Wikipedia:WikiProject Jehovah's Witnesses/Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses
This is an archive of an old page that has been merged into Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses. The information is kept here, as editors may find it useful in editing the above article.
Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses include activities common to denominations, such as proselytizing, gathering for group worship and study, and donating money to support their religious activities. This article discusses how the doctrines as well as non-doctrinal organizational and cultural arrangements manifest themselves in the practices and stances of Jehovah's Witnesses.
- 1 Funding
- 2 "Disciple-making"
- 3 Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls
- 4 Meetings
- 5 Memorial of Christ's Death
- 6 Neutrality
- 7 Association
- 8 Disfellowshipping (excommunication)
- 9 Medicine and health
- 10 Disaster relief
- 11 Literacy programs
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes and references
Jehovah's Witnesses fund their activities, such as publishing, constructing and operating facilities, evangelism, and disaster relief via donations. There is no tithing or collection, but all are encouraged to donate to the organization; Witnesses typically provide an opportunity for members of the public to make such donations as they encounter them in their preaching work. Donation boxes labeled for several specific purposes, are located in Kingdom Halls and other meeting facilities. Generally there is a Kingdom Hall fund for operating expenses locally, and a general fund for the "Worldwide Work", which includes the printing of literature, organization of conventions, supporting missionaries and disaster relief.
The accounts (including donations) and the financial operation of the local congregation are reviewed monthly with the entire congregation at the Service Meeting. (This meeting is open to the public.) Donations are also accepted via mail, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society can be named as a beneficiary to an estate, and also accepts donations in the form of life insurance policies, pension plans, bank accounts, certificates of deposit, retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, real estate, annuities and trusts.
As their name implies, Jehovah's Witnesses are well known for their intensive witnessing, or, proselytizing, efforts. Witnesses generally refer to their proselytizing activities by terms such as: "preaching," "disciple-making", "service," "the ministry," and, more formally, but less frequently, "evangelizing". All 'publishers' who are healthy enough are strongly encouraged to go from door to door, participating in this activity to the extent that their circumstances allow, every week if at all possible. Even children are encouraged to participate, accompanied by their parents. However, all publishers must possess a basic understanding of Bible based teachings and profess to be living in harmony with such teachings. For example, use of illegal substances (drugs) or employing dishonest business practices (fraud, tax evasion) would disqualify such a person from hypocritically participaing in this public work. Witnesses who spend at least 840 hours of witnessing during a year (an average of 70 hours per month) are known as "regular pioneers". Witnesses who wish to spend 50 hours per month are known as "auxiliary pioneers" and can serve in this capacity either a month at a time or consecutively.
Missionary service is another opportunity that members have to reach persons in other lands. Those invited to share in such work are usually given specialized training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. On average, these individuals dedicate over 120 hours per month to their work. As of 1998, there were 2,390 Witnesses having missionary status serving in 148 lands. 
Witnesses have, in the past, used a wide variety of methods to 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. Between 1924 and 1957, the organization operated a radio station, WBBR, from New York. They discarded this medium largely due to the prevalence of evangelistic radio programs to minimize identification with other religious groups. In recent decades, additional methods have included preaching by telephone, writing letters, at bus stops, places of business and in the street. Specialized territories of residential and commercial areas are made up within a congregation's boundaries and distributed to publishers.
Currently, door-to-door evangelizing for the Witnesses involves endeavouring to engage individuals in discussion of religious matters and offering literature about their faith, with the goal of starting a Bible study with anyone who shows an interest. The production of literature is supported by donations. Publishers carry forms knowns as "not-at-home slips" to keep record of those homes that need revisiting at another time when its occupants are at home.
Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls
Jehovah's Witnesses call their meeting places "Kingdom Halls" instead of churches, to indicate that the gathering of the congregation for the purpose of learning about God's Kingdom is what is important, not the physical location itself. Another reason is that they deem the use of the term church to now be largely confusing and inaccurate because the term in its Biblical context actually refers to a gathering or a "congregation" of people and not to the meeting place or the building itself (see the etymology of the word). In general, the buildings are functional in character, and do not contain religious symbols.
In many countries, the Witnesses have "Assembly Halls" where about twenty congregations meet two or three times a year for one-day or two-day Assemblies. In countries and areas without such Assembly Halls, or when attendance is expected to exceed seating capacity, the annual assemblies are held in borrowed or rented facilities suitable for the purpose, such as public auditoriums.
The great majority of the Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls, as well as the Watchtower Society's headquarters and branch office facilities around the world, have been constructed by the Witnesses themselves freely contributing their own time. The needed finances come from voluntary contributions.
Congregational meetings, which are open to the public, are held three times a week. All meetings are generally synchronous, so that all congregations are studying the same material at the same meeting. Meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses open and close with prayer. Hymns called Kingdom songs are usually sung at meetings held in the Kingdom Hall, as well as at assemblies and conventions. Dress for meetings is local formal attire. In most Western countries, this would consist of a suit and tie for males, and conservative dresses/skirts for females (pants are considered inappropriate for meetings). In places with hot and/or humid climates such as Australia and Malaysia, a body of elders may deem it temporarily appropriate not to wear a tie if the Kingdom Hall is not air-conditioned. Such exemptions can also apply in the field service.
The Theocratic Ministry School
On a weekday evening, the 'Theocratic Ministry School' is held. The School is designed to train publishers to be more effective in their ministry. The publishers are trained in how to use the Bible. Over the course of a few years, the entire Bible is discussed and part of it is read aloud. The publishers are encouraged to read the rest personally. Practical training is then given on how to give a short public talk, do Bible research, and present material to people one might meet in the public ministry. Enrolment is voluntary and open to all congregation members in good standing. At each meeting, six students give brief speeches on pre-selected Bible topics, and an instructor provides feedback. While men who give talks stand in the centre of the stage and address the congregation in an instructing manner, talks by women are given on a table to the side of the stage and are usually enactments of a day to day scenario such as witnessing to a neighbour. Female students who give talks have to write it in a script format and are assigned a partner who helps play out the scenario. Constructive comments are provided to students after the talk either by the School overseer on stage or in person to the student. Congregations with large numbers enrolled in the School may simultaneously hold a Second School at the same time as the Ministry School. If selected to present in the Second School, students are assigned the same topics and talks as students in the main School but present it to a smaller audience in another room of the Kingdom Hall.
Announcements are usually 10 minutes long and occur after the second song and before the Service Meeting. They can be made by Elders and Ministerial servants depending on the material covered. Announcement content can include finances, greetings sent by other congregations, the number of auxiliary pioneers for a certain month, assembly dates, working bees, available literature, newly baptised and unbaptized publishers and to inform the congregation of visiting witnesses from other congregations. Disfellowshippings and disassociations are also announced during this time.
The Service Meeting
The Ministry School meeting is followed by the 'Service Meeting', a training program for preaching work. This 45-minute meeting gives the publishers instructions on how to be more efficient in their door-to-door ministry. Our Kingdom Ministry, a monthly publication, outlines material to be covered during Service Meetings.
The Public Talk
An elder or ministerial servant delivers a discourse on a Bible-based subject. The speaker may be from the local congregation or from a nearby congregation. This Public Meeting is generally held on Sundays, but may be on another day if that is more convenient for the congregation (this is most usual when more than 4 congregations share a Kingdom Hall). The talk is particularly directed toward interested members of the public who are not Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Watchtower Study
Generally following the Public Talk, after the intermission of a Kingdom Song, is the Watchtower Study. The Bible is studied with the aid of an article in the Watchtower magazine. An experienced elder leads the discussion from the platform. Questions from the article are posed to the audience after the reading of each paragraph, with review questions typically asked at the end of an article. The Public Talk and Watchtower Study together usually last 2 hours.
The Book Study
At a separate time during the week the 'Congregation Book Study' is held, for which Witnesses meet in groups of about 10 to 15, usually in the private homes of members, and typically lasting an hour. Spiritual topics are covered using a study book or a brochure prepared by Jehovah's Witnesses. The material usually has some questions prepared to initiate discussion. The format and conductor-reader arrangement is similar to the Watchtower Study, but the meeting format is less formal and more interactive. The elder who serves as conductor for a book study group is generally loosely responsible for 'shepherding' those publishers who attend it and for organizing field service meetings and arrangements for them. In areas exercising a ban on the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses, such book study groups become "mini-congregations" that meet individually for all meetings except on occasion. This allows their activity to go relatively unnoticed by governmental authorities as would larger gatherings.
Memorial of Christ's Death
Jehovah's Witnesses commemorate Christ's death by observing The Lord's Evening Meal, or Memorial, each year on Nisan 14 of the Jewish calendar. They believe that this is the only celebration commanded for Christians in the Bible, often citing Jesus' words in 1 Corinthians 11:25-26 (NWT), "'Keep doing this ... in remembrance of me'". Of those who attend the Memorial, a small minority worldwide will partake of the eating of the unleavened bread and the drinking of the wine.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only a small minority, called the "anointed," can partake of the bread and wine. The persons who actually partake, are in general considered of the "anointed," who will reign with Christ in heaven over a future Paradise earth. It is common for the bread and wine to be passed and have no partakers. Those with an earthly hope of everlasting life are attending as observers of this important occasion.
- Reliving Jesus' Last Days on Earth - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site
- The Last Days of Jesus' Human Life - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site
Although in general respecting the law of the land, Jehovah's Witnesses do not salute flags, sing national anthems, or pledge allegiance to any state or nation. This is not intended as disrespect for any particular nation or for governments, as Witnesses recognize the legitimacy of political leaders. They make a distinction, however, between a show of respect and what they consider to be a manifestation of worship. Jehovah's Witnesses feel that saluting a flag or singing a national anthem crosses the dividing line between the two.
For Jehovah's Witnesses, Neutrality is defined as:
- "The position of those who do not take sides with, or give support to, any of two or more contending parties. It is a fact of ancient and modern-day history that in every nation and under all circumstances true Christians have endeavored to maintain complete neutrality as to conflicts between factions of the world. They do not interfere with what others do about sharing in patriotic ceremonies, serving in the armed forces, joining a political party, running for a political office, or voting." - (Reasoning from the Scriptures, pages 269-270)
In this regard, Jehovah's Witnesses feel that their position is similar to that of the early Christians, who refused to sacrifice a few drops of wine or a few grains of incense to the Roman emperors, even when faced with execution.
Among the results of this belief in the United States are several legal cases regarding the Pledge of Allegiance. The early cases, which established that government schools cannot mandate either the recitation of the Pledge or the salute to the flag, all involved Witness students who were being punished or threatened for their refusal.
Some courts in other countries have also protected the Witnesses' right to abstain from patriotic ceremonies. For example, in 1986, the Supreme Court of India held that no one can be forced to join in the singing of the national anthem if the person has a genuine, conscientious religious objection.
In a decision handed down on 1 March 1993, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses in a case involving Witness youths who were expelled from school because they respectfully declined to salute the flag.
Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to serve in military organizations, citing the principle they call Christian Neutrality. They understand Jesus' words, "They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world," to mean that they should take a neutral stand concerning political and military controversies. 
Historically, this stance has created serious difficulties for Jehovah's Witnesses, particularly during war times. During World War II, young Witnesses in a number of countries were executed for their conscientious objection to war; even in more democratic countries they were generally refused exemption from conscription and have often been imprisoned.
Currently, there is less conflict between Witnesses and most governments over this matter, as many countries have abolished conscription, or recognized the views of conscientious objectors. In certain republics of the former Soviet Union, however, as well as in South Korea, Singapore, and some countries in Africa, young Witness males continue to serve prison terms in connection with this issue.
In accordance with the principle of Christian Neutrality, referred to above, Jehovah's Witnesses are discouraged from voting in elections, but not prohibited from voting.  They do not run for any political office, but do not seek to prevent or discourage non-Witnesses from doing so.
Jehovah's Witnesses are a close-knit community (members address each other as Brother and Sister) and take seriously the Scriptural injunction to "be no part of the world," thus many are not inclined to socialize with non-members, whom they consider "bad association".
Since a Witness has social interactions while on the job or at school, he or she is encouraged to use these times for witnessing to non-members. Such contacts are often used as opportunities for starting conversations about their beliefs, referred to as "informal witnessing".
Each congregation operates under the oversight of a body of elders. Social events deemed to be wholesome are encouraged, since they strengthen the bonds of the congregation. However, if elders deem a social event to be inappropriate, scripture or elsewhere-published spiritual information is brought to the attention of those deemed to be in need of it to discourage attendance. Large social gatherings without proper oversight are discouraged.
Although many young Witnesses do engage in casual recreational sports, the association discourages its members from extensively participating in athletic activities to avoid giving undue importance to sports or recreation. Members are discouraged (but not prohibited) from watching or participating in violent sports. An exception would be an inherently violent sport, such as boxing, for which participation could result in disfellowshipping.
Members not of marriageable age are strongly discouraged from courting, which, the Witnesses believe, is for those considering marriage only and should be avoided until both members are prepared for marriage. Little research has been done on the average age at which Witnesses marry, but former and current members agree that witnesses are more likely to marry at an early age - often between their late teens and early twenties. A 1994 survey in which all Jehovah's Witnesses in the Germany were invited to participate, revealed that only 4.9% of them are divorced or separated, and many of these were already in this state before becoming Witnesses. The 2001 academic study ARIS identified an above average number of never-married adults in the U.S. among those self-identifying as Witnesses (27%), as well as below average numbers of unmarried cohabiting adults and separated or divorced adults. The same study noted that 71% of adults self-identifying as Witnesses were female.
Main article: Jehovah's Witnesses and disfellowshipping
All members are expected to abide by by the Bible requirements as understood by Jehovah's Witnesses, and violations of these requirements may result in disfellowshipping, or excommunication. Offenses that can result in disfellowshipping include: Abortion, adultery, apostasy, associating with one who is disfellowshipped or disassociated, bestiality, blood transfusions, drug abuse (non-medical), drunkenness, extortion, fornication, fraud, gambling, heresy, homosexual activity, idolatry, manslaughter, non-neutral activity, incest, interfaith activity, and "loose conduct" - conduct that is immoral but in a minor or not so serious way or associating with persons, who have been disfellowshipped or disassociated themselves. If a baptised Witness begins to teach doctrines contrary to the organisation's interpretation of the Bible it is grounds for disfellowshipping for apostasy. Disfellowshipping only occurs if the member of the congregation is unrepentant, and unwilling to ameliorate the situation. A short announcement is made to the congregation stating the following sentence: "XXX XXX is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses".
Jehovah's Witnesses practice shunning (ignoring) after disfellowshipping and disassociation as they feel that:
- to tolerate violations of the Bible's standards in their ranks would bring reproach on God's name and organization.
- shunning keeps the congregation free of possible corrosive influences
- such a serious consequence may motivate the person in question to re-evaluate his or her course of action
Shunning is also practised when written letters of disassociation have been submitted by an individual, or if it is believed that a person has disassociated by their actions, such as by attending another religion's services; thus Jehovah's Witnesses refer to these as "disassociated".
If a disfellowshipped person repents of his former conduct, he may be reinstated into the congregation. A short announcement is made to the congregation stating the following sentence: "XXX XXX has been reinstated as one of Jehovah's Witnesses." No specific period of time is prescribed before this can happen; in most cases, at least six months pass. Statistics appear to show that about one third of those disfellowshipped eventually return to the group.
Medicine and health
The Witnesses' teachings in general promote a healthy lifestyle. Magazine articles in the Awake! often discuss ways of maintaining both mental and physical health. In general, they encourage standard medical practices such as regular checkups, reliance on modern medical techniques to treat illnesses, etc. except when they consider certain techniques to violate Biblical principles.
They believe that smoking and recreational drug use are incompatible with Witness principles. This is mostly due to the legality, the addictive nature, and established health risks associated with those activities. Drinking alcohol is viewed as permissible in moderation. Drunkenness is not permitted.
Overview of blood-based treatments
Jehovah's Witnesses view of blood has been a common source of controversy. Though Jehovah's Witnesses view "Abstinence from blood" to have health benefits, their basis for the belief is a spiritual rather than medical in nature. Their stand on blood has historically been to reject whole blood transfusions or any of the four major components of blood, (red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma and platelets). However, recent JW publications state that a number of "blood products can be used by a Jehovah's Witness as a matter of personal choice and without any sanction from the local congregation. The June 15, 2000 Watchtower made subtle but important changes to official policy. These relate primarily to the way blood products are classified. As a result, Jehovah's Witnesses now have the right to make a personal decision regarding the use of all blood fractions including the "mother of all fractions" hemoglobin, the single largest blood component after water." Reference: article, "Watchtower Blood Policy Changes Again." by AJWRB (Jehovah's Witnesses for Reform on Blood)
In 1952, The Watchtower stated: "The matter of vaccination is one for the individual that has to face it to decide for himself. Each individual has to take the consequences for whatever position and action he takes toward a case of compulsory vaccination, doing so according to his own conscience and his appreciation of what is for good health and the interests of advancing God's work. And our Society cannot afford to be drawn into the affair legally or take the responsibility for the way the case turns out."
The Witnesses' position on organ transplants has also changed over time.
Concerning organ transplants and autopsies, The Watchtower stated in 1967: "Is there any Scriptural objection to . . . accepting organs for transplant from such a source? Humans were allowed by God to eat animal flesh and to sustain their human lives by taking the lives of animals, though they were not permitted to eat blood. Did this include eating human flesh, sustaining one's life by means of the body or part of the body of another human, alive or dead? No! That would be cannibalism, a practice abhorrent to all civilized people. . . Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic. However, in allowing man to eat animal flesh Jehovah God did not grant permission for humans to try to perpetuate their lives by cannibalistically taking into their bodies human flesh, whether chewed or in the form of whole organs or body parts taken from others."
In 1980, the same magazine wrote that some "sincere Christians" felt that the Bible did not rule out medical transplants of human organs. It said: "Clearly, personal views and conscientious feelings vary on this issue of transplantation. It is well known that the use of human materials for human consumption varies all the way from minor items, such as hormones and corneas, to major organs, such as kidneys and hearts. While the Bible specifically forbids consuming blood, there is no Biblical command pointedly forbidding the taking in of other human tissue. For this reason, each individual faced with making a decision on this matter should carefully and prayerfully weigh matters and then decide conscientiously what he or she could or could not do before God. It is a matter for personal decision.
Abortions are forbidden, on the basis of the belief that human life starts at conception. An issue of Awake! magazine stated: "There might be a situation in which, at the time of childbirth, a choice has to be made between the life of the mother and that of the child. It would be up to the individuals concerned to make that choice. In many lands, however, advances in medical procedures have made this situation very rare." They are not against contraception, as long as the contraceptive method works by preventing conception.
Alternative forms of medical treatment are an area for personal decision. Aside from such things as discussed above, the Watchtower Society's official position on medical and health issues is that it "does not make recommendations or decisions for individuals on medical and diagnostic practices. If certain practices have aspects that are questionable in the light of Bible principles, however, attention may be called to these. Then each person can weigh what is involved and decide what to do." This would include a wide variety of practices such as tantra, shamanism, yoga, crystals, acupuncture, herbology, etc. Each issue should be examined on its own. For example:
- Traditional Chinese Medicine: Jehovah's Witnesses' have no official position on whether or not Traditional Chinese Medicine including Acupuncture and Herbology are acceptable or unacceptable for Christians. Based on a recent Awake! article, it states "Awake! does not endorse any particular treatment for health problems. Christians should be certain that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles." In that article, they simply describe the different remedies, and leave it open to whether a Christian could utilize any of the techniques listed. Within the organisation, there are members who are practising herbologists and acupuncturists, especially among Chinese congregations.
Disaster relief to those within the organization is an important aspect of organizational activities. The organization of such relief is taken care of by the governing body in collaboration with a committee appointed by them. 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 to some degree. The French Branch Office's AidAfrique organization, for example, provides material help to Witnesses experiencing disasters in Africa.
Jehovah's Witnesses offer literacy programs in some countries where there is a need. 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 68% for the population in general.
For this purpose, two booklets have been produced: Learn to Read and Write (1958 in Spanish) and Apply Yourself to Reading and Writing (1983 in French; 1997 in English).
For those with limited reading ability and comprehension, the magazine You Can Be God's Friend offers the ability to prepare for baptism without the standard literacy-intensive process.
Notes and references
- Determined to Follow God’s Way of Life The Watchtower January 15 1999 p. 6
- Worship and Conventions
- "They Are No Part of the World" Worship the Only True God 2002, p. 159.
- Watchtower 1 Nov 1999. p.28.
- Jealous for the Pure Worship of Jehovah, The Watchtower September 15, 1995, p. 11.
- The Bible's Viewpoint - Why Disfellowshipping Is a Loving Arrangement Awake! September 8, 1996, p. 96.
- Be a Vessel for Honorable Use, The Watchtower March 15 1973, p. 182.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, p.180
- Maintain a Balanced View of the Use of Alcohol, The Watchtower December 1, 2004, p. 18.
- Questions From Readers The Watchtower, 15 December 1952 p.764
- The Watchtower, November 15, 1967, page 702.
- Questions from Readers The Watchtower March 15, 1980, p. 31.
- The Choices, the Issues Awake! September 22, 2004, p. 6.
- Awake! September 8, 1987, page 28.
- The Watchtower December 15, 1994, p. 19
- Yoga - Just an Exercise or Something More? The Watchtower August 1, 2002, p. 20. Web version available at http://www.watchtower.org/library/w/2002/8/1a/article_01.htm.
- Awake! November 8, 2000. Web version available at http://www.watchtower.org/library/g/2000/11/8/article_01.htm.
- Giving That Pleases God The Watchtower June 1, 2003, p. 4.