Last week I took a few days off to read and write alone in the second home of a parishioner in the old gold rush town of Julian, California. On my second day there I was visited by two Jehovah’s Witnesses. As is their practice, one did the talking and the other was silent, learning by observation. The one who did the talking began by offering me a positive, encouraging selection from Scripture—in this case, a few verses from Psalm 37 about deliverance from sin. Naturally I agreed with it.
When the next step began about worshiping Jehovah-God, I jumped out of the “anticipated response mode” that Jehovah’s Witnesses are trained to use, and said that I knew something about their religion and that it was about being saved by works rather than faith, but that I believe that one is saved by faith in Jesus. She agreed, but said that works were important. “Jesus said, ‘faith without works is dead.’” After I corrected her that it was James who wrote that and not Jesus who said it, I said that indeed works are evidence of saving faith. She nodded.
I went on to say that my experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses (I used the term for the first time at that point) was that they prefer to argue with people rather than really present them with Good News. Coming to truth was not as important as arguing about what it is. She asked me for an example, and I pointed out their translation of John 1:1—“… and the word was a god” rather than “… and the Word was God.” She gave me a knowing smile, but before she could respond, I said, “You see, you use your own translation rather than any of the translations that are recognized throughout the world. Do you really think that you know better than the many millions of Christians who have translated and read the Bible for hundreds of years?” (Blast. I was entering the “argument” mode myself.)
She didn’t answer, but pulled out copies of Awake! and Watchtower, and asked me if I were familiar with them. I said that I was, and she asked what I thought of them. I responded that I didn’t like them—once again, because they emphasized salvation by works rather than faith, and especially that I knew that Jehovah’s Witnesses got “credit” for the number of stops they make and the number of tracts they distribute, but that I believed in a God who loves us and asks us for a trusting relationship in Jesus by which sins are forgiven, etc., etc. “It’s about a loving God, not a god who demands that you earn your salvation by going door-to-door.”
She then turned to the end of Matthew and read the Great Commission to support “going into all the world and preaching the Gospel to every creature, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” For a split second I was tempted to leap into argument about the Trinity, but instead I said, “You are right, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
“You’re doing that to me?” she asked, aghast. I glanced at the silent partner and smiled. She wore what looked to me like a tense expression.
“Yes, indeed! I want you to know about the true love of God that comes as a gift to you by faith, so that you will know that you don’t have to earn it.”
She replaced her copies of Awake! and Watchtower into the bag she was carrying and put her Bible on top of them, told me that she hoped that I would have a nice day, and she and her partner left.
I did have a nice day, mostly, but I was a little disturbed at how I’d handled the encounter. Of course, as usually happens after the opportunity has passed, I thought of better things I could have said, but mostly I entrusted the two women to God to do for them whatever he wanted, through the encounter that we had had. After all, if I thought too much about how I could have done “better”, it might have meant falling into the trap of depending too much upon “works” rather than the grace of God.