On a recent mission trip to Detroit, I came across a treasure house of used books with over a million volumes, jammed into four floors and a basement in an old glove factory. I couldn’t resist a visit, indeed two, and among the books I purchased were four on the Jehovah’s Witness faith, one of them a hymnbook.1 A pastor with whom we were working had asked us to do a Q&A session with some new believers, and some had JW backgrounds. So I wanted to study up.
The first three books made the predictable, non-Christian moves, such as those documented in apologetical tracts and flyers.2 But my attention was drawn especially to the song book. Unlike the Mormon version, which draws heavily on traditional Christian hymns, as it seeks to pass itself off as genuinely Christian,3 the JW collection of 225 songs is totally unique as best I can tell, though some have similar names—“Balsam in Gilead” instead of “There is a Balm in Gilead.”
It’s been said that we Christians, particularly Protestants, learn our theology from hymns, such as Amazing Grace, And Can It Be?, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and In Christ Alone. The same could be said of JWs, as these samples show:
Jesus was created and is not eternally divine with God the Father.4 Playing off Hebrews 1:6 (which simply calls Jesus the “firstborn”), Hail Jehovah’s Firstborn! denies Christ’s divinity and renders him a mere creature: “Let’s hail, Jehovah’s Firstborn—God’s Heir he has been made—Who since he was created, His Father’s voice obeyed.” This is the ancient heresy of Arianism. Bless Our Christian Brotherhood references 1 Peter 2:17 (“Love the brotherhood”), and assigns Jesus the humble job of model: “He showed love in real brotherhood, With zeal for righteousness, Set patterns of humility, Of love and faithfulness.”
You are saved by your works. Working from Revelation 12:17, Meeting God’s Requirements features, “If we make straight paths for our feet, With Kingdom joys we’ll be replete.” They like the part of verse 17 which identifies the saints with those “who keep the commandments of God” but avoid the part about those who “hold to the testimony of Jesus,” which includes His divinity and grace. Lacking grace and mercy, JWs need to be spurred to sing Do More—As the Nazirites Did (Numbers 6:8): “Their lifestyle was simple. Self denial was their role . . . Close to God it surely did bring them. Could we too have such a goal?”5
There are three possible destinies after death. Only 144,000 will make it to heaven, but decent, Christ-respecting people, will inherit an earthly paradise, or else be annihilated, for there’s no eternal hell. One of the three destinies is pictured in God’s Promise of Paradise (from Luke 23:43, with Christ’s words to the thief): “A Paradise the earth will be, With eyes of faith this we can see.” Another destiny is pictured in Proclaiming Jehovah’s Day of Vengeance (Isaiah 61:2).
Earthly government has no claim on your loyalty. JWs’ famous refusal to pledge allegiance to the American flag is reflected in Theocracy’s Increase (Isaiah 9:6, 7), in Loyally Submitting to Theocratic Order (1 Corinthians 14:33), and in No Part of the World (John 17:16), which reads, “Because our God set us apart, It is to him we give our heart. No part of Satan’s world are we; Like Christ, our Lord, we choose to be.”
A tour through their hymnbook makes one all the more happy that ours includes the messages of Come Thou, Almighty King, Amazing Grace, When We All Get to Heaven, and, yes, in our case, America. How fortunate we are to sing praise and thanks regarding God in Christ, the Gospel, the hope of all the redeemed, and the blessings of life in a “sweet land of liberty” where we are still free to worship.
1 All were published by their Watchtower Bible and Tract Society: Happiness: How to Find It (1980); You Can Live Forever in Paradise (1982, 1989); Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life (1995); and Sing Praises to Jehovah (1984).
2 http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbnew.aspx?pageid=8589952841 (accessed May 15, 2014).
3 For example, All Creatures of Our God and King, God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand, How Great Thou Art, I Know that My Redeemer Lives, Joy to The World, Count Your Blessings, Onward Christian Soldiers, https://www.lds.org/music/library/hymns?lang=eng (accessed May 15, 2014).
4 They have notoriously robbed John 1:1 of its power with their own New World Translation, which calls Jesus “a god” rather than simply “God.”
5 Door-to-door evangelism is a very familiar aspect of their ministry for reward. They undergird this practice in song, drawing on Acts 20:20 (which pictured the rotating fellowship of the early church): From House to House: “From house to house, from door to door, Jehovah’s Word we spread.” They press on, though comedians regularly make fun of them in this connection. Here’s a sampling from http://www.jehovahs-witness.net/jw/experiences/199125/1/Best-JW-Joke#.U2mEIMf8EUU: “Why don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses get killed during an earthquake? They’re always in your doorway” (Johnny Carson); “What does Hannibal Lector call a Jehovah’s Witness? Free delivery!” (Jay Leno); “Hey, I tell you I get no respect! The other day a Jehovah’s Witness came to my door, and he said he wasn’t interested” (Rodney Dangerfield) (accessed May 15, 2014).