Thirty-Five Years in the Watchtower
By: Burt Noyes
"Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ, has been born from God."
(1 John 5:1----- NWT)
As I read this verse, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. (Acts
9:18) I had come to appreciate in a more complete sense God's mercy and
grace, and how important my relationship with his son Jesus was. Thirty-five years of training and indoctrination by the Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society were quickly being eroded by a new-found desire to understand
God and his Holy Word, the Bible. (1 Corinthians 11:3) This conversion
from a man-made religion to a faith and belief based on God's Holy Spirit
and truth was really a culmination of events that started in the mid-
It was in 1965 that my father was first exposed to the Jehovah's
Witnesses. His marriage to my mother was on the rocks, and lack of
fulfillment both personally and secularly made him a prime target for the
Watchtower teachings. He was a brilliant man who had wasted his vast
potential on drinking, womanizing and the fast life. The opportunity to be
a "somebody" in the Watchtower Organization coupled with the gloom-and-doom prophecy of 1975 proved a powerful draw to him, as it did to
hundreds of thousands in the late 1960's to early 1970's. By 1966, when I
was three years old, my father and mother both became baptized JWs. In
the next few years, my grandparents, 2 aunts, and uncle took the same
My father made rapid advancement, becoming a Book Study Conductor in
the local congregation and was appointed an elder when that arrangement
was established in 1973 (my grandfather was appointed at the same
time). My life and training were centered around the JWs from 1966 on,
and our family looked forward to the end of the "system of things" in 1975.
My parents continued having children, until I had six younger brothers and
Meetings and field service were automatic, and there was never a question
as to what was the priority in our family. I was repeatedly told that I was
so fortunate to be able to grow up in the very last days of this "system",
that I would never have to worry about graduating from school, finding a
job, or having a family in this system. Nevertheless, I continued to do well
in school, consistently being at the head of the class.
In 1970, my father had been asked by the Circuit Overseer to go and help
an inner-city congregation in Rochester, NY. The congregation was mostly
black, and was meeting in a shambles of a Kingdom Hall on Berlin St.
Unbeknownst to him, the C.O. (who was Asian) was a racist, and had it in
for the congregation servant. (title formerly given to the Presiding
Overseer) My father, being idealistic and naive, ended up serving as a
unknowing accomplice in an effort to remove this faithful man.
The C.O. sent in other white elders, and with the help of one black elder,
succeeded in removing this faithful man from his post and also stripped
him of his pioneering privileges, which he had done continuously for over
20 years. The matter was viewed so seriously that my father and the black
turn-coat elder actually made an appearance before the Governing Body in
Brooklyn Headquarters. The GB ruled in favor of the white elders and the
faithful black brother was removed. (so much for God's spirit-directed
(Interestingly, as years passed on, the brother was restored to his
eldership, while all the elders who railroaded him have drifted away or
After the fiasco, my father decided to move the family to the Finger Lakes
of NY, where we attended a congregation with a mixture of local farmers
and commuters to the city of Rochester. The cong. was under the control
of a eloquent, powerful, but young presiding overseer, and half the
congregation was related to this elder. As a result, the elder body was
split into two factions, the country elders vs the city elders.
While attending this congregation, the much-anticipated year of 1975
came and went. One of my most vivid memories was seeing the book
"Famine 1975" in the Kingdom Hall library. The WatchTower Society had
had used this book liberally in support of it's now failed prophecy.
There was a different attitude in the post-1975 period. My aunt, who by
the way had 6 children, had been putting off dental work on all of her
children in the early 70's, thinking that it wasn't necessary to do so with
the "New Order" so close at hand. Discouragement over the delay of
Armageddon was also evident in the activity of the congregation. Field
service and meeting attendance was noticeably declining, and our family
service activity on weekends wasn't "automatic" anymore.
Meanwhile, the situation in our family was deteriorating. My father who
had seven children, was loaded with debt, and lost his job; also, a deep
rift had developed in the congregation, pitting my father and another elder
against the country faction.
It all came to a head when serious wrongdoing was uncovered in the P.O.'s
family. Such wrongdoing as incest, rape, adultery, drunkenness, spouse
and child abuse had become entrenched in the cong. and the P.O. was
using his power to cover up these sins and protect his family and position.
(I always found it amazing that such people could tolerate, even
participate, in such wrongdoing and then have the nerve to shun a
disfellowshipped brother or sister.)
The situation became so intolerable that my father asked to be deleted,
which the elder body was more than happy to do. After his deletion, my
father became inactive, even missing the most-hallowed annual Memorial
Celebration. My younger brother followed suit, while my mother and I tried
to keep ourselves and younger children active in the congregation.
In the meantime, I was nearing completion of high school. I scored
extremely high on my SAT's and had won a statewide scholastic
competition, and had handfuls of scholarship offers to every major college
in the country in the mail box daily. My math teacher had even arranged a
special grant through a state college that would let me earn a good living
in research while I earned a degree. Although I wanted terribly to go to
college so I could have a career that followed my natural interests, I knew
how my parents and the congregation viewed college education. To go to
college would have been viewed as a lack of faith that we were in the "last
days." So despite tremendous pressure from school officials and teachers,
upon graduation I decided to apprentice in a trade with a brother in
Eventually, I was blessed with a beautiful wife and four children. I served
as a ministerial servant for many years and was appointed in 1994 as an
elder. Although I hated my career path and was still plying my trade (now
in Florida), I felt the sacrifices I had made in a educational and secular
way were insignificant in comparison to the joy my family and
congregation activity brought. I used to reflect on how fortunate I had
been to grow up "in the truth." I genuinely felt sorry for the "worldly"
people who would soon die in Armageddon.
Any doubts or discrepancies in the WT doctrine I usually swept aside as
inconsequential or left it to Jehovah to clarify later. There were two items
though that I couldn't set aside no matter how hard I tried. The major one
was that despite my training, I could not shake the feeling that I had the
heavenly hope. I knew that I couldn't or shouldn't have this desire
according to the WTS, so I kept waiting on Jehovah to help me cope until
he changed my frame of mind.
Much to my consternation though, I seemed to get continual reminders
that I had been "called." On such occasion was at the Sunday meeting. A
sister who was given to grand-mal seizures so violent she would end up on
the floor started having an unusually intense seizure. I said a brief prayer
to Jehovah, asking him to relieve her in this instance. As I opened my
eyes her seizure stopped suddenly, surprising her husband and her friends.
I was overwhelmed at this point, wondering what Jehovah meant by this. I
recalled James 5:16, about the force of a righteous mans prayer, but what
had just happened to me was contrary to the thinking of the Watchtower
The other item that never seemed to fully resolve itself was the identity of
the "great crowd." I could never see a clear connection between the "other
sheep" of John 10:16 and the "great crowd" of Rev. 7:9. Subsequent
articles over the years failed to convince me of a connection, so I patiently
waited for "increasing light" from Jehovah's "faithful servant."
As the 90's came to an end, I began to regret my decision to skip college.
Many brothers with families and only minimal education like myself were
now working extra hours to care for families that the WTS had said would
never come. In most cases, the wife was also working, and this devotion
to work was having disastrous effects on the JW families. Teenagers and
young adults were leaving the Watchtower in droves. To top it all off, the
WTS was easing it's restrictions on college education. Such a change left a
bad taste in my mouth, but once again, I took solace that I had obeyed
Jehovah and His will at that time.
The WTS also saw fit to change two other "linchpin" teachings. One
concerned the "generation" of Matt 24:34, and I welcomed this change
because it was clearly evident that the WTS had totally mis-interpreted
this part of Jesus' Great Prophecy. The other change, although having less
impact on the congregation, disturbed me greatly.
This had to do with the "judgement" of the sheep and goats in Matt.
25:31-46. The fact that the "new" understanding placed the event in the
future did not upset me. What was appalling was that the "new light" was
nearly identical to the prevailing doctrine of "Christendom". For the WTS to
call this "Judgement Day" teaching wrong for so long and then make a
complete reversal was very unsettling. John's words at 1 John 2:21, where
he wrote that "no lie originates with the truth", made me question the
source of the Watchtower's direction. How Jehovah could use his spirit to
direct his organization to preach a falsehood was beyond me.
While in the midst of dealing with these diverse issues, I had two eye-opening experiences in the field ministry. The first occurred at the door of
a very devout born-again woman. We started talking about Rev. 7, and
she asked if I would wait while she got her Bible. Of course I was thrilled
to talk to such an eager reader of God's Word, so I waited as she got her
Bible. As we began talking, I was amazed at how readily she defended her
beliefs from the Bible (she was more adept than many ministers I'd met in
the door-to-door work). The pages of her Bible were crammed with hand-written marginal notes, and key scriptures were high-lighted or underlined.
After we chatted amicably for several minutes, I ended the call, explaining
that others were waiting for us (can you imagine Jesus doing that, I don't
think so). Before we left, though, I commended her for being such a keen
The next morning was Sunday, and I was handling microphones on the
main aisle in the Kingdom Hall during the Watchtower Study. A feeling of
disgust swept over me as I roamed the aisle, noticing that very few people
had bothered to prepare for the study. Even the elders and their families
were unprepared, one even asking me for a copy since he hadn't even
brought one. I thought back to that woman at the door the day before.
How could these Witnesses sitting here be so arrogant to believe that
they were worthy of salvation, while they would unanimously declare that
woman part of Satan's seed? Who was really trying to discern God's will,
who was really reading His Word and letting it exert power in their life?
At that time I realized that the Watchtower publications had replaced the
Bible, and the Watchtower Society had been substituted for Jesus Christ.
The JWs were smugly relying on their religious affiliation to save them,
not God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. To make matters worse, they had
rendered judgement on other religions, taking that away from Jesus Christ
A short time later, the second pivotal event took place. A brother and I
were in the door-to-door ministry when we came upon a born-again
Christian named Curtis M. Although he wasn't as well-studied as the
woman mentioned earlier, his love of the Bible and his faith in God and
Christ was very evident. We talked a few minutes, read some scriptures,
and I offered him a tract. He said he would like to read it, and that he had
one for me also. He went to get it, and I could see that it wasn't
"apostate", but merely talked about repentance and accepting Christ.
I found myself in a serious dilemma. Being an elder (and needing to set an
example for my service companion), I was obligated to not accept Curtis'
tract. My conscience though, was telling me that there was nothing wrong
with doing so. But I let my loyalty to the Watchtower organization over-ride my conscience, and I declined Curtis' tract. When I did so, Curtis was
crushed. My declining of his tract while I insisted he take mine was clearly
a message of condemnation. I tried to leave on a friendly note, but what I
had done was obviously a slap to his face.
I reflected for months on that incident. I started to feel hypocritical about
the WT policy on accepting literature at the door. In the field service, we
regularly encouraged the householders to compare their religion to the
Bible, and to see if their religion or church had the fruitage we'd expect of
Christ's followers. Our publications shamelessly attacked these religions,
exposing their past mis-deeds and false doctrines. Using selected Bible
verses and Bible commentaries, encyclopedias, historical records and
chronicles, the WT unapologetically discredited all other religions.
Yet, despite our insistence that others investigate their religion, the WTS
forbid us from doing research on it's background. Our study was restricted
to what the WTS published, although we were allowed to use other Bible
translations for comparative study. I started to feel that our stance on this
issue was hypocritical at best, and life-threatening at worse. I still,
though, avoided any material deemed "apostate" knowing that some of it
focused on the short-comings of our brothers, which I felt shifts attention
from the real core problems in the WTS.
My confidence in the WTS was shaken, but key events in the congregation
relating to my responsibilities as an elder would push me further away
from the organization. These had to do with judicial committees I served
on. This judging arrangement is unique to the WT organization, although
various religions have tribunals of some sort.
I was appointed to chairman of a judicial committee dealing with a case of
fornication. Following instructions in the Kingdom Ministry School Textbook
(a confidential elder's manual), I was preparing my opening comments for
our first meeting with the young sister who had sinned. I felt that showing
her from the Bible why we had authority to form a judicial committee and
how it would benefit her would be a fine way to get the proceedings
You can understand my shock and dismay when I found no clear biblical
support for such judicial committees. There were various scriptures about
reproving the erring ones, snatching our brothers from the fire, and casting
out unrepentant wrongdoers. But I was dumbfounded that such an integral
part of congregational over-sight had no clear biblical support. It would
seem that if such an arrangement existed in the early Christian
congregations, there would be some record of it in the Bible.
Later, as I served on other judicial committees, I began to realize why
they didn't have such an arrangement in the primitive church. The elders
on these committees rarely reached a logical conclusion, and the
clandestine nature of these hearings released the elders from any
accountability to the congregation (although the accountability to God is
weightier and unavoidable). It began to occur to me that the judicial
arrangement was wielded as a sword, not a shepherd's staff, and was
contrary to the shepherding that the elders were instructed to carry out in
Even though I was starting to doubt much of what I had believed, I still
resisted the reading of any "apostate" material. I had run across many of
such "apostate" web-sites on the internet, but had "loyally" avoided them.
Fortunately, an ex-JW named Mike had popped in on a JW chat-room on
the internet and made a reference to Francis Hitching, who's book "The
Neck of the Giraffe" was a major source of information for the Watchtower
Society's anti-evolution publication "Life- How did it get here? By Evolution
or Creation?" Mike claimed that Francis Hitching wasn't a scientist after
all, but a paranormal researcher and occultist. Although I rejected most
chat-room claims as half-truths, I felt this claim would be easy enough to
verify on the internet. I used a search engine to find information on
Hitching, and voila, Mike was right after all.
But Hitching's credentials were just the tip of the iceberg. Other articles
on the site exposed many half-truths and outright lies contained in the
"Creation" book. I carefully leafed through every reference, and a pattern
of deliberate deception emerged. I was well acquainted with what real
scientific research and peer-review accomplished, namely scientific and
scholastic integrity. If the "Creation" book was so poorly researched and
bore the mark of scientific fraud, what about other publications? I always
felt that the WTS' integrity was unquestionable, that I could stake my life
and my childrens' lives on them as God's Spokesman. To find out that such
a publication could be so corrupted and biased was devastating to say the
I felt that my life had now reached a critical juncture. My own children
were reaching the age where decisions that would determine their life-course were going to be made. On a personal level, I had given up a
successful business to more fully devote myself to congregation
responsibilities; now I had come to believe the WT religion for which I'd
sacrificed everything was in reality a sham. A feeling of victimization and
depression settled in, and was compounded by further research into the
blood transfusion issue and the WTS' cover-up of it's 1934 appeal to Hitler
and his Nazi party.
I decided to talk to my father, who although totally inactive, still
considered himself a JW. I related to him several of the things I'd recently
read, leading off with the Francis Hitching issue, which seemed to be the
safest place to start. He stiffened right up, and started spouting the usual
"anti-apostate" rhetoric, although I had never mentioned the source of my
information. He pointed out that the new "Creator" book had just been
released, and that maybe it was written to replace a suspect "Creation"
book. He also reminded me that although the WTS had been wrong on
issues in the past, they still proved they were Jehovah's Prophet when
Knorr prophesied in 1942 that the League of Nations would rise out of the
abyss. I calmed him down and assured him that I wasn't going to leave
the "truth", and that I was still faithful to the organization.
The next day, my new issue of the "Awake" came in the mail. The back
page of the cover sent me into shock. The article described how "well
researched and accurate" the "Creation" book was, although by now the
WTS surely knew about the discrepancies that it contained. That night, I
went to the Kingdom Hall and used the library to research Knorr's
"supposed" prophecy. What I found in the older publications was
astonishing. The famous "prophecy" of 1942 by Knorr at the convention
that summer was a complete reversal of what Judge Rutherford's last book
published that same year had said. Not only that, but Knorr used the
expression "United Nations'. How could he have known the exact name of
the new incarnation, when it wasn't established until 1945?
I logged on to the United Nations website, and found a page describing
the founding of itself. The United Nations was actually proposed Jan. 1,
1942, when FDR gave a nationally broadcast speech entitled "Declaration
of United Nations". That day, 24 different countries had signed the
aforementioned Declaration, vowing to wipe out the Axis powers and set
up a new world governing body. So Knorr was just repeating what had
been public knowledge. To confirm my research, I wrote the Roosevelt
Library and received even more corroborating evidence.
The last shred of credibility the WTS had was now cut. I delved head-first
into a very intense research period. I re-read the entire New Testament
and used several Bible translations and commentaries to examine every
teaching unique to the Watchtower Society. Reading "Crisis of Conscience"
by Ray Franz and "Answering Jehovah's Witnesses" by David Reed provided
further enlightenment. Several websites on the internet added more
weight to the evidence that the WTS was a grossly blatant counterfeit of
I told the elder body I no longer desired to be an elder, citing financial and
health problems as the main factors for my deletion. Although much
pressure was brought on me to stay, they fulfilled my request. For the
sake of my wife and children, I declined to tell them the real "truth",
knowing I'd be disfellowshipped. I felt that even though I was strong
enough to handle the "shunning", it would bring unnecessary hardship on
my precious family. Hopefully, with much prayer and God's help, they will
understand what God's will is for us and put their trust in Jesus Christ, not
the usurper of his authority, the WTS.
My long struggle with the "anointed" and "great crowd" issue has finally
been resolved. A great help in this area was Jon Mitchell's "Where is the
Great Crowd Serving God?" I can now eagerly and whole-heartedly look
forward to inheriting God's Kingdom in the fullest sense. The uncertainty
of whether I was good enough to be "saved' has been resolved in my
accepting Christ as my Saviour completely and without reservation.
I pray that God's Spirit and the love of Christ will be with all those who
read this witness I give. Praise be to him forever. Amen
P.S. By the way, our company hired a new installer. It turns out it is Curtis
M., the same man who offered me the tract and unknowingly changed my
life. It'd kind of ironic that declining his tract was more powerful an
influence than if I had accepted it, don't you think? Since joining the
company, we've had genuine Bible discussions that went beyond anything
I ever experienced as a Jehovah's Witness.
Faith & Reason Forum would like to thank Burt Noyes for giving us his testimony for this website.
If you have questions for Burt you are more than welcome to contact him at