The Way International
by Wayne S. Walker
The Way International is a religious group which we would call a cult. It is based upon the personality of its founder, Victor Paul Wierwille (see the first article for its history) and teaches a number of doctrines that are plainly contradictory to the truth of God's word (see the last article for a more detailed look and refutation of some of these doctrines). However, it is not enough just to know what they believe. We need to take a deeper look into the whys and wherefores.
When we think of a cult we often think of brainwashing. I have seen Moonies and Hare Krishnas who act almost like glassy-eyed robots. I have talked with Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons who could not think outside of their memorized presentation. But my friend of "The Way" was not so. He was a sane, sober-minded individual who appeared to have accepted "The Way's" teaching of his own free will by the process of rational thought. Evidently he truly believed what he was saying. I sincerely wish that all members of the Lord's body were as well versed in the faith as this gentleman was in his error.
This group has become quite militant in their evangelistic efforts. I have a full-page ad from the Dover-New Philadelphia, Ohio, Times-Reporter of February 13, 1979, promoting "The Way." How many New Testament churches are willing to pay for a whole newspaper page to advertise the truth. I would guess very few. Like the Jehovah's Witnesses, the basis of their zeal is wrong and its direction is misguided, but we have to admire their enthusiasm and devotion to their cause, whatever the reason. Would that we had just a few faithful Christians with this same kind of commitment in every congregation - then we would turn the world upside down too (Acts 17:6).
What is the appeal of "The Way"? I have a pamphlet published by them called "Heart." It is basically a series of testimonials about changed lives, rich blessings from God, and abundant living for those who follow "The Way." This message is the same positive-mental-attitude, success-oriented, "God will solve all your problems" type of approach used by faith-healers, Pentecostals, and charismatics for years. Yet, we have to admit there is something to it since "The Way" has doubled in membership in the past decade or so. Of course, error always attracts more people than the truth. Surely we cannot offer people something that God has not authorized in the Bible. But maybe there is a lesson here for us. Should not we strive to find out what people are seeking for in these troubled times - peace, security, assurance - and make a genuinely biblical appeal to these needs?
The main source of growth of "The Way" has been among younger people. At the same time, we are losing our young people at an alarming rate. Many of them just quit coming to services, but some of them are being sucked into false religious organizations. I talked with one preacher whose first contact with "The Way" was through a member whose daughter had joined it. This should make us think. Elders, whose responsibility is to feed the flock (Acts 20:28) and especially parents, whose responsibility is to train their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), should make sure that young people in the church are well-grounded in the truth to avoid making shipwreck of their faith (I Timothy 1:19).
Another conclusion I would draw is that there must be people out there who are looking for something spiritual, even younger ones. We sometimes try to explain our lack of growth by saying, "Nobody is interested in the Bible any more." But if "The Way" can go from 20,000 to 40,000 in a short period of time, we will have to give up that excuse. We should be honest and admit that possibly part of the reason for our waning is actually a lack of really dedicated effort in sharing the gospel with those who are lost. Remember that "The Way" claims to follow the Scriptures, even though they are promoting error. Evidently someone is ready to listen!
The afore-mentioned newspaper ad for "The Way" began, "The Way is a fellowship of the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ for the manifestation of the more abundant life. A follower of The Way is filled with and manifests power from on high, holy spirit, and freely avails himself of fellowship meetings for spiritual nurture and growth. The Way fellowship is cemented together by the Spirit of God with each individual believer being transformed by the renewing of his mind according to the word of God." It is obvious that they desire to appear as a loving, united body of believers. People like that. Of course, folks should be attracted to Christ not to the church. But what do they see when they look at the Lord's church? Certainly, division must come when matters of truth and right are at stake (Matthew 10:34-37; I Corinthians 11:19). But so many congregations that are as "sound as the dollar" on certain issues are filled with bickering, fighting, and arguing over every little this, that, and the other that comes along. No wonder many are turned off.
The ad continues with a pitch for their Power for Abundant Living Course. This is followed by a statement of beliefs which includes eleven items. Although many of these misuse scriptural teaching, the point I want us to see is their attempt to base their beliefs on the Bible, however misapplied. Those of my brethren who feel the simple teaching of the word has lost its ability to draw men to God (John 6:44-45), both "liberals" who go the food-fun-frolic route and "conservatives" who lament, "No one will listen," can learn something from this. A group can grow simply by pointing people to the Bible and inviting them to study with it. And we don't even charge for it!
My conversation with my friend of "The Way" and my subsequent study have changed my thinking a little on the old charge that "we are answering questions no one is asking." Surely we must never give up the Bible basics we have been preaching for years on salvation, worship, the church, etc. But we should not limit our teaching to that. We must also look out around us and see what people are thinking and feeling in our society, and make a truly biblical application. We have the truth. Let's give people a chance to hear it before the cults come along and carry them off.
I would like to close by quoting from a letter written by an Ohio
University student to the Times-Reporter shortly after the ad appeared:"The Way is considered by an overwhelming majority of Christian
leaders and theologians to be a cult. The Way misuses the word of God,
denies the divinity of Christ and the lordship of the Holy Spirit. `Jesus
Christ is not God,' at least that is what Victor Paul Wierwille, founder
and leader of The Way International, believes and teaches. The Way teaches that Christ was a man, who lived a perfect life and died for our sins. However, contrary to scripture The Way says that Jesus was not the Son of God, even though Christ over and over stated his divinity . . .
"By twisting history, Wierwille also tries to show the doctrine of the Trinity of the Holy Spirit, being equal with and a part of God the Father, is false . . . . Victor Paul Wierwille's purpose in life is not to produce disciples of Christ, but to produce followers of Victor Paul Wierwille. Do not be misled and become one of those followers." Apparently there are also people around who can tell the difference between the work of a cult and something better, and are concerned enough to say something about it. We need to be searching for these as well.