FARMINGTON — Charles Smith grew up immersed in the culture of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. So much so that Smith’s grandparents named their son Charles Taze Smith, after Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the movement that became known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW). Three generations of the Smith family members were busily engaged in “publishing” or distributing the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society’s publications.
Smith graduated from high school in 1966 and set out to become a “Pioneer Minister,” which meant he would give 100 hours per month to JW activities such as home visiting and distributing Watch Tower pamphlets throughout his community.
“We did not participate in school activities, sports or music,” Smith said. “Our lives revolved around being Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
He added, “I always felt fortunate to be a JW.”
Smith avidly took part in the Thursday night ministry schools of his local Kingdom Hall. There he honed his skills in home visitation, debating people on the merits of JW theology, and enlisting people in Bible studies.
Part of his motivation was the fervent belief of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that the 1000-year (millennial) reign of Christ was soon to commence. This promise had been claimed two or three times in the history of the Watch Tower, only to be revised when the time for the end of the world came and went without fulfillment.
Crisis of conscience
Smith said they studied Watch Tower Bible study lessons on Sunday, with a very stiff and formal worship time and a sermon.
But Saturday was their prime time. That is when most of the people would go out knocking on doors, trying to get to as many people as possible with their message.
Then as a young man, Smith experienced a “crisis of conscience.” He had read a book called Crisis of Conscience, an expose of the JW movement by Raymond Franz, a former JW governing body member. Franz called JW theology into question. Watch Tower officials labeled the book “spiritual pornography.” Intrigued by this, Smith read the book and recalls, “It began to turn the lights on.”
He had heard his father express doubts 10 years earlier about the repeated postponements of the millennial reign of Christ. His dad said, “If this doesn’t happen, they will call us false prophets again.”
The Franz book and his father’s worries of the “false prophets” label began to wear on Smith, who was working with his father in the family business, a mobile-home sales firm.
During this season of questioning he prayed, “Jehovah, show me what I have to do for (You) to like me.”
One day during a Kingdom Hall lecture, Smith grabbed a Watch Tower version of the Bible (the New World Translation) and began reading. He said, “I went to 1 John, and I just kept on reading.” He also read a warning in Galatians about some people becoming “antichrists” and preaching “another gospel.”
Smith continued reading throughout the lecture, and he got to I John 5:9 where it says, “If we accept the witness of men, the witness of God is greater. Because this is the witness God gives, the witness that he has given about his Son” (New World Translation).
“That is an important piece of Scripture if you are looking for the truth,” Smith said. “I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ” right there in the Kingdom Hall.
That began a spiritual search that led Smith to renounce the religion of his family and embrace Christianity when he was 38 years old.
The cost of following Jesus
This, of course, caused a rift in his family, and he was ostracized from the Kingdom Hall. “I began telling them about my faith in Christ and people looked at me like I was crazy,” he said.
Smith wrote letters to many of his relatives, telling them about the truth of the gospel he had discovered. Immediately he was called in to meet with a committee of JW leaders and was called a “wolf in Jehovah’s spiritual paradise.” They disfellowshipped him.
His wife divorced him. Both of his children would not speak to him for many years, although his daughter did eventually get saved and baptized at Second Baptist Church, Springfield.
Smith has remarried, meeting his wife, Donna, at the Nazarene church. Eventually, they moved to a Baptist church, preferring the doctrine of the security of a believer. For a time, Smith served as a Baptist pastor in Bonne Terre, Mo.
Now at age 70, he ministers by sharing with folks how to share Christ with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He is part of the Missouri Baptist Apologetics Network and he says he wishes Southern Baptists still had the Interfaith Witness Department (which was, until a few years ago, a ministry of the North American Mission Board).
He has published several booklets on sharing Christ with JWs and he has a few videos on YouTube. He enjoys going out and speaking to churches on the subject. He can be reached at (314) 277-3866 or via email at email@example.com.