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Encyclopedia > Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses

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Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses

Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses include activities common to many churches, such as evangelism, gathering for group worship and study, and donating money to support their religious activities. Some controversial practices include temporal disengagement, shunning, and injunctions against certain medical procedures.

Table of contents

Evangelism

Every practicing Jehovah's Witness is expected to take part in their door-to-door evangelizing work. Witnesses who do this full time are called "pioneers", and enjoy high esteem in their congregations. Witnesses have in the past used a wide variety of methods of spread their faith, including information marches, where members wore sign boards and handed out leaflets, to sound cars, and syndicated newspaper columns and radio spots devoted to sermons.

Currently, door-to-door evangelizing for the Witnesses means endeavouring to engage persons in discussion of religious matters and offering literature about their faith to anyone who shows an interest in it, on a donation basis, rather than a for-sale basis.

Althouth it is largely the door-to-door evangelism of the Witnesses that has made them targets of lampooning in various modern media, in many places it continues to be a highly effective way of locating potential new members. Likely more than half of all Witnesses came into contact with the organization when they or an immediate family member received a door-to-door visitation.

Kingdom Halls

Jehovah's Witnesses call their meeting places "Kingdom Halls" instead of churches, to indicate that the gathering of the congregation is what is important, not the physical location itself. In general, the buildings are functional in character. Many halls are attractive but have few architectural frills.

In many countries, the Witnesses have "Assembly Halls" where about twenty congregations meet twice a year for one- or two-day assemblies.

Meetings

Congregation meetings are held three times a week. A public talk (sermon on a Bible-related theme) is delivered usually on Sundays, followed by a discussion of an article from 'The Watchtower' magazine. On a weekday evening, the 'Theocratic Ministry School' is held, and virtually all members of the congregation take turns at giving short readings, talks or dialogues on preassigned topics. This is followed by the 'Service Meeting', program on how to carry on the group's preaching efforts. At some other time during the week, smaller groups of 12-15 people meet, generally in private homes, to discuss one of the Watchtower Society's books, looking up scripture references and commenting.

Meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses open and close with prayer. Hymns, known to the Witnesses as 'Kingdom Songs' are usually sung at meetings held in the Kingdom Hall, as well as at assemblies and conventions.

Private donations

They do not pass a collection plate around or directly solicit money in church. They have a culture of donating money privately and voluntarily, as each individual sees fit. Their basis is that if people donate sufficiently of their own free will and initiative, it is a sign that the congregation has God's blessing.

Temporal Disengagement

Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to salute flags, sing national anthems, pledge allegiance to states or nations, serve in military organizations, vote in elections, or run for political office. This is because they believe they owe allegiance solely to Jehovah; that Jehovah's kingdom alone is legitimate.

Their defense of their beliefs in the United States have resulted in several cases of Constitutional law regarding the Pledge of Allegiance and freedom of speech. The early cases establishing that government schools cannot mandate the Pledge, or the salute to the flag, all involved Jehovah's Witness students punished or threatened for their refusal.

During World War II Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted by the Allies and the Axis powers for refusing to participate in these powers' respective war efforts. (See Jehovah's Witnesses and the Holocaust).

Shunning

Jehovah's Witnesses try to protect their unity and cohesiveness by shunning members who reject the core aspects of their religion and morality. Shunning, called "disfellowshipping" by the Witnesses, is practiced in a less extreme form than that of the Old Order Amish. Shunning by the Witnesses is often not permanent. Shunned individuals who still want to associate with the Witnesses are often reinstated after a year, or perhaps less, although no particular disqualification period is specified. Jehovah's Witnesses point to passages in the Bible to support this practice, most notably Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:11.

In February 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Witnesses' right to disfellowship those who fail to live by the group's standards. In so deciding, it upheld the ruling of a lower court that: "Shunning is a practice engaged in by Jehovah’s Witnesses pursuant to their interpretation of canonical text, and we are not free to reinterpret that text . . . The defendants are entitled to the free exercise of their religious beliefs . . . The members of the Church [she] decided to abandon have concluded that they no longer want to associate with her. We hold that they are free to make that choice."

Medicine and Health

The Witnesses' teachings in general promote a healthy lifestyle. They believe that smoking and recreational use of drugs is incompatible with Christian principles. Drinking alcohol is viewed as permissible, and most Witnesses do drink a little. Drunkenness, however, is not permitted.

Blood transfusions were forbidden in 1945, and that ban remains in effect. Strenuous efforts are made by members of the Witnesses' "Hospital Liaison Committees" to ensure that the members have access to bloodless surgery.

Abortions are forbidden by their faith, on the basis that human life starts at conception. They are not against contraception, as long as the contraceptive method works by preventing conception, as opposed to being an early abortifacient. Jehovah's Witnesses are politically neutral and, as such, do not get involved in political debate regarding abortion.

Disaster Relief

The Jehovah's Witnesses organization has a policy of helping its members who have been affected by natural disasters, wars, etc. Under the direction of the group's governing body, one of the Society's branch offices may be asked to take care of the need. The prime focus is on helping fellow believers, although others also receive assistance.

The French Branch Office of Jehovah's Witnesses operates a non-governmental organization known as AidAfrique, which provides material help to Witnesses in Africa after disasters. During the war in the former Yugoslavia, Witnesses from Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany provided material assistance to fellow believers in Sarajevo, as well as other localities, some risking their lives to drive the aid truck through the war zone. Witness literature occasionally publishes reports on the progress of such efforts.

Literacy Programs

Jehovah's Witnesses offer literacy programs in countries where there is a need. For example, Witness literacy classes in Nigeria between 1962 and 1994 were attended by upwards of 25 000 persons. In the same country, the literacy rate among Witnesses is over 90%, in contrast to the average of 50% for the population in general.

See also: Jehovah's Witness Doctrines



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