Christian faith groups
The Way International (TWI),
founded by Victor Wierwille
"The so-called Christian Church today is built
essentially on man-made doctrine, tradition, confusion, bondage trips, and contradiction
to the word as it was originally God-breathed." The Way Magazine, 1974-SEP/OCT,
Victor Paul Wierwille (1916-1985) was ordained as a minister in 1941
within the Evangelical and Reformed Church. (This denomination later became part
of the United Church of Christ in 1963). He organized a predecessor organization
to The Way in 1942; it was Vesper Chimes, a radio program, broadcast
from Lima OH. He allegedly received a doctor of theology degree in 1948 from Pike's
Peak Bible Seminary in Manitou Springs CO. There have been suggestions that this is a
diploma mill. 1,2 In 1953, after a number of name changes to
his radio program (The Chimes Hour, The Chimes Hour Youth Caravan), and a period
of Bible study, Wierwille designed an educational course called the Power of Abundant
Living. In 1955, (or 1958; sources differ) he incorporated his ministry as The
Way, International a.k.a. TWI. He took the name from
Acts 9:2. "The Way"
was a name used by the early Christians. In 1957, after an unendorsed trip to India, the Evangelical
and Reformed Church asked for his resignation. He complied.
Wierwille is reported as having claimed to have received audible
revelations from God who promised to teach him Christian truths that had been lost in the
Wierwille died of cancer in 1985. The organization survived the loss of
its leader and continued under the control of a board of trustees:
President L. Craig Martindale, Rosalie Fox Rivenbark and John R. Reynolds.
According to the GreaseSpot Cafe,
a group which opposes The Way, Craig Martindale was dismissed fro the
organization due to allegations of sexual transgressions.
Two lawsuits were brought against The Way by former
employees who claimed that they were sexually exploited by Martindale. They were
settled out of court. A third lawsuit was filed by R. Peeler and his wife in
2002-JUN. They have allegedly accused The Way of exerting undue influence and
psychological manipulation on them. They also allege that the leaders of TWI
have engaged in "fraudulent misrepresentation, unethical conduct and sexual
exploitation of some of its followers..." 15,16
Various sources state that in their peak year, 1982, TWI had in from 35,000 to 100,000 class graduates and donors worldwide with groups in over 60
countries. (The groups considers only its three trustees to be actual members).
Support for The Way appears to be in sharp decline. One estimate
by a group that is critical of the board of trustees estimates that there
are about 5,000 supporters in the year 2000. 10 Another
estimates 3,000 supporters. 15 According
to one critical source:
"...over three-quarters of TWI's adherents left
the group, citing problems in its leadership. In addition, TWI itself has forced
thousands out of its fellowship, accusing them of weakness and error. Many
followers fear this practice, which is called 'mark and avoid'." 13
According to the Watchman Fellowship, many former TWI supporters have
left and joined splinter groups, including "Christian Educational Service (CES),
Pacific West Fellowship, Great Lakes Fellowship, and The Way of Great Britain.
Tongues: They share some beliefs with Pentecostals
and some Southern Baptists They accept that when a person is
genuinely saved, through an oral confession of faith, God responds by
granting to the new Christian all of the 9 manifestations of the gift as described in 1 Corinthians 12:4-12.
These are: speaking in tongues, being able to interpret others
who are speaking in tongues, prophecy, discerning of spirits, wisdom, ability to perform
miracles, knowledge, faith, ability to heal others. Once saved, the Christian cannot lose
their salvation. "The only visible and audible proof that a man has been born
again and filled with the gift from the Holy Spirit is 'always' that he speaks in a tongue
or tongues." 10
Most adherents of The
Way believe that many Protestants are saved by being born again -- i.e.
repenting of sin and trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior. However, they
generally do not
manifest the nine gifts.
Baptism: The Way do not baptize new members
with sprinkling of or immersion in water. They regard baptism as being effected by God
when the give the gifts, including tongues, to a recently saved member. This is called the
"baptism of the spirit."
Trinity: They do not accept the concept of the Trinity:
i.e. that God is a single unity that is simultaneously composed of three personalities:
the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They believe that this concept is foreign to both the
Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testament), and that it originated from
within Paganism. They regard the Father as a single entity as do Judaism and Islam.
Jesus: Jesus, the Son of God, was a perfect man,
but not God. God
created a single spermatozoon and caused it to fertilize an ovum of Mary
without sin. Jesus had
no pre-existence before he was born. "His birth, miracles, death,
resurrection and ascension are all accepted as biblical truth" 5
Resurrection: When a person dies, they remain without
consciousness until Jesus returns. All of the dead are then resurrected. This state is often
called "soul sleep."
Crucifixion: Jesus was crucified on a stake, not a
cross. He died on a Wednesday and was raised on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
Holy Spirit: They do not view the Holy Spirit as the
third part of the Trinity. When capitalized, as in Holy Spirit, it is a reference
to God. In lower case, as in holy spirit, it is an impersonal force that
originates from God and resides within the believer.
Bible: The Gospels really belong in the Hebrew
Scriptures (Old Testament). They are useful only as background learning material. The
Way teaches that the real guidance is to be found in the Pauline Epistles and the
book of Acts. Wierwille taught that the Christian Scriptures were originally written in
Aramaic. No other Christian group believes this. A consensus exists among
theologians that, with the possible exception of Matthew, its books was written in Greek,
with only a few words in Aramaic.
Spirit and Soul: Humans, like all animals, are born
with a body and a soul (or breath). We once had a spirit component, but this was lost when
Adam and Eve committed the original sin. On the Day of Pentecost, some 40 days after
Jesus' execution, God poured out the holy spirit onto believers. Members of the Way now
are complete: when they are saved, God creates a spirit in the believer to augment their
body and soul.
Sin: Sin is viewed as a breaking of God's laws by a
person's body-soul. Their spirit does not sin.
Sexual orientation: President Martindale has
defined homosexuality to be "devil-spirit possession."
Gays and lesbians are not allowed to join. More
Organization and Practices:
They view their organization as a tree.
The roots represent their
physical locations which once included: Headquarters at New Knoxville, OH;
The Way College of Biblical Research in Rome City, IN; Lead
Outdoor Academy in Tinnie, NM; Camp Gunnison in Gunnison CO; the
Cultural Center in New Bremen OH; and the Way International Fine Arts and
Historical Center at Sidney OH and The Way College of Emporia
in Emporia, KS. All have been sold except for the headquarters and camp.
The trunk represents the national organization.
are the individual state and provincial organizations.
Branches are local groups.
Individual home study groups were originally called "twigs;"
leaves were the individual members. Groups are now referred to as fellowships.
Prior to 1995, Potential members were first
introduced to The Way by completing a course "Power for Abundant
Living" (PFAL). This consisted of 12 sessions, each of about 3 hours duration.
Some later joined twig home fellowships. Others attended one of The Way's
In 1995, Wierwille's original training program was replaced with a new course: "The
Way of Abundance and Power," by L.C. Martindale. This
A Foundational Class, with the working title "Receive with Meekness"
An Intermediate Class: with the working title "Retain with Conviction"
An Advanced Class: with the working title "Release with Boldness."
After Martindale left, the course was taught by local leaders. The course is
once again filmed and features various Way leaders as teachers.
The new course is only given to individuals who have attended
meetings for at least one year. Graduates from the advanced
class are eligible to become Disciples and go on personal evangelism
In the past, some members volunteered for a year to be a "Word over the World
(WOW) Ambassador," with an emphasis on evangelization. This was
discontinued in 1994, allegedly because of the large percentage of
homosexuals who were among that year's applicants. In 1995, a new program, "The
Way Disciples Outreach Group" was founded. Members who have completed
the Advanced Class may volunteer for a four months interval. 18
The Way held annual meetings of the membership, called Rock of Ages between 1971 and 1995 in New Knoxville, OH.
Members are expected to tithe, giving 10% or more of their income to the organization.
There are allegations that "The Master Teacher" V.P, Wierwille plagiarized from the books of other authors
without proper recognition. 9 There are other allegations that Wierwille and at least four other trustees
engaged in sexual activity with hundreds of female "Wayers."
Their head office Address is: The Way International, Box 328, New Knoxville OH, 45871. They publish a periodical
from that location, called "The Way Magazine."
Is "The Way" a cult, according to the Counter Cult Movement?
Religious language is very inexact and often leads to misunderstanding. The word "cult" has so many different meanings that we recommend that it
never be used. We suggest that neutral terms "new religious movement"
(NRM) or simply "faith group" be used. These can be modified as
necessary, as in "destructive religious movement" or "benign
religious faith group."
The Way falls within the counter cult movement's
definition of "cult." The CCM regards any religious group to be a cult
if they follow most,
but not all, of traditional Christian beliefs. They see a cult as being basically Christian,
but one which also holds some heretical beliefs. Heresy is here defined as any deviation from the
tenets of the historical Protestant Christian faith. Mormons, Roman
Catholics, the Unification Church, United Churches, and
hundreds of other new religious groups would also fall within the CCM's definition of
cult. So would The Way with their unusual beliefs concerning the Trinity,
baptism, Holy Spirit, etc.
The Internet contains many CCM groups which provide a reasoned analysis of The
Way's non-traditional beliefs, and point out why those beliefs are contradicted by
passages from the Bible. 6,7,8
Comparing The Way, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, and dozens of other new religious movements,
one can appreciate the wide range of spiritual and religious belief systems that can be
derived from the Bible by thoughtful, educated researchers. Each belief system is soundly based on
Biblical passages; each is internally consistent, but each can differ in major ways from
historical Christianity. One can, for example, approach the Bible with the assumption that
Jesus is one element of the Trinity, and have those beliefs confirmed by numerous Biblical
passages. One can also assume that Jesus was a great man who led a life free of sin; these
beliefs will also be confirmed by many verses. This is one of the strengths of
Christianity. The Bible can support many different belief systems and practices; all one
has to do is to interpret passages differently. We see the results of this flexibility in
the large number of Christian organizations in North America today. There are over 1,000 of them.2
Is "The Way" a cult, according to the Anti-Cult Movement?
The anti-cult movement (ACM) attempts to raise public
consciousness of what they feel are the dangers of cult membership. They define a cult
quite differently from the CCM. They view a cult as a religious or other group that uses
deceptive recruitment techniques to lure new members into the organization, and then
subjects them to sophisticated mind-control techniques to reduce their ability to think
and act individually. This process is called brainwashing,
which the ACM believes produces members who are almost in a trance or zombie state. They
become incapable of leaving the organization. These beliefs are partly based on the move
"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) and similar horror movies. The
public, and the ACM, have uncritically accepted these works of horror fiction as
representing reality. They have also absorbed misinformation about the efficiency of
brainwashing techniques used by the communists during the Korean War, and by the CIA.
The Way has been targeted as a mind-control cult by groups within the ACM.
They have been criticized as being a destructive cult, equipping and training their
membership in the "use of deadly weapons for possible future violent activity
against the group's enemies" The rumor of TWI training in deadly weapons
has been traced back to The Way College in Emporia, KS. They did not train their
students in terrorist techniques. The college simply offered a state hunting safety
course. Students had the opportunity to take the course if they wished.
Richard Abanes is the founder and director of the Religious Information Center,
in southern California - an agency within the counter-cult movement. Circa 1983, he
befriended members of The Way and reported:
"Randy and the other people I had met in The Way were wonderfully kind and
extremely intelligent. they were not spaced-out weirdoes. All of them were good-natures,
friendly, funny, and always available for counseling. they visited me when I was sick and
prayed with me when I was troubled. They seemed so 'Christian.'" 4
He continued to describe the unorthodox beliefs of The Way when compared to traditional
Evangelical Christianity. He apparently did not detect any trance or zombie state in its
There is a consensus among mental health professionals that this type of
"Manchurian Candidate" programming is quite impossible to implement. They also
agree that brainwashing techniques are ineffective.
Our assessment is that The Way is a high intensity Christian group, somewhat similar to
the Jehovah's Witnesses in their requirement for close
conformity to the organizations' beliefs. For example, one source states that
president Martindale closely controls the lives of members of the leadership Corps. This is
a group of Martindale's closest followers within The Way administration. He has
allegedly issued rules restricting pregnancy, pets and mortgages by the Corps'
It appears that The Way operates like most high-intensity religious groups: their followers enter the organization because they perceive it to offer positive value to their life. If and when it becomes negative,
they drift away.
Books on "The Way":
Amazon.com online bookstore lists 11 books by V.P. Wierwille. All are out of print.
However, the Amazon.com website often links to individual book stores who sell
new and used copies:
A book critical of The Way is:
Karl Kahler, "The Cult that Snapped: A journey into The Way
International." It can be ordered from the author. 11
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
G.A. Mather & L.A. Nichols, "Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the
Occult," Zondervan, (1993), Pages 308 to 312.
J.G. Melton, "The Encyclopedia of American Religions, Volume II"
Triumph, (1991), Pages 122 & 123.
- W. Watson, "A Concise Dictionary of Cults & Religions," Moody, (1991),
Pages 250 & 251.
- Ricard Abanes, "Cults, New Religious Movements, and Your Family," Crossway,
(1998) Pages 10 & 11
- Irvine Robertson, "What the Cults Believe, 5th edition," Moody Press, (1991),
Pages 107 to 116.
"Cults -- The Way International," Messiah Lutheran Church, at: http://e2.empirenet.com/
"The Way International," Christian Apologetics & Research
Ministry, at: http://www.carm.org
T. Holland, "The Way International," at: http://members.aol.com/
J.P. Juedes, "The Way Tree is Splintering," Christian Research
Institute Journal, 1988-FALL, Page 9. Available online at: http://www.iclnet.org/
WayDale Document Archives: An insider's look into the
behind-the-scenes activities of The Way International and its Board
of Trustees," at: http://www.waydale.com/
Karl Kahler, "The Cult that Snapped," at: http://www.ex-way.com/
John P. Juedes, "Sweeping changes in The Way International,"
"The Way in "decline," Way leaders say,"
Messiah Lutheran Church, at: http://e2.empirenet.com/
Tim Bullard, "Going my Way?," at: http://www.timbullard.com/
A reporter's story of anti-cult activities against The Way in the early
"Tennessee couple sues alleged religious cult for over 25 million
dollars," ExCultWorld.com, 2002-JUN-20, at:
"The Peeler Lawsuit Documents," ExCultWorld.com, 2002-JUN-14, at:
"The Way, International," by the Watchman Fellowship, at:
"The Way International: Christian or Cult?" at:
Copyright © 1996 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2008-SEP-14
Author: B.A. Robinson