In early 1999, I decided that it was time to let my old Jehovah’s Witness friends know what was going on with me – why I left the organization and where I was spiritually. After nearly a year of prayer and many rewrites, I sent this letter to 70 of my old friends in December of 1999
I am writing this letter to many of my old friends in the Portsmouth and neighboring congregations with whom I have been particularly close. I’m sorry for not writing each of you a personal letter. But, I have much to say and many to whom I want to say it. Rather than let you all hear what has been going on with me lately through the rumor mill, I though a mail-merged, form letter like this seemed to me to be the best way to do it. (Of course there is the added benefit to you of not having to decipher my less than readable handwriting)
I have labored long and hard over this letter, first over whether or not to write it at all, and then on what to write. I am sure that some of you will find some of what I am about to say troubling. But I ask you to read the whole of this letter before coming to any conclusions.
For over 20 years I served faithfully and happily in the Portsmouth and Kittery congregations as a publisher, pioneer, ministerial servant and elder. During the years I was active as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I learned a lot about the Bible, as well as people and life in general. I also had the pleasure of meeting and getting to work with a lot of wonderful brothers and sisters like yourselves. Most importantly, I really felt that I was serving Jehovah acceptably with His own people and His organization. Now it has been almost five years now since I stepped down from being an elder and about three years since I stopped attending meetings.
Despite my not attending meetings, I have continued in my usual habits of reading and studying. My love for God and His Word has never diminished. If anything, I do more reading and research now than ever before. In fact, it is my love for reading and study that has brought me to where I am now.
When I first started studying, it was in the book The Truth That Lead to Eternal Life. On page 13, that book says: “We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated.” I’ve tried to follow this counsel since I first started studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses back the in the early 1970s and always felt that I was following it. I was not really examining things as closely as I should. I found instead that I was just ignoring or rationalizing away anything negative about the organization.
At first, I did examine everything carefully, making sure of all things. But, as time went on, I found that just keeping up with the minimum studies for the Watchtower Study, the Service Meeting and the Book Study didn’t leave much time for doing any other serious research. Looking back now, I realize that the material for the meetings was devoted almost exclusively to supporting the latest teaching on any given subject, rather than to any serious discussion of all sides of that subject. I realized that after many years as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was not examining my own religious organization, but instead, I was just ignoring or rationalizing away anything negative about the organization.
A couple years before I stepped down from being an elder, several things began to occur to me that troubled me very much. I began to notice that more and more of my time and mental energy as an elder was taken up by what I would consider bureaucratic or organizational concerns while less and less was available for helping the brothers and sisters. As I went to KM schools and meetings with the circuit and district overseers at assemblies, I began to feel that my role as an elder was a lot more about supporting and defending the organization than it was about helping my brothers and sisters.
At the same time, more of the brothers and sisters seemed to need more help and encouragement. Many that I talked with felt that they were not really part of the congregation, that they were not really doing as much in the preaching work as they felt they should, that they were guilty about it, and felt they were not pleasing to Jehovah because of it. I began to see that as elders and as an organization we were not raising up truly spiritual people, that is, people who knew their Bible and were able to apply Biblical principles to their lives. Instead, it seemed to me that we were developing good organizational people. Many seemed to have a good feel for where they stood in the organization, but not a clear view of where they stood with Jehovah. Many seemed to have a better relationship with the organization than they did with Jehovah.
Questions came to my mind: Was it my personal failings as an elder that contributed to this? Was it the organization? Was it the program of meetings and study? What were my own motives for serving? Was I doing all I was doing because of my love for Jehovah and my brothers and sisters or because it had become a habit for me? – because it was just what elders were supposed to do? – or was I doing it because I was afraid not to do it?
Also, as I was doing research for public talks and service meeting parts, I noticed more and more quotes that were supplied as part of the talk outlines and the service meeting parts were not really in context. When I took a step back, and looked at many of the basics, I found that a fair bit of the data and the arguments that the Society used to support some of the things I had learned and taught for years were seriously lacking.
For a time, I tried to continue on as an elder, teaching around the things I found which were flawed, and continuing to help and encourage as best I could despite my misgivings. I loved Jehovah, I loved all of you brothers and sisters and I loved being an elder and took my role as one very seriously. After a while though, my conscience would not allow me to continue to teach things and to support policies that I knew were at best flawed and at worst untrue. For these reasons, and other personal reasons, I decided to step down from being an elder.
It is difficult for me to put into words the mental, emotional and spiritual struggle that resulted from all this. On the one hand I wanted to talk to some of the other elders about how I felt, but on the other whenever I raised a point about something I had found, there were no real answers or I was immediately questioned as to whether I was criticizing the ‘faithful slave.’ On the one hand, I was having serious reservations about some of the teachings and policies of the Society, but on the other hand I did not want to separate myself from all of you, my brothers and sisters. I continued going to meetings for a while, but found it difficult to even sit and listen to the things that I did not feel I could teach. I found the meetings more discouraging than encouraging. I had reached the point where the good of going to the meetings was outweighed by the bad, where my conscience outweighed my appreciation. Rather than make a big deal about what I was having problems with, I decided to just gradually withdraw from attendance at the Kingdom Hall.
Despite all this – or perhaps because of it – I still found great pleasure in reading and studying on my own. God’s Word and my relationship with Him were the only consolation and encouragement I felt I had at that point. Also, as I looked around, I found a wealth of good books to read. One of my favorites is “The Myth of Certainty” by Daniel Taylor. It deals with the role of the questioning Christian in the church. While it does not deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses at all, it addresses many of the issues that concerned me regarding my relationship with the organization. This book also showed me that my situation with the organization was not unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but many other Christians have similar misgivings regarding their own churches. This book also provided some good insights on how religious and secular organizations and their questioning members do, and should, treat each other.
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses could consider some of the material that I read, such as Raymond Franz’s books “Crisis of Conscience” and “In Search of Christian Freedom” to be apostate maerial. I expected them to be hateful diatribes against the Watchtower Society, the Governing Body and Jehovah’s Witnesses in general. They did not live up (or should I say down?) to my expectations. Instead, I found them to be well written, thoughtful works. They were completely devoid of the “vitriolic hatred” that the Watchtower has said characterizes so-called apostate literature. They were also an interesting view of the inner workings of the organization.
At the same time, I began to meet others on the Internet that had similar concerns about the organization. The Internet proved to be a great aid to me in my situation. It allowed me access to information and people to whom I would not otherwise have access. It also allowed me the opportunity to express myself and to hear others expressing themselves openly and honestly without fear of being labeled as spiritually weak or apostate. Some of these people were still active as Jehovah’s Witnesses, some were not. I did find that some definitely were the bitter, hateful apostates that the Watchtower has mentioned on occasion. But for the most part, the people I dealt with were not that way at all. Many had served faithfully for many years as pioneers and elders and were genuinely concerned about various issues within the organization. They loved Jehovah, His Word and their brothers and sisters, but has serious problems with some of the things that the Watchtower Society has done and taught. Some remain in the organization trying to work for reform from within, others have left. I considered the possibility of remaining within the organization and trying to work to change the things that I thought were a problem, but I had already been doing that for almost 10 years and had long since realized that elders have little to no ability to influence the direction of the Society.
So at this point, I was basically out of the organization. Now the question was – what next? Time and again, brothers and sisters I talked to on the Internet would ask (in an apparently inaccurate paraphrase of John 6:68), “Where else can you go?” But Peter did not ask Jesus “Where are we to go?”, but rather “Lord, to whom shall we go?”. To ask “Where else can you go?” emphasizes an organization or a place, while asking, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” emphasizes Jesus Christ. So rather than worrying about where to go, or to which organization to go, I decided to leave it in God’s hands. I decided to work on my relationship with Him first and to ask Him to guide and direct me as to where, if anywhere, I should go.
I read and thought a lot about Jesus’ place in all this and began to do more Bible reading on it. While we, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, often referred to Matthew 28:19 and 20, we seldom dwelt on verse 18, which says: “And Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘All authority has been given Me in heaven and earth.'” From that it seemed obvious to me that the Father had turned over all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus Christ and that Christ would retain that power until the fulfillment of 1 Cor. 15:24: “then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”
From these verses, it is clear to me that Jesus is the one that exercises authority in heaven and on Earth, and that He will continue to do so until He hands that authority back to the Father. Given the fact that the Father has turned over all authority to the Son, Jesus Christ as King of the Kingdom, it also seems to me that there is no reason we should not talk to our King, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in prayer
I had heard various people talk about praying for Jesus to come into their hearts. The idea was pretty foreign to me. Even after I had separated myself from the organization, I figured that for all the time and effort I had spent studying about Jesus and “cultivating the fruits of the spirit” that Jesus was in my heart. I thought the way Jesus lived in our hearts was by our studying about him and growing close to him based on that knowledge, this in harmony with the New World Translation rendering of the Greek work ‘gisoskosi’ in John 17:3 as “taking in knowledge.”
For years as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I didn’t think much of the claims of Christians to have been born again. I believed, as most Jehovah’s Witnesses do, that only the anointed of Jehovah’s Witnesses were truly born again. I thought the idea of someone outside the organization being born again was just about impossible to me.
Despite this, I thought a lot about that prayer for Jesus to come into my heart. I figured that as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was a Christian and even though I had left the organization, I was still one. So, I thought I should be able to pray that prayer and really mean it, and nothing would change. For a couple of months, when I was praying, I would start to pray, “Lord Jesus, come into my h….” and I just couldn’t finish it. That bothered me. Regardless of my relationship with the organization, I still felt that my spirituality was really stronger than it had been even when I was active as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I couldn’t understand why I could not finish that prayer and mean it. I think that deep down, I knew what finishing that prayer would really mean.
In October of 1998, when I was at a gathering of former Jehovah’s Witnesses, I heard a talk that dealt a lot with the concept of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit being “in” us. A lot of what the speaker said coincided with the study I had done on the New World Translation rendering of the Greek word “en”, which is normally translated as “in.” The New World Translation, however, has translated many occurrences of the Greek “en” as “in union.” Another point this speaker made was the need for us to totally surrender to Christ as our Lord and Master.
That night, as I lay in my bed praying, it suddenly seemed to me to be the time for me to surrender my will and my life to Jesus Christ as my Lord, Master and Savior. As I was praying, I finished that prayer that I had started so many times. I prayed “Lord Jesus, come into my heart.” Included in these words was my plea for Jesus to come into my life and heart, for Him to live His life in me and for me to live my live in Him.
Now, I had heard several testimonies from “born-againers” about how they were effected when they were born again. I generally wrote them off as overemotional reactions. Well, I learned that not all of them were that. I struggled for months to find the words to describe what I felt after I surrendered to Christ and asked Him into my heart. The best term I can think of is “heavenly hug.” It was like a warm embrace that welcomed me home, an embrace that welcomed me into the Body of Christ.
At that moment that I surrendered to Jesus, I felt more safe, secure and loved than I have ever felt before. It was almost a physical sensation. Also, immediately I noticed a change in my viewpoint on things. It was hard to identify at first but the most noticeable thing to me was how I viewed the scriptures. All of a sudden a lot of scriptures that weren’t supposed to apply to me because I was not of the ‘anointed’, suddenly made so much sense. 2 Cor. 5:17, where it says, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” was one of them. I realized when I asked Jesus into my heart, that I became a new creature in Christ. Now when I read scriptures such as John 15 and Romans 8, they are brilliantly clear to me. Scriptures that I read a thousand times are all new to me. I know Christ on a whole new level now. It is a wonderful thing.
At one level, I had realized it for some time, but now it was blazingly clear that the Body of Christ is not confined to one select group from one manmade organization. I found that the members of the Body of Christ are united, not by what physical organization they belong to, not by what denomination they are members of, but by their common experience with Christ and by the Holy Spirit. I am sorry for the way I used to view those who claim to be born again and I thank God for this wonderful experience.
For several months thereafter, I did not go to any church. Although I had come to Christ and was now one of the Body of Christ, I did not feel drawn to any particular church or any group. I think it was good for me to come to this point apart from any religious organization. That left the whole experience just between Him and me. Recently however, I have started fellowshipping with other Christians at Eliot Baptist Church. I went there the first time at the recommendation of a former member of that church that I had met online. She had moved to Virginia a couple of years ago and mailed me a couple of tapes of the Sunday sermons at Eliot Baptist. I found the teaching there was very good.
As I attended, I also found many of the stereotypes I had of churches in general and Baptist churches in particular were shattered. I did not find them to be a bunch of emotional, raving “born-againers.” I did find them be very loving and much better versed in the Bible than I would have expected. On Sunday, between the early and late service, there are 3 different adult Sunday school classes. During the week there are several small groups that meet for additional Bible study and discussion. While they do not go door to door, I found in talking to many there a real concern and a heartfelt motivation to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The level of spirituality and pure joy in the worship of God that I found there were a wonderful contrast to the stereotypes I had clung to for over two decades as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I can only imagine what all of you are thinking of what I have written here. I know how I would have reacted to a letter like this while I was still an active Witness. If you have any questions or concerns about what I have said here, please feel free to contact me by mail, e-mail or phone. All contacts will be kept in strinct confidence. I realize that after reading this letter that some of you may not want to contact me. I can understand that too. Whether you choose to contact me or not, I ask that you at least think about what I have written here. Please be assured of my continued love and best wishes for you all.