At some point, likely in late 1968, Lonnie Frisbee began asking
me some questions about specific doctrines like the deity
of Christ, the Trinity, and speaking in tongues, among other
issues. Later I learned that a Bible teacher named Victor Paul Wierwille
was visiting the House of Acts in Novato, and his teachings were
causing division among both the members and those attending the
weekly Bible studies held there.
Someone living at the house had stumbled across a series of
tapes made by Wierwille entitled, Power for Abundant Living, and the
thirty-six hour course of instruction was drawing a lot of interest. At
that point, I asked Ted Wise if it was okay for me to come to Novato
and speak with Wierwille face to face.
On two separate occasions, two afternoons when just a few people
were at the house, I debated him. What had been troubling Lonnie
was Wierwille’s insistence that smoking marijuana was permitted
for Christians. It also seemed that he advocated open marriage. I had
wrongly assumed his theology was orthodox. These were only the
first of many troubling doctrinal issues.
At that point, I defended speaking in tongues, as I had begun
speaking in tongues myself, but Wierwille carried it to the point of
being the absolute proof for the resurrection of Jesus. Though I did not
accept it, I knew that many Pentecostals were convinced that speaking
in tongues was the primary evidence of being truly born-again,
but my mainline evangelical theology would not let me go there.
Wierwille would not budge and I did not push it. (Speaking in
tongues never did get too far at the House of Acts.) But then I found
that Wierwille denied the deity of Christ, followed by the revelation
that he rejected the Trinity. He said the Trinity was introduced into
the Church several centuries after the ministry of Jesus and was the
result of pagan ideas. An even more severe issue was that Wierwille
claimed that the original documents of the New Testament were
written in Aramaic, not Greek, and that he alone had the manuscripts,
so he alone knew what was true. Over and over I asked to see them
or to see a photo of them, but Wierwille had his reasons, ones I have
now forgotten, why this was not possible. It reminded me of Joseph
Smith and the golden tablets from which the Book of Mormon had
supposedly been copied.
Most of what I saw come out of the confrontations with Wierwille
was a division occurring in the house; some of the original members
of the household left. Among those who left were Jim Dopp and Steve
Heathner,1 who remained with The Way. A competing Bible study
then developed in Mill Valley by adherents of Wierwille, and it continued
for some time but never really caught on. Those who led the
group did not have the tight control necessary to enforce doctrinal
conformity, like most of the Bible based cults do, and so there was
Of course, the cause of Christ was tarnished as a result, and I am
aware that some are still impacted by it after all these years. Later, in
the mid 1990s, I offered a Cult Recovery Support Group and placed
ads in the local Marin paper announcing it. A twenty-six week course
developed and drew many from a number of different groups, and
included among them were former participants in The Way.
The Jesus People Movement was a mixed bag. On the one hand
was the obvious power of God to save, and alongside this, which is
actually characteristic of most genuine awakenings of the Spirit of
God, were the “dark sides,” the “wild fire,” the aberrations and distortions.
Toward the closing years of the JMP, as I experienced it, the
seeds of destruction and division had been sown and would yield bad
fruit. This aspect I will address more fully coming up.
1 Steve Heathner, known as Steve O’Shay, was a well known D.J. on the most
popular of San Francisco’s radio station that featured rock and roll music. Steve
would slip in Jesus zingers into his radio program and it was no small deal.
2 Former participants in The Way began to attend Miller Avenue Church,
where I am yet pastor, and updated me on the developments following the breakup of the House of Acts and the death of Wierwille.