The Way International

A non-traditional Christian movement known for its unique interpretation of the Bible and emphasis on biblical research and teaching.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Non-denominational
Founder: Victor Paul Wierwille
Founded: 1942
Location: New Knoxville, Ohio, United States
Size: Approximately 3,000 members (estimate)
Other Names: The Way, The Way Ministry

Founded in 1942 by Victor Paul Wierwille, The Way International (TWI) has grown from its humble beginnings as a radio program to an organization with a unique take on Christian teachings. Distinguishing itself from mainstream denominations, the group has remained a subject of debate regarding its classification, with some sources labeling it as a cult. Operating within a distinct structure, TWI does not only disseminate biblical teachings, but also focuses on in-depth Bible studies through its sequential classes and leadership training in The Way Corps and College.

Historical Background of The Way International

Victor Paul Wierwille, deeply invested in Christian teachings, established The Way International (TWI) in 1942, initially as a radio broadcast called Vesper Chimes. His journey into the realm of theology included studies at several theological institutions, culminating in his ordination as a minister in the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Wierwille’s vision expanded, and by 1947, the radio program evolved into The Chimes Hour Youth Caravan, with the organization later incorporating in 1955 as The Way, Inc. This period marked the beginning of TWI’s distinctive approach to biblical interpretation and dissemination.

The foundation of TWI was grounded in Wierwille’s assertion that he had received a divine revelation. He proclaimed that God had personally communicated with him, promising to unveil “the Word as it had not been known since the first century.” This conviction drove him to independently study the Bible, leading to the development of TWI’s core teachings and practices. As the movement grew, it established various classes, programs, and publications to further its mission, including The Way Corps leadership training program and The Way Magazine, both initiated to deepen the biblical understanding of its followers.

Over the years, TWI’s leadership has seen a succession of presidents, including L. Craig Martindale, Rosalie F. Rivenbark, Jean-Yves DeLisle, and Vernon W. Edwards, each steering the organization through periods of both expansion and controversy. Despite facing intense scrutiny and being labeled a cult, particularly in the 1980s, TWI maintained its global presence with congregations in home fellowships across the United States, its territories, and in over 30 countries. The organization’s headquarters, nestled in rural Ohio, serves as the epicenter for its worldwide ministry, which continues to teach a non-trinitarian form of Christianity.

Core Beliefs and Teachings

The Way International (TWI) holds a set of core beliefs that are rooted in a combination of biblical literalism, evangelicalism, Calvinism, ultradispensationalism, and Pentecostalism. These beliefs shape the organization’s distinctive approach to Christian doctrine and practice. Central to their doctrine is the denial of the divinity of Jesus, a stance that separates TWI from mainstream Christian denominations. This denial aligns with the organization’s rejection of the Trinity, a core doctrine for most Christian churches, which professes the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead.

TWI’s theological framework diverges from traditional Christian teachings in several other key areas:

  • Nature of God and Jesus: TWI believes in one God, the Creator, and in Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son, but not as God the Son, thus denying the deity of Jesus which is a fundamental belief in mainstream Christianity.
  • Salvation and Righteousness: The organization teaches that salvation and righteousness come to those who confess Jesus as Lord and believe in his resurrection, but it also emphasizes works righteousness, which is considered heretical by many Christian groups.
  • Holy Spirit: While acknowledging the workings of the Holy Spirit, TWI views the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force rather than a person, and teaches that the fullness of the Holy Spirit, evidenced by nine manifestations, is available to all believers.
  • Baptism and Sacraments: TWI rejects water baptism as a practice, diverging from the Christian tradition that views baptism as a symbol of spiritual rebirth.
  • Afterlife: The organization denies the existence of Hell, which contrasts with the traditional Christian belief in eternal damnation for the unrighteous.

TWI also places a strong emphasis on the practical application of the Bible, offering research, teaching, and fellowship activities aimed at a deeper understanding of the scriptures. This includes an approach to Bible study that considers figures of speech, Eastern customs, and the accuracy of the Word, with the intent of transforming lives through the application of God’s Word. The organization’s mission, inspired by Colossians 1:9-11, is to reach people worldwide with the accuracy of God’s Word to enable them to experience a more abundant life.

The organization’s teachings on social issues reflect conservative values, such as the belief in marriage as an exclusive union between one man and one woman, and the view that gender is a divine creation, with any conduct intending to adopt a gender other than one’s birth gender being against God’s design. These beliefs, along with the organization’s distinctive doctrinal positions, have been a source of controversy and legal challenges, as they not only diverge from mainstream Christian beliefs but also have led to accusations of misrepresentation and potential infringement of personal rights.

The Way International’s Global Impact

The Way International (TWI) has established a considerable global presence since its inception, with its resources reaching various corners of the world in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, French, and German. In terms of organizational structure, TWI operates with a unique system that extends from an international headquarters to statewide organizations, city area branches, and individual members, demonstrating a hierarchical yet widespread network. This structure is instrumental in implementing the group’s programs and activities, including missionary work. TWI’s missionary efforts focus on attracting individuals who have some religious or biblical background but lack strong affiliations with any church, offering them an alternative spiritual community.

Moreover, TWI’s registered trademarks, such as The Way Magazine, The Way Corps, Camp Gunnison—The Way Family Ranch, and The Word Over the World, reflect the organization’s efforts to brand its activities and programs, thereby solidifying its identity in the religious landscape. The Way International’s fellowships can be found throughout the United States, including two U.S. territories, and in over thirty countries internationally, which attests to the extensive reach of its ministry and the global scale of its operations.

Controversies and Legal Challenges

The Way International (TWI) has been embroiled in a number of controversies and legal battles that have raised questions about its practices and governance. One significant controversy involves allegations of extreme authoritarianism and false teaching under the leadership of its founder, Victor Paul Wierwille. These claims have been compounded by accusations of plagiarism and adultery, casting a shadow over the organization’s reputation.

Another former president of TWI, Craig Martindale, faced serious allegations when he admitted to sexual misconduct with a married female follower. This admission led to a lawsuit against TWI and other members of its leadership, highlighting issues of sexual impropriety within the organization. Moreover, TWI has been accused of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, which includes serious criminal acts such as assault and rape, according to some reports.

The hierarchical structure of TWI has also come under fire for enabling a centralized and authoritarian system that has led to power struggles and further controversies within the group. This structure has been criticized for suppressing dissent and enabling leaders to exert control over members, which some argue is indicative of a cult-like organization. The legal case of Peeler v. The Way International exemplifies the challenges faced by the organization, where former members sued TWI for emotional distress and financial harm. They claimed the organization used ‘coercive persuasion’ and ‘mind control’ practices that had detrimental effects on their lives.

In addition to these internal issues, TWI has faced external criticism and has been labeled as a cult, particularly during the 1980s. This label was partly due to its denial of Jesus Christ’s deity and emphasis on works righteousness, which deviates from mainstream Christian doctrine. The organization’s decline in various operational aspects, such as enrollment and income, has been compounded by the sale of its college in Kansas and the emergence of splinter groups, further indicating turmoil within the organization.

TWI’s past has been marked by attempts from opponents to draw away members through “deprogramming,” a controversial practice that has since fallen out of favor. As the concept of brainwashing by New Religious Movements lost credibility, TWI assumed a lower profile in the 1990s. However, the legacy of these controversies continues to affect the perception and functioning of The Way International to this day.

Followers’ Experiences and Testimonies

Jane’s account of growing up in The Way International offers a personal glimpse into the life of a family deeply embedded in the organization. As a child, her life was intertwined with the group’s activities, which were a central part of her family’s existence. Her parents, who joined TWI in their 20s, took on the role of WAY Ambassadors, a position that exemplified their commitment to the organization’s mission.

The family’s routine included attending meetings multiple times a week, which were held in the homes of fellow believers. These gatherings were not just social occasions but were structured around religious practices such as prayer, singing, and teaching from the Bible. Speaking in tongues was also a part of these meetings, reflecting the Pentecostal influence within TWI’s teachings. The social aspect was not forgotten, however, as these meetings also involved sharing snacks, which provided an opportunity for fellowship among members.

Financial commitment was another significant aspect of the family’s involvement with TWI. Jane recalls that her family not only tithed regularly but also donated their life savings to the organization. This level of financial dedication indicates the depth of her family’s belief in the mission and teachings of The Way International and highlights the sacrifices that members were willing to make for the group.

Comparison with Mainstream Christianity

The Way International (TWI) stands in contrast to mainstream Christianity in several foundational doctrines, reflecting a divergence that has been a source of contention and debate. This comparison highlights the fundamental differences between the two:

Firstly, the concept of the Trinity is a central tenet of mainstream Christianity, which professes the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three distinct persons within one Godhead. In opposition to this, TWI does not recognize the Trinity, instead teaching that Jesus is not God and that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. This rejection of the deity of Jesus Christ is a significant departure from orthodox Christian belief, which holds Jesus as both fully human and fully divine.

Secondly, the organizational structure of TWI is decentralized with no official membership, which differs from the more formalized structure of mainstream Christian denominations that often have centralized leadership and formal membership processes. This decentralized approach may contribute to the distinct practices and teachings that set TWI apart from other Christian communities.

Lastly, in contrast to other Christian denominations, TWI embraces more liberal views regarding social issues such as abortion, smoking, and drinking. While mainstream Christianity often views abortion as morally wrong and smoking and drinking as potentially harmful, TWI’s teachings demonstrate a greater acceptance of these practices.


Throughout its history, The Way International has persisted in its mission, providing a distinct interpretation of Christian tenets while simultaneously navigating through various tumults. The echoes of both its inception, fueled by the passionate and controversial teachings of Victor Paul Wierwille, and the consequent legal and societal challenges, have shaped the organization’s trajectory. Rooted in a comprehensive biblical literalism that spurs both adherence and criticism, this group’s existence poses questions about religious boundaries and the nature of faith communities.

The implications of TWI’s teachings, practices, and the fervor of its followers extend far beyond the confines of theology, hinting at the complexity of belief systems and their interactions with society at large. As the discourse surrounding religious movements continues, those interested in exploring the multifaceted landscape of spirituality, or perhaps seeking a divergent path of faith, may find it valuable to learn more about The Way International. Reflecting upon this organization’s journey affords a broadened perspective on the diversity of religious expression and the enduring impact of conviction.

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