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Most everyone has had contact with missionaries of multiple faiths who come knocking at the door anxious to talk about God and religion. Many are keen to ask them to leave before getting their back history or any sort of personal information. While most have heard about Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, many are not aware of the theological basis for their proselytizing and the institutional expectations that drive them.
One of the fastest growing denominations in the country with a current membership hovering around 1.1 million, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim special and unique insight into the Bible and God’s purposes and will for people today. Each member is expected to proselytize on a regular basis. One can find them going door-to-door and two-by-two in any given big city or small town in America and increasingly throughout the world. They bare what they believe is a special message from God.
As a general rule, while they would like to come inside and talk, most just leave a few pamphlets called the Watchtower and Awake! Founded in 1870 by Charles Taze Russell in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that in order to be saved one must live a clean moral life, repent of one’s sins, study the scriptures and acquire knowledge about the true nature of God and his purposes.
Those who have been faithful in executing God’s will are awarded eternal life while others will be given a second chance. There is no hell for disbelievers as all are resurrected, but there are those who have sinned against the Holy Ghost whose consciousness will be annihilated at death.
Known as the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they possess a purer, more original translation based upon the earliest known sources. This translation is the impetus for their teachings. Because of the severe restrictions on who can attain eternal life it is imperative for membership that the good word be shared and communicated so that everyone can get the opportunity to accept.
Other missionaries that may turn up at the front door are the Mormon Elders. Representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a membership of over 15 million, colloquially referred to as the Mormon or LDS Church, these elders come two-by-two with a message, while similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is rather unique. They claim that God visited a boy named Joseph Smith in 1820 in a grove of trees in Upstate New York. The message given was that God would set up not only a true church, but also provide a new set of scriptures referred to as the Book of Mormon or golden plates. Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ to go side-by-side with the traditional canonical gospels.
Missionaries arrive at the door prepared to share a message that God has restored the ancient church they claim Christ originally set up but then fell into apostasy shortly after the death of the original apostles. The Church actively encourages all faithful young male members to go on two-year missions at age 18 right out of high school. Females, while not so encouraged, have the option of serving as missionaries as well but they have to wait until they are 19 years old.
Mormons portray themselves as a family oriented group of like-minded Christians whose first order of business is to live worthily so that these families can be sealed together for time and eternity. These sealings take place in what they refer to as temples similar to those found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
When the knock comes and missionaries are at the door, whether Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon, they are spreading a word they believe can result in salvation. While not everyone appreciates the visit and some see it as an intrusion, these missionaries have been taught that part of what it means to be a righteous person is sharing the message with others. While membership in formal religious organizations is waning both internationally and domestically, membership in these two movements appears to be growing.
Much of that growth is due not only to the large families that tend to come from both, especially Mormons, it is because of the active work of proselytizing that continues unabated. Next time there is a knock at the door there may just be a few missionaries there seeking not just a kindly handshake, but to save someone’s soul.
By Matthew R. Fellows
Photo By Greg Robbins – Flickr License