Part 3 – Are we preaching in all the inhabited earth?
In a series of articles, I am scrutinizing the claim often made in Watchtower literature that Jehovah’s Witnesses are alone in representing God’s chosen people, and that the Watch Tower Society (in particular, its Governing Body) represents God’s sole channel for communicating with mankind.
There are four commonly used lines of reasoning for arriving at the above conclusion. These are as follows:
- The perceived wondrous expansion of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide
- The love that Jehovah’s Witnesses have among themselves (John 13:35)
- The claim that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones preaching the good news worldwide (Matt 24:14)
- The claim that Jesus Christ chose the early Bible Students to be his earthly congregation in 1919
If you are interested in this subject, and perhaps wonder yourself whether or not the claims made in the Society’s literature are true regarding the uniqueness of Jehovah’s Witnesses, then I would urge you to carefully consider my articles that deal with each of the above arguments. In doing so, you are closely testing the foundation of your faith.
If what I have to say on each subject is untrue, then this should be clearly evident. If, however, what I say makes sense and my articles cause you to examine your beliefs more closely, then you will have taken another step towards discovering the real truth, however unexpected or shocking it may prove to be. Regardless, please be assured that I understand your internal dilemma, and I hope that you will find the following information helpful.
“A witness to all the nations”
In speaking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus answered certain questions regarding events that would lead to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and (on a broader scale) the Jewish system of things. One indicator of these ominous events was provided in the following prediction from Jesus:
“And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14 – New World Translation)
Jesus reaffirmed this idea of an “earth wide” preaching campaign when he spoke to his disciples again following his resurrection, saying:
“Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:19,20 – New World Translation)
As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we use these two scriptures frequently to explain and promote the urgency of our preaching activity. We also assume that the above words spoken by Jesus had a dual fulfilment – firstly in the First Century A.D., followed by a grander fulfilment in the modern era. Assuming this interpretation is correct, Jesus’ true disciples may be identified by their preaching to (and conversion of) people of “all the nations” of the “inhabited earth”. This prompts the following three questions:
- Are Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching “in all the inhabited earth”?
- Are Jehovah’s Witnesses making “disciples of people of all the nations”?
- If they are doing the above, are they the only ones doing it?
I will tackle each of these questions in turn, and explore the answers from an honest and factual perspective. It is then entirely down to you to decide whether the information I provide is accurate, and/or whether it has any bearing on the claims made in the Society’s publications.
To help explain my arguments more clearly, I have prepared the following video presentation. The video has been made to illustrate some of the points that are subsequently made in this article. If you have a spare 12 minutes, I hope you will find it interesting…
In all the inhabited earth?
Needless to say, the “inhabited earth” is a very big place. Our planet has a population of over 7 billion men, women and children spread across nearly 200 countries. It seems highly unlikely that any worldwide preaching campaign, no matter how well-organized, could ever reach all of these people individually. However, to the God of the universe, “all things are possible”! (Matt 19:25) So, when it comes to the preaching work, we might reasonably expect a strong presence by Jehovah’s Witnesses as God’s chosen people in each and every country. Is this what we find?
Each year the Society prints a worldwide report in our Yearbook. The worldwide report for 2011 may be found on pages 44 to 55 of the 2012 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses (a download is available here). The report lists the publisher figures from 206 “lands” (including islands and territories), as well as a further 30 “Other Lands” at the bottom of the list. We might well ask, what are these “Other Lands” to which the annual report refers?
Put simply, these “Other Lands” are countries where the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is under governmental ban, or where Jehovah’s Witnesses are openly persecuted. The Watch Tower Society never mentions the names of these countries in the report, because it doesn’t want to officially recognize that its representatives are active in these countries despite the work being prohibited or opposed. It is therefore difficult to say definitively which countries are encompassed by this figure. However, it is relatively straightforward to find out which countries the Society is NOT active in merely by seeing which countries are missing from the list. When we do this, we realise that there are in fact 33 lands (not just 30) of noteable size that are missing from the worldwide report. These countries are as follows:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bhutan, Brunei, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, North Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Western Sahara and Yemen.
The above countries, the majority of which are under Islamic or communist governments, represent a considerable portion of the earth’s population. Based on my calculations, over 1.9 billion people live in the above list of countries – a staggering 27% of the Earth’s population! When joined together, the total landmass of these countries is an eye-watering 9.8 million square miles. You could comfortably fit North America into a land mass of that size. A world map showing these countries “under ban” (highlighted in red) is included below:
In case you are interested, the lands highlighted in orange are those countries included on the worldwide report with almost impossibly low publisher figures in comparison with the population. For example, in Bangladesh last year there was an average of 1 publisher to 1,062,086 citizens of that country (984,715 if you use the figure for peak publishers to produce the ratio, as the Society does). So next time you visit Bangladesh, your chances of meeting one of Jehovah’s Witnesses are 1 in a million!
The lands highlighted in yellow show slightly more publishers per population than those in orange, between 0.01 and 0.05%. It is interesting to note that all countries either under ban or with fewer publishers-to-population are grouped together and mostly straddling the equator. It is also interesting that most of Europe and all of the Americas are untouched by this huge hole in publisher numbers.
Just how bad is it?
Let’s return for a moment to those lands under ban (in red) which occupy such a considerable swathe of the Earth’s land surface (17% if you’re interested). We might well ask – what impact are Jehovah’s Witnesses having in these countries? Well, the 2012 Yearbook informs us that there was a peak of only 26,272 publishers spread across 30 of these “Other Lands” last year. That’s 0.0014% of the total population of these countries under ban, or (put in simpler terms) one Jehovah’s Witness for every 72,207 people in this part of the world! Think about that number for a moment. Only a few of the world’s larger sports stadiums could seat more than 70,000 people – and we are talking about one person, sitting in such a vast crowd, being representative of the collective number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in these “Other Lands”!
True, the worldwide report indicates that the number is increasing. Last year saw a 12.7% increase in average publisher numbers for these countries combined. However, when we consider how few people are represented by this percentage (an increase of 2,762 over the average publisher figures for the year before), we find the growth statistic disappointing to say the least. Last year there was a greater increase in the number of average publishers in Peru (3,182) than there was across all of the 30 “Other Lands” combined. Put simply, the lower the existing number of publishers, the less impressive the growth percentage is. For example, the Falkland Islands managed an astounding 100% increase last year when the number of publishers for those islands skyrocketed from… 5 to 10! It almost doesn’t matter.
You see, everything is relative. Yes, the number of publishers increased last year in the “Other Lands”, but considering there were so few publishers to begin with, it looks like Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to be an “endangered species” in those countries for the foreseeable future. Imagine our lonely JW sports fan in the stadium full of 72,207 people. He manages to increase his size by 12.7% in a year, maybe by eating a few too many cheeseburgers. In the greater scheme of things, compared with the heaving masses of people seated around him on all sides and rows of the stadium, his growth is almost inconsequential.
“People of all the nations”
This brings us back to the issue of a worldwide preaching campaign. Can it truly be said that we are “making disciples of people of all the nations”? Ask yourself honestly: how can we really be preaching the kingdom message in “all the inhabited Earth” when Jehovah’s Witnesses are virtually non-existent (only 1 in 72,207) in a list of countries comprising 27% of the Earth’s population?
Try looking at this in another way. Just imagine next time you go out in field service only knocking on 3 out of every 4 doors. So you knock on three doors in succession, and miss the fourth door out – not even writing it down as a “not at home”. As far as you’re concerned, the householder doesn’t exist. That is essentially what is happening on a global scale. Jehovah’s Witnesses only make up 0.1% of the Earth’s population, but we at least have a reasonably well-organized preaching campaign in 206 lands of the world. However, an additional 30 lands (in which we are almost absent) happen to make up 27% of the world’s population! Such a huge amount of people cannot easily be ignored.
If Armageddon came tomorrow, the vast majority of 1.9 billion people in these countries would not even know who Jehovah’s Witnesses are, never mind what our message is. Remember, in these countries it is almost impossible to engage in the preaching work without being arrested or perhaps even killed. When you think about it that way, can you honestly say that we are preaching the good news “in all the inhabited earth”? At best, we are preaching the good news in less than three quarters of the inhabited earth, and even then, only to the extent possible. Even in some countries where the work is not under ban, Jehovah’s Witnesses are so few in number that some congregations simply cannot visit every home in their territory, even on a yearly basis. The congregation of which I am currently a member is a good example of this. If your congregation is mostly rural and covers a large geographical territory, then you will likely know what I mean.
Am I being unfair in pointing out the shortcomings of our worldwide preaching campaign? To an extent, yes I am. After all, it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and organization to conduct a preaching campaign in the 206 lands that are named in the worldwide report. However, we should not fall into the trap of viewing this issue from human standards. According to the Society, this is God’s final preaching campaign, with billions of lives in the balance. Evidently, your chances of learning the “good news” of God’s kingdom depend greatly on what part of the world you live in, or (more precisely) whether your government is democratic or authoritarian. Next time you find yourself marvelling at the figures in the worldwide report, ask yourself the following questions:
- If Armageddon came tomorrow, how many people in the world would know about us?
- Is Jehovah only interested in those living in countries that are not ruled by Islamic or communist governments?
- If Jehovah were truly blessing our work, would he not make sure that the organization experiences more growth in these kinds of countries regardless of the political climate?
- If the people in these “other lands” are to be judged by Jehovah regardless of whether or not they have been preached to by Jehovah’s Witnesses, then why does Jehovah want us to preach in the lands that aren’t under ban as a matter of life or death? Why the double standard?
- How can it be said that we are preaching in “all the inhabited Earth” if over a quarter of the planet’s population cannot hear our message?
Are we the only ones doing it?
As Jehovah’s Witnesses we are well-known for our public preaching work. In fact, apart from the issue of blood transfusions and media allegations of tolerating child abuse, the preaching work is possibly the only thing we are known for as a religion. We have developed a reputation for our tireless dedication to our ministry. However, we might well ask ourselves, are we the only ones preaching?
Think about this for a moment, what is preaching? My Oxford dictionary defines it as follows:
Preach – deliver a sermon; expound (the Gospel, etc.); speak in favour of, advocate.
The Society has this to say when quoting from A Greek-English Lexicon, by H. Liddell and R. Scott:
The Greek ke·rys′so, which is commonly rendered “preach,” means, basically, ‘make proclamation as a herald, to be a herald, officiate as herald, proclaim (as conqueror).’ The related noun is ke′ryx and means ‘herald, public messenger, envoy, crier (who made proclamation and kept order in assemblies, etc.).’ Another related noun is ke′ryg·ma, which means ‘that which is cried by a herald, proclamation, announcement (of victory in games), mandate, summons.’ (Insight On The Scriptures, Volume Two, page 671)
So essentially, if you preach, you tell others about something. You proclaim it, expound it, and speak favourably of it. Can this only be done by going from house to house? Of course not. Preaching can be done in a variety of scenarios. It is for this reason that there are so many Christian denominations spread around the globe, many of which dwarf Jehovah’s Witnesses in size. Some, like the Mormons (numbering over 14 million), preach from house to house. Others preach in their own unique ways, by using films, media or the internet to get their message across.
Regardless of how they do it, whether the believer is Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist, they are all preaching. The evidence of their success is all around us. My friend Paul Grundy put it simply when he wrote: “All religions preach in some form. Otherwise they would not have any members.” In fact Paul has written an excellent article entitled “Are Jehovah’s Witnesses the only ones that preach?” – I would encourage you to read it with an open mind.
“What is truth?”
You may say “but those other religions aren’t preaching the truth from the bible!” I reply, as did Pilate: “What is truth?” (John 18:38) From a Mormon perspective, they are the only ones preaching the truth about God’s purpose for mankind. From our perspective, we are preaching the truth, and they are not. Who is right? Whether we have grown up as Jehovah’s Witnesses or have been associated with the organization for many years, does this automatically mean that we are the only ones preaching the good news and nobody else? Might a Mormon be tempted to reason along similar lines regarding his faith, based solely on what he knows? How would he discover otherwise without undertaking an honest and thorough examination of his beliefs?
Ultimately, the truth about the bible must be determined on an individual basis. Yes, if a Mormon were to closely scrutinize his beliefs against the scriptures, he would likely find that not all of them are based on Jesus’ teachings. But ask yourself honestly, what is your message when you go preaching from door to door? Are you preaching God’s word, or are you distributing literature? Are you telling people to follow Christ as their mediator, or are you encouraging them to join an organization that takes its orders from a group of men? What are we known for when we go on the ministry – for urging people to follow Christ, or for talking about Jehovah, the “organization” and life in a paradise on Earth? If you were to examine your beliefs closely, you may well make some shocking discoveries, but I would urge you to do so from an honest and open-minded perspective. (2 Cor 13:5) You might be surprised at just how little your faith has to do with facts and logic, or even Christ’s teachings for that matter.
Hopefully this article has at least provided you with some food for thought on this subject. I certainly hope you have found none of what I have said too shocking, and I apologize if this is the case. Perhaps you still believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones preaching the good news in “all the inhabited earth” and making disciples in “all the nations”. On the other hand, perhaps you agree that, even if we are preaching the good news, we certainly aren’t reaching the whole world – not by a long stretch.
The small statistic that you so often glance over when reading the worldwide report actually represents more than a quarter of the world’s population, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are almost non-existent in these “30 Other Lands”. It’s therefore unreasonable and frankly arrogant for us to suggest that we are reaching everyone, when we are in fact just scratching the surface of a very large planet.
In my final article, I will look at the main reason given by the Society to explain why it enjoys God’s sole approval – the selection by Christ in 1919. I hope you will find this article both interesting and enlightening. In the meantime, I would like to thank you for following this discussion thus far, and I commend you for your bravery in doing so.