COLUMBIA — More than 4,000 people gathered over the weekend in Mizzou Arena for the annual Jehovah's Witness convention, “Keep on the Watch!” They heard speeches and testimonials regarding the faith and read passages from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
The three-day district convention concluded Sunday. It was open to the public and welcomed people outside the faith.
To read the extended interview, go to faithinfocus.wordpress.com. Charles Allyn and Sean Cotton discuss their views on heated issues, including blood transfusions, homosexuality, child birthdays and divorce.
The sessions highlighted how biblical figures such as Noah, Moses and Jeremiah prepared for large events and urged attendees to follow suit in preparation for the end of the world: What Jehovah’s Witnesses believe is an impending restoration of God’s kingdom to the time of paradise described in the book of Genesis. Speakers and skits addressed family spirituality and suggested that parents structure a weekly night to study the Bible with the whole family. Speakers referenced each other as brother or sister.
About 40 people were also baptized at the Saturday service, which is equivalent to ordination for a practicing Jehovah’s Witness.
Speakers announced that in January 2010, congregations will be able to use a new song book to sing from, which will include 42 new additions. “Sing to Jehovah!” will feature 135 songs, which has been reduced from the previous 225.
Sean Cotton, 40, is an elder at an Oakland Park congregation, and Charles Allyn, 57, of Springfield, is a circuit overseer. Cotton joined the faith after hearing about it as a child, and Allyn joined after hearing about it in the military. Both responded to questions about the Jehovah’s Witness faith and lifestyle.
Q: What does the phrase "Keep on the Watch" mean?
Allyn: Well, that was from Jesus’ words there, when his disciples asked him a question about basically ‘What is it gonna be like in the time of the end?’ And so he was alerting them for things to keep on the watch. I think the brother who gave the talk, mentioned how different attitudes ... could affect us and maybe cause us to fall asleep spiritually.
Q: Have you had such an experience where you’ve fallen asleep spiritually?
Allyn: Well, the way to overcome your spiritual sleep is just to get into a good spiritual routine. Our meetings help us — a lot of it we gotta do on our own, personal study, prayer to God. Yeah, I’d have to say there’s were times in the past, you know, I just got a little lax, lethargic spiritually. A scripture that we would want to heed is 1 Corinthians 15:58 where Paul writes ‘consequently my beloved brothers become steadfast unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain.’ Just staying busy.
Cotton: When we say ‘Keep on the Watch,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone listening is spiritually asleep but one of the parts today drew on Jesus’ illustration about a thief. And no one knows when the thief is coming but if you did know a thief was coming, why you’d be extra alert. And so we know that this system as we know it is going to change — is going to come to an end. God’s kingdom is going to make changes upon the earth. And so, knowing that, the call is for us to be extra alert for the signs that show that time is getting nearer.
Q: The idea of a designated weekly family worship night in the home was discussed. Would this be beneficial for families of this faith?
Cotton: Well, it’s important for families to spend time together. And to communicate. And we do a busy theocratic schedule. But our organization has encouraged that we set aside time for families to work on building up their spirituality right within their home. And it’s tailored to the things that they consider about God’s word and the Bible and to what their family’s facing — the raising of their children, or the challenges their children face in school or meeting the economic challenges that exist right now. Each family takes a responsibility to apply God’s word in their home.
Q: Is the idea of the end of the world, which has been threaded through the convention, is this to be feared or celebrated or somewhere in between?
Cotton: Well, the Bible talked about this good news of the kingdom that must be preached to the entire heaven and earth. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known for preaching and teaching God’s word to their neighbors and, just as Jesus said, this is good news. Because it’s going to be the end of wickedness and the suffering we see today. So if we desire a change in the world and we want to live under that kingdom, then it’s not gloom and doom but it’s rather something to look forward to.
Q: What happens after this period has arrived?
Allyn: You mean when God intervenes? Well, you get back to the original purpose. Which, where did God put Adam and Eve when we created them? In a garden paradise, told them to have children and to fill the Earth. Had they stayed obedient to God, as a family they’d multiply and the garden would become too small. They just would’ve had to expand it. That’s what’s gonna happen. God never forsook that purpose, but it will come to completion now.
Q: So, in terms of the Bible, from what I understand, Jehovah’s Witnesses take a pretty literal interpretation of the text?
Allyn: No, there are a lot of things that are symbolic. Especially, when you get into the book of Revelation. We don’t take everything strictly literal.
Cotton: And the Bible interprets itself. What is common in one book is oftentimes made more clear in another book of the Bible.
Q: Some might contend that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been saying the end has been coming for some time. How would you respond?
Allyn: If we knew the day and the hour, we’re actually benefited by not knowing. Hopefully we’ll be prepared for it when it does come. Another thing too is we get locked into thinking in 70, 80 years — things have to be done on our time schedule. Thinking about how God counts time, we are very close.
Q: What is it about this time in history that makes it time for God’s kingdom to be restored?
A: Jesus was asked that question in Matthew 24:3. He was asked by his disciples what would be the conclusion. Jesus went on for two chapters and gave a very detailed sign. And so, looking at his answer, and seeing what’s going on in the world today, it’s like a fingerprint. It’s undeniable. As one of the speakers brought up, we’ve always had wars, but you’ve got a multi-faceted sign here on a worldwide scale.
Q: What examples from today support this?
A: Jesus mentioned the wars, the earthquakes, the food shortages, love of the greater number cooling off, you know, just people’s love toward one another, love toward God especially cooling off, people’s being lovers of pleasures, things like that. Most people would say, ‘Yeah, that’s today.’ But that’s the beautiful thing about free will. People do have free will, but we do encourage people to consider these ideas. It should be an educated decision. We’ve studied the Bible, and that’s what we’d encourage others to do.