By Wayne S. Walker
The Way International is a religious ministry founded by Victor Paul Wierwille and headquartered in New Knoxville, Ohio (see the last article for a more complete history). It has become quite militant in its evangelistic campaigns and may have the influence of the Mormons or the Moonies in the future. We need to be aware of it and its teachings in order to be equipped to deal effectively with it. Here are some of its basic doctrines, which are proclaimed quite publically as on a flyer I was given by a member of the group.
I. The Name. “Before the disciples of Jesus Christ were ever called `Christians’ (Acts 11:26), they were called `the way’ (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4).” No one can deny that early Christianity was referred to as “that way.” However, none of these passages indicates that this term was intended as some kind of formal name for Christ’s disciples. The Lord promised His people a new name (Isa. 62:2). This promise was fulfilled in Acts 11:26 by the name Christian. It is the only name by which we can glorify God (Acts 4:12, 1 Pet. 4:16).
Some people seem to get all excited about “the name of the church.” Of course, it is wrong to call ourselves by some unbiblical term (1 Cor. 1:12). But it is also wrong to take a scriptural designation, like “The Way,” or “The Church of God” (1 Cor. 1:1), or even “The Church of Christ” (cf. Rom. 16:16), and make that into an official and exclusive title. Our only aim should be to persuade people to become Christians (Acts 26:28) and to unite with the church Jesus built and revealed to us in the New Testament (Mt. 16:18, Acts 2:47; Eph. 1:22-23).
II. The Dead. “The dead are dead until Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:13-18).” We would agree that the dead are dead, but what is meant by “dead”? Wierwille teaches that human beings do not have immortal spirits or souls. They remain completely dead upon physical death until the final resurrection. But the Bible says man does have a soul which cannot be killed (Mt. 10:28). The body dies (Jas. 2:26), but nowhere does Scripture teach that the spirit dies – it returns to the control of God (Eccl. 12:7).
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 teaches that when Christ comes, He will bring the souls of the dead to reunite them with their new spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-53, Phil. 3:21, 1 Jn. 3:’2). First, the dead in Christ shall rise. Then they shall be joined by the living in Christ, who shall be changed, to meet the Lord in the air and both shall remain forever with the Lord where He is (Jn. 14:1-3). The wicked dead will also be raised at the same time (Jn. 5:28-29). Judgment will follow (Mt. 25:31-33).
III. Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ is the Son of God, not God the Son. God is not a trinity (Matt. 3:17, 16:16; Jn. 20:31; Acts 9:20; 1 Cor. 11:3).” To underscore this point, Wierwille has written a book entitled Jesus Is Not God. Of course, we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, which is all the first four passages listed say. However, this does not preclude our believing Jesus is also God the Son. My father’s name is Walker. I am, thus, the son of Walker. He is Walker the father and I am Walker the son. So the terms can be used interchangeably. The Father is God (Eph. 4:6). The Son is God (Heb. 1:8). And the Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). There is one God eternally manifest in three persons. The word “trinity” is not found in Scripture, but if this is what it is used to mean, then I accept it.
The term “son of” does not always denote “offspring” but sometimes means “of the nature and character of” (cf. Mk. 3:17; Acts 4:36). Jesus is the Son of God because He partakes of the very nature and character of God (Jn. 1:1; Phil. 2:5; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:3). The only passage that might give anyone some trouble is 1 Corinthians 11:3. This can be explained as either a reference to the difference of function between the Father and the Son in the scheme of redemption (Jn. 5:30), or the fact that when Christ was on earth in the flesh as a man He was subject to the Father (Gal. 4:4).
IV. Salvation. “Being saved, born again, eternal life is of God’s grace through Jesus Christ (John 3:16, Romans 10:9, 10), and not of works (Gal. 2:16, Eph. 2:8, 9) . . .not even water baptism.” This is typical denominational doctrine. Surely, salvation is by God’s grace – but not by grace alone! There is something man must do – believe and confess (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10). Furthermore, being born again is inexorably linked to water in John 3:5. And the passages that make salvation conditioned on baptism are many -Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21, etc.
It is admitted that we are not saved by works – works of the old law (Gal. 2:16) or works of human merit (Eph. 2:8-9). Yet, there is not a single passage of Scripture which affirms or even implies that baptism is such a work. In addition, we are justified by works, not by faith only; faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:24-26). Faith itself is a work which we must do (Jn. 6:28-29) – not a work of man which earns salvation, but a work of God which meets the conditions upon which God, through His grace, bestows salvation. So are also repentance, confession, and baptism (note Acts 8:35-40, 10:44-48). These are not “works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit. 3:5), but which God has commanded and we must obey (Rom. 6:17-18, Heb. 5:8-9).
V. Miracles. “God made available supernatural power through Christ (Eph. 1:17-21; John 10:10; 14:12; Acts 1:8; Mark 16:17-18).” It is true that God gave supernatural power to men – in the first century. Acts 1:8 was a promise specifically made only to the apostles (cf. vv. 1-5, 22). Mark 16:17-18 does not say that all believers would perform the signs, but that wherever the apostles went revealing the word and preaching the gospel to make believers (vv. 15-16, 19-20) the signs would follow. The purpose of the signs was to confirm the word as it was being revealed (Eph. 3:3-5; Heb. 2:1-4). Since the word has been fully revealed and confirmed, the signs have ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-10).
However, my friend in “The Way” said that the nine gifts of the Spirit of 1 Corinthians 12, especially tongues and healing, are for us today because of what Jesus said in John 14:12. But the “greater works” there do not refer to miracles because no one could do greater miracles than Jesus did (Jn. 3:1-2), unless he were also the Son of God. Rather it is a reference to the apostles’ work in preaching salvation to mankind through Christ’s death (Lk. 24:47), which Jesus could not do because He had not yet died. Nor do Ephesians 1:17-21 and John 10:10 speak of the supernatural power of miracles but the spiritual power of the gospel of Jesus Christ unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).
The last doctrine on the flyer, that “God does not cause sickness and death (Acts 10:38; Heb. 2:14; 3 Jn. 2)” is one with which we totally concur, although as pointed out above, He does not remove such by miracles today. However it is quite evident that the others reviewed are not in harmony with the truth of God’s word. Some, like the second and third, could have come from possible contacts by Wierwille with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although there is no proof of this. The fourth is obviously taken from traditional sectarianism. And the fifth is derived from the charismatic movement. Because these ideas are in error, we should take the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) and seek out those who are caught up in them with the goal of “correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will” (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 8, pp. 228-229
April 21, 1983