I recently received a new tract from Chick Publications called War Games, which is about Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) and the work that they do. Now, I hasten to say right at the outset that I don’t recommend Chick tracts as a good means of evangelism. As a long-time fan of comics, I find them interesting. They are certainly well written and drawn, and cleverly presented. However, Jack Chick is too committed to various conspiracy theories and to the King James Only position for me to be able to advocate his work to others.
I also want to point out that I’m not writing this to debunk either the tract or even the positions of Jehovah’s Witnesses (though I certainly disagree with the latter). My purpose in writing is to evaluate this tract as a vehicle for reaching JWs or for equipping Christians to deal with JWs that they meet. While the tract does contain some good arguments, along with some weak ones and a few inaccuracies, I think that there are many better resources that one can use to learn about and evangelize JWs.
The first issue I see is the concept that is implied by the title and expanded in the first few pages of the tract. That is the implicit idea that JWs are at war with those who do not share their beliefs. The main character in the tract is a JW woman named Melissa. The Watchtower’s Brooklyn headquarters is portrayed as her “military headquarters,” and the printing plant is the “ammunition facility.” The weekly meetings of the JWs are said to make Melissa “combat-ready to battle for your soul.”
Now, there is a grain of truth in these comparisons. There is a sense in which JWs could be compared to an army, and their various facilities and literature to the elements of warfare. Indeed, one of the songs in their old songbook was entitled, See Jehovah’s Army! However, had I read this tract as a JW, I think I would have been offended by the comparison. The purpose of the ministry of JWs, in their minds, is to help people who need to know about God’s Kingdom, not to wage war against those who disagree with them. If there is a war to be waged, JWs would agree with evangelical Christians that it is against “rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). JWs think of their ministry primarily as a way to help others, not to engage in combat. Of course, for many JWs, their field ministry is more a way of securing their own salvation than anything else, but I am referring mainly to those who maintain an altruistic motive for their work.
As an aside, I would point out that the tract is already outdated in some of what it reports about the Watchtower organization. While reference is made to the Brooklyn headquarters, construction is already underway to move the headquarters to the town of Warwick in New York state, after which all of the Brooklyn properties will be sold off. The major part of the literature printing has already been moved upstate to a facility in Wallkill, NY. Not much printing is done in Brooklyn anymore. And it was never accurate to say, as the tract does, that Melissa has “gone through intensive training five nights a week.” JWs have never had more than three occasions during the week that they met routinely, and that was reduced to two occasions a few years ago. They would say that they attend five “meetings” a week, but multiple meetings are held in the same session. A typical JW now attends one mid-week gathering at which three “meetings” are conducted, and a Sunday gathering containing two “meetings.” I mention this because, while it may seem like a minor point, JWs are prone to seize on such small inaccuracies to dismiss the entire message.
Continuing in the story, Melissa knocks on the door of a Christian named Frank. Frank holds up a Bible and a Watchtower magazine side by side, and asks her the telling question, “Which one of these can I trust to protect my soul from destruction?”
Melissa unhesitatingly answers, “I trust Jehovah’s Watchtower. It gives me new light.” Frank then points out some quotations from the Watchtower in which the writers admit that it is neither inspired nor infallible.
He asks Melissa, “So you will trust your eternal destiny to a magazine that admits it is not inspired, instead of God’s Holy Scriptures?” Melissa gulps, and the caption says, “A crack appears in Melissa’s armor.”
Frank’s reasoning and his final summary question would be an excellent response - if the JW had answered Frank’s original question as Melissa did in the tract. The problem is that I can’t imagine any Witness answering that way. I certainly wouldn’t have when I was a Witness. Frank’s original question presents a false dilemma that I think even a novice JW would see through. If asked whether I trusted the Bible or the Watchtower, my own response would have been that I trust the Bible as the Word of God, but that the Watchtower is an aid to help us understand the Bible better. Why should I have to choose one or the other? The two, in the mind of a JW, work in concert.
Now, in practice, JWs actually do place the organization’s teaching through its publications above the Bible. They would never express it that way, of course. But their official teaching is that the Bible cannot be properly understood without “God’s organization” to explain it. If we cannot understand the Bible itself, but we can understand the Watchtower’s explanations of it, which one ultimately has the greater authority?
After this incident in the story, the tract does make a few very valid points. It says of Melissa, “There is a precious person inside that armor that Jesus died for. Is she worth helping? Absolutely!” Following this, next to a picture of a Watchtower magazine, the caption reads, “When faith in the Watchtower is shattered, everything comes apart.” This is very true.
Frank next moves on to showing Melissa a Watchtower picture of Jesus on a straight “torture stake” (not a Cross), and asks her, “is this the way The Watchtower says that Jesus died?” When Melissa agrees that it is, Frank makes a point about Pilate placing the sign over Jesus’ head, not His hands, citing Matt. 27:37. The caption informs us, “Another crack appears.” I think Frank is correct in his assertion that there is significance to the Bible text saying that the sign was placed over Jesus’ head rather than His hands, but I don’t think it is conclusive enough to put another crack in the armor of an informed JW. I would probably have responded to that argument by saying that if Jesus’ hands were stretched above His head and the sign was above His hands, it would not be inaccurate to say that the sign was above His head.
Continuing the point, Frank presses Melissa about the number of nails used to fasten Jesus’ hands to the stake in the picture. There is only one nail depicted in the picture, but in John 20:25, Thomas speaks of the prints of the “nails,” plural. Again, I believe that Frank is right, but I don’t think this is a strong enough argument to convince a committed JW.
After this exchange, Frank moves into a discussion of the deity of Christ. This is an area that is more likely to provide some strong arguments that might actually begin to crack the JW’s armor, and the examples chosen are generally good ones. I know that some of the folks I know in ministry to JWs have had significant success in discussing the deity of Christ with JWs. My own feeling, however, is that it’s better to talk about the organization than specific doctrinal issues. As long as the JW believes that the organization speaks for God, he will accept its interpretations in all doctrinal matters, no matter how many Scriptures you show him. If you make a biblical argument that seems to contradict his beliefs, he will go back to the Watchtower indexes to find out what the text means from the organization’s viewpoint. Unless the JW’s faith in the organization is shaken, no argument is likely to bear much fruit. As I noted earlier, I think the tract is correct when it says, “When faith in the Watchtower is shattered, everything comes apart.”
That said, the arguments Frank offers for the deity of Christ are among the better ones that can be presented to a JW. For example, he compares Isaiah 45:23, in which Jehovah says that every knee will bow to Him, with Philippians 2:9-11, where every knee is said to bow at the name of Jesus. The earliest editions of the JWs’ New World Translation contained a marginal reference to Isaiah 45:23 in the margin at Philippians 2:9-11, however, that reference was deleted in later editions. Apparently the JW Leadership would rather not have the rank and file connect the dots with regard to those two texts.
Frank also appeals to the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7:59, where Stephen prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he refers to John 20:28, where Thomas addresses Jesus as “My Lord and my God.”
He next relates Isaiah 45:22 to Acts 4:12. In the Isaiah text, Jehovah says (in the KJV), “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” And in Acts, Peter preaches of Jesus that “there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Frank concludes by saying, “Melissa, Jesus is Jehovah.”
All of these are good arguments for the deity of Christ. However, the leaders of JWs are not unaware that the deity of Christ is a frequent point of contention with Christians, and they have provided counter-arguments to their people for these and most other texts that can be used to demonstrate Christ’s deity. For example, if I had been confronted with the comparison between Isaiah 45:23 and Philippians 2:9-11, I would have responded that Philippians does not say that people bow to Jesus, it says that they bow at His name, and it also says that the bowing is to the glory of God the Father. So I would not necessarily have been convinced that Jesus must be Jehovah by a comparison of these texts.
Now, I do think that argument is a bit of a stretch. But JWs are very emotionally invested in their organization as having the truth, and they are very reticent to see it debunked. They will grasp even at the most tenuous of arguments to avoid admitting that the Bible does not support their teachings. That’s why I think the starting point with JWs must be the organization itself, and not its doctrines. The single doctrine that one must believe in order to be a JW is that the organization speaks for God. Given that, all the other doctrines and all of the organization’s Bible interpretations follow. Take that one belief away, and it all falls apart like a house of cards.
After the discussion of Christ’s deity, Frank gives Melissa an overview of the Gospel, including the Virgin Birth, life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus, He notes that “Jesus raised His own body from the grave, just as He promised” (a reference to John 2:19-21) and asserts that “only God could raise His own body.” Additionally, the tract, in a footnote, makes reference to John 10:17, 18, where Jesus indicates that His authority to take up His body again comes from the Father. As a JW, I would have jumped on this second text to argue that the resurrection was therefore the work of the Father after all. This is a poor argument that pits one verse of Scripture against another, but one that a JW might cling to rather than have his “armor shattered” - which, according to the tract, is exactly what happens to Melissa at this point. Frank gives her a Bible and asks her to check everything for herself, after which she goes home, prays the “sinner’s prayer,” and is saved.
It’s a nice story, but unfortunately, I don’t think it has much basis in reality. Melissa does not answer questions or react to arguments as an informed JW would. Frank’s arguments, while often true, from my point of view, are not presented in sufficient depth to overcome the stock Watchtower responses. Had I read this tract as a JW, my faith would not have been shaken by it, because I would simply have researched all of Frank’s proof texts in the Watchtower publications and accepted their answers as to what the texts meant. I believe that the key to shattering the armor of a JW is to cause his faith in the organization to be shaken. As long as he believes that the organization speaks for God, no biblical argument will be sufficient to convince him.
For these reasons, I cannot recommend the use of this tract. It would neither be an effective message to present to JWs calling at one’s door, nor is it a good source for Christians themselves to learn about JWs and their teaching. While some of the arguments it presents are true, these arguments will be deflected by the JW who values the organization’s interpretations above all others. There are many, many better resources for the Christian to use in this important ministry.