By Ian Haynes
In 1951 I was born into a loving, though somewhat nominal, Christian family, and dedicated to God in a Baptist Church. Growing up with my sister, we occasionally attended Baptist and Anglican services with mum and dad. Every night, before going to sleep, mum taught us to pray: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, stoop to hear a little child.” God was good, and I always believed in him. As a young boy I would look at a picture I had of Jesus dying on the cross. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I asked him: “Why did they do that to you Jesus? They shouldn’t have done that to you!” In my teenage years my friends and I would sometimes return from nights out on the town in deep discussion about God and creation verses evolution. Anthony would inevitably mock me for believing that God had created us. We’d then talk about such things with Graham’s Jehovah’s Witness mother into the early hours.
Graham, however, hated such “fire-side chats” with his mother because he loathed his Witness upbringing and had no intention of resuming his former life. Rather, girls, guitars and rock music, along with other “worldly” interests, took precedence. Scarred by his past, he half expected to be killed by God at Armageddon in 1975, so my guess was that life for him was too short to waste! Graham was an intelligent, sensitive friend; an artist, who played guitar and wrote poetry, which was later published. As a young boy, he’d been my school pal, but he’d been forbidden by his mother to be my friend outside of school hours. This reduced him to tears. I can see him now begging his mum to let him play with me while she stoutly refused, telling him that he already had a friend at the Kingdom Hall. When he said that he didn’t like “that boy”, his mother rebuked him for talking in such a way about “a brother.” His mother explained to me that she had nothing against me, but that Witness children were like the Jews who restricted their friendships to their own community. She suggested that I could always see more of Graham if my parents allowed me to go to their meetings at the Kingdom Hall. That idea didn’t interest me in the least! At school Graham was known as a pacifist. Often I’d start fun-fights with him, but my rough play made him cry. He always forgave me and remained my friend. Nevertheless, after a time, he withstood my challenges and left me full of guilt. When I implored him to punch me hard in the face as a just punishment for having been so horrible, he resolutely refused. Dear Graham.
Despite our history as friends and Graham’s aversion to his Witness past, as a teenager I honestly enjoyed talking to Graham’s mother. Perhaps our talks touched that inexplicable inner hunger which from childhood had eluded identification. In search of this elusive desirable otherness, Graham and I, now free spirits, “dropped out and did our own thing”, hitch-hiking and camping in southern Ireland for several months. For some reason I sensed that this trip, unlike others we’d known, would forever change me. We traveled through all types of weather, played our guitars in bars and camped near lakes and seashores. Returning home, however, was totally devastating, for I had lost the love of my life: a most beautiful Irish girl; all that remained was the emptiness of a hippy-type life style with all its impenetrable questions: What was the point of our existence? Why had love itself hurt so much? Why had the beauty we’d found on our travels made me sense that our world had lost its meaning? Surely we were meant to love each other within a context of beauty and dignity, mirrored by the kind country folk we’d met who gave so freely yet lived so simply in their little white crofts beside peat fueled fires. With the majestically beautiful mountains, the surrounding scented greenery, the clear azure seas -, all this – and so much more – had echoed creation’s original intention and beckoned its return. The magnetism of Ireland was immense and my heart ached inconsolably.
Within this haunting ambiance, the impending paradise of which Graham’s mother spoke, sat comfortably. I so wanted to believe that it was true. Eventually I accepted, in 1970, the offer of a free “Bible study” (which in reality turned out to be a Watchtower book study) with Don, a jovial “mature brother” and Barry, who used to go to the same school as me. Barry had acquired a bit of a rebel reputation at school before his re-conversion back into the local Witness congregation, so I especially looked forward to meeting him. He became a fond friend, with a good sense of humour. This, together with an indelible experience which calmed my anguished heart, helped in my decision to eventually get baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Our Kingdom Hall was in Hainault Essex (England), and the congregation there seemed to be full of overwhelmingly friendly people. Attractive girls smiled eagerly, but the memory of my Irish love remained, and my loss of her had left me determined not to hurt as I had been hurt. Anyway, God, not girls, came first!
The early period of being “in the truth” was fun and fulfilling, even if it was a sharp learning curve. With enthusiastic idealistic naivety I knocked on the doors of the so called “worldlings”, telling them to “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!” I imagined them falling to their knees, crying out for God’s mercy, but none of them ever did of course! After some gentle coaching by Barry, my approach became more “refined”. My eagerness received a real blow, however, when I learnt that door knocking was not optional, but of the very essence of being a genuine Witness of Jehovah, worthy of eternal life. Initially I had simply been motivated by the belief that our message was really good news. Although I hadn’t yet been baptised, my whole life was being radically turned around and others could be changed like me, with the hope of soon living on a paradise earth. Of course the message was urgent, as failure to listen meant utter destruction at Armageddon – due well within the decade! But the shock came when I was told that if I failed to keep on preaching this message and selling Watchtower literature I too would be destroyed! That was heavy. I hadn’t perceived the fragility of our security, that it was contingent on regularly selling Watchtower literature! Why did I need to sell this literature, which we euphemistically described as “placing”? That definitely didn’t sit well. I wanted to give the books and magazines away, not use the psychologically manipulative suggestion of “a small donation.” Did Christ and the apostles go around selling books? Rather, did they not freely give what they had freely received? But having drunk deeply from the Organization’s well and bitten the bait, the hook had virtually been swallowed! All that remained was the repression of such questions, which kept springing up from who knows where? These inner conflicts were unsought. I really hoped that they would all go away once I was baptised. With this in mind I pressed on, continually imposing the Watchtower’s interpretations upon difficult Scriptural passages, which wasn’t always easy, but it was vital: For the Society alone had to teach us. “Private interpretations” or “independent thinking” had to be rejected. Only proud people refused, and we all knew what would happen to them! “Our brains needed to be washed,” we were told, “for only the meek will inherit the new earth.”
To enable more time “in the ministry”, I reduced my working hours with Dad, as a Lithographic Printer, down to three days a week and started Pioneering with Barry, with a view to full time pioneering in the near future. The Society’s requirements were 80 to 100 hours a month of door knocking and conducting home “Bible studies”. Life wasn’t easy, often lonely, with doors constantly being slammed in my face and few encouraging conversations. Nevertheless, with Witness friends and meetings and the conviction that we were right, I soldiered on. One day, after calling on some of our more hostile neighbours, my friend, Dave (a ministerial servant), looked at me with his humorously wry smile and said: “Just think, Ian, only another 36 months to Armageddon!” “Was it really that close”, I wondered. Could we be that certain? Had the Society itself been that certain? Dave became quite serious, almost defensive it seemed, when I voiced my doubts. He retorted: “Well, the Society has virtually told us that 1975 is the year!” I soon kept quiet, but I think the conversation was leaked because friends subsequently asked, rather quizzically, why I didn’t believe that 1975 was the year of Armageddon.
Annoyingly, even after my baptism, the Bible still kept contradicting what the Society taught and no one in the Hainault congregation seemed qualified enough to help, especially as I wanted to fully understand such things as the meaning of the original Greek and the source of the New Testament quotations from the Old. I wondered why our Bibles lacked useful cross references. Also, why did the New Testament writers frequently quote from the Old Testament Greek Septuagint, which, as my friend Iain had told me, was still the Bible of the Eastern Orthodox Church? Even he had wondered why we didn’t follow their lead, instead of using the Hebrew Masoretic text which didn’t always match the New Testament quotations uttered by Christ and the Apostles. Such questions as these niggled me. I had also raised others, such as: Why had Psalm 102:24-28, which referred to Jehovah as the eternal Creator, been applied directly to Christ in Hebrews 1:10? This seemed to teach that Christ is Jehovah God! How did the Society explain that away? Then there were Christ’s words in John 2:19-21 where he prophesied that he would raise up his own body on the third day! How could he have done that if at death he had ceased to exist, as taught by the Society? Didn’t this verse indicate his divinity? The brothers would often politely dismiss me with a chuckle, saying, “No one has ever asked such questions before!” Referral to some unconvincing Watchtower article was the best they could offer.
Once I asked John Tod, a lovable bumbling elderly gentleman, known as one of the anointed, how he knew that he had “the heavenly hope”. But instead of telling me of his experience with God, he, like the other brothers, also chuckled and suggested a certain Watchtower magazine! The article was totally irrelevant! I went back to him a second time. He then tried to recall another Watchtower publication, but couldn’t remember which one it was! As he bumbled and chuckled, apologising for his memory loss, I thanked him and went home. I gave up after that. Worryingly, my questions took a much darker turn after reading some of Pastor Russell’s false predictions.
One day, at a Witness party, the subject of Pastor Russell’s writings arose. I happened to mention that I was having difficulty in reconciling his view that 1914 was to have been the year when the full establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth took place, not to mention his doctrines about Christ’s return in 1874, Armageddon in 1914, or before, and the Great Crowd being in heaven rather than on earth as we now taught! Seeing that we no longer held to any of these views, I asked how, in the light of Deuteronomy 18, which warned against false prophets, we could still confidently affirm that he, as the founder of the Watchtower Society, was a man who spoke the truth? My voice was shaking, my arms were sweating and the atmosphere froze as one brother stared hard at me and asked the inevitable question: “Are you suggesting that Pastor Russell was a false prophet?” Highly embarrassed and intimidated, I retracted and said, “No! I just wondered how we could escape the dilemma!”
I genuinely wanted answers to these difficult questions. I hated the questions myself, but they just kept coming – like annoying gnats! If only they’d stop, or someone could competently settle my mind, instead of making me feel evil for asking. This experience definitely unnerved me, leaving me uneasy and isolated, especially with the sense that I was now being carefully watched by the elders as I read Russell’s writings. I was told that it would be better for me to read the more recent publications and was reminded that permission to read Pastor Russell’s books should first be sought before taking them from the shelf at the back of the Kingdom Hall. Certainly, I should not take them home to read. The cold unfriendly vibes from one elder in particular left me feeling very uncomfortable.
On another occasion I had the “privilege” of “going on the doors” with the visiting District Overseer. We happened to call on a Jewish lady. The District Overseer explained to her that Daniel 12:2 spoke of the soon to be realised general resurrection on earth of mankind, after Armageddon. This troubled me because I knew that the Society no longer held to this interpretation. Once the lady had gone, I mentioned this to the District Overseer, but he soon acted very strangely: “Shush, be quiet!” he said suddenly, “I think I can hear someone coming up the stairs!” (We were in a block of flats.) There was an awkward silence. Time ticked by while we waited, but no one came. Again, I tried to ask the same question and again he replied: “Shush! Listen! I’m sure someone’s coming!” To me, this was just plain weird. It was obvious that he was desperately avoiding the issue. Back at the Kingdom Hall I persisted, asking as politely as possible the same question, knowing that it probably wouldn’t endear me to him! This time he vaguely remembered that the interpretation had been changed by the Society. Nevertheless, he still thought that the old interpretation was useful when speaking to Jews! I couldn’t believe my ears! So, being “in the truth” was evidently a broad concept: “Old truths” (errors) were still currency, if expediency dictated! What kind of Organization was this? Surely the District Overseer was wrong? But who was I to question the one who was supposed to be teaching me?
Other brothers were asked why we still sold unrevised books containing “old truths”, in other words, errors: “Isn’t it important not to mislead people?” My questions were met with the usual chuckles! “Ian’s off again,” they’d jokingly exclaim. “We can always point out the changes,” said one brother. “But when do we ever do that?” I contested. “How many of us know where to find all the “old truths” inside a 300 page book?” The Society didn’t helpfully supply an index of “old truths”, but quietly slipped in the replacing “new truths”, under the banner of God’s “new light.” Only the alert spotted them and hopefully told the rest of us. Just the other week, my friend, Andy, had been seriously upset when I had corrected him for telling outsiders that Christ, in Matthew 24:7, had predicted the First World War with the words: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” We no longer held to that view, but Andy, poor man, had come into “the truth” on the very back of that now false belief! Andy was so shaken that he refused to believe me. Surely the other more mature brother hadn’t misled him? It took Andy some weeks to come to terms with what had happened.
After such episodes, the traumas really took off! Passages of Scripture kept leaping up at me, starkly contradicting the Watchtower Society. Having written to an elderly Christian uncle of mine in an endeavour to win him over to “God’s Organization”, he responded by quoting, with emphasis, 1 John 5:12-13, “He who has the Son HAS the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not HAVE the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you HAVE eternal life.” “HAS means got it,” he affirmed. He told me that because the Watchtower Society rejected such plain words of Scripture I was the one who had been misled! That shook me! Try as I may, I simply couldn’t explain away God’s word: “He who has the Son HAS the life.” How do you change HAS into “may have – if you keep knocking on doors, selling books and magazines, handing in weekly field service reports, attending all the meetings, and living irreproachably”? I knew that I didn’t have eternal life and therefore I apparently didn’t have the Son either! Whatever that meant, it was worrying!
Some days later, alone on the doors, I boldly called on a Baptist minister, one of the devil’s chief servants! I’ll show him, I thought. Time’s up for this satanic agent. I’ll shoot him down in flames! But as he gently spoke, reading from the first letter of John, an overwhelming inner conviction told me that he was telling me the truth! Naturally, I tried to resist, redoubling my efforts against him. Yet I couldn’t escape the peace that pervaded my heart. My mind said, “Argue!” My heart said, “Stop. Just listen.” I wondered how on earth I could return home to my Jehovah’s Witness family and tell them that I had met a satanic Baptist cleric who I was convinced had told me the truth that God was a God of love who was offering me an intimate new birth relationship with him which I currently didn’t have or deserve! This wasn’t supposed to happen!
In 1973, my friends and I went to the Irish convention. There we were told, through drama, that we would only be saved at Armageddon (which, of course, was always “just around the corner”) if we remained within the Organization. My whole being seemed to erupt in rejecting this message! My faith was in Christ – not in an Organization! After the talks, one of my friends, perhaps sensing my stunned silence, asked if I was enjoying the convention. “No!” I said. “What we’ve just heard is a lie! I don’t believe that the Organization is my Saviour! Christ is though!” “Ian’s got a problem,” Dave exclaimed, with his usual wry humour. My other friends turned to Paul, an elder’s son, for some wiser input. Paul rose to the challenge, quoting the book of James at me and the necessity of works (which, to us, meant field service). Was I suggesting that these were no longer necessary? Now under the interrogative spotlight, I rather awkwardly argued that what we had just heard was still wrong: Works did not negate the fact that Christ, not the Organization, is our only Saviour. Nevertheless, I tried to hide my sense of horrified betrayal. Moreover, Paul would now possibly inform John, his father, and the other elders back at the Hainault congregation. They would then officially classify me as an “unspiritual brother” under discipline. Who wanted that stigma? Yet, although nervous and isolated, I knew that something huge was happening inside me: For it was the first time that I had rejected outright the Society’s teachings. More starkly: The Organization’s exit door was now right in my face!
Just before boarding the boat home, a group of Christians approached us preaching publicly: “People try to find salvation in organizations, but there is only one Saviour: Jesus Christ!” What! How could these Christians echo my very thoughts! He continued, “My sister was a Jehovah’s Witness and I know what you teach.” Then, reading from the first chapter of John that the Word – Jesus Christ – was God, the Christian asked me directly: “Do you believe that Christ is God?” “No.” I replied. Paul spoke up: “You’re using the King James version. That version is wrong. In the Greek it says that Jesus is ‘a god’ not God!” The Christian responded: “Actually, I’m reading from the Revised Version and I can read Greek. The Greek says that the Word was God!” Paul didn’t read Greek. None of us did! We were speechless! Imagine the scene: Five allegedly zealous Jehovah’s Witnesses – all silenced – wiped out! Looking intently at me once more, the Christian asked: “Do you think that Christ was created?” “Yes.” I hesitantly answered. He challenged me: “How can you say that? How could he be created when we read here in John chapter one that, “ALL THINGS were made by him, and WITHOUT HIM WAS NOT ANYTHING MADE that hath been made?” How could he have been one of the things that have been made when NOTHING AT ALL was made without him? Invited by my stunned silence, he continued: “Do you believe that Christ should be worshiped?” Again, I replied, “No.” Turning to Revelation chapter 5 the Christian asked, “Then how is it that the whole of creation falls down and worships the Lamb together with him who sits on the throne? If Christ is not God then this would be creature worship!” We had no answers! We just stared back blankly. This young man spoke with such power and authority, that I didn’t want to leave. As we left he offered me his hand, saying: “God bless you.” I was blown away!
The journey home was quiet. Barry soon asked me what I thought of the Christians. What could I say? On board the ferry I had dived downstairs and secretly read their Scripture tracts. I said to Barry that they were obviously sincere: “They didn’t even charge us for the tracts!” “But they were wrong!” Barry insisted. Few thoughts came to mind other than if they were wrong, why couldn’t we answer them? All I wanted to do was to ponder the Scripture tracts. My head was pounding with confusion and fear. My whole family had followed me into this Watchtower religion. Had I been guilty of misleading them? Had I been the tool of Satan? This was heavy stuff! What if I left? All my family and friends would reject me! I’d be out on the streets with nowhere to live! But that’s the price I would have to pay if the Christians were right. Somehow I had to work all this out by myself, but wondered if I had the inner resources. Where would I go, seeing that all the Churches were allegedly led by Satan? Fear and isolation gripped me. Depression fell on me like a thick cloud.
Tension headaches now tumbled upon me. I prayed; I studied the Bible with Watchtower aids, then without aids; I took notes; I tore up the notes! Guilt drove me to make extra field ministry arrangements, which were then cancelled because I no longer believed the Watchtower message! This message simply wasn’t the message proclaimed by Christians in the Bible. They preached Christ as the risen Saviour and Lord, we didn’t. There was just no one to talk to; no one to trust. To confide in anyone would have run the risk of exposure and betrayal. In any case I didn’t want to mislead anyone in any way. My questions were huge, certainly too big for me to handle, let alone the brothers at the Kingdom Hall. No one, as far as I could tell, had the wherewithal to deal with such matters. All they could do was point me to old issues of the Watchtower which supposedly dealt with such questions. I had spent so many hours researching these indexed references and had exhausted this “authoritative resource”. The Society’s stereotyped arguments were predictably flawed. Night after night I locked myself in my bedroom, weeping, laying prostrate, asking Jehovah God to help me! But Jehovah didn’t answer. Where does one go when even God is gone? Perhaps the Devil was deceiving me! Perhaps I had already been deceived by the Watchtower Society and the god we called Jehovah was in fact Satan! In bed one night such a nightmare had already terrified the life out of me!
Then, one evening, at the end of myself, I broke all the Watchtower rules and prayed to Jesus, having been encouraged in my heart by the prayer of Steven, the first Christian martyr, who, before surrendering his spirit to Christ, had asked him to forgive his persecutors. So I prayed: “Help me Lord Jesus! Come into my life and help me! Take away this prison I’m in!” Realising that the prison was The Watchtower Society, I asked Christ to cast it far from me! Nothing seemed to happen. I crawled with tears into bed and fell asleep. In the morning the bright sun penetrated the curtains. I got up, drew them back, and the sky was beautifully blue and bright, perfectly clear. That’s exactly how I felt inside, but I couldn’t understand why. I had such inner peace and joy. What had happened to all that heaviness? Then I remembered the prayer the night before and realised that I was free! Christ had set me free! “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.” “He who HAS the Son HAS the life.” I literally danced for joy in my bedroom, singing, “Happy day, Oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!” Who taught me that song? I didn’t know! But I did know that heaven was my home and Christ was my Saviour!
The question soon hit me: What should I do now? Tell my parents and be thrown out of the house? Burst into the Kingdom Hall proclaiming Christ as Lord? I decided to first tell my family and friends and then wait to be thrown out, like the early apostles. Also, I decided to revisit some of the homes I’d called on to apologise and warn them about the Witnesses. Before doing any of these things I waited another day and prayed further to see if what was happening to me was real and not some delusion. The peace and sense of release became stronger than ever. God’s love seemed tangible. I sensed that the eternal life of Christ himself was being shared with me in the power of the Holy Spirit. Under the assumption of being thrown out of the house, the following day I nervously told my dear mum what had happened, and waited for the horrified emotional explosion! She paused, stared deeply into my eyes and said: “I believe every word you’ve said.” My whole family believed me!
Andy, a Witness friend, was living with us at the time. He had himself been wondering about certain things: he wanted to know what the early Christians believed about Christ. What writings had they left after the death of the Apostles? I for one was rather clueless. The name, Justin Martyr, vaguely came to mind. He had been executed in the 2nd Century. What did he believe about Christ? I didn’t know! The Society may have identified him as being an early Christian, but I hadn’t consulted any of his writings. Normally such early believers were only mentioned briefly. Apart from Arius, who was the Society’s hero because he withstood the majority of bishops at the 4th Century council of Nicaea by rejecting the belief in Christ’s full divinity, the Church Fathers were normally assessed in negative terms and their writings were not promoted for further reading. We were told that there was no need for such research because the Society had done it all for us and could be trusted. Nevertheless, Andy obtained a book and began to realise that the second century Christians, like Justin Martyr, worshipped Christ as God! They were not supposed to have done that! This was way before the council of Nicaea in 325. The implications were enormous: If this was true, then the Society was wrong! They had taught us that belief in Christ as God was a late paganistic novelty imposed at Nicaea by the Emperor Constantine! Even more disturbing, Andy also started to uncover the reality of Christ’s divinity within the New Testament itself. Yet, sadly, Andy was stopped in his tracks when he fell in love with a young Witness lady who began to express her concerns that their relationship was now being jeopardised by his research and discussions with me. Eventually he told me that he wasn’t prepared to go any further and risk losing the love of his life. Shortly thereafter he left our house. All contact was soon severed. Poor Andy!
So, in 1973, after three years, I left the Witnesses, followed, in due course, by my mother and father, sister and brother-in-law. Soon they all started attending various churches and encountered Christ. As a family in good standing, our former friends tried to fix the blame for their gradual departure on me and my new found faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and experience of the Holy Spirit. One of the elders, Chris, a decent man from Greece, had even previously suggested that I might well be one of the anointed class, (one of the 144,000), so there was absolutely no need for me to leave the Society! However, I told him that what I had experienced was for all, not just the 144,000. With reference to Deuteronomy 18, I affirmed that because Pastor Russell had taught that Christ had returned in 1874 and that Armageddon and God’s earthly Kingdom would be fully realised by 1914, he was a false prophet whose teachings should be totally ignored. Chris said that I had allowed Satan to influence me!
On another occasion arrangements were made for me to speak to another respected and formidable brother, Iain, along with my sister and brother-in-law. Iain was a friend and had been conducting a “Bible study” with my brother-in-law who wanted to match me with him in order to establish the truth. Although quietly confident, I was still nervous. Iain had a significant reputation! When I read to Iain from Galatians that all who have faith in Christ are sons of God (and not just 144,000), much to my amazement and the surprise of my sister and brother-in-law, he stared vacantly at the ceiling! I pressed the point further by saying that “if the Society is right in teaching that the Great Crowd (comprising the majority of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) are not the sons of God, then, according to the apostle Paul, their faith in Christ must in some way be deficient. Also, why did the Society encourage them to call on God as their Father when they were not his Sons?” All three of us had anticipated a tough debate with Iain, but it just didn’t happen! Incredibly he soon left, urging me to speak to the elders. My sister turned to me afterward and said: “Well, that’s it. You’re right! He virtually had nothing to say!”
My friend, Barry, visited me, forbidding me to speak, other than to confirm or deny the truth of what he had heard about my new beliefs concerning the Great Crowd. Ignoring his prohibition, I explained that the “Great Crowd” of Revelation chapters 7 and 19 was clearly before the throne of God in heaven and not restricted to the earth as we had been taught by The Society. Consequently, they were sons of God through a spiritual new birth just like the 144,000. As if receiving an electric shock, Barry immediately walked out, refusing to speak any further! Another friend had gone.
On another occasion, Barry’s mother derisively asked what I expected would happen to me in 1975. When I told her that I did not believe that 1975 was the year of Armageddon, especially in view of the Society’s earlier false predictions, she retorted that Satan had deceived me. A “sister” phoned to say that she’d heard that I’d been having problems. Having thanked her for calling, I assured her that I didn’t have any problems as such, but had come to realise that we had all been deceived by the Watchtower Society. The conversation soon ended.
As no one can leave the Watchtower Organization with any honour, we were all subsequently disfellowshipped, apart from my brother-in-law who had not been baptised. He simply stopped his “Bible study” with Iain. The elders summoned me to attend a special meeting, which I declined because I had already left the Society and hadn’t attended a Kingdom Hall meeting since my experience with Christ. My responding letter to them noted that since they already knew what I believed their judgment of me should be in the sight of the God of truth before whom we must all one day give an account. As a family, we lost all our dear friends – and they were dear friends; but we gained the love of God in Christ, who is himself “the way, the truth and the life”.
The next big question was “where to go now?” Before all this had happened, Peter, Andy’s older brother, had spoken of his perplexity after meeting some young enthusiastic long haired Christians who happened to meet at the top of the Cauliflower pub in Ilford. Peter simply couldn’t understand these unique people who believed in the Trinity! “It bugs me,” he said. “It bugs me that they were so happy! All they kept talking about was Jesus! It really bugs me and I wish it didn’t.” Remembering this conversation, I decided that the Cauliflower pub was the place to go. Entering one Saturday night, I was immediately greeted by Brian, a complete stranger, who hugged me like a long-lost friend! After telling him what had happened to me he said, “Praise the Lord,” hugged me again and took me to one of the leaders who also hugged me saying, “Praise the Lord!” “Yes! Praise the Lord!” I replied, rather conservatively. Soon the spontaneous beautiful sound of harmonious worshipers was heard, and I wondered if I had touched heaven itself! How different all this was from the Kingdom Hall! Scarred by the Witnesses’ aversion towards any clerical titles or the like found in more traditional churches, I joined this new charismatic house church fellowship. Soon I met a young lady there, named Ruth, and we got engaged. The Witnesses found out and the rumour spread that the reason for my departure was for nothing more than that I needed to find a wife! Amazing! My mother told me this just before she left.
Before our church elder, Ken, had joined the fellowship, he had been a Methodist lay preacher, but had to relinquish his position because his views on water baptism were unacceptable. Ken, who enjoyed studying the early Church Fathers, which helped me no end, explained that I needed Trinitarian baptism as my Witness baptism, being heretical, was invalid. In explanation of its meaning, he simply told me to go home and read Romans 6. So, with my death and burial into Christ in mind and my being raised up into newness of life in him, Ken baptised me proclaiming: “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Everyone clapped and cheered as down I went and up I came!
As a young married couple, the fellowship helped us financially, particularly Ken, and, after several years as an insurance agent, Ken found me a low paying clerical job with a London tea merchant, part of the same company in which he worked. From that lowly position I was promoted to eventually become the Senior Manager, visiting the Company’s tea gardens in India. It often struck me as strange that I of all people who had started my career as a grubby car mechanic, with no academic qualifications, should end up wining and dining at the Hilton Hotel with Lords and Ladies and other cultured people! I felt privileged, but misplaced. Also, I wondered where I would have been had I remained a Witness with a three-day-a-week dead-end job? With no one like Ken to help me, or my wonderfully intelligent and practical wife, exactly where would I have been? Would I have been able to raise three children and send them all to university? Witnesses were advised against university, so my children would have suffered on both counts! God has truly been good to me. Above all, our children are believers.
My experience as a Jehovah’s Witness was obviously life changing. On the plus side, trust in the Holy Bible was strengthened, along with faith in God as Creator. My love for the people themselves has, I hope, increased, despite their rejection of me which definitely hurt, as intended. At the time, I had naively imagined that only the love of truth guided them: that they would therefore readily accept my testimony and exposure of the Society’s false prophecies. Such an assumption was evidently wrong. Naturally, I understood their terrible predicament, for it was the very predicament that my family and I had already faced: the rejection of the Society meant the potential rejection of themselves by their closest family members and friends. That, after all, was Watchtower Law. A devastating dilemma!
The three years I spent in their Society and the realisation of how easy it is to be deluded, caused me to tread carefully and continually question the origins of modern Christianity with its various denominational and sometimes cultic tendencies, especially in its evangelical and charismatic context with which I became mostly familiar. The writings of the early Church, both before and following the death of the Apostles, have, for me, been paramount in the decisions I have since taken. We owe so much to the faithfulness of these notable Saints, particularly those who lived before the great schisms between East and West, and long before the Protestants who, during the Reformation, revolted against both Popery and Eastern Orthodoxy. Perhaps few realise that the great Reformer, Martin Luther himself, after withstanding the Roman Catholic Church, unsuccessfully explored a unity with the Eastern Orthodox Church, from which Rome had split centuries earlier.
Had Luther joined the Orthodox Church, the religious complexion of today would doubtlessly be different. Being part of the general rebellion against Orthodox tradition engendered by Protestantism, perhaps the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves would not have emerged. Then too, the spiritual giants of Orthodoxy would have been more widely known, because they would not have been identified as being “too Catholic” as they are today by so many misinformed Protestants. These early, devoutly Orthodox, Christian men, who had struggled with such errors as Modalism and Arianism, now largely espoused by the Oneness Pentecostals and the Jehovah’s Witnesses respectively, would have been readily recognised, as indeed they are today within the Orthodox Church, as the real Christian heroes to whom we should defer. For these were the very ones who had struggled ceaselessly to preserve the true Trinitarian heritage which has become a benchmark of authentic Christian belief, even amongst modern evangelicals – though this too is now being challenged in some circles! Despite their evident faults, the knowledge of Scripture and the depth of character of many of these Church Fathers is so often impressive and worthy of emulation. Moreover, the New Testament cannon itself was formulated and preserved, along with the Holy Mysteries or Sacraments, within the Apostolic Orthodox Church, of which these men were faithful members. In fact the very legitimacy of their teaching was only possible because they remained faithful to the Orthodox Church which is “the pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim.3:15). This is often forgotten. Sadly this Orthodox context, within which these renowned men were nurtured, is given relatively little recognition in our modern age of new church movements, popular preachers, and rich TV evangelists. But for me the very Church of these worthy Saints of the past, preserving as it has the very Bible we hold, has become my home. The Fathers of this Church have become my mentors. In many ways this is my protection against deception. Often I used to say to my dear wife as I surveyed the volumes of the Church’s faithful on my bookshelves: “Why have we forgotten such great men? Why are their words so seldom if ever heard in the pulpit today? St. Augustine is occasionally mentioned (perhaps more so in a Calvinistic context), but what about the rest?”
For example, some years ago, having moved house and away from the house church in Ilford, which had long ago merged with other Christian communities, we became established members of a Baptist Church. The years passed and a new Minister was appointed. However, when I tried to generate a serious in depth discussion of the writings of the Church Fathers with our new “Purpose Driven” Pastor, focusing particularly on the Holy mysteries (or sacraments as they are known in the West), he set aside earlier promises and refused to discuss such matters, virtually telling me by e-mail that if I didn’t agree with his Baptist theology to go and find another church! So much for being in a user friendly environment! Realising, yet again, that the faith of the early Fathers is largely alien and unacceptable within our modern self-asserting, self-interpreting and often self-confident, Protestant context – be it evangelical or cultish or otherwise – another serious rethink became necessary.
My own theological critiques were actually paralyzing: In whatever direction they focused everyone could be faulted and classified as heretical – including myself! Something bigger was required in order to identify the authentically toned legitimate Church. As charismatic evangelicals, we were so often swayed by the latest dynamic teacher, or “wave” of the Spirit. Also, because our roots and confessions only took us back as far as the Reformation, anything outside of that strict criterion was viewed, particularly by the more conservative, with deep suspicion, if not aversion. To step past that line was forbidden territory, for it led right into the alleged errors of Romanism. After thirty years of being an evangelical, I had only just perceived the essential weakness of this position: As evangelicals, we had forgotten, or suppressed, the fact that the Pope of Rome, with his ecclesiastical novelties, had been the very catalyst of the cleavage between the East and West in the 11th Century. Forgotten was the fact that the inflation of Papal authority had been just as unacceptable to the Eastern Orthodox as it had to the Reformers. Consequently, to explore Christianity before the Reformation in the 16th Century did not of necessity involve capitulating to Rome. Yet my friends within the evangelical church were largely unaware of this, just as I had been. To them, like others, Eastern Orthodoxy was either unknown or viewed dubiously, being tarred with the same Roman Catholic brush. As a result, many today are locked into a prejudiced mindset, cut off from this most ancient Church and its traditional experience. Yet with its apostolic roots and heritage which predate Roman Catholicism, it retains the authentic Christian voice.
The realisation of this became increasingly uncomfortable. It was fine for me to admire the heroism of the early Christians when they faced the terrors of the Roman arena; fine for me to use their staggering Scriptural arguments against the heretical Modalism of the Oneness Pentecostals, or the form of Arianism espoused by the anti-Trinitarian Watchtower Society; but it was patently inconsistent of me to marginalise major aspects of their faith and practice on the basis that they conflicted with modern evangelicalism. I knew only too well that some of our evangelical views were the very heresies which the early Church Fathers had condemned: the very Fathers whose arguments against the major cults were still readily utilized by us as evangelicals. How inconsistent was that? Even popular anti-cult paperbacks had evidently borrowed their incisive Scriptural arguments. Why then did I repress this realisation and tolerate such known inconsistencies for so long? Probably for the same reason that many Jehovah’s Witnesses tolerate their Organization: Who wants conflict? Compromise and conformity is more comfortable. Truth is traumatic upheaval! For decades, as a Christian family, our experience of Christ had been within this easy evangelical orbit. Nevertheless, there was a growing unease with the direction of our particular evangelical church and decisions needed to be made. The years were ticking by and time was no longer on my side. Too many of our modern views were either woolly or wild, or just plain wrong. Too many of our practices were questionable, if not lamentable. Too much of our theology and ecclesiology was tenuous, even dubious. Now it was time once more to be true to myself and to God, instead of remaining in the comfort zone of eclectic modern opinions and shelved traditional truth.
This is not to write off modern evangelical believers per se. They have much which is commendable and worthy of emulation. Their zeal and selfless love is often outstanding. Much can be learnt. My own history embraces the evangelical experience. Many good friends were, and still are, there. Yet there is surely further to go in their pilgrimage, as indeed there is for the Orthodox, and others. To this end, I believe God’s generous goodness allows for a diverse and sometimes complex pathway, which at times may be way off-track. So often it is forgotten by evangelicals in particular, that not to unbelievers but to believers St. Peter averred: “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise but is longsuffering towards us (or you), not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet.3:9). Moreover, the Scripture says to everyone, regardless of our religious affiliations: “He is not far from each of us; for in him we live and move and have our being.” He has made us, and so placed us, that we should each seek him “in the hope that [we] might grope for him and find him” (Acts 17:23-28).
For me, after many years, this ongoing search resurfaced my original resolve to find authentic Christian belief and practice after being deceived by the Watchtower Society; it led me, with my wife, back home into the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church. Although far from faultless, I believe that this is the Church from which all others have in one way or another essentially departed throughout the centuries. It is here that the Church Fathers and Mothers and Martyrs, who have given us so much, are honoured. Here we experience the saving love of God in worship through Confession and Repentance, Baptism and Chrismation, the Holy Eucharist, forgiveness, beauty, gentleness, holiness, humility and charity. These are in no way exhaustive, of course. Here we find unity and communion with the saints throughout the ages, right back to the holy apostles and patriarchs. Here the Holy Scriptures are allowed to speak freely, without being manipulated by new doctrines, new movements, or influential preachers. The authentic tone of early Christianity has been preserved in her humble prayers, services and practices. Here we find the Holy mysteries, which before were missing in our experience of God, having been diminished by the influence of the rationalistic 16th century Zwinglian idea that they are little more than symbols depicting that which has already occurred. It’s been a long journey, but worth the struggle. The journey of course continues for Christ is that journey: He is the Way. Let us all embrace that journey wherever we currently find ourselves.
In conclusion, let’s keep on praying for our former Jehovah’s Witness friends. Pray that all of us will one day be together again, but this time as eternal friends in Christ the eternal Son of God and not conditional friends controlled by the fragile strictures of the sadly heretical Watchtower Society. Pray that we will have the love and humility to help them, in imitation of God who loves all people and “desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim.2:4).
As we often pray in our Church: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy. Amen.”
Editor’s Note: A resident of the United Kingdom, Ian Haynes is a frequent contributor to online Jehovah’s Witness discussion forums. After reading one of his well-written posts that drew a wide range of comments from other members, I asked Ian to contribute a story to Ex-JW.com. Please note that I have left the article as he wrote it, so you will find many British spellings and phrases not normally seen here. Ian indicates that he intends to publish a book about his experiences in the near future. We wish him well and hope that he graces our pages again sometime soon.