The Way International
|Founder||Victor Paul Wierwille|
|Focus||Biblical research, teaching, and fellowship|
October 3, 1942 |
Vesper Chimes radio program
Rosalie F. Rivenbark, Chairman of the Board |
Jean-Yves De Lisle, Director and President
Bill Greene, Director
John Rupp, Director
The Way International is a biblical research, teaching and fellowship Christian ministry based in New Knoxville, Ohio, with home fellowships located internationally, including Argentina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chile, and the UK. It was founded by Victor Paul Wierwille in 1942 as a radio program, subsequently becoming The Chimes Hour Youth Caravan in 1947, and The Way, Inc., in 1955. The ministry distributes publications such as The Way Magazine through its company, American Christian Press, and has developed and promotes classes and other programs, some of which are in several languages. It formed The Way Corps, a leadership training program, in 1970. The Way offers classes in biblical studies to its followers, prominently The Way of Abundance and Power class series. The Way International claims to study first-century Christianity. It has been described as combining biblical literalism, evangelicalism, Calvinism, ultradispensationalism, and Pentecostalism. The teaching of The Way is based on 2 Peter 1:20 that "no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (KJV interpretation). Its founder's and subsequent Way interpretations of the Bible are taught in ministry classes and publications.
The Way International fellowships are located throughout the United States, as well as over 30 countries. It reported $527.1 million in income for fiscal year 1984. By some estimates by 1980, 100,000 people had undertaken its Power for Abundant Living (PFAL) course, and by 1983, it reported membership of 2,657 "twigs" (an organizational term), each consisting of about 10 members. The Way is predominantly financed via its course fees and tithing.
The Way has faced criticism for some of its beliefs and policies. In 2000, the president of The Way, Craig Martindale, resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct. Rev. Rosalie F. Rivenbark became president of the organization and served along with two other members on its board of directors. In 2017, Rev. Jean-Yves DeLisle was installed as the fourth president of The Way and currently serves in this position.
Victor Paul Wierwille
Victor Paul Wierwille, known by his followers as "Doctor", was born in his family farm's kitchen on November 30, 1916 (occasionally attributed as December 31). He had a great interest in Christianity since his youth. He attended Mission House College and Seminary, Moody Bible Institute and the University of Chicago Divinity School. He later received a Master of Theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and an unaccredited doctorate from Pike's Peak Bible Seminary.
He was ordained as a minister in the Evangelical and Reformed Church (now United Church of Christ). He maintained he had recovered the true apostolic understanding of Christianity which had been lost to the church. He later claimed God spoke to him personally, telling him He would teach him "the Word as it had not been known since the first century", so that he could pass it on to others.
On October 3, 1942, Victor Paul Wierwille, an Evangelical and Reformed Church pastor, began a weekly live radio program dubbed Vesper Chimes. Wierwille assembled a group of youth to help him from local churches. The program was broadcast from WLOK in Lima, Ohio, where the youth would sing and perform alongside Wierwille's sermons that included "principles for abundant life". Soon afterwards, the program was renamed The Chimes Hour Youth Caravan. Wierwille published his first book, Victory Through Christ in 1945, compiling his radio sermons. In 1947, The Chimes Hour Youth Caravan incorporated with Wierwille as President alongside a board of directors.
That year, The Way: The Chimes Hour Young People's Publication began publishing writings by people associated with the radio program each month. Starting in 1948, Wierwille began broadcasting every morning in addition to the regular weekly program. Nearly ten years following the first broadcast, The Van Wert Gospel Gift Shop and Multigraph Printing and Publishing Co. opened for business and released the first issue of The Way Magazine. The Chimes Hour Youth Caravan continued to have radio and public performances until April 1953, at which time the Nielsen ratings showed that 70,000 homes were tuned in on Sundays, broadcasting over radio station WLW, Cincinnati. Wierwille continued to broadcast his meditations over WIMA (formerly WLOK), Lima, WONW, Defiance, and WRFD, Worthington, Ohio until 1955.
In 1953, Wierwille started teaching the course that would later become Power for Abundant Living, or The Way's standard training course. It was held in Van Wert, Ohio. It expanded to other locations in Ohio and eventually to other states. Four years later, he resigned from the Evangelical and Reformed Church pastorate to devote his time to The Way ministry.
Moving to his family's farm in New Knoxville in 1959, he established the location as the headquarters for The Way's Institute for Biblical Research and Teaching, later The Way Inc. The Way's followers grew significantly in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In January 1968, Wierwille's visited San Francisco to personally witness the Jesus People street ministries, such as those in Haight-Ashbury, where he ministered himself. Some of the groups he met later incorporated as The Way East (based in Rye, New York) and The Way West (based in Mill Valley, California), groups that utilized Wierwille's PFAL class in their ministries. Wierwille also recruited a number of new members on his trip, marking a period of large growth for his ministry. Wierwille later merged The Way East and The Way West into The Way Inc., now the Way International.
"Passing the mantle"
In 1982, during the ministry's 40th anniversary celebration, Wierwille installed L. Craig Martindale as President and accepted the title Founding President. Martindale became involved with The Way in 1971 while a University of Kansas student and Fellowship of Christian Athletes member. He served as Director of the Way Corps from 1974 to 2000 retaining the position after becoming President. An elaborate, public ceremony signified Martindale's installation as President which included a symbolic 'passing of a mantle' representing the authority transferring from Wierwille to Martindale.
In 2000, Martindale's term as president was ended following the admittance of sexual misconduct and Rev. Rosalie F. Rivenbark replaced him. The governing board, originally called the Board of Trustees, is now called the Board of Directors, consisting of three to five directors, with Rivenbark as Chairman of the Board.
In January 2017, Rev. Rivenbark stepped down from the presidency but retained her position as Chairman of the Board of Directors. Rev. Jean Yves DeLisle was installed as the fourth president.
The Way International headquarters is located in New Knoxville, Ohio, and presently they also own and operate Camp Gunnison—The Way Household Ranch in Gunnison, Colorado. The Way is organized into Regions, States, and Branches located internationally, with each Branch consisting of two or more household fellowships. The Way focuses on these fellowships as a basic organizational unit. Meetings are run in each home by fellowship coordinators who have completed The Way of Abundance and Power class series. The Way International claims no official membership other than the Board of Directors; individuals who participate in fellowships are referred to as "followers of the way," or "believers".
Until at least the late 1980s, The Way's organization was based on a tree with "leaves" (individual believers), "twigs" (small group fellowships of about 6 to 12 persons, usually private homes or college bible groups), "branches" (groups of two or more fellowships in a local area such as a city), "limbs" (state organizations), "regions" (groupings of several "limbs") and the international headquarters in New Knoxville being the "trunk".
The Way offers three sequential classes covering bible studies. The Foundational and Intermediate classes are required prior to taking any other classes. To qualify for the Advanced class, which is held specially in Ohio each summer, a student must first complete the Foundational and Intermediate classes twice, in addition to Defeating the Adversary.
- The Foundational Class on The Way of Abundance and Power
- The Intermediate Class on The Way of Abundance and Power
- The Advanced Class on The Way of Abundance and Power
- Defeating the Adversary
- Living God's Word as a Family
- Practical Keys to Biblical Research
- The Renewed Mind: The Key to Power
- Living the Mystery as Members in Particular
- Living the Book of Acts Today
- Searching for the Truth
For years The Way offered a twelve-session, over 33-hour long Power for Abundant Living class, taught live by Wierwille beginning in 1953. This class was offered in video and audio tape form from 1968 until it was replaced in 1995 by Martindale's class The Way of Abundance and Power, which was restructured and re-filmed, being released in 2006.
The Way Corps and College
In 1970, Wierwille formalized his selection and training of ministry leaders by starting "The Way Corps". The Way Corps' motto is "It Is Written". Prior to the First Corps Wierwille invited a group of Way followers to New Knoxville for training and teaching. He disbanded the group for reasons which were never made public, other than a statement in The Way: Living in Love that they "never got it together among themselves," and that Wierwille "gave them the privilege of leaving". This group was later referred to as "The Zero Corps".
In 1977, the Way purchased property in Rome City, Indiana where the "Family Corps", those adults who wanted to train as leaders but had children or were older (over 40), resided and trained. A 200 acres (81 ha) working farm, Rome City, was purchased from the Catholic Church.
In 1974, The Way purchased the former site of a United Presbyterian college in Emporia, Kansas, with an opening enrolment of 400 students. Activities during the campus residencies included basic mandatory physical activity (jogging) and other optional activities as desired (weightlifting, team sports, etc.). Days were spent on work assignments, usually involving the needs of each campus (such as painting, food service, construction, building renovation, sanitation, gardening). Other programs included Biblical research and study nights, led by ministry staff, and typically involved in-depth study of various books of the Bible.
One of the work projects of the Emporia campus (formerly the College of Emporia) was the restoration of the Anderson Memorial Library, a Carnegie library that was built in 1901 and had fallen into disrepair. It was rededicated in 1986 and placed into the National Register of Historic Places on June 25, 1987. Before senior year, students at The Way College left for an interim year as missionaries.
Upon completion of the four-year curriculum, graduates receive an accredited degree in theology. Way Corps duties include "providing spiritual leadership at all levels and carrying out decisions made by the Board of Directors". The Way has ordained Way Corps graduates over the years, and both men and women serve as clergy. Neither graduation from the Way Corps nor accepting a high leadership position guarantee ordination.
Rock of Ages
A yearly gathering of Way followers in New Knoxville, Ohio, known as "The Rock of Ages Festival," was a Way event that took place from 1970 until 1995, when it was discontinued. One of the purposes of the festival was to welcome home returning Word Over the World Ambassadors (the Way's first missionary program) and to send out a new group on their yearly assignment.
In 1994, President L. Craig Martindale and other leaders of The Way cancelled the commissioning of Word over the World (WOW) Ambassadors at the Rock of Ages conferences after claiming that ten percent of them were homosexual. Martindale and the two other Trustees, (Donald Ernst Wierwille, Vice President, and Howard Allen, Secretary-Treasurer) agreed that those "possessed by homosexual devil spirits" had "infiltrated" the program, so it had to be completely shut down. After the program was suspended, Martindale restructured the WOW program by the following summer, calling it a Way victory. He stated, "We have flushed homosexuals and 'homo' fantasizers and sympathizers out of our Way Corps and Staff". By early 1995, the Way reported "163 sodomites had been purged, marked and avoided".
In 1985, The Way published a Concordance to the Peshitta Version of the Aramaic New Testament, followed by a three-volume interlinear version of the Syriac New Testament Bible in 1988, after a 15-year effort by The Way International Biblical Research Team. The Way Biblical Research team cataloged 600 Aramaic manuscripts to compile their New Testament text and lexical aids.
Victor Paul Wierwille became associated in 1957 with Aramaic Bible scholar George M. Lamsa, and Lamsa finished his translating of the Lamsa Bible in Wierwille's home. Lamsa and Wierwille produced the first American Aramaic grammar in 1960.
Wierwille's other major publications include Jesus Christ Our Passover, Jesus Christ Our Promised Seed, Jesus Christ Is Not God, Are the Dead Alive Now?, The Bible Tells Me So, The New, Dynamic Church, The Word's Way, God’s Magnified Word, Order My Steps in Thy Word, and Receiving the Holy Spirit Today.
- Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament – 1988
- Volume 1 Matthew – John
- Volume 2 Acts – Philemon
- Volume 3 Hebrews – Revelation
- The Concordance to the Peshitta Version of the Aramaic New Testament − 1985
- The English Dictionary Supplement to the Concordance to the Peshitta Version of the Aramaic New Testament – 1985
- The Aramaic New Testament Estangelo Script – 1983
Beliefs and doctrine
The Way International denies being a denomination or sect. Among its notable characteristics: there are no special days set for household fellowship meetings, which are held regularly and on an informal basis, commonly in houses or other transitory facilities. Communion is observed at least yearly. In such meetings, there is teaching, singing, praying and speaking in tongues, as well as occasional listening to The Way's Sunday Teaching Service. Most local leaders are not ordained. Pentecost is the movement's most important day in the calendar, as opposed to Christmas or Easter.
The Way relies on Wierwille's teachings, principles and research for its interpretation of the Bible. The Way uses his oral and written teachings to learn how to apply these research keys and principles. According to Wierwille, only the New Testament epistles apply to Christians today, given the Gospels belong in the Old Testament. According to Kenneth Boa, Wierwille's teaching of Dynamic Monarchianism was a version of Adoptionism, a third century heresy, which held Jesus was a unique man who was specially filled with the power of God (p. 241). Wierwille in turn argued that the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Christ were introduced to Christianity by pagan converts during the third and fourth centuries.
In its doctrine of God, The Way posits that Elohim, God alone, is creator of heaven and earth. In a similar fashion to Jehovah's Witnesses, The Way rejects the Trinitarian doctrine. Jesus Christ was a perfect man, and was the Son of God, but not God. He was crucified on Wednesday and raised three days later on a Saturday afternoon. Jesus died upon stakes together with four other individuals, two thieves and two malefactors, based on the use of different words by Luke and Matthew, specifically, kakourgoi and lēstai.
Central to The Way's dogma is the notion of holy spirit, being an impersonal force given to believers. The first Adam lost his spirit at the Fall and with this went the image of God in man. On the Day of Pentecost, God sent the gift of holy spirit to His disciples, which was subsequently manifested by speaking in tongues. People are born as flesh, without any spirit. When a person is "born again" by confessing Jesus as Lord and believing that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9), they receive a spirit - which is always accompanied by speaking in tongues. Followers of The Way regularly practice tongues for this reason. Redemption is by faith in Jesus Christ; any person who confesses this belief is born again and is therefore a member of the body of Christ.
In turn, salvation includes deliverance from the power of darkness. Wierwille also makes a distinction between the bride of Christ and the body of Christ, the body of Christ beginning on the Day of Pentecost and continuing until the return of Christ.
Differences with traditional Christianity
The Way International rejects the Trinity. Unlike God, Jesus is not omniscient, omnipotent, nor omnipresent. At the same time, Jesus did not exist before his birth except in the foreknowledge of God; at his conception, God created the sperm to fertilize Mary's ovum, and is the literal father of Jesus. Joseph and Mary married soon after she became pregnant with Jesus and had sexual relations after the birth of Jesus.
In "Receiving the Holy Spirit Today", The Way believes Holy Spirit is a direct reference to God, rather than a separate entity or person. This term is contrasted with the "holy spirit", which is a reference to a "divine gift" from God. Wierwille claimed that English translators of the Bible missed this distinction, and that Greek manuscripts were written in uncial script, which further confused the subject. The Way also posits that there are nine manifestations of the holy spirit and every born again Christian can inherently operate all nine. The list is derived from I Corinthians 12:7–10. Speaking in tongues, energizes the "effectual operation" of the other eight manifestations. Speaking in tongues holds an important place in The Way's doctrine for this reason.
There were four people crucified with Jesus, (on a Wednesday) rejecting the standard interpretation which holds that there were two. Different Greek words were used for those crucified with Jesus in the different Gospel accounts, which together with discrepancies in timing, statements, and actions of the characters in the narrative moved Wierwille to assert these postulations. Two malefactors (kakourgoi) were initially led and crucified with Jesus in Luke 23:32, then two robbers (lestai) were later crucified after his accusation was fastened in Matthew 27:38. Accordingly, two others were crucified on both sides of Jesus for a total of four.
According to The Way, the cross upon which Jesus was crucified was not the traditional T-shaped cross, but rather a stake or the trunk of a tree. Furthermore, Jesus did not carry his cross; rather, after leaving the judgment hall, the soldiers immediately compelled Simon of Cyrene to bear the cross all the way to Calvary per the three Gospel accounts in Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26. The one account in John 19:17 which states "And he bearing his cross...", Wierwille believed refers to Jesus' spiritual "bearing of sin".
The "thorn in the flesh" in 2 Corinthians 12:7 is individuals sent by Satan to disrupt the apostle Paul's ministry, not an illness as it is commonly interpreted. Also, the dead do not immediately go to heaven or hell, but rather death is a continuing state which will end when Jesus Christ returns for his saints (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54) and with his saints. In this way souls are not immortal, thus remaining dead until the final resurrection, which is known by some as soul sleep. Wierwille also wrote that the "unsaved" simply "die a second and final death". Way followers reject water baptism, holding that it wasn't intended as a continuing practice after Pentecost, and that it applied only to Israel.
Once a person is born again, they receive "holy spirit" and cannot lose it through any sinful acts. Tithing one's net income to the church is a recommended minimum, taking the example from Abraham's donation to Melchizedek, as well as the instruction in Malachi 3:7-12. Additional voluntary giving is called "abundant sharing", and "plurality giving", based on a disputed principle from the first-century Church, refers to the donation of any excess items the owner feels he no longer needs or has too many of, generally within fellowships to help the other members.
The Way notably believes extreme forms of unusual or destructive behavior (i.e., violence, verbal outbursts, alcoholism, homosexuality, drug abuse, mental illness) can be evidence that an individual is possessed by a "devil spirit". A "devil spirit" is equivalent to a demon in most other Christian cosmologies. The Way teaches that believers have the power to cast out devil spirits but should only do so if given divine revelation to do so.
Concerning the exact date and time of the birth of Jesus, their research places it as September 11, 3 BC.
In contrast to Evangelical and Roman Catholic Christians, The Way teaches that abortion is not murder as a fetus does not have "breath life" and therefore does not have its "living soul" until it takes its breath when born.
Beliefs on Jews
As of the late 1980s, graduates of The Way's Advanced Class were encouraged to read the books The Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler and Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Verrall. The Thirteenth Tribe argues that most modern day Jews are descendants of the Khazars who were a people in modern-day eastern Turkey who converted to Judaism in the 8th Century and their descendants became the Ashkenazi Jews. The book concludes that, therefore, most modern Jews are really "imposters". It is not clear if The Way subscribes to the correlative theory of British Israelism (Khazar theory of Ashkenazi ancestry). Another particular Way belief is that baptism was instituted by God for Israel only, only for a limited time.
Smoking and drinking
Unlike most Bible-based Christian sects, The Way is very tolerant of smoking and drinking. They recommend a "two drink" limit for leaders. However, those participating as active Way Corps do not partake in any tobacco products.
Mark and avoid
As a general practice, "mark and avoid" means an individual is not allowed to talk with, meet with, or attend fellowship with people within The Way until that individual repents of their supposed wrongdoing. The Practice is taken from Romans 16:17-18, and was encouraged by Martindale after coming out of what he described as "The Fog Years", 1986-1989.
The Way believes that homosexuality is due to the possession of a person by a "devil spirit" or minion of Satan. They reject the idea that homosexuality is genetically determined and believe that it causes "confusion in the hearts of many people". Through the Bible, The Way says that God teaches that homosexuality is a sin, citing Leviticus 18:22 "Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination". If homosexuality were genetically determined "then a homosexual would be destined by God to a lifetime of error and sin".
The formation of splinter groups took place in the wake of actions by L. Craig Martindale after his appointment to replace Wierwille, including the implementation of new rules and beliefs, and the dissension among its leadership when Chris Geer initially read the 40,000 word-long document titled Passing of a Patriarch to the Trustee leadership and Way headquarters staff. In it, Geer claimed that Wierwille, during his final weeks, revealed observations, concerns and recommendations regarding the unbiblical direction of The Way and the lack of Biblical leadership by Martindale. The document was later read to The Way Corps who disseminated the information throughout The Way.
Many former Way leaders broke away, forming their own groups and ministries, some with their own interpretation of Wierwille's teachings. In 2009 Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions stated that the "largest group" was Christian Educational Services (also Spirit & Truth Fellowship International) based in Indianapolis and then led by John Schoenheit, John Lynn, and Mark Graeser - though Lynn and Graeser were later removed.
Side-by-side comparisons of some of Wierwille's earlier books (Power for Abundant Living, Receiving the Holy Spirit Today and the Studies in Abundant Living Series) with previously-published works by other authors, including E. W. Bullinger, show instances of verbatim copying, indicating plagiarism. J. E. Stiles and B. G. Leonard, other authors whom Wierwille was said to have borrowed from, are mentioned by Wierwille at various times, but not credited as sources in any of Wierwille's publications.
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