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Christian faith groups

The Way International (TWI),
founded by Victor Wierwille


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Quotation:

  •  "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, Page 7.

History:

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 1st century.

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. 17


Beliefs:

  • 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 details.


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 New 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.

    • Limbs 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  two colleges.

  • In 1995, Wierwille's original training program was replaced with a new course: "The Way of Abundance and Power," by L.C. Martindale. This includes:

    • A Foundational Class, with the working title "Receive with Meekness" during filming
    • 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 tours.

  • 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.


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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 members.

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' families.

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 

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. G.A. Mather & L.A. Nichols, "Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult," Zondervan, (1993), Pages 308 to 312.
  2. J.G. Melton, "The Encyclopedia of American Religions, Volume II"   Triumph, (1991), Pages 122 & 123.
  3. W. Watson, "A Concise Dictionary of Cults & Religions," Moody, (1991), Pages 250 & 251.
  4. Ricard Abanes, "Cults, New Religious Movements, and Your Family," Crossway, (1998) Pages 10 & 11
  5. Irvine Robertson, "What the Cults Believe, 5th edition," Moody Press, (1991), Pages 107 to 116.
  6. "Cults -- The Way International," Messiah Lutheran Church, at: http://e2.empirenet.com/
  7. "The Way International," Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, at: http://www.carm.org
  8. T. Holland, "The Way International," at: http://members.aol.com/
  9. J.P. Juedes, "The Way Tree is Splintering,"  Christian Research Institute Journal, 1988-FALL, Page 9. Available online at: http://www.iclnet.org/
  10. 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/ 
  11. Karl Kahler, "The Cult that Snapped," at: http://www.ex-way.com/ 
  12. John P. Juedes, "Sweeping changes in The Way International," at: http://e2.empirenet.com/ 
  13. "The Way in "decline," Way leaders say," Messiah Lutheran Church, at: http://e2.empirenet.com/
  14. Tim Bullard, "Going my Way?," at: http://www.timbullard.com/  A reporter's story of anti-cult activities against The Way in the early 1980s.
  15. "Tennessee couple sues alleged religious cult for over 25 million dollars," ExCultWorld.com, 2002-JUN-20, at: http://www.excultworld.com/
  16. "The Peeler Lawsuit Documents," ExCultWorld.com, 2002-JUN-14, at: http://www.excultworld.com/
  17. "The Way, International," by the Watchman Fellowship, at: http://www.watchman.org/
  18. "The Way International: Christian or Cult?" at: http://www.rapidnet.com/

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Latest update: 2008-SEP-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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