From "Vesper Chimes" to "The Way International"

The Founder, History and Activities of The Way International

by John P. Juedes and Douglas V. Morton


... The Way' Stirs Divisiveness , Concern in Founding Town "

"Secretive Sect Breeds Fear, Rumor"

"Wierwille Seen as ... Warm, or 'Own Worst Enemy'...

"Ohio Cult Leads The Way to Rewards for Its Pastor"

News headlines such as these trouble both followers of The Way international and their concerned families. Are these articles telling the truth? Can they document what they say? Why is their content often so superficial? Where can one find in-depth information on The Way ministry?

This booklet is written for people who need answers, detailed information and documentation regarding the founder, history, growth, facilities and activities of The Way International. Our primary purpose is to collect and report details of The Way's history and background. However, we also investigate and analyze certain details and report these findings as well.

This booklet's extensive documentation reflects our efforts to use as many sources as possible, including The Way's own writings, non-religious secondary sources such as newspapers, analyses by Christian critics of The Way, eyewitness reports and original research. Since accuracy is a primary goal, rumors regarding The Way have not been included, even when other facts seem to support them. The wealth of endnotes reveals our sources, includes additional data and directs the reader to sources for further information.

Limitations of space and time keep us from addressing any more than the history of The Way, though perhaps successive booklets will address other topics. Eyewitnesses to some events are few and at times contradictory. Way publications sometimes neglect embarrassing details and secondary sources sometimes exaggerate the shortfalls of The Way International. History never stops moving on and some details never become publically known. Accordingly, although this history of The Way strives to be thorough, it can never be absolutely complete.


The format of this presentation is, primarily chronological, though we periodically insert extra material on some important topics. Although several of the Wierwille family are involved in The Way International, the simple name "Wierwille" refers to Victor Paul Wierwille, founder of The Way. We include first names or initials when referring to other Wierwilles. The use of the last name "Wierwille" without title or first name is not meant to indicate lack of respect for him, but is common practice in scholarly publications.

The motivation of the authors is neither to flatter nor to slander The Way ministry. We serve those who want to know the truth by supplying a breadth and depth of information to which few people have access. We invite interested readers -to wade carefully through the following pages to learn more about The Way International.



Introduction . . . . . . . . 3

1. Founder Victor Paul Wierwille: Early Years 7

2. Wierwille Strays from the Fold 16

3. The Way, Inc., Expands 35

-4. Conclusions 52

Photo Page s 57

Appendix: Important Dates and Events 61

Notes ................................................ 65


(Note: pagination within the text matches pagination in the 1983 printed edition of this book. Footnote numbers are placed in parentheses.)

Chapter 1



The Way International revolves entirely around its founder, Victor Paul Wierwille, who traces his ancestry back to the Huguenots who traveled from France to Germany in the 1600's and then to Ohio in the 1800's.(1) V.P. Wierwille was born to Ernst and Emma Wierwille on December 31, 1916 in the kitchen of their home on the family's 147 acre farm near New Knoxville, Ohio.(2) There he was baptized into the German Reformed Church(3) and raised with five older siblings.(4) V.P. Wierwille remembers that already at the age of eight or nine he wanted to be a minister.(5)

After graduation from the New Knoxville primary and secondary schools, he turned down a basketball scholarship to Ohio State University (because of his father's wishes) and instead attended Mission House College and Seminary in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.(6) While still a student, on July 2, 1937, he married Dotsie, a nurse and longtime friend with whom he later had five children. She is now revered by Wayers as the "First Lady,(7) and is often with her husband at public functions. V.P. Wierwille graduated with a B.A. from Mission House College in 1938 and in 1940 received his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Mission House Seminary. (8) He


also attended some classes at the University of Chicago during the 1938-40 summer quarters. (9) Wierwille claims to have played professional basketball with the Sheboygan Redskins.(10) The events listed here do not appear to allow even a year's time for basketball.

Wierwille moved to Princeton, New Jersey in 1940 and entered the Master's degree program at Princeton Theological Seminary, focusing on preaching rather than New Testament Greek and exegesis.(11) His dissertation, he recalls, was done "on Peter as a young man of promise, Peter as evangelist and pastor."(12) He received his Master of Theology degree in 1941 (13) and June 29th of that year was ordained into the ministry of the Evangelical and Reformed Church.(14) During his ministry in the E & R Church he served two parishes: St. Jacob in Payne, Ohio (1941-1944) and St. Peter's Evangelical and Reformed Church in Van Wert, Ohio (1944-1957).(15)


Victor Paul Wierwille regrets that for years all he had done was read theological works about the Bible rather than read the Word of God itself. Nevertheless, Wierwille states that because of his academic background, Higley Press of Butler, Indiana (near Payne, Ohio), asked him to be contributing editor for The Christian Action Magazine and write monthly articles.(16) One day in summer, 1942, when Wierwille visited Butler, he met Christian missionary and writer Rosalind Rinker. She challenged him to accept the Bible not as man's work, as his liberal theological schooling had taught him, but as the Word of God.

The contradiction of all he had read and heard seemed to fill him with confusion until he underwent an experience in September 1942 that changed his life. Wierwille himself describes, his experience which he claims took place as he prayed in his office in 'Payne, Ohio:

"And I told Father outright that He could have the whole thing, unless there were real genuine answers that I wouldn't ever have to back up on. And that's when He


spoke to me audibly, just like I'm talking to you now. He said He would teach me the Word as it had not been known since the first century if I would teach it to others.(17)

The Way prizes Wierwille's experience so highly that it counts its beginning from that day and celebrates it annually.

Wierwille relates that he could not believe that God had spoken to him, so the next day he asked God to give him a sign by making it snow. According to Wierwille, the sky was "crystal -blue and clear," yet blizzard-like snow came in the next moment.(18)

Climatological Data for Ohio lists Paulding, Ohio as the weather monitoring station nearest (eight miles northwest) to Payne. Paulding records show no snowfall in September or the first 28 days of October, 1942.(19) Four or five years earlier Wierwille had given a different account of his call from God which did not mention a snowfall nor did it explicitly say that the voice was audible. At that time, Wierwille wrote simply, "...Father clearly spoke to me one night while I was praying..."(20) While the audibility and snow may be later embellishments, Wierwille claims the same Divine direction for his teaching in both cases.


On October 2, 1942, just after Wierwille's professed encounter with the audible voice, he began a radio broadcast called the Vesper Chimes on WLOK in Lima, Ohio. He credits this program and Sunday morning worship with forcing him to get into the Bible.(21) Vesper Chimes was renamed Chimes Hour when it switched broadcast times.

The Wierwilles moved in 1944 to the Evangelical and Reformed Church in Van Wert, Ohio where he stayed fourteen years.(22) He states that when he arrived, the congregation numbered about 21, but that by the time he left, it had grown into a full house (23) During this pastorate, much of Wierwille's theology seems to have developed. In 1945 his first book, entitled Victory in Christ, was published (24) and in Van Wert such visitors as Starr Daily, Glenn Clark, Rufus Moseley, and Albert Cliffe (none of whom were evangelical Christians) taught him.(25)


Wierwille states that sometime in the mid-1940's, his wife was miraculously healed of terminal rheumatic fever because he found and applied Biblical directions on healing (possibly using the instructions laid out by Clark, Daily, and others). Wierwille pinpoints this as the start of his healing ministry.(26) Gordon Perry, once an E & R pastor as Wierwille was, helped him study healing techniques.(27)

Wierwille, with wife Dorothea and Lawrence G. Lee, incorporated his radio program as The Chimes Hour Youth Caravan in October, 1947 and Wierwille's sister, Rhoda Becker, soon became secretary. The purpose stated on the incorporation papers, dated October 28, was simply "For the furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by radio, or by personal appearance."


While Wayers proudly call Rev. Wierwille "Doctor, " the biographies in his books never mention the source of his degree (though the wording leads some readers to believe that he received it from Princeton.) Perhaps The Way is embarrassed because Wierwille received his Th.D. in 1948 from Pike's Peak Bible Seminary in Manitou Springs, Colorado.(28) In its checkered 60 year history, this institution has never been accredited nor recognized as reputable by any agency.(29) Herbert Diamond summarizes the weaknesses of Pike's Peak as an educational institution:

"In a letter from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, a state official says that Pike's Peak seminary had no resident instruction, no published list of faculty, and no accreditation, and no agency of government supervised it. It offered its degree programs by "extramural..' methods, involving the sending of book reviews and papers by mail. The degrees, the official says, have no status except with the institution that conferred them" ''(30)

Wierwille once defended Pike's Peak Seminary by claiming that its president at the time he attended was Dr. H. Ellis Lininger who "had been the head of the Department of Education for the state of Colorado."(31) While Lininger had been president of Pike's Peak, the Colorado Department of Education informs us that Lininger


never did head this department as Wierwille claims.(32)

Wierwille also claims "I took everything I could take at the Moody Bible Institute, too, through their correspondence courses. "(33) Yet, Paul D. Wieland, Director of Moody's correspondence school, contradicts Wierwille's claim. Moody's records contain the names of all students who have completed courses since the school's inception in 1901. Wierwille's name never appears, indicating that if he took any courses, he never completed a single one.(34) During the summer of 1943 Wierwille did serve as a guest professor of practical theology at Gordon Divinity School under the presidency of Dr. Nathan R. Wood.(35)

Wierwille claims that sometime in his ministry, he became so tired of "reading around The Word" of God that he hauled over 3,000 volumes of theological works to the city dump.(36) It is difficult to accept or place this in Wierwille's chronology, since he clearly relies on books and does not offer a date for this occurrence. While this dumping may have happened around 1950, it is evident that he soon accumulated more books, many of them superficial treatments of Scripture topics, which came to dominate his thinking


During these years V.P. Wierwille began his search for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in his life. He approached many denominations and theologians for help and answers to his questions concerning the Holy Spirit. He even "worked" all 385 verses in the Bible that mention the Holy Spirit, but still was unsatisfied.(37)

Frustrated with his fruitless quest to receive the fulness of the Holy Spirit and to speak in tongues, Wierwille went to a Pentecostal rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Way Corps graduate Barrie Hill later determined that the rally was the Divine Healing Convention, December 11-13, 1951, sponsored by The Voice of Healing magazine, and that Wierwille stayed at the Hotel Tulsa (which was razed in 1973). The first night of the convention, Wierwille faked speaking in tongues by talking Greek. Disappointed, he wanted to leave town, but claims that a blizzard in Tulsa prevented him from taking a plane, train or bus out of the



Hill notes that the weather bureau, newspapers and airport do not record a snowstorm at that time. December, 1951 records in Climatological Data for Oklahoma show only 5/10 inch of snow on the 8th and 6/10 inch on the 20th.(38) Neither date concurs with Wierwille's visit, and neither records anything near a blizzard. Wierwille dismisses these facts by suggesting that the blizzard was "a phenomenon" or that he "spoke with angels" when he called the airport, train station and bus stations (who apparently lied to him about the weather!). This explanation seems too weak to offset the more reasonable conclusion that the Tulsa blizzard was fabricated by Wierwille.

Finally, on the second day of the convention, Wierwille met J. E. Stiles who taught him how to receive the Holy Spirit. At 3 p.m. that day, Wierwille spoke in tongues and was elated by this new ability. Stiles published a book in 1948 entitled The Gift of the Holy Spirit. Since Stiles normally distributed his book (and sometimes also a pamphlet) everywhere he traveled, it is likely that Wierwille then acquired a copy of it. Hill confirmed this when she had Wierwille's copy located in the rare book room in the Outreach Services Center at The Way's New Knoxville headquarters.(39) This is important to note since Wierwille apparently later included elements of Stiles' book in his own book on the Holy Spirit.

Soon after his Tulsa experience, Wierwille corresponded and visited with B.G. Leonard, who published a monthly newsletter and ministered at his Christian Training Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He credits Leonard especially with teaching him about laying on of hands, healing and believing.(40)


Victor Paul Wierwille first taught his class on receiving the Holy Spirit in October, 1953 at Van Wert. The Way boasts that at the first class "The students had no outline -- Dr. Wierwille taught by direct guidance and revelation."(41) The next year he taught the class in nearby communities, and The Way still uses a version of this class, now known as "Power for Abundant Living," as its main evangelistic tool. "The Teacher's" professed desire then, as


now, was to help Christian people manifest the more abundant life. A key part of the class is teaching people to receive the Spirit and speak in tongues in much the same way in which Stiles taught Wierwille.


Victor Paul Wierwille wrote his first book on the Holy Spirit in 1954, printing and binding each book by hand.(42) This 87 page work was expanded to 122 pages and republished the next year. Receiving the Holy Spirit Today has continued to evolve and now is in, its enlarged and altered sixth edition.

Wierwille and The Way praise it as the "most thorough and original coverage of the subject."(43) Even. today "Doctor" emphasizes his holy spirit teachings, since he feels that God raised him up to pioneer accurate Bible study in this field.(44) To emphasize the originality of his work, Wierwille insists that he used only the Bible in writing Receiving the Holy Spirit Today:

"I prayed that I might put aside all I had heard and thought out myself, and I started anew with the Bible as my handbook as well as my textbook."(44)

However, in the very book in which he prayed to "put aside" what he "had heard" he draws thought after thought, and at times word after word, from J. E. Stiles' book, The Gift of the Holy Spirit, written six years before. Both Stiles and Wierwille title chapters of their books "How to Receive the Holy Spirit" and about 18 key points in them closely match in content and even wording. Both books have chapters which list questions and answers, and five of the questions are similar in content. The 250-word answer to question eight in Wierwille's book matches Stiles' answer with almost word-for-word precision!(46) Note these excerpts from question 8 of both books:


Stiles. 1948 .

8. Is it not possible for a Christian to receive false tongues or a false spirit when seeking to receive the Holy Spirit? Answer?

When people ask that question, we know that they have somewhere come in contact with one of these "faith blasters" who go about making statements which have no foundation in Scripture. When we suggest to earnest Christians that they may get something false, when seeking more of the fulness of God, we sinfully dishonor God and His Holy Spirit."(47)

Wierwille, 2nd ed., 1954

8. Is it possible for a Christian to receive false tongues or a false spirit when seeking the Holy Spirit? The answer is no.

When people ask that question, I know that they have somewhere come in contact with one of these faith blasters who go about making statements which have no foundation in Scripture. When someone suggests to earnest Christians that they may get something false, when seeking more of the fulness of God according to God's Word, he sinfully dishonors God and His Holy Spirit."(48)

Furthermore, over 100 words of Stiles' answer to question number 19 appear almost verbatim in question six of Wierwille's second edition. Yet, Wierwille never once credits Stiles for the material he derives fro m him, or even mentions Stiles by name!

One of Rev. Wierwille's students In his first Power for Abundant Living class was Dr. E.E. Higgins, whose interest in his research greatly aided him. He notes that she gave him his first copy of E.W. Bullinger's How to Enjoy the Bible.(49) Wierwille has since shown a great interest in Bullinger's work. In fact, The Way's current bookstore catalogue offers for sale four of Bullinger's books. However, Wierwille never mentions Bullinger's 1905 book The Giver and His Gifts, in spite of the fact that it has been in print in recent years. Why does Wierwille neglect to mention this book?

Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the fact that Wierwille's Receiving the Holy Spirit Today includes material that is found also in Bullinger's 1905 The Giver and His Gifts. Sections of Wierwille's third edition, published in 1957 with 164 pages, and of every edition since then bear unmistakable similarity to


Bullinger's material. This is evident in significant portions of Wierwille's Introduction and Appendices 2 and 3. Every section of Bullinger's book has been included in Wierwille"s book in some form and the content, general conclusions and in many places even the wording closely match.(50)

Technically, neither The Giver and His Gifts nor The Gift of the Holy Spirit may have been legally protected by copyright at the time Wierwille compiled Receiving the Holy Spirit Today. Nonetheless, scholarly practice is to quote even uncopyrighted sources, which include such things as unpublished theses, newsletters, archives, government documents, correspondence and personal interviews. One who incorporates another man's work while presenting it to the reader as original work certainly falls short of the scholarly integrity the secular world expects and, more important, displeases God as well.


Chapter 2


Receiving the Holy Spirit Today was an important link in the chain of V.P. Wierwille's rapidly changing theology and his move toward separation from the faith of his fathers. This separation became more visible when the name of the Chimes Hour Youth Caravan was changed to The Way, Inc., in October, 1955, and its purposes were greatly expanded to include holding and distribution of gifts and real estate, ordination of ministers and establishing camps and institutions of learning.(51) It is surprising that Wierwille would take upon himself activities like these while still a member of the Evangelical and Reformed ministerium. That year Ermal L. Owens began his 20 year tenure as trustee and vice-president and his brother H.E. Wierwille continued as secretary-treasurer. When the name was changed to the current The Way International in June 1974, Owens and H.E. Wierwille were replaced by V.P. Wierwille's son Donald Ernst Wierwille and by Howard R. Allen, who had been on staff since 1966.(52)

Wierwille's break from traditional Christianity became even clearer when he resigned from his pastorate in 1957 and from his ministerial standing in the Evangelical and Reformed Church on May 23, 1958.(53)

Wierwille's biographies typically state that he frequently taught outside his parish, causing him to be gone more than half the time. Forced with such demands, he resigned from his pastorate in 1957 to devote full time to pursue The Way ministry unfettered by the pressure of parish ministry and "man-made rules" of his church body.(54)

Lee Steele noted that Wierwille also resigned from his ministerial standing in the E & R Church. His investigation discovered that apparent wrongdoing on Wierwille's part was the basic reason for this more serious action:

Mr. Wierwille's resignation came a few months after the northwest synod had, on Feb. 13, 1958, authorized appointment of a judicial committee ""to investigate and bring forth recommendations for actions," about him. However, the records do not specifically mention charges. But, it is eminently clear that if Mr. Wierwille had not resigned, or "voluntarily withdrawn, his dismissal would have been forthcoming on the basis of a judicial council, " according to a former E and R president, Dr. Emil Bassler.(55)

While the records do not specify charges, denominational officials remember some of the problems they saw in Rev. Wierwille. Dr. Bassler and the Rev. Harvey Zuern, a former E and R Synod president, agree that Wierwille created some embarrassment for the church while he was visiting India on his own.(56) Dr. Bassler reports that certain speeches Wierwille made:

"... were embarrassing to the missionary program. As a result of that, there were letters from missionaries in the field which indicated the workers were concerned about the harm he [Mr. Wierwille] was doing to the mission- cause."(57)

Wierwille occasionally mentions his trip to India in early 1956, but upholds it as a time of vibrant teaching and healings. Furthermore, he states that he collected "top notch" information in India, but that Western church and government leaders would not listen to him. (58)


Other matters also seem to have set the E and R church at odds with Wierwille. Officials say he insisted on being a loner,(59) theologically speaking, and criticized liberal theology, which existed in the denomination. Wierwille had brought into his church the-altar call, which, according to Dr. Bassler, isn't bad, but he was speaking in tongues and doing faith healings and these were not compatible with E and R principles." The Rev. Zuern concluded, "We just invited Mr. Wierwille to dismiss himself from the E and R Church, which he promptly did."(60)

It is likely that a combination of pressures, a poorly guided tongue and doctrinal differences prompted V.P. Wierwille to resign from both his local pastorate and his ministerial standing. Wierwille speaks of his departure from his congregation, but withholds information about his resignation from the denominational ministerium. Perhaps he does this in order to protect and enhance his image.

Mr. Wierwille's breaking away from the organized church seems to be one of the reasons he has such great disdain for it. His books and tapes repeatedly condemn Christian traditions and organizations. "Denominations don't care about teaching God's Word," Wierwille writes, "They perpetuate themselves. They put people in straight-jackets, atrophy their lives."(61) Wierwille, attacks not only the organization, but also the teaching of the Church:

". . . Christians don't even agree on hardly anything., I make this statement publicly: About 85 percent of what is believed as being Christian is not Christian.. if the Bible 's right."(62)


Wierwille's ministry, which by this time was called The Way, Inc., moved to the family farm just outside of New Knoxville in 1959. Harry Ernst Wierwille recalls receiving a word from God to "pay for the renovating of the house which was on the farm."(63) After a year's work, the V.P. Wierwille family moved into the house February 2, 1961. (64)

The Way soon built a small structure to serve as its Bible Center, completing the first portion in December, 1961.(64) Only 49


months later in January of 1965, an auditorium was added to the Center to accomodate The Way's growth. A further 16' by 30' addition added an office and lounge in 1978.(65)

Wierwille held out-of-state summer camps from 1959 to 1961, but moved the camp to New Knoxville in 1962.(66) That year he also began an important new phase of ministry, the summer school, which became an annual event. The first summer school offered a course taught by K.C. Pillai,(67) who had first taught in New Knoxville about 1952.(68) George M. Lamsa, who has close theological ties with psychic and gnostic groups, taught Syriac (Estrangelo Aramaic) at the 1962 summer school.(69) One of Lamsa's proteges, Jim Chamberlain, taught Aramaic there in 1964 and 1969 and helped Bernita Jess, who is now The Way's coordinator of Aramaic research. (70)


The fourth edition of Receiving the Holy Spirit Today, published in 1962, marked a major step in the evolution of Victor Paul Wierwille's thoughts on the Holy Spirit. While he stated in the 1955 edition that Christ is deity and that the Holy Spirit Is a "person"(71) separate from the Father, such references were deleted from later revisions. Beginning in the third (1957) edition, Wierwille listed six major ways the word "spirit" is used in the New Testament. In the 1957 edition he explained the first of these six senses using trinitarian concepts, " (1) It is used of all the Godhead. Pneuma, 'Spirit,' is used of ' God, John 4:24; Christ, 2 Cor. 3:17; Holy Spirit, Acts 5:3. "(72) Five years later in his 1962 edition of the same book, Wierwille revised this entry, deleting reference to the Trinity and- a supporting Bible passage, Acts 5:3.(73)

The Way tells us that Wierwille taught the first Power for Abundant Living Class "by direct guidance and revelation." Since this book reflects the content of the class at that time, that "revelation" must have included teaching on the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit as distinct from the father, the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Yet, within ten years Wierwille dared to reject that revelation under pressure of his new ideas. This denial of the personality of the Holy Spirit, denial of the eternal Sonship


of Christ and several other heresies are logical outgrowths of E.W. Bullinger's ultradispensationalism which The Way follows closely. (74)


Wierwille began a television program called "The Teacher" out of Lima, Ohio in 1963.(75) Although it was broadcast only 18 months (it continued years longer as a weekly radio program),(76) it proved to be an important step in his film career. While the quality of the black and white video tapes was poor, years later they moved Way members David Anderson (77) and nephew Bob Wierwille to catch Wierwille's vision of putting the Power for Abundant Living course on film.(78)

The 16 mm color film was finally produced in fall of 1967 and first used publically in August of the next year. Wierwille praised the $30,000 production (79) and his research on holy spirit as "the greatest blessing to anybody who wants to know the Word of God and the power in His Word."(80)

Originally, whether the Power for Abundant Living class was taught on film or live, it was offered free of charge. Wierwille boasted in 1967 that his PFAL class and summer school were administered under a unique financial set-up based on the Bible principle, "Be it unto you according to your believing." Consequently, Wierwille stated, "We have no tuition or fees ... The balance is supplied by 'love offerings' from the students and continued sharing in the months to come." (81)

Apparently The Way found that this "Bible principle" no longer worked for them, because the group soon began to charge for the class. David Anderson, then head of the Tape and Film department, complained that people did not stay to. see the whole film because they made no investment in order to see it. Thereafter, The Way required that the PFAL students practice "the law of giving. " By paying a fee to see the film, The Way reasoned, they were giving something and so could then get something in return.

The "charge" (only later did The Way begin to call it a "donation") varied, beginning at $20 in 1968.(82) Three years later


it increased to $45,(83) and soon to $65.(84) In 1975 the going rate was $85,(85) but this became a "minimum $100 donation" by 1978. The nonrefundable price briefly reached $200 in 1981, but then dropped to $40 (though fewer books were included in this offer) for the 40th Anniversary year. Over the years The Way has emphatically denied that it has any desire for profit through this required "donation. " Wayers encourage financially strapped recruits to "believe" the money will appear. Once a student fulfills the requirements and completes the class, he is encouraged to take it frequently at no charge.(86)

A few people in the late 1960s, including Malvin George, could effectively teach the PFAL class besides Wierwille. Nevertheless, the film enabled greater numbers to take the class. In 1969, 380 people took the class. The number grew to 760 in 1970 and 2100 in 1971.(87)

The 36 hour class was later produced on sound tape and in 1974 on video tape as well, which helped secure its distribution around the world.(88) Currently film classes are very rare since a minimum of 20 students is needed for a film class. Since at least twelve students are required to hold a videotape class, most class leaders opt for the smaller cassette classes. When not in use, all tapes and films are guarded by branch or other high level leaders. Classes are usually completed in twelve meetings -- four nights in each of three consecutive weeks. Through film and taped classes Wierwille can expose his teaching to a larger audience at a faster rate and maintain control of the teaching, while at the same time freeing himself to work on other facets of The Way ministry.

It is not possible to emphasize enough the importance of the Power for Abundant Living classes to The Way International. When a Wayer "witnesses," this usually amounts to recruiting new students for the class. Bo Reahard, Trunk leader for The Way, emphasizes the urgency the group feels:

"Basically, everybody in the world today that has not taken a class on Power for Abundant Living is wandering aimlessly because they do not have the accurate knowledge of God's Word to give light to their lives."(89)

To Reahard, whether or not a person takes the course is a "matter


of life and death, " since the course is the way to become born again and reconciled to God?(90) Through the class, Wierwille desires to teach his students "keys" to interpret the Bible and to teach them how to speak in tongues, which he believes is

unmistakable and irrevocable proof that a person is born again. One result of the class is that students often come to distrust Bible teachers and groups other than Wierwille and The Way and they frequently reject their Scriptural teaching gained before the class.


V.P. Wierwille made a recruitment trip to California in January, 1968. The Way's previous work in the state had never amounted to anything significant,(91) but now the time was ripe for The Way to advance there. The Jesus movement was just beginning to spread its influence on the West Coast and Wierwille would soon cash in on it. Jack Sparks, who himself was a product of the movement, concludes:

"... 1968 is the year that The Way., now having moved its headquarters to New Knoxville, Ohio, began to experience significant growth. As with several other struggling offbeat groups of that time, The Way found the Jesus Movement a boon. Capitalizing on the nondiscriminating religious interests of many in the movement, The Way picked up a host of young people from those ill defined ranks. Particularly significant gains were made in terms of capable young leadership."(92)

Through his California trip beginning in Haight-Asbury, Wierwille harvested a few people who proved to be important leaders. Steve Heefner, a former disc jockey for CBS,(93) was an important acquisition for The Way. Heefner, who left the group a few years later, led one of The Way's successful evangelism pushes in the Rye, New York area, bringing in many converts for the growing organization.

At the time, The Way appeared to many to be just another group within the Jesus Movement. Sociologist Ronald Enroth observed


in 1972 that, "The Way, with the help of the undiscriminating media, is riding high on the crest of this revolutionary wave"' that is, the Jesus Movement.(94)

Wierwille admits that the momentum of his ministry picked up significantly through recruiting these young people. "We had hit a whole new audience," he said. "They had much less difficulty believing because they didn't have all those years of wrong teaching to get rid of first." (95)

Twenty-five people came from California to the New Knoxville headquarters in 1969 to be instructed in Way theology. With this new group of youth The Way launched out into areas it had never before tapped.(96)


The new surge in followers convinced Wierwille that his ministry needed leaders, "people strong in knowledge and zeal, people with commitment prepared to handle ministries and responsibilities."(97) To fill this need he began the first Way Corps in 1969 with nine people for the express purpose of preparing leaders for The Way.(98) Wierwille admits that after a few months the first Corps had -gotten nowhere and blamed the Corps members who ". . . never got it together among themselves. They didn't have the commitment, that discipline. They just kept fighting among themselves. " (99)

Wierwille tried leadership training again a year later with his second Corps. This group of nine was later renamed the First Way Corps and graduated in 1972 after a two-year training.(100) Nineteen men and women graduated from the Second Corps in 1973, the first of several years of annual growth of the Corps. Of 25 Third Corps graduates in 1974, 22 took assignments to Way leadership positions, and another 68 graduated from the Fourth Corps.(101)

After Wierwille's initial attempt to establish the Way Corps failed, he decided that Corps members could not have dependents. However, as years passed, he saw that some couples with families wanted to lead, and he would have either to continue


ruling them out or begin a special one-year Corps to fit their needs. He chose the latter, and so started the Way Special Corps with 51 members in 1974.(102) Two years later its name was changed to the current title, Family Corps.(103) The Way further changed its leadership training by expanding both Corps to four-year programs.

The Fifth Way Corps was slightly larger than the Fourth, graduating 70 in 1977. The Sixth and Seventh Corps showed dramatic increase in size to 275 (104) and 279 graduates, 105 respectively. The Eighth Corps dropped to only 207.(106) The Way Magazine did not publish figures for the Eighth and Ninth Corps, possibly because The Way was embarrassed at the decline in number of graduates. However, the number increased again when 299 graduated from the Tenth Corps in 1982,(107) and 326 from the Eleventh Corps in 1983.(108)

The Family Corps has been held yearly since the Family Corps II graduated about 35 in 1978 (109) Forty-three graduated from Family Corps III,(110) 54 from Family Corps VI in 1982,(111) and 89 adults (plus 63 children) in 1983.(112) The Family Corps statistics normally include the children,

The Way also has noted Recognized Corps. The Recognized Corps is designed for those who are well-established in a profession, who have had other significant leadership training, who married a Corps graduate, or who for some other reason require only a briefer Corps experience. Recognized Corps study with the Corps one year, then return to their previous stations in life or take a Corps assignment. Recognized Corps are smaller groups -- for instance, they totaled only nine in 1979,(113) 19 in 1982, (114) and 11 in 1983.(115)

Occasionally, Way leadership also acknowledges Honorary Corps. This is reserved for such individuals as the Walter Cummins', who contributed greatly to The Way for many years, yet never experienced the full Corps program.

Why are all these statistics important? The Way does not freely publish the size of either its following or its leadership. By and


large the Corps graduates are the Way leadership (though not all grads take on full time Way positions) so the size of one mirrors to an extent the size of the other.

While statistics for every year are not readily available, it appears that about 2,750 men, women and children began Corps leadership training while officially 2,502, (116) or 91 percent, completed the program by 1983. Perhaps 1,800 of these graduates held Way leadership positions at least for a short time.


The Corps currently operates on a four-year program. The first year the new Corps member sometimes serves The Way as a twig leader or W.O.W. Ambassador, and continues with his occupation while maintaining regular contact with a Corps graduate. The second and fourth years are spent in a program at a Way campus which includes study and four hours of donated work each day.

An "average" Corps residence schedule is something like this: 6 a.m. -- jog and read the Bible, 7 a.m. -- breakfast, 8 a.m. -- noon -- teaching, noon-lunch., 1-5 p.m. -- work, 5 p.m. -- supper, 7-10 p.m. -- an activity such as a lecture, movie, research session or leadership training. Saturdays are normally free and on Sundays the Corps is expected to attend two fellowships and an evening "afterglow" with their twig. The "block" system enables the Corps to take one class at a time, usually two weeks in length for which homework is required. One night a week is "Corps night' when they experience a year-long study of one book of the Bible. A written "thesis" paper is required for graduation.

The third year of the Corps program is seen as an apprenticeship, working in a Way position somewhere in the country or the world. (The Family Corps serves its two residence years consecutively to make it easier on their families.) An estimated three-quarters of the Corps members serve as W.O.W. Ambassadors during this "apprenticeship" year.

Corps members are encouraged to save enough money during their first and third years to pay the fees for their second and


fourth years. When this is- not possible, they recruit "spiritual partners" to help pay their fees. Checks had been made out directly to The Way International and were tax deductible as contributions until the IRS ruled against this practice about 1980. The Way promises spiritual, partners that they will be "blessed" abundantly in return, beginning with the monthly "bless letters' which Corps members must send to them.


Observers have been concerned about some aspects of The Way Corps. A study of several Way Corps done in 1977 revealed that only 25.4 percent of the members were college graduates! (117) Since graduates of the Corps are the leadership of The Way, it is

surprising so few of them are educated (although some may enroll at colleges after Corps training) , especially since The Way stresses being the "best" at anything they do. The Way encourages.single Corps to marry fellow Corps members. The Hearts Club, which is

open only to the Corps, is designed to help them find marriage companions by circulating names and addresses.

Single Corps graduates are not allowed to marry until they graduate. When they do marry, they are often anxious to have V.P. Wierwille perform the ceremony. Consequently, this has led to The Way Corps Weddings. While The Way rejects the label "mass weddings," Wierwille has joined over 43 brides to their husbands at a single ceremony. (118) Since Wierwille inadvertantly performed the 1978 and 1979 weddings without proper registration, he was charged with a misdemeanor by the Lyon County attorney's office.(119)

"Mass weddings" have been only one of several sources of the controversy which has plagued The Way Corps. Way leadership is often accused of brainwashing or abusing the Corps by demanding unpaid work on campus grounds, and by providing inadequate diet and sleep. Critics say The Way manipulates Wayers, controlling their environments, suppresses thinking through loaded language, and uses other elements of mind control, such as those detailed by Robert Lifton. (120) The public was outraged when Wierwille, in a


May 24, 1979 letter, directed the Corps to provide him with detailed accounts of their lives, highlighting sinful aspects. While the Way Corps probably readily complied with Wierwille's request, the potential for misuse of the information is great.

Advanced Power for Abundant Living graduates who cannot enter the Way Corps are encouraged to enroll in The University of Life correspondence courses. First offered January 1, 1979, the teaching is similar to that the Corps receives. Over 15 courses by several teachers are planned, including those entitled Thessalonians, Figures of Speech, Renewed Mind, Ephesians, Romans and One God.(121)


During the seventies The Way began to receive a closer look by both the secular and religious establishments, due partly to its continuous expansion. One indication of growth on the grassroots level is The Way's annual "Rock of Ages" Christian Music Festival, which drew 1,000 people in 1971 , its first year By 1975 it had expanded into a four-day affair and drew over 8,300 people(123), to the fairgrounds in Lima, Ohio. Due partly to extensive promotion by The Way's leadership and publications, "The Rock" drew some 12,000 people in 1976, 14,000 in 1977 and 16,000 in, 1978, 1981 and 1982 (124) after moving to a new location, the New Knoxville farm. This leveling off of attendance numbers suggests that The Way is not growing as fast in America as it would like.

The Way grows mainly through the work of self-supporting missionaries called Word Over the World (WOW) Ambassadors. The Way expects them to work at a secular job at least 20 hours per week and witness (which amounts to recruiting people to take the Power for Abundant Living class) at least 48 hours per week. WOW Ambassadors serve for one-.year tenures in "family" groups of four to five WOWs and are triumphantly "pinned at the Rock of Ages at year's end.

The first wave of "nearly 100" WOWs went out in 1971.(125) The program, heavily promoted by Way leadership, grew to 125 in 1972, 480 in 1973, 1,033 in 1974, 2,077 in 1975, 2,700 in 1976 and to


3,100 in 1982 (126) However, the recruitment of WOWs was less successful in other years, such as 1981, when The Way sent out only 1,500. (127) The first European WOW Festival was held in England, September 1976. (128) While some WOWs serve more than one year and The Way does not release detailed statistics, the group boasted in 1982 that "over 10,000" men and women have served. (129)

One must be wary of some statements The Way makes regarding members. Way leadership "expected" and apparently believed for 4,000 WOWs each year since 1976. (130) but actually saw much fewer. Leadership expected 700 members of the Seventh

Corps,(131) but less than half this number joined. Apparently the "believing" of even the "spiritually adept" Way leadership often yields poor success.

Today the title "WOW Ambassadors" applies only to what were called "Free" WOWs before 1976.(132) Other types of WOWs are referred to by titles that identify the vocation of the WOWs and of the people they work among and try hardest to reach. Air-Way WOWs work in the airline industry, College WOWs work on college campuses, and Educator, Military and Medical WOWs proselytize in the institutions in which they work.(133)

Former WOWs may serve as Minutemen for a period of either a summer or a year. The first group was trained April, 1975.(134) Wierwille sees them as his "crack troops" who do "tough jobs," though there is also a high school Minuteman program.(135)


V.P. Wierwille visited England in 1955 and 1957, but this produced no lasting fruit until he returned there in 1976.(136) The first European WOW Ambassador training there in 1974 served 25-30 WOWs, and the number increased to 50 the next year (137) The year 1976 saw the same number, but WOWs increased dramatically to 200 in 1977.(138)

The Way boasts that as of May 1, 1982, it had conducted Power for Abundant Living classes in 50 countries or territories and has


graduates of PFAL in 74. At that time The Way sponsored active ministry in 44 of the 163 nations of the world 0 .(139) The group has also published Wierwille's "foundational" books in German, Spanish and French and some materials in other languages. The Power for Abundant Living class is now available in six of the twelve major languages of the world -- English, French, German, Russian, Dutch and Portuguese.(140)


The year 1971 saw not only the first Rock of Ages festival and the first waves of WOWs, but also saw a surge in V.P. Wierwille's publications through The Way's own publishing arm, the American Christian Press. Three books of his "Studies in Abundant Living" series, The Bible Tells Me So, The New, Dynamic Church and The Word's Way were printed in 1971, though almost all of the chapters were published as booklets in the 1960s under the same 'series" label. (141) Six years later the fourth volume of the series, God's Magnified Word was published.

A fourth book basic to Wierwille's teaching, Power for Abundant Living, also was published in 1971. This book is a slightly edited transcription of many segments of Wierwille's taped class of the same name. However, the content is not entirely original, since this book is similar in many specifics to E.W. Bullinger's voluminous 1907 work How to Enjoy the Bible. Wierwille changed the texts of a few key passages in the next two printings of Power for Abundant Living (without notifying the reader that changes were made) in order to correct blatant scholarly errors. Unfortunately, the inaccuracies were not totally corrected.(142) Wierwille's Are The Dead Alive Now? appeared in its third edition in 1971.(143)

About this time the group was also publishing The Way newspaper for use as a recruiting aid.(144) Heart is now the main promotional periodical of The Way. Most of the articles are testimonies of people who believe that the Power for Abundant Living class has enhanced their lives in some way. Heart is


currently published bimonthly in eight-page, two-color newspaper format. It is distributed mainly through twigs and is not available by subscription.

The Way Magazine, a slick, fu0ll-color production, prints teachings by Way leaders, news from headquarters and advertisement for Way programs. The magazine began in November, 1954, though it has changed formats and frequency of publication several times. David Craley, a longtime editor of The Way Magazine, left that position to edit the new magazine Free Spirit: New Light for American Culture which will feature articles on Wayers who work in business fields, short stories and the arts.(145)


Wierwille dreamed that The Way would minister through the fine arts and so established Way Productions in 1971. (146) That year Way Productions released its first album, "The Rock of Ages" and a 45 rpm single "He Is The Way.(147) Ted Ferrell, Director of Way Productions for many years, promoted some W. 0. W. Ambassador musicians, but searched three years until he put together the more stable group "Joyful Noise," using members of the Fourth Way Corps!(148) The group began touring regionally in 1975 and remains the most impressive Way group to this day.

The Way has sponsored several other music groups as well. More recent groups include the band, TAKIT,(149) "Pressed Down," "Agape," and the quartets, "The Victors" (150) and "New Horizons."(151) Way Productions helps develop other arts as well, such as dancing, and often holds public performances. The Way Productions has been effective in recruiting for various aspects of the Way ministry and in enhancing the group's public image.

The Way has tried broadcast media as well, but with less success.. The group once encouraged believers to sponsor Way produced 15 minute broadcasts on local stations, though Way publications do not indicate any response to the offer.(152) The Way also offered 10, 30, and 60 second television spots on the same basis.(153) Perhaps the group's biggest screen venture to date is the thirteen television specials it filmed late in 1983. The western 30 theme of each 30 minute show was "High Country Caravan" featuring dancers and several Wily music groups. (154)

Several promotional films have been produced by The Way including "Rock of Ages," (1972), "The Way of Life," (1974), "The Abundant Life" (1975), "Changed," (1977), also "One of a Kind," (1981) and "The Teacher," (1983), both of which relate to The Way's 40th anniversary. (155) Several promotional "documentary" type videotape programs are also used, including "Discovering the Root," dealing with the Way headquarters, "The Way College of Emporia"(156) and one on each of the late trustees Harry Wierwille and Ermal Owens.(157) Twigs may also subscribe to a live phone hook-up with The Way's Sunday night services at New Knoxville.(158)


Way publicity brochures state that the group "is not a church, nor is it a denomination or a religious sect of any sort. " While this may have been true in the 1950's and early 1960's, its current nature is more like a church than a research center, which The Way claims to be.

The Way does not have formal membership rolls or a voting laity as do most parishes. However, it does hold records of all who have taken its introductory course of Way doctrine (PFAL), and it is necessary to be listed in order to participate in most aspects of The Way ministry. The group indirectly encourages its followers to tithe to International and it receives and disperses the money under the same tax-exempt status held by churches. Twigs are not just teaching centers, but hold worship services and serve Communion as well.

The Way International holds specific tenets of doctrine in which it instructs its followers at meetings and at its private religious institutions. The Way Corps is the equivalent of a seminary, training religious leadership through classes and internships. The group's mission outreach does not cooperate with other Christian bodies for a common witness in certain regions, but prose-


lytizes people into its unique doctrine and fellowship.

Since the early 1960's The Way has ordained over 110 men and women into its own clergy,(159) who are authorized to perform marriages and are apparently expected to serve The Way International unquestioningly.(160) As Wayers become more involved

in the group, they typically no longer participate in or support any other church. Clearly, The Way International exhibits almost every characteristic of a church or denomination (and is much more like a church than so-called "storefront churches") and takes the place of churches in the lives of its followers.


Some former Way insiders testify that Victor Paul Wierwille became overtly authoritarian in the early 1970's, causing them to leave the organization. Steve Heefner left The Way in 1972, complaining of "tight controls, centralization, and money disputes." He considers the organization a potentially dangerous dictatorship. Heefner wrote, "Any structure that has one authority and no avenue of recourse is potentially dangerous." (161)

David Anderson, who spearheaded the first PFAL filming, describes a similar reason for his 1973 departure:

"By the time I left The Way, there was no longer room for challenge. There was one leader with complete and absolute control. The "Man of ' God, " whose revelation was unquestionable, could turn liberty into license without the possibility of correction from anyone on earth.... In 1965, 1 heard "the greatest of these, is love, " in 1973 1 heard, "the love of God does not work -- we're going to put some teeth in this ministry."(162)

Anderson further asserts that Wierwille began to use the "Way Tree" structure as a means to control all Wayers.

Shortly after Anderson related his experiences in the Evening Leader, Way employees William Winegarner and David Craley counter-accused him of being a "spoiled child" who vengefully


attacks the Teacher he should instead be, thanking. (Wierwille later labeled Anderson and other ex-Wayers as "liars... disgruntles."(163)) Peter J. Wade, an inner circle Way leader from 1967-1970, read the exchange and recounted some of his New Knoxville experiences to support Anderson's charges of Wierwille's increasing tyranny in the early 1970's:

"There were times when the eulogistic descriptions of Winegarner and Craley had a large measure of truth. But since 1971 when V.P. Wierwille decided to put "some teeth into the ministry, "' and succeeded in draining the life out of it, The Way International now deserves its chapters in recent books such as "Youth, Brainwashing and the Cults" and "The Mind Benders." Anderson was not the only one to leave; five top leaders departed in one year.(164)

:Wade further cited examples of Wierwille's lack of godly character and noted that he is one of the "swelling tidal wave of ex-Way Christians" who have chosen a Bible-centered alternative to the "dictatorship" of "Wierwillism."

Oddly, on the cassette tapes of the Power for Abundant Living class in circulation in 1983 (copyright 1981), Wierwille describes Rev. Peter J. Wade as "my assistant," "my friend" and "our own."(165) Wierwille cites Wade's background as valuable and recommends his booklet Why I Speak in - Tongues, which was distributed by The Way for perhaps 15 years.

People assess Wierwille's character in a wide variety of ways. Today's Way insiders see him as a perfectionist who will even take time out to show a worker the right way to do a job as menial as shoveling. They describe Wierwille as intense, funny in an entertaining sense, loving, devoted to the Word, honest, outspoken and hardworking even before dawn. He often takes time out from speaking tours to hunt. Wierwille's health has been failing in recent years, causing him to cut back on his activities. For instance, he was unable to teach all of the sessions for which he was scheduled at the Rock of Ages in 1983.


On the other hand, news reporters and critics often see Wierwille in a different light. While he is able to make people feel loved, they say, he also is often abrupt and harsh and enjoys a rich lifestyle. He freely uses four-letter words, even in Bible teachings and interviews, repeatedly condemns his critics and the media in his frequent paid editorials in the Evening Leader and is a chainsmoker. Wierwille has bodyguards accompany him at many public functions. (166)

Some of Wierwille's comments infer that he thinks quite highly of himself. Once he extolled the master-leader of above average ability whose work excels and who is attacked simply because he is envied. Though he did not name any leader of this kind, the reader is left with the impression that Wierwille had himself in mind.(167) He apparently believes his work is worth some $840,000 per year (see note 213), and has contended that the media should pay to interview him and professes to know people of prestige, position and influence.

"The Way Tree" mentioned by Anderson is The Way's administrative structure which the group says follows a Biblical pattern. Believers are "leaves" which meet at least weekly in "twig" home fellowships. Several twigs compose a "twig area" and several areas make -a "branch," which meets together not less than every three months. Several branches form a "zone" or "area" when a region is large, and are always under the "limb" leadership. A limb normally covers a statewide area and meets at least yearly. In the United States, a number of limbs fall under each "region." A country may be designated a "trunk," and the "root" of The Way Tree is Way bases of operation, particularly "International," the headquarters at New Knoxville.(168) "The Man of God," the president of The Way International and the trustees rule the root.


by John P. Juedes and Douglas Morton

Copyright 1983 Page numbers match those in printed book; total pages: 78

Return to Research & Teaching Menu