Andy Kind is the evangelist at Redeemer King. In this blog series Andy shares his weekly adventures sharing the gospel.
Wherever you are in the country, as you stroll around town centres you will often see mobile bookstands stationed outside shops with pairs of pleasant people stood behind them. The literature on the bookstands will be nice and glossy and have titles such as ‘Who is God?’ and ‘Was the World Created?’ These guys are called Jehovah’s Witnesses and they operate a bit like matchday programme sellers at football matches, although if you try to buy a bag of cooked peanuts off them you will be sorely disappointed – trust me.
The JWs were formed in 1872 by a man named Charles Russell. He came to believe that the Bible could only be understood according to his own interpretations – which is convenient for him, but not so much for the millions of Christians over the previous 18 centuries who thought – wrongly apparently – that God’s word (which is living and active) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was enough for them to know God. Shame, really.
The JWs have many similarities with mainstream Christianity, but they also differ very strongly on a lot of issues. For example, they don’t believe Jesus was God the Son, they don’t believe Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, and they don’t believe you can be assured of salvation by Faith alone. They don’t believe that mainstream Christians are worshipping the right God, because they don’t believe Jesus was God. If you try to say something silly like, ‘But the Bible seems to be fairly clear that He is’, they will tell you that you don’t have the correct interpretation – only Charlie Russell had that, remember? You need to keep up.
So I have decided that I want to start conversations with the JWs who come to Chesterfield. At this point someone might say, ‘Oh, come on, just live and let live.’ And let me be clear: I shall indeed let them live. In absolute fairness to myself, I have never once ended a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness by slaughtering them. But you see, I do want them to really live. Jesus says in John 10, ‘I have come so that you can have fullness of life.’ In John 8 He says, ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ But the truth isn’t a concept or a piece of knowledge – he’s a person: Jesus. ‘I am the way, the truth, the life’ He says in John 14. So the only way to have life at it’s most full is to know Jesus. And the JWs don’t claim to.
So there I am in Chez. As I approach the two ladies manning the stand, I don’t mind telling you that I’m eating from a large packet of yoghurt raisins that I’ve just bought and have stored in my coat pocket (after all, it saves me asking the people at the stand for some cooked peanuts and being rebuffed again). One of the women is in her early 20s, while the other (her mentor) isn’t. I compliment them on their glossy magazines and then ask them if they think the Bible is God’s word. They say yes, ‘because it says it is.’
‘And do you worship Jesus?’
‘No, we worship Jehovah.’
‘Oh, but they worship Jesus in the Bible.’
‘No, they don’t,’ the older lady says.
‘Oh, sure they do.’ I ask her to turn to Revelation 5v11 (you may also now do this in your pew Bibles, gentle reader).
‘So you can see they are worshiping Jesus there, can’t you?’
‘That’s just your view,’ she insists.
‘No, I haven’t given you a view. You’ve told me you think the Bible is the word of God, and I’m showing you where in the word of God it says they worship Jesus.’
At this point, the Holy Spirit tells me something about the young lady, and I share it.
‘Jesus knows you have a huge heart for the poor, and you want to help them but you don’t know how. Is that right?’ She says ‘Yes’.
‘Amazing. Well Jesus, God the Son, says he’s going to show you how – he’s so proud of your heart for the poor.’
She’s nodding away and then this other lady goes mental at me, blocking the other girl’s view of me and trying to get me to stop.
‘You’re only interested in forcing your view on us!’
I make an over-dramatic flourish towards the massive bookstand they have set up on the pavement for just such a purpose.
‘We are here to talk to interested people.’ She’s getting angry now, and she turns down the small handful of yoghurt raisins I’m offering her as a figurative olive branch.
‘But I’m very interested,’ I tell her. ‘I’m interested in you knowing Jesus – He really loves you, you know.’
‘You just want to preach at me!’
‘Yes, absolutely correct.’ I can’t deny that bit!
At this point, she turns her back on me and refuses to continue the conversation.
I stand looking at the back of her head, and decide to continue…
‘You can see how they are worshipping Jesus there though, can’t you?’
I stay there for a minute while she continues to stand bolt upright with her back turned, refusing to engage with me. I use the time to snack on a medley of yoghurt raisins – my momma didn’t raise no fool.
Finally, I remind the young girl of Jesus’ promise to her, at which point the older lady forcibly manhandles her mentee, turning her away from me. They stand there statuesque, looking solemnly at the floor as I tell them they are loved and stroll off. I felt both happy and sad as I walked home. Happy, because the Lord had shown up and spoken loving truth to someone. Sad, because the anger of this older woman showed the level of resistance the Gospel faces, even from people who claim to believe parts of it.
Still, we persist. I wasn’t trying to win an argument or show that I am right. I have no problem with people who believe differently from me. I’m really interested in people’s stories and what they base their lives on. But I don’t know a story as captivating as the Gospel. I don’t see that objective and lasting freedom, hope, joy and justice are found outside of a relationship with Jesus, and I want to spend the rest of my life connecting people with that relationship.