Sitting on a five gallon bucket in the midst of the old rusty appliances scattered in front of the huge two bay garage that adjoined my parent’s country store, I had declared to my longtime friend, whom I had known since we played Pee Wee football together for the King Dolphins, that something told me that Christianity was true; and I was going to find out. This knock on the door of my two bedroom apartment, which I shared with a friend whom I had meet in the seventh grade, could it be the answer I was looking for come looking for me? Well, we’d have to answer the door to find out.
Actually, the first knock we heard was on the door not of my own apartment but the one beside mine. One of my drinking buddies from the night before -really one of my best friends ever – decided to be funny. As a well dressed middle-aged man and woman, whom he could see as he peered through my door scope, knocked on my neighbors door my friend knocked on mine from the inside as he snickered and chuckled along with me and our other friend. I think we had all watched too much “Beavis and Butt-head” on MTV!
Soon though the snickering turned to alarm as the knocking moved directly to my door. My friend scurried off to my bedroom like a feral cat from a back porch. A bit embarrassed, I opened the door.
After apologizing for my buddies foolishness – I wasn’t going to take the blame – I asked, “what can I do for you?”
They explained that they were in the area with several others telling people about a wonderful class that the ministry they were affiliated with offered. It was a class that would explain the Bible and answer life’s most important questions. Before I could really say too much they began to ask me a few questions themselves. One was if I knew how to be saved. I rambled on a bit about growing up in church and trying to be a good person. Unsatisfied by my response, the man pulled out a King James Bible and turned to Romans 10:9-10, which he insisted was all their was to it – to being saved that is. He asked me if I believed what those two verses said. Hesitantly I said I think I believe that. They emphasized how easy is really is to be saved, and how so many people who go to church just don’t realize what “the Word” (the Bible) really says.
They also began to share some of the other benefits of this class they were promoting such as learning the keys to prosperity, overcoming fear, and how to pray effectually, among other things. The conversation wasn’t all that long, and they mentioned that they really didn’t live in the area, but they said the local branch of their ministry would be offering a further explanation of the class in the near future. They asked for my name and number so someone could followup with me about that. Reluctantly, yet deep down, longingly, I gave them my information.
It wasn’t long before I did receive a phone call inviting me to a public explanation of the class they were talking about. It was held in a room in the basement of the student center at ECU. Reluctantly, but expectantly I went.
As I entered the room, still early in the spring semester, I was greeted enthusiastically and very warmly. Everyone seemed to be incredibly nice and cheerful. There was a TV set up playing a band singing a brand of Christian music that I had never quite heard before; it was the band and singers from this ministry’s headquarters in Ohio. After a brief period of introductions with a few people in the crowd of about 20, someone stood up in front to explain more about this class that so many in the room were obviously absolutely enthralled with. Then a woman got up to share her testimony for how this class had changed her life so much for the better. The leader then explained that there would be an opportunity to sign up for the next class that evening.
Afterwards I was approached by a laid back, very friendly gentleman in his late forties. He explained how he had taken the class when he was a student at ECU in the 70’s and how it had changed his life as well. I was a bit intrigued by the way he cussed a little as we talked. I can’t say that I had ever really heard that in Christians circles before. His demeanor was quite disarming and relaxing to someone like me prone to extreme social anxiety, especially around authority figures. He pressed me to sign up for the class, which involved a $50.00 registration fee. “The bottom line is that this just works”, he said. “It really brings positive results”, he insisted.
The thought of being better able to understand the Bible led me to believe that this class just might be the answer that I was looking for; learning the keys to prosperity and success and overcoming fear sounded wonderful to the ears of that poor anxiety-ridden skinny kid who hoped he’d never have to prime another row of tobacco or load up another truck with watermelons or corn to peddle in parking lots and city streets in downtown Winston-Salem – or live in a junk yard, I suppose.
Yet I was reluctant to sign the card and pay the fee. Would my anxiety outweigh my longing to find the answers that I had declared I would find?
I hemmed and I hawed about how I was just so busy, which I was – a full course load, Air Force ROTC, and an officer in a fraternity – I didn’t know if I could squeeze in the dozen or so sessions that would be required. The $50.00 caused me pause too, but not too much when I thought about how many hundreds of dollars of student loan money I had spent on booze – one time about $100.00 drinking beer and taking shots in the bars in downtown Greenville, a night I would never forget if I hadn’t blacked out.
By this time the leader for the ministry in Greenville had joined in the conversation. As I proffered excuses he challenged me to believe that God would make a way for me to take this class, a principle I would learn much more about when I actually took the class. I signed the card; I paid the fee; I took the class called “Power for Abundant Living” (PFAL) offered by a nondenominational ministry called “The Way International” (TWI).
The class was taught by the founder of TWI, Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille, who was by that time deceased. He had his teachings recorded on video tape even while he was still alive so they could be disbursed as far and wide and as fast as possible. From the start I was captivated by his charisma, impressed by his boldness, and delighted with what seemed to be his clear, logical teaching straight out of the Bible. He referenced Scripture profusely such that it seemed he backed up virtually everything he taught with the Bible. He insisted that it was not his own views or the views of any other preacher or theologian that mattered, and that what he was teaching was “the Word and nothing but the Word.” I was hooked.
Everything just seemed to make so much sense. I felt a deep sense of trust in the “accuracy of the Word,” the Bible. At one point during one of the class I found myself rubbing my open Bible in awe and adoration. I was infused with a tremendous confidence that I had never experienced before. During that class I became a wild-eyed fanatic for the Word, at least the Word according to “The Way” (TWI).
Wierwille said something though at a later point in the class that jolted me just a bit. It wasn’t the main point of what he was talking about, but something he just mentioned in passing as he quoted, Acts 2:22, which says in part, in the King James, which is what he was teaching from, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God …” Here Wierwille briefly paused and adamantly insisted that the Bible just teaches that Jesus was a man and it was wrong and just plain silly for other preachers and theologians to teach that he was God since the Bible here just plainly states that he was only “a man approved by God.” He then quickly moved off of this tangent and back to his main topic. Although I was slightly taken aback, I quickly gave him the benefit of the doubt because of how it had really seemed that he had substantiated everything else he had taught.
This class really did change my life, in many ways for the better. My addiction to alcohol was broken and my desire to grow in the things of God and the word of God exploded. I was so excited that I wanted to share what I had learned and was learning with anyone and everyone who would listen. The PFAL class ended just before the spring semester did; shortly I would take my new found excitement and confidence back home with me, along with a big bag of dirty laundry for my mother to wash.
At first I didn’t take my completion of the PFAL class to mean that I was to become a full-fledged participant in TWI exclusively. I very enthusiastically began to go back to my home church, Chestnut Grove United Methodist, with an eagerness that I hadn’t had since I was a very young little boy. The sermons of our Methodist preacher seemed to pale in comparison to the teachings of Dr. Wierwille, but I did not take that to mean that I at that time needed to stop going to church and just attend TWI meetings. As a matter of fact, early on in my summer break that year, I even had a vision while I was mowing my parent’s yard that I would go to Duke Divinity school and become a Methodist preacher after graduation from ECU. As of yet I didn’t see the stark difference between the mainstream churches and TWI. Pretty soon that would change.
It wasn’t long before a TWI fellowship coordinator (TWI groups meet in homes) in Winston-Salem and the one in King came to pay me a visit. They began to fill me in on those stark differences and insisted that mainstream churches, while they had many good people, even some saved people in them, taught the “false doctrine” of the Trinity as well as encouraged spiritualism by teaching that there is conscious existence after death. They insisted that I needed to stay away from mainstream churches and call others out as well to join with TWI. Suddenly that passing comment Dr. Wierwille made had to come off the back burner of my mind; a wrestling match for my soul ensued.
I wanted to be right with God; I wanted to know the truth. I listened carefully to the folks from TWI; I read Wierwille’s book “Jesus Christ is Not God”. Wierwille’s logic, which his loyal followers had made their own, and the apparent confirmation from Scripture were compelling to my theologically ill-informed, naive 19 year old mind. Nevertheless, I intuitively knew that I was on the precipice of making an enormous, life-altering decision. I was getting ready to take a major plunge, either way; and I wrestled with which way I should go. My mother was also extremely concerned, to say the least. Even though I was more and more convinced by the arguments of TWI, I wasn’t quite ready to make that turn, to take that plunge.
I asked for a meeting with the pastor of my home church. Little did I just how much hung in the balance and on this one conversation with my rural United Methodist pastor.
That and more later … Stay tuned.