Jehovah's Witnesses believe Jehovah is the personal name of the Almighty God. Jesus Christ, who they believe is God's only begotten son, is the head of the Christian congregation and the model that Jehovah's Witnesses follow.
The modern organization is associated with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, which incorporated in 1884. It began with a small group of Bible students near Pittsburgh. The group was originally known as International Bible Students and adopted the Jehovah's Witnesses name in 1931, based on Isaiah 43:10-12.
Watchtower magazine, which members often distribute during their door-to-door visits, began publication in 1879 and has been published in 125 languages. It is the world's most widely circulated religious magazine. Awake is another magazine published by the church. The worldwide organization is directed by an unpaid governing body from international offices in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Beliefs are based on the principles found in the Holy Bible, leaders say, and they view first-century Christianity as their model. They believe living Bible principles give purpose to life, promote strong family ties and develop productive and honest citizens.
Leaders say many basic doctrines of the church are misunderstood. Examples include some outsiders erroneously believing the faith teaches that only 144,000 will be saved. Witnesses believe the 144,000 are those who will govern in heaven and say salvation is open to as many as who will demonstrate true faith.
Here's a capsule look at some other key Jehovah's Witnesses doctrines and beliefs:
The church does not require tithing or any other formal donation by members.
The church has no clergy-laity division. All baptized members are considered ordained ministers. Congregations are led by elders, who are spiritually mature members, or by qualified assistants who called ministerial servants. There is no paid clergy.
Males are charged exclusively with oversight of the church. Members believe women are not to preside or take the lead of a meeting when qualified men are present. However, as in Biblical times, women properly share in the Christian ministry, preaching from house to house and conducting home Bible studies.
Baptism is by complete immersion.
Members believe in a strong moral code. They believe smoking, overdrinking, drug misuse, gambling, sexual promiscuity and homosexuality are spiritually damaging practices. They teach honesty and good work habits. Members can be disfellowshipped for serious un-Christian conduct — such as theft, drunkenness and adultery — but these people are not shunned and can continue to attend church meetings.
Members are expected to be ardent defenders of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. While the church recognizes the authority of nations to raise armies and defend themselves, members are expected to follow the example of Jesus and early Christians and refrain from participating in the wars and politics of the various nations. They firmly believe they must "beat their swords into plowshares." However, they pay all government taxes.
Members commemorate the memorial of Christ's death, but members are taught to refrain from celebrating holidays — Christmas, New Year's, Halloween, Valentine's Day, etc. — that are believed to have non-Christian or pagan religious origins. They are not opposed to celebrations in general or gift-giving.
Members believe life begins at conception, and while birth control is considered a matter of personal choice, members believe deliberately induced abortion takes human life and goes against church doctrine.
While the church's opposition to blood transfusions is well documented (based on Acts 15:20/Acts 21:25), the church does not oppose all medical intervention. Church members want good health care and strive to use bloodless surgery if possible. Organ transplants and surgical procedures in which one's own blood can be reused — called blood salvaging — are matters of personal choice. The church is not opposed to vaccinations for children. It does not believe in faith healing as it is practiced today.
The church teaches that death is the result of sin inherited from the first man, Adam, through his disobedience to God by eating of "the tree of knowledge of good and bad." The church teaches that the dead are conscious of nothing, but God, through Jesus, will resurrect the dead. The church teaches that the Earth will never be destroyed or depopulated and is destined to be a peaceful paradise.