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Watchman Fellowship gives boost to SWBTS

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FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Watchman Fellowship, a Texas-based nondenominational research and apologetics ministry, has placed its unique library of materials with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The collection will be dedicated during the seminary’s chapel service Oct. 25.

Watchman Fellowship focuses on providing Christian information and resources for understanding new religious movements, cults, the occult and the New Age movement.

Founded in 1978 by David Henke, Watchman Fellowship has built an extensive library of books, files, periodicals and other media that are, for the most part, primary documentation produced by groups such as the Church of Scientology, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others. Upon completion of the placement, the seminary will house more than 45,000 Watchman items in the special collections department of its A. Webb Roberts Library.

“Our goal is what we call the three E’s,” said James Walker, Watchman Fellowship’s president, who was a fourth-generation Mormon before his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. “We educate the community about the differences between biblical Christianity and alternative faiths, equip the church to be able to understand and reach out in love, and evangelize, which we do ourselves and also teach Christians to do through different faith groups.”

Over the past 20 years, Walker said, the ministry obtained the items through legitimate means such as estate sales, used bookstores, donations or transactions with new Christians who saw the benefit of making various documents or errant teachings available for ministry purposes.

“Word has gotten out about Watchman through the years. When people come across materials, they donate to us or allow us to buy from them,” Walker said. “Occasionally, we have paid top dollar for some of the harder to find books.”

The collection contains items such as a replica of an original 1830s-era Book of Mormon produced by the Mormon Church that has been out of print for more than a decade. Compared to more recent versions, it gives evidence of the significant and even radical changes Mormons have made to the Book of Mormon over the years as they have tried to make it more palatable to a broader audience.

Pre-1975 material produced by the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), meanwhile, contains earnest prophecies that Armageddon will happen in 1975, a claim which significantly impacts the group’s credibility.

“This material is invaluable to somebody who is not allowed to read Christian literature, which is common in most cults,” Walker said.

As the fellowship’s collection grew, it became more difficult to house and maintain, requiring an alternate location that would provide, among other things, top-notch security, Walker said.

“Southwestern Seminary has a track record of maintaining, securing and continuing important collections like the one we have,” Walker said. “We want to make it available to the public and help the next generation of ministers, preachers, evangelists and apologists. Jesus told us to beware of false prophets, but how can you beware unless you are aware? It is our hope that our collection is able to give Southwesterners the tools to do those things and to know what the false teachers are about.”

Watchman Fellowship also is a go-to group for news media seeking information when a cult hits the headlines. “When an obscure group commits mass suicide or something like that, the media will often come to us and ask if we know about this group, such as in the case of the Heaven’s Gate cult or the Branch Davidians,” Walker said. “We’ve been on ‘Nightline,’ ‘The News Hour with Jim Lehrer’ and ‘ABC World News Tonight.’ Whenever anything bad happens religion-wise, they usually come to us for answers.”

Berry Driver, Southwestern’s dean of libraries, said the seminary sees the Watchman collection “as an evangelical partnership for the cause of Christ.”

“What really attracted us to Watchman Fellowship is their emphasis on Christian discernment. That is a very important New Testament concept. Spiritual discernment is a spiritual gift and a key factor in their ministry. This collection will be of enormous benefit,” Driver said.

Driver said theft or damage is a real threat to the Watchman collection because leaders of certain cults and false religions do not want “non-believers” to see some of the materials.

“There will be many levels of protection for these materials,” Driver said. Library personnel will limit access to the collection, for example, and it will not be shelved with the general collection. Scholars will have access to the materials, but they will have to receive library clearance beforehand.
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Brent Thompson is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas.