by John P. Juedes
The Way International introduced sweeping changes at the annual Rock of Ages gathering last year. The crowd of 11,000 applauded, hoping that this would help remedy the severe decline and turbulence of the last ten years. Splintering of the group since 1985 greatly reduced its peak active membership of about 35,000.1
The most important change is the new "The Way of Abundance and Power" classes by Way President L. Craig Martindale. They include the Foundational Class ("Receive with Meekness"), the Intermediate Class ("Retain with Conviction"), and the Advanced Class ("Release with Boldness"). The Advanced Class was first presented in fall, 1995. The other classes were filmed in February-April 1995 and are in use now.
These replace the "Power for Abundant Living (PFAL)" classes by Way founder Victor Paul Wierwille, who died of cancer in 1985 after losing an eye to the disease and suffering strokes. The classes include material from PFAL as well as new topics. The Way teaches that Jesus Christ is not God, tithing, the law of believing (whatever one believes will happen to him, whether bad or good) and the accuracy of the Bible (as translated by Way leaders). It also teaches followers to receive an impersonal power (called "holy spirit," "power from on high," or "Christ in you") by inhaling, and that speaking in tongues is the only proof that one is born again.
Martindale told his followers at the 1995 Rock of Ages that new classes were needed because The Way's opponents attended PFAL classes and learned how to use this material against The Way. His complaint implies that he realizes that there are significant errors in PFAL. The PFAL classes were open to anyone who paid the $50 fee ("donation").
New classes were also needed because the existing video version, filmed by V. P. Wierwille in 1967, was obviously dated in its style, production and dress. It endured so long largely because Wayers view Wierwille as their "Father in the Word" who heard God's audible voice and taught God's Word "as it had not been known since the first century."
While PFAL was used to introduce prospects to The Way, Martindale's new classes are open only to people who have attended a twig (home fellowship) for a year and have been taught how to receive holy spirit and speak in tongues by the twig coordinator. This practice is intended to "weed out" any opponents.
This policy may reduce The Way's recruitment. Last year, The Way Magazinelauded their success at quickly beginning new PFAL classes through street witnessing. Now fewer classes are likely to be held, because many recruits will drop out of the twig before attending a full year.
Martindale also hopes the new classes will hinder homosexuals from joining The Way, because he condemns homosexuality early in the class.
Each year The Way sent out hundreds of WOW (Word Over the World) Ambassadors as volunteer missionaries to cities across the world, which was its primary outreach for 30 years. However, during WOW training at the 1994 Rock of Ages, Way leaders decided not to send WOWs, because nearly 10% of their ambassadors were homosexual. Since many WOWs are in the second year of the Way Corps (leadership training) program, this suggests that many homosexuals were in the Corps.
Martindale considers homosexuality to be "devil-spirit possession" and told everyone to "eliminate this and other spirit-driven malignancies" from Way circles. He added, "We have flushed homosexuals and 'homo' fantasizers and sympathizers out of our Way Corps and Staff." 2 Corps coordinator Rev. Horney reported that "163 sodomites...had been purged, marked and avoided" by January 1995.3
Although Martindale then saw the suspension of WOW as an attack by evil devil spirits, by summer of 1995 he recast it as a Way victory. The told Corps grads that the Ambassadors had accomplished their mission of getting God's "Word over the world." He calls it "WOW redefined," and never explains how reaching only a fraction of a percent of residents of the U.S.A. (And much less of the world) constitutes completing the mission. It is not known if Martindale's strong stand against homosexuality is in some way related to widespread reports of rampant adultery and promiscuous sex in The Way, including the highest levels of leadership. One ex-member said that Corps residence training was sometimes like a "bordello," with promiscuity, adultery, orgies, wife-swapping and even gang-rape.4
Way leaders try to defend adultery biblically. A Biblical paper which confronted this error and explained that adultery is sin was produced by John Schoenheit, who at the time was on The Way's research team. His appendices offered reasons Way leaders gave to justify adultery, with his rebuttals. Arguments included: women who traveled with Jesus and Paul supplied them with sex because it filled their legitimate needs; men have needs for sex which God provides through a variety of women; all things are lawful when done in faith (Romans 14:21-23); stringent laws are done away with when one is born again (Colossians 2:20-21); God punished David for killing Uriah, not for having sex with Bathsheba; and the Bible word "adultery" means spiritual, not physical, adultery.
Way trustees fired Schoenheit for writing the paper, and sternly warned Wayers not to read it or have contact with those who did.
The termination of the WOW Ambassador program led to the start of the "Disciples of The Way Outreach" program. Unlike the WOWs, the Disciples are open only to Advanced Class graduates, and so probably consist mainly of Way Corps. Martindale hopes that the disciples will have more strict and disciplined lives than WOWs did, which itself is an implicit indictment against the lifestyles of many WOWs.
Disciples serve only four months, and The Way plans to send out two waves a year. The Way sent out 138 Disciples to 15 cities during the Rock of Ages 1995, far below a peak of 3,100 WOW Ambassadors it claimed to have sent in 1982.
Martindale seems determined to remake The Way and close ranks, which may result in an increasingly cultic mind set. He promoted his book The Rise and Expansion of the Church through seminars. International bragged that they were attended by 5,027, even though this averages only about 100 per state. Ironically, this is his first book, and the first book produced by this "Biblical Research and Teaching" ministry in over ten years.
International's financial position has improved. Horney reported that it liquidated $29 million of debt by mid-1995. This led to Martindale's promise that all new Way Corps grads would obtain paid positions, which hadn't been done for over 20 years. Sale of assets, reduction of overhead, smaller Corps classes, large numbers of defections (which left more staff openings) and the sale of the The Way College of Emporia, Kansas, campus helped make this possible.
The Way's decisions to terminate the WOWs and PFAL classes are partly due to the damaging influence of Way split-off groups. They use Wierwille's teachings, jargon and writings, and drew off many of The Way's followers by accusing "International" of authoritarianism, misuse of power, adultery, misuse of funds, spiritual corruption, departure from the Word of God, denominationalism, etc.
Martindale openly expressed his contempt for the split-off groups during his Rock of Ages '95 sermons. The Way President is accustomed to using crude speech and profanity, even in public settings.
The most prominent groups are John Lynn's Christian Educational Services and Chris Geer's The Way of Great Britain. CES includes Wayers who were respected or well known, such as Lynn who had three books published by The Way, more than any author besides Wierwille. CES now wants to be seen as an independent ministry, not just as a Way splinter group, even though its glaring similarity to The Way is obvious to outsiders. Geer is damaging because of his close ties to Wierwille. Just after Wierwille's death, Geer published The Passing of a Patriarch, which is a rambling account of Geer's final conversations with Wierwille shortly before his death. When he first presented it verbally to gatherings of Way leadership (at which, John Lynn reports, he carried a large-caliber pistol for self-protection), it caused tremendous turbulence, and its content was kept out of general circulation. European Christian Press (which Geer controls) then published it a few years after Wierwille's death.
The Passing... damaged International greatly, because it summarizes the accusations Wierwille made against the three trustees (who alone are technically "members" of The Way and control all assets and policy). It asserts that the President and trustees were untrustworthy, spiritually corrupt, did not listen to God or V. P. Wierwille, killed Way ministries by neglect, avoided responsibility, were hypocrites, led selfish lifestyles, and were in error. The Passing... condemned not only the trustees, but all Way leadership, including the clergy, Cabinet, regional leaders, and Corps around the world. The account includes several insights into The Way. Geer describes V. P. Wierwille as one who was very hard to live with, "often lashing out at those closest to him" and hurting them.5 It includes a reproduction of handwritten notes in which the three trustees admit that the accusations against them are true. For instance, trustee Donald Wierwille (V. P.'s son) confessed, "I apologize for not having followed my 'man of God.'"6
Geer and trustee Howard Allen apparently believed that the behavior of the trustees, not strokes and cancer, caused V. P. Wierwille's death. Allen wrote, "I read it and all is true....So I will change to do my best for the man I helped kill."7 They apparently could not reconcile the death of "the man of God" with their teaching of "the law of believing." Since they considered Wierwille to embody the epitome of believing, he should easily have been able to will himself to health simply by believing he was well and free of cancer. Geer believes Wierwille actually caused his body to die: "There were two points when I felt that he might change his mind and decide to go on living....I am fully convinced that he believed to stop the functions of his body."8 He seems to believe that Wierwille chose to commit suicide using his weapon of "believing" rather than to continue to fight the spiritual decline of the trustees.
The Passing... claimed that only Geer was spiritually able to reform the Way ministry. Geer repeatedly promoted himself as the only man left in The Way Ministry who was fully informed, spiritually adept and capable of leading the Ministry and stemming its speedy decline. As a result, many Wayers view Geer as being the true spiritual heir to V. P. Wierwille. In fact, only Geer's group has published a book by Wierwille since his death.
Just as 100 different Mormon groups all revere the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri, because of founder Joseph Smith's attachment to it, so also the many Way split-off groups revere Wierwille's family farm and books. Since the Martindale faction controls these, it views visits by ex-Wayers as enemy infiltration. This conflict has increased as ex-Wayers have persuaded many of their friends to leave Martindale's group.
One result of the work of split-off groups is increased paranoia, attention to security and bitterness in The Way. The Way's security force has become even more aggressive in recent years, quickly and thoroughly investigating anyone who appears at functions like the Rock of Ages conferences 9 or is on their campus without a Way name tag, and running off anyone who is not currently active in a Way-controlled twig and who has no Way escort. Way security personnel try to intimidate outsiders by dressing as policemen, complete with a utility belt, holster, CB-style microphone clipped to a shoulder, a metal badge with the word "patrolman" prominently stamped on it, and white vehicles with a seal painted on the door and emergency lights on top.
Although Wayers project a curt and indifferent attitude toward the many who have left the group, they have undoubtedly been hurt deeply in recent years . After all, it is their friends who have left the group and made accusations of severe error against Way leadership. With the more aggressive and cultic mind set of current Way leadership, followers can expect more years of turbulence and change.
1 See "The Way Tree is Splintering," Christian Research Journal, Fall 1988. Technically, the group has only three members-- the trustees who control all aspects of The Way International, Inc. Although the group emphasizes that it does not have members, it keeps very detailed records of its class graduates and donors which are used as criteria to determine people's status with the group and access to some of its functions.
2 The Way Magazine, November-December 1994, p. 26. Rev. Bill Green, who handles some public relations for the New Knoxville headquarters, declined to be interviewed about the classes, Disciples and related developments.
3 Highlights of The Way Corps Graduation, June 1995, cassette Tape.
4 Lionel Recio and Steve Lefevers, The Way of Life or the Way of Death (self-published, 1987), p. 106
5 Christopher C, Geer, The Passing of a Patriarch, (European Christian Press, undated), p. 34.
6 Ibid, pp. 75, 78. 7 Ibid, pp. 75, 78
8 Ibid, pp. 67, 68. See also pp. 38, 52. Wierwille's death certificate lists ocular melanoma, or malignant tumor of the eye, as the underlying cause of death. The immediate cause was metastatic melanoma of the liver, which means that the cancer spread from the eye to the liver.
9. In an April 30, 1996 press release The Way announced it would not hold a Rock of Ages festival in 1996. "The Rock" had been held annually for 25 years, and had been used to teach, recruit participants for Way ministries, and send out Way Ambassadors. The group says that it will hold classes and smaller conferences instead, including a week-long gathering of 2,000 at The Way's auditorium in New Knoxville, July 20-27. The Way stressed that these gatherings were for "committed," "faithful" followers, unlike the Rock, which was open to anyone. Like the new classes and Disciples, this is a sign that The Way is striving to further restrict access to its activities, purge anyone who questions current Way leadership, increase control, and consolidate.
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If possible, please add this breaking news to my news article in this summer edition of CRJ:
The Way also announced it would not hold a Rock of Ages festival in 1996. "The Rock" had been held annually for nearly thirty years, and had been used to teach, recruit participants for Way ministries, and send out Way Ambassadors for a year's service. The group says that it will hold classes and smaller conferences instead, including a week-long gathering of 2,000 at The Way's Auditorium in New Knoxville July 20-27.
A Way news release stressed that these gatherings were for "committed," "faithful" followers, unlike the Rock which was open to anyone. Like the new classes and the Disciples, this is a sign that The Way International is striving to further restrict access to its activities, purge anyone who questions current Way leadership, increase control and consolidate.