Program Description: This week, Tom welcomes back his guest, Matt Ferguson, youth pastor at Calvary Chapel in Bend, Oregon. Matt is a former Jehovah’s Witness who shares his insights into how that religion “works” and how it differs from true biblical Christianity.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for joining us! In today’s program, Tom continues his visit with Matt Ferguson, youth pastor at Calvary Chapel here in Bend, Oregon. Now, along with his guest, here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Our program today—this is part two of my interview with Matt Ferguson. Matt’s the youth pastor at Calvary Chapel right here in Bend, Oregon, and Matt—as you’ve heard if you listened last week—he grew up…from the cradle till he was 18 years old, he was a Jehovah’s Witness, and that’s all he knew. So you have to hear his testimony—we won’t go over it this week—but incredible how the Lord works in our lives no matter what our situation, what we’re into, what we came out of, or what we were involved in. And [it] just shows you the Lord’s lovingkindnesses and tender mercies toward us.
Matt, welcome back to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Matt: Hey, thank you, Tom.
Tom: You know, last week, we went over some of the doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I think it would be good just to mention a couple others. You know, Matt, one of the sad things when I have the opportunity to talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses—I bring up the idea that they claim to know Jesus (obviously they have another Jesus), but the sad part is they’re never going to get to see Him, are they? And I’m not talking about according to our biblical theology - I’m talking about according to the doctrines of the JWs.
Matt: Yes. No, you’re absolutely right. They have another Jesus, and they - having this different Jesus, they contradict a lot of their own teachings, and so they…It is an unfortunate thing, but in their rejection [of] His deity and claiming that He is a god, it presents some major problems, you know, within their own belief system.
Tom: Matt, what I want you to talk about is there is the anointed class, and then there are the other sheep, and if you could throw in there the idea of the 144,000—and you see where I’m going with this, that the whole idea is that they’re going around witnessing door to door talking about Jesus, but I think, according to them, the 144,000, who are the only ones who are going to be with Jesus, the—what do they call them, the anointed class?
Matt: Yeah, so you do; you have the 144,000 who are the ones that would get to go to heaven. They would be—after they take their last breath here on earth, they would be in the presence of the Lord, and they’re the only ones who would get to see Him there. Then you have the other sheep—you know, everybody else—who gets to inherit the earth, who gets to restore it after Armageddon and—you know, they get to rule and reign—or they basically get to have everlasting life here on earth and be ruled by Jesus and the 144,000, so they’re fellowshipping with Him as He is in heaven ruling and reigning, they’re here on earth.
Tom: Again, they don’t get to heaven…
Tom: …although they do claim that then there will be a paradise here on earth.
Tom: The other issue—I mean, there are so many of them [that] we can’t cover them all—but let’s talk about their view of the Holy Spirit.
Matt: Right, so that’s part of their doctrine and their belief that the Holy Spirit is not part of the Trinity, so obviously they reject the Trinity. But their teaching about the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is not a person, one, but rather the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. It’s God’s active force; it’s something that is, again, not what—obviously as we look through the Scripture—not obviously what we come to know of the Holy Spirit as He is our tutor; He is our Comforter; He is one that we can grieve.
Matt: So there’s some contradictions in that. Their belief of the Holy Spirit is [that] only those that are members of the 144,000 really have the Holy Spirit. Then you also have those that in the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society that are under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is not a person, one, and then also not available for everyone else.
Tom: So that’s why they have to basically write their doctrine out in another Bible, which is the New World Translation. You mentioned that last week, but that’s basically what it is, isn’t it? It’s a revisionist book that—well, first of all, you’re going to have to eliminate all of the pronouns related to the Holy Spirit that are throughout, and all of these emotions that you talked about—being grieved, lying to—I mean, are you going to lie to electricity? Are you going to grieve … by these physical issues that have no emotions and so on? But again, you have to completely rework it. Now how did they go about that?
Matt: Well, with the New World Translation, it was published in 1961, I believe. It was published by the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society, and they claim a couple things about the New World Translation: one is that God supervised its translation, and so that’s where they make their claim that it’s the most accurate translation available, seeing how God is the One who inspired those people who translated it within the Watchtower Society. So their teaching on the New World Translation is that it’s the most accurate translation available, and all other Bibles are inaccurate; all other Bibles are wrong.
Matt: And so they reject any of the other translations. The only one that they would look at even for a second other than the New World Translation is the original King James Bible. But that’s where they get around with their taking out—you know, you mentioned those pronouns about the Holy Spirit. You have in Scripture where the Holy Spirit can be blasphemed in Matthew 12. You have Him being the One who can comfort, or who comforts us in both John and in Acts. You have Him being resisted in Acts; you have Him being grieved in Ephesians. And so they do a pretty good job, at least on their end, of taking all those things out and mistranslating it; and they do that in a lot of different Scriptures—both with the Holy Spirit, also with who Jesus is.
Matt: John:1:1, or John:1:1-3, they change the context of that verse, or the meaning of that verse, by adding a single letter.
Matt: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God” is what they translate.
Matt: You know, they do that over and over, basically supporting their doctrine and their belief system, and so their Bible is full of revisions and added words and some words that are taken out to support their bias.
Tom: Mm-hmm. But what’s interesting about it is they can’t cover everything, and they didn’t cover everything, you know? One of the arguments against this so-called translation is that the translators—I mean, they really…their Greek and their Hebrew was non-existent at least to a great degree, but they would say, “Hey, wait, it still came directly from God; it was inspired.”
Now, you know, when I say that they can’t cover everything—now, I’m sort of guessing at this; I probably shouldn’t, but I think it’s important; it’s important for believers—when you go through Titus, you have God, who is the Savior, all right? And you look verse after verse through Titus, and it says Jesus is the Savior, and it says God is the Savior, and it says Jesus is the Savior. And without getting into the grammar—meaning, you know, Jesus is God, He’s our Savior, and the grammar supports that. However, this is what I’m saying: I don’t think they can cover everything, because in Isaiah—and they would support this—Isaiah says that there’s only one God and one Savior.
Tom: Well—and again, my point here is that even though we wouldn’t recommend anybody read the New World Translation, certainly God can use that to convict, to open some understanding, because now it’s not just a matter of words, but it’s a matter of context that can speak to hearts and minds. So would you—when you have the opportunity, I mean—do you do that, Matt? Do you go to the New World Translation? Do you keep one beside your door when they come around? [laughs]
Matt: [laughing] No, unfortunately, I’ve not kept that translation of the Bible. I had it for some years after getting saved, and I would excitedly find some Scriptures in the New King James or in some of these other translations that are out there, and then I would, you know, compare and contrast with the New World Translation. But you mentioned Titus:2:13, which is such a huge one that you can take them to, you know, even in their own Bible, and you look at some of those Old Testament Scriptures, like Isaiah, that you mentioned. There’s other ones where, you know, Isaiah 44 talks about—I think it’s Isaiah:44:6 talking about the Lord God, or Jehovah, being the First and the Last. And then you can take them, and even in their New World Translation, to Scriptures—verses in Revelation where very clearly Jesus claims to be the First and the Last, where Jesus claims to be the Alpha and the Omega, the One who died and lives again, and lives forever more. And so there’s definitely some verses out there. You know, I mentioned Romans 10 where, “How is one saved? It’s by calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” That’s not taken out of their translation. And you have other ones in the gospels where, again, like I mentioned last week, where Jesus accepted the worship of both men and then also in Hebrews:1:6, you have Him accepting the worship of angels…
Matt: …and, you know, in the Old Testament, God says, “I alone am the One that you are to worship.” In Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, you are to worship God alone, and so we have Jesus being worshipped. And yeah, you could take them to that and plant those seeds of truth, and then get them thinking, because it’s something that they can’t argue even in their own Bible: Jesus is One who is worshipped, who has no beginning and has no end according to Revelation. So [those are] very, very good verses to take Jehovah’s Witnesses to.
Tom: Yeah. You know, Matt, in our fellowship, we have communion, and it’s a wonderful time of remembering what the Lord has done for us, and [for] all those who are believers if we participate in that. Tell us about the communion according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Matt: Well, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they take part of what is called a memorial, and they do this annually, so only one time a year. And so you have Scriptures like in Acts and Corinthians that talk about the institution of communion: “Do this often in remembrance of Me.” And you have those kind of removed, or taken out, from them. They take part of the memorial, or communion, only one time a year. It’s usually in April, so it’s actually March or April, so it’s coming up—but they don’t take actually part of the communion elements; so they have a piece of unleavened bread, may have some juice—juice or wine—that’s passed around, it kind of differs. But only the 144,000—if there is a member of the 144,000, which there’s not that many left, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses—but if you have a member of the 144,000 within your congregation, or the Kingdom Hall, only they are able to partake, and the rest are simply just to pass the elements along, and that being the one time a year that you remember what the Lord has done.
Tom: Mm-hmm. So, in effect, it can be a non-event for those who aren’t among the 144,000.
Matt: Exactly. [laughs]
Tom: I don’t know who’s keeping track here, but I’ve heard years and years ago that there aren’t any left. They’re all either—well, they’re the anointed class, so they’re in heaven. But that’s, I mean…when men make stuff up, it goes from the ridiculous to the ridiculous. It’s just incredible. Now, Matt, we talked about the anointed class—this would be the 144,000; then there’s the other sheep: those who are here on earth, going to restore the earth, get through Armageddon, and so on. What about the others? What’s the deal with them?
Matt: Well, everyone else is currently without the truth in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ eyes. Those that are Christians today—those who are basically non-Jehovah’s Witnesses—you have a second chance, according to them, if you live a good enough life; you will have that opportunity by how well you’ve lived your life if you’ve done just enough good things in your life; you’ll have that second opportunity when Christ sets up His kingdom for a thousand years is what they teach. You’ll have a second opportunity, but if you blow it then, too, then you’re gone.
Tom: Well, speaking of gone, tell us about soul sleep, or annihilation.
Matt: Yes, again, one of their major doctrinal changes—and this goes all the way back to Charles Taze Russell—that was one of his big disagreements. One of his major issues was he didn’t like that prospect of what the Bible taught about hell, and what Jesus himself taught about hell, and that being a place of judgment and separation from God forever, and punishment. Their teaching about hell is eternal annihilation, or total destruction, where you are not conscious of anything for all time. So that’s their belief of all those who have passed away, [and] those who pass away today: you are in a place of soul sleep, like you said, and you are awaiting your resurrection; you’re awaiting based on if you’ve done enough good things, mind you. If you’ve done enough good things—because their salvation, again, is works-based; it’s not on grace alone and that of faith. It’s not upon calling upon the name of the Lord. And so you are awaiting your resurrection if you’ve done enough good. If not, then you’re eternally separated, but you’re in a state of soul sleep forever.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Well, the interesting thing about that is it’s little different from what an atheist might say. “You know, when you’re dead, you’re dead.” No! I mean somebody thinks about that, “Well, okay, then it’s the end.” No, if there is accountability, as the Bible talks about; if there is judgment, as the Bible talks about; if there is judgment, then there’s going to be punishment. Obviously, Revelation 21 indicates that along with, as you said, Matt, the teachings of Jesus, which He had a lot to say about those things. So annihilation may sound good, may seem to eliminate the problem, but it’s not true, and those who think they’re going to pass beyond and that’s going to be the end—it’s going to be a sad, tragic situation for them.
Now, when I talked to—a couple weeks ago, as I mentioned, talked to this couple who pretty much grew up in Mormonism. We talked about some controversial issues that were changed. For example, Mormons didn’t believe that blacks were entitled to enter the priesthood; it was basically discrimination, and of course when the civil rights came along, they made those changes. What about the blood transfusion, which is incredibly controversial and brings about death in many cases—physical death? What’s the status on that today?
Matt: Well, currently, you know, they’ve taken that stance on blood transfusions, but there are some loopholes.
Tom: Well, give us the basis for it. What are they saying with regard to…
Matt: Well, what they say, you know, they go to the Old Testament and that Levitical prohibiting of eating blood, and the cleaning of the animals, and not drinking or taking and eating any blood, and they really take that and they make a doctrine on that. They take a hardline stance on that, and so any blood transfusion—any blood that would enter your veins—they view that as breaking that Levitical law.
Tom: Yeah, they’re saying you’re eating that blood.
Matt: You’re eating that blood, yeah, and so…
Tom: That’s not the case.
Matt: …like you said, many Jehovah’s Witnesses have perished, and it’s been a controversy with them in how many people have refused a blood transfusion, and how many have perished because of that hardline stance. Like I said, now they have currently—they have different loopholes and different plasmas and different white platelets and things like that that they allow that’s not technically the blood transfusion that they originally…But they’ve gone back and forth on that, you know. At one point they’ve accepted it, and then they’ve taken that away.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Wherever the pressure comes.
Matt: And so those in that period right before they accepted it—unfortunately, those that accepted it prior to them allowing it erred, and they disobeyed a command from God according to Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching, but those that accepted it during that short window of time when it was okay, they were free and clear.
Tom: You know, Matt, you mentioned last week and gave us some background information—you were born into a Jehovah’s Witness family, so you’ve lived the life of a Jehovah’s Witness from birth to age 18. Now, this may not seem like much to people, but I want to know what you think—you never had a birthday celebration, right?
Tom: What did you think about that, or didn’t you think about that?
Matt: Well, you know, when you’re growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness organization, when you’re growing up in that cult, even if it seems unfair, you have to accept it. You know, you grow up without birthdays; you grow up without Christmas; you grow up without a lot of different things that are part of life. So I was not allowed to do a lot of sports and public events during school. But when you were in it, you’re so indoctrinated by the organization that it’s not something that becomes as huge of an issue as it really is. So when you’re involved in it and you’re getting so much of that indoctrination and so much of that material from the society claiming this is why you are not to take part in birthdays—and their not taking part of birthdays, they get that out of two passages in the Bible where the two times that birthdays are mentioned, their teaching is that something bad happened, so we are not to partake in birthdays.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Now, Matt, we’ve only got a couple of minutes left, but along that line, did you go to a public school?
Matt: I did go to public school, yeah.
Tom: And what about your peers? I mean, you get invited to this…I’m sure you had friends there. Was that a struggle for you as you think back on it?
Matt: Absolutely, Tom. You know, you’re invited to sleepovers; you’re invited to different events; like I said, you’re not allowed to take part in different sporting events, so football and track and baseball, basketball…You’re not really to have any friends that are non-Witnesses. You’re really encouraged to not really entertain those people. And you’re really encouraged to keep them at an arm’s length, because they are unbelievers. They’re worldly. And so you are to witness to them, share with them the truth, and try to convert them, and then and only then can they be your friends. But outside of them doing that, you are to keep them at an arm’s length, and really everything else. So yeah, there’s…it was a struggle, and it is a struggle for many Witnesses—many of those children who go to school and are not allowed to take part in a lot of things.
Tom: You know, our heart—and this is why we have programs like this. I’m so thankful for the insights that you’ve given us, Matt—but those insights show us that—look. It’s not just these people, this couple, or two individuals who have come to your door that—I’ve heard people turn a hose on them and so on and so forth. But my grief is—number one, they’re rejecting eternal life, which is the free gift, which we’ve talked about. But also, as you’re relaying some of this, you think about the families, and you think about the young people. You think about [how] this is a cult, and the bondage that’s involved, and the pressure that’s on a family in that. It’s really heart-breaking. But we know what the answer is: the answer is Jehovah God, Jesus Christ. The answer is what He has done for them, for us, for all of us as a free gift. So again, Matt, I really appreciate you hanging out with us on this. I think it’s been two really insightful programs. So, brother, thank you for being with us.
Matt: Absolutely, Tom. It was a privilege, and I thank you again for giving me this opportunity.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon, 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could join us, and we hope you can be here again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.