There is perhaps nothing more important for us as humans than the issue of salvation. When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the
The reformation from the Roman Church began in October of the year 1517, when Luther, a professor of biblical studies, announced a disputation on the matter of indulgences, and nailed his 95 theses on the church door, something that was very common to do in his day. His theses went to the heart of the issue, and hit a nerve in the teachings of the Church. Within 2 weeks of his posting of the 95 theses in the Latin language, every academic and religious center was stirring with agitation, to think that some unknown obscure Augustinian monk, from an small university, had dared to challenge the so called “holy trade of the Pope” or the sale of indulgences. The 95 theses were not at all intended by Luther as a call to reformation, but to discuss the sale and abuses of the sale of these indulgences. Luther saw the sales as an outrageous scandal, and was convinced that the sale of these were contrary to faith, reason, church tradition, and scripture.
By challenging the sale of indulgences, Luther was in fact challenging the notion of salvation, which had been advocated by the Catholic organization. Even more so, Luther was challenging the authority of the Pope himself. Little did Luther know as he posted his theses that day in , all of human history would be forever changed by what he did. Luther went on in the following years to have public and published debates with the papal authorities over these issues, and he published accounts of these debates in the common language of Germany, for he thought that every common man should be able to stand on his own Christian theological feet and know what to believe himself, not trusting a priest for an accurate account of the debate, or trust a priest for what the bible had to say, so Luther learned Hebrew and Greek to translate the bible into the common mans German tongue.
Luther was asked by the one Church to not divide the , for the sake of the united body of Christ; however, the issue of salvation by faith alone was of such importance that Luther would not budge. One small man with a bible and faith in Christ stood against the very powerful Roman Catholic Church. Finally in 1520, Luther was excommunicated by the Pope. Excommunication did not simply mean ‘we don’t like you go find another group,’ rather, it was the church making the public announcement that Luther would not spend any time in purgatory, but that he would spend eternity in damnation.
For trying to encourage God’s people to stand on there own theological feet, read the bible, and that a persons faith in Christ Jesus alone is what gives salvation, the Catholic organization said to Luther, “You will burn in hell for all eternity.” In 1521 at the Diet of Worms he was outlawed by the Emperor Charles the 5 th . It was there at the Diet that Luther was again called upon to renounce his views, and he returned the answer that is remembered and echoed throughout time since then, he stated “Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or of councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves by manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Luther’s dramatic stand against both the powerful Emperor and the Pope himself to this day fires the imagination. His sole support was the written Word of God, and his sole hope was in Christ Jesus, and for that, Luther’s life was in danger, and if you were to believe the Catholic organization, his soul was lost eternally. Over the next 25 years, Luther published book after book in German, and the bible itself, so that people could read for themselves what the bible had to say, and not have to depend upon the catholic organization and its priest to tell them what it said. In 1529 the Emperor Charles the Fifth, tried to stop the growing movement, but the German princes stood up to him, and allowed the movement Luther had started to for the first time split the Holy Church into two. At the heart of the reformation was the notion that a man could stand on his own feet before God without the need of a human organization or authority that stood between man and God, that a common man could read the bible and see for himself God’s wondrous truths, and that salvation rested in Christ alone, and in no religious organization with its claim of divine appointment and doctrinal unity.
The Catholic Church responded quickly to the growing Protestant movement, and they called the ‘Council of Trent,’ which began in 1545. There in , the Church would go on to condemn the principles and doctrines of Protestantism, and to define the doctrines of the Catholic Church. It held that the church's interpretation of the Bible was final, for the Catholic Church was to have the sole right in interpreting the Bible and the authority of the Vulgate was asserted. Any Christian who substituted his or her own interpretation was a heretic. The relationship of faith and works in salvation was defined, following controversy over Martin Luther’s doctrine of "justification by faith alone". The Bible and Church Tradition were equally authoritative. And even the Pope’s Indulgences were found to be valid expressions of faith. The seven sacraments were found to be "absolutely necessary channels of divine salvation." The Catholic Organization would go on to declare that its Pope is infallible and its doctrines irreformable, and that the Roman Catholic organization is the “only True Church.” The Roman organization declared the Protestant Christians to be outside the true Church and therefore heretics going to hell, anathematized, accursed! No man with simply a bible and faith in Christ would be allowed salvation apart from the Catholic organization. Scripture and tradition were to be of equal authority - this denied the fundamental Protestant belief that the Bible alone was the basis of Christian belief.
Note the following articles on this very subject, as they appear written in the publications of the Watchtower, taken from writings of the same year and month.
One interesting observation that is of note is the two different
positions that the WT religion teaches on the idea concerning the issue the Witnesses having to identify themselves as being a member of the Watchtower organization for their salvation One the one hand, it is taught that were one to impute salvation toward `an organization' one would be engaging in a `modern version of idolatry." And yet, one the other hand, it is `essential to their salvation' for a member of the Watchtower religion to `identify themselves with Jehovah's organization.”
w90 11/1 p. 26 Our Relative Subjection to the Superior Authorities
”We cannot take part in any modern version of idolatry—be it
worshipful gestures toward an image or symbol or the imputing of
salvation to a person or an organization.” (1 Corinthians 10:14; 1
Contrast this with the following quote concerning the issue of salvation:
km 11/90 p. 1 Directing Bible Students to Jehovah's Organization
“Bible students need to get acquainted with the organization of
the "one flock" Jesus spoke about at John 10:16. They must
appreciate that identifying themselves with Jehovah's organization
is essential to their salvation. (Rev. 7:9, 10, 15) Therefore, we
should start directing our Bible students to the organization as
soon as a Bible study is established.”
In the exact same month, the Watchtower stated that is modern idolatry to impute salvation to an organization, and yet boldly stated that it was in fact essential to a persons salvation for a bible student to identify themselves with the Watchtower organization.
To be sure, there is much that is good and beneficial in the Watchtower organization today. The organization has helped many people come to know God and to learn about the bible. They have published millions of copies of the bible and teach it as the infallible word of God. They have instructed millions of people about who God is, the importance of using his name, and what His will is for humans to follow. They have taught millions a moral code and its benefits. They have given biblical instructions and monetary aid to persons all over the world. They have given much needed aid to persons in distress, and comfort to those who are without hope. They have brought millions of persons of various races together with a common hope. Indeed, there is good in the Watchtower organization, and in many cases their critic have brought against them unfair criticism. The issues are very similar to those of the days of the reformer Martin Luther. There was not all bad in the Catholic Church in his day, even as there is not today. There are many very fine persons seeking to serve God and Christ to be found. There is a global teaching of who God is, and His will and purpose. There is much financial aid given to the poor and the needy. There have been many hospitals built and financed with the aid of the Catholic Church. They too, have brought together millions upon millions of persons of all races with a common hope in the return of Jesus Christ. They also have given many persons a place to gather socially in Christian worship with fellow believers. Indeed, there are many positive teachings and activities in both the Watchtower faith as in the Catholic faith.
However, there is another side to the story. These organizations have also done much harm to persons. They have erroneously taught false doctrines in the name of Jehovah. They have come to claim the same sort of papal authority concerning it alone having the ability to interpret the true message of the bible. They have set up tribunals and excommunicated countless thousands of persons, both for moral issues as well as for matter of Christian conscience in belief. They have destroyed families and friendships. They both hold that only those who are associated with its organization will be saved and that the only true Christians are those who faithfully hold to its teachings, whether those teachings are clearly taught in the bible or not. Salvation is not possible for those who believe as Luther did, namely, that a man with a bible alone and faith in Christ alone could be saved. Your salvation is possible only by holding to all the teachings of the organization, including its many interpretations, its chronological calculations, its scientific and medical decrees, its prophetic applications, and its claims of divine appointment. They both have published literature that is seen by the faithful to be just as authoritative as the bible itself. They hold as part of the Gospel many interpretations of the bible that are open to reasonable doubt, and those who began to question these interpretations are dealt with and excommunicated unless they recant. Indeed, today those witnesses who leave the Watchtower and the Catholic organization are very much in the same position that Luther had in his day. The heart of the issue is that of salvation, namely, can a man who stands before Christ alone with a common mans translation of the bible be saved apart from a powerful religious organization?
Is Christ enough for salvation, or is belonging to an organization and saying ‘amen’ to its full body of religious teachings also a Christian necessity?
The Watchtower organizations current position on the acceptance of Church interpretation very much resembles the published findings of the Council of Trent, wherein it was stated…
“Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,--in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, --wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,--whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,--hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never intended to be at any time published.”
In other words, if you dare disagree with the Roman Catholic interpretation of the bible, based upon even the unpublished opinion of the Church Fathers, handed down orally to the Church, than you will suffer eternal damnation. No man can read the bible himself and understand it outside the Catholic organization. There would be no salvation without complete submission to the Church.
The Watchtower echoes these same teachings, for all members to have good standing by the organization must be in complete agreement with all of the teachings of the Watchtower, even those teachings that are not clear in the bible, but handed down by the founders of the organization, and taught in the bible commentaries. Like the Catholic claim that it alone can understand and has the authority to interpret the bible, the Watchtower has made the exact same claim. For example;
"Thus the Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian congregation as an organization, not to individuals, regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can interpret the Bible." (The Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1967. p. 587.)
"All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the "greatly diversified wisdom of God" can become known only through Jehovah's channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave." (The Watchtower; 10/1/1994; p. 8.)
"Only this organization functions for Jehovah's purpose and to his praise. To it alone God's Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book." (The Watchtower; July 1, 1973, pp. 402.)
Note also what the Catholic Church stated about the sinless state of the Virgin Mary, something that the bible knows nothing about, yet in the year 1854, with the Bull Ineffabilis, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed the following:
“We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful, therefore, if some should presume to think in their hearts otherwise than we have defined, which God forbid, they shall know and thoroughly understand that they are by their own judgment condemned, have made shipwreck concerning the faith and have fallen away from the unity of the Church. And moreover, that they by this very act subject themselves to the penalties ordained by law, if by word or writing or any other external means they dare to signify what they think in their hearts.”
For if you have any doubt what the Church teaches based upon its oral traditions, if you doubt what is taught by the church that is outside the written word, and you dare to talk or write about it, or declare it by any means, you will be condemned, made shipwreck, and the penalties of law will be dealt to you. The Watchtower organization in like manner would be pleased by such a statement, for it also holds too the exact same creed, namely, that the faithful MUST adhere to all the organizations teachings, and not even think privately ideas against what the organization teaches. Note the following quote from the WT which echoes the Catholic creed.
Watchtower of August 1, 2001, pg. 14:
"A mature Christian must be in unity and full harmony with fellow believers as far as faith and knowledge are concerned. He does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his son, Jesus Christ, and 'the faithful and discreet slave."
As did the Catholic organization, so today the Watchtower organization claims to be, like Jehovah God and Christ Jesus, revealing the truth, and those men who dare to challenge or question any of that ‘truth’ either publicly or privately would be dealt with, for a mature Christian must be in full unity and harmony in issues of faith and knowledge. Every one who has been part of the Watchtower religion and dares to question any of the church doctrine, whether it be the 1914/607 chronology teaching, the no blood transfusion teaching, the interpretations of prophetic application, the divine appointment of the faithful slave in 1917, the need to attend meetings regularly, the usage of the name Jehovah in the NWTCGS, the two class Christian system, the teachings of earthly resurrections, the need for an organization to interpret the bible, the reporting of service time, the use of disfellowshipping, the regular and faithful attendance of all 5 of the organizations meetings, the ontological nature of Christ, the invisible return of Christ in 1914, or the entire issue of Salvation by faith in Christ alone, realizes quickly the authority and power that the Watchtower religion claims to have. Many in so doing have experienced spiritual persecution and excommunication by the organization, unless they are willing to renounce and retract all ideas that are not in full harmony with the organizations teachings and doctrines.
Luther in his day stood boldly against an oppressive religious organization, which had went far beyond what was written by inspiration in the New Testament and was teaching as Gospel the commandment and tradition of men, and not of God. Luther was excommunicated and spiritually persecuted by the Church for having the courage to stand up and say that a man could be saved by faith in Christ alone and that a man could on his own without a priest read and understand the simple message of biblical Christianity. Any organization of men that would take away from me the bible as my source of assurance, and Jesus as my only hope of salvation, is not a Christian church.
Christ had issue with the religious organization in his day, the Pharisees and scribes, who saw themselves as the true upholders of orthodoxy, and the correct interpretation of scripture. He told these religious leaders who put tradition ahead God,
“Isaiah aptly prophesied about YOU hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honor me with [their] lips, but their hearts are far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach as doctrines commands of men.’ Letting go the commandment of God, YOU hold fast the tradition of men.”
We who have been part of the Watchtower organization make a stand against religious organizations that go beyond the cannon of inspired scripture and teach as the divine gospel teachings that are simply the commandments and interpretations of men themselves, and not Gods. Like Luther, we hold that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone, and that the bible alone will be our guide. Religious organizations that go ‘beyond what is written’ and that claim to have the appointed authority to separate the sheep from the Shepard by excommunication or disfellowshipping those who don’t accept church tradition or interpretation are all the more so to be rejected, for they are rejecting the clear, and simple message of the True Lord and Savoir, Jesus Christ.
I lived for many years as a faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, as I matured and started to read more and understand the religious issues at hand, I slowly began to reject, based upon my reading of the biblical text, and my study of the history of teachings by the Watchtower organization using their own publications, those teachings by the Watchtower that went beyond that which the biblical authors had made clear, and which was subject to reasonable doubt. For example, the teaching that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 bce, resulting in the interpretation of the “gentile times’ of 2520 years ending in October of 1914, when Christ we are told began to rule as King and began his invisible presence, inspecting his spiritual temple and appointing the anointed brothers who followed Russell as His ‘faithful and discreet slave’ class to prepare spiritual food at the proper time for the faithful. Or the teaching that Christians are divided into two classes, one with a heavenly hope, and one with an earthly hope, when the NT only clearly articulates a single hope for Christians, namely, a heavenly hope and a heavenly resurrection with glorified, spiritual, immortal bodies. Also, the idea that the ‘other sheep’ in John 10:16 are not the gentile believers as taught by Paul in Ephesians chapter two using a similar illustration. Or the teaching that not all Christians should partake of the memorial emblems but only a small group of witnesses are allowed. Or the teaching that birthday celebrations are in fact pagan, when the bible does not in fact clearly teach this and in fact the birth of the central figure in the bible Himself had his birth celebrated with singing and the giving of gifts. Or that, in view of the fact that the Watchtower before 1960 allowed life saving blood transfusions, then it began to impose for decades spiritual sanctions against those who accepted them for themselves or their loved ones, and most recently the organization is allowing any fractions of the four primary components of blood to be a conscience issue, should a Christians clean standing and belief in Christ be viewed in light of his or her acceptance of issues that not only the watchtower but also the bible is not clear upon and is open to other interpretations? Indeed, much of the Watchtowers theological doctrines and biblical interpretations have been changed over time with resulting changing spiritual sanctions against those Christians who refuse to accept as Gospel those teachings. There are valid reasons why many Witnesses have, like Martin Luther, rejected the Watchtower and its many claims, and have either quietly left or have been excommunicated for refusing to proclaim as Gospel those teaching that the bible is not explicitly clear on. They reject the claims of both the Watchtower or the Catholic organizations can hold the keys to salvation in their churches. Note the following examples of the claims of the Watchtower and the need to be in the Jehovah’s Witness organization to be saved.
"The Watchtower" Magazine, September 1, 1989, Page 19:
"Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the "great crowd," as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.
The Watchtower" Magazine, February 15, 1983, Page 12:
"Jehovah is using only one organization today to accomplish his will. To receive everlasting life in the earthly we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it."
"You Can Live Forever In On Earth" Book (Published in 1982 and 1989), Page 255:
"Really, there are but two choices. Christ compared it to the choice of either one of two roads. One road, he said, is "broad and spacious." On it travelers are permitted freedom to please themselves. The other road, however, is "cramped." [...] Do not conclude that there are different roads, or ways, that you can follow to gain life in God’s new system. There is only one. There was just the one ark that survived the Flood, not a number of boats. And there will be only one organization—God’s visible organization—that will survive the fast-approaching "great tribulation." It is simply not true that all religions lead to the same goal. (Matthew 7:21-23; 24:21) You must be part of Jehovah’s organization, doing God’s will, in order to receive his blessing of everlasting life.—Psalm 133:1-3."
Compare the similarities of the more recent public and published Watchtower teachings as noted above with the public and published declarations by the Catholic organization. For example, Pope Boniface VIII (1235-1303 CE) promulgated a Papal Bull in 1302 CE titled Unam Sanctam (One Holy). He wrote, in part:
"Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins...In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism [Ephesians 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed....Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."
Much like the Catholic religion, the Watchtower religion has added to the words of Christ in adding to what should be understood as ‘gospel’ by the faithful believers. If the Watchtower organization were too finally state ‘We have sinned grievously against God, and we plead for God’s mercy and forgiveness for our errors of judging persons and teaching false doctrines of men as the commandments of God for many years,” than we would have something to talk about. Has the Watchtower organization admitted that it is not necessary for a Christian to believe in them, and hold to all its teachings in order to be saved? Have they admitted that they have and are teaching false doctrines that need to be changed, that need to be corrected? Indeed, has the Watchtower organization admitted that it wrongly stood between the Shepard and the sheep in unrighteous judgment and itself cast out many souls wrongly? Have they confessed that salvation for humanity is solely based upon faith in Christ and not in any way tied to the Watchtower organization?
I left the Watchtower with my family 3 years ago, and now take the position that my personal salvation is found not in any earthly organization, nor in the teachings of any human, but solely in the person the Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice. I take my position against the claims of any organization, whether it be the Catholic faith, or the Watchtower faith, and stand solely with a bible in my hand and Jesus as my light. No organization or person on earth has the rightful authority to claim that only those loyal to it will be saved, and those who do are certainly going beyond the scriptures and what is written as necessary for salvation as taught by Jesus Christ in the inspired text.
Therefore, in terms of ideas, I also take my stand next to the reformer of modern church history, as well as countless thousands of other ex-witnesses and agree with Luther’s strong convection about salvation and loyalty to anyone other than God and Christ Jesus. To the Watchtower organization, its apologist, and those who support its soteriological position concerning the added necessity it teaches that “t o receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it,” I have the following declaration to make to you in view of the many years of false teachings and your claiming to have the authority to separate the sheep from the Shepard, and your unfounded claim that only you will be saved:
“Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of the so called ‘faithful and discreet slave’ or of its teachings, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves by manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”