The Way International
By Tal Davis
Official Name: The Way International
Founder: Victor Paul Wierwille (1916-1985)
Current Leaders: President - Rosalie Rivenbark Vice
President - Harve Platig
Headquarters: The Way Farm, New Knoxville, Ohio
Ministries Associated with The Way International: American
Christian Press (ACP); The Way of Abundance and Power Classes; The Way
Key Publications:The Way Magazine; Books by
Victor Paul Wierwille (all published by ACP): The Bible Tells Me So
(1971), The New, Dynamic Church (1971), The Word's Way
(1971), Receiving the Holy Spirit Today (1972), Are the Dead Alive
Now? (1973), Jesus Is Not God (1975), God's Magnified
Word (1977); L. Craig Martindale: The Rise and Expansion of the
This Belief Bulletin presents information and a biblical analysis on the
history, beliefs, and practices of The Way International (TWI). Principles of
effective Christian witness to those involved are provided.
Short History of The Way International
Victor Paul Wierwille was born in New Knoxville, Ohio, on December 31, 1916.
He and his family were members of an Evangelical and Reformed Church (now
United Church of Christ). He attended Mission House (Lakeland) College and
graduated in 1941 from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Wierwille claimed that on October 3 of the next year, he heard God speak to
him audibly. God told Wierwille that He would guide him to understand and
interpret the Bible more accurately than anyone since the apostolic age. As a
result, Wierwille said he dumped 3,000 of his theological textbooks into a
trash heap and set on an independent study of Scripture.
In 1948 Wierwille received a Doctor of Theology degree from the unaccredited
(and now defunct) Pike's Peak Seminary in Colorado. In 1951 he visited
evangelist J.E. Stiles and learned his technique for speaking in tongues.
In 1953 Wierwille began teaching his "Power for Abundant Living" (PFAL)
classes, a series of lectures highlighting his unusual doctrinal views. In 1955
Wierwille incorporated his ministry as The Way, Inc., and a few years later,
formally withdrew from the Evangelical and Reformed denomination. Over the next
few years his theology increasingly deviated from orthodox Christianity,
particularly his views of the Trinity and the nature of Christ.
Wierwille's influence grew as a result of the late 1960s "Jesus Movement." A
number of former hippies were attracted to his authoritative teaching style and
experiential emphasis on spiritual gifts. In the early 1970s the group adopted
the name The Way International (TWI) and began holding annual "Rock of Ages"
music festivals. In 1975 The Way College was opened in Emporia, Kan., with 350
Wierwille officially retired as president of TWI in 1982. L. Craig
Martindale, a former Baptist Student Union and Fellowship of Christian
Athletes. leader at the University of Kansas where he played football succeeded
him. Wierwille died of ocular cancer on May 20, 1985, at age 68.
Following his death, several former leaders of TWI leveled charges against
Wierwille and TWI trustees including accusations of extreme authoritarianism,
plagiarism, adultery, and false teaching. As a result the group lost many
followers, sold its college in Kansas, and spawned several like-minded splinter
groups led by former TWI staffers. These included Christian Educational
Services and Pacific West Fellowship.
In 2000, amid charges of sexual improprieties, L. Craig Matindale resigned
as TWI president and was succeeded by Rosalie Rivenbark.
Beliefs and Practices
Authority and the Bible
The Bible as God's inspired and infallible Word is regarded by TWI as
"God-breathed" and perfect as originally given. The King James Version is
usually quoted in TWI literature; however, some Hebrew and Greek texts used by
Bible scholars have been distorted, and thus textual research is needed to
clarify certain passages and doctrines.
An extreme dispensational interpretive method is followed which regards only
portions of the New Testament (Paul's letters to the churches and the Book of
Acts) as relevant to Christians. The Old Testament, the four Gospels, and
Paul's letters to individuals are regarded as nonessential.
Victor Paul Wierwille's interpretations, as stated in his writings are
authoritative for all TWI students.
Biblical Response: The Bible is indeed God's infallible and
inerrant Word as given in the original autographs. The textual integrity of the
Bible is well established; however, no one translation and no one interpreter
are regarded as infallible. Many of Wierwille's interpretations of certain
passages are incorrect, and his extreme dispensationalist approach must be
rejected. Both the Old and New Testaments are relevant to Christians when
studied in context, utilizing sound principles of interpretation (see Luke
24:27, 44-45; 2 Tim. 3:15-17).
God Is One
The traditional Christian understanding of God as Trinity is rejected by
TWI. He is regarded as a unitary being who is the creator of the universe. The
Trinity is deemed unbiblical and reflects the influence of pagan Roman emperors
and the creeds of church councils.
Biblical Response: There is only one true God (see Deut.
6:4; Isa. 43:10-11). However, the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in
Scripture. The church creeds affirmed the biblical teachings and did not create
them. God is one in three and is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He
is one God in three Persons (see Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22;
Jesus Christ Is Not God
Jesus Christ did not preexist according to TWI. He existed only as "The
Word" in the foreknowledge of God. Thus He was created at His miraculous
conception. He was born a perfect man whose soul was specially created by God
and given "holy spirit." Thus He can be regarded as the "Son of God" but not
"God the Son." He lived a sinless life and was crucified on a stake, not a
cross, and on Wednesday, not Friday. He was executed between four criminals,
"two thieves" on one side (see Matt. 27:38; Mark 15:27) and "two malefactors"
on the other (see Luke 23:32).
Jesus was resurrected physically on Saturday (not Sunday).
Biblical Response: Jesus is the eternal, preexistent Word
of God. He is the second Person of the Holy Trinity. He was, is, and always
shall be God. In His earthly life He had two natures: human and divine. He
lived a perfect, sinless life and was crucified on a Roman cross between two
thieves (malefactors) as a substitutionary atonement for mankind's sin. He rose
physically on the third day (Sunday) and is ascended to heaven (see John
1:1-18; 5:17-18; 8:56-59; 10:30-33; 17:5; Col. 1:15- 17; 2:9).
Holy Spirit and "holy spirit"
The term "holy spirit" is used in two distinct ways in Scripture according
to TWI. Holy Spirit (capital letters in TWI literature) is merely a synonym for
God. It is a name of God describing His nature as Spirit (see John 4:24).
Contrary, "holy spirit" (not capitalized in TWI literature) refers to the gift
of God given to believers by the Holy Spirit. It is the power of God given in
the inside of the believer but manifested on the outside by speaking in tongues
Biblical Response: The New Testament indicates that the
Holy Spirit is both a person and fully God. He is capable of speaking,
teaching, grieving, and being lied to (but not being fooled). There is no
distinction made between "Holy Spirit" and "holy spirit" as maintained by TWI
(see Matt. 12:31-32; 28:19; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:12; John 14-16; Acts 5:3-10;
13:2-4; Rom. 8:4, 26-27; 1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 2:18-19; 4:30; 5:18-21).
Mankind's Problem: Lost "Spirit"
According to TWI, mankind consists of a three-fold nature: body, soul, and
spirit. God created Adam with a body and soul (mind), to which He added spirit.
This is the essence of the image of God. Adam lost "spirit" when he sought
knowledge through the soul.
Jesus thus paid a legal transaction to redeem mankind from Satan by taking
the sins of the world upon Himself at His crucifixion. This made "holy spirit"
available to mankind by believing in Jesus Christ (see Acts 2:38).
Biblical Response: All have sinned and are lost without
Christ (see Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Jesus' death on the cross was a substitutionary
atonement to pay fully the debt of sin (see Rom. 4:25; 1 Pet. 3:18). Only by
putting one's faith in Christ alone and receiving Him as Savior and Lord can a
person be saved (see Eph. 2:8-9).
No Need for Water Baptism
TWI teaches that water baptism is not needed in the church era. That was for
Israel only and ended with John the Baptist and at Pentecost. The reference to
baptism and the Trinity in Matthew 28:18-19 was probably not in the original
text. Other references in the New Testament to baptism are likewise
Biblical Response: Water baptism is a symbol of the
believer's identification with death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is the act of Christian initiation in the body of Christ (see Acts 8:12,
36-39; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 2:12). The textual integrity of Matthew
28:18, 19 is fully affirmed.
The New Birth and a Renewed Mind
WI says that the new birth comes by verbal confession of faith in Jesus
Christ as Lord. A person "renews" their mind for abundant life, however, only
by taking TWI's "Way of Abundance and Power" class (formerly "Power for
Abundant Living"). The sign of the renewed mind is the nine manifestations of
the gift of holy spirit as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.
The initial and primary expression of holy spirit manifestation is speaking
in tongues. Only by verbally speaking in tongues can one see outward, visible
proof of an inward power of holy spirit. Students are taught a specific
technique for speaking in tongues during The Way of Abundance and Power classes
and are expected to demonstrate an ability to do so before graduating.
Biblical Response: TWI's two-stage concept of redemption is
without biblical support. One is fully born again by trusting in Jesus Christ
as one's Savior and Lord and receiving salvation by grace through faith alone
(see Eph. 2:8-9). At that moment, our sins are forgiven, we are saved from our
sins, and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us to empower us for living the
Christian life. There is no indication that speaking in tongues or any other
outward sign is necessary to confirm the Spirit's presence. The Holy Spirit
sovereignly distributes His various gifts as He wills to all members to
minister to the whole body of Christ (the church) (see Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor.
12-14; Eph. 4:11).
The Dead Are Now Asleep
TWI maintains that there is no conscious existence after death. When
believers die they do not go immediately to be with God or Jesus. Rather, they
await the future resurrection when their bodies, souls, and spirits will be
reunited to live again.
Biblical Response: At death, believers in Christ maintain a
conscious relationship with Him while awaiting the resurrection (see Matt.
22:32; Luke 16:22- 23; 23:43; John 11:26; 2 Cor. 5:8; 12:2-4; Phil. 1:23-24; 1
Organization: The Way Tree
TWI is organized along the lines of a metaphor of a tree. Individual members
are referred to as "Leaves." A small cell-group fellowship of Leaves is a
"Twig" and is led by an experienced elder. The local Twigs association is a
"Branch," and a state association of Branches is a "Limb." All the Limbs in a
specific country comprise a national "Trunk," and the world headquarters is the
All policies and doctrinal positions are transmitted from the Roots through
the various levels of authority to local Twigs and Leaves. All leaders are
appointed by various levels of authority and approved by the Roots
Biblical Response: TWI's centralized and authoritarian
system of organization contrasts to the locally led and based churches of the
New Testament. No one leader or leaders since apostolic times can claim
exclusive authority over local congregations of believers. The biblical model
for church structure is the body of Christ, not a tree and branches.
Principles for Witnessing to Those in The Way
1. Have a clear understanding of your own faith and the Bible.
2. Study the beliefs and practices of The Way International in order to
communicate intelligently with those involved in it.
3. Determine the level of involvement of the person in TWI. Have they been
through The Way of Abundance and Power class? Are they involved in a Twig
fellowship? Are they in some position of TWI leadership?
4. Define all terms carefully. TWI members often use Christian terms but
have different meanings. For example, when they talk about Jesus as "the Son of
God", they do not mean "God the Son."
5. Seek to build personal relationships and sincere friendships with those
in TWI. Remember, patience is a key ingredient.
6. Avoid arguments, and let love be your true motive for witness.
7. Share your personal testimony of God's grace and assurance in your life.
Tell what Jesus means to you personally.
8. Use the Bible in your discussion and check all passages for correct
9. Focus your discussion on the essential biblical issues such as the nature
and work of Jesus Christ, and on the basics of the gospel message.
10. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to lead in your witness encounter.