I remember being so thrilled at finally laying claim to an abandoned, tired-looking Scofield Reference Bible that had lain forgotten in the lost and found of the Hastings First Baptist Church for longer than the month I anxiously watched for someone to claim the Bible.
This would have been sometime after the fifth or sixth grade but before I was a freshman in high school since my family moved a few weeks into my freshman year. Best guess, junior high school.
It was during the time when there was a movement in various Baptist churches where a young man gave a seminar on the dangers of then-modern rock music because of the use of reverse messaging that the brain catches and subliminally begins to adopt.
In any case, I can’t tell you why that Scofield even initially caught my eye amidst all the other abandoned Bibles there in the room… and gloves and hats and other items found by someone in the congregation— but it did.
I can say that when I opened it and found a world of notes and explanations that I was certain I’d found a real Bible. Not a plain-jane red-letter edition of your basic King James Version Bible, or a red-letter New Testament-Only Bible, but a full-fledged everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-Bible Bible.
Not only did it have Scofield’s notes and references, but it had a chronology. From start to finish, every center column included the time when what was being read on that page was actually taking place. I’d never known such a thing was even a thing, but I was immediately attracted to it.
Of course, being the sometimes-practical person I seem to be, I immediately jumped to the end to find out when the events in Revelation were going to happen and Jesus would come back.
“A.D. 96” I saw in the closing column of the Scofield Bible.
Well, that was anti-climactic, to say the least.
But it stirred an interest in me to learn more, and starting with the account in Genesis as this man completely unknown to me walked me through his perception of the Bible, a view that I would years later learn was called Dispensationalism.
Scofield introduced me to the visions of Daniel and to the startling visions of the Revelation, and the arising of an anti-christ, as well as the Great Tribulation and the Lake of Fire.
I still have and use that beat-up old Scofield I’d met in a lost and found, by the way.
It wasn’t until years later, during my first marriage, that I found my desire to revisit the Bible prophecies revivified, and in the process I was forced to recognize numerous errors made by Scofield (and really, Dispensationalism), whom I’d considered as near as gospel as I’d encountered to that point in my life.
I was flipping through the channels one Sunday morning, a whim, really, when I caught an episode of The World Tomorrow, hosted by David Hulme for the World Wide Church of God— founded by a man named Herbert Armstrong.
Tensions on the world scene were pretty high during this time, as I remember, and I watched every episode I could as I saw nightly news footage overlaid by various statements found in the book of Daniel and The Revelation, and Jesus’ own predictions to dispel any remaining doubt that we are living in the “last days,” with Bible prophecies of old about to be unleashed upon a disobedient and wicked world.
I ordered every booklet the World Wide Church of God offered, with everything gratis and paid for by the WWCoG’s own congregants, thankfully, since my family was living in near-poverty at this stage in my life.
There was no question in Armstrong’s mind that we were living in the “last days” prophesied about in the Bible, and I was certainly inclined to agree with him not only based on the scriptures he used in explaining his position, but on what I was seeing every day on the news. Those were the days when I feasted on CNN’s Headline News channel, there was so much happening on the world scene— with world war inevitable.
So, seeing the words of Daniel and the Revelation shown against a backdrop of real footage of modern-day armed conflicts with military helicopters and missiles and nuclear weapons capable of unleashing a fiery Armageddon leading to a Tribulation greater than any known before or would ever come again all lent themselves to a pretty convincing argument.
I was certainly convinced!
But then suddenly the television show was gone from cable, the literature stopped being available for ordering, and then the order lines went silent.
There’d been a power move in the upper echelons of the WWCoG following the death of the organization’s founder; I’d been unaware— this was years before the world wide web, when such a thing would’ve been caught in a news feed or a social media site.
Almost immediately afterwards, the WWCoG recanted the entirety of Armstrong’s views and teachings and sough acceptance with mainstream Christianity, adopting doctrines Armstrong had spent most of his lifetime demonstrating as fundamental errors, including Trinitarianism and the Rapture.
And the world went on. Tensions eventually eased between the world superpowers of my generation. Rock music continued to be played and the churches continued to warn against it.
The End didn’t come.
It wasn’t long after the overthrow at the World Wide Church of God and the cancellation of The World Tomorrow that I had my first encounter with a member of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
The Watchtower especially caught my attention because of its close similarities to what I was already familiar with because of the WWCoG publications and the television program’s topics, and became my source of prophetic insight regarding the “last days” that I had become convinced we were living in.
I asked the man from the Watchtower organization bundles of questions, of course, that I’d wanted to ask Armstrong or someone who shared his beliefs, but there were no WWCoG-affiliated churches in the area for me to attend and ask questions— and I had reservations, anyhow, over the mandatory tithing expected of the WWCoG’s membership rather than a suggestion left to “as one is moved in their own heart.” Regardless, I was certain that Armstrong was onto something with his understanding of Bible prophecy.
Really, it was a lateral move, switching from all the literature published by the WWCoG to the literature published by the WTBTS (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), as their understanding of Daniel’s visions, Jesus’ statements about the “last days,” and the stark apocryphal symbolism of The Revelation were hand-in-hand.
At one point, the man, named Ed Hamilton, finally offered me a hand-sized brown book titled Reasoning from the Scriptures— which, he told me, isn’t made available to people outside of the organization but that he’d felt moved to give me a copy because my questions were exceeding his ability to answer.
The book was a compilation of Bible topics and included questions people like me had asked an organizational member at one time or another, apparently.
Ed had been right. Reasoning from the Scriptures became my new “Scofield Reference” from then on, and I devoured its contents, I’d been so starved since the drying up of WWCoG literature.
Time moved on as I continued to ask for and receive the magazines, always in pairs, and I eventually decided to learn more about “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and attended a Memorial program held at the Holt Assembly Hall in Michigan, where the Watchtower organization’s members re-enact the passing of the emblems— bread and wine— to everyone in attendance.
Ed had, prior to attending, taken the time to explain to me that only very special believers partake of the emblems when they are passed around— individuals who had a personal conviction by holy spirit that they were destined to live eternally in the heavens with Jesus— and that everyone else is hoping toward life forever upon the Earth, and sitting in attendance and witness of this observance.
This last rang true in my heart, of course, because I loved this planet and everything about it except what humans did to ruin it in the process of hurting and killing each other, and multitudes of others in the process with their wars and such. I loved the idea that I would get to live forever on Earth!
So, I passed the emblems, just as they’d been passed to me, as I sat enthralled with the solemnity of the Memorial. The words in the talk moved me deeply, as well, and before leaving that evening I let Ed know that I did want to begin a Bible study.
Skip still more years as I reluctantly, finally asked to begin the process of becoming a member of the organization, beginning with the process of answering a multitude of questions about one’s acceptance of the doctrines and direction of the Watchtower organization’s leadership and finally being approved to be baptized in recognition of my affiliation with the WTBTS as a member.
I’d come to have reservations about assertions being made by this point, but figured they would either diminish with the passing of time or find resolution with continued prayer and personal study; and so I was baptized so I could identify myself as “one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
And then the World Wide Web happened.
I’d been intrigued by developments in the computer world since first encountering the Timex/Sinclair ZX-81 which an uncle built from a kit that he ordered through the mail when I was living again in Ionia during my freshman year in high school. As a result, I was into the WWW a long time before it became mainstream for a then-dial-up audience.
The saying “curiosity killed the cat” proved to be true in my case as I first discovered a Usenet group which discussed Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was stunned at all the accusations and assertions being made about us Jehovah’s Witnesses, and immediately began to try responding to the posts I was finding.
This, in turn, motivated me to research their claims— surely the Watchtower organization was being misrepresented, I just needed to find the proof. With the www, this became possible.
The problem was, nearly everything I was reading from ex-members and anti-JWs was true, and I was finding the doctrinal statements and eschatological assertions for myself from neutral sources… and the Watchtower organization’s own literature!
First I was stunned, then I was upset.
Why hadn’t I been told about any of this during my years of Bible study then association and finally acceptance for membership?!
I raised that question and others of my elders, with the explanation having to do with “old” light and “new” light— even though I was asking about occasions where a doctrine was switched back to what had already been declared “old” “obsolete” light.
The official position for members, I learned, was to “wait on Jehovah.” If Jehovah wants it straightened out, He will be the one to do it. Never mind that down through Biblical history, Jehovah used nobody’s to let the leaders of the Jews something was amiss and demanded attention.
Something else happened when that took place, down through Biblical history: the leadership killed the messenger.
So it was, in due course, that I summarily had my membership revoked by the Watchtower organization and everyone who knew me from my years of association was told that I was “no longer” a member of the group.
My crime: apostasy
I had made myself an enemy of God by asking questions like, “If the organization’s leadership was wrong about 1876, 1914, and 1975— why should I believe them now concerning eschatology?” and where was the ownership of error as an act of humility on the part of the leaders who believed they led God’s “modern-day earthly organization” as the “faithful and discreet slave”?
I wrote a letter expressing my concerns, and that led to the judicial committee where it was decided I was a problem and the solution was excommunication.
But their showing me the door didn’t change the facts they refused to speak candidly with me concerning, and because of the WWW going mainstream, now millions know what I knew back then about this religious organization which— like the WWCoG— was overthrown by its founder’s successors and became something very different from what it was in its beginnings.
In spite of its gaffs about Jesus’ returning in 1876, then 1914, then 1975, the Watchtower organization still continues to cling to its eschatology, although the players of Bible prophecy have changed. Where the “faithful and discreet slave” was identified initially as Charles Taze Russell, after his passing it then came to be identified as the collective of “anointed ones” among the organization’s membership until it became common knowledge that they weren’t being sought out by the organization’s leadership— and then the “faithful and discreet slave” became identified with the leadership itself, where it remains as of this writing, I think.
The Watchtower organization continues to adhere to the belief that Jesus’s second coming is just ahead of us a century after asserting that the people-then living would never die because the prophesied End was that imminent.
100 years ago.
They’re not alone, however. A multitude of Christian sects likewise anticipate the imminent arrival of Jesus in his second coming, and events including the Great Tribulation and Armageddon. A number of them have likewise been found guilty of encouraging false expectations, and the internet now makes these gaffs verifiable and accessible as I continue to see people try proving that we are living in the “last days” spoken of in the Bible.
So which one should I believe when they all seem to keep proving themselves wrong by their own words and expectations— worse, insisting that I believe and teach it, whether it should prove true or not!!
—Timothy B. Kline, September 17, 2019