Which of the many thousands of Christian groups is authentically Christian?
This question is based on the misconception that there must be one group of true Christians separated from all other false groups. Is this what the Bible says?
The answer is given by Jesus himself in his parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). As this parable shows, Jesus Christ sowed the “fine seed” － the sons of the kingdom (verse 38). He knew, however, that “the enemy” (the devil) would oversow “weeds”－the sons of the wicked one–in among the “wheat” in the “field”, (= the world, verse 38). But He would not allow his servants to collect the weeds, because “while collecting the weeds, you uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” (Verses 29, 30).
So what does this parable tell us about which group is the “one authentically Christian group”? It shows that there would be no such thing as one group of true Christians separated from all other groups of false Christians. There would only be true and false individual Christians. True and false Christians would all exist together in the same world of Christians, mixed like wheat and weeds in the same field.
Notice that it was at the “harvest” (= at the “conclusion of a system of things”, verse 39) that the angels–not Christ’s servants or followers–would remove the “weeds” from “the kingdom” (= the world of Christians) and gather “the wheat” into Christ’s “storehouse.” (Verses 40-43, 30).
For over seventy years the Watch Tower Society has taught that since 1919 the Jehovah’s Witnesses, under the supervision of angels, by their witnessing work have been separating the “wheat” from the “weeds”, or the “sheep” from the “goats”, to use the language of another, related parable. (Matt. 25:31-46) But in 1995, in The Watchtower of October 15, 1995, pages 22 and 23, the Society finally admitted that this application was wrong, explaining that the separating of the “sheep” from the “goats” will not take place until the judgement at Christ’s future coming! Actually, this is how most Christians have understood these parables throughout the centuries. (Cf. Jonsson/Herbst, The Sign of the Last Days － When?, Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1987, p. 228, note 35.).
This doctrinal change is yet another illustration of how transient the so-called “truth” of the Watch Tower Society often is! Few Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to have grasped the far-reaching consequences of this reinterpretation. If Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been “separating the sheep from the goats” during the past seventy years, their witnessing activity has not been as crucial for mankind as they have taught to believe. Like other Christian groups, they have been attracting “all kinds” of people to their organization, both righteous and wicked. (Cf. the parable of the dragnet, Matt. 13:47-51.).
Not only has the Watchtower organization been collecting all kinds of people into its organization, both righteous and wiched. It has also been ousting out all kinds of people, both righteous and wicked, contrary to the warning of the Master in the parable (verse 29). It has done this, not just by disfellowshiping people for reasons that often have been very arbitrary, but also by rejecting all the other Christians outside of their organization and claiming to be the only true Christian group on earth. In this way they have ignored the command of the Master: “Let both grow together until the harvest.” For this reason alone the Watchtower organization cannot claim to be the one true and authentically Christian group on earth today. There is no such group.
To “prove” that the Watchtower organization is the only true Christian organization on earth today, it claims that, “Of all those who claim to be Christian, only Jehovah’s Witnesses take the preaching of the good news seriously.” (The Watchtower, January 1, 1988, page 20) This statement primarily refers to their door-to-door activity. But does the use of this specific preaching method prove that this is the only true Christian organization, while other groups who use other methods to reach people with their message are not Christians?
The fact is that quite a number of Christian groups are growing in number, many of them even much faster than Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Watchtower publications have given its readers the impression that other Christian denominations and sects are declining in numbers, that the “waters” of “Babylon the Great” is “drying up.” (Rev. 16:12 and 17:15) But this impression is false. Although it is true that the majority of the Christian denominations have been declining in the Western countries (and this also holds true of Jehovah’s Witnesses today in many Western countries), there has been a tremendous increase of Christians in the world as a whole in the twentieth century.
This increase has mainly occured in the third world. As explained by David D. Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia (1982), Christianity has become the most extensive and universal religion on earth in this century. About 25,000 Christian missionaries are being sent out to various countries every year. (Only 0.4 percent of these are Jehovah’s Witnesses!) The above-mentioned encyclopedia shows that at the beginning of our century there were only 50,000 Protestants in Latin America. In 1980 there were 20 million, and that number was estimated to grow to 100 million by the year 2000. In Africa there were about 10 million Christians in 1900. In 1980’s the number had increased to over 200 million－40 percent of the population of the continent! There have been similar increases in many parts of Asia. In South Korea, for example, there were hardly any Christians at all hundred years ago. Today about 35 percent of its population are Christians.
One of the fastest growing Christian groups is the Pentecostal movement (Assemblies of God). In about the same period as the Witnesses have increased from 0 to 5 millions, the Pentecostals have grown from 0 to 420 millions! This increase has occurred in all parts of the world, also in many parts of the Western world. Of the nearly six billion people on earth today, about one third are Christians.
Of course, as is quite obvious to every observer, not all these people can be true Christians. In fulfillment of Jesus’ parable, there is much “weeds” among the “wheat”. Jehovah’s Witnesses are no exception to this.
Practically all this increase has been accomplished, not through the door-to-door method used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, and some other groups, but through other methods. But is it the preaching method that makes a certain group Christian? The fact is that there is no evidence whatsoever －Biblical or otherwise－to show that the first Christians were involved in some sort of door-to-door activity. That even the members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are more or less aware of this is demonstrated by Raymond Franz, a former Governing Body member, in his well-documented work, In Search of Christian Freedom (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1991), pages 207-236.
Another argument used by the Watchtower organization to “prove” that it is the only true Christian organization is that Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to kill people in war. This is commendable, of course. But their standpoint is in no way unique, and this is particularly true since 1996, when the Watchtower organization decided that alternative service is acceptable. (The Watchtower, May 1, 1996.) A number of sects and denominations are opposed to war, for example, the SDA Church, the Mennonites, the Quakers, the Christadelphians, and various Church of God groups. But more importantly, there are millions of INDIVIDUAL Christians around the world who are opposed to war and who would refuse to kill other people in war. They have taken this position, not because they have been told so by a religous authority, but because of their own decision.
Another feature often pointed to in the Watchtower publications is that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persecuted and sometimes even been killed in some countries. This is true, of course. Perhaps the most extensive persecution of the Witnesses in the 20th century was that of the Nazi regime in Germany a generation ago, when 2,000 Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, 203 of which were executed and over 600 others died in prison due to diseases, undernourishment, and other causes. (The 1974 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, page 212.).
But Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only group that has been persecuted in this century. Totalitarian countries have often persecuted various groups of Christians. In the former Soviet Union most and sometimes all Christian groups were forbidden and persecuted, and periodically thousands of Christians were killed in campaigns aimed at rooting out religion. On January 27, 1996, Vladimir Naumov, chief of the Russian commission for the restoration of victims of political oppression, revealed that half a million priests had been persecuted by the Sovjet State, over 200,000 of which were killed during the Stalin epoch! That is thousand times the number of Witnesses that were executed during the Nazi regim!
Not only totalitarian Communist countries, but also totalitarian Muslim countries have persecuted Christians and forbidden their activity. Where the activity of the Witnesses is forbidden or restricted by totalitarian governments, the activity of other Christian groups are usually also forbidden or restricted, although we don’t read much about this in the Watchtower publications. In fact, more Christians have died for their faith in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined! This fact is documented in the book, In the Lion’s Den (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), written by Nina Shea, director of the Puebla Program division of Freedom House. The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 20th century, therefore, is far from unique or exceptional. Today, cases of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses are rare and exceptional, as was actually admitted in The Watchtower of December 1, 1998, page 8.
So who and where, then, are the true Christians today? Obviously the same as in every century from the time of Christ, namely, people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord, Redeemer, and Teacher, and who may be found in any kind of Christian fellowship that proves to be of help in their endevour to lead a Christian life.