I am occasionally asked by visitors to JWsurvey.org what my personal religious beliefs are, particularly since my articles are often critical of the Watch Tower Society. Jehovah’s Witnesses are understandably concerned as to whether the information they read online is accurate. They are particularly wary of visiting so-called “apostate” websites due to the Society’s repeated counsel in this regard.
I thought I would write a brief article explaining my current spiritual outlook, with the aim of clarifying the approach and tone of this website for any newcomers who are curious. I am hopeful that this will go some way to reassuring visitors to JWsurvey.org that my motives in running it are genuine.
One accusation I sometimes hear levelled against this website is that it is “apostate” in nature. The terms “apostate” and “apostasy” have come to be loathed and feared by Jehovah’s Witnesses who read Watchtower literature. Witnesses generally associate those words with anyone who contradicts the Society’s official teachings. But is this an accurate view of what “apostasy” really means?
What is an “apostate”?
The word “apostate” basically has three definitions depending on your outlook. There is (1) the Bible’s definition of an apostate, (2) the Watch Tower Society’s definition, and finally there is (3) the secular (or dictionary) definition. There are subtle differences between all three definitions.
The Bible’s Definition
The Bible’s definition of apostasy is summarized for us on page 126 of the book Insight On The Scriptures (Volume 1), where the opening paragraph under the heading “Apostasy” reads as follows:
“This term in Greek (a·po·sta·si′a) comes from the verb a·phi′ste·mi, literally meaning ‘stand away from.’ The noun has the sense of ‘desertion, abandonment or rebellion.’ (Ac 21:21, ftn) In classical Greek the noun was used to refer to political defection, and the verb is evidently employed in this sense at Acts 5:37, concerning Judas the Galilean who ‘drew off’ (a·pe′ste·se, form of a·phi′ste·mi) followers. The Greek Septuagint uses the term at Genesis 14:4 with reference to such a rebellion. However, in the Christian Greek Scriptures it is used primarily with regard to religious defection; a withdrawal or abandonment of the true cause, worship, and service of God, and hence an abandonment of what one has previously professed and a total desertion of principles or faith. The religious leaders of Jerusalem charged Paul with such an apostasy against the Mosaic Law.”
And so, at least according to the Insight book, the Bible refers to “apostasy” as a “withdrawal or abandonment of the true cause, worship, and service of God”. Specifically, there are connotations about apostates drawing off followers after themselves, which I will address later in this article – but the basic meaning is a rejection of true faith in God.
If this was the only definition by which someone accused of apostasy would be judged, it would be relatively simple to determine whether the person was guilty or innocent. If the person’s beliefs about God contradicted what is contained in the scriptures, then he would be classed as an “apostate”.
The Society’s Definition
The Watch Tower Society has a slightly more specific idea as to what “apostasy” means. To find it (in a way that is expressed in clear terms), we must consult a letter that was sent out to all Circuit and District Overseers, dated September 1st, 1980. One paragraph in the letter reads as follows:
Notice how the Society’s definition of “apostasy” (or “apostatizing”) differs substantially from the basic biblical definition in two key areas:
- An apostate is not just someone who “promotes” apostate views (i.e. by trying to “draw off followers” after themselves) – he is someone who believes things that run contrary to the “faithful and discreet slave”.
- An apostate is not just someone who disagrees with what the Bible teaches about God – he is someone who rejects “what he has been provided through the slave class”.
Hence, the Watchtower’s view of apostasy is different, and more specific, than the Bible’s definition. To be an apostate, all you need to do is view things differently to the “faithful and discreet slave” (now identified as the Governing Body). Period. It doesn’t even matter whether you go to strenuous efforts to promote or convince others of your beliefs. You simply have to view Bible teachings differently to how they are expressed in Watchtower publications, and you are automatically considered an “apostate”, worthy of disfellowshipping.
It is for this reason that many are disfellowshipped for apostasy even if they go to strenuous efforts during their judicial committee to demonstrate that their beliefs do not contradict what is written in the Bible. In the minds of elders who stick to the Society’s guidelines, it is irrelevant whether your beliefs can be backed up by the scriptures. What matters most is that you agree with the Governing Body and everything that it teaches. If you don’t, you are an “apostate” according to the Society’s definition of that term.
The Secular Definition
The secular (or dictionary) definition of apostasy is very succinct and easy to understand. The Oxford Dictionary that I keep on my desk simply describes the word as follows:
And so, from a purely secular context, apostasy is simply an abandonment or rejection of one’s former religious beliefs. Nothing more, nothing less. In this strict context, Christianity can be considered as an “apostasy” from Judaism (which clings to the Mosaic law covenant and awaits the arrival of the Messiah). The early Bible Students (who later became Jehovah’s Witnesses) could be considered as “apostates” from Christendom – because, rightly or wrongly, they rejected many traditional beliefs of mainstream Christianity.
If you want to apply the secular definition at a minute level, you could even say that each time a new belief or understanding is published that replaces a former teaching (as with the “new light” about the faithful and discreet slave) this represents an “apostasy” from the former teachings of the organization. Conversely, if a Jehovah’s Witness refused to accept a “new understanding” as published in the organization’s literature, preferring instead to cling to the former teachings on the matter, he would be disfellowshipped for apostasy – for abandoning the new beliefs of his religion.
A matter of perspective
This is the strange irony about apostasy – it is all a matter of perspective. For example, Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Rutherford are regarded as being among the founders of our organization. However, if they were miraculously resurrected and materialized in the lobby of the World Headquarters in Brooklyn, they would not be immediately embraced into the organization with seats on the Governing Body because their beliefs would be very different from the beliefs expressed in Watchtower literature today.
Both these men would need to have bible studies to educate them about the various changes in understanding over the many decades since they both died. If, after studying all these changes, they refused to accept the version of “truth” currently published in Watchtower literature, they would be unceremoniously disfellowshipped and cast out of the very organization they helped to establish. It is a strange and perplexing irony, but this is essentially what would happen in such an albeit impossible scenario.
So, to summarize all three definitions of apostasy, these are:
- The Bible’s definition: abandoning the true faith in God.
- The Watch Tower Society’s definition: abandoning the teachings of the Faithful Slave.
- The secular definition: abandoning one’s former beliefs.
Now that we have considered all three definitions of “apostasy”, we can address the title of this thread and answer the question: Is JWsurvey.org an apostate website?
- According to the Bible’s definition, no it isn’t an apostate website. JWsurvey.org does not encourage anyone to abandon their faith in God according to the Bible. In fact, each of my articles dealing with scriptural matters attempt to use scriptural reasoning. They establish what the Bible says, and show how this differs from the teachings or practices of the Watch Tower Society. If anyone can identify anything in any of these articles that contradicts or misrepresents what is said in the Bible itself (and not just according to the Watchtower’s interpretation of the scriptures), they are welcome to email me and I will immediately correct the article accordingly.
- According to the Watch Tower Society’s definition, yes it is an apostate website – because I very much disagree with (or have abandoned) some of the key teachings and practices of the Watchtower organization. In particular, I find the cruel shunning of disfellowshipped family members unloving and unscriptural, and I find the mishandling of accusations of child abuse according to a misapplication of the “two witness” rule despicable and negligent in the extreme. I also see no objective evidence to suggest that the Watch Tower Society enjoys any special divine favor or guidance that would justify its harsh and authoritarian approach towards Witnesses who disagree with the Governing Body.
- According to the secular definition – yes it is an apostate website, because (for the reasons discussed above) I am no longer in agreement with all of the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses as defined in the publications of the Watch Tower Society. However, as I have explained, according to the strict dictionary definition of the term “apostasy”, the Watch Tower Society can be said to have apostatized from Christianity, and even from its own former teachings (every time it releases a “new understanding”).
I hope the above consideration of the various definitions of “apostasy” clarifies things for visitors to this website. Basically, if you are the type of person who will blindly follow the Watch Tower Society simply because they claim to be God’s sole channel of communication with mankind, then this website probably isn’t for you.
If, on the other hand, you are interested in the real truth and wish to research factual information about the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower organization, then you have no reason to fear or be distrustful of the information presented on these web pages. My articles are written and prepared with a whole-hearted committment to revealing truth, regardless of whether this conflicts with what has been published in Watchtower literature.
Even having considered the above, you may still be curious about my personal beliefs and motivations, and how these might influence my writing. I will now try my best to elaborate on these honestly.
So, what does Cedars believe?
As far as my status with Jehovah’s Witnesses is concerned, I am still technically one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. To date, I have not been disfellowshipped, neither have I disassociated myself in writing. However, I no longer attend meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I no longer participate in the preaching work. In that respect, I am considered by my local elders as an “inactive” one. They are obviously unaware of my work on this website and elsewhere. I have a fairly unique set of circumstances making it difficult for them to pry into my affairs or investigate my personal views.
As far as my religious beliefs are concerned, I have only recently (in the past two years) mentally escaped the iron-like grip of what I perceive to be an extremely controlling religious organization. I am therefore extremely reticent to plunge into yet another belief system (or set of religious or atheistic assumptions) that could be mistaken, or based purely on faith in things that cannot be proven or verified.
I still have a respect for the Bible, which is why I often refer to it and cite scriptures in my articles. However, I am completely open-minded as to what God’s purpose for mankind might be – or even whether there is a God who is interested in Earth’s affairs at all.
If this shocks or stumbles anyone, I can only apologize – but I feel it is important to be honest. I personally believe that the reasons for any doubts I have are well founded (being the product of careful thought and research), and a loving “God of truth” would not punish me for asking the honest questions I ask. (Psalm 31:5; 1 John 4:8)
As an example of just one of these “doubts”, you can read an article I wrote for another website discussing the first three chapters of Genesis – although this is just one part of the Bible that causes me to ponder.
Regardless of my personal questions related to the Bible, I still feel qualified to comment about the Watch Tower Society and the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses from a scriptural standpoint because, as a former elder and Bible School graduate, I have a relatively in-depth understanding of the scriptures and Watchtower theology. I am also still technically a Jehovah’s Witness, although admittedly I only remain one because many of my family are Witnesses, and these would shun me if I ever disassociated myself.
Irrespective of my own personal beliefs or “doubts” about certain passages of scripture, I am profoundly affected in a very negative way by the organization, which has mentally trapped multiple generations of my family. I therefore feel a certain duty to use my knowledge and experience to help others awaken from what I perceive to be a damaging and destructive belief system. This is the only way I can think of to find a productive application for my negative experiences.
Drawing off followers?
If, even after reading the above, you feel that my personal doubts about the scriptures make it inappropriate or wrong for me to comment on the Bible or Watchtower teachings, you should be reassured of one thing: I can never rightly be accused of trying to “draw off followers” after myself, because I do not have a set of beliefs to promote, and I am strongly opposed to anyone who tries to impose their own unproven beliefs on those who leave the Watchtower organization.
For example, there are many videos on YouTube that have been produced by those who oppose the teachings of the Watch Tower Society, and you will often find that some of these videos have been made by those who seek to replace Watchtower doctrines with their own interpretation of the Bible.
I can understand why, if you genuinely feel you have a correct understanding of the Bible, you might want to convince others of this (especially if you feel that salvation by Christ is at stake). However, by specifically targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses and trying to pull them out of a damaging cult and into your own alternative belief system, you are merely living up to the Watchtower’s definition and stereotype of an apostate – namely, by “drawing off followers” after yourself.
Ultimately, it is impossible for any of us to be assertive about any particular interpretation of the Bible – especially in such a way as to imply that only WE have the one true faith, and only WE enjoy God’s direction and blessing.
The one Church claiming to have a direct unbroken line throughout history with Christ’s apostles (through “apostolic succession”) is the Catholic Church. Not only is the history of Roman Catholicism riddled with scandal – their beliefs are based on unscriptural teachings and traditions. Those who choose to become Catholics in spite of this (as many millions do) must make this personal choice in the knowledge that it is a matter of faith. Any Christian organization or church claiming to have replaced or supplanted the Catholic Church as enjoying God’s divine favor is ALSO asking its followers to accept their claims based on faith rather than hard facts.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t be Christians or observers of the Bible command to preach and share one’s beliefs with others. After all, preaching is a key element of any Christian’s faith. However, I believe modern Christians should humbly be mindful of the fact that nearly two thousand years have passed since Christ’s death, and nineteen centuries have passed since the last of his apostles died without any obvious and indisputable acts of God to provide irrefutable evidence of his purpose, or his backing of any individual or group of worshippers.
It is therefore inappropriate for any Christian to dogmatically insist that HE has the only true faith based on the Bible, and that to enjoy salvation everyone must follow HIS interpretation of the Bible, and no one else’s.
It would obviously be different if God were to dramatically intervene in Earth’s affairs and make his purposes irrefutably clear to the masses – but until this happens we are all in the same state of relative uncertainty as to God’s purpose, and we shouldn’t insist on beliefs that are based purely on personal interpretation, or faith in things that cannot be proven or verified.
For this reason, you will never find any attempt made on this website to “draw off followers” or persuade visitors to enter some alternative belief system, whether it is religious or atheistic. Those who try to do this using the comments beneath each article will find their comment removed, especially any links that are posted to websites of a blatantly religious nature.
I view it as my role, or the role of this website, to report on verifiable facts and nothing else. If I have any higher role or ambition, this is merely to lead people out of what I perceive as an extremely damaging cult, just as a Himalayan Sherpa would lead a mountaineer down from a perilous mountain slope to safety. What the mountaineer does once he has reached safety is his own decision. He and his Sherpa will part ways – hopefully as friends. This is all I am interested in doing – leading you to the facts, and (if possible) helping you to gain mental freedom from a controlling organization. What you do next is your decision, and no one else’s.
If you are a Christian, and you struggle with feelings of uncertainty regarding what to do next after leaving the organization, you may find one of my past articles helpful. I wrote it not long after experiencing my own “awakening”. It is called “Lord, whom shall we go away to?“
A translation of the above article into Hungarian is available by clicking here.