The recent passing of music icon Prince has motivated many people to look at a once little-known fact about his life: his faith. Though he was baptized a Seventh-day Adventist, Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness. He regularly attended services and even knocked on doors, as this CNN.com story illustrates:
On one occasion Prince knocked on a door in a middle class suburb of Minneapolis. A woman answered and stared at the instantly recognizable singer, easily the Twin Cities’ biggest celebrity, Lundstrom recalled. “In the middle of Prince’s very nice Bible presentation, the woman says, ‘Excuse me, but has anyone told you that you look a lot like Prince?’ He looks at her and says, ‘It’s been said.’ Then goes back to his presentation. When the woman asked Prince for his name, Prince said, ‘Rogers Nelson,’” his middle and last name.
One problem in stories like these and other commentary on Prince is that he is often described as a “conservative Christian,” even though Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians. Now, before I explain why Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians, I need to head off some objections, specifically: “How dare you question someone else’s faith!” and “Don’t you have any respect for the recently departed?”
First, when I say Prince was not a Christian, I’m not saying he was a bad person. “Christian” and “good person” are not synonymous. Bad people can be Christians—indeed, all Christians are sinners—and there are good people who happen to be non-Christians. The term Christianrefers instead to people who believe certain truths about God and have received certain sacraments, namely baptism, in accordance with those truths.
Second, I’m not questioning what Prince believed or judging the contents of his heart and soul. I’m assuming that Prince was a faithful Jehovah’s Witness until death. What I am saying is that if someone believes Jehovah’s Witnesses theology, he is not a Christian. Of course, the critic will reply, “Who gave you the right to say who is and isn’t a Christian?”
But even the critic will admit that some people, like Jews or atheists, are not Christians. His criteria for being a Christian is probably “anyone who says he is a Christian,” which makes sense in a world where one’s personal sense of self-identity is allowed to override almost any objective measure of reality. However, if Jesus rose from the dead and left us an authoritative church to guide believers to salvation, then I’m going to go with the definition of Christianity Christ’s Church gives us.
Tangling with the Trinity
The key difference between Christians and non-Christians such as Jehovah’s Witnesses is the doctrine of the Trinity. According to theCatechism of the Catholic Church:
Christians are baptized ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Before receiving the sacrament, they respond to a three-part question when asked to confess the Father, the Son and the Spirit: “I do.” “The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity” (CCC 232).
But Jehovah’s Witnesses emphatically deny the doctrine of the Trinity. They say the Trinity is “the lie that made God a mystery” and is simply “not a Bible teaching.”
Many of their objections to the Trinity can be answered by explaining what it actually is. For example, when Jesus was tempted to worship the devil, he refused and responded by quoting the Old Testament’s command to “worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8).
The Watchtower, the official magazine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, says of this passage, “Jesus made it clear that there is just one God who must be worshipped when he said ‘him alone,’ not ‘us,’ which hewould have said if he were part of a Trinity.” But the Trinity doesteach that there is just one God to be worshiped, and this God is a unity that can be referred to as “him.” God is not a collection to be referred to as “us” but three persons united in one being, each of whom fully possess the divine nature.
Other Jehovah’s Witnesses criticisms of the Trinity try to prove that the doctrine is unintelligible or is a pagan belief that was assimilated by Christian doctrine and is not biblical. For example, one Watchtowerarticle says:
The Trinity, explain Catholic scholars Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, “could not be known without revelation, and even after revelation cannot become wholly intelligible.” Can you really love someone who is impossible to know or understand? The doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, is a barrier to knowing and loving God.
But this objection confuses being incomprehensible with beingunintelligible. Yes, the Trinity cannot be fully comprehended, or understood, in every respect. But just because something is not “wholly intelligible,” it does not follow that it is unintelligible, or nonsense. Jehovah’s Witnesses even admit that their God Jehovah is not completely understandable. According to their training manualReasoning from the Scriptures, “Should we really expect to understand everything about a Person who is so great that he could bring into existence the universe, with all its intricate design and stupendous size?
Since there is nothing else in the universe like the Trinity, we can expect that there would be things we don’t understand about this doctrine, even though on the whole the doctrine is not a logical contradiction. The Trinity is a mystery, but that does not mean it is some unknowable “black hole.” Rather, a theological mystery refers to truths that we would not know if God had not revealed them to us. It is, like other mysteries of the faith, “not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:13).
Jehovah’s Witnesses also claim the term Trinity is a pagan one derived from ancient mythology and is not found in the Bible. It is true that the word does not appear in Scripture, but neither do the wordsGoverning Body, generation of 1914, kingdom hall, or other words associated with many important Witnesses doctrines. This shows that a doctrine does not have to appear in the Bible in order for one to believe it to be true.
Furthermore, the claim that the Trinity is based on mythological “triads” of gods such as Osiris, Isis, and Horus in Egypt is false. These pagan triads are nothing like the Trinity, because they represent three different and competing gods, while the Trinity is one God who is three co-equal, co-eternal persons, or, as Tertullian wrote in A.D. 216, “The unity is distributed in a Trinity. Placed in order, the three are the Father, Son, and Spirit.”
The bottom line
All people, no matter what their beliefs, will eventually stand before God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s why Catholics evangelize, or share the good news about God: so that all people can have a relationship with God before death.
This is especially true when it comes to evangelizing groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who claim Jesus as their savior but deny the deity of Christ. These groups don’t even feel it is appropriate to pray to Jesus, so it is an act of kindness, not arrogance, to correct their mistaken Christology. This is done out of love so that the person can come to know the God who not only became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) but stands ready with the Father to dwell within our very being (John 14:23).
Join me in praying for the soul of Prince and for all those who die with mistaken beliefs about God. In this Year of Mercy especially we have hope of their eternal salvation.