Are you famliar with a church called “The Way?” I looked them up online… http://theway.org/index.php?page=home&lang=en I have a friend coming to my church who grew up as part of The Way church – her parents were in the ministry. As I understand it, The Way does not believe in the trinity. They believe Jesus is not God… My friend is estranged from her father and she is willing to dig in the Bible to figure things out! What I see is a lack of a deep relationship, emotional-connection with God. Do you have any suggestions for helping someone from The Way?
The Way was a significant force on the religious scene back in the 70s and the 80s, but with the death of their founder Victor Paul Wierwille in 1985, the group began to splinter. Then when the leader of the main remaining group, Martindale, had to resign in 2000 for sexual impropriety, this caused further decline and splintering of this sect. Nevertheless, there are still active members of “The Way.” Some consider this group a cult, but in my opinion, this is a bit overblown. They have been known to use shunning tactics, but the principle reason they have been called a cult is because of their unorthodox beliefs. They do enforce a strict adherence to the group and to their particular brand of teaching, but even so, I still feel giving them the label cult is overreaching and their members simply will not agree with this label.
There is significant parallel between The Way and Jehovah Witnesses. Both were created by a single man and both accept the teaching of this individual person as the basis for forming the religion. Both reject the biblical idea of the trinity (not that the word trinity is in the Bible, but the idea is found there). Like the Jehovah Witnesses, Wierwille taught that Jesus is not deity. They believe that he was merely human, although a great human who was part of God’s plan to bring salvation. They also, like the Jehovah Witnesses, teach that the Holy Spirit is not God, but more of a force or a means through which God affects the world.
Like the Jehovah Witnesses, involvement in this group requires that one accept a particular mode of biblical interpretation, allowing the organization to determine what is the correct interpretation. They are known for intense Bible study, but this study is strictly guided by and interpreted through the publications of The Way. You should not assume that your friend was exposed to open inquiry about the scriptures. At first glance, they will appear to be very committed to the Bible, but it is a commitment to the Bible as interpreted by Victor Paul Wierwille. Again, this is similar to the JWs. They rely highly on their own publications to influence how their members view the Bible. For this reason, the particular ideas of Wierwille permeate the group. For example, Wierwille believed that it is impossible for one to lose the gift of the Holy Spirit. To explain the remnant sin in their members, they claim that such sin is the result of “devil spirits.” Of course, this makes no sense because the Holy Spirit will not dwell in a person who is possessed by a devil-spirit. Another thing to know about this group is that they officially accept only Paul’s letters as authoritative for doctrine. Believe it or not, they do not even accept the saying of Jesus as doctrinally authoritative for today, although they consider the gospels inspired. We can see Wierwille’s agenda behind this position. Another aspect is that they stress a kind of power of positive thinking. This is a bit like the prosperity gospel in that members are told to think of the positive things they hope for and in such thinking that they will receive these things.
Unlike the JWs, members of The Way are charismatic. They stress speaking in tongues, which is interesting because they do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a person.
I do not have personal experience with this group, so cannot give you much useful advice on how to reach out to them, other than the generic things I would say about any group, but if you think of them as a bit like Jehovah Witnesses, this might be helpful. Therefore, they must be at least somewhat disillusioned with the group before they are likely to be open, and be aware that they will want to engage principally on an intellectual level and argue about particular interpretations of the Bible, when it is best to bring them to heart issues such as real repentance and real discipleship based on being like Jesus rather than arguing over minor issues of interpretation (although Jesus not being God is NOT a minor issue!!!!). It is not surprising that your friend has trouble being in touch with God on a heart level because people in the Way, as in the JWs are intellectually rather than heart focused. Sorry I cannot be more helpfulm but I hope this can get you started.