Victor Paul Wierwille and The Way International

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

constant slippage.2

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.

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