesses ; English Jehovah’s Witnesses ) are a Christian , chiliastic and non-trinitarian religious community that is ecclesiastically organized . They describe their internal constitution as theocratic organization. They emerged from the International Union of Serious Bible Students, founded in the late 19th century in the United States by Charles Taze Russell .
Jehovah's Witnesses are known for their pronounced missionary work , their rejection of blood transfusions , the failure to observe all religious holidays and festivals except the Lord's Supper and the failure to celebrate birthdays. Their missionary work is mainly through offering free Bible courses and distributing the magazines The Watchtower and Awake! .
The religious community has been using the name Jehovah's Witnesses since 1931, based on Isa 43,10–12 EU . Before that, they were known as the Serious Bible Students or the International Association of Serious Bible Students . The term Russellites was coined by opponents of the Bible Students and was never part of the self-image of the religious community. In Germany, the religious community was granted corporate status in 2006 , and in Austria in 2009 it was recognized as a religious community. They use the name "Jehovah's Witnesses in [land name]" as their own name in German-speaking countries. Local congregations who hold the meetings and organize the meetings use the term "Jehovah's Witnesses, Congregation [city name]".
Statistics published by the religious community versus census results
Jehovah's Witnesses publish annual statistics on their worldwide activities, which include the number of people per country who actively participate in missionary work (“publishers”), the number of newly baptized and the number of people attending the annual sacrament. These numbers are considered reliable. The number of active missionary Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide published by the religious community is 8½ million in 2019. This number does not include infants or inactive baptized members. Therefore, the number of people professing Jehovah's Witnesses in censuses is usually well above the number of active missionaries published by the religious community, but well below the number of those who attend the Lord's Supper once a year. Taking into account the different definitions of the numbers, the statistics published by the religious community agree very well with census results and other independent statistical studies on religious affiliation.
Figures for the German-speaking area
In 2019 the religious community named 165,393 Jehovah's Witnesses active in the preaching work for Germany, 21,614 for Austria, 19,281 for Switzerland , 2,156 for Luxembourg and 91 for Liechtenstein.If you include small children and inactive baptized members, the numbers are slightly higher. In its 2018 report on the state of worldwide religious freedom, the United States Department of State stated that Germany had around 222,000 active and inactive members. In 1999, the number of people who left the community in Germany was estimated at a total of 20,000 for the past decades. In Austria, 23,206 people declared themselves to be Jehovah's Witnesses in the 2001 census, in which religious affiliation was asked as a voluntary information. In the 2000 census in Switzerland, 20,330 people said they were Jehovah's Witnesses.
For decades, Jehovah's Witnesses were one of the fastest growing religious communities in the world, with an average annual growth rate of 5%. Growth has slowed since the mid-1990s. According to the religious community, around 250,000 to 300,000 believers have been baptized annually worldwide in recent years . The number of Jehovah's Witnesses active in the preaching work has increased by an average of up to 2% worldwide in recent years.
According to the American social scientist and sociologist of religion Rodney Stark and the economist Laurence R. Iannaccone , the lower increase in the total number of active Jehovah's Witnesses compared to the number of newly baptized indicates a relatively high turnover . The Jehovah's Witnesses are relatively equally strong in America, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Australia, but only weakly represented in the Islamic-dominated states and many other Asian countries.
In 1997 Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone rated the annual reports of Jehovah's Witnesses available up to 1995 for an article for the Journal of Contemporary Religion - at that time there were still annual effective increases of about 5% - as a great success at the global "market of religions" and attributed this to the following factors:
- Cultural continuity - her missionary endeavors are always more successful in areas with a Christian character than, for example, in traditionally Muslim areas.
- Legitimate authority - although the theocratic organization of Jehovah's Witnesses is strongly hierarchical, there are no fundamental differences between simple members and elders (see organization ). The rise to a management position, for example to an elder, is possible at any time and in this sense is democratic.
- Thanks to the various voluntary activities of the members, a "labor force" is available at any time and free of charge .
- A fertility rate that exceeds the member mortality rate.
- An effective socialization of young members who did not come to Jehovah's Witnesses through conversion , but who became members through their parents.
- Favorable environment - the Jehovah's Witnesses are mostly particularly successful where the mobilization by their conventional competitors, such as the popular churches , is low.
- Close social networks with the social environment beyond the borders of the religious community.
- A medium level of tension to the social environment through rigid regulations ( “strictness” ), against which violations result in sanctions. This would free riders ( "free riders" kept away from the group), which benefited from the intense community life, mitzutragen without the associated costs. The members are expected to invest enormous amounts of time and make considerable sacrifices, for example in sexual behavior, in avoiding contact with former Jehovah's Witnesses, tobacco , drugs, blood transfusions, birthdays and other celebrations that are incompatible with their beliefs. The exit from the religious community is therefore easily possible. At the same time, this tension with the environment must not become so strong that converts are deterred, which is why there are no strict dress codes among Jehovah's Witnesses, for example .
On the other hand, Stark and Iannaccone saw the fact that some of the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses could be empirically verified as a factor that could favor failure. The non-occurrence of the predicted millennial reign of Christ in 1975 had markedly reduced the rate of growth. But since concrete predictions have been dispensed with, this danger to their further growth has been eliminated (see also controversies ).
Image of God
Jehovah's Witnesses pray to the " Almighty and Eternal God" Jehovah . This vocalization of the tetragram alludes to the vowels of the word Adonai , with which the unpronounceable name of God is traditionally circumscribed in Judaism. He created the universe and life. Its main qualities are love, justice , power and wisdom . Jehovah is seen as an invisible person who exists independently of humans and who has a personal interest in everyone on earth. They reject the doctrine of the Trinity .
Jesus consider Jehovah's Witnesses to be the first and only creature created by God alone . In doing so, they represent the pre-existence of Christ . The man Jesus of Nazareth was anointed by God to be high priest ( adoptionism ). As the Son of God , he is viewed as subordinate to the Father ( subordinatianism ). His death on the stake (not on the cross according to Jehovah's Witnesses ) is the "ransom sacrifice" through which people can obtain forgiveness from their guilty sin . He is "Jehovah's main mediator", next to whom the Watchtower Society (WTG) also has an important function.
Jehovah's Witnesses see themselves as a restored true Christian congregation as prophesied for the end times. They understand the Bible record of the Apostles' Council to mean that the early Church was not just a loose association of independent assemblies , but that in apostolic times there was a central governing body of apostles and elders appointed under the direction of the Holy Spirit to make decisions met and communicated to meetings and oversaw the appointment of overseers .
In the theology of Jehovah's Witnesses, God's “faithful and discreet slave”, a figure from Mt 24:45 ELB , plays a central role. Through him God theocratically ruled their organization. Today the totality of the spirit anointed WTS members from whom their governing body was appointed is referred to as the “loyal and discreet slave”. Your statements are authoritative for Jehovah's Witnesses on doctrinal issues. However, it does not claim to be infallible .
Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the Bible as the inspired , error-free and contradicting word of God . They therefore believe that the Bible is consistent with science, history, and archeology throughout, and that it contains the best guidance on ethics and morals, as well as reliable prophecy. You try to explain scripture by scripture, but you do not interpret all biblical statements literally.
The Jehovah's Witnesses use their own translation of the Bible , the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures , which uses a system-internal language and partially changes the meaning of the original text . Because of their biblical understanding of Scripture, they reject various aspects of modern life that they believe to contradict what the Bible says. These include extramarital sexuality, blood transfusions , celebrating birthdays or church holidays, and the theory of evolution .
Eschatology is at the center of the preaching of Jehovah's Witnesses . They believe that the end times have already dawned when they, as a believing minority, face the vast majority of people who are all under the rule of Satan . They also count all other Christian religious communities among them. The Jehovah's Witnesses do not focus their hope on the parousia , which took place in 1914, when Jesus invisibly took over the rule of the “Kingdom of God” in heaven , but rather on a literal restoration of paradise on earth. Before that, however, all non-believers would be destroyed in the final battle of Armageddon . The majority of believers would then live in peace and happiness in God's kingdom on earth . 144,000 elect, however, would receive immortal life in heaven to reign with Jesus over the earth. All unbelievers would die ( annihilationism ). The idea of a hell where sinners would have to suffer forever is rejected by Jehovah's Witnesses as unbiblical. After repeated false prognoses, the Jehovah's Witnesses today refrain from naming a date for the dawn of God's kingdom.
Worship and practice
Each congregation meets twice a week for 1 1 hour meetings, usually held in their own meeting places, the Kingdom Halls. The weekend gathering begins with a song and a prayer, followed by a half-hour lecture, followed by another song. Then an article from the study edition of The Watchtower magazine is discussed for one hour in the form of questions and answers, and the service is concluded with song and prayer. Similarly, the weekday gathering begins and ends with song and prayer; this meeting includes ongoing review of scriptural passages and training for missionary work. According to the Protestant theologian Matthias Schreiber, these gatherings are not religious services , but training .
Larger conferences take place every year : two one-day and one three-day “congress”, at which several assemblies meet in congress halls belonging to the religious community or rented locations such as football stadiums or exhibition grounds. Depending on local circumstances, conventions can range in numbers from a few hundred to tens of thousands. In addition to the songs, prayers and lectures that are customary at weekly meetings, videos are often shown or those present are interviewed at congresses. In addition, new members are baptized at the congresses.
Jehovah's Witnesses practice the baptism of believers with reference to the baptismal command of Jesus ( Mt 28 : 19-20  ) . The Jehovah's Witnesses see baptism as a sign of the individual's devotion to the Creator. In order to be baptized, one must live one's life according to what Jehovah's Witnesses see as God's will. In addition to living according to the moral standards represented by Jehovah's Witnesses, this also includes attending church services and being active in missionary work according to personal possibilities. In detailed discussions with a person willing to be baptized, elders find out whether he meets the requirements for baptism and has an adequate understanding of the teaching, and whether the desire to be baptized is based on his own free will. Baptism is considered a requirement for salvation by Jehovah's Witnesses, but it is not considered a sacrament.
Baptism is performed according to the New Testament model by immersion in water. In the view of Jehovah's Witnesses, immersion symbolizes repentance and the abandonment of the previous way of life, the coming up out of the water shows that one begins a new life as a follower of Jesus and that, on the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus, one is no longer burdened by previous sins. Jehovah's Witnesses view baptism as a public expression of faith. Baptisms are therefore usually performed at larger worship events, the “congresses”. Baptism takes place after those willing to be baptized have publicly answered yes to two questions: 1. Based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and given yourself to Jehovah to do his will? 2. Do you realize that your dedication and baptism mark you as a Jehovah's Witness and that you belong to the organization that is led by God's Spirit? Since Jehovah's Witnesses see themselves as the only true religious community, they do not recognize baptisms performed outside their religious community as valid.
Because of the pagan roots of these festivals, Jehovah's Witnesses reject Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter as “idolatry”. Their only religious celebration is the Lord's Supper , also known as the “Memorial” or celebration of the death of Christ . This festival is celebrated on Nisan 14 after sunset. When setting the day, Jehovah's Witnesses use the Jewish lunar calendar as their point of view in biblical times, so that the day of the Lord's Supper has no fixed date in the Gregorian calendar . In 2020 the celebration fell on the evening of April 7th.
During the celebration, a talk will be given to explain the purpose of Jesus' death. Then red wine and unleavened bread, the symbols for the blood and body of Jesus Christ, are passed from one present to another. Everyone is free to take some of these symbols. Most of the people present see themselves as mere Memorial watchers and take nothing. Those who do are called "Memorial attendants." In this way, they indicate that they feel they belong to the group of 144,000 people mentioned in the Revelation of John ( Revelation 7.4 ELB ) (see also " Life after death " and Millennium rule ). The gathering of the 144,000 is said to have begun at Pentecost in 33 at the First Supper and, according to Jehovah's Witnesses, is almost complete.
Evangelism and mission
For Jehovah's Witnesses, their faith is inseparable from his preaching. There is therefore no purely passive affiliation to the religious community. The evangelism on doors and in public places, they (also formerly known as "field service") called a ministry or preaching work is therefore the hallmark of Jehovah's Witnesses. If you are interested, they can leave literature for free or offer a Bible study. Before 1991 the literature was given at cost price. An average active Jehovah's Witness spends around seventeen hours of his free time in this activity every month .
Since 1943 they have run a worldwide missionary work. The missionaries are trained for this in a so-called "Gilead School". Missionaries devote 130 hours a month to the preaching work in countries where Jehovah's Witnesses are not so well represented.
Motivated by statements in the Bible that people "from all races and languages" would serve God ( Rev 7,9 EU ), Jehovah's Witnesses try to preach their message worldwide and make great efforts to use the Bible and publications of the Watchtower Society translate into many languages. 2500 translators are involved. Jehovah's Witnesses have also greatly expanded and advertised their Internet presence in recent years. The logo of the jw.org website, published in 2013, appears prominently on Jehovah's Witness literature, on information booths, and on the facades of Kingdom Halls. In 2014, individual publications in over 700 languages were available on the website. An online library (wol.jw.org) is available in over 400 languages and there is an online TV channel (tv.jw.org).
Dealing with violations of beliefs
Among Jehovah's Witnesses excommunication is called "disfellowshipping" and should be practiced as "avoidance". In their view, Tit 3.10 Elb proves that in early Christianity believers could be expelled from the community after two admonitions if they violated the principles of faith. Disfellowshipping is used in cases of sexual misconduct, alcoholism , theft , attending church services in a regional church, or when a member spreads theological teachings that seem likely to provoke a schism . When the testimony of two witnesses is available, a closed committee of elders will be formed to investigate the allegations and, if they prove to be true, give the person concerned two warnings to allow him to change his behavior. If the person in question has been disfellowshipped, the other church members have to avoid him and are not allowed to receive him at home. The expelled can continue to visit the Kingdom Hall, but no longer has the right to speak there. Disfellowshipping is reported to the Watchtower Society to prevent the excluded from visiting other churches and forming harmful communities. The elders visit the expellee once a year to check the possibility of a readmission. This takes place at the request of the person concerned after open admission of guilt and honest repentance before the committee that had ordered the disfellowshipping. About a third of those who have been disfellowshipped make use of this option. Disfellowshipping is rarely performed because Jehovah's Witnesses who fail to meet the requirements leave the community on their own. Since premarital intercourse can also lead to disfellowshipping, many Jehovah's Witnesses marry at a very young age.
Since the 1950s, when disfellowshipping became a common disciplinary practice within Jehovah's Witnesses, members were expected to avoid social contact with the excluded as much as possible. Family members living in the same household are an exception. However, one was not allowed to discuss questions of faith with them. In 1974 an article in The Watchtower acknowledged that consistent avoidance of disfellowshipped people created "unnecessarily unfriendly and inhumane situations." It was now recommended that they be greeted again and treated with the usual courtesy. Another article that appeared in The Watchtower on September 15, 1981 changed this attitude again. Now both greeting and all non-mandatory contact with an excluded person was forbidden, even if it was the spouse or a biological child. Exceptions were only allowed in the case of serious illness. This also applies to former Jehovah's Witnesses who left the religious community on their own initiative. According to historian M. James Penton, this contributed to the fact that former Jehovah's Witnesses came together in many countries to publicly criticize the religious community's treatment of ex-members, which they perceived as cruel. At least in the context of the divided house, according to the social scientist Raik Zillmann, there seems to be differentiated scope for action for those affected even in the event of disfellowshipping. Although the religious community demands absolute loyalty from its members, if they do not break off contact with excluded partners, this does not result in any sanctions.
The educational scientist Sarah Ruth Pohl, on the other hand, believes that leaving the community is associated with the loss of the social and family environment. She therefore comes to the conclusion that there is no “real religious freedom ” for both parents and young people within the closed religious system of Jehovah's Witnesses . Freedom of choice for young people is not wanted. In the case of sexual abuse within Jehovah's Witnesses, according to the Australian Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, this practice of disfellowshipping victims faces the impossible choice of either remaining in the organization protecting the perpetrator for their social and family life To maintain a network or to leave the organization and thus lose the entire social environment.
Relationship to the state
Jehovah's Witnesses consider the state organs to be tolerated by God and endowed with authority ( cf. Rom 13 : 1-7 ELB ). Therefore, they adhere to the state laws as long as they do not require an action which, according to their understanding of the Bible, is not in accordance with God's commandments ( cf. Acts 5:29 ELB ). For example, they refuse to do military service (→ conscientious objection by Jehovah's Witnesses ).
Jn 17:16 ELB see them as an invitation to be politically neutral, therefore they do not take part in political activities such as demonstrations, elections or revolutions and do not take any political offices. In addition, they reject all acts which, in their opinion, amount to worshiping the state or its representatives ( saluting the flag , singing the national anthem, etc.).
marriage and family
Marriage is considered sacred. Divorce is only permitted in the case of adultery . The partners decide according to their conscience whether a couple will divorce or separate. According to 1 Cor 11.3 ELB , the man is the head of the family, the woman should submit to him. According to the same principle, children should submit to their parents. Premarital intercourse , polygamy , cohabitation without a marriage license, and homosexual acts are considered to be sin. We do not recommend marrying anyone who is not a Jehovah's Witness.
The so-called “governing body”, a body currently consisting of eight men, which meets in the New York world headquarters, acts as the spiritual director. According to their view, the “loyal and discreet slave” was installed in 1919. Below them are the branches under the supervision of branch committees, the circles under the supervision of the circuit overseers, and the congregations as local units. The individual branches are assigned to different zones, which are visited by temporarily appointed "representatives of the governing body" (until recently called "zone overseers").
The members of the governing body form six committees in different compositions :
- The Human Resources Committee is responsible for staff in the main office and branch offices.
- The publishing committee takes care of the printing and mailing of literature as well as financial and legal issues for the legal entities.
- The service committee coordinates global evangelization and other matters relating to the congregations, pioneers, elders, and traveling overseers.
- The teaching committee decides what spiritual teaching is offered at conventions and congregational meetings, and oversees the pioneer school and other Bible schools.
- The writing committee oversees the writing of pamphlets and the translation work and answers teaching questions.
- The Committee of Coordinators , which includes a representative from each of the other committees, coordinates the work of the various committees and takes care of urgent matters, such as assistance in the event of a disaster.
Notices from headquarters are sent to branch committees and, if necessary, forwarded from there to individual local congregations. The general central organ is the magazine The Watchtower . Internal communications for the field of mission work are issued to baptized Jehovah's Witnesses through the monthly newsletter Our Life and Service as Christians - Workbook (until 2015: Our Kingdom Ministry ).
Branches - Legal organization and duties
There are 89 branches worldwide in which literature is translated and sent into the respective languages. Some branches (such as Germany, England, Finland and Italy) have their own printing facilities. The primary function of the branches is to organize the preaching activity, in which a large proportion of the members participate. The necessary division of the area, the clarification of legal questions and the creation of meeting places are some of the other tasks of the branches. The organizations are not designed for commercial profit. A branch committee presides over the branches. A subdivision of the branch committee is the service department, which is considered to be the representative of the governing body in the country. It has the same tasks as the Service Committee, but limited to a national level. The service department is responsible for, among other things, the circuit overseer's reports that he writes after the week of his visit. In addition, the service department handles legal cases in the congregations, which means that the local judicial committee works with the service committee. Usually only one report is written after a legal case. If the case is found to be related to child abuse, the service department is informed immediately.
The Jehovah's Witnesses use various legal tools (organizations) around the world, but their structure (board of directors or similar) is not identical to the spiritual structure of their religious community. In Germany this is the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Jehovah's Witnesses, e. V. ( Watchtower Society for short ), whose administrative center is in the municipality of Selters in the Taunus . The seat of Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany ( KdöR ) is located in Berlin and is called "Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany, KdöR" . This corporation is the legal successor of the "Religious Community of Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany", which has been active throughout Germany since October 23, 1990, and in turn the legal successor of the "Religious Community of Jehovah's Witnesses in the GDR", which has been active in the GDR since March 14, 1990. President in both cases was Helmut Martin (1926–2002), from March 14, 1990 until his death on February 3, 2002. On November 9, 1999, a letter to all Jehovah's Witnesses baptized in Germany announced that despite the German reunification on October 3, 1990, the formal legal separation of the religious work of Jehovah's Witnesses between the former FRG ("old federal states") and the former GDR ("new federal states") is now over and the (previously for Jehovah's Witnesses in the former BRD responsible) “Watchtower Bibel and Tract Society, German Branch, e. V. ”(long-time Vice President or President: Willi Karl Pohl [1919–2008]) in the“ Watchtower Bibel and Tract Society of Jehovah's Witnesses, e. V. "was renamed and now in" Religious community of Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany, e. V. ”(and from then on the highest) representative of the religious community in Germany, which previously only looked after Jehovah's Witnesses in the former GDR. Since then, this has been the executive body in Germany that the Watchtower Society uses to look after the communities. Every baptized Jehovah's Witness with German residence who is affiliated to a community is automatically a member of the KdöR through baptism. In Austria, Jehovah's Witnesses have had the status of a legally recognized religious community since 2009 . The “Association of Jehovah's Witnesses in Switzerland” has its headquarters in Thun .
A subdivision of the Watchtower Society is the "Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah's Witnesses" . His goal is to provide for special full-time miners such as special pioneers, traveling overseers, missionaries, and Bethel workers. This order ensures that all special full-time servants enjoy the same status worldwide as they undertake apostolic duties in a common lifestyle. The members of the order receive a small fee to cover expenses. The Order itself has no resources of its own.
In Germany the legal holder of the order is the Watchtower Society. All members of the order are subject to the vow of obedience and poverty , which among other things excludes gainful employment. The order is to be seen as a spiritual cooperative and is therefore not subject to social insurance . The members of the order are insured for health and at the end of the service the pension insurance is paid for the service period. Unemployment benefits are not paid. Should a member of the order grow old in the course of his service, the order takes care of him.
The congregations are called assemblies and are led and represented by a “body of elders”. An elders body consists of " elders " appointed by the circuit overseer. The circuit overseer may appoint ministerial servants to assist the body of elders. According to her interpretation of the Bible texts 1 Tim 2: 11–12 ELB and 3: 1–13 ELB , only men can become elders and ministerial servants.
The meeting places (Kingdom Halls, Congress Halls) and branch offices with printing works are mostly built by the members themselves. In order to compensate for regional differences and to meet the considerable need for new buildings and maintenance work, a national and an international building program were established. Only volunteers from the ranks of Jehovah's Witnesses work in this building program. The resulting infrastructure is also used to carry out reconstruction work in disaster areas (in Germany, for example, this happened during the flood disasters on the Elbe). Disaster relief is provided by the registered association “Humanitarian Relief Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses e. V. “ coordinated. The building programs are financed through donations and loans. In Germany, the Kingdom Halls are generally administered by one of the congregations using the hall. The self-built Congress Halls and Kingdom Halls are owned by the religious community.
The origin of the Jehovah's Witnesses can be found in the group around Charles Taze Russell , who was raised as a Presbyterian and was a member of the Congregationalist Church and the later Bible reading group.
Disappointed with the teachings of his Church, Charles Taze Russell began an intensive study of the Bible in 1869 . He did not understand how a God of love could order eternal torment for sinners . In 1870 he and friends founded a group to study the Bible .
In 1876 Russell received a copy of the Herald of the Morning magazine published in Rochester by the Adventist Nelson Homer Barbour . Barbour convinced Russell that the "invisible return of Christ" had taken place as early as 1874. Russell supported the magazine financially and as an editor-in-chief.
Barbour and Russell worked together until there was a split over the value of the ransom sacrifice. Russell founded his own magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence , which appeared from July 1879 with an initial circulation of 6,000 copies and continues to this day as The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom .
In February 1881, the Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was founded under the direction of William H. Conley along with Joseph Russell and Charles T. Russell. William H. Conley donated $ 3,500 (70%) of the founding capital of $ 5,000, Joseph Russell donated $ 1,000 (20%) and Charles T. Russell donated $ 500 (10%). As Charles T. Russell turned more and more to the subject of time prophecy in late 1882, Conley decided that he would no longer support Russell's designs with large sums of money. The Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was incorporated under the laws of the state of Pennsylvania in 1884 , and Russell took over the reins.
When Russell taught in the Watchtower that the New Covenant belonged exclusively to the coming age and to the Jews, the Free Bible Students split off from Russell's organization in 1909 because they saw it as a deviation from biblical teaching.
When Russell died on a train driving home from a lecture tour, he was succeeded on January 6, 1917 by Joseph Franklin Rutherford as President of the Watch Tower Society. Rutherford organized the movement in a centralized way and de-democratized the decision-making processes. This led to another split that gave rise to the Solemn Bible Students and the Laity Home Missionary Movement.
The adoption of the name Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931 served to distinguish it from the other Bible Students and satisfied the desire of the "Watchtower Society followers" to find a biblical basis for naming their community. Justified and thematized in the published literature (among others in Rutherford's book “Jehovah”) this was exegetical with the reference to Isa 43.10–12 ELB : “You are my witnesses, is the saying of Jehovah” (according to NWT ). Today only the title "International Bible Students Association" (short form "IBSA") of the British body reminds of the old name.
After Rutherford's death in 1942, Nathan Homer Knorr took over the office of president of the parent companies. Under him the founding of some educational institutions for worldwide mission took place. In 1946 he initiated work on the New World Translation , which has been used by Jehovah's Witnesses since its publication in 1961. During his tenure, the first steps were taken to separate the spiritual direction of Jehovah's Witnesses from the administrative direction of the various organizations, which was completed in 2000 when the last members of the "Governing Body" of Jehovah's Witnesses took up their offices in the Watchtower Society tasks. After Knorr succumbed to a brain tumor on June 8, 1977, Frederick Franz (1977-1992), then Milton Henschel (1992-2000) and from 2000 to 2014 Don A. Adams took over the office of President. In contrast to his predecessors, Adams is not a member of the “Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses” and therefore has no religious leadership but a purely administrative function.
Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany
The central organ The Watchtower first appeared in German in 1897. In Germany there was a first organizational institution of the religious community since 1903 with the opening of an office in Elberfeld (today Wuppertal ). In 1908 Russell opened a branch office of the Watchtower Society as its headquarters there. In 1921 the community was given the official legal capacity and in 1922 it was officially granted non-profit status. In 1923 the branch office was relocated to Magdeburg . In 1926 the community was registered as the International Biblical Research Association, German Branch in the register of associations of the Magdeburg District Court.
During the time of National Socialism , the Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted, among other things, because of their consistent refusal to do military service, to deliver the Hitler salute or to participate in the Führer cult in any other way . They were locked up in concentration camps and some of them perished there. Numerous members of the religious community who continued to be active in missionary and anti-militarist activities were executed. For example, the Herne nurse Helene Gotthold was beheaded in Berlin-Plötzensee at the end of 1944, among other things for “ decomposing military strength ” . More extensively among Jehovah's Witnesses during the Nazi era
In 1946 an additional office was opened in the American zone in Wiesbaden -Dotzheim. In the 1980s, the relocation to Selters took place with the establishment of a new administration and printing center with significance for the European area.
In the GDR, the Jehovah's Witnesses were initially given permission to do “worship”. In August 1950 they were accused of carrying out " boycotts " against democratic institutions and that their members were "spies" of an imperialist power. They were then banned and the Magdeburg office had to be closed. In a show trial on October 3 and 4, 1950, high prison sentences were imposed. By the end of the GDR era, over 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses were held in prisons and labor camps. 60 imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses died as a result of abuse, malnutrition, illness or old age. Some of those affected (around 325) were "double-persecuted" people who had already been locked up in concentration camps or prisons during the Nazi regime. A few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall , on March 14, 1990, Jehovah's Witnesses were officially recognized again in the GDR.
After fifteen years of litigation, the Berlin Higher Administrative Court decided in 2005 that Jehovah's Witnesses can claim the status of a public corporation (KdöR) in Berlin . After a non-admission complaint had been rejected by the Federal Administrative Court on February 1, 2006, the Berlin Senate granted them this status on June 13, 2006. All federal states have now followed suit , most recently North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017 .
The Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany in the religious community of the "Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany", based in today Berlin-Koepenick public law korporiert . This is legally a branch of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania , based in Brooklyn, New York City. The Watchtower Society in Selters im Taunus has the function of an administrative and organizational facility for the religious community.
The number of members increased significantly after the First World War . In 1918 the membership was approximately 5,500, and it grew to approximately 25,000 in the following 1920s and 1930s. With the exception of the United States, no other country had so many members at the time. As a result of the Second World War , the Nazi persecution and the division of Germany , the number of members decreased and then rose to 169,208 people by 2019 (see also “ Numbers ” for distribution ).
Jehovah's Witnesses in Austria
The Jehovah's Witnesses mark the beginning of their presence in Austria in 1911 when Russell came to Vienna to give a lecture . After around 2,000 people had appeared for an event on October 27, 1921, regular lectures were held in Vienna and, from February 1922, in other Austrian cities as well. The first permanent office of Jehovah's Witnesses was opened in 1923, and at the end of 1930 it was officially registered as an “Association for the Dissemination of the Bible and Biblical Explanatory Literature”. In 1935 this association was officially dissolved and public meetings were banned. In 1938 there were about 550 active members. In the years 1938–1945 , as in Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses were subjected to persecution; around a quarter died in custody or were executed.
In 1947 the "Watchtower Society" was registered as an association. In September 1978 the Jehovah's Witnesses applied for recognition as a religious community ; However, the application was not processed by the responsible ministry for years. On January 10, 1998, the Confessional Community Act (BekGG) was passed, whereupon the Jehovah's Witnesses were registered on July 20, 1998 at least as a “state-registered religious denomination”. However, they continued to seek recognition as a religious community and on February 27, 1998 lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) . This complaint was allowed and Austria was condemned, among other things, on the grounds that the behavior of the Austrian government, by delaying the proceedings, encroached upon the fundamental right to freedom of belief, conscience and religion and thus unjustifiably discriminated against Jehovah's Witnesses.
Finally, on May 7, 2009, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Art and Culture granted Jehovah's Witnesses recognition as a religious community.
In 2012, 20,923 people declared themselves to be members, there were 293 assemblies (parishes) with 50 to 120 members each.
Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia
The religious community was persecuted in the Soviet Union - for example, over 8500 Witnesses were banished to Siberia in Operation North in 1951 - and only recognized in 1991. In 2017 there were 395 regional associations in Russia with over 170,000 members. The religious community is considered a sect against which the Russian state has brought several lawsuits. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Russia several times to pay damages for its actions against Jehovah's Witnesses.
On April 20, 2017, the community was classified as an extremist organization by a single judge in Russia's highest court and banned. The property of all regional associations is to be confiscated. The human rights organization Human Rights Watch criticized the decision. The Jehovah's Witnesses have the option of moving the judgment to a triple chamber.
Jehovah's Witnesses in Nigeria
The first Jehovah's Witnesses arrived in southern Nigeria in the 1920s. With 370,336 members (0.22% of the total population), they were the fourth-largest national religious group in the world in Nigeria in 2016 and the largest in Africa.
Discrimination and Persecution
Organizations and institutions that deal with violations of human rights, such as Amnesty International , UNHCR or Swiss Refugee Aid , point out in their reports that Jehovah's Witnesses are exposed to attacks and persecution in various countries because of the exercise of their creed. For example, the Swiss Refugee Aid and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees report that systematic and more intensive repression by the government has been observed in Eritrea since 2008 . During raids , members of Jehovah's Witnesses are searched for and some arrested without giving any reason. According to the Swiss Refugee Agency, forced labor , mistreatment and torture are being used to get Jehovah's Witnesses to give up their faith and join the Orthodox Church in Eritrea .
The Jehovah's Witnesses reject membership or cooperation with ecumenical organizations such as the World Council of Churches because of the great differences in teaching and judge such efforts on their part as pointless from the outset.
Criticism of Jehovah's Witnesses is often made by members of other Christian groups or former members (often called "dropouts") such as B. Raymond Franz expressed. Above all, the plausibility of the teachings, the methods and the internal structure of the religious community are called into question. Publications by Jehovah's Witnesses warn against publications by former members and reject any criticism. Some points of criticism are denied by religious scholars or could not be determined by the courts and are rejected as unsubstantiated.
Called a sect or a fundamentalist
Sometimes the Jehovah's Witnesses are referred to as a sect , which can be meant both neutral and pejorative . In church history denominational studies , the Jehovah's Witnesses are counted among the biblical-apocalyptic sects.
Jehovah's Witnesses reject the term 'sect' as a negative attribution. For their part, they regard all other Christian churches as "sects of Christianity".
Various scientists associate the Jehovah's Witnesses with Christian fundamentalism .
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures
The Jehovah's Witnesses use their own Bible translation published by the Watchtower Society, which is not used or recognized by any other group. Bruce M. Metzger is of the opinion that in certain passages of the English New World Translation a tendency towards the manifestation of specific dogmatic contents of the Jehovah's Witnesses through targeted conjectures can be ascertained. The New World Translation also uses the presumptive God's name Jehovah in the New Testament , in whose original Greek-language text it does not appear. The word κύριος (kýrios, "Lord"), which is used 718 times in the New Testament, renders it with Jehovah in 237 places and with Lord in the remaining 481 places , without a theological reason being given for this differentiation.
The American religious scholar Jason BeDuhn also names the frequent replacement of Lord by Jehovah as a peculiarity of the New World Translation. But their theological bias is no greater than that of other translations. It was drawn up according to the principle of "as literally as possible, as freely as necessary".
Suppression of freedom of speech and thought
Critics describe the leadership of the religious community as autocratic and totalitarian because of the claims to loyalty and obedience that the Watchtower Society makes, the intolerance towards deviating religious beliefs and practices and because of the practice of excluding and subsequently avoiding members . According to sociologist Andrew Holden, members who choose to leave the denomination are rarely granted a worthy exit. Not only would publicly announced their excommunication, they were also known as "mentally ill" ( mentally diseased ) and " apostates condemned". Historian James Irvin Lichti rejects the description of Jehovah's Witnesses as "totalitarian". The sociologist Rodney Stark states that the coercion tends to be informal, because it assumes close friendships within the group. The Jehovah's Witnesses would see themselves as "part of the power structure rather than as subject to it".
In the publications of the Watchtower Society, it is advised against questioning the doctrines of the faith, since the society as "God's organization" must be trusted. It is recommended to “avoid independent thinking” as it is influenced by Satan and causes disagreement. They point out that unity in faith helps the unity of believers. The Watchtower Society teaches the members to willingly accept adaptations of the doctrine of the faith, since according to their own statements it would be foolish to "hold the view that expectations that needed a certain correction would question the overall statement of the truth". According to the judgment of critics, the Watchtower Society cultivates a system of unquestionable obedience by making individual decision-making contemptible. Critics accuse the Watchtower of dominating the Jehovah's Witnesses spiritually, controlling their information and isolating them spiritually, which according to former Governing Body Raymond Franz are all elements of "mind control".
In Holden's opinion, the portrayal of the members as victims of brainwashing is incorrect, since most members of millenarian faith communities such as Jehovah's Witnesses would have made their decision consciously and informed. The European Court of Human Rights came to a similar conclusion in a case concerning the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The restrictions placed on members would not be fundamentally different from restrictions that other religious communities impose on the private lives of their members. Mind control allegations were based on mere speculation and would not be borne out by the facts. Jehovah's Witnesses deny that the unity of believers they strive for would curtail their individuality or imagination.
Prophecies that did not come true
In their publications, Russell and Jehovah's Witnesses made specific statements for the years 1878, 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1975 about events that they believed were prophesied in the Bible and were "beyond doubt" or " confirmed by God ”. The absence of the predicted end-time events led to crises of credibility every time; in the second half of the 1970s, for example, missionary activity and the growth of Jehovah's Witnesses declined significantly. The religious community overcame these crises by giving up or changing some of their doctrines: In this way a church organization was built up which until 1881 had not been found necessary in view of the apparently imminent end of the world. The teaching was also conceived that Christ was enthroned in heaven in 1914. In 1918, death, which the members of the religious community had not believed they had to suffer, was now defined as a blessing , since one did not have to witness the horrors of Armageddon. In addition, the double concept of salvation was drafted (144,000 in heaven and the “great crowd” on earth). Above all, however, this radicalized the denial of the religious community towards the surrounding world, which is increasingly understood as satanic. In this respect, the prophecies that did not materialize contributed to the formation and maintenance of the identity of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Watchtower Society rejects allegations that it is a false prophet. Unlike the Old Testament prophets, their biblical interpretations are not inspired or infallible. Their predictions would not claim to be "words of Jehovah." In their pursuit of God's Kingdom, Jehovah's Witnesses attempted to gauge when it might come and, like Jesus' early disciples, failed to heed their Master's warning that they “know neither the day nor the hour” ( Matt 25.13 ELB ). George D. Chryssides believes that, with the exception of statements about 1914, 1925, and 1975, changes in Jehovah's Witnesses' views and dates can largely be attributed to changes in understanding of biblical chronology and not to erroneous prophecies.
Dealing with sexual abuse cases
According to a 2015 case study by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse , the organization adheres to outdated guidelines and practices when it comes to child abuse. These guidelines and practices would not be subject to any regular process of development. Overall, Jehovah's Witnesses' policies and practices for dealing with sexual abuse are inappropriate and inappropriate. The maintenance and continued application of biblical guidelines such as the "two witnesses rule" in the case of child sexual abuse shows a serious lack of understanding of the nature of child sexual abuse.
Critics criticize the way Jehovah's Witnesses deal with sexual abuse . In their opinion, this makes it difficult for members to report abuse. Some abuse victims claim to have been instructed by community elders to maintain silence in order to protect both the accused and the organization from shame.
In June 2012, a jury in Oakland , California found the Jehovah's Witness community to be complicit in the abuse of a girl who was nine at the time of the crime on the grounds that the denomination had failed to inform members of the local community that she was active in the community Perpetrator had a criminal record for two sexual offenses. The girl, who also belongs to the community, was deliberately exposed to the danger. Announcing an appeal , Jehovah's Witnesses deny the existence of a duty of confidentiality and refer to an article on their official website detailing their recommended approach to abuse allegations. According to this article, the elders with reference to the Bible ( Dtn 19.15 EU ) can only take action within the community if there are at least two witnesses to the allegations. Any member found guilty should be released immediately from any responsible position within the organization. Do not regret it, the member is also excluded from the community. However, if I regret it "from the bottom of my heart" and lead an upright life "for decades", it could be entrusted with offices again afterwards. The elders should also report unconfirmed allegations to the superordinate branch and, if required by law, report them to the authorities. Regardless of whether it is the right of the victim or anyone else who is aware of the allegations to bring the matter to bear .
In September 2018, the National Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses was sentenced by a jury to pay a $ 35 million fine for instructing local officials in Montana, USA, not to report child abuse to the authorities. The elders banned the perpetrator from the congregations for a year, after which he was reinstated. The abuse continued. The organization announced that it would appeal the judgment, which was not yet final as of September 2018.
Jehovah's Witnesses reject homosexuality. In a 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center among members of various Christian denominations in the United States , only 16% of Jehovah's Witnesses agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 54% of all Christians surveyed, 76% of followers of other religions, and 83 % of those who were not religiously supported.
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